Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” (19:11)
Pilate’s arrogant boast was not true. Breaking His silence, Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (i.e., from God). Although he was a responsible moral agent and accountable for his actions, Pilate did not have ultimate control over events related to the Son of God. Nothing that happens—even the death of Jesus Christ—is outside of the sovereignty of God. Faced with opposition and evil, Jesus took comfort in the Father’s sovereign control of events (cf. 6:43–44, 65).
Although Pilate was culpable for his actions, there was one who bore even greater guilt—the one who delivered Him to Pilate, Jesus declared, has the greater sin. The Lord was not referring to Judas, who did not deliver Him to Pilate, but to the Jews, who did. The reference is particularly to Caiaphas, who more than anyone else was responsible for handing Jesus over to the Roman governor. He was more guilty than Pilate for at least two reasons. First, he had seen the overwhelming evidence that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God; Pilate had not. Further, it was Caiaphas who, humanly speaking, had put Pilate in the position he was in. As D. A. Carson notes, “Pilate remains responsible for his spineless, politically-motivated judicial decision; but he did not initiate the trial or engineer the betrayal that brought Jesus into court” (The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991], 602).