Pontius Pilate the Roman Prefect of JudeaMay 5, 2020
Pontius Pilate reigned as prefect of Judea in the time of Tiberius Caesar Augustus; Roman emperor in A.D26. of the Julian calendar. The great Roman Empire extended from the English channels to the gates of Mesopotamia.
Pilate was not of purely roman stock. His clan the Pontii we’re samnites who lived along the Apennine mountain spine at the Italian peninsula. The Pontii had conquered Rome in several fierce wars. They were of noble blood, but when Rome eventually absorbed the samnites; their aristocracy was demoted to the roman equestrian order. Members of Pilate’s clan had served Rome in numerous offices, both military and civil.
Pilate considered himself somewhere between a skeptic and a stoic. He considered Jews as hardworking, but terribly inbred and clannish folk always quarrelling among themselves.
He was promoted to prefect the notorious Judea for his success as an administrator military with the twelfth legion in Syria. The Jews were difficult to govern, for this reason, his salary was 100,000 sesterces. From all previous reports, it was a huge and complex task to keep the Jews under roman rule.
Hostility between Romans and Jews always ended up in a series of riots and rebellions which was put down in blood. Pilate’s reputation was that of a tough commander, thus his new role as prefect of Judea.
A.D 33. is the year which would shift the course of human history, from its dating system to its religious and philosophical values at depth. No one would ever have guessed that Rome would not determine the events of the world or that Jerusalem would.
During the Passover, there was a crucial meeting of the Sanhedrin which had convened due to the Lazarus phenomenon. The Rabbis had to decide what action was to be taken regarding Jesus of Nazareth. The high priest Caiaphas ruled that it was more expedient for one man to die for the people rather than the entire nation perishing.
This ruling led to a publishment of notice for the arrest and punishment of Jesus of Nazareth throughout Judea. He was indeed arrested with the help of Judas Ish-kerioth, right after Passover meal while having a private moment near the Kidron valley.
During the trial, at the palace of Caiaphas by the members of the Sanhedrin, Jesus was silent the whole time. Legally he did not have to answer any questions since no proven evidence had been introduced into the proceedings. Caiaphas knew it. In an agony of frustration he realized that unless a proven charge was introduced, the prosecution would collapse and the Sanhedrin would be bound to declare Jesus innocent and free him. This would make him more popular with the people more than ever while embarrassing the religious establishment in Jerusalem.
With the last fundamental left to put the prisoner out of their way, Caiaphas stood up from his seat and walked over to the prisoner and asked him “I adjure you by the living God to tell us… are you the Messiah? Are you the son of God?”
His stare penetrating to the very soul of the high priest, Jesus answered “I am… as you have said. You will see the son of man seated at the right hand of the power of God.
Caiaphas tore his priestly garment in fury crying out blasphemy! You have heard his blasphemy, you are all witnesses! With the exception of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus the rest of the Sanhedrin gave a final condemnation of death to this prisoner Jesus of Nazareth.
The trial was illegal according to Jewish law, since only cases involving monetary matters were heard after sunset. Capital trials such as the just concluded one took place only in the day time.
That technicality had to be rectified the following day shortly after dawn. Jesus was brought before an official session of the great Sanhedrin convened on the temple mount.
The Sanhedrin also disregarded another Jewish law that stated capital sentences could not be pronounced until the following day after trial. In this case a Friday trial which ended in condemnation was illegal, since it was followed by the Sabbath, which execution was impossible. But in this emergency the Sanhedrin did not feel bound by such restrictions.
However the final jurisdiction was reserved for the roman prefect, Pontius Pilate who had to review the Sanhedrin’s verdict, pronounce sentence and issue orders for execution or dismiss the case. He was present in the holy city of Jerusalem at the time of the trial.
Jesus was brought before Pilate on the morning of Friday April 3.A.D33 according to the Roman calendar. Behind him stood the leading Pharisees, scribes and Sadducees, among other spectators. It was the first time Pontius Pilate had come face to face with Jesus. His face deeply intrigued Pilate. He was very tall and his eyes registered serenity with a look of disappointment.
Pilate asked the Jewish leaders what charge they had brought against the man before him. They expected him to endorse their earlier action but no, this was to be done roman style.
The Pharisees we’re keen on having Jesus put to death, what with their false accusations not to mention that Jesus’ teachings we’re inflaming the people of Judea starting from Galilee and spreading throughout the city. Pilate wanted to rid himself of this man, whom he believed to have been incriminated by the devious rabbis. The mere mention of Galilee gave him an opportunity to send the prisoner to be tried by Herod Antipas who was in the Jerusalem at the time for the Passover ceremonies. Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee, the defendants’ hometown.
Pilate ruled that the defendant did not commit any offence according to the Roman law. The charges against Jesus had religious implications within Jewish law which Herod Antipas, being a Jew would adjudicate better than him. Caiaphas was not amused at all, after brief consultations with other chief sanhedrists, they all concurred with Pilate. He therefore announced officially that his court takes no action in the case of Jesus of Nazareth. The tribunal was adjourned.
Pilate was extremely pleased with himself for ridding himself of a sticky situation involving probably, an innocent man.
Herod was quite anxious to meet this Jesus of Nazareth as he had heard so much of him. But the enthusiasm quickly died when Jesus refused to answer any of his questions or even perform a miracle to prove his accusers wrong. Out of boredom and sheer disregard of the prisoner, Herod ordered him taken back to Pilate as this was purely a Roman matter on Judean soil, the prefect would handle it. Antipas hurriedly adjourned the hearing and sent the prisoner back to Pontius Pilate.
He heard the crowd approaching his courts, and chose to handle the stubborn Jews right up front, on his porch. Pilate quickly interceded without waiting for a formal request, citing that neither he nor Herod Antipas found the prisoner guilty of the subversion charges brought against Jesus. Even though he had committed infractions of the Jewish law Jesus of Nazareth had done nothing to deserve death.
The crowd was outrageously angered by Pilate’s remarks; there was a rising rumble of disapproval. Pilate felt the sickening familiar atmosphere of tension building up. He reiterated to the Jewish leaders to retract their charges as the case was now getting out of hand as they had no conclusive evidence. The Rabbis showed no signs of backing out, they had unbent resolve to see this innocent prisoner put to death.
Pilate was fed up, as he sat there pondering what to do next, he thought of a solution prompted by the Jewish calendar.It was his custom each Passover to release one prisoner chosen by the people. He narrowed the selection to just two prisoners this time round. He asked the people of Judea gathered about his courtyard to choose between Jesus Bar -Abbas or Jesus of Nazareth. The former prisoner was a well known notorious criminal in all of Judea; Pilate thought with this extreme choice, he would have saved the innocent latter prisoner.
There was a brief moment of silence. Then the crowd broke into a bubbling scream of contention “BAR-ABBAS! BAR-ABBAS!” Pilate was dumbfounded. The Nazarene was hopelessly drowned out by the majority of the crowd, it was like a war chant, the cries of Bar-abass release were deafening.
Bewildered Pilate asked what he was to do with Jesus of Nazareth. CRUCIFY HIM! AWAY WITH HIM! Came the unwavering answer.
Pilate was stung by the utter indifference shown by the crowds but he went ahead and brought Jesus inside the palace for light flogging as was custom for all petty crimes according to Roman law. He was stripped and administered the fustigation, which was lighter than the severe scourging that preceded capital punishment.
As he witnessed the flogging, Pilate thought it would bring the prisoner to his senses to make a better defense of himself and to win the people’s sympathy too. It was customary for the roman magistrate to look the other way as the solder’s mocked and made fun of Jesus. They clothed him in a purple mantle to resemble one worn by kings; they also made a prickly crown of thorns and planted it on Jesus head. He said nothing the whole time.
Pilate reappeared in the courtyard and put an end to the mockery. He then led Jesus to the multitude and reiterated that he found no crime against the man, and the flogging was punishment enough for the offence brought against him. But the crowd would here none of it. They wanted him crucified still.
The religious leaders we’re conniving, they merged religious charges and political charges against Jesus to the highest level, that of the emperor himself. Anyone who would make himself king commits treason and defies Caesar. Pilate was beaten squarely. He had lost.The priests had outsmarted him.
Bleeding tired and perspiring, Jesus was asked to defend himself three times, to which he still said nothing. Pilate had a golden basin of water brought out to the tribunal. He spoke to the men of Israel saying his court could not pronounce Jesus of Nazareth guilty, but since the great Sanhedrin condemned him to death, the prisoner would be crucified.
With a great roar of approval from the crowds, Pilate stood there helpless in awe of the ecstatic multitude. When it finally subsided he washed his hands in the golden basin saying ”my hands are clean of this man’s blood.”
”His blood be on us and our children”. The people cried. Pilate looked at Jesus and ordered a centurion of the guard ”Let him be crucified”.
A chariot courier from Pilate ran to catch up with the procession before it reached Golgotha. He bore the inscription which had to be carried ahead of a condemned man, to identify him and the cause of the execution. The sign was to be affixed on the cross reading ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’
Governing Judea was a corrosive experience for Pilate. He had been there too long. He longed to be relieved of the prefecture and transferred back to Rome. He was totally drained by the events of that morning.