During the Lenten season, but especially on Good Friday, I like to reflect on the example he shows us. His character and his personality is so complicated, and the role he plays during Jesus’ trial is almost mystifying.
Here he is, a man of power. In charge of a large piece of Roman ‘territory’, he was basically a governor under Caesar, and a man of utmost authority among the Jewish people; not by their choice, but by force. And yet, the Chief Priests was so quick to turn to Pilate for help in ‘getting rid’ of this Holy Man, who called himself the Son of God.
“Pilate went out to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this Man?’ They answered and said to him, ‘If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.’ So Pilate said to them, ‘Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.’ The Jews said to him, ‘We are not permitted to put anyone to death,’…” -John 18:29-32 NASB
Pilate was smart enough to expose the High Priests’ real intentions: that Jesus be put to death.
“Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.’ Therefore Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.'” -John 18:33-37 NASB
Pilate may have been smart enough to expose the intent of the Jews, but the words spoken to him by Jesus is confusing. He has never heard such wisdom, and though he hears the words, the meaning of them cannot reach him, because his heart is closed.
“Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’ And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no guilt in Him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?’ So they cried out again, saying, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas.'” -John 18:38-40 NASB
By this point, the Jewish people, influenced by the Chief Priests, are so intent on putting Jesus to death, that they would rather have a criminal, a robber, released to them than this perfect image of Love, their own brother, Jesus. Pilate decided to try to raise some sympathy, so he watched as his soldiers tortured the Man who would save them all.
“Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; and they began to come up to Him and say, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and to slap Him in the face. Pilate came out again and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.’ Jesus then came out, wearing a crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold, the Man!’ So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.’ The Jews answered, ‘We have a law, and by that law, He ought to die because He made himself out to be the Son of God.’ Therefore, when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are You from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to Him, ‘You do not speak to me? Do you not know I have the authority to release You, and I have the authority to crucify You?'” -John 19: 1-10 NASB
That’s when Pilate makes his biggest mistake; he assumes that he himself has the power. But Jesus corrects him:
“Jesus answered him, ‘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.’ As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, ‘If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.'” -John 19: 11-12 NASB
Jesus basically tells Pilate that God has given him that authority; otherwise, Pilate would have no power. Pilate is now thoroughly confused, and somewhat afraid of Jesus. But the Jews have no problem convincing him that if he released Jesus, he would be breaking the laws of Caesar.
“Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgement seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold, your King!’ So they cried out ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The Chief Priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.'” -John 19: 13-15
John’s Gospel does not elaborate on Pilates’ actions after this, but simply says Pilate had Jesus was crucified. Matthew’s Gospel, however, goes into deeper detail.
“When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.’ And all the people said, ‘His blood shall be on us and our children!’ Then he released Barabbas for them, but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.” -Matthew 27:24-26 NASB
After Jesus has been crucified, the last mention of Pilate is that he ordered the body of Jesus to be given to Joseph of Arimathea, and then that the chief priests and Pharisees asked him to give orders that the tomb of Jesus be guarded by soldiers.
Could Pilate easily have saved Jesus?
Considering his position of power, yes, he probably could have. But he didn’t. Why not? Did he fear being removed from his position by Caesar? Did he truly let the High Priests convince him that Jesus was guilty and had committed a crime? Did he feel threatened by the words Jesus spoke to him? I think the main reason was because Pilate was too concerned about following the laws of the world, and preserving his own power, to see the love Jesus was offering him. But does that make a difference? No. Pilate HAD to have Jesus crucified. As Jesus himself said to Pilate, that was the purpose of His life, was to make the ultimate sacrifice. Even though Pilate himself did not order that Jesus be crucified, he still allowed it to happen. Because of this, we are offered the gift of salvation.
So is Pilate a ‘good guy’ or a ‘bad guy’?
I think that’s too tough of an answer to give. As one of my friends pointed out, Pilate could very well have stood up for Jesus, by making a statement, and choosing to be crucified alongside Him. But Pilate didn’t do that either. That’s where we can learn our biggest lesson from Pontius Pilate’s example.
In our normal, everyday life, we often reflect the image of Pilate.
We choose to concern ourselves with this world, and what other think of us, so we can preserve our own reputation. We choose to sit on the sidelines and watch. We choose to let Jesus be verbally ridiculed, verbally disrespected, and verbally put to death, every day. And I don’t just mean when people trash His name, or our beliefs…but also when we see bullying. When we choose to let the least of His be bullied, our own brothers and sisters. We might not actually participate, but we do tend comfort ourselves, dance around the truth, and say, “I’m a good guy. It’s not anything of my own doing, I washed my hands clean.” We allow them to be crucified.
How can we say Pilate is a bad guy, when we commit the same sin he did?
We condemn ourselves when we judge Pilate for his actions. Yet, if we say he’s a good guy, we are lying to ourselves. He didn’t choose to suffer with Jesus. So unless we choose to suffer with Jesus also, and defend Him, and defend those who are bullied, we cannot call ourselves a ‘good guy’ either. We are only fooling ourselves if we do.
So is Pilate a good guy or a bad guy?
He is neither.
He is a sinner.
He is just like us.
A sinner, in desperate need of a Savior.