Good Friday is always a time to stop and remind ourselves about Christ’s death and crucifixion. And sometime it is beneficial to study one person in particular during the crucifixion. Today, I would like to examine Pilate.
Luke 23 gives the story in straightforward detail. Pilate found no guilt in him, but the chief priests and scribes “were urgent” (Luke 23:4) in rejecting the ruling of innocent. Pilate gives Jesus over to Herod, who gives him back. Pilate then tries three more times to release Jesus because he is innocent until he gives in and grants the request for crucifixion (Luke 23:6-24). Pilate had ample opportunity to let Jesus go, but did not.
Mark gives us the insight that Pilate understood what was going on. He knows Jesus is innocent. And Pilate knows that Jesus was being handed over because of “envy” (Mark 15:10). Yet, Pilate wishes to “satisfy the crowd” (15:15), so he delivers Jesus to crucified.
Matthew’s gospel confirms Pilate knew it was out of envy Jesus had been delivered, and adds that his own wife had sent him a letter speaking of Jesus’s righteousness and a warning in a dream (Matthew 27:19). Matthew lets us know that Pilate literally “washed his hands” of Jesus’s death and the crowd accepted the blame. Off Jesus was sent to die.
So why did Pilate crucify Jesus? John gives us the answer. Fear.
John 18 introduces us to Pilate as he takes Jesus from the High Priest to examine him on the request that he be put to death. Pilate in verses 33 through 38 simply has a conversation about Jesus. Pilate is not a believer and is dismissive, but does his job and finds no guilt in him (v.38). But the Jews do not want Jesus, they would rather Pilate release a man who was a robber. So, Pilate has Jesus flogged. You might wonder why didn’t Pilate just declare him innocent and let him go. Why try to placate the crowd. The answer is that Pilate was afraid. It is made plain that he has fear in 19:8 when we are told he became even more afraid. This lets us know Pilate was already operating from a place of fear. Pilate then again states Jesus has no guilt (19:4). Jesus is paraded in front of them in humiliation, but it is not enough for the Jews. They want him crucified. Pilate doesn’t want any part of it because of Jesus’s innocence, but they demand it because Jesus declared himself the Son of God. Pilate’s reaction is more fear (19:8).
Pilate redoubles his questions of Jesus, but still finds no fault. When he again seeks to release Jesus (19:12), he can’t because of his fear of the crowd. They crowd wants Jesus dead, and Pilate is afraid of them. He has the power to release Jesus. He has the power to do the right thing. But he doesn’t and sends Jesus to his death because of fear.
Fear is a powerful force. It can makes us do strange things. Fear distorts all senses. What is really important? What power do I have? What power do others have? What ought be done? All of this and more are twisted beyond recognition when fear takes hold of us. And Pontus Pilate is a perfect example. He had the power to do the right thing, he just didn’t have the courage. Fear overwhelmed his sense of right and wrong. It overwhelmed his duty to uphold the law. Fear made him think the crowd was more powerful than he was, more powerful than the law. Fear made him think that he couldn’t stop it anyway. Fear made him think it wasn’t a big deal anyway. We see at one point he is afraid when he hears that Jesus is the Son of God, but ultimately fear of the crowd won over fear of God, and Jesus is murdered.
I know that some church traditions tell us that Pilate later became a Christian. Let us hope so. But, the picture given to us in the Bible is a picture of a man overcome with fear. A man who let fear dictate what he did. Fear distorted his sense of right and wrong, and led him to be a horrible judge and an accomplice in murder. Fear warped his mind to point of doing unthinkable things, all in the name of fear.
This is one reason I like the King James translation of 1 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and a sound mind.” A sound mind. Some translations say discipline or self-control. The message is that in Christ we can be safe from fear, safe from the mind distorting power of fear. So that we might control our actions and act rightly. Not in fear, but in love.
This Good Friday remember, don’t be afraid. Christ has died, and given you a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.