John 19A Pilate’s Judicious Exercise of Power

Questions: What responsibility comes with authority? To what authority are we ultimately accountable? For what? Whom do we acknowledge as king? Whom do we fear? Ourselves?

“Read More” to pursue answers in the Gospel of John.

Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your holy Presence, that I might know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ in this world, and the world to come. Amen.

John 19:1-22

Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged [him]. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put [it] on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.

I’m not sure whether the mockery was a deliberate plan of Pilate’s, or some spontaneous (in)venting by the soldiers that he may or may not have agreed with. Regardless, he appears to hope that all this would appease the crowd:

Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And [Pilate] saith unto them, Behold the man!

Alas, he is greatly mistaken:

When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify [him], crucify [him]. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify [him]: for I find no fault in him. The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.

I find it odd — cruel, even — that Pilate appears perfectly happy to scourge Jesus, and even turn him over to an angry mob for non-lethal crucifixion. On the other hand, I can somewhat sympathize. Here he is, an unpopular representative of a foreign emperor trying to keep an unruly people at rest. His primary mandate is peace, not justice, and he’s doing the best he can with what he has to work with.

But, this is quickly getting out of even his league:

When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer.

Worse, Jesus isn’t even helping him:

Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power [at all] against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.

In fact, one could argue that Pilate acted more heroically on Jesus behalf that Jesus himself did!

And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him

At least until the Jews played their trump card:

but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.

In the end, Pilate felt he had no choice but do what Caesar appointed him to — or, more cynically, to at least maintain the appearance of so doing. Though he tries one last gambit:

When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!

Tragically, the Jews — under far less obligation to Caesar — are far more willing to use Caesar as an excuse to work their will.

But they cried out, Away with [him], away with [him], crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led [him] away.

I must admit, I really feel for Pilate. I’m not sure I’d have done any better in his place. In fact, it is difficult to see what he could have done differently — at least without sparking a minor rebellion that would’ve killed even more lives, not to mention costing him his throne and the Jews their limited autonomy.

Of course, that still doesn’t make it right.

And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called [the place] of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.

Though, I am glad that Pilate does at least get the last word:

And Pilate wrote a title, and put [it] on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, [and] Greek, [and] Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.

In a very real sense, out of their zeal to crucify Jesus, the leaders of Jews submitted themselves to the laws of Caesar and turned their back on the values that made their kingdom worth defending.

I wonder how often we do the same. Or at least how often I do.


God, I want to know you as my King, and live in your Kingdom of Truth, Justice, and Love. Like Pilate, though, I all too often choose expediency and personal safety over submitting to your authority. Father, help me to know the truth, and be willing to die for the truth like Jesus — rather than kill for a lie like his enemies. For I suspect that ultimately, those are the only two options. Help me, Lord, in Jesus name, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title is a play on the popular workout, albeit something of a stretch (pun intended :-).