Pontius Pilate is one of the most tragic and complex characters in the history of the world. We all know him as the one who turned Jesus over to the Jews. A terrible crime to be sure. That is a crime that by itself is awful but as we look back and see the crime compounded by what else Pilate did we will see,in my opinion, the most inscrutable man in the Bible. Carefully examine what Pilate says and thinks about Jesus and then what he does to Jesus. It is, if you’ve never looked at it closely before, heartbreaking.
Matthew 27Pilate was quite amazed. So it begins…
Jesus before Pilate
11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.” 12 And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He did not answer. 13 Then Pilate *said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” 14 And He did not answer him with regard to even a single [e]charge, so the governor was quite amazed.
15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the [f]people any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 At that time they were holding a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17 So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that because of envy they had handed Him over.Pilate knew the reason they were handing Christ over.
19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for [g]last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” 20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death. 21 But the governor [h]said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate *said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all *said, “[i]Crucify Him!” 23 And he said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they kept shouting all the more, saying, “[j]Crucify Him!”His wife has a dream that disturbs her and she asks Pilate to have nothing to do with Jesus. Pilate knows Jesus has done no evil but the more he tries to reason with the Jews, the more upset they become.
24 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.” 25 And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas [k]for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.He washed his hands, symbolically, of the guilt of Jesus’ blood. He knew for certain that Jesus was innocent and undeserving of death.
Luke 23Herod and Pilate became friends! What united them was the intense guilt for cowardice they both felt for putting a blameless man, the Son of God, on trial. That’s one of those events that few people could ever relate to so it only makes sense they were able to bond.
Jesus before Herod 8 Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some [c]sign performed by Him. 9 And he questioned Him [d]at some length; but He answered him nothing. 10 And the chief priests and the scribes were standing there, accusing Him vehemently.11 And Herod with his soldiers, after treating Him with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate. 12 Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been enemies with each other.
Pilate Seeks Jesus’ ReleaseNo guilt. Pilate undoubtedly knows Jesus is innocent.
13 Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. 15 No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him. 16 Therefore I will punish Him and release Him.” 17 [[e]Now he was obliged to release to them at the feast one prisoner.]
John 18Such a strange interaction. Jesus almost doesn’t acknowledge that Pilate was asking a question, rather He tells Pilate that He agrees with his statement!
33 Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this [c]on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?”36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom [d]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 [e]of this realm.” 37 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.” 38 Pilate *said to Him, “What is truth?”
John 19When Pilate heard that Jesus made Himself out to be the Son of God, he becomes more afraid. He was already afraid because he was about to punish an innocent Man and now that fear is exacerbated because the same Man also performed miracles, also raised the dead, also spoke with unmatched authority and Pilate was now about to send Him to be killed! Fear was the proper emotion to have at that time.
The Crown of Thorns Pilate then took Jesus and [a]scourged Him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; 3 and they began to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps in the face. 4 Pilate came out again and *said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.” 5 Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate*said to them, “Behold, the Man!” 6 So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate *said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.”8 Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; 9 and he entered into the [b]Praetorium again and *said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate *said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” 11 Jesus answered,“You would have no authority [c]over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” 12 As a result of this Pilate [d]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 [e]opposes Caesar.”
13 Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called[f]The Pavement, but in [g]Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the[h]sixth hour. And he *said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” 15 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.”
Pilate rightfully sat on the judgment seat, for he was being judged and so will all of us. What makes Pilate so uniquely tragic is that he clearly knew who Christ was. He knew Christ claimed to be God. He knew Christ performed miracles. He knew Christ spoke with authority. He met Him. He was right there in front of him. His wife told him not to touch Jesus. His intuition told him the same. The evidence told him conclusively what was true. Yet Pilate still, after all that, handed Jesus over. Pilate understood the evidence and laid out the facts concerning Jesus and found Him to be who He said He was. Pilate emotionally made a connection that Jesus was who He said He was. So he knew in his head and with his heart that Jesus was the Messiah, right? Why then did Pilate turn Him over???
John 12The question is not so much what you know and what you feel but what are you going to do based upon the truth of what you know and what you feel?
42 Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be [p]put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the [q]approval of men rather than the [r]approval of God.