“While he was sitting on the judge’s bench, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for today I’ve suffered terribly in a dream because of Him!’” (Matthew 27:19)
We don’t know her name.
Tradition suggests the name Claudia or the name Procula, but no name is given for Pilate’s wife in the New Testament. This is the only verse where she is mentioned.
Evidently Pilate had discussed the case of Jesus with his wife. Perhaps he had expressed his uncertainty to her. Who is this strange Jewish rabbi who seemed to have run afoul of his own leaders? What had he done that made them want to kill him? What law, if any, had he broken? What should Pilate do about Jesus of Nazareth?
We can see the providence of God at work in three different ways in this story: First, his wife had a dream about Jesus that upset her greatly. Second, she knew he was a righteous man. Third, the message arrives at the very moment when Pilate must make a decision. It is as if God is saying, “Pilate, this is your final warning.”
But there is even more to think about. In all the long hours when Jesus stood on trial, only one person spoke up for him:
A Gentile woman.
A pagan woman.
The wife of the Roman governor.
The wife of the man who answered to the emperor.
Notice the word “today.” Since Pilate’s interviews with Jesus took place early on Friday morning, this must mean that his wife had the terrible dream sometime Thursday night. Perhaps God gave her an understanding that her husband had Jesus’ fate in his hands that very morning. In this little vignette we are reminded that God can use dreams to awaken the conscience.
Pilate knew Jesus had committed no crime worthy of death. But like many a politician caught between a rock and a hard place, he caved in to pressure from the Jewish leaders who wanted Jesus dead.
He is guilty of moral cowardice in the moment of crisis.
He is guilty of selling out an innocent man to save his own job.
He is guilty of condemning a man he knows to be innocent.
His name has become a symbol for all the evil that was done to Jesus. Every Sunday, in churches around the world, Christians recite the Apostle’s Creed. Only three personal names are found in that creed—Jesus, Mary and Pilate. It reads this way: “Born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Yet Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. He tried four times to release him—and said, “I find no fault in him.” Yet he handed over Jesus to be crucified anyway.
What do we learn from the story of Pilate’s wife? That Jesus was innocent and Pilate was guilty. That she did the right thing and Pilate did the wrong thing. That he should have listened to his wife instead of to the howling mob.
Mostly we learn that God is in control of all sides of every situation. Jesus dies for a crime he did not commit, and we are forgiven of crimes we did commit.
What a Savior!
My Lord, make me sensitive to your Spirit and willing to listen to others when I am in danger of sinning against you. Amen.