In John’s account of the exchange between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, the Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, we read the following:
Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all. But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber (John 18:33-40).
After this outcry from those in attendance, Pilate had Jesus scourged (John 19:1-2), then presented him to the people in the hope that they might have mercy on Jesus and desire that he be set free. It is clear from the text that Pilate did not want to execute Jesus, because John writes that Pilate:
was more afraid… thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: 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. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat… and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? (John 19:8-15)
So the question we should ask is, “How does someone find themselves doing something they do not want to do? Something so horrendous as the taking of a life of another human being in such a brutal manner?”
Teenagers are well aware of the power of peer pressure, and this example is one of the best in scripture. Pilate thinks that by giving in just a bit to the wrong voices, that they will be appeased. What he doesn’t realize is that, once he gives in, those who oppose Jesus will not relent until he has been killed.
At first Pilate tries to pass Jesus to another authority, but when the problem comes back to him, he attempts to appeal to the custom of the Jews to release a prisoner, hoping that Barabbas’ lack of appeal would cause the people to have pity on Jesus and set him free. Once this fails, in a last attempt to not take an innocent life, Pilate has Jesus scourged. This does not have the effect Pilate had hoped it would. Finally, he relents and sends Jesus to his death.
This story illustrates the importance of knowing what is right, then sticking to your principles. Giving in to the popular crowd, compromising on what you know to be right will bring disappointment, and in extreme cases, cause great harm.
What Happened to Pilate?
Many students have asked me what eventually happened to Pilate. There are many different versions of his fate, and to me it would seem that we really don’t know. Eusebius, an early Christian historian, quoting early apocryphal accounts, relates that Pilate suffered reversals during the reign of Caligula (AD 37–41), was exiled to Gaul (modern France) and eventually committed suicide there in Vienne. 1 Another account tells us: “It is worthy of note that Pilate himself, who was governor in the time of our Savior, is reported to have fallen into such misfortunes under Caius, whose times we are recording, that he was forced to become his own murderer and executioner; and thus divine vengeance, as it seems, was not long in overtaking him. This is stated by those Greek historians who have recorded the Olympiads, together with the respective events which have taken place in each period.” 2 The 10th century historian Agapius of Hierapolis, in his Universal History, also relates that Pilate committed suicide. 3
1. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiae ii: 7.
2. Flavius Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews 18.4.2.
3. Agapius, Universal History trans. A. Vasiliev, 1909. http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/agapius_history_02_part2.htm