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Pilate, Pontius


Pontius Pilate was the fifth Roman prefect (governor) of Judea from 26 to 36 AD. The Roman emperor Tiberius appointed him to keep order and gather taxes in Judea. He was primarily responsible for maintaining law and order according to Roman law in the region.

Pilate is best known for his role in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jewish religious leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy and claiming to be the King of the Jews, which could be seen as insurrection against Roman authority, leading to his trial before Pilate.

He was depicted as a somewhat reluctant figure who finds no fault in Jesus but succumbs to the pressure of the Jewish leaders and the crowd demanding Jesus’s crucifixion. During the trial of Jesus, Pilate was caught in a bind between the demands of justice and the pressure tactics of the Jewish leaders. He also had a message from his wife: “Have nothing to do with that innocent man. Last night I had a terrible dream about him” (Mt 27:19). So Pilate looked for excuses to set Jesus free. Symbolically, he absolved himself of responsibility for Jesus’ fate by famously washing his hands in front of the crowd.

The Jews referred Jesus to Pilate for trial with the expectation of a verdict for crucifixion. Though Pilate found him innocent, because of the pressure from the Jews, Pilate sentenced Jesus according to the wish of the Jews.


During the trial, Pilate found Jesus innocent. He tried tactics one after another to release Jesus.

1. The Jews had the practice of demanding from the governor a prisoner to be freed during their Feast of Passover. But the selection of the criminal for freedom was a choice of the people (Mt 27:15). Pilate presented an option to the public between Jesus and a notorious criminal, Barabbas, who committed murder during a rebellion. People compared the murderer with their Savior. Under the influence of the chief priests and elders (Mt 27:20), who were mediators between God and humans, they selected a criminal for release and the innocent Lamb of God for sacrifice.

2. The next tactic of Pilate was to scourge Jesus and present him in a sympathetic shape to satisfy his enemies and make them allow his release. The soldiers of Pilate scourged Jesus, hard-pressed a crown of thorns on his head, clothed him in a purple cloak, and beat him, mocking him as the “King of the Jews.” However, the enemies repeated, “Crucify him!”

3. Pilate tried to escape judging Jesus by sending him to King Herod Antipas, who came from Galilee to Jerusalem for the Passover. Since Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate found justification to refer Jesus to Herod. However, Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate, appreciating his willingness to recognize his authority.


When Pilate attempted to release Jesus, the Jews used their pressure tactic, saying, “If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” (Jn 19:12). Jews hated Pilate because they had previous issues with Pilate and had complained against him to the Roman emperor.

1. When Governor Pilate first visited Jerusalem from Caesarea, which was his headquarters, he came with soldiers who carried the image of the emperor on their standards that used instead of flags. All the previous Roman governors had removed the image before they entered the city to respect the faith of the Jews who do not use any images. Despite the demand of the Jews, Pilate was adamant in his decision. The Jews followed Pilate to Caesarea. Pilate threatened to kill the large gathering of Jews. They were even willing to die for their belief. To avoid a massacre of the Jewish gathering, Pilate had to agree with them.

2. Another issue Pilate had with Jews was that he raided the Temple treasury to meet the expenses of a new aqueduct he reconstructed to supply enough water to Jerusalem. It had benefitted the Temple that needed much water for the sacrifices and cleaning. However, the Jews objected to taking money from the Temple treasury that was only for religious purpose. So, they held riots on the street. Pilate mingled his soldiers in civil clothes with the rioters and, at a signal, attacked and killed many. Because of the complaint of Jews, Pilate had to answer to the Roman Emperor Tiberius for his action.

3. When Pilate was in Jerusalem, he used to stay in the ancient palace of Herod. He had made shields with the name of the emperor inscribed on them. Since the Romans honored the emperor as god, the Jews vehemently objected to the name displayed for reverence in the Holy City. Pilate refused to remove it. At the request of the Jews, Emperor Tiberius asked Pilate to get rid of it.

Thus, Pilate had downfalls in his relationship with the Jews. So, he knew that release of Jesus could be another setback for him from the Jews, who would complain to the emperor against him. Pilate, who was bold on previous occasions, found it better to be free from trouble and look for his bright future.


Pilate was sure that Jesus was innocent. His conscience was bothering him also because his wife sent him a message about the innocence of Jesus. Meanwhile, he had to avoid trouble from the Jews and from the Roman emperor. So, he used a Jewish custom of washing hands to escape from the murder of an innocent person as given in Deuteronomy 21:1-9. Still, Pilate was doing injustice as a judge. He judged to crucify the innocent one who will come one day as the judge of Pilate and all humanity.


Sometimes, we also fall into the situation of Pilate. Our past might haunt us and prevent us from doing the right. Our concern for the worldly future also influences us to do injustice. Let us be righteous and do justice to others regardless of pressures we might have.


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