THE THREE TRIALS OF CHRIST, PART 2
28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor's headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor's headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.”
— John 18:28-38, ESV
The first trial of Christ ended in a conviction. However, the kangaroo court of the corrupt high priest lacked the control to exercise the desired death penalty. So, Jesus’ case was passed on to a second trial, the political trial, which is the lynchpin that holds all three trials of Christ together, the religious and the political and the public.
The judge and jury for this second trial was a man with a familiar name. “Pilate” is mentioned 22 times in this 28 verse section of John’s Gospel. Pilate’s name is inscribed in the sacred Apostles’ Creed. Pilate is a virtual household name in the house of God, but he was by no means a man of God.
Marcus Pontius Pilate had been literal knight in shining armor for the Roman Empire, whose military exploits earned him this post in Israel, held from AD 26 to 36. He was technically the “Praetorius” over Judea, more of a military commander than what we think of as a “Governor.” Pilate’s job was to exercise Roman rule, command Roman troops, keep the Roman peace, and punish anyone who broke Roman law.
Pilate seemed to care not for God nor man, the kind of man who does the most harm to God and man. Brought before him was a man who claimed to be God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Jewish high priests and Pharisees had convicted Jesus of “doing evil,” so much so that He deserved death. Pilate had the power of the sword, or in this case the power of the cross.
In the end Pilate pronounced Jesus “innocent,” but led Christ to His cross anyway. We find here win Jesus’ second trial that those who separate themselves from Christianity, those who feel Christianity is simply one of many voices of the gods, those who do not believe in Christ and Christianity but mean us no harm, are actually the ones who will be found guilty for the killing of Christ.
Pilate the Separatist
A first glance of the religious trial of Jesus, Pontius Pilate actually resembles a good Baptist. What I mean by this is that he wanted a complete separation of church and state. “Judge Him by your own law,” he said. Pilate personally wanted nothing to do with the old religion of the Jews or the new religion of the Christ. He tried to separate himself from such concerns and concentrate only on secular matters. If only it were so easy.
The separation of church and state was a foreign concept throughout most of human, even biblical, history. It would have made no sense to Old Covenant Israel, a true theocracy. It did not occur to pagan nations of the past, for they ruled with an iron fist in one hand, religion idols of gold, silver, and stone in the other. Greece and Rome brought their pantheon of gods into the political process. When Rome recognized Christianity in the fourth century as its official religion, it essentially politicized it and took it over. It was not until Baptists evolved from the Great Reformation that the doctrine of separation of church and state became the norm for developing nations. It is good for politics, admittedly, but it is not good for a person’s soul.
So, you might call Pilate a good Baptist, but you could not call him a good Christian, just as many Baptists I have known are not Christians at all. Most people, even the majority I think who call themselves Christians, actually try to separate themselves from Christ. They do not know the gospel, do not read the Bible, and are not active in the church. They mean Jesus no harm, like Pontius Pilate, but do not what Jesus to be Lord over their lives, they had rather live separately from Him.
Pilate wasted little time with Jesus, which is a shame. This second trial he presided over was a whisk between the first and third, and it more than any other led Jesus directly to His cross. But you cannot separate yourself from Christ that easily.
Pilate the Pluralist
You cannot say Pilate was a good Baptist but you can support the claim he was a good pluralist. Pluralism is a normal political position, and a good one generally speaking, because it grants a citizenry freedom of religion, or freedom from religion.
Pilate wanted the Jews to be free to practice their religion, but with limits. They could not go around stoning people to death, even though certain sins warranted the punishment under the Old Covenant. Rome preserved the right to life until it condemned a person to death, and that by crucifixion, “the kind of death [Jesus] was going to die.”
Pilate wanted Jesus to be free to practice His religion, but with limits. This stuff about being a “King” had to stop. In the Roman world, there was no king but Caesar, Pilate’s boss. Jesus tried to reassure Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” It is not. It is above this world, over this world, but it presses into this world, and will one day overcome the world. Pilate and every person must choose, in the words of Jim Elliot, to give up what he cannot keep to gain what he can never lose, or live for the powers of this present world and get all you can, can all you get, and sit on the can.
Pilate the pluralist bumbled and stumbled here, too, just like Pilate the separatist. He was a smart man, very smart. He had a grasp of history and must have considered eternity. He could see that Christ was not a mere rabbi, religious leader, or would-be messiah. Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life,” but Pilate would not take the time to consider the truth of the gospel.
Most people are like Pilate the pluralist. They don’t bother to compare the competing voices of various religions. If they did, they would find that only one is truth, and Pilate was staring Him right in the face.
Pilate the Executioner
“What is truth?” These are some of Pontius Pilate’s infamous final words. They reveal the religious separatist and political pluralist was actually a post-modernist. Pilate would fit in so well in today’s world, where truths in general and biblical truth in particular are not in vogue.
Pilate had tried to ignore the truth of Jesus Christ, but could not resist the political power he held to try Him. Pilate refuse to accept the truth of Jesus Christ, and squandered the opportunity he had to dialogue face to face with Christ. When you separate yourself from Christ, when you refuse to listen to the gospel of Jesus Christ, you then become the executioner of Christ, with Pontius Pilate leading the way.
The text makes it plain that Pontius Pilate is responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. Christianity’s oldest and most revered creed spells it out in no uncertain terms: Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”
But the creed continues, “On the third day He rose again.” Pilate did not ultimately kill Jesus, for Jesus lives. Pilate only ultimately executed his own life. His governorship began to crumble after the Jesus affair. In a few short years Pilate was deposed by the Emperor Caligula and ordered to go kill himself, which Marcus Pontius Pilate did with the same hands he tried to wash at the religious trial of Christ. Pilate, not Jesus, was guilty.
Christ the King
At the second trial of Christ, the political trial, Jesus was charged with being a King, King of the Jews, Messiah, Lord over all. He was convicted and sent to His third trial, the public trial, where the sentence handed down was crucifixion. Pilate would see to it that this charge, “King of the Jews,” would be nailed to the cross, along with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pontius Pilate is culpable, responsible, and reprehensible in the death of Jesus Christ. So is Judas Iscariot. So are the chief priests and Pharisees. So is the mob who will call for His head in the end. And, so is every person who has committed any sin against God. We have all contributed to the trials and the crucifixion of the King.
But the King would have it no other way. This was His plan before the foundation of the world. And it is the King, the Lord Jesus Christ, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, who controls the world and all of its affairs.
You see, the chief priests and Pharisees were not in control. Praetorius Pontius Pilate was not in control. The people are not in control. God is in control, so much so He can use the free and sinful choices of man to accomplish His gracious and sovereign will.
Pilate made his choice. Now, you must choose. Follow Christ, in repentance and faith, be forgiven of all your sins and inherit eternal life. Or, be like Pilate, separate from Jesus, refuse to believe the truth, and be your own eternal executioner. It is not Jesus, but it is all of us are all on trial today.