Summary: We think of Jesus being on trial before Pilate, when really it was Pilate who was being challenged by Jesus. What did Jesus say to Pilate that shook this governor and challenged his entire view of life?
Eight years ago (2013) Time magazine featured a study that proposed to name the 100 most significant people in history. This study's authors filtered through over 9000 names and came up with this list, and these are the TOP 10 of that list:
1 Jesus (it’s intriguing that Time magazine would recognize that Jesus was the most significant person in history)
5 Abraham Lincoln
6 George Washington
7 Adolf Hitler (obviously, this wasn’t based on popularity)
9 Alexander the Great
10 Thomas Jefferson
The authors of that study examined over 9000 names. But I’m pretty sure there was one significant person in history that didn’t make the cut. Someone who - even most Christians - would never think of as being “significant”. And yet he was! In fact this one individual was more vital to world history than Shakespeare, Lincoln or Washington put together.
His name? … Pontius Pilate.
Pontius Pilate? Why on earth would I believe that HE was one of the most significant men who ever lived? Well, you’ll have to wait to the end of the sermon to find that out…
But in the meantime, let me tell you a little about Pilate. According to one source, Pilate was a cold, cruel, calculating politician who played all the angles. Jesus was crucified about 33 A.D, and Pilate was the governor of Judea from 26–36 AD. In that time, Pilate had managed to accumulate a large number of enemies. Which wasn’t hard, because Jerusalem was NOT an easy place to rule. The Jews hated the Romans and would riot and revolt at drop of hat.
That’s why Pilate made sure - whenever there was a Feast day in Jerusalem, where 1000s of Jews were gathered in that one city - he always made sure he had several 100 soldiers on hand because, with that many Jews in one place, it was a recipe for disaster.
But when he wasn’t in Jerusalem, Pilate’s home was in Caesarea Maritima. Caesarea Maritima had been built by Herod the Great as a seaport on the Mediterranean. And he also built a summer palace there, and (when he died) that palace became the living quarters of governors in the region.
Before Pilate met with Jesus, he was already having political problems. During his governorship, there’d been 2 revolts in Judea. On one occasion he took money from Temple treasury to build aqueducts – to bring water into Jerusalem. The Jews rioted and Pilate subdued them by having many of them clubbed and stabbed to death. (Jerry Shirley) Luke 13:1 may have been referring to this riot… when it tells us about “... the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.”
These riots put Pilate in jeopardy with Caesar, and in 36 A.D. Pilate was ordered back to Rome to stand trial for cruelty and oppression particularly on the charge that he had had men executed without a proper trial. VERDICT: The Emperor Caligula ordered Pilate to take his own life.
That’s the short and ugly story of the man who had Jesus crucified.
Now, by the time Jesus stood before Pilate, Pilate could ill afford another revolt and (knowing this) the Jewish leaders demanded that he put Jesus to death. You can almost sense the struggle Pilate goes through, trying to avoid executing Jesus. But he’s trapped, and he knows it. And he doesn’t like it.
He tells the Jews - "You take him and you judge him by your own law” (they refuse). And after interviewing he tells the Jews: “I find no fault in him.” But the Jews refuse to back off. In John 19:12 we’re told “From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, ‘If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.’”
Things are quickly getting out of hand and Pilate realizes that if he lets Jesus go he’ll have revolt on his hands, and he can’t afford that!
Jesus has to die!
But before Pilate made that decision he had this interesting conversation with Jesus. All Pilate wants to know is if Jesus is a threat to Rome and so he asks “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33) That’s because - if Jesus intended to stage an armed revolt - then Pilate could crucify him. But Jesus answers: “MY KINGDOM is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” John 18:36
Despite what the Jews believed and despite what some Christians even today have believed - Jesus did not come to set up an earthly Kingdom. But that was never the plan! There was NEVER going to be an earthly Kingdom, because Jesus’ Kingdom was NOT of this world. There’s NO earthly boundaries. You can’t point to a spot on the map and say: “THERE IT IS!” Because Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world.