Pilate: Powerful, Pragmatic Pawn of Providence
Pontius Pilate is picture of worldly power: pragmatic, self-promoting, and self-preserving. But he turns out to be a pawn of Providence. Imagine a conversation over breakfast between Pilate and his wife, Procula, on the Sunday morning following Jesus’ crucifixion, just before they receive word of the empty tomb.
“You’re quiet again this morning, Procula. Still brooding over the Galilean?
“I can’t shake this ominous sense that executing him was terribly wrong. My dream was so vivid.”
“Well, I can’t govern by the superstitious dreams of women.”
“He was a righteous man. You should not have sentenced him to death.”
“I didn’t sentence him! The Sanhedrin sentenced him!”
“You pronounced the judgment.”
“Yes, and I didn’t have a choice, Procula! We’ve been over this. He broke a Jewish blasphemy law, they wanted him dead, they used me to do it. I did everything in my power to release him!”
Procula was soft-spoken in her persistence. “It was in your power to release him.”
Pilate pressed his palm against his forehead and clenched his jaw to choke back his volatile temper.
“You know what I mean! I told them three times that I found no guilt in him. I tried to pass him off to Herod. I tried scourging him to pacify them. Nothing. They were dead-set. I even gave the crowd a choice between a convicted murderer and Jesus, and whom did they choose? The murderer!”
Looking up at his wife Pilate said with exasperation, “What did you expect me to do?”
“Not condemn the righteous. Isn’t your job to administer justice from Rome’s tribunal?”
“No! My job is to ensure that Judea poses no problems for Tiberius!”
“Even if that means ignoring the truth?”
“Truth,” Pilate scoffed. “Whose truth, Procula? The Sanhedrin’s? Tiberius’? Your dream’s? The Galilean’s? Truth is what got the Galilean killed. Here’s what he said to me: ‘For this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.’ You know what his truth was? That he was a king of some kingdom outside of the world. Well, the Sanhedrin seemed to think that his truth was a dangerous lie.”
“Do you think he was dangerous?”
Pilate sipped his wine. “I don’t know. He wasn’t like the Zionist zealots. No diatribe against Rome. He didn’t even seem angry. If he threatened anyone I think it was the Sanhedrin. I’ve been around long enough to know a set-up when I see one. A midnight trial, a demand for immediate crucifixion. This wasn’t about justice. I think Caiaphas was getting rid of a problem.”
“Were you getting rid of a problem?”
Pilate’s eyes flashed anger. “Believe me, Procula, I had bigger problems than this Jesus to worry about. My problem is Tiberius. I had a mob threatening to riot if I had released Jesus. Riots in Jerusalem always lead to some Jew getting killed and I can’t risk any more Jewish blood on my hands right now without inviting Caesar’s inquiry. And then I had the chief priests suddenly feigning loyalty to Caesar and publicly questioning mine. If I had released him, can you imagine their glee at reporting to Tiberius that I was unwilling to deal with a rival to Caesar? At the end of the day I had to choose between Caesar and a delusional Galilean. That choice was obvious to me.”
At that moment a servant stepped into the room. “What is it?” Pilate asked.
“Marcus Antonius is requesting to see you, sir.”
“Marcus? This early in the morning? That can’t be good. Send him in.”
The young officer strode in.
“What is it, Marcus?”
“The Galilean, sir. He’s disappeared.”
We are tempted to fear those in places of worldly power. They appear to hold our fates in their hands. Pilate’s story is in the Bible to remind us again of what is really going on when the gears of political or business or family or, as history sometimes shows, even church power grind in evil ways. The worldly powerful might mean evil against, but God means it for our ultimate good (Genesis 50:20). That’s why Jesus told his disciples not to “fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do” (Luke 12:4). In Jesus’ case, the killing of his body, the worst sin ever committed by humans, was meant by God for the greatest good possible for humans.
The same is true for every evil that is done against you. God will turn it all for good (Romans 8:28). To help you keep trusting in the kind and all-powerful providence of God when less powerful, pragmatic, worldly pawns wield evil against you, we are sending you John Piper’s message “”. Please receive it with our deep gratitude for your ongoing support of our mission.
I’ll let Martin Luther leave us with this exhortation:
The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for, lo, his doom is sure.
One little word will fell him.
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