Summary: Since the Passion has been released, critics have claimed that Mel Gibson presented too nice of a Pilate. So who was the real Pontius Pilate? This is what we examine in the text of this sermon.
As you know, since the movie the Passion has come out there has been a storm of controversy. One of the points of controversy about the film is that Mel Gibson didn’t portray a Pontius Pilate that was malicious enough.
So on pondering this, I decided to try to research who the real Pontius Pilate was. I found there are diverse views on this man.
Do you remember the television program To Tell the Truth? Two of the three contestants would pretend to be one of the contestants. I found as I researched Pontius Pilate there are different versions of the man presented. So the question we are asking today is: “Will the real Pontius Pilate stand up?”
Did you know that the Ethiopian Coptic church recognizes both Pontius Pilate and his wife, Procula, as saints? They observe June 25th as Saint Pilate and Procula Day. The early church father Tertullian believed that Pilate "was a Christian in his conscience", and the Greek Orthodox church made his wife a saint.
Medieval legends have Pilate tortured, exiled, drowning, decapitated, swallowed up by the earth, and compulsively washing his hands in his remaining days. Some even believed the corpse of Pilate anxiously roamed the earth.
“So will the real Pontius Pilate please stand up?”
Pilate is not only presented in the four Gospels and the book of Acts of the Apostles, but also by the Jewish historian Josephus, Philo, and Cornelius Tactitus, considered the greatest Roman historian. All of these historians paint Pilate as a brutal despot who despised the Jewish people. He often seemed provoke his Jewish subjects to riots, often to the disgruntlement of Rome.
If there was one thing Rome desired from their governors was them not inciting trouble from their conquered peoples.
As governor, Pilate was in charge of administering all aspects of Roman law. He served as the head of its judicial system, collected taxes, allocated spending for the province, and shipped the rest to Rome. At least twice, his Judean subjects pressured him by threatening to complain to Rome. According to Philo, it was one such complaint that brought the fury of the Emperor Tiberius on Pilate.
Pilate at one time viciously quelled a peaceful gathering of Samaritans at Mt. Gerazim by killing those leading the event. The Samaritans had gone to Mt. Gerazim in search of holy vessels they believed Moses had buried there. It seems that atrocities and antagonism with his subjects were the hallmarks of his time of service.
In describing Pilate, Philo writes of "his venality, his violence, his thefts, his assaults, his abusive behavior, his frequent executions of untried prisoners, and his endless savage ferocity.” All of his actions eventually earned him his walking papers. Pilate was sent back to Rome in March 37AD. Some believe he was sent to Gaul and that he committed suicide in 39AD.
According to the historian Eusebius, Pilate remained unable to "wash his hands" of the crucifixion of Christ. Eusebius asserts that he even wrote a report about Christ and His resurrection to the Emperor Tiberius. Eusebius writes: "Tiberius referred the report to the Senate, which rejected it. …for the old law still held good that no one could be regarded by the Romans as a god unless by vote and decree of the Senate.”
What do gospels, however, have to say about Pontius Pilate? The following is a harmonized gospel account of his encounter with Christ.
1Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2And they began to accuse him, saying, "We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king."
3So Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?"
"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.
4Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, "I find no basis for a charge against this man."
5But they insisted, "He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here."
6On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.
8When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. 9He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12That day Herod and Pilate became friends--before this they had been enemies.