Pilates Fear

What would make Pilate afraid? “When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid” [John 19:8 ESV]. Jesus has just been accused of declaring himself a god, a crime worthy of death under Jewish Law, but not under Roman law. Aside from losing control of the situation, which should bring fear to any representative of the Emperor of Rome, Pilate was also steeped in superstition. He was enough of a pragmatist to know there were no gods, but he wasn’t sure. He sacrificed to gods, considered the Emperor a god and sacrificed to him, and had doubts about any and every deity. Culturally, he was a pagan. He worshipped gods at his convenience, as the situation demanded. Because he had no set moral standard he did not know how to make a decision, vacillating from extremes, showing strong emotions from fear and anger to apathy. Here, his fear lunges to the front and he is shaken.

Pilate leaves the portico and enters his headquarters, his guard bringing Jesus behind him. Jesus is either beginning or already in shock from the beating. Pilate looks at the beaten man, a new twist on the drama playing out between the Jewish leaders and the condemned. He thought Jesus a lunatic, a man who declared himself a king without a kingdom only to discover Jesus’ kingdom had no physical borders. Jesus declared his army greater than Rome’s. Yet, no one came to Jesus’ rescue. Jesus obviously operated on a truth unrecognizable to Pilate, barely recognizable to the Jewish leaders. (Modern people would suggest Jesus was living in an alternate universe.) Pilate’s question is asked in fear and exasperation. “Where are you from” [John 19:8 ESV]? Pilate knows Jesus is a Galilean so his question has nothing to do with geography. Pilate knows Jesus has cultivated the ire of the Jewish leaders to the point they want him dead. He has never met anyone with Jesus’ credentials. He claims to be a god but he is not a rebel. He claims to be a king but he has no army threatening the Empire. Everything about this man is an enigma.

Jesus does not answer Pilate. On Pilate’s authority, though he has been declared innocent over and over, he has been beaten and abused, tortured with a whip. He has been mocked and ridiculed and spat upon by Roman soldiers. He stands before the Governor wearing a ragged purple robe, a crown of thorns, bleeding profusely, sinking into trauma and shock. I visualize him, head bowed in pain and exhaustion, looking at Pilate, staring at him, giving him an answer from his eyes.

Pilate tries to regain some authority. His next two questions are arrogant posturing spoken from open desperation. “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you” [John 19:10 ESV]? He has given his authority away to the Religious mob. He is allowing them to manipulate him, controlling him with fear and anger and lies. He is fully aware of what they are doing, has enough information to stop them but steadfastly refuses. Already, he has told the Jews to go ahead and murder Jesus, after symbolically washing his hands of the deed without actually being able to do so. He is not used to being confronted by a man, innocent or guilty, who would not beg for his life, or argue with him, or say anything in defense. Jesus has resigned himself to his fate.

Jesus answer shows he is still thinking clearly about what is happening even though he has been horribly tortured and mocked. “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin” [John 19:11 ESV]. This king recognizes authority, especially Pilate’s authority. But, he also knows from where Pilate’s authority comes. Pilate is not his own boss. He represents Rome and the Emperor the same way the High Priest and the Jewish religious leaders represent God. Pilate has already given away his ability to make a just decision the same way the Jewish leaders hypocritically rendered their decision not based upon the law of God but a threat to their own positions. Jesus spoke like a king who understands authority and the responsibility of authority. His rebuke stings the Governor. Pilate’s offense is great but those who brought Jesus to him are culpable of a greater, more grievous offense. Pilate is allowing himself to be used as a murder weapon. They are the murderers.

Not many in this group understood the implication of Jesus’ words to Pilate. Those standing next to the condemned man, the Roman soldiers who had mocked and beat him heard his words. They knew what he said to Pilate. They could see the drama playing out between the Jewish mob and the Governor. Again, Pilate tries to release Jesus. How many times does he have to declare the man innocent?

Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” [Luke 23:4 ESV]

Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.” [Luke 23:15-16 ESV]

Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. [Luke 23:20-23 ESV]

And he (Pilate) said, “Why, what evil has he done? [Matthew 27:23 ESV]

Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” [John 19:4 ESV]

From then on Pilate sought to release him.” [John 19:12 ESV]

Even Pilate’s wife recognized Jesus was a righteous man and tried to convince her husband to release the man. “Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream'” [Matthew 27:19 ESV].

Those more culpable for their crimes now seal their own decision. They hated Rome and the occupiers. They prayed God would deliver them from Rome. They reviled and held Pilate and any Roman Governor in contempt. They hated those who helped the Romans, especially fellow Jews who would sell their selves as Roman tax collectors. They dreamed of release from bondage when God would restore their land and reestablish self government. Their words are evidence for their true allegiance. “But the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” [John 19:12 ESV]. Their manipulation of Pilate begins to peak. They have only one more step down, one more statement to make, to condemn themselves.

Pilate has no where to go. He has already washed his hands of the incident while knowing he could never abdicate responsibility for what he allows. He comes back to the “judgment seat” and sits ready to make his decision final. “So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha” [John 19:13 ESV]. At sundown Passover would begin. According to Roman time the “sixth hour” is nine o’clock in the morning. He cannot resist a final poke at the hypocritical Jewish leaders and their mob ranting and raving before him. “Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King” [John 19:14 ESV]! “Behold, your king!” standing before them in a ragged purple robe soaked in his own blood, with a crown of thorns jammed down on his head, panting and bowed and shaking from shock and trauma. Jesus is an innocent man who deserved none of the torture he endured.

This mob sees Jesus and cries out in hatred and bitterness, the evidence of envy. “Away with him, away with him, crucify him” [John 19:15 ESV]! Pilate digs into their souls even further. “Shall I crucify your King” [John 19:15 ESV]? Their answer comes from purely emotional, unthinking, uncaring motivations willing to dehumanize anyone who would threaten their power and authority and place within Judea and before the people. With these words, however, they abdicate their citizenship as God’s people and align themselves with Rome. “We have no king but Caesar” [John 19:15 ESV].

“So he delivered him over to them to be crucified” [John 19:16 ESV]. Jesus is a walking, breathing dead man who hasn’t yet died. What Pilate doesn’t know but the Religious leaders do is Jesus said he would die but be raised from the dead. Jesus will die with no hope of resucitation. Too many people trained to kill will be involved in his death. Too many people thinking he was dead will see him alive. Pilate thinks the drama is almost over. Jesus’ death ends nothing. Jesus’ resurrection begins everything.

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