Session #17  (Most quotes are NIV)


Stories of Pilate as an anti-Semite may be true or may be fabricated.  Biblically, we know that Pilate was referenced in Luke 13:1, Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.”  But we don’t if know this story is true—those who report this may have been telling a rumor or even a lie to get Jesus to speak up against Pilate and the Romans!  Jesus does not react to it!  But it SOUNDS realistic—see the information below about Pilate’s exploits.

Jesus told the Parable of the Talents, Luke 19:12, 14-15:  “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.   But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’  He was made king, however, and returned home.”  This is an oblique reference to Herod Antipas’ father Herod the Great.  Herod Antipas wanted the “King” title also, but never received it.

When the two men come together for the trial of Jesus, Herod may have considered Pilate’s gesture of a second opinion (consilium) a great gesture.  Pilate was recognizing Herod’s legitimate  right to rule Galilee!  The irony of all this:  was Jesus the “King” or was Herod the “King?”

The Jewish historian Philo gives us details about Pilate’s anti-Semitic and/or insensitive behavior.  In 26 A.D., Pilate’s first act was to bring to Jerusalem the Roman Legion, parading with shields depicting the Roman gods; this caused a riot and he had to remove them!  We are told that Pilate took money from the Temple treasury to construct an aqueduct from the Pools of Solomon to the city center (probably Pilate thought this was a great gift to the Jewish people—but it caused another riot!  The result was Romans killing a lot of Jews to settle the riot!  Some who were killed were just spectators!)   Then Pilate apparently hung up shields in Herod’s palace to honor Tiberias Caesar—yup, another riot ensued!  Tiberias himself asked Pilate to remove these shields to avoid a complete insurrection.   We are told that Pilate slaughtered a number of Samaritans at Mt. Gerizim in Samaria who were digging for a “sacred vessel” which Moses had allegedly buried there.  This was too much, and Herod was instrumental in having Pilate removed from the governorship of Judea sometime in 36 A.D. because of his faux pas.

 Philo may have “enhanced” Pilate’s anti-Semitic history a little—we don’t know!  But Pilate had a reputation for creating problems in Judea.  Herod Antipas’ friendship with Pilate was always going to be a precarious one at best.  But, pleased to have been consulted, Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate.  When Jesus gets there, he is decked out in some of Herod’s finest robes!  Mocking Jesus as a king was Herod’s response:  “My opinion—he’s a phony, not a King!”  Herod probably thought:  “If I can’t be a king, I’m certainly not calling Jesus a King!”

Given this background of Pilate’s “misadventures” among the Jewish people, is it any wonder that Pilate might have been “a bit jumpy” during Passover week, wanting to keep control of the overwhelming sea of people crowding into Jerusalem for the Passover week?


Round two at the Antonia Fortress:  Pilate now has Jesus thrown back in his lap—and that is NOT what he wants!  At this point Pilate would like to do a ‘Rodney King’: “Can’t we all just get along?”  But the Jewish leaders are like a dog with a bone, and Pilate knows it!  They aren’t going to let this go.  And Pilate surely notices that the crowd is miraculously “getting larger.”  

Pilate hatches a plan, as seen in Matthew and also in Mark.  Each Gospel tells us something different—and each one gives us a clue to the cleverness of Pilate.  Matt. 27:15-18 “Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was JesusBarabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, ‘Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.”   

Mark 15:6-7 “Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested.  A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.  The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.”

Pilate’s plan is this:  we’ll toss out a “cute” choice—“Jesus Barabbas” or “Jesus of Nazareth”—but I’m going to give them a choice of an innocent man (Jesus of Nazareth) who is nothing but an irritation to the Jewish leaders OR they can have the baddest of the bad boys (Jesus Barabbas) who is (John 18:40 calls him λῃστής ) an insurrectionist and a murderer.  This is the LAST MAN you want running around loose on the streets!  The crowd will see the light and choose Jesus of Nazareth to release.  Jim Voelz adds that “Barabbas” in Hebrew means “Son of the Father.”  The choice is “Son of the Father” OR our Savior, Jesus Christ who is truly the “Son of the Father.”  Jim suggests there’s a great sermon in there somewhere (Mark, Vol 2., p. 1124)!

The Gospel of Luke tosses in another detail of Pilate’s plan:  not only will I let the crowd know that Herod and I both find him innocent of the charges (Luke 23:14-15 “I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him.Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.Therefore, I willpunish him and then release him.”) BUT Pilate will give him a fustes as well—that is more than just a warning.  It is a severe beating! 

As a U.S. citizen, I’m going to say “Whoa—if he’s innocent, you can’t punish him.”  That is perhaps true in this country, but Pilate can do anything he wants.  Jesus is no Roman citizen!  By enduring a severe beating, Jesus is going to look very pathetic. Maybe the crowd will feel sorry for him and want Jesus released instead of Charles Manson (Barabbas)!  John 18 gives us a great deal of detail here:  Pilate even throws in a little window dressing–a purple robe and a crown of thorns.  “You want a king?  Here he is—all dressed up and wearing a crown.”  (Purple by the way, was a very difficult color to dye clothing because a true purple came only from a rare and expensive mollusk found in the Eastern Mediterranean.  Only wealthy people generally wore this color.  It is not violet—it’s a true purple.)

Look at the tiny details in the Gospels and you start to smell something very bad:  Mark 15:11 says “But the chief priests stirred up the crowd (ἀνέσεισαν τὸν ὄχλον ἵνα—“incited the crowd for the purpose of….”) to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.”  Who is this “crowd” and why must they be “incited”?  This can no longer be only the Jewish Council members—they don’t need “inciting.”  They already voted to kill Jesus in their “official trial” at daybreak.  

The Council has been “bussing in” various elements of the indigenous population of Jerusalem and telling them what to say:  “If you want your welfare check this month, you better start shouting ‘Crucify him’ when we tell you!”  Most of the population of Jerusalem was dependent upon the Jewish leaders for their survival—the Temple was the only real “industry” in town.  Jerusalem at this time had substantial “relief rolls” cared for from the Temple tax controlled by “guess who?” ( the Chief Priests)  You “cross” these men at your peril!

Many a flamboyant sermon has been preached on the fickleness of people who shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David” on Palm Sunday and “Crucify Him!” on Friday.  Nice sentiment for a sermon, but wrong:  this isn’t the same crowd.  The Palm Sunday people were Galileans who at about this time on Good Friday were mostly milling around in their “tent city” to the north of town and getting ready to head into the city to see what’s going on.

If you look at a parallel edition of the four Gospels, you will see that Pilate sought EIGHT TIMES to release Jesus.  FOUR TIMES Pilate pronounces Jesus “Not Guilty.”  But he never once said “Guilty.”  Pilate tried every trick in the book to let Jesus go, AND NOTHING WAS WORKING.  Christians can’t claim he didn’t try.  The Coptic Church celebrates Saint Pilate Day, June 25!