Jesus confuses Pontius Pilate.

Mark 15.1-5, Matthew 27.1-2, 11-14, Luke 23.1-4, John 18.28-38

So I already wrote about Pontius Pilate, the ἡγεμών/igemón, “ruler” of Judea when Jesus was killed, a præfectus, or “prefect,” a military governor, sent there by the Romans. After the Judean senate held their perfectly legal trial and sentenced Jesus to death, because of the Roman occupation they weren’t allowed to carry out that sentence themselves; the Romans had to execute Jesus for them.

But first the Judean leaders had to convince Pontius it was in Rome’s best interests to execute Jesus. The prefect wasn’t just gonna execute anybody the Judean senate recommended. Especially over stuff the Romans didn’t consider capital crimes, like blasphemy against a god the Romans didn’t respect. So what’d the Judeans have on Jesus?

Simple: He declared himself Messiah. Messiah (i.e. Christ) means “the anointed,” and since you only anointed kings, it straight-up means king. Jesus declared himself king. That, the Romans would consider treason: Only they got to appoint kings. And properly, the king of Judea was Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti, princeps (“first citizen”) of Rome. Caesar would have a vested interest in putting to death any antikings.

So that was the charge the senate brought to Pontius. (The bible tends to refer to him by his personal name Pilatus, KJV “Pilate.”) The senators hauled Jesus to Antonia, the fortress next to the temple where the Roman soldiers could watch the Judeans’ worship (just in case any riots broke out there), and presented their unrecognized true king to the prefect.

Mark 15.1 KWL
Soon it was morning. The head priests, with advice from the elders, scribes, and the whole senate,
went to bring back and hand over Jesus, whom they bound, to Pontius Pilatus.
Matthew 27.1-2 KWL
1 In the early morning all the head priests and the people’s elders gathered in council regarding Jesus, and how they’d put him to death./dd>
2 Binding him, they led Jesus away and handed him off to Pontius Pilatus, the leader.
Luke 23.1-2 KWL
1 Getting up, the crowd led him to Pontius Pilatus.
2 They began to accuse Jesus, saying, “We found this man twisting our nation,
preventing taxes to be given to Caesar, calling himself ‘Christ’—which means king.”

In all the gospels, Pontius questioned Jesus… and came away unconvinced this man was any threat to Rome whatsoever. In Luke and John, he didn’t even believe Jesus was guilty of anything. But the Judean senate wanted Jesus dead, and got plenty of the locals to say so too. In the end, Pontius pragmatically gave ’em what they wanted.

“Why’s this guy not defending himself?”

Getting convicted of treason meant execution. (Still often does.) For non-Romans like Jesus, execution meant crucifixion, one of the most painful, disgusting ways to die humans have ever invented. So the fact Jesus didn’t fight his charges, and said nothing, made Pontius wonder what on earth was going on here. Everybody else he ever interrogated would either fight the charges or justify them. Not simply accept crucifixion as their inevitable lot.

Yet in the synoptic gospels, Jesus responded to his charges with two words and nothing more: Σὺ λέγεις/su légheis, “[If] you say so.”

Mark 15.2 KWL
Pilatus interrogated Jesus: “You’re the king of Judea?”
In reply Jesus told him, If you say so.”
Matthew 27.11 KWL
Jesus was stood before the leader, and the leader interrogated him, saying, “You’re the king of Judea?”
Jesus was saying, If you say so.”
Luke 23.3 KWL
Pilatus questioned Jesus, saying, “You’re the king of Judea?”
In reply Jesus told him, If you say so.”

Some interpreters claim Jesus’s words are more of an affirmative declaration; more like “You said it, buddy!” Others figure it was more contrary: “Your words, not mine.” (The Message) In John’s telling of the trial, Jesus’s response sorta sounds more like the “Your words, not mine” idea—because his response was more of a “because I am a king; just not the sort you’re thinking of.”

Yep, John tells a very different version of events. Jesus interacts with Pontius way more. I’ll start at the beginning.

John 18.28-38 KWL
28 So they brought Jesus from Joseph Kahiáfa to the prætorium. It was morning.
They didn’t enter the prætorium, lest they be defiled instead of eating Passover.
29 So Pontius Pilatus came outside to them, and said, “You bring me a certain accusation against this person.”
30 In reply they told him, “We’d never hand him over to you unless he were an evildoer.”
31 Pilatus told them, “Take him yourself. Judge him by your Law.”
The Judeans told him, “We’re not allowed to kill anyone.”
32 Thus Jesus’s word could be fulfilled—
which he said to signify which kind of death he was about to die.
33 Pilate entered the prætorium again, called Jesus, and told him, “You’re the king of Judea?”
34 Jesus replied, “You say this on your own? Or did others tell you about me?”
35 Pilate replied, “Do I look Judean to you? Your nation and head priests handed you over to me. What did you do?”
36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom’s not from this world.
If my kingdom’s from this world, my servants should fight lest I be handed over to the Judeans.
Now, my kingdom doesn’t yet exist.”
37 So Pilate told him, “So you’re not a king.”
Jesus replied, “You’d say I’m a king; I was born into it. I came into the world into it.
Thus I can testify to truth. Everybody who’s of the truth hears my voice.”
38 Pilate told him, “What’s ‘truth’?”
That said, he went out again to the Judeans and told them, “I find nothing in him of cause.”

Note in John, Jesus didn’t just answer Pontius with “If you say so,” but a statement of just what he means by “kingdom.” Clearly he’s not talking about a political government, but a moral one. We follow King Jesus, not because we’ll get into serious legal trouble if we don’t, not because (as dark Christians gleefully claim) we’ll go to hell when we don’t. We follow Jesus ’cause he’s truth. Jn 14.6 ’Cause we love the Father and want access to him. And we can’t get to the Father any other way than via Jesus.

Yeah, such a kingdom would totally overturn the Roman Empire. And within the next three centuries, that’s exactly what it did. But Caesar had nothing political to fear from such a kingdom. Which is why Pontius didn’t see anything wrong with it.

Not that Pontius necessarily understood Jesus. “What’s truth?” exposes this fact. Pontius had no time for abstract philosophy: He just wanted to know whether Jesus was worth crucifying. Would Caesar want him dead or not? Once Pontius had his mind made up—“So you’re not a king” Jn 18.37 —he didn’t really care what else Jesus had to say. “What’s truth” is a very important question, but notice Pontius didn’t stick around to get Jesus’s answer. Phooey on truth; he didn’t come to Judea to get an education from some obscure Galilean rabbi about epistemology. (He came there to get rich, if anything.) So in John, Pontius isn’t confused; just unconvinced Jesus is worth killing.

In Luke he likewise made up his mind right away.

Luke 23.4 KWL
Pilatus told the head priests and the crowd, “I find nothing of cause in this person.”

Whereas in the other gospels, Jesus said nothing, and Pontius couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t fight harder to avoid a gory death on the cross.

Mark 15.3-5 KWL
3 The head priests were accusing Jesus of many things.
4 Pilatus again questioned Jesus, saying, “You answer nothing! Look at all they accuse you of!”
5 Jesus no longer answered anything. So Pilate was amazed.
Matthew 27.12-14 KWL
12 But Jesus answered nothing in the accusation against him by the head priests and elders.
13 Then Pilatus told Jesus, “Don’t you hear how much they testify against you?”
14 Jesus didn’t answer him for even one word. So the leader was greatly amazed.

It was just strange enough for Pontius’s B.S. detector to go off: “Doesn’t seem to wanna die, but isn’t fighting it. What’s going on here? Why’s he acting this way? Why isn’t he fighting the charges? What, does he wanna get crucified?… Nah; he can’t; that’s nuts.”

Justice wouldn’t be done today.

For Jesus, the suffering came from the fact he knew he wasn’t gonna get justice that day.

It was sunrise when the senate brought him to Pontius. It was noon when he was finally led out to be crucified. Six hours of waiting. In between, getting mocked and flogged. He knew the end was coming, but the wheels of bureaucracy were turning mighty slow that morning.

But he knew Pontius believed him innocent. Knew Pontius recognized him as no threat to Rome. Knew regardless, Pontius would be of no help. The proper purpose of government is to establish justice, but corrupt governments everywhere presume it’s to seize and hold power, and Pontius was just this kind of corrupt. He figured he was only in Judea to make sure Rome got their money, and he’d kill anyone who got in Rome’s way. Jesus might be innocent, but if Pontius didn’t kill Jesus, he’d spark a war and lose his job—which he desired more than justice. So much for justice.

The fact Pontius had Jesus executed regardless, with full knowledge he was executing someone he considered innocent—his whole hand-washing demonstration Mt 27.24 was all for show and we know it—makes Pontius just as guilty of Jesus’s death as the senate. Any antisemite who wants to blame the Jews alone for Jesus’s death is an idiot. Pontius, a gentile, could’ve saved him, and didn’t care enough to make any more than a token effort.

So this was how Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilatus: Knowing he’d get no proper hearing, no justice, because the powerful didn’t care. Nobody did. He had no advocate. He was alone.

It’s all the more reason Jesus takes the position of our advocate before his Father. 1Jn 2.1 It’s why he sent the Holy Spirit to help us when we’re not sure how to defend ourselves. Mk 13.11 He’s not gonna abandon us. He never promised us we’d never suffer; on the contrary, we will. Jn 16.33 But he’ll be with us through the suffering, providing us all the help and comfort he lacked when he suffered.