We just finished celebrating the week of Easter. During that week something occurred which many who study the Bible say indicates that the Bible is not historically accurate and thus not inspired by God. When Jesus is put on trial before Pilate, Pilate wants to release Jesus. Pilate knows that Jesus is innocent, but he orders Him to be crucified. He is seen as a man who allows the Jewish religious leaders, who wanted Jesus to die, to dictate what he will do. In fact, these leaders forced the hand of Pilate to release an obvious criminal, Barabbas, who was a rebel against Rome.
Many say that this is historically inaccurate. A Roman governor would never have acted that way. In particular, Pilate was not that kind of man. Contemporary writers tell us that he had a strong disdain for the religious leaders. He was also a cruel man as Luke 13:1-2 indicates. He would not have let these Jews push him around like that.
But when we look at the account more closely, we find that what happened with Pilate the day Jesus stood before him makes perfect sense in light of what we know about the man. As the governor, Pilate would have been responsible for keeping the peace. Rome preferred such peace in order to be able to collect taxes. For this reason, he needed to at least attempt to work with the Jewish religious leaders.
We also know from contemporary writers that the Jews had recently complained to Rome about Pilate’s handling of certain circumstances in Judea. This resulted in some political hot water for Pilate. The political situation was such that he simply could not completely ignore what the Jewish leaders wanted.
We are told that Pilate knew Jesus was innocent and that the Jews had turned Jesus over because of jealousy. We can also be sure that Pilate realized they would never have turned Jesus, a Jew, over to him for simply being a rebel against Rome. Political experience, in whatever age, tells us Pilate would have had advisors who told him what they knew about Jesus. The Scripture also tells us that Pilate saw that Jesus was not a threat to Rome’s rule in Judea.
We see Pilate’s disdain for the religious leaders. He tries in many ways to release Jesus and reject what they want to do. He says he will release Him. He sends Him to Herod so Herod can release Him. He tries to release Jesus to the crowds with an amnesty program during the Feast. He asks what crime He has committed. He even hopes that when he scourges Him, that will satisfy the jealousy of the religious leaders. Even after he condemns Jesus to death, he shows his disdain for the leaders by putting the title “King of the Jews” on the cross against their wishes.
But political realities play a central part in the lives of all people. The Feast of Passover was going on. Religious fervor was high. There was the possibility of rioting from the people if Pilate did not do what they wanted. The people were accustomed to have a prisoner of their choosing released, and they wanted Barabbas. We know from contemporary writers that Pilate’s biggest supporter in Rome, a man by the name of Sejanus, had recently been executed in Rome. When the religious leaders said that if he released Jesus, he was not a friend of Caesar, Pilate understood that in light of recent complaints against him and the possibility of instability in the area in which he was in charge, he needed to be careful. In fact, we know that a few years after the death of Jesus, Pilate was removed from office by Rome because of further complaints by the Jews.
Putting Jesus to death was a small price to pay for Pilate to avoid potentially greater problems for himself. When he ordered Jesus to be executed, we get a glimpse of the cruelty of the man. He knowingly condemned an innocent man to a cruel death in order to do what was politically expedient. At the same time, he also showed his disgust with the religious leaders. All his actions perfectly reflect everything we know about the man.
Of course, we do not need to have outside writers confirm the inspiration of the Scriptures. But when this inspiration is attacked, it is exciting to realize that when we dig deeper, the experiences of life support what the writers of the Gospels said. In this case, political corruption—something mankind has seen in every age— played a major part in the death of the Lord.