I am Pilate
by Katherine Britton, Crosswalk.com Contributor
"What is truth?" Pilate asked.
This week I met one of the most understandable yet guilty figures in the Bible. This man desperately tried to convince himself that he could control his circumstances. He had a vague intuition for what was right, but he was constantly torn between catering to the crowd and bullying them to show his power. He was overwhelmed by material consequences and implications. And in three simple words, he revealed the heart of his stubborn weakness.
As I again read Pontius Pilate’s interview Jesus, I wondered how a man could stare the Son of God in the face, find Him not guilty, and yet condemn Him to death. Each Gospel offers some perspective on why. In reading their accounts, I found that Pilate’s deep flaws were eerily similar to those I see in myself.
You see, I think Pilate had a modern mind. As a Roman, he wasn’t very “into” religion. Belief in the gods – and the emperor as a god – were vestiges of an older system by his time, now adopted as a form of patriotism. His real religion would have been in the glorious Roman Empire, the unconquerable empire-without-end. This thoroughly material belief would have dominated the thoughts of a Roman procurator such as Pilate. He had no room in his world for the supernatural.
All that was called into question when they brought in Jesus. At that point, Pilate’s religion showed its consequences in his character.
Demand for Material Answers
From first to last, Pilate’s questions to Jesus involve politics and facts. Jesus’ answers were unintelligible, because Pilate was asking the wrong questions. Pilate couldn’t understand supernatural answers because he was thoroughly material. He thought the world could be interpreted through distinct movements and verifiable facts. He couldn’t accept any mystery in faith, and so he rejected the Messiah as another man.
False Sense of Power
Pilate’s religion of materialism forced him to rely on position. He told Jesus, “Don’t you know that I have the authority to release you and the authority to crucify you?” (John 19:10) I’m sure he fully believed that authority was his. Jesus corrected Pilate by telling him that his power was given “from above,” which probably shook Pilate just a little. I think at that point Pilate realized that control was slipping away from him, and he did everything he could to regain it.
Blinded by Consequences
Pilate wanted to pretend that he wasn’t really responsible for Jesus’ death. He made a few feeble attempts to stick up for Jesus before the crowd, which probably counted as a good deed in Pilate’s mind. But he ultimately backed down and washed his hands of Jesus’ fate, because he “wished to satisfy the crowd.” (Mark 15:22) He proclaimed the truth as “not dangerous” but chose not to intervene when it was attacked.
Refusal to See Truth
I think Pilate’s most telling statement of all came right in the middle of the dialogue. Jesus says, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37) I can just see Pilate throwing up his hands in exasperation and asking a rhetorical question: “What is truth!” Face to face with the reality of Jesus, the Son of God, Pilate chose to keep his relativism. The great empire with its power was enough for Pilate. And so he refused the Gospel.
I Am Pilate
How many times have I refused to believe a biblical promise because I don’t see how it applies to my worldly situation? How often do I refuse to surrender my circumstances to God’s plan for me, pretending I’m in control? How often have I made benign comments when the Gospel is attacked and then retreated? How many times have I refused to draw lines for what is right or to recognize sin for what it is in my life?
Ultimately, these “character flaws”—really, sins—tempt us to believe that Truth isn’t Truth. We are tempted to deny that Christ had to die to free us from ourselves. I know that acknowledging the Gospel means my life has to change, and my human nature doesn’t want that. But the glory of the cross is that we are changed, and thrown into a life far bigger than anything on this earth – Jesus’ incredible love. That’s what Pilate refused to see. That’s what we can’t afford to miss.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Christ went to the cross because of the sin of the world, including Pilate and you and me. How much pain do we bring Him when we refuse to believe? On this Good Friday, consider how often you respond like Pilate. Let's use this Easter opportunity to repent and start with a new framework.