What We Can Learn from the Life of Pontius Pilate

In Jesus’ day, any death sentence had to be approved by the Roman official in charge of the administrative district. Pontius Pilate was governor of the province of Judea, where Jerusalem was located. When the Jewish leaders had Jesus in their power and wanted to kill him, they had to obtain Pilate’s permission. So it happened that early one morning Pilate found a crowd at his door demanding a man’s death.

Pilate’s relationship with the Jews had always been stormy. His Roman toughness and fairness had been weakened by cynicism, compromises, and mistakes. On several occasions his actions had deeply offended the religious leaders. The resulting riots and chaos must have made Pilate wonder what he had gotten himself into. He was trying to control people who treated their Roman conquerors without respect. Jesus’ trial was another episode in Pilate’s ongoing problems.

For Pilate, there was never a doubt about Jesus’ innocence. Three separate times he declared Jesus not guilty. He couldn’t understand what made these people want to kill Jesus, but his fear of the pressure the Jews would place on him made him decide to allow Jesus’ crucifixion.

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” (John 18:38-39)

Because of the people’s threat to inform the emperor that Pilate hadn’t eliminated a rebel against Rome, Pilate went against what he knew was right. In desperation, he chose to do wrong.

Strength and accomplishment:
• Roman governor of Judea

Weaknesses and mistakes:
• He failed in his attempt to rule a people who were defeated militarily but never dominated by Rome
• His constant political struggles made him a cynical and uncaring compromiser, susceptible to pressure
• Although he realized Jesus was innocent, he bowed to the public demand for his execution

Lessons from his life:
• Great evil can happen when truth is at the mercy of political pressures
• Resisting the truth leaves a person without purpose or direction

Vital statistics:
• Where: Judea
• Occupation: Roman governor of Judea
• Relative: Wife (unnamed)
• Contemporaries: Jesus, Caiaphas, Herod

Life Application
We share a common humanity with Pilate. At times we know the right and choose the wrong. He had his moment in history and now we have ours. What have you done with your opportunities and responsibilities? What judgment have you passed on Jesus?

Article drawn from a People Profile in the NIV Life Application Study Bible, Third Edition.


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