Pontius Pilate: A man not unlike us

By Jon Duncan
Special to The PREVIEW
That Pontius Pilate is a historical figure cannot be denied — even to those who would try to discredit the biblical account, for his name has been found in at least one archaeological discovery.
Marcus Pontius Pilate was the fifth Roman governor of Judea, Samaria and Idumæa; he was a successful general, an outstanding leader and friend of Caesar. He was a middle class Roman soldier who rose to prominence in the Roman Empire by marriage to the 14-year-old granddaughter of Augustus Caesar and he ruled in Judea from AD 26-36.
The writings of Josephus, Philo, Tacitus and others portray Pilate as a ruthless and cruel ruler who cared little for the beliefs or religious convictions of the people he ruled. He routinely murdered Jews without so much as even the appearance of a trial.
Luke 13 refers to an event where Pilate mingled the blood of the Samaritans with their sacrifices, and it was this event — or one like it — that ultimately cost Pilate his job. He was deposed and sent to Rome to answer to the Emperor Tiberius for his actions. But, long before his reign ended, Pilate found himself in an unenviable predicament: he was being blackmailed into authorizing a murder he did not believe was justified and it bothered him much more than murders usually did. Normally, Pilate would not have cared — this peasant carpenter was a Jew and Pilate hated Jews.
But, this time was different; there was something about Jesus that made him stand out from the rest. Maybe it was that there was no fear in his eyes, no anger or bitterness in his words; maybe it was that he seemed to understand the entire trial even better than Pilate did; maybe it was that he seemed to be in total control.
Pilate’s wife sent a message to her husband about a dream that she had the night before and begged him not to get involved. She believed Jesus was innocent and was troubled that her husband’s involvement would be disastrous.
Even though Pilate tried multiple times to set Jesus free, he was blocked by the Jews at every turn. Once he tried by offering the choice of freedom to the mob for Jesus or the most notorious murderer of their day, but even then the mob chose to see Jesus die, even if it meant a convicted murderer would go free.
Pilate attempted to satisfy their bloodthirsty greed by having Jesus scourged, but they were unwilling to back down in their demands for crucifixion. It was when the Sanhedrin threatened to report Pilate to Caesar — and they had done that before — that he finally gave in and washed his hands of the whole affair, sending Jesus to his death. We are left with the impression that Pilate had been forced to act against his will, against his better judgment. We do not know whether Pilate was simply antagonizing the Jews he detested or whether he believed in the innocence of Jesus. Regardless of his motives, Pilate’s name will forever be connected to the crucifixion of Jesus; in spite of all of his other accomplishments in life, Pilate will suffer the ignominy of being blackmailed by the Jewish leaders into crucifying a man that he found to be innocent.
What happened to Pilate after his encounter with Jesus? There is no information available concerning the thoughts of Pilate in the years following the crucifixion of Jesus, but eventually Pilate would be relieved of his duties and ordered to stand before Caesar.
One tradition of Pilate’s final days states that he was banished to France, where he eventually took his own life before Emperor Caligula could have him executed.
But, there is another tradition that is worth mentioning: Tertullian, a Christian writer of the early first century, believed that Pilate’s interaction with Jesus eventually led to his salvation. Though impossible to know for certain — and doubted by the majority of biblical scholars — it at least offers an explanation for Pilate’s attempts to set Jesus free. Was he just attempting to infuriate the Jews he hated so much, or did he believe his wife and begin to believe that Jesus truly was the Son of God? What an intriguing thought: One of the most ruthless characters in all of the Easter story finding forgiveness and redemption, finding life in the face of death.
Though it might sound extreme, isn’t that really the heart of the Gospel — that we, deserving of death for our failures to keep God’s law, have found life through the death and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf? Our sins have condemned us just as much as Pilate’s sins condemned him; in that regard, we find that Pilate was a man not unlike us.
The much more important question is this: Will your life, like Pilate’s, end in belief or unbelief? Will you accept Jesus as God’s provision for your sin or will you reject his claims and offer of salvation? In Pilate’s own words the question has been asked: “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” This is the question that every man must answer for himself. The answer to this question will determine where we spend eternity. Answer thoughtfully and carefully.

This story was posted on March 31, 2018.