His name means: “One Armed with a Javelin”
His work: He was the Roman governor over the region of Judea.
His character: Pilate had all the trappings of power and leadership but was unwilling to exercise that influence for good.
His sorrow: He failed to stand for what was right and allowed an innocent man to go to his death.
His triumph: When Tiberius Caesar appointed Pilate governor of Judea, Pilate must have been delighted. Perhaps he thought that this was a step toward even greater authority. But his inability to lead denied him that future.
Key Scriptures: John 18
A Look at the Man
It was the ultimate paradox. Pilate was faced with two sobering options—neither would lead to a happy ending.
If he would listen to his conscience—and his wife’s warning—and free Jesus, he would lose support among the religious elite. And releasing Jesus could have changed these men’s verbal outcries into a physical revolt. Such an uprising would reflect poorly on his leadership. Tiberius Caesar might replace him because of such insurrection among his subjects.
But giving in to the people’s demands meant that Pilate would be forced to deny his own heart. He knew Jesus was innocent. He knew that these men had arrested Jesus because of their seething jealousy over his popularity among the people. And he didn’t need his wife to have a bad dream to confirm his apprehensions, but it did make things worse; now he would have to contend with her. This was Pilate’s plight, but these are the predicaments of every leader—popularity or integrity, compromise or character.
As the governor of the land, Pilate certainly knew about Jesus’ ministry. He may have received warnings from his own associates that Jesus was extremely popular among the people. He suspected that Jesus’ message could be threatening to his regime, but he knew that Jesus’ words and work were foreboding to the religious establishment. The priests and Pharisees were just jealous. They hated Jesus. But was he dangerous—worthy of capital punishment? Should Pilate sanction his execution just to appease these proud men?
Pilate’s approach to this terrible dilemma was something we can understand. Once he had listened to the facts, his response was direct: “Jesus is innocent.” Oh, how he hoped that approach would work and the religious leaders would shuffle out of his chambers in resignation.
When that didn’t work, Pilate got philosophical. “What is truth?” he pondered aloud. Doesn’t truth depend on the situation? Isn’t truth sometimes true and sometimes not? Shouldn’t group pressure or expediency or convenience have an effect on truth?
When Pilate saw that plain speaking and philosophy were not going to satisfy the people, he tried to dismiss himself from the responsibility of his decision by washing his hands. Then, in his final feeble attempt to assuage his guilt, he placed the blame on others. “This is your fault,” he told the priests and Pharisees.
Pontius Pilate had a historic opportunity to do the right thing, but he buckled under the pressure. The heaviness of the situation forced him to acquiesce. As a result, he will forever be remembered as a defective leader, a man with no courage.
Someday Pilate would be replaced as the Roman governor of Judea. No longer would he have to deal with these tricky situations. No longer would he have to make the difficult decisions. And Pilate could continue to ignore his wife. He could even leave her and no longer deal with her opinions. But Pilate would never be able to quiet his conscience. He would never be able to escape the blood of an innocent man and the power of his own conflicted soul. A troubled heart and sleepless nights would be his lifelong companions.
Reflect On: Psalm 25
Praise God: For his mercy.
Offer Thanks: For the blood of Jesus Christ and his offer of pardon in spite of our sin and willful disobedience.
Confess: Any willingness to be swayed by the crowd to do—or think—the wrong thing, instead of doing what is right.
Ask God: To give you the courage to be faithful, to fill you with integrity and character that would be pleasing to him. Ask him to make you a worthy ambassador of his truth and his grace.
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