We don’t know much about you. Who you were. What you were like. You might have filled some stereotypes… strong Roman, used to a luxurious lifestyle, buried in Israel by choice or by fate, atheist or bowing to the Roman gods, despising and confused by the Jews…
At any rate, you were a person. You had a childhood, a youth, a young-manhood. You found a wife (was it a match of love? of politics?). You might have had children. You had the position of governor, which I imagine meant you were something in the political world. Maybe you knew Caesar intimately, or maybe you hated him. You had your own thoughts and feelings and likes and habits.
And there you were, in Jerusalem, in 33 A.D. You’d surely heard about that Jesus of Nazareth fellow. Maybe you were curious about Him. Maybe you thought He was a fake. Maybe you just didn’t care at all.
But then there He was in front of you, a prisoner. Surrounded by high-class, important Jews (who could perhaps ruin or inconvenience you if they put their minds to it) who are filled with palpable hate and are plainly determined to have Him killed. Outside is a mob of screaming fanatics, swayed by their wily leaders. They’re probably a pain in the neck and not what you wanted to deal with today… especially not this early in the day.
Here He is, the prophet, the healer, the miracle-worker, the preacher, the leader of a small group. He looks completely ordinary—you wouldn’t have picked him out from a crowd as the Jesus. He might be a little manhandled by his fellow Jews. His eyes are probably full of a surprising love and kindness, perhaps mingled with a little sadness and resignation, or hope and joy. I wonder if you can hold His gaze, or if it makes you uncomfortable.
But there they are, and you have to go outside the hall and speak the them, because they won’t enter on account of their passover. I wonder if you sighed as you got up and walked over to them, or if you wished you were serving in another land. Or did you understand them and enjoy the challenges of this place?
You might have internally rolled your eyes at their laws as you tried to remind them you won’t interfere in that. But they insisted they want Him dead, and accused Him of ‘perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar, saying that he himself is Christ a King.’
Then you went back in and spoke to Him again… “Art thou the King of the Jews?”
Idle curiosity? Or asked for identification? I wonder what the thoughts and feelings were behind your words, and what you felt when He answered you.
“Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of Me?”
What did His voice sound like? What were His gestures and mannerisms? Were you snappish or weary as you answered, or was it severity instead?
“Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?”
“My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is My kingdom not from hence.”
Did this make you pause, or did you sneer at it as you answered, “Art thou a king then?”
“Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice.”
Those words. Did they ever ring through your ears at night, years later? Did they recur to you constantly, or not at all? Did you stop to think of them, or did you brush them off? Your answer “What is truth?” seems to indicate His words struck you. If only you had listened to Him…
But instead, you went out again and told the Jews you found no fault in Him. And they were the more fierce, and spat out more accusations… but Jesus answered nothing. You were surprised at that. Were you also inspired? Awed? Admiring? Or did you despise Him? Were you glad He didn’t make the situation worse? Or did you not care?
Then they mentioned He was Galilæan. Were you relieved to shove the burden off onto Herod? Did you intend to annoy him? Did you think it would be the end of the whole thing as far as you were concerned? Was it politeness or kindness? We are told you two became friends afterwards—I wonder why.
But Herod, after some time, sends Jesus back to you. Were you surprised? Annoyed? You called everyone together and told them, “I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man at all touching those things whereof ye accuse him: no, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto Him. I will therefore chastise Him, and release Him. Ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?”
They all cried for Barabbas instead. What was your reaction? Irritation? Disbelief? Did you expect it? How strongly were you inclined to refuse? After all, Barabbas was a noted man—robber, a murderer, a rebel who had just gathered people to do an insurrection. What a far cry from the Man before you!
And in your heart, you knew why they were accusing Him—that it was because of mere envy they had delivered Him. Were you afraid of Him?
You returned to your judgement seat, and your wife sent word—“Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.”
Did you listen? Did you shake it off? Outside, the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. Moved by their leaders, the mob begins shouting for you to crucify Him. Did you feel indignant at all?
“Take ye Him, and crucify Him: for I find no fault in Him.” Were you annoyed as you exclaimed this?
But they shouted back, “We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.”
Oh. Then you were afraid, Pilate. Then you asked Jesus again, “Whence art thou?”
And he would not answer.
“Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?”
And He said, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.”
Then you wanted to release Him. But then the Jews spoke up, leveraging political power: “If thou let this man go, thou art not Cæsar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Cæsar.”
Was there a struggle in your heart, Pilate? Conscience versus fear?
You spoke to the Jews, trying to release Jesus, to convince them to choose Him instead of Barabbas. You ordered Jesus scourged. Did you feel guilty? Did you not care? Did you know how your soldiers mocked and humiliated Him? When He came out again, in that robe and crown, were you startled? Did you wish you could take it off? Did you feel sorry for Him, or feel that this was a great wrong? You brought Him out before the people, repeating, “I find no fault in Him.” You knew He was innocent. But they all cry for Him to be crucified. Did you shrink? Did you roll your eyes?
“Why, what evil hath he done?”
But they only cry out the more…
Then you feared the tumult, Pilate. You were willing to content the people. Then you washed your hands, striving to wipe from them the innocent blood you just condemned to unjust death. You released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but you delivered Jesus to their will.
Were you ever haunted by this decision? Did His eyes, His face, pass before your mind? Many times? Sometimes?
I wonder if you thought at all about the significance of Who you got to see with your own eyes. I wonder if it occurred to you that this moment would echo around the world forever, read and known by countless multitudes.
I wonder if you had any desire at all to make your name famous. Well, you achieved immortality, Pilate. But it’s an ugly sort of notoriety. Your name is synonymous with injustice, cowardice, yielding.
You were so close to the truth, Pilate. You got to see and talk to the Messiah, the Son of God, the Sovereign, the Upholder of the World. You were so blessed.
I hope you believed in Him later on. But whether you did or not, your story is a warning to humanity… because it’s all to easy to repeat.
(Inspired by Sarie Trumiller’s “Letter to Judas.” Give it a read—it’s excellent.)
4 thoughts on “A Letter to Pontius Pilate ”
Whew, this was amazing! I’ve been intrigued by Pilate and his side of the story for years, and I have an idea in my mind for a story from his perspective, actually. And this was just perfect! Thank you for sharing!
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Aw, thanks so much!! YESSS GIRL YOU NEED TO!! AHHHHHHH!! That would be epic!!
This isn’t necessarily a recommendation, but years ago I watched the movie, Wine of Morning (still have no idea why it had that title 😅) and Pilate was played by Bob Jones Junior. Even though he creeped me out (he was always the bad guy!) that was the beginning of my pity for Pilate. I always hoped he did believe in the end…
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Yeah, same… I always did feel kinda sorry for him, which is evidently why I wrote this, lol. He’s just so human… 💔🥺