I will start by saying that it’s a bit hard to harmonize these passages. Here’s how I see it, but I encourage you to look at it yourself, and come to your own conclusions.
- The priests and council members bring Jesus in front of Pilate with their initial accusations (Luke 23:1-2, John 18:29-31)
- Pilate then talks to Jesus the first time (John 18:33-38 gives us the most details of this conversation while the other gospels give the briefest of summaries).
- Pilate proclaims Jesus innocent but after further accusations, decides to send him to Herod. (Mark 15:3-5; Luke 23:4-12)
- Herod returns Jesus, and Pilate proclaims him innocent again. (Luke 23:13-17)
- Pilate proposes releasing Jesus or Barabbas, and the crowd demands Barabbas. (All the gospels)
- Pilate releases Barabbas, but then proposes punishing Jesus instead of crucifying him. Ultimately, he has Jesus flogged. (Mark 15:16-20 Luke 23:21, John 19:1-7)
- Pilate makes one last appeal, but ends up giving Jesus over to be crucified. (John 19:7-14)
With that background, over the next few days, I think I’ll go over the main characters in these events.
Today, I want to look at Pilate. You can read about Pilate in history, but I want to stay with what we see here. And what I see is someone who had nothing to stand on when it came to how he made decisions and how he lived his life.
When Pilate first called Jesus in for a private interrogation, his main concern was whether Jesus was truly an insurrectionist or not. So he asked point blank whether Jesus was a king or not. And when he found out that Jesus did claim to be a king, but that this kingdom was “not of this world,” and was certainly no threat to the Roman empire, that was all that mattered to Pilate. (John 18:36-37)
But Jesus would not let things rest there. Instead he challenged Pilate, by saying,
In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me. (John 18:37b)
Basically, Jesus was asking Pilate, “What about you? Are you on the side of truth? Are you a lover of truth? Are you willing to stand on truth? If you are, then you must listen to me and believe it.”
It’s the challenge that faces all of us. What do we base our lives on? Do we base it on truth? Do we believe that Jesus himself is truth?
Pilate faced that question in that moment. His response?
What is truth? (John 18:38)
I really wish that we could know the tone behind his words. Did he say this with the implication of, “Who do you think you are? You think you know better than everyone else?”
Or did he say it with a voice dripping with irony? “Truth? There is no truth. Truth is what people in power say it is.”
Or did he say it with despair. “Is there really any truth out there? Is it really possible to find?”
Whatever his feeling, his ultimate response was to reject the idea of absolute truth. Specifically he rejected Jesus as the source of truth. The result?
He had no foundation by which to make his decisions. Instead, he was tossed and blown by the winds of the words of others and the pressures they put upon him. The pressure of facing a riot (Matthew 27:24). The pressure of being reported to Caesar (John 19:12). The pressure, ultimately, of his own fears. And because of this, he made a decision he knew was wrong.
The same will happen to us. If we refuse to make truth the foundation of our lives, if we refuse to make Jesus himself the foundation of our lives, then we will be blown and tossed by the opinions of others and by our own fears. And we’ll end up making decisions we know are wrong.
How about you? What do you rest your decisions on? What do you rest your life on? Do you seek God’s counsel? And do you have the faith to believe that what he has said is true? James tells us,
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:5-8)