Pilate is said to be one of the most pathetic figures in human history. He had a strong sense of justice and knew that the charges against Christ were faked. He could easily discern that those who accused Jesus were contradicting one another and twisting Jesus’ innocent words into something evil. He also hated the crowds. They had made a fool of him in the past, yet he also feared his own position. His job was to keep these Jewish people under control and his decision must make him look favorable to his superiors. Instead of listening to his conscience, he listened to the shouting mob. Instead of focusing on Jesus’ honest face, he turned to the accusations of a crowd that he despised and signed the order for the crucifixion of the only sinless person who ever existed.
None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:8)
As I read this verse and think of Pilate, I cannot help but think of the bigger plan. The crowds intended to destroy Jesus. Pilate intended to keep his seat of power. But God had another plan, and the plan of God overruled the plans of both. This plan was declared later, after the church was born and in the first sermon preached by Peter . . .
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22–24)
The phrase in the middle and the affirmation at the end reveal that God not only knew what Pilate would do and the crowds would do, this was part of His plan for His only begotten Son. Jesus was crucified by human and lawless hands, but He was sent to that fate by His heavenly Father.
The Old Testament prophetically said that their Messiah would suffer. Jesus Himself repeatedly said that He would suffer and die. They were informed, but so deep were their desires for political deliverance that they missed the reality of sin and the need for a once-for-all sacrifice that would bring eternal forgiveness and eternal life. They wanted redemption from bondage to Rome, not redemption from bondage to sin.
This world today is not much different. When I first came to Christ, I wanted redemption from the pain of a marriage breakup. My personal sin was not on my radar (even though it was on His). Many people want prayer or even pray themselves when they are in trouble, but they forget God if the trouble goes away. This is temporary faith for temporary issues, not saving faith that leads to eternal life. For such, a dying Savior is pushed aside so that the living One can lift them out of their current mud.
Oddly enough, the verse that says the rulers of that age would not have crucified Christ if they had known what was really going on --- would have been in greater rebellion had they not. It was the plan of God that He should die. His death was a declaration of judgment against their sin. Had they realized that, would they have wanted to keep Him alive? If they did that, it would be like saying, “I don’t need a sacrifice for my sin; I am not seriously in trouble with God.”
Jesus died because He had to die so I could be set free from my sin, the sin that would otherwise hold me in bondage to itself and to the lies that go with it. If I ever denied sin being a bondage and a harsh taskmaster, I no longer do that. A prolonged battle against any sin convinces even skeptics that sin is like chains that will not let you go, chains that cannot be broken or loosened without divine help. I need a Savior, and so does everyone else.
Because these rulers were ignorant of Jesus’ person and mission, they crucified Him. In that ignorance, they actually fit into the will of God without realizing it. Because of their selfish and horrible decision, sinners can be set free, just as Jesus said. . .
If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free . . . (and) if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31–36)