The duplicity of the Jewish authorities is on display in this chapter. Their motivation for crucifixion is that he has “made himself God’s son.” When Pilate is adamant that there is nothing against him in terms of Roman law, the crowd makes explicit his political bind by resorting to a different accusation: he claims to be a king. This is a reciprocal situation, though, and Pilate can then ask, “You want me to crucify your king?” Their response is the terrible summation of the truth about these accusers throughout the story: “We have no king but the emperor.” For all John’s high christology, there is still a very Messianic sense to Jesus’ role. He is king, or someone else is. We must choose between Jesus and empire.
At the same time, the question that highlights the essence of John’s Gospel is found on Pilate’s lips: “Where are you from?” This is an interesting contrast from the Markan christology that drives at the question “Who are you?” and seeks to redefine the Messiah in terms of Jesus’ kingdom proclamation. For John, to see the real sense of this one who sets himself against the emperor, it is necessary to capture the revelation of the Word dwelling among us, the sent one, the one from above. And, of course, John’s distinct chronology highlights the emphatic point that Jesus was crucified on the Day of Preparation (19:14, 31, 42; i.e., when the lambs were slaughtered for Passover), as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29).