The details of Pilate’s life are sketchy at best. What is known is that he was Governor of Judea, and he reigned from AD 26 – 36, making him the Judean procurator during the active ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.
Pilate’s role was to keep order in his territory and account for taxes collected from his citizens that he would give to King Tiberius Caesar. He is known for his cruelty, having earned a reputation for being merciless toward prisoners, often sentencing them to cruel and unusual punishment, even if he thought they were innocent. Much of Pilate’s reputation for being so abusive was determined by his treatment of Jesus, whom he declared innocent, but had beaten and crucified anyway.
The actual facts about Pilate’s life have been debated for centuries. There are some common beliefs based on legends, but most of what we know about him comes directly from scripture. The Bible indicates that Pilate was a worldly man, timid and afraid of mobs to the point of yielding under pressure. He abused his authority, casting extremely harsh sentences on prisoners, and excused his behavior by blaming it on what the people want. His own wife encouraged him to do right by Jesus, and though he struggled with the decision, he ultimately blamed the crowd for it saying that he washed his hands of Jesus’ blood by giving the people what they wanted.
The fact that Pilate knew Jesus was innocent speaks directly to his character. Here was a leader who waffled when he was face to face with God. He sent Jesus to Herod, hoping to evade his jurisdiction and avoid pronouncing sentence of him. It is widely believed that on that day, Herod and Pilate, who had been fierce enemies, became the best of friends. However, Jesus was sent back to Pilate who ordered His crucifixion.
In order to appease the crowd, Pilate, who had claimed Jesus’ innocence to them, gave the command to have Jesus brutally whipped by his soldiers. “Some of them, going to Pilate, said that as Jesus pretended to be the king of the Jews, it would be but just to crown Him with thorns. Having obtained his permission, they took Jesus, threw over His shoulders an old purple cloak, placed in His hand a reed for a scepter and violently pressed on His divine head the thorny diadem.” (The Divine Life of the Most Holy Virgin, Ven. Mary of Agreda pg. 176)
Pilate was a cruel, unjust man, medium in stature, and extremely power hungry. Though there are differences of opinion about his decision to crucify Jesus, some blaming Herod who left Pilate no alternative, some stating that he had little choice if he was expected to keep the mob under control and avoid a riot, everyone readily agrees that the most significant event of Pilate’s life was his decision to scourge and crucify Jesus, even though he knew our Lord was innocent. Pilate had little peace after that, and many historians claim that he committed suicide in AD 41.
Photo credit: Antonio Ciseri, Eccehomo (1821 – 1891), Public Domain
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