The Book of John

Thursday: Jesus and Pilate


Theme: Innocent, Yet Crucified
In this week’s lessons, we see that although Pilate declared Jesus innocent, nevertheless, he allowed for his crucifixion, and so failed to stand up for what was right.
Scripture: John 18:28-19:16
When Pilate’s wife sent a messenger to him as he was conducting Jesus’ trial, her message was, “Have nothing to do with this innocent man because I have been troubled by many things this night in a dream because of him.” Morrison suggests that that’s what strengthened the resolve of this otherwise disreputable, immoral opportunist. Pilate might not have cared a great deal for justice in a situation involving people he had no use for, and he certainly didn’t care very much for the Jews. But the Romans were superstitious, and when you had dreams, they believed it was an omen that was meant to be taken seriously. And here was his wife saying, “I had a dream, and the dream said don’t have anything to do with this man, because he’s innocent.” When Pilate heard that, he wanted to try to get him off because of what his wife said.
Now, since the Gospel writers do not give us all the details leading up to the trial in front of Pilate, it seems to me that of all the possible suggestions that I’ve heard, that’s probably the best. So here you have a man, because of this kind of motivation, wanting to do what’s right. And yet, the people won’t acquiesce in his judgment that he finds no fault in Jesus. They keep pressing the matter, and to the point of getting all the people stirred up shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
What he should have done at that point is obvious. He’s the judge and he’s made his judgment. He should have said, “Jesus is free to go.” Or if he thought Jesus was in danger because of this unruly mob, he should have put him under custody and kept him safe until he could conduct Jesus elsewhere, away from this angry crowd. That was Pilate’s duty, but he didn’t do that. And what he did instead was begin to waffle. He had to try and weasel his way out of what was a sticky political situation, and it is because of that, that Pilate is remembered so adversely, all down through history, and still is today.
He did a number of things. First of all, he heard that he had come from an area of the country where Herod had jurisdiction, and so he sent him to Herod. He thought that maybe Herod would take him off his hands. But Herod was smart; he knew what Pilate was doing. Herod had Jesus brought to him because he wanted Jesus to do a miracle in front of him. But when Jesus did not do what Herod was looking to see, he sent him back to Pilate.
Now Pilate was a good politician. He wasn’t going to be trapped that way. And so, because his plan with Herod didn’t work, Pilate decided to give the people a choice. He said to them, “You’ve got this man here, Barabbas, and everybody knows how bad he is. He’s an insurrectionist and a murderer. I’ll give you a choice between Jesus and Barabbas.” And he’s astounded when they said, “We’d rather have Barabbas.”
Well, that didn’t work. So Pilate gave orders to the soldiers to flog him. They beat him and pressed the crowns of thorns into his head. Then, in this weakened and bloodied condition, Pilate brought Jesus out to the Jews and said, “I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” He thought maybe they’d say, “Well, he’s suffered enough; let him go.” But they didn’t do anything of the sort. They cried out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Well, in the end, we know what happened. He gave in. And we read in verse 16 that he handed him over to be crucified.
Why did he do it? In addition to the difference in how Pilate is presented in the Gospels over against the way we know him from the secular sources, there’s this great question, the central question, that having declared Jesus innocent of all charges, he nevertheless hands him over to be crucified. You say, well, why did he do that? And the answer is that he was afraid. It’s as simple as that. Who was he afraid of? Well, he was afraid of the people. This great big mob was out there shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” He didn’t have the courage to stand against the masses. More than the crowd, however, what he was afraid of was Caesar. While Pilate is trying to let Jesus go free, the Jews say to him, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar’s. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” When Pilate heard that, he brought Jesus out, washed his hands of it in front of them all, and said, “Take him away and crucify him.”
Study Questions:

From Frank Morrison’s book, what does he suggest is the reason why Pilate wants to declare Jesus to be innocent?
From the lesson, after the crowd keeps pressing for Jesus’ crucifixion, what three things does Pilate do to try to get Jesus released?
Why does Pilate finally allow Jesus to be crucified, even after he declared him innocent three times?

Application: Was there ever a time when you knew the right thing to do, but because of fear allowed an injustice to be done? How did you deal with that failure after it was over, both with God and with other people who might have been wrongly treated?

Study Questions
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