John 18:28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected.
32 This took place to fulfil what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.
Having been ‘softened up’ by Annas (the former High Priest and Sanhedrin powerbroker), and then ‘sentenced’ by Caiaphas (the High Priest installed by the Romans in place of his father-in-law Annas), Jesus is now sent to Pilate for execution. Perhaps the Jews saw this as simply procedural— what is one less Jewish trouble-maker to the Romans? But Pilate does not see it this way. More than likely, Pilate recognises Jesus’ wider public support and sees his execution as a potential threat to the peace which he is charged to maintain.
And so Pilate demands that justice at least be seen to be done. He asks for the formal charges against Jesus to be supplied and proven. To which the Jews provide the compelling evidence that they have brought Jesus to him only because he is guilty; answering his question with another— why else would they bring Jesus to him? In other words, Pilate should just trust them and authorise Jesus’ execution.
Pilate will not risk getting involved in Jewish religious arguments and so he declines to act. He wants nothing to do with Jesus. But the Jewish leadership will not be dissuaded— they intend to have Jesus executed.
In verse 32 John observes that all this was to fulfil Jesus’ own prediction about the kind of death he was going to die. To what, in particular, is John referring? On three occasions in John’s gospel Jesus has foretold that he must be ‘lifted up’ (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32-33), indicating the manner of his death. When he is ‘lifted up’ on a Roman cross for execution, he will be like Moses’ snake in the wilderness: those who look to him in faith will be saved (Num 21:4-9). Indeed, in this way, he will draw all people to himself and they will know that he has indeed be sent by the Father, bearing all his authority. On each occasion this has been viewed as an imperative— the Son of Man must be lifted up; it will happen; and when it does, all will know these things. Already Jesus knows that the Jews will have their way and prevail against Pilate’s instincts. His execution, being ‘lifted up’ on a cross, is imminent.