As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” 7 The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid (John 19:6-8).
The past few days we’ve examined the jealousy of the Jewish council, the self-interest of Judas, and the instability of the fickle crowd. All those things contributed to Jesus’ death, but what about Pilate’s role in the final decision?
Pontius Pilate had acquired a reputation as an able administrator, but he was hated by the Jews. It’s clear that he was fearful of the Jews getting out of control, especially when so many people were packed into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration.
Pilate had already been in trouble with the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar, on two or three previous occasions, and in his mind, he couldn’t afford any additional disturbance or unrest that could cost him his job. Also, the religious leaders were very effective in playing upon Pilate’s fear of failure and his fear of losing his favored status with Rome. The gospels record that Pilate tried a few things to avoid being criticized.
Three times Pilate publicly confessed that he could find no fault with Jesus. The first was soon after daybreak on Friday morning when the Sanhedrin referred the case to him. Pilate listened to them, asked Jesus a few questions, and after this preliminary hearing announced, “I find no basis for a charge against this man” (Luke 23:4; John 18:38).
Pilate’s personal conviction about the innocence of Jesus was confirmed by a message his wife sent him: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him” (Matthew 27:19).
On hearing Jesus was a Galilean, and therefore under Herod’s jurisdiction, Pilate sent him to Herod for a trial, hoping to transfer to him the responsibility for the decision, but Herod sent Jesus back unsentenced (Luke 23:5-12).
In addition, the Roman governor tried half measures: “I will have him punished (i.e., scourged) and then release him” (Luke 23:16, 22). Pilate hoped the crowd might be satisfied by something less than the supreme penalty.
Next Pilate tried to do the right thing and release Jesus by offering an alternative. There was a custom to grant amnesty to a prisoner during the time of Passover, and he hoped the people would select Jesus for this special favor. But the stirred-up crowd thwarted this effort by continuing to ask for Jesus to be crucified.
Finally, Pilate proclaimed his own blamelessness by washing his hands in front of the crowd, saying “I am innocent of this man’s blood…. It is your responsibility” (Matthew 27:24). Then Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.
Stott concludes: “It’s easy to condemn Pilate and overlook our own equally devious behavior. Anxious to avoid the pain of a whole-hearted commitment to Christ, we too search for convenient subterfuges. We either leave the decision to somebody else, or opt for a half-hearted compromise, where we seek to honour Jesus for the wrong reason (e.g. as a teacher instead of as Lord), or even make a public affirmation of loyalty while at the same time denying him in our hearts” (Stott, page 50-51).
Jesus died because of the self-interest of the religious leaders, the greed of Judas, the vacillation of the crowd, and the fear of Pilate, but there’s even more to the story than that. Find out tomorrow!
Father, please forgive us for the self-interest, greed, vacillation, and fear that shows up in our own lives. We are guilty too! Thankfully, you took away the barrier of sin that separated us from you. The penalty for our rebellion has been paid once-and-for-all, and we can approach you today with full assurance of faith.
Like Pilate, have you ever known the right thing to do and not done it?