Representation of Pontius Pilate

Who Was Pontius Pilate?

Whenever local rulers failed to keep the colonies in line, Rome appointed its own rulers, called “procurators” or “governors.” Pontius Pilate served as Roman procurator of Judea, a regional ruler for the most powerful empire in the history of the planet up to that time. Yet, as Pilate discovered, having absolute power does not guarantee peace. The Jews hated Roman rule, and religious and nationalist emotions constantly flared up in Judea.

According to the first-century historian Josephus, Pilate marched Roman soldiers into Jerusalem, learning too late that Jews would die to keep Rome’s military emblems out; they considered images of the emperor blasphemous. And when Pilate set out to build an aqueduct for Jerusalem, he caused a bloody riot by appropriating temple offerings to pay the bill. Pilate’s soldiers brutally put down many such disturbances.

Both the Gospels and extrabiblical sources portray Pontius Pilate as a cynical and self-serving ruler, insensitive toward his Jewish subjects and yet politically pragmatic. He viewed the religious leaders with contempt but feared their influence in Rome, fearing that a negative report could have him recalled to Rome.

When Pilate met Jesus, he mainly saw one more source of trouble. Pilate tried to pass the buck to Herod. He even offered to set the prisoner free. But in the end Pilate was willing to sacrifice Jesus if that would buy order. Pilate’s most famous words were a cynical question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). The answer was standing right in front of him, but Pilate didn’t really want to know.

Pilate must have considered Jesus’ execution a success as it didn’t start any riots, but his balancing act was upturned just a few years later. Some Samaritans — the mixed-race group whom Jews despised —heard a crazy report that Moses had buried treasures on Mount Gerizim. A crowd gathered to climb the mountain. Pilate, thinking these pilgrims might be dangerous, sent in troops. Soon he had a massacre on his hands. For his overreaction and the particularly violent military action that ensued, his fears came to pass. Pontius Pilate was recalled to Rome and removed from office.


Are there situations in your life where you would buy peace at any cost? What happens to the truth when you do so?

Drawn from the NIV Starting Place Bible and NIV Study Bible.

1 comment

  1. John joseph says:

    Very good reading.

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