They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you” (John 18:30).
In John 18:29, Pilate asked the religious leaders, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” His accusers knew Jesus had not really done anything wrong they could legally prove. They knew that if they charged Jesus with specific wrongdoings that He could outthink them and prove He was not guilty of breaking the Law of God, the Law of Love. So, they simply called Jesus a “criminal,” “malefactor,” or “evildoer.” Even today, we hear more name-calling than we hear clear thinking and rational discussion. Why did the religious elite really want Pilate to order Jesus’ death? First, other than the Romans, these religious leaders were the most privileged people in Israel. They wanted to maintain absolute control over the people, and with Jesus attracting large crowds He threatened their power. Second, they were the richest people in Israel. Because these leaders controlled the temple, they controlled the money-changing in the temple. If someone brought a sacrifice to the temple that they had not sold them, they could find some blemish and force them to buy their sacrifices from them at exorbitant prices. Jesus had cleansed their temple at least once, and they could not allow Jesus to interfere with their lucrative source of riches. Third, they wanted Jesus to suffer in the most cruel and degrading way possible, so they convinced Pilate to order Jesus’ death on a cross. Though they appeared to fear God, Jesus rightly said that inside they were “full of greed and self-indulgence.” Jesus also quoted Isaiah’s prophesy, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (see Matthew 23:25, Mark 7:6).