Since Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea and personally interrogated Jesus in the events leading up to the crucifixion, he is a central character in the death of Christ. The interaction between Jesus and Pilate gives us some fascinating insights into the characters of both men.
- Pilate believed Jesus was innocent of all charges. John makes sure that we do not miss this fact. Pilate repeats three times that Jesus was not guilty (18.38; 19.4; 19.6). Since Pilate was the only one with legal authority to pass judgment on Jesus, his statement should have ended the matter, Christ should have been released. Pilate does not release Jesus because he is also afraid of the Jewish leaders who were crying out for Pilate to crucify Jesus.
- Pilate was afraid of Christ’s identity. When the “chief priests and the officers” say that Jesus claimed to be “the Son of God,” John tells us that Pilate was “even more afraid.” It helps to know the tidbit that Matthew recounts a message that Pilate’s wife had already sent him: ““Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream” (Matt 27.19). Perhaps Jesus really was “the Son of God,” it was no use Pilate making this God angry for no reason.
- What authority Pilate had, was given to him by God. Surely the strangest part of this section of John is the sight of Jesus—on trial for his life before Pilate—telling Pilate! that Pilate would have no authority over Jesus if it had not “been given to you from above.” Can you imagine what Pilate must have thought at this point? Who does this guy think he is? I am the one in authority, and this guy is telling me where my authority comes from? Gerald Borchert in his commentary on John points out:
“Thus, although Pilate claimed authority over Jesus, that authority resided in God alone. Pilate was not in control of Jesus, and Jesus was not ready to let Pilate think he was. Indeed, despite the fact that Pilate believed he was the presiding judge, the evangelist makes it clear that Jesus was doing the judging. Furthermore, Jesus knew exactly where to lay the blame for the incidents leading up to and including this so-called trial. The prisoner was actually the judge, and the judges were in fact the defendants.”
Plummer is more succinct: “The Accused has become the judge’s Judge.”
At the end of this very day, Jesus will be dead and in a tomb and Pilate will still be governor of Judea. But of course that is not the end of the story, is it…