22nd March 2013

Auto Pilate?

“Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified.”
Mark 15:15 (NIV UK)

Pilate was true to form in the gospel accounts.

History records how Pilate ordered “frequent executions without trial” and possessed an “endless savage ferocity” (Philo’s Legatio ad Gaium 301-302). Luke writes of “the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices” (13:1). Josephus notes in his Antiquities that Pilate was sent back to Rome because he used unwarranted cruelty and violence against the Samaritans.

Why then did he seem to hesitate when Jesus was brought before him? It seems out of character. Was he superstitious and his wife’s dream affected him? John explains that Pilate “tried to set Jesus free” (19:12). Perhaps Pilate was impressed by how Jesus did not defend himself and by the famous discussion about truth. Nevertheless, in his decision to proceed with the crucifixion, Pilate appears to revert to type.

Mark’s words above, “Wanting to satisfy the crowd”, are reminiscent of another incident in Pilate’s life. Josephus tells us of how Pilate took down the Roman standards, which bore the Imperial image, because Jews thought the Standards would desecrate Jerusalem. Pilate’s tactics were to keep the unruly Jewish leaders under control. Did he have a similar thought in mind when so many had gathered to keep the Passover in Jerusalem? There was nothing new in Pilate’s power politics of control.

I wonder, how would we have behaved at Christ’s crucifixion. If you are like me, maybe sometimes you imagine that you would have intervened and spoken up for Jesus. Would we have done so? The Bible suggests that we are all guilty of the shedding of Jesus’ blood. Would we have shouted “crucify him” or have run away or just watched helplessly as our Saviour died? Perhaps we would have been true to form, as Pilate appeared to be.

What happened after the crucifixion infuriated the Romans. The historian, Tacitus, complains that, even though Christ was executed by Pilate and therefore the movement Christ started should have been stopped in its tracks, Christianity proceeded “to break out once more, not only in Judaea, the home of the disease, but in the capital (Rome) itself…” (Annales XV.44:13).

Jesus was also true to form – God’s form. Not even death could stop him.

Father, we are sobered by the crucifixion of Jesus, and are thankful that Jesus rose from the dead to bring us his everlasting life. In his name.

Study by James Henderson

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