Mark 15, Pontius Pilate the Roman Governor of Judea
The role of Pilate in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is so important that it is mentioned in all four Gospel accounts, and we are given a detailed story of Christ’s interaction with him. His story was also very important to the early church since both the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed include the suffering of Christ under his authority. By Pilate’s reaction to Jesus it is made even more clear that Jesus was sinless and perfectly innocent of all the charges against Him. We can also see that Jesus did not defend himself, and thus was giving Himself up to God’s will that He be crucified in order to redeem mankind. Pilate did everything he could think of to free Jesus, but Christ would not cooperate, and Pilate did everything he could to placate the Jewish Priests, but they would have none of it. In the so-called Age of Enlightenment, the brilliant thinkers doubted that Pilate was even a real person since they claimed there was no evidence of his existence outside of the Bible. But in 1961 archeologists working at Caesarea uncovered the Pilate Stone or plaque bearing his inscription as the Governor of Judea. In addition to this, we now have the literature of the most well-known and respected historians of the first century Roman Empire, all of whom name Pilate as the Governor who crucified Jesus Christ. Jewish historians Philo of Alexandria, and Josephus of Rome are excellent sources as well as the Roman historian Tacitus. Amongst the second century authors confirming Pilate are Ignatius and Irenaeus. Clear evidence exists on Roman coins minted by Pilate that mention him have been found also. Perhaps the great thinkers of the Enlightenment were not enlightened at all. First century historian Josephus stated that Pontius Pilate was the fifth Governor of the Roman province of Judea during the reign of Emperor Tiberius between 26 and 36 A.D.
The Most Important Question
There are many important questions in the Bible, and Jesus used questions He already knew the answer to as teaching tools. For instance, Jesus asked “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world, if he loses his soul?”(Mark 8:36), or Jesus asked James and John “Are you able to drink the cup (of wrath) that I drink?” Yet I think the most important question was asked by Pilate in Matthew 27:22, “What shall I do with Jesus?” Isn’t that a question that everyone must answer? It is a personal question that will determine the destiny of every person’s soul. Pilate asked Jesus many questions in an effort to find the grounds to free Him. Yet Jesus remained silent to all the false charges. The only question Jesus answered was the truthful one, “Are you the King of the Jews.” and Jesus answered that it was so. Seeking a way out to release an innocent man, Pilate offered to release a prisoner on the Passover, assuming they would agree to Jesus, but they said they wanted the notorious criminal Barabbas instead. Frustrated, Pilate said, “Then what shall I do with the one you call the king of the Jews?”
Everyone must answer the question “What shall I do with Jesus?” What did the different people at the scene answer? Pilate chose the politically correct thing, which was to go along with the mob and avoid a riot. Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, but he gave into the political pressure and chose his career over the truth. The crowd’s answer was to replace Jesus with someone of this fallen world—Barabbas. Ever since then worldly people have been replacing the true Messiah with fake ones, ie other religious leaders and false religions. The soldiers whom Pilate appointed to scourge Jesus, made fun of Him. In Matt. 27, they stripped Him, spit on Him, and struck him over and over. Anybody that watches TV today sees Christ and Christians being mocked and falsely betrayed. But as for us who believe, we answer that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. Many people would try to sit on the fence and be neutral, but Jesus said “Whoever that is not with Me is against Me”, therefore everyone must choose.
Mark gives no details, but comparing the other Gospel accounts we know Jesus was first taken to Annas and then Caiphas to be set up before they took Him to the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling body) to be formally tried and convicted for blasphemy. The Sanhedrin was allowed to rule Jerusalem except for capital punishment, so they had to take Jesus to the Roman Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate for permission. Pilate had no love for the Jews or their religious affairs, but he cared greatly about keeping the peace, so he cooperated with them. The Jews knew that Pilate would care nothing about blasphemy, so they charged Jesus with a different crime of treason because He claimed to be king. Jesus knows He must die on the cross so He offers no defense to the many lies and distortions His accusers used against Him, but the one question He answers is about the truth that He is the King of the Jews. Therefore, treason is on the table. Pilate will see right through all the lies, but he must consider treason. We can’t help but notice the hypocrisy of the priests who charged Him with blasphemy, when the truth was their envy of His popularity, and now they charge Him differently with treason to enlist Pilate’s approval.
Pilate was “amazed” at Jesus because he was used to prisoners groveling, begging, and lying, but Jesus was calm, humble, and honest. In John 19:10, Pilate said, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you, and I have authority to crucify you?” Jesus’ answer blew his mind, “You would have no authority over Me unless it had been given you from above”. This further amazed Pilate because Jesus was saying that those events and the crucifixion, had been predetermined by God. The irony is that on judgment day, Jesus will sit in judgment on them to determine their eternal destiny. The one whom men judged will be the final judge of all men. We know that Pilate was not in charge of Christ’s destiny, which had been predetermined by God from eternity. This truth was reinforced by Peter in his prayer in Acts 4:27-28, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against God’s holy servant Jesus, whom God anointed, both Herod and Pilate…to do whatever the Lord’s hand and purpose predestined to occur.” In Matthew 27, we can see the further account of Pilate’s wife pulling him aside and warning Pilate that Jesus was righteous and innocent so Pilate should free Jesus. In Luke 23, the further detail is added that at this point Pilate heard that Jesus was from the Galilee, so he sent him to Herod Antipas because he was the Governor of the Galilee. Obviously Pilate is doing everything possible to get out of this mess, and free himself of any responsibility. Herod would have none of it and sent Jesus back to Pilate. At that point Pilate issued his findings that “You brought this man to me as one who incites people to rebellion, but I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him, I will therefore punish Him and release Him”. (Luke 23:14)
Barabbas the Murderer and Insurrectionist
Pilate had one more card up his sleeve since it was Passover. It was a tradition on Passover for the Romans to release one Jewish prisoner for the crowd’s pleasure. Therefore, I think Pilate figured he would offer up either the good man Jesus or the crooked scumbag Barabbas. Surely they would choose Jesus over Barabbas the murdering thief. The irony here is that the crowd chose the one who takes lives to achieve his own ends, and they condemn the one who gives His life for others. The result of their choice would mean that Jesus’s prediction of Mark 13:2 would be fulfilled—the physical destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. The very thing they wanted to worship and preserve, they unknowingly destroyed. The violence of Barabbas and the other insurrectionists continued to spiral out of control until it erupted in war with Rome. Historically, Rome destroyed it all in 70 A.D. The priests motivated the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released, so then Pilate decided to scourge Jesus in hopes that would be enough for the crowd. After the soldiers whipped Jesus to a bloody mess, Pilate brought Him out to show the crowd, and in John 19:5, he said “Behold the Man!” I think he was saying hasn’t He suffered enough? Look at the pain and suffering of an innocent man. Isn’t it enough? But the mob yelled “Crucify Him!” Pilate, fearing a riot and the wrath of Rome, caved in and gave Jesus over to be crucified. In a ridiculous gesture to try and absolve his guilty conscience, Pilate tried to prove his own innocence by taking “water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying I am innocent of this Man’s blood.”
At this point I have to ask “What about you and I? Do we see Jesus as an innocent substitution for us? Do you see your Savior?” Is there a more tragic figure in the New Testament than Pilate? He knows Jesus is innocent. He knows Jesus is special, and he believes Jesus is the King of the Jews, but he couldn’t get over his political power aspirations. What might be keeping people today from committing to Jesus? Has Jesus’ love, which motivated Him to be silent before His accusers and present Himself—the innocent for the guilty, moved you to follow Him? If not, why not?
The Poverty and Riches of Christ
I read one commentator who said that Jesus borrowed almost everything he had while He was here in the flesh. He borrowed a place where He was born, a house to stay in, a boat to preach from, a donkey to ride in on, a room for the Last Supper, and a tomb to be buried in. Of course, as the Creator, He owned it all, but on earth He said He had nothing of His own. Also, He borrowed someone else’s cross to die on—Barabbas. Everyone knew Barabbas was a bad man who deserved to die, but Jesus took his place. I think this is precisely what Paul was saying in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”
The sequel to the Barabbas story is that according to some ancient church tradition, much later Barabbas repented and believed in Christ as his Savior. The innocent one Jesus died so the guilty one Barabbas could have eternal life. In a way, we are all like Barabbas since we have all sinned, but the innocent substitute Jesus has taken our sin upon Himself so that we might live eternally!