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Friday, April 22, 2011


George Offerman

For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.

Mark 15:10

One may marvel at the title of this posting and wonder how anyone could look upon Pilate as anything but cruel and unjust. While the writings of antiquity prove beyond a shadow of a doubt Pilate was quick tempered, and over utilized force in quelling any uprising (ultimately it was an overreaction and gross misuse of force that had him dismissed as procurator), scripture paints a different picture of Pilate as he interacts with Jesus in the trial. I have often wondered about this man and how he must have interacted with Jesus, upon finally meeting a man he had heard many things about.

One must first take time in understanding the historical context in order to fully appreciate the differing dynamics at play during this time. Despite the Jews outright rejection of Jesus being the Christ, they were fully aware of the eschatological timeframe in which they lived. So, many ‘rabble rousers’ and thugs making claims they were the messiah was quite common, and unfortunately, these counterfeit christs were using force as a means of ‘bringing about the kingdom’ of God. Hence, there was a need to use overwhelming force to quell the trouble makers, and history shows, it was illegal for more than 50 Jewish men to band together in any place other than Temple.

Pilate was very aware of any uprising and any gathering, and without a doubt, would have had soldiers located in strategic places at all times. Pilate was very aware of Jesus feeding of 5,000 men on an open hill top very visible in Jerusalem and to Pilate. Because Jesus spoke of peace and practiced non violence, Pilate never interfered with Jesus’ gatherings and large crowds that would have been very obvious for anyone to know about. (Janet Napolitano and her ilk could learn a lot from Pilate). Because Pilate was a politician, and not a religious figure, he had no concern over the religious message preached, and had enough political savvy to leave well enough alone when it did not interfere with his goal of keeping the peace.

Pilate’s first introduction to Jesus is at Jesus’ trial, and it seems that all the Gospels seem to be consistent in that Pilate showed some deference to Jesus, unlike the Jewish Sanhedrin and the chief priest. Jesus responds to Pilate’s questions in a different manner than the Jews, and very differently than Herod, in which Jesus did not respond at all. In the dialogue, it seems that Pilate made an honest and forthright effort to understand the issues and charges brought before him, and Jesus, the King of Kings returned that respect shown him.

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.
John 18:33-38

After initial questioning, Pilate boldly declared Jesus’ innocence, despite the fact the Jews made accusations that Jesus claimed to be a King. Pilate, who many historians claimed was paranoid, not only has a conversation in which he asks whether Jesus is a king, Jesus boldly tells the truth and states unequivocally that he is a king, he then attempts to set Jesus free. This would seem to be counterintuitive and went against the character that had been demonstrated by Pilate up to this point. However, if one takes in the whole context of this trial, one could make a solid case that Pilate was very aware this matter was very unlike any he had encountered before.

Upon learning Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate was more than pleased to be able to ‘punt’ this situation. However, despite Herod having horrible personal qualities, he neither found any wrongdoing with Jesus and had Him sent back to Pilate. Pilate was not at all pleased with this situation and now had to deal with the idea of political tight walking: do the right thing morally, and let an innocent man go, or do the right thing politically, and let the mob have their ‘pound of flesh’. In many ways, Pilate was on trial, and like many of us, denied Christ when the moment of truth presented itself.

Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.’

Luke 23:13-17

It is also very interesting to note that in the dialogues, Pilate, a very secular ruler, happened to demonstrate more belief in Jesus and who he was, than did the Jews, who were the keepers of the faith, and were supposed to be the ones passing on matters of faith to a fallen world. Pilate, through knowing about the miracles and Jesus preaching of peace and non violence, knew Jesus had the credibility to claim this kingship. However, since Pilate was not religious, did not understand the nature of Jesus Kingship, as Pilate ultimately would not have condemned this innocent man to the brutal death that he did.

"While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: ‘Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.’ But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. ‘Which of the two do you want me to release to you?’ asked the governor. ‘Barabbas,’ they answered. ‘What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?’ Pilate asked. They all answered, ‘Crucify him!’ ‘Why? What crime has he committed?’ asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’ "
"When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’ All the people answered, ‘Let his blood be on us and on our children!’ Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified."
(Matthew 27:15-26)

In these verses, we see Pilate going against what must have been so innate in his character: admitting someone else is the ruler of the Jews. We can also see Pilate’s attempts at removing himself from any responsibility of this atrocity. Pilate has Jesus scourged to attempt to appease this blood thirsty crowd.

"Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.’ When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ But Pilate answered, ‘You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.’ The Jews insisted, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace”

Where do you come from?’ he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. ‘Do you refuse to speak to me?’ Pilate said. ‘Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’ "

Pilate condemns himself with the above verse, by admitting he HAS the authority to set Jesus free or condemn Him. Pilate however succumbs to cowardice and in the end does what cowards do. However, Pilate continues to demonstrate his belief that Jesus does have some sort of supernatural place, and is willing to acknowledge Jesus kingship over the Jews.

"From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews 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 this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.

‘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. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus."

Pilate was on trial that fateful Friday, and found he was not prepared to defend an innocent man. Like today with many politicians and church leaders, Pilate used a gimmick; by washing his hands with water he believed he absolved himself from this grisly murder. Despite all of this, Pilate, a man known for his cruelty, seemed to be moved by his interaction with the King of Kings and at least understood the nature of these matters way better than the Jews of the time.


Pilate was abruptly removed from power a few years later when using excessive force on an uprising, and was called to Rome by Tiberius Caesar. However, Tiberius died prior to Pilate’s arrival, and the successor to Tiberius, Gaius, and relieved Pilate of his duties.

It has been reported in some historical books that the disenfranchised Pilate settled in the North Africa area. According to legends of the early Christian churches there, Pilate became a Christian, and advocated so heavily for Christianity that he is considered a saint. Unfortunately for Pilate, he ultimately took his own life penniless and alone.

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