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  • Writer's pictureJake

What's the deal with Pontius Pilate?

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

“Suffered under Pontius Pilate.” This phrase made its way into both the Apostle’s creed and the Nicene creed. The Apostles creed has only 12 lines to summarize the whole of Christian belief and this seemingly insignificant detail made the cut?

To complicate matters, if most Christians, myself included, had to fill in the blank “Christ suffered under_________” without the formation of the creeds I would think answers like “Sin, The Law, The Romans, The Jews, Caiaphas the high priest, the Wrath of God, or The ignorance of mankind” would all be more popular guesses.

This specific and counterintuitive answer is meant to jar us. Five names are mentioned in the Apostles creed, the Father, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary and Pontius Pilate. Again, how did he make the list? Further, many readers of the Crucifixion account have some sympathy for the man. He clearly didn’t want to kill Jesus, it was the crowds that where baying for blood. Pilate was somehow caught in the middle of it.

It was no accident that Mary and Pilate are the only non-divine figures in the creed. They are meant to stand in contrast. Mary is the person who’s initial acceptance of Christ brings him into the world. Pilate is the person who’s rejection of Christ send him out of the world in death.

So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

Pilate recognizes who Jesus is but can’t confront it. I imagine Pilate was desperately wanting Jesus to answer “No” but instead, Jesus points back to Pilate, knowing his heart has been illuminated to the truth and prompting him to respond with faith.

And he (Gabriel) came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[b] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Unlike Pilate, Mary has been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the King. Mary and Pilate share the same confusion and fear but Mary responds with Faith.

Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”

Contrast this statement with what Mary says:

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Comparing these two statements reminds me of the verse:

I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Scripture tells us that the hearts of the Jews were hardened (Romans 11:25-27). Many of those in the crowds knew not what they did. This is still the state of the crowds today. Most people hate Christ in their words and deeds not out of purposeful and willful rebellion but because they live in a world darkness and they, “know not what they do”.

The Creed says, “Suffered under Pontius Pilate” not “Suffered under the crowds.” In response to the revelation of Christ the King, Pilate’s words are lukewarm. Today his statement is heard from the mouths of liberal clerics, ‘Tolerant” secular personalities and spineless ecumenical figures who may recognize the truth but refuse to give their whole selves in the service of the King like Mary did. Jesus says that those who are not with me are against me (Luke 11:23). Christ suffers more under the conscious rejection of his kingship than the ignorance of the crowd.

5 But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.”

6 On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7 When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

The next spiritual move is always the same. When the kingship of Christ is rejected the kingship of man is put in its place. This is why lukewarm Christians join liberal causes and support Marxist and progressive governmental. This is why the Eastern Orthodox rejection of Christ’s leadership through the Pope leaves them with Churches dominated by national governments.

Luke writes:

12 That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies

Friendship with the world is enmity with God. The spirit of Pilate and Herod are friends to this day and Herod continues to make new friends with every person who dilutes the faith and denies the ultimate supremacy of God’s judgments in favor of those of the State. Put simply if you deny Christ you will find friendship with the Government as a replacement.

And the contrary is also true. As the Jews tell Pilate:

“If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

Like Herod and Pilate, you may still find Jesus interesting and worth examining:

When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. 9 He questioned him at some length, but Jesus[c] gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate.

This is the tension at the heart of false Christianity. They want to see signs and wonders, they are eager to ask their questions on their terms. Sure they dress up Christ as if they honor him but all the while there are treating him this contempt and Christ refuses to speak to them.

Pilate may be right that Galilee is Herod’s jurisdiction but what he failed to recognize the whole universe as God’s. Sure, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s but Pilate fails to give to God what is God's.

Contrast this with the Holy Family who abides by the mandate to be taxed in Bethlehem but also evades the infanticide of the former Herod by using Egypt as a safe haven. The sovereign authority of the jurisdiction of Egypt is made to be a tool used in the service of God's redemptive work. In short, the authority God delegated to the government of Egypt is but in service of the Holy Family. The Holy family is not in service of Egypt even if it become their temporary home.

13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”[d]

18 Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” 19 (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” 23 But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.

Contrast Pilate actions with Mary’s

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Upon receiving Jesus, Mary clothes him, soothes him, and keeps him safely with her as she honors him as the savior of the world. Pilate does the opposite. Out of fear and selfishness he strips him, flogs him, humiliates him and tries desperately to get rid of him.

The voice of the crowds chanting “Crucify, crucify him!” defeat Pilate’s weak response “ Why, what evil has he done”. Here is what Mary might say to the crowds:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

50 His mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

51 He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

This is no bland plea to leave us alone. Defending Christianity is not about meekly explaining how we will keep out of the way of the prevailing culture. Again, Mary announces:

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

Christs arrival means that the new King is here and the thrones which existed before have been brought down. The message that counters, “Crucify him!” is “Christ is King!”.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

Jesus tells him that he is the King of a kingdom that is not of this world. His response is, “wait are you a king or not?” As Jesus who is Truth, the word made flesh stands in front of him, Pilate says, “What is truth?”

The Soul of Pilate minimizes who Jesus is. This is more evil than outright denial. Satan and the demons do the same thing. When Jesus exorcises demons they commonly scream out his identity.

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read,

“Jesus of Nazareth,[e] the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew,[f] in Latin, and in Greek. 21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.

Pilate wrote the right thing in the inscription over Jesus but the fact that underneath Pilate’s sign was the King he rejected means that the sign becomes a writ of damnation for Pilate's soul.

Again to contrast this with Mary:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

So why do the creeds say, “Suffered under Pontius Pilate”? Because when our souls are like Pilate’s soul they minimize Jesus and his kingdom, choose against Christ’s Kingship, cave into the crowds while humiliating and assaulting the body of our Lord.

When our Souls are like Mary’s soul we await his plans and purposes with hope, allow God's gift of faith to quell our fears, while letting his self-emptying love save us from our selfishness and pride. Mary rejoices in God her savior and turns her whole self to God.

When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. 22 But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his plunder. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

Satan guarded his dominion over the earth until Christ overpowered him at the Resurrection. Jesus is more than powerful enough to drive demons ought of a person. But if Jesus does not come to dwell in that person as a temple then other demons will find the man's soul swept and clean for their arrival.

The crowds chanting “Crucify him!” may have been under the control of the demonic. Pilate, having initially acknowledged Christ as King emptied his soul of the voice, “Crucify him!” and was left with the tidy living space of “What is Truth” ready for seven more more spirits more evil than the first.

In Christianity we don’t imagine the spiritual life as, “Climbing the Holy Mountain” instead it is “Clearing the Holy Landing Pad” so that we can ascend in the resurrection of Christ as part of his body. Mary was so entirely ready for Christs landing in her life that the incarnation began in her womb.

Pilate’s soul was swept clean for the demonic having denied the protection of Christ and imagining himself to be the one in charge of life and death.

Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

Although Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate this is not to say he was the greatest of all sinners. Judas is described as being seized by Satan himself at the last supper.

There is a pious legend that Pilate latter converted to the faith. In the end, he may be counted in the number of those redeemed. His name can be thought of as a stand in for ours. Jesus suffered under all of us because of our our weak and proud souls that minimize Christ and magnify the crowds.

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