Close, But No Cigar
Pilate, the Roman Governor in Judea, came from a tradition where men could be gods. Caesar himself had made that claim. So when the Jews insisted that he give the order to crucify Jesus because he claimed to be the Son of God (John 19:7), the possibility of that being true was a real one.
“When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid...” (John 19:8).
The man was already afraid. An uprising among the Jews could cost him his career. Somewhere in this whole mockery of a trial, Pilate’s wife had warned him not to have anything to do with the plot against the Galilean rabbi (Matthew 27:19). She had seen it in a dream—something else to pay heed to.
Pilate was caught in the middle.
Beating Jesus wasn’t enough for the rabble (19:1).
Declaring him innocent of the charges wasn’t enough (19:4).
Passing the buck didn’t cut it (19:6).
Oddly enough, Pilate even advocated for Jesus, introducing Him as king—something Herod, who was the current Jewish ruler, must have loved (19:14, 15). That just made things worse.
Washing his hands in the hope of removing his guilt wasn’t good enough (Matthew 27:26).
Somewhere, deep down in his soul, Pilate knew that the man who stood before him was more than just a man. But though he might have been afraid that Jesus really was a god, Pilate was more afraid of Caesar and what might happen if a fractious Israel rose up in rebellion against its Roman overlord over one Jewish rabbi’s claims (John 19:12).
Pilate tried—but not hard enough.
Did he rationalize his actions by telling himself that, after all, the majority had to be right? Did he try to convince himself that the religious authorities must have known what they were talking about—after all, how else could they have risen to be religious authorities? Did he push aside his wife’s dreams as being the product of feeble feminine emotions? How many bad dreams did he have after he signed the death warrant?
He gathered enough courage to insist that the sign he had posted above Jesus’ broken body would remain as he had commanded it written (19:19-22). But it was the man with the broken body, not the sign, that could have saved him.
Pilate is a man to be pitied. He came so close. But close isn’t enough—especially not when it comes to what we do about our relationship with Jesus.