The judgment seat

John 19.13 is part of the passage for yesterday’s sermon and I remembered my teacher pointing out something interesting from this verse during our Greek class.

joh1913

The key word here is εκαθισεν (ekathisen), which all translations translated as “[Pilate] sat down”. Our prof pointed out that the word, which is the aorist of καθιζω (kathidzo), can mean two things: to sit down or to make someone sit. So, instead of Pilate sitting down, the alternative reading of this verse (which, if context-free, is perfectly plausible) would be something like this:

“When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and made him sit on the judgment seat at a place called the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha).”

He then said that in the larger Johannine corpus this word is always used to convey “to sit down” and hence all translations use this meaning here as well. But, it is still interesting to note the implications of the alternative reading, now with fuller context:

“… Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and made him sit on the judgment seat at a place called the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.” (Joh 19.12-16a)

By making Jesus sit on the judgment seat, Pilate was play-acting on the words of the Jewish leaders who accused Jesus of claiming himself to be a king (and hence opposing Caesar). The judgment seat is a symbol of Roman rule over their subjects, and if Pilate sat there, he would be representing the authority of Caesar who sent him. So, if he made Jesus sit on the judgment seat, it’s like saying that, let say this Jesus is indeed the king, replacing Caesar.

Thus, afterwards, he said to the Jews, “Here is your king . . . shall I crucify your king?” And then they answered, “We have no king but Caesar”. Ironic.

The one who sat on the judgment seat is the one who was being judged now? More irony.

And, finally, the one who was made to sit on the judgment seat is, indeed, the one who will sit on the Judgment Seat (cf. Rm 14.10, 2 Cor 5.10). Irony, irony, irony.

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