Pontius Pilate: A Lesson On Boundaries

Pontius Pilate showed up for class and was not prepared for a very important surprise test.

Though a powerful man in a position of great authority, Pilate has the same fears that all humans have; fear for his job, fear for his life, fear of shame and humiliation, and his test is going to force him to choose between his allegiance to his fears, or his allegiance to the truth. Waiting for him to make his decision is the Son of God who stands in royal calmness watching with grace as Pilate struggles.

Pilate has something that a group of religious leaders want. Authority. Pilate possesses great authority. His authority is valuable to the religious leaders because they want to put Jesus of Nazareth to death, and they don’t have the authority to do it themselves.

They plan to steal Pilate’s authority, but how? They cannot threaten him with their own force. He controls the local Roman legion, and he could have them all killed. Pilate is strong and his command is fierce. He is like a mighty city with great walls protecting him. When Rome attacks a city, they use great siege machines to breach the boundary walls. When these religious leaders challenge the boundaries of this Roman Governor of Judea, they siege him with shame and fear.

"Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, "We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king." So Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, "I find no basis for a charge against this man.""

They begin by accusing Jesus before Pilate, but it’s the implication of the accusation that threatens Pilate.

Their accusation against Jesus consists of two diabolical lies:

  1. He is teaching others to resist the payment of taxes to Rome.
  2. He is forming a rebellion to Rome’s authority by declaring himself king.

The implication is that Pilate would be betraying Rome by refusing them. They have wickedly juxtaposed Jesus against Rome despite the fact that Jesus always respected Roman civil authority and taught the people to render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar.

Pilate’s first instincts were correct. He knew the whole issue was about spiritual pride. He saw that Jesus somehow threatened their position and false piety.

The word "no" is one of the tools used to defend a personal boundary. We are required by God to say no to evil. He said "no" to their demand upon his authority.

"For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him." Matt. 27:18

During this time, Pilate also had a conversation with Jesus recorded by John. Some parts overlapped with the account of Luke.

"Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?"

"Is that your own idea," Jesus asked, "or did others talk to you about me?"

"Am I a Jew?" Pilate replied. "It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?"

Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place."

"You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."

"What is truth?" Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, "I find no basis for a charge against him. "" (John 18:33-38)

What a picture of the Saviors grace and love. He is still ministering as He steadily moves toward Roman brutality. As Jesus stands peacefully within his own boundaries, speaking candidly and confidently to Pilate, man to man, He adds shape to Pilate’s test and his need. It centers on his commitment to truth. Pilate’s answer, "What is truth?", suggests that he is not clear that absolute truth exists. This is unfortunate because he is going back outside to defend Jesus before a mob of liars.

Anyone who has tried to set a truth boundary against bold determined manipulation knows that the first "no" is never enough. His "no" had to get bigger than the "YES!!!!" of the chief priests, the elders, the teachers of the law, the entire Sanhedrin and the wicked shaming mob that they rallied to their cause.

"But they insisted, "He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here."" (Luke 23:5)

The religious mob strengthened their accusation against Jesus, (and by implication, their accusation against Pilate) by insisting that Jesus had inflamed all of Judea against Rome trying set up His own kingdom. Now their lies are starting to pinch. Pilate is the governor of Judea and they are implying that Pilate has not been doing his job by putting an end to this open treason which was well known.

Pilate needed help. A loop hole! Jesus is a Galilean. That’s Herod’s territory. Pilate bought time by sending Jesus to Herod. (Luke 23:7) Herod made light of Jesus, and he and his soldiers mocked him, dressed him in an elegant robe and sent him back to Pilate, basically saying, "I’m not getting involved in this." But he found him guilty of no crime. Also, Pilate’s wife was troubled the night before with a dream about the innocence of Jesus and she sent word to Pilate. It’s as if God the Father was giving Pilate every chance to come to faith in Christ, perhaps planting seed for his future. With Herod and his wife within his mind, and his own belief in the innocence of Jesus, Pilate attempted to stand up to the crowd once again.

Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him." (Luke 23: 13-16)

Sounds firm and unalterable. But the religious leaders are haughty, controlling, and are used to getting their own way. Pilate’s boundary would have to be absolutely unalterably determined to stop these boundary busters who are filled with violence and blistering rage.

Pilate tried to raise a crowd of his own by offering amnesty to the prisoner of their choice. The crowd chose Barabbus, a home town boy who fights Rome with as a terrorist.

An accurate sample of the human race, Pilate is a divided man. One side wants to free an innocent man. But the other side doesn’t want to pay the price to do it. What follows is the deepening of the psychological torment Pilate endures as he knowingly gives away his authority to be used to crucify Jesus.

"Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, "Hail, king of the Jews!" And they struck him in the face.

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him."

When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!"

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, "Crucify! Crucify!" But Pilate answered, "You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him."

The Jews insisted, "We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God." When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. "Where do you come from?" he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.

"Do you refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?"

Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin."

From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar."

When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge's seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha).

It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. "Here is your king," Pilate said to the Jews.

But they shouted, "Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!"

"Shall I crucify your king?" Pilate asked. "We have no king but Caesar," the chief priests answered.

Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. (John 19: 1-16)

But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand." (Luke 23:23,24 )

"When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!"" (Mat. 27:24)

"Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).

Here they crucified him, and with him two others--one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.

The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, "Do not write `The King of the Jews,' but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews."

Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written."" (John 19:17-22)

Pilate, unable to stand for truth at the expense of his own reputation, his boundaries in shambles, abandons the Son of God to an awful unlawful death. He places a sign above Jesus proclaiming Him King of the Jews. Of course the chief priests challenged this, but now a vanquished Roman governor finds a boundary he can defend. He leaves the sign over Jesus as he has written it.

Pontius Pilate did not realize the kind of test that awaited him that Friday. His exam placed him in the seat of judgment over the judge of the universe who must die to pay for Pilate’s sin, and that of the whole world.

Boundaries are an important element of identifying and defending the truth, and can sometimes be the difference between life and death.

Recommended reading. Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend