When it was over and two disciples came to ask permission to take down Jesus’ body from the cross, a depression descended on Pilate he would never shake.
So He’s dead, he thought. Well, my hands are clean of the whole mess, he lied to himself. I wanted no part of this man’s death.
In all his years of playing political chess, this match tripped him up. He had the power to stop an unjust execution—the murder—of an innocent man and he didn’t. A deliberate miscarriage of justice. Thinking he was king, Pilate played the pawn to evil itself.
He tried, he reasoned to himself. Three times he said right out, “this man is innocent of any crime.” It didn’t matter. His opponents, Herod Antipas and the Sanhedrin, held his neck in the noose with their tattletale reports to Rome and taunted him with threats, “No friend of Caesar’s would let Jesus live…”
That’s when he finally caved to public opinion. Let them have their Nazarene, even when he guessed their evil game.
Pilate was no fool. History tells how he won brave battles on the field and in Roman legislature. Tiberius, the king of the world at the time, awarded him the prize of ruling Judea. To be honest, Pilate couldn’t stand the conspiring, petty politics of the local religious leaders. Neither could he stomach the morals of the tiny tyrant, Herod Antipas.
But when his own political ambition was on the line, Pilate played fast and easy. Never mind his wife warned him about prosecuting an innocent man. Never mind the uneasy debate he’d had with the accused. What is truth anyway? Best not be controlled by something you can’t understand, he thought.
But you have to wonder if when Pilate sat alone on his palace balcony each night and replayed the day’s drama, he was haunted by his encounter with Jesus. In the end, we all wonder about who we are and who God is and if it’s true what they say about heaven and hell. That’s the truth he really wanted to know.
You also have to wonder if his question was sincere or sarcastic, “What is truth?” Did he recognize the One who said, “I am the truth,” standing right in front of him?
Somehow, Pilate must have known he missed something significant and it may have cost him everything.