“Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate’s question, “Are you the King of the Jews,” and Jesus’ affirmative answer, “Yes,” is very important, both for Pilate and for us, and it is recorded in all four Gospels (Matt. 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; and John 18:33 and 18:37). The question and answer also shows us that this interaction was in the first of Jesus’ two trials before Pilate, something that is made clear in Luke (Luke 23:1-19). Neither Matthew, Mark, nor John mention Pilate sending Jesus to Herod Antipas (Luke 23:6-12), but they blend Jesus’ two trials before Pilate as if they were one trial. However, by studying all four Gospels together we can see that this question was part of Jesus’ first trial before Pilate and when Matthew speaks of Barabbas (Matt. 27:15-22), that was part of Jesus’ second trial before Pilate.
“Yes, it is as you say.” Jesus answered Pilate’s question in the affirmative, that, yes, he is a king. It is important to translate this verse in the affirmative. Jesus was not playing word games with Pilate, giving him an ambiguous answer. Pilate’s everlasting life was at stake, and Pilate, like everyone else, had to have a chance to believe and accept Jesus as Messiah. This should not be considered unusual. Jesus had told many others he was the Messiah (Matt. 16:16-20; Mark 14:62; John 4:26; 10:24-25); besides that, the conversation between Pilate and Jesus was not as short as Matthew 27:11-14, Mark 15:2-5, or Luke 23:3 record. The Gospel of John records the longer conversation (John 18:33-38; 19:9-11). In this longer conversation, Jesus tells Pilate that although he is a king, “My kingdom is not of this world” and “my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36), and “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). Of course Pilate, being a Roman and believing in the Roman gods, if he believed anything at all, did not have a clear and accurate picture of God, the afterlife, the Messianic Age, or anything that would have given true meaning to what Jesus said. To Pilate, Jesus’ words were likely nonsense, and he responded with “What is truth?” (John 18:38). One thing Pilate did get from his conversation with Jesus was that he was not a threat to Rome in the sense that he was trying to foment rebellion and overthrow Roman rule. That is what the religious leaders were accusing Jesus of, so that Pilate would crucify him, but Pilate, after questioning Jesus, was satisfied that was not the case, and came to the religious leaders and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him” (John 19:6).
Many excellent Greek scholars attest to the fact that Jesus’ answer to Pilate, which in Greek is more literally, “You are saying,” was idiomatic and not an ambiguous statement. A. T. Robertson correctly states, “By his answer (‘thou sayest’) Jesus confesses that he is” (Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament). The Expositor’s Greek Testament by W. R. Nicoll simply says that Jesus’ answer “= yes.” R. C. H. Lenski says this about Jesus’ answer: “It is the regular way of affirming the contents of the question.” Albert Barnes, in Barnes’ Notes, says, “Thou sayest.” [KJV] That is, thou sayest right, or thou sayest the truth. …Though he acknowledged that he was the king yet he stated fully that his kingdom was not of this world, and that therefore it could not be alleged against him as treason against the Roman emperor.” Further evidence that this was an affirmative statement comes from Matthew 26:64 and Mark 14:62 (Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament). In these are two parallel records the high priest asks Jesus if he was the Messiah. Matthew records that the Lord answered, “You have said it” (su eipas); but Mark reports the answer with the clear affirmative, “I am” (ego eimi). This interchangeability of the two statements demonstrates that the idiom was confirmatory. (Cp. Matt 26:64; 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 22:70; 23:3; John 18:37).
Translators are often in a bind when translating the Bible, and especially so when the original language uses an idiom, because there are times when a literal translation in one language means something else in another language, and that is the case here. Jesus was not being cute or playing games with Pilate. Pilate’s believing in Jesus as the Christ and Pilate’s everlasting life was in play, and so Jesus was not playing word games with him, any more than when Jesus answered the question of the High Priest, “Are you the Christ” and Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61-62). In English “You say so” is a way of deflecting giving an answer, but that is not what Jesus was doing here. Some scholars say Jesus was being unclear in his answer like he often was when answering questions about who he was during his ministry. But earlier in his ministry Jesus did not clearly reveal himself to the religious leaders because his time to suffer and die had not come. At his trial before them earlier that day he was very clear that he was the Christ, and he was that clear to Pilate as well, saying he was a king.