Can you guess who this man was? Need a hint? Think pompous, Roman, and chicken…any closer? The person we’re going to look at next is the Roman governor who signed Jesus’ death warrant: Pontius Pilate. Now Pilate is often viewed as one of the bad guys in Bible history, and while he did send our Lord to the cross, we have a lot more in common with him than we realize.
“When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.’ … From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.’ … 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.’ So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.”
~John 19:6, 12, 15-16
All four gospels prominently feature Pilate in their crucifixion accounts. However, the gospel of John gives us more “behind the scenes” details of interactions between Pontius and Jesus, and insight into Pilate’s heart and reasoning. For instance, all the gospels tell us that Pilate believed Jesus to be innocent, but John provides the additional information that Pilate actively sought His release. While we can never know the heart of a man—only God possesses that knowledge—it seems that in some way Pilate believed that Jesus was someone special. Why else would he persist in calling Jesus the King of Jews? Even after sentencing Jesus to death, Pilate continued to call Jesus the King of the Jews, much to the chagrin of the Jewish people. So why the obstinacy over Jesus’ title? Was it merely to aggravate the Jews—the people with whom Pilate had on-going conflict? Or was it because he truly believed Jesus to be the King of the Jews? What do you think?
Nevertheless, even though Pilate initially sought Jesus’ release and believed in His innocence, he ended up caving in to political pressure. This Roman governor attempted to do the right thing, but at the end of the day he acted against his conscience and in favor of the political career—thinking that it might save him his position. The other gospels tell us that Pilate made a public display of washing his hands before condemning Jesus to crucifixion to symbolize his innocence in this man’s death. However, he wasn’t innocent. He was the one who had the authority to declare death or release, and he knew it. Also, Pilate didn’t just send Jesus to be killed, but he sent him to be crucified—the worst form of death ever invented, and one that was sentenced upon Rome’s worst criminals and rebels—which was just the sentence the Jews wanted.
The contradictory nature of Pontius Pilate’s actions raise several questions. Like, who was Jesus in Pilate’s mind? Was Christ another man that was sent to the cross? Or did Pilate truly believe that Jesus was innocent—even after all was said and done—so that the face and picture of the crucified man came back to haunt his mind and conscience? What did he think about the reports of Jesus’ resurrection? Did he ever look back on that day before the Jewish Passover and wish he had done things differently? We will never know the answers to these questions, but God does. God knew all the inner most workings of Pilate’s mind and heart on that fateful day over two thousand years ago and in the years afterwards. He knew that Pilate would believe in Jesus’ innocence yet succumb to political pressure. God knew it all and was in complete control. Nothing was done outside of His will. Jesus had to die on a cross in order to fulfill prophecy. But does that mean that Pilate was destined for this act of evil and had no choice in the matter? Of course not! Pilate still had a choice, and so do we.
Pilate chose his reputation over what was right. So the question is…what will YOU choose? If Jesus was standing before you, would you choose Him over monetary gain, worldly success, people’s opinions, or even life itself? Or would it be vice versa? If a mob of people were threatening to declare you traitorous if you didn’t send Jesus away, what would you do? Would you still choose Jesus or would the pressure of the crowd be too great and cause you to act against your conscience and beliefs? What, and how much, are you willing to lose for the sake of Christ?
The Bible doesn’t tell us the end of Pilate’s story, but history does. We know that not long after Jesus’ ascension, Pontius Pilate lost his position as governor over Judea, never regained favor or position within the Roman government, and eventually committed suicide. Not a very happy or pleasant end for the man whose world revolved around his reputation. Pilate was willing to sacrifice what was right and what he believed was true for the sake of politics and favor, but in the end he lost both. Likewise, when we choose something else over Jesus, it profits us nothing. Rather, we tend to lose the things we hold most dear. So don’t be like Pilate who had the Savior right in front of him yet acted against his conscience and against Jesus for the sake of political gain, which eventually was taken away. Always choose Jesus over whatever the world might be pressuring you into!
“Jesus answered him [Pilate], ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.’” ~John 19:11a
If you were compelled and inspired by the message of choosing Jesus no matter the cost, Kyle Idleman further unpacks this convicting message in his book not a fan. You can hop on over to my book review of this powerful book here.