Pontius Pilate’s Politics
Pontius Pilate was a Roman governor under the emperor of Tiberius in the 1st century. He is believed to have hailed from the Samnium region of central Italy and probably connected with the Roman family of the Pontii, and called “Pilate” from the Latin pileatus or “wearing the pileus”, which was the “cap or badge of a manumitted slave,” indicating that he was a “freedman,” or the descendant of one.
He was the 6th in the order of the Roman procurators of Judea (A.D. 26-36). His headquarters were at Caesarea, but he frequently went up to Jerusalem. His reign extended over the period of the ministry of John the Baptist and of Jesus Christ, in connection with whose trial his name became prominent.
Attempts to Free An Innocent and Just Man
As governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilate faced a conflict of interests between the Roman Empire and the Sanhedrin Jewish council. It all started when Jesus was brought to him accused of being a malefactor, after his trial before the Sanhedrin.
Pilate was not satisfied with this, so they further accused Jesus of:
- preventing the payment of the tribute to Caesar, and
- of assuming the title of king.
Pilate entered the Praetorium, called Jesus and questioned him in private; and then returning to the crowd he declared that he could find no fault in Jesus. This declaration triggered the crowd to press further saying that Jesus “stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee..” (Luke 23:5, NKJV) When Pilate heard of Galilee, he sent Jesus to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and thus, had jurisdiction over that province. Herod and his men mocked Jesus and sent him back to Pilate clad in purple robe of mockery.
Pilate then, said that he and Herod did not find any fault in Jesus and proposed that the accused be released. While Pilate was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife Claudia, sent a message to him saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.” (Matthew 27:19) Then the crowd clamored to have Barabbas released instead of Jesus. Perplexed, Pilate asked, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ”? They all said to him, “Let him be crucified!”
Annoyed and not knowing what to do, Pilate said, “Why what evil has he done?” (Matt. 27:23; Luke 23:22). With fiercer fanaticism the crowd yelled out, “Away with him! Crucify him, crucify him! And Pilate yielded, and sent Jesus to be scourged. After the scourging Pilate presented Jesus again to the crowd saying, “Behold the man!” But the sight of Jesus, now scourged and bleeding only stirred their anger and once again cried, “Crucify him, crucify him!”
Wanting really, to free Jesus, Pilate took him once more within the Praetorium and asked him, “Where are you from?” (John 19:8) But Jesus did not answer him. Seemingly irritated, Pilate continued, “Do you not know I have the power to crucify you, and power to release you?” Jesus calmly answered, “You could have no power at all against me unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19: 11)
By this time Pilate was determined to let Jesus go but the crowd shouted, “If you let this man go, you are not Caesar’s friend.” (John 19:12) Upon hearing this Pilate said, “Behold your king!” They answered, “Away with him, away with him! Crucify him! Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests of the Jews responded, “We have no king but Caesar!” Then he delivered Jesus to them to be crucified. He took water and washed his hands declaring his innocence of Jesus’ blood in a ceremony such as Moses commanded in Deuteronomy 21:1-9, and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person.” And the crowd answered, “His blood be on us and our children.” (Matthew 27:24)
After several failed attempt to exonerate Jesus, Pilate succumbed to the Jewish authorities’ pressure on him to execute Jesus. The Gospels indicate Pontius Pilate’s indecision, citing that he conceded to letting Jesus go at one stage of the trial, but later rescinded the offer.
First, we see an indecisive leader. After his interrogations of Jesus, he knew for a fact that Jesus was innocent. He even ignored his wife’s advise, and gave in to the demands of the people.
Second, he was more concerned for his political future than doing what is right. He melted when the crowd said, “If you let this man go, you are not Caesar’s friend.” He does not want the Sanhedrin to lodge a complaint with Caesar that he, Pilate, has let go a rival king.
Third, when it was all over, he washed his hands — trying to convince himself and others (unsuccessfully) that he was not responsible for the unjust execution that was about to take place.
Pontius Pilate exhibited a complete failure in political leadership. Unfortunately, the same failure still happens to this day. It is all too common.
Gundry, Robert H. A Survey of the New Testament. Third Edition. Manila, Philippines: OMF Literature, Inc., 2002.
MySword for Android. Riversoft Ministry, 2011-2019.