Pilate had no love for the Jews, but when they insisted that he put Jesus to death, saying to be a friend of Jesus was to be an enemy of Caesar, Pilate believed he had no choice. He felt he could not risk angering the emperor should the Jews complain yet again about his incompetent leadership.
Pilate had sought to free Jesus, knowing He was innocent and that the Jewish leaders were jealous of Him. Pilate had Jesus beaten, hoping that would satisfy them, but it didn't. He offered to free either Jesus or the violent criminal Barabbas. The crowd surprised him by demanding he free Barabbas. Pilate compromised his integrity and granted their demand to do so and crucify the King of the Jews.
Contempt or Compassion?
To more fully understand Pilate's position, we must understand the political climate of the region. Out of all the places in the Roman Empire to govern, this was the least sought after. The Jews were notorious for not accepting Roman rule and protested often. Everyone who had any position of power in Rome hated this region and hated the people in it.
Not only did the Jewish people resist Roman rule, they considered themselves as spiritually superior. When they brought Jesus to Pilate, they refused to get close to his residence for fear of becoming "unclean" and not being allowed to participate in the rest of the Passover celebrations. They had gotten very good at appearing clean on the outside, but it was more about self-righteousness than submitting to God's laws and glorifying Him.
Isaiah 49:6 says, "I will make you [Israel] as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
The Jewish nation was to be a beacon pointing Gentiles to the Light of the World. Instead, they saw themselves as superior, even to the ruling Roman people. While Pilate made the worst possible choice, it's understandable what led him to do so. His contempt for the Jews is also understandable. Pilate chose to be known as "a friend of Caesar."
If, instead, we are Jesus's friend, we will follow His example.
In Luke 5:30, we read, "The Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?' And Jesus answered them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.'"
Jesus had compassion on people right up to the point of His death—and beyond. As His friends, that same compassion should increasingly mark our lives—as should peace rather than anxiety.
Anxiety or Peace?
Pilate was a rich and powerful man, and yet, he lived with anxiety and fear—fear that the emperor would side with the Jews if Pilate overstepped his authority yet again. If word got back to Emperor Tiberius, there was the risk that not only Pilate's position and wealth would be taken from him but possibly, his life as well.
Add to that the fear that Jesus just might be one of the Roman gods who had taken on human form, and it's no wonder Pilate was anxious and fearful—and wanted nothing to do with Jesus's trial and judgment.
Still, Pilate had Jesus tortured, hoping that would satisfy the Jews. But it didn't, and Pilate wasn't morally strong enough to resist their insistence that He be crucified.
In the midst of 21st century life, we have many reasons to be anxious and fearful. If, like this Roman governor, we seek to abuse our power or work things out on our own, we will never experience peace with God.
Romans 5:1 says, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
If we deny our sin and our need for the Savior, if we try to fix things on our own, we will never experience this peace.
The topic of sin isn't something the Christian church should ignore. Without an understanding of sin and the price Jesus paid to clear our debt, we will never know the peace He came to bring. We will never know the truth.
What about Truth?
Pilate knew the truth—at least in part. He knew that the Jewish leaders were jealous of Jesus. He knew that this rabbi had done nothing to warrant death. He knew that crucifying Him would be wrong.
In fact, in John 19:12, we read, "From then on Pilate sought to release him."
Still, the governor was far more concerned about preserving his position and his life than he was about standing up for the truth.
We may think that situational ethics is something new, but it isn't. We can see that in this scenario. As long as it served Pilate's purposes, he would seek to do what was ethically right. But if he had to choose between preserving Jesus's life and his own … Well, there was no contest.
It isn't easy to proclaim the truth in the face of adversity, not even for genuine believers in Christ. However, if we are His friends, we will increasingly do as He commands.
In John 15:14, Jesus says, "You are my friends if you do what I command you."
As we grow in our assurance that He is the truth … As we come to recognize His great love for us … As we increasingly desire to honor Him—no matter what … Then, we will take a stand for the truth, even in the face of adversity and persecution.
And only in doing so will we have hope for eternity, not a hope that comes because of our efforts but a hope that comes from trusting what Jesus accomplished by His life, death, and resurrection.
Hope for Eternity?
Pilate had a choice to make. And he made the wrong one. In an effort to secure his position and power in this life, he gave up something infinitely better, eternal life in Paradise with the very One he sentenced to death.
As Jesus said in Mark 8:36, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?"
Had Pilate chosen to listen to Jesus, listen to truth, had he chosen Jesus over the world, he would have hope for all eternity.
North American society is turning its back on Judeo-Christian morality. As Christians, we must stand up for the truth.
And when things go from bad to worse, we must be assured of the truth of Matthew 5:10-12, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
As Joshua challenged in Joshua 24:15, we must "choose this day whom [we] will serve." Will we, like this great leader declare, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord"?
Only if we do so in the strength God provides will we have compassion, know peace, recognize the truth, and have hope for an eternity with Him.