GOOD FRIDAY – All through the night Jesus has been locked in the dungeon of the high priest’s house. Early this morning he was bought before a Pilate who transferred his case to Herod. Herod sent him back to Pilate who, sometime in the mid-morning, would bow to the pressure of the Temple leadership and the crowds, and condemn Jesus to a horrible death by crucifixion.
What led Pilate to do this? All the accounts make it clear that Pilate considered Jesus innocent of the charges. Matthew’s gospel indicates to us that Pilate’s own wife said, Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” (Matt 27:19). Why did Pilate condemn him?
It is clear that Pilate, though a powerful man feared the crowd, and that they would riot if he did not condemn Jesus. But, at a deeper level, Pilate feared for himself and his career. It would look bad if he was unable to turn back a riot and keep the peace. He would likely lose the governorship and any chance of promotion (something that happened to him shortly thereafter anyway). So, to save himself, he condemned Jesus.
Pilate is also a portrait in vacillation. In the trial, of Jesus it quickly becomes evident that Jesus turns the tables on Pilate. He ends up putting Pilate on trial! Notice too how many times Pilate goes in and out of Praetorium (the governor’s palace). At least four times! He comes out to speak to the Jews, goes in to speak to Jesus, back out to speak to the Jews, back in to speak to Jesus. Finally, back out to condemn Jesus. He is vacillating and his physical back and forth signals his inner turmoil.
And thus, though he knows Jesus is innocent of the charges, he suppresses his conscience and hands Jesus over. He goes from vacillation to assassination!
At a more spiritual level, Pilate had wanted to avoid committing to Jesus, one way or the other. But he, like you and me, had to make a decision.
Notice particularly the question Pilate wrestles with regarding Jesus’ Kingship. He asks, Are you the King of the Jews? But Jesus will not answer. This is a question Pilate must answer. It is also a question you and I must answer. And so Jesus answers Pilate with a question, Are you saying this on your own or have others been saying this to you? In other words am I a King because you say so or are you just saying what others say?
Only Pilate can answer if Jesus is a king. Only you and I can answer for ourselves. Is he your King?
In the account of the trial before Pilate John’s Gospel contains a (likely) intentional ambiguity: But the crowd kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and he sat down on the judgment seat (Jn 19:12-13)
Who sat on the Judgment Seat? Pilate or Jesus? You decide.
Who’s really on Trial here? Jesus or Pilate?
Or is it you?
For you and I have been asked a question by Jesus: Are you saying I am a King on your own, or have others merely been telling you about me? I think we need to answer him.
Here are two movie accounts of the trial. Note in the first clip that Pilate and Jesus speak in Latin. I think this is the director’s way of saying that Jesus, as God, is speaking personally to Pilate, thus he uses Pilate’s mother-tongue.