So near and yet so far - 21 September 2021

By Ben Fourie

The historian and philosopher Philo depicted Pilate as rigid and stubbornly harsh by nature and mentioned bribes, acts of pride and violence, and constant murders without trial (The New Bible Dictionary). Maybe Philo, as a Jew, might have been prejudiced but much of it must have been true. It is difficult for us to give a verdict as very little is known about Pilate other than that he was very unpopular among the Jews. The Bible shows him as someone who was easily influenced by the Jewish leaders as he was afraid of another Jewish revolt.

Pilate was appointed by the emperor Tiberius in 26 AD as the fifth procurator or governor in Judea, and stayed on in this capacity until 37 AD. Such a governor had extensive powers including the power over life and death. He had the power to overrule any sentence handed out by the Jewish Council or Sanhedrin, appointed the high priest and even managed the temple and its funds. Having occupied this position for almost ten years tells us he must have been a competent official.

Although he would not have realised it, his decision about Jesus’ fate would, in the end, prove to be his most important decision ever. This decision cemented his place in history but for the wrong reasons. Without this decision about Jesus, he would probably have been as obscure as his predecessor Valerius Gratus.

From the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, we can deduce that he realised that this prisoner was very different to the many other prisoners that he had sent to die on the cross. He asked whether Jesus was the king of the Jews and also asked the famous question, “And what is truth?” In spite of knowing that Jesus did not deserve the death sentence, he handed him over to be crucified rather than having to face the anger of the Jewish leaders.

Pilate had a unique chance to make the right choice when he met Jesus, but in the end, he chose his own interests above the Lord.

Prayer: Lord, help us to make the right choice in difficult circumstances and help us not to put our own interests above yours. Help us to make decisions that will put your kingdom before ourselves. Amen