Truth on Trial

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Pontius Pilate hailed from a minor aristocratic family in the region of Samnia in what is now Italy. He served as Governor of Judea during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius. History does not tell us how Pilate rose to this position or what became of him later in life, but it seems most likely that his promotion had to do with family connections rather than any great accomplishments in government. He was not a Jew himself, and seems to have been contemptuously incurious about the finer points of Jewish culture and religious practice. He is best understood as a son of Italy who took a prestigious posting overseas, but whose life within the Praetorium spared him from having to interact too much with the people that his betters had tasked him with governing.
Although there exists quite a bit of historical data about the events of Pilate’s time as Governor very little is known about Pilate the man. For example, all we know about his motives or personality is gleaned by inference from reading between the lines in scripture. I think it is most likely that when the angry mob of Jewish religious leaders arrived outside the praetorium with Jesus in chains that the Governor who came out to meet them was a careworn man trapped between a people that annoyed and confused him and an Emperor that he feared.
In his gospel account John portrays Pilate as being ignorant of Jesus to such an incredible degree that he seems to have never heard about him, or his incredible signs, or even why such controversy surrounded him. This is surely a portrait of a man who has cloistered himself away within the high walls of the praetorium, and whose sandals were rarely dusty from Jerusalem’s streets.
So many human beings are like Pilate. They are absorbed in their own pursuits and concerns, cloistered away behind the high walls of their myopic little world, and their first serious introduction to Jesus or His church comes not because of personal conviction or even curiosity but because public outrage of some sort or another brings Him to their door and compels them to render a verdict. Thumbs up or down? Their first question about Jesus is often the same as Pilate’s, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” (John 18:29) The interaction between Pilate who represents the great emperor in Rome and Jesus who is the exact representation of God in heaven is a fascinating and eye-opening exchange that reveals both the ugly arrogance of fallen man, and the beautiful humility of our Savior.