Does it happen today? Do judges decide a person’s guilt on whether or not they would lose their place at the bench? Pilate did. May that is one reason we have laws against such motivations. However, there is much more to what he did than that.
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)
Pilate was always having trouble with the Jews. Some say they had “touchy patriotism” and were quick to read offense in nothing at all, unyielding about even their smallest rights. For Pilate, the worst part was that his bosses in Rome laid it out — do not irritate those people.
Then Christ came into the scene. For Pilate, this man’s ministry could not have irritated the Jews at a worse time of the year. The city was overflowing. Multitudes came to the Passover, some say two million zealous Jews who were passionate to say the least and easily inflamed by their priests.
Pilate was in a pickle. He was ordered to avoid bloodshed and keep the peace. From his standpoint, it came down to this — let the riots happen or keep peace and set up a cross.
The chief priest, Caiaphas, announced, “It is better for you that one man die for the people” (John 11:50), and Pilate, because of his personal dilemma, began to think that way also. Jesus was innocent, but if he set him free, far worse was bound to happen. Pilate hesitated. He was unwilling to condemn Jesus to death, but because of the Passover crowds, he could not risk his own position. He may have done it in the name of peace, but he was really protecting himself.
Martin Luther said, “Pilate took our Savior Christ to be a simple, honest, ignorant man, one perchance come out of a wilderness; a simple fellow, a hermit who knew or understood nothing of the world or of government.”
Did Pilate really believe that? Or did he understand that Jesus was far more than a simple man? We cannot know for sure. All I know is that Caiaphas had it right; Jesus did die for the people, for their sins and mine. Pilate’s selfishness may have given the nod, but my own selfishness was there too, putting Jesus on that cross and making His sacrifice a necessary plan of God.
Yes, it was a terrible shame, but He had to die, not to keep the peace, but to bring forgiveness of sin and peace with God to all who believe in Him.