Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 8 Page 20 August 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

 The Problems Of Pilate

By Cliff Goodwin

Pontius Pilate is remembered as the man who washed his hands of the Lord (Matthew 27:24). Infamous for this irresponsible decision, he stands in biblical history as one who failed miserably when placed in a position to do justly.  An analysis of his actions would reveal much about his character, and such information would serve well the Christian who wishes to avoid various pitfalls related to irresponsibility and poor decision-making.  As such an analysis is pursued, it will be followed along the lines of spiritual problems which were present in Pilate's character.  These problems were in large part responsible for his notorious neglect of justice and impious indifference.

All human beings have problems in their lives.  Though some always appear to be carefree and happy, even these still face obstacles and battle problems inwardly.  The thing with problems is that some are unavoidable and truly pitiable, while others are encountered and endured because a person has brought them on himself.  With Pilate one sees some distinct spiritual problems, and yet spiritual problems are avoidable.  The problems which will be brought out in this lesson were conditions over which Pilate had control.  And the same is true of human lives today.  Spiritually speaking, people make their own decisions and will be held responsible for those decisions (Romans 14:12).  James wrote, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).  Only in submitting unto God and resisting Satan can a person be successful in avoiding the pitfalls and problems which the devil presents in one's spiritual life.  Thus, if in looking at Pilate and some of his spiritual problems an individual is informed and strengthened, then time has been well spent.

Pilate's first problem was that he was a PROFANE man.  The adjective profane is defined as follows:  “characterized by irreverence for God or sacred things.”  [The Random House College Dictionary, rev. ed. (1982), s.v. "profane."]  Such a description applies very well to Pilate.  Though most of the time Pilate's name is mentioned in connection with the trial and crucifixion of Christ, there are other occurrences elsewhere in the New Testament text.  It is from one of these that one sees clearly the profane nature of Pilate's spiritual character.  Notice Luke 13:1, "There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices."  This occasion arose apparently because some in Jesus' audience felt that they were not as sinful as others in the world.  They presented the example to Jesus of certain Galilaeans whom Pilate had killed.  Yes, Pilate--the same one who tried the Christ and turned him over to an angry mob!  What had he done on this earlier occasion?  He had killed some Galilaeans in such a way as to mingle their own blood with that of the sacrifices they were offering.  This was a most reproachable and repulsive deed.  Boles points out in his commentary that it was considered in ancient times a great curse for the blood of the worshipper to be mingled with the blood of the sacrifice he was offering. [H. Leo Boles, A Commentary on the Gospel According to Luke (Nashville, TN:  Gospel Advocate, 1991), 267.]  In this act Pilate showed no reverence whatsoever for Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, nor for the worship of Jehovah.  Pilate was a profane man.  His irreverence and disregard were huge spiritual problems and would later contribute to the greatest of travesties in human justice.

When one looks at Pilate and his profanity it is easy to assume that his wickedness must have been unique and solitary.  Nevertheless, there are ways in which people today profane the worship of Jehovah and never seem to blink an eye.  For example, is it worse to profane the offered sacrifice with the blood of the worshipper, or to change the sacrifice itself in order to fit one's desires?  A typical example of this today is the use of mechanical instrumental music in worship unto God.  "Why," it is asked, "add instrumental music to the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs?"  And the reply comes, "Because it makes the singing sound so good."  The Lord taught, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24).  God's word, truth (John 17:17), nowhere authorizes the use of mechanical instrumental music in New Testament worship!  Is what Pilate did really worse than changing God's worship to fit our own whims?

Is what Pilate did really worse than profaning the worship assembly today with talking and disruptive behavior?  Both show a disregard for God.  The passing of notes, snickering, daydreaming all take away from the act of worship.  With such God is simply not pleased!  "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him" (Psalm 89:7).  Yes, it is true that Pilate's actions were escalated in that he took human life--but such is not really surprising.  The ultimate, logical end that will be reached when one disregards God and profanes his worship is that the depraved individual will also disregard the sanctity of human life.  Why favor the creature and yet have no reverence for the Creator?

Secondly, Pilate was too easily PERSUADED.  The words of Peter as recorded by Luke reveal that Pilate was initially determined to let Jesus go.  “The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go (Acts 3:13).”  What then changed Pilate's mind?  As do so many, he gave in to the pressures of a crowd.  Luke's account sums it up best.

“Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them.  But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him.  And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done?  I have found no cause of death in him:  I will therefore chastise him, and let him go.  And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified.  And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed.  And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required” (Luke 23:20-24).
A number of times the Bible warns not to go along with the crowd in that which is wrong.  "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil . . ." (Exodus 23:2).  And again, "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished . . ." (Proverbs 11:21).  The plea of the crowd was not for justice, but for the murderous fruits of envy (Matthew 27:18).  Their cry was loathsome and sinful, yet to it Pilate yielded.  Pilate was too easily persuaded, and he became a partaker of other men's sins.

Two additional thoughts need to be considered regarding the persuasion of Pilate.  One, being the governor of Judaea, Pilate seems to have been more concerned with politics than justice.  John records that when the people made mention of Caesar, Pilate's actions took a turn (John 19:11-16).  Naturally, Pilate would have been answerable to Caesar and would probably fear the provocation of his wrath.  Politics often seeks to please people, and especially for the betterment of one's own position.  That's why politics sometime interferes with spiritual decisions, because one may seek to please men rather than God.  Two, Pilate ultimately refused the advice of someone close to him in favor of a persuasive crowd.  His wife had warned him not to wrong Jesus (Matthew 27:19), but Pilate gave no heed.  So it is with so many today.

Finally, Pilate made a POOR decision.  He decided to wash his hands as a symbol of his being free or innocent of the blood of Jesus (Matthew 27:24).  So instead of doing something, he did nothing.  He failed to realize that in doing nothing he did everything!  The power to release and the power to kill was solely Pilate's (John 19:10).  Pilate was the only one, short of the Lord himself, who could have prevented the murderous execution of Christ.  And yet he did nothing.  He shirked responsibility.  Though he washed them in water, Pilate's hands are still scarlet with the shed blood of Christ.  To wash his hands of the matter was the poorest of decisions.

The lesson in this is for one not to neglect his own responsibilities.  Nonetheless, many times Satan persuades people to be indifferent and inactive.  One may shirk responsibility in hopes that another will do it.  Another shirks in hopes of avoiding a difficult or unpleasant decision.  Then there are always those who choose not to be involved in order to please certain people.  All of these are poor reasons which will result in the poor decision of irresponsibility.

Pilate was a man of many spiritual problems.  Those problems were evident in his sinful actions.  Because he was too easily persuaded, he can be seen making poor decisions.  His profane attitude toward God served as the basis for such wickedness.  One must learn from the problems of Pilate.

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