And when they had bound him, they led him away,
and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor.
- Matthew 27:2
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt like you were surrounded and besieged by control freaks who were obsessed with keeping everything that moved under their monitoring control? If you’ve been in a situation like this before, you know how hard it is to function in that kind of environment.
Well, at the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth, Israel was overwhelmed with scads of leaders who were obsessed with the notion of holding on to the reins of power. This paranoia was so epidemic that it had spread to both the religious and political world. The high priest, along with his scribes and elders, were suspicious and paranoid of anyone who appeared to be growing in popularity. The political leaders installed by Rome to preside over Israel were just as paranoid, looking behind every nook and cranny for opponents and constantly struggling every day of their lives to keep power in their grip.
Israel was under the enemy control of Rome, an occupying force that the Jews despised. They hated the Romans for their pagan tendencies, for pushing Roman language and culture on them, for the taxes they were required to pay to Rome - and that’s just a few of the reasons the Jews hated the Romans.
Because of the political turmoil in Israel, few political leaders from Rome held power for very long, and those who succeeded did so using cruelty and brutality. The land was full of revolts, rebellions, insurgencies, assassinations, and endless political upheavals. The ability to rule long in this environment required a ruthless, self-concerned leader who was willing to do anything necessary to maintain a position of power. This leads us to Pontius Pilate, who was just that type of man.
After Herod Archelaus was removed from power, Judea was placed in the care of a Roman procurator. This was a natural course of events, for the Roman Empire was already divided into approximately forty provinces, each governed by a procurator - a position that was the equivalent of a governor. It was normal for a procurator to serve in his position for twelve to thirty-six months. However, Pilate governed Judea for ten years, beginning in the year 26 AD and concluding in the year 36 AD. This ten-year span of time is critical, for it means Pilate was governor of Judea throughout the entire length of Jesus’ ministry. The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, noted that Pilate was ruthless and unsympathetic and that he failed to comprehend and appreciate how important the Jew’s religious beliefs and convictions were to them.
In addition to the normal responsibilities a procurator possessed, Pilate also ruled as the supreme authority in legal matters. As an expert at Roman law, many decisions were brought to him for final judgment. Because of this high-ranking legal position, he had the final say-so in nearly all legal affairs for the territory of Judea. However, even though Pilate held this awesome legal power in his hands, he dreaded cases having to do with religion and often permitted such cases to be passed into the court of the Sanhedrin, over which Caiaphas the high priest presided.
Pilate lived at Herod’s palace, located in Caesarea. Because it was the official residence of the procurator, a military force of about 3,000 Roman soldiers was stationed there to protect the Roman governor. Pilate disliked the city of Jerusalem and recoiled from making visits there. But at the time of the feasts when the city of Jerusalem was filled with guests, travelers, and strangers, there was a greater potential of unrest, turbulence, and disorder, so Pilate and his troops would come into the city of Jerusalem to guard and protect the peace of the population. This was the reason Pilate was in the city of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.
As a highly political man, Pilate knew how to play the political game. The Jews he ruled were also well-versed at playing the political game with him. In fact, so many complaints had been filed in Rome about Pilate’s unkind and ruthless style of ruling that the threat of an additional complaint was often all that was needed for the Jews to manipulate Pilate to do their bidding. This no doubt affected Pilate’s decision to crucify Jesus.
That day the high priest, the Sanhedrin, and the entire mob, insisted that Jesus be crucified. Pilate wanted to know the reason for this demand, so they answered him, “…We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that He himself is Christ a king” (Luke 23:2).
Pilate knew the Jews were jealous of Jesus. But politically the charges they brought against Jesus put him in a very bad position. What if the news reached Rome that Jesus had perverted the nation, teaching the people to withhold their taxes and claiming to be a counter King in place of the Roman emperor? It would be political suicide for Pilate to do nothing about that kind of situation. The Jewish leaders were well aware of this when they fabricated these charges against Jesus. They knew exactly what political strings to pull to get Pilate to do what they wanted - and they were pulling every string they held in their hands.
The Jewish people loathed Pilate for his cruelty and inadequate care of his subjects. The kind of brutality that made him so infamous and hated can be seen in Luke 13:1, where it mentions that Pilate slaughtered a number of Galileans and then mixed their blood together with the sacrifices. Appalling and sick as this act may sound, it is in accordance with many other vicious actions instigated under Pilate’s rule as procurator of Judea.
Another example of Pilate’s callousness can be seen in an incident that occurred when a prophet claimed to possess a supernatural gift that enabled him to locate consecrated vessels, which he alleged had been secretly hidden by Moses. When this prophet announced that he would unearth these vessels, Samaritans turned out in large numbers to observe the event. Pilate, who thought the entire affair was a disguise for some other political or military activity, dispatched Roman forces to assault and massacre the crowd that had gathered. In the end, it became apparent that nothing political had been intended.
The Samaritans felt such great loss for those who died, they formally requested that the governor of Syria intervene in this case. Their complaints of Pilate became so numerous that he was eventually summoned to Rome to give account for his action before the Emperor Tiberius himself. But before Pilate could reach Rome to counter the charges that were brought against him, the Emperor Tiberius had died.
Outside the Gospels, Pilate is not mentioned again in the New Testament. Historical records show that the procurator of Syria brought some sort of accusations against Pilate in the year 36 AD. These indictments resulted in his removal from office and exile to Gaul (modern-day France). Eusebius, the well-known early Christian historian, later wrote that Pilate fell into misfortune under the wicked Emperor Caligula and lost many privileges. According to Eusebius, this man Pilate - who was ultimately responsible for the trial, judgment, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus and who had ruled Judea ruthlessly and mercilessly for ten years - finally committed suicide.
With this history now behind us, let’s look at Matthew 27:2. It says regarding Jesus, “And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor.” The word “bound” is the Greek word desantes, from the word deo, the same word that would be used to describe the binding, tying up, or securing of an animal. I am confident that this was precisely the connotation Matthew had in mind, for the next phrase uses a word that was common in the world of animal caretakers.
The verse tells us that “they led him away.” These words come from the Greek word apago. The word apago is used for a shepherd who ties a rope about the neck of his sheep and then leads it down the path to where it needs to go (see April 13). Just as the soldiers had led Jesus to Caiaphas, now they slipped a rope about His neck and walked the “Lamb of God” to Pontius Pilate.
The Bible says that once Jesus was in Pilate’s jurisdiction, they then “…delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor.” The word “delivered” is the word paradidomi, the same word we saw when Jesus committed Himself to the Father who judges righteously (see April 13). However, in this case, the meaning would more likely be to commit, to yield, to transmit, to deliver, or to hand something over to someone else.
This means that when the high priest ordered Jesus to be taken to Pilate, he officially made the issue Pilate’s problem. The high priest took Jesus to Pilate; delivered Him fully into Pilate’s hands; and then left Pilate with the responsibility of finding Him guilty and crucifying Him.
Matthew 27:11 says, “And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.” Pilate asked a direct question, but Jesus refused to directly answer him. Matthew 27:12 goes on to say, “And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.” So for a second time, Jesus refused to answer or refute the charges that were brought up against Him.
Matthew 27:13, 14 tells us what happened next: “Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marveled greatly.” Notice the Bible says Pilate “marveled greatly” at Jesus’ silence. In Greek, this phrase is the word thaumadzo, which means to wonder; to be at a loss of words; to be shocked and amazed.
Pilate was dumbfounded by Jesus’ silence because Roman law permitted prisoners three chances to open their mouths to defend themselves. If a prisoner passed up those three chances to speak in his defense, he would be automatically charged as “guilty.” In Matthew 27:11, Jesus passed up His first chance. In Matthew 27:12, He passed up His second chance. Now in Matthew 27:14, Jesus passes up His final chance to defend Himself.
At the very end of this time of interrogation, Pilate asked Jesus, “Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answered him and said, Thou sayest it” (Luke 23:3). John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus added, “…My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence” (John 18:36). After hearing these answers, “then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man” (Luke 23:4).
As you will see in tomorrow’s Sparkling Gem, Pilate searched diligently for a loophole so he wouldn’t have to kill Jesus. John 19:12 says, “And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him.…” But nothing Pilate could do was able to stop the plan from being implemented. Even Jesus passed up His three chances to defend Himself, because He knew the Cross was a part of the Father’s plan.
When Jesus finally answered Pilate’s question, He still didn’t defend Himself, knowing it was the appointed time for Him to be slain as the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. But Pilate didn’t want to crucify Him. In fact, the Roman governor began looking for a loophole - for some way out of putting this Man to death.
But Pilate’s search for a way out was in vain; the plan couldn’t be changed because it was time for the Son of God to offer the permanent sacrifice for sin. As Hebrews 9:12 says, “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.”
Are you certain of God’s plan for your life? Consider whether or not you are able to say with conviction: “I know what God has called me to do, and I’m willing to go where He tells me to go and pay any price I have to pay. My greatest priority and obsession is to do the will of the Father!” If you are not able to say this yet, ask the Holy Spirit to help you grow to the point where doing God’s will, regardless of the cost, becomes the most important thing in your life. Even if the life of obedience takes you through hard places as it did with Jesus, the end result will be resurrection and victory!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, I want to be so confident of Your plan for my life that I refuse to let anything move me! Just as Jesus refused to be swayed away from Your plan for Him, I want to be fixed and committed to do exactly what I’ve been born to do. Help me know Your plan for my life - and once I really understand it, please give me the strength, power, and conviction to stand by that plan until I see it come to pass in my life!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I boldly declare that God has a wonderful plan for my life! God’s Spirit is revealing that plan to me right now. I am willing to do what He’s called me to do; I’m willing to go where He tells me to go; and I’m willing to pay any price I have to pay to accomplish the life-assignment God has preordained for me! My greatest priority and obsession is to do the will of the Father!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Are you able to verbalize or write down God’s plan for your life? If so, try right now to speak out loud or write out plainly on paper what God has put in your heart about His plans for you.
- Do you believe you possess the fortitude you need to stand firm in the face of any hardship or opposition that might come to challenge you as you follow God’s plan?
- What steps do you need to take right now so you can grow strong enough spiritually to overcome any pressures that might try to coax you into giving up God’s plan for your life?
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Original publication date: March 3, 2009