Editor's Note: "Creed" is an ongoing article series that discusses the core beliefs of Christianity as expressed in the Apostle's and Nicene creeds. Links to other installments are listed at the end of this article.

When I was a little girl I read everything I could get my hands on. When all the books and magazines had been exhausted, I would read cereal boxes. (I wasn’t as bad as my best friend about this, though. She read dictionaries and encyclopedias.) My mother had a nice collection of books, mostly religious. One book in particular helped me understand that while the Bible tells us what we need to know, it doesn’t necessarily provide all the details.

 

For example, when we read that Jesus was scourged and crucified, it sounds like bam-boom-done! But as a child I had no idea what the punishment of Roman scourging was about. I couldn’t begin to imagine the agonies and tortures of Roman crucifixion.

 

Until I read “The Day Christ Died,” by Jim Bishop (1957, Harper & Brothers, New York), I was like so many Christians who recite the creeds and say, “…suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

 

Who Was Pilate Anyway?

 

Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor who presided over Judea during the time of Jesus. Though his headquarters was in Caesarea, he was required to be in Jerusalem for various occasions, such as The Passover, if for no other reason than to ensure that the law was being abided by. When he was there, he stayed in the home of Herod the Great (the one who had attempted to kill Jesus just after his birth in Bethlehem and who, himself, died in 4BC.)

 

Pilate was not a big fan of the Jews. In fact, he was known for slaughtering them in any given whim. In the NIV study notes for Luke 13:1—which reads: Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices—the commentators say, “The incident is otherwise unknown, but having people killed while offering sacrifices in the temple fits the reputation of Pilate.”

 

Four Writers, One Story

 

All four of the gospel writers tell the story of Jesus before Pilate. After the chief priests and elders had questioned him enough before the high priest, Caiaphas, and had beaten him up, they bound him and hauled him over to where Pilate was staying.

 

According to the gospels, it was now very early on Friday morning during the time of the celebration of Passover. Because Pilate’s residence was Gentile, those who brought Jesus to the governor were unable to even enter his palace. Pilate, understanding the custom, came to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

 

The chief priests and elders were a wise bunch, surely, but their answer was no answer at all. They said, “If he were not a criminal we would not have handed him over to you.”

 

Now, you tell me; is that an answer to the question?

 

Pilate must not have thought so either. He replied, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” (In other words, “if you can’t charge him with Roman charges, then you can’t have a Roman trial.”)

 

But the chief priests and elders were hardly interested in a trial. They wanted him DEAD. They wanted him out of their way. They wanted him to stop coming around Jerusalem, turning over tables, running out wicked merchants, and challenging them on their views of heaven and hell and the Law of Moses. Jesus wanted to bring people to the heart of the Father. They wanted religiosity.

 

Big difference.

 

But Pilate, a Roman pagan, was having no part of it.

 

“Okay, so what did he do?” he asked.

 

They answered, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be [Messiah], a king.” (See Luke 23)

 

That pretty much wrapped up the taco, so to speak. A crime against Rome. A crime against Judaism. Neither of which were true. He had never said not to pay taxes, in fact he had said that they should pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. (Matthew 22:21)

 

Jesus had also never “sold himself” as Messiah. Neither had he argued with those who said he was the long awaited, promised One. But if he were Messiah, (and I believe He was) then he would not have been usurping their beliefs! He would have been fulfilling them.

 

One has to wonder if Pilate was intrigued by this accusation or angered. Especially considering that Jesus made no remarks at all. No one single peep of “Did not!”

 

In my mind’s eye, I can almost see Pilate, turning to Jesus, smirking a bit. Crooked grin. He goes back inside the Palace and has Jesus—a Jewish man in the middle of Passover—brought to him. Jesus, not bound by man’s rules and regulations, complies.

 

“Is that true? Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks him.

 

Jesus’ answer is amazing. “It is as you say.” As you say.  (John says that Jesus said, “Is that what you say or did others tell you this?”)

 

Perhaps Pilate’s brow raised and his hand flew to his chest. “Am I a Jew? It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” (I have a feeling Pilate was stressing the word: your.)

 

Again Jesus is clever in his answer. “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

 

It’s almost as if Jesus is saying, “You are all playing right into the plan; don’t you see? No one is fighting for me. The very people I came to save have arrested me. And guess what? You are about to bring the kingdom of earth into the Kingdom of Heaven. From the beginning of time, it’s been arranged. It’s been prepared for. It is now.”

 

Pilate must have slapped his hands together. “Then you are a king!” (Yippee-Skippy we may be getting somewhere.)

 

But again, Jesus stuns Pilate with his answer. “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

 

“What is truth?” Pilate returns.

 

Was Pilate teasing Jesus? Was he saying, “Oh, yeah? Just what is truth, my friend?”

 

Or, was he ready to have a battle of wits? (Can you imagine trying to have such a thing with the Creator of the Universe?) Did he sit in his oversized chair, chew on a nail a bit, narrow his eyes and say, “Just what is truth?”

 

Maybe Jesus was thinking, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free…” but before Jesus could answer, Pilate walked out and said, “I find nothing against him.”

 

The chief priests were not about to back down so easily. “Don’t you get it, man? He’s stirring up trouble all over the place! It started in Galilee and is now way down here!”

 

Pilate folded his arms and tilted his head forward a bit (Again, this is the way I’m seeing it). “He’s a Galilean? A Galilean?” Huge grin. “Then he’s not my problem. He’s Herod’s.”

 

Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee. The man who had ordered the beheading of John the Baptist. Pilate hated Herod. What better way to get back at his old rival than to send him a bunch of bloodthirsty religious men and their complicated king?

 

And it was still so early in the day.


Award-winning national speaker Eva Marie Everson is a recent graduate of Andersonville Theological Seminary. Her work includes the just released Sex, Lies, and the Media (Cook) and The Potluck Club (Baker/Revell) She can be contacted for comments or for speaking engagement bookings at www.evamarieeverson.com.

 

Most recent articles in this series:
Creed: Why Jesus Suffered
Creed: The Gospel in a Nutshell
Creed: Why Jesus Came

Creed: The Son & the Father are One
Was Jesus the Son of God?
Creed: God With Us