Tough choices are made by the humble, strong, and brave. Easy choices are oftentimes made by the arrogant, weak, and fearful. – Author Unknown –
Pontius Pilate, the man who reluctantly sentenced Jesus Christ to death, is one of the most mysterious figures in human history.
Pilate was the Roman governor in the province of Judea. It was not the most wealthy province in the Roman Empire nor was it stable. Jewish uprisings were so common that crucifixion, one of the most painful ways to die, was regularly administered to those who were even suspected as rebels. While the Roman occupation of the Holy Land was a constant battle, some Jewish leaders, like the Pharisees, assisted the Romans in their brutal purge of dissenters in exchange for power and limited sovereignty.
Pilate was tasked to keep the peace.
To put it lightly, Judea was not the province that a governor would want to have to control. Pilate would have been much happier in Gaul or in one of the Germanic provinces.
But, the Roman Emperor Tiberius sent Pilate to this war torn region to maintain order. Pilate was weak in character, but a very ruthless man. His desire to appease the Jews in the region and the Emperor in Rome clouded his judgment to the point of executing the Son of God. His excuse was that the Jewish people clamored for Jesus’ death. Thus, he was carrying out the will of his subjects.
Like every Roman, Pilate was an extremely religious person. They were merciless warriors during a battle and extremely pious regarding the observance of ordinances to their gods.
For the Romans, religion was the pivot of their existence. Pilate was no different from that description. For all the rulers of the empire, the cult of gods and politics were completely merged.
Pontius Pilate believed that Jesus was innocent and even said it when they arrested him. But, when Jesus was brought before the governor, the crowd began to yell, “Crucify him.” The Jewish leaders and the crowd also wanted for a cold blooded murderer, Barabbas, to be released from prison and roam the streets of Jerusalem.
Pilate gave into the crowd because he was too afraid for himself and his position in the Roman Empire.
There is almost nothing said about Pilate after his 10-year rule of Judea. He was sent back to Rome where he literally disappeared. Nothing was ever written about him after his return.
There is some evidence that he was executed by Emperor Caligula or was exiled after his latest years of rule were unsuccessful. Other stories tell that he eventually accepted Christianity and even tried to turn the emperor towards that same faith.
Regardless of what happened to Pontius Pilate, there are four critical aspects of his life that illustrate weakness and the consequences that follow:
- Pilate was ambitious. This is not a character flaw unless it consumes the person. His lust for power consumed him completely. Because of this, he is responsible for the execution of Jesus, who had committed no crime. His need for victory and control would be his undoing.
- Pilate was engulfed in fear. He feared a Jewish uprising, the disapproval of his Emperor, and mostly he feared failure. His fear controlled his actions and non-actions. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, Pilate replaced his grounded approach to problems, rigid military training, and logic with the emotion of extreme fear. Fear was his ultimate undoing.
- Pilate was clever and skilled in politics. He knew that Jesus was innocent. He also knew that politically, he could save himself by giving in to the mob that wanted Jesus to be crucified. He mistakenly thought that by washing his hands afterwards he would be free from this sin.
- Pilate could not stand up to the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders. They consolidated their power, dealt with their differences, and were focused on forcing Pilate to execute Jesus Christ.
It is no surprise that the once powerful governor would suffer the consequences of not doing the right thing, even if it was difficult.
The life of Pontius Pilate serves as a warning to us all.
Doing the right thing is rarely the easy path. One must have humility, strength, and courage. It is human nature to take the easier and softer path of arrogance and acting irrationally because of fear.
However, doing the wrong thing almost always creates negative consequences today and/or in the future.