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Biblical People

Biblical People: Pilate

While we look at Caiaphas as instrumental in bringing about the decision that Jesus must die, it’s Pilate—occasionally called Pontius Pilate—who has the authority to make it happen. Though Caiaphas gets things rolling, Pilate—although he tries to stop Jesus’s execution—allows the proceedings to gather momentum.

After arresting Jesus and deciding he must die, the religious Council drags him to Pilate. They levy their ill-founded accusations against Jesus, but they can’t convince Pilate. 

“I find him innocent,” Pilate says.

The Jewish leaders persist.

Then Pilate, learning that Jesus is from Galilee, sees a way out. He sends Jesus to Herod (2) who has jurisdiction over Galilee. Herod happens to be in Jerusalem, likely for the Passover. Wanting to meet Jesus, Herod asks him many questions—which he doesn’t answer—but then mocks him before sending him back to Pilate.

A second time Pilate tries to release Jesus.

A mob forms. They don’t want Jesus set free. They ask Pilate to release Barabbas instead. They shout for Jesus’s execution.

Unable to quiet the throng and unwilling to risk making them angrier by releasing Jesus, Pilate gives in to their demands. But first he washes his hands in front of them to symbolically claim he’s innocent of Jesus’s death.

Pilate has a sign placed on the cross, which says “The king of the Jews.” Though the Jewish leaders object to his wording, Pilate won’t budge. Perhaps this is his small way to have the final word. But how much better would it have been for him to have done the right thing and protected Jesus from an unjust death?

When faced with a tough situation, do we do what’s right or give in to the pressure of others?

[Discover more about Pilate in Matthew 27, Mark 15, and John 18:28–19:38.]

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.