A MESSAGE FROM HELL: 'I AM PONTIUS PILATE'
'You hypocrites, I know you've been saying about me: 'coward', 'compromiser.'
How empty that sounds coming from your mouths, you, who have done the very same thing, over and over- that I did once. I come from hell to warn you. I have come for several purposes and one of them is to set the record straight. What do you know about it? You have passed your judgements on me, but you weren't there, you donít know what it was like. Let me tell you a few things.
I am a Roman of noble birth. Do you know what it was like to try and rule those unruly Jews, those rebels, never willing to submit to the proper government of Rome? I was their supreme commander, Procurator of Judea, appointed by Tiberius himself (with help from Sijanus in court). I was no ordinary Procurator. I was in charge of the finances,military and law. I held in my hands the power of life and death. Do you know what that responsibility means?
From the moment I arrived trouble stirred in that difficult province, which I'd been honoured to rule over (because of my diplomatic skills and firmness). What Tiberius was in Rome, I was in Judea -the representative of the Emperor of the Empire that ruled the world -mighty Rome. Soon after I arrived in Jerusalem and the city was filled with stories about a John the Baptist who was creating a great stir in the wilderness (26 AD). I sent my spies (I had my finger on all that took place in Jerusalem and Judea) and they told me everything he said, but this was no rebellion. And just a few months later other reports of one supposed to be the Messiah of Israel, one Jesus. But again this was no rebellion. Mighty Tiberius had nothing to fear from this travelling preacher from Nazareth!
From the very beginning my career in Judea was tied up with the tumultuous, unruleable Jews. All I did was to command that the Legion, enter into Jerusalem and so they brought their standards bearing the Roman Eagle and the name of Caesar. This was nothing! They'd been in many cities and no one had objected but had bowed to the Imperial Might of Rome. But not these Jews! Why! the first thing I know, there are thousands of them, in front of the Palace, protesting and demanding that they be removed from the 'Holy City', because 'it was idolatry'. they said, to have these images in Jerusalem. I told them to disband but they wouldn't. I waited patiently for 4 days while they continued to protest night and day. Finally I sent hundreds of my soldiers to mingle among them and then I gave this order, 'Disperse immediately or you will be killed on the spot' and with my signal my soldiers drew their swords.
What a stroke of genius! These cowardly Jews would flee to their homes, and know something of the might of Rome. But did they flee? No! they fell on their knees, exposed their necks and said: 'strike us here, we'd rather die than allow this idolatry to continue.' I was dumb struck, I didn't know what to do. I couldn't kill them all and so I called off my soldiers and removed the standards from Jerusalem. But not satisfied they sent an envoy to Rome and complained to Tiberius himself and in due time I received a rebuke from him.
If that's not enough, soon after that, when all I planned to do was to honour Tiberius himself, my benefactor, my Emperor, I had some shields beautifully made of gold hung up in Herod's Palace. Now there were no eagles attached, nothing but the name of the donor and the name of Tiberius -in whose honour they were hung. But again, they came out and protested. So another word was sent to Rome and the reply came back: 'Remove the shields to Ceasarea and don't let this happen again.' You see you knew nothing about that. I knew clearly that one more complaint to Rome and I was through.
It was against that backdrop that you must understand the events of the Friday you call Good Friday but for me it's horror began very early in the morning. I was asleep, when the captain of the guard spoke my name and awoke me (it wasn't even light!) informing me that the Sanhedrin (the Jewish leadership), was outside, demanding my presence. I can't possibly think of a worse combination of events than to be both woken before sunrise and to have to meet with the Sanhedrin, the same morning. Further I was told that they wouldn't even come into my palace because they might be defiled in the presence of us heathen! So as Caesar's representative I went out and there were not only the Sanhedrin but a motly mob of people swaying and surging behind them with others continuing to join them and there in front of them stood the prisoner.
He didn't look very dangerous to me, looked more like one of their travelling prophets standing there with his hands bound in front of him and spittle dripping from his beard. Yet, a strange peace came from him. I couldn't understand how such a one should demand my attention even before daylight. So with great exasperation, I said: 'What accusation bring you against this man, in the middle of the night that can't even wait until morning.'
Would you believe their response?: 'If he were not a criminal we wouldn't have delivered him up to you', as if they expected that I, Pontius Pilate, was going to rubber stamp their judgement on this man without even hearing the facts! So I said, 'You have a law, take him and judge him by your own law.'
Their response was instantaneous: 'it isn't lawful for us to put any man to death.' Those words did my soul good that early morning. Yes, they were the conquered subjects of Rome and we had kept in our hands the right of capital punishment.
This was a capital crime that they brought before me so I had to hear it.
I asked: 'What is the accusation?'
They began to cry out, 'This man corrupts the nation. He stirs up the people. He tells us not to give tribute to Caesar. He's made himself a king and rejects Roman rule.' Now these were serious matters. Then I didn't know what I since learned in that place where I went soon after (for many of those accusers joined me in hell). They told me they'd already tried him for altogether other crimes than revolt against Rome. They'd convicted him of blasphemy because he claimed to be the Son of God. But they knew Rome had no law against blasphemy, much less a capital offence, and that we are tolerant of all of the gods and were about as likely to put somebody to death for blasphemy as a modern court would be to put one to death for flying a kite! So, casting all judicial fairness to the wind they changed their accusations to that crime they knew would have the greatest weight in my eyes- rebellion against Rome. So I had to examine the case.
I returned into the Palace and called for the prisoner and he stood silently in my presence. For the first time in my life I looked into those eyes. I started to look away and then found myself transfixed by a gaze that seemed to penetrate deep into my soul and a sense of uneasiness came over me and to ease my sense of disease.
I said: 'Are you the King of the Jews?'
Would you believe he said: 'Is this your idea or have others told you this about me?'
As if I, the Roman ruler of Judea should be interested in some Jewish claimant to the throne of Israel! Why, if he were a king he'd simply be another one to crush under the heel of Rome. So, I responded with growing exasperation:
'Am I a Jew? why your own High Priest and your own nation have delivered you to me. What have you done?'
Again that look he gave me seemed to reverse our positions and I felt for some while as if I stood before him as the prisoner in his court. Finally he said: 'You say rightly that I am a king, to this end was I born and for this cause came I into the world to bear witness to the truth.'
Ah, one of those fanatical preachers who build kingdoms on clouds.
This man is no traitor to Rome, no threat to Tiberius.
So, I responded: 'What, what is truth, you fool, do you not know that expediency runs the world. Don't you know that might is right and truth.'
I, Pontius Pilate, left the prisoner, Jesus and went back out to the Praetorium, took my place on the Judgement Seat and said to the waiting multitude: 'I find no fault in this man at all', and to my astonishment instead of being satisfied with my verdict there was a great uproar and they began to shout:
'he stirs up the people from Galilee to Jerusalem.'
I said: 'Did I hear correctly did you say this man from Galilee?'
Ah! one as wise in the ways of the world as I wouldn't pass up such an opportunity to dismiss this problem from my hands. This isn't even in my jurisdiction, this is Herod's problem! and Herod Antipas, is now in Jerusalem for the Passover and I thought: 'here's an opportunity to heal some old wounds because Herod has complained that I usurped his authority so I'll send him to Herod.'
That, I thought was that. I returned to my bed. For a while I had difficulty getting to sleep for that gaze kept returning to my sight and troubled my thoughts but finally as I was about to doze off again, again I was aroused by the guard and told that they were all back. What did Herod do? Well at least one thing good happened, from that very hour the animosity between Herod and myself was done away, for he sent a note that he was very pleased that I'd thought enough of him to send this prisoner for his inspection and from then on, we were friends. (Now I know that some of you have despised that, and said that Herod and I could only get together in one thing, the rejection of the Son of God. How dare you British say that about me, who have rejected him in your schools and universities, your government, and in so many of your daily lives. You dare accuse me. Hypocrites!)
Let's get the record straight shall we?
I didn't get to be Governor without having a fertile mind and it came to me that it had been my custom to curry the favour of these Jews and make them easier to rule that on Passover to grant them the pardon of any prisoner they desired. So I called for the most abominable character that we at had at that moment in our prisons waiting for execution and so they brought Barabbus, a murderer, traitor, insurrectionist, rebel- all the things they accused Jesus of being. In fact his first name was even Jesus and I stood them before the people- filthy, vile, tough, mean and standing next to him was this serene, majestic Jesus of Nazareth.
I said to them, since the choice was obvious:
'Which of these two do you want me to release to you-
Jesus called Barabbus or Jesus called the Christ'
and to my utter amazement as with one voice they cried out:
and I said: 'What then shall I do with this Jesus?'
and they said, as with the voice of a serpent: 'Crucify him, crucify him'
I said: 'Why? What evil has He done?'
Now my reluctance to have this Jesus killed may have surprised many. For I was known as a rigid and harsh ruler. I've been responsible for many executions and it normally wouldn't have troubled me to put a man to death. Yet Jesus was so different from others I'd tried and unsettled me. I felt that to crucify Him would be a terrible crime, a horror that would haunt me forever, a great injustice. This feeling was confirmed for then a servant came and gave me a note from my wife:
'Have nothing to do with this just man, for I have suffered many things because of him in a dream this night.' I confess that a feeling of awe passed over me and I determined that if at all possible I would release this man, and yet they were so clamorous for his blood
Finally I hit on one last way out and said: 'I examined him before you and found no fault in him, neither I nor Herod for I gave him a chance to pass judgement. I'll have him whipped and then I'll set him free.'
Now I thought that a brilliant compromise, though perhaps unworthy of a Judge to whip someone I'd just declared innocent but perhaps it would pacify the blood lust of this crowd crying for his blood. So I delivered him to the soldiers and they bound him and flogged him with that Roman whip, bearing in its leather thongs sharpened pieces of bone and metal. My soldiers, catching the spirit of the morning found an old purple robe and threw it around his blood soaked body. They put a broken reed in his hand, and made a crown of thorns and placed it on his brow, and struck him with their hands and mocked him and pushed him stumbling back out onto the Praetorium.
There he was, blood pouring from his head, streaming all over his face, dripping from his hands, running down his ankles. Certainly a sight to touch the hardest heart. I said to them: 'Surely this will satisfy you. Behold the man'
Instead of being satisfied they cried even louder:
'Away with him, let him be crucified.'
I call God as my witness, that I was going to let him go. Just as I was determining in my mind that this is as far as I would go I was going to say to them:
'I have tried him, scourged him and now I'll set him free.'
Then they said those fatal words: 'Whoever will let this man go is not Caesar's friend, for he is no friend of Caesar who makes himself to be a King.'
This was the ultimate threat. 'Friend of Caesar' was the relationship I desired above all others. Surely they'd send another envoy to Rome telling the tale that I'd set free someone who claimed to be a king competing with Caesar and that would be it for me: 'off with my head.'
You people who've judged me ! My job was at stake!
How many of you have had jobs where you compromised what you claim to believe just to keep your job and keep in your bosses' good books? You have jobs that call you to do things you know are wrong, which keep you from worshipping the Son of God but rather cause Him suffering, yet you stifle your conscience and go ahead. Don't you dare point the finger at me-you hypocrite. You're just like me! I had to contend with the Emperor of Rome. Who is your boss compared to him? My popularity was at stake! My life was at stake! Yes, I caved in. Just exactly as some of you would have done. How often have you backed away from doing the right thing just because it cost your comfort or risked your position and popularity?
Yes, I let an innocent man suffer. I turned away when he needed him. I should have protected him. But how often have you turned your back when you could have come to the rescue of the helpless and needy? You blame me for being weak but what about when you went along with the crowd? You didn't want to stand out, even though they were in sin, because you wanted their approval. I had a mob of thousands pressurising me!
Even then I could stand up to them. But when they threatened to report me to Tiberius I began to cave in. But I still made a final effort to save him. I appealed to their nationalism and hatred of Rome.
I said: 'Shall I crucify your King'
and they said in their final apostasy:
'We have no King but Caesar'
I couldn't believe those words! They denied their faith in God, to redouble the pressure on me. If I stood against them now, it would have looked like I was supporting treason against Caesar.
But I still tried to avoid passing the sentence and so with a brilliant stroke of genius I called my servants to bring a basin of water and I set it before them, and said: 'I call all of you to witness that I wash my hands of this whole affair, I am innocent of the blood of this just man.' I said: "I'll have nothing to do with it, and I call all of you to realise I would not condemn him myself. Look at the man, why would you not let it go? No, you must have his blood. Crucify him yourself. I will have nothing to do with it. I am innocent, I tell you, innocent!"
But even this did not stop them. They had no fear of God and they said they were willing for all the curse of this evil judgement to fall on themselves. So to my eternal shame I sent the 'son of man' away to be crucified.
Now I've come back from afar to warn you because some of you are doing right now exactly what I did. You see, I tried not to condemn him, but I wasn't willing to confess him. I tried not to deny him, but I wasn't willing to declare him innocent. I tried not to crucify him but I wasn't willing to crown him Lord of my life. Oh and you blame me! What did I know compared to what you know? Your knowledge makes your guilt much greater:
You have the New Testament. I wasn't aware what all this meant.
You've seen his resurrection! You know He's the glorious Son of God!
You've heard the good news of the gospel, the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life if you'll trust in him. I wasn't aware of these things!
Some of you have taken that middle ground, and tried to sit on the fence.
You're attracted by the true King, as I was.
You don't want to reject him, but you've never decided to accept Him as your King.
For, you want to put your needs first. That was my mistake.
If you stay on that road you'll end up rejecting Him as I did.
In the words of Jesus: 'He who is not for me is against me.'
If you don't crown him Lord of your life, you'll be exposed as I was. One day you will stand before His great judgement throne and find that you indeed like me are guilty of the blood of this just man. No decision is a decision to reject him. You'll try and wash your hands of the whole matter just as I did, trying to free yourself of your guilt. But I assure you that they will still be covered with His blood as mine are and you'll wash them through all eternity as I have and nothing will remove that blood from your hands.
Crown Him Lord of all, confess Him as your Saviour, receive Him as your Master! Wash your hands in the blood of Christ which alone can cleanse you from your sin and make you whiter than snow. Now I must return to the pit. Don't be like me. It's too late for me but not for you. Don't sit on the fence. Don't deny him unto the cross as I did. Give your life to Him.
Don't compromise to keep in with the world. It's not worth it! You'll pay a terrible price. I lost everything I compromised to keep. Only a few years later I was deposed by Tiberius (AD37) and forced to commit suicide (AD39). I lost everything because I didn't choose the Son of God. You cannot be neutral.
If you don't surrender to him as your Lord, you are Pontius Pilate.
A Harmony of the 4 Gospel's account of Jesus' Trial before Pilate
1. John 18:28 Matt27:2 Mark15:1 Luke23:1
4. John18:33 Matt27:11a Mark15:2a Luke23:3a
5. John18:34-38a Matt27:11b Mark15:2b Luke23:3b
6. John18:38b Luke23:4
7. Matt27:12-14 Mark15:3-5 Luke 23:5
8. Luke 23:6-12
9. John18:39,40 Matt27:15-18 Mark15:6-10
10. Matt27:19-20 Mark15:11
12. Matt27:22 Mark15:12-13
14. Matt27:23 Mark15:14 Luke23:22,23
16. John19:6 Luke23:23
18. John19:15a Luke23:23
21. John19:16 Matt27:26 Mark15:15 Luke23:24,2
The names of Tiberius and Pilate were found in 1961 on a stone from the theatre at Caesarea. This established Pilate as a real historical figure who ruled in Judea during the reign of Tiberius.