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Pilate: In Search of a Spine

Mark 15

Pontius Pilate was a weak and immoral bureaucrat appointed by Rome to be their representative ruler over Judea. Pilate had one mission from Rome: Maintain pax Romana, the Roman peace. And he was given authority by Rome to do what needed to be done to keep the peace in Judea. Normally domiciled in Caesarea, Pilate happened to be in Jerusalem for the Jewish Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread at the time Jesus was arrested. When crowds of Jews demanded the death of Jesus, Pilate could see the possibility of losing control and an uprising taking place in a city packed with Jewish pilgrims. For a man whose livelihood depended on "peace at all cost," this did not bode well for Jesus.

Pilate initially pronounced Jesus innocent of any wrongdoing (Mark 15:14), not so much because he was committed to justice but because he didn't want to be bothered with what appeared to be a Jewish religious squabble. But when the Jews accused Jesus of refusing to pay taxes to Caesar and of claiming to be a king (Luke 23:1-2), Pilate saw an opening. He could appease the crowd (Mark 15:15), prevent an insurrection (Matthew 27:24), and maintain his standing with Rome (John 19:12-13) by simply condemning Jesus.

Still, Pilate missed an opportunity to do the right thing. He sent Jesus next door to Herod, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea and also in town for Passover, but Herod refused to condemn Him. And Pilate ignored his wife's warning to steer clear of Jesus (Matthew 27:19). Instead of letting an innocent man go free, Pilate did the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. He caved in to pressure from the Jewish leaders and sent an innocent man to the cross.

Pilate should have listened to his wife. The Jewish historian, Josephus, notes that a few years later Pilate was called to Rome to answer charges of mismanagement of affairs in Judea—and vanished from the pages of history.

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