Pilate was not an astute politician. He was in Judea because he had been appointed governor by Caesar. Judea was a remote outpost of the Roman Empire. Its only value to the Romans was its access to the Kings Highway and to the Mediterranean Sea as a shipping lane. Merchants moved by land and sea from Africa to Europe and Asia and all who to or from Africa by land had to go through this little spit of dirt between the Sea and the desert. Still, Pilate wanted to keep the peace so he worked with the local authorities. These were the religious leaders who hated the Romans but lived under their control and authority. Pilate heard some of the cases brought before him.
I can see Pilate rolling his eyes and sighing deeply at being disturbed by the people who brought Jesus. His disdain for them was equal to theirs for him. Deferring to their customs this time he went out to them so they would not be “defiled” just before one of their annual celebrations. Pilate cared nothing for them but simply wanted to do as little as necessary to keep the peace. When he came out to the portico of the praetorium, or the common judgment hall, he asked “what accusation do you bring against this man” [John 18:29 ESV]? I think they came to him rarely. His own guards were adequate for keeping the peace and arresting criminals. He was probably puzzled by the beaten and bruised man standing before him.
We have already seen the false accusations they brought against Jesus. None of the “crimes” they accused Jesus of committing even remotely concerned the Romans. They, the religious leaders, tried to make it seem like the Romans had to be concerned about this one man. Their answer assumes Pilate will believe anything they say though they should know he would not. Coupled with false statements their answer to Pilate is overly arrogant. “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you” [John 18:30 ESV]. Their presence before Pilate reveals their motives. Even though they hate Pilate and the Romans as much as the Romans hate them each group uses the other to their own benefit.
Pilate sees through their duplicity immediately. He doesn’t want to get involved with anything having to do with these people, their customs or traditions. All he cares about is keeping the peace, squashing minor rebellions and keeping the shipping lines open and the taxes pouring into the Roman coffers. Roman demands this from him. Nothing else. His response shows his lack of concern for anything Jesus could have done. “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law” [John 18:31 ESV]. Pilate knew they had no authority to murder anyone. He turned his back on those occasions when they did murder someone. As long as there were no riots, no disturbances, no threats of losing taxes and goods, he did not care.
Pilate knew Jesus was different. Should the Jews murder Jesus both Pilate and the Jews thought the people who followed him would riot. Neither Pilate nor the Jews wanted this type of outbreak of violence. Only the Romans could get away with murdering someone and almost guarantee no riots. So, the Jews who wanted Jesus dead told him what they wanted. “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death” [John 18:31 ESV]. When the Romans put someone to death there was no possibility of the condemned ever escaping. There was no escape. They were going to die. Even this, Jesus being turned over to professional executioners, was a fulfillment of a prediction Jesus had made about how he would die. Matthew 20:19 records Jesus predicting how he would die. “This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die” [John 18:32 ESV].
What follows is a short discussion between Pilate and Jesus about truth. Pilate made up truth to suit his immediate need and the circumstances in which he found himself. His truth was founded upon the dictates of Rome and the pleasure of Caesar, whom he served. He placed no value on people, especially the Jews of the country he governed. If the circumstance demanded a response which would make his job easier then that was the principle he applied. Unlike the Jewish leaders who had been told truth by God, Pilate massaged it as he went along and changed it at a whim. This is why he asked the question, after taking Jesus away from those who hated him, “are you the King of the Jews” [John 18:33 ESV]?
Jesus had already been asked by the High Priest if he claimed divinity. “Are (you) the Christ, the Son of God” [Matthew 26:63 ESV]? Jesus’ answer gave the High Priest an excuse to charge him with blasphemy and condemn him to death. Pilate doesn’t recognize anyone’s divinity, except Caesar’s and only when expedient. Pilate would bow before Caesar and worship him as a god to stay alive. He knew enough about the political climate of Judea to know Jesus was not claiming anything as simple as royalty. He also knew Jesus was not leading a rebellion against Rome. If Jesus were claiming to be a god he would have simply waved the religious leaders away in disgust. He couldn’t ignore the accusation of royalty, of anyone who might threaten the stranglehold Rome had on its territories.
Jesus challenges Pilate’s thinking. He does not rebuke Pilate, call him a hypocrite or a white-washed tomb. These are epitaphs reserved for the religious leaders who claim to teach truth while ignoring truth. Jesus demanded Pilate draw his own conclusion based upon the evidence of his life not the false accusations of those who want him dead. “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me” [John 18:34 ESV]? Pilate doesn’t know Jesus and is hearing only circumstantial evidence against the man. He at least has the decency to question the accused if even in a cursory manner. Jesus does not hedge the truth. Read his words as recorded in the four documents available. He does not give anyone the luxury of manipulating truth to fit their circumstance.
Even when his life is threatened and his execution assured Jesus does not sway from his intent and motivation. He is standing before Pilate and He knows the reason he is there. Though he is executed by professional executioners he will not compromise truth and will demand those before whom he stands, or who stands before him, to acknowledge truth. No one gets to make truth up as they go or change it at whim or because they do not want to hear and accept truth.