Dear Pilate: A Letter From a Fellow Roman
Apr 16, 2017 03:08AM ● Published by Bonnie Lyn Smith
Within the crucifixion account, there is a very curious player in a pivotal role making history, and yet, little attention is paid to the key words he spoke. When the high priests (Jews) brought Jesus before Pontius Pilate (Roman, the established oppressor) to convict Jesus, he clearly wanted to wash his hands clean of dealing with Jesus. But that’s not all.
In the middle of questioning Jesus, Pilate asks Him a philosophical question. After hearing Jesus out, the Roman governor of Judea maintains that Jesus is innocent, at least of offending Roman law.
John 18:38, ESV
Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.”
As we reflect on this perplexing character, who ultimately satisfied the Jews by releasing Barabbas and crucifying Jesus, I wonder if we were to draft him a letter from the perspective of another Roman after the crucifixion, would it look like this?
Dear Governor Pilate:
I am standing here, looking at an empty cross on Calvary, remembering that day when you hung the King of the Jews here. Many criminals have since found their last moments here, and yet those don’t haunt me. But Jesus does. There are those who say he was the Christ, the one the Jews were hoping for. They claim he resurrected from the dead, that they saw him.
Did you know those Jews kept away from your house so that they were “clean” for their Passover? Those very same Jews who brought their king to die at Roman hands!
They put you in a tough spot. They worked the system. They were manipulating their own law and ours. You kept your cool, although they were an annoyance in your courtyards. What do we have to do with Jewish religious matters? They salivated for his death. What makes a group of people turn against their own rabbi?
I really admire you, though. The court records show your interview with Jesus. You gave him a fair shake, for sure. Jesus wasn’t an easy person to converse with. His words seemed cryptic, as if only his own people could interpret them. You asked a clear question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” How hard would it have been for him to simply answer “yes” or “no,” and yet, he didn’t.
He was very clever, that one. Many of his own people report that he often answered a question with more questions. He wanted to know where you were coming from, I guess—if you were directly accusing him or speaking for the Jews.
Like me, you were trying to make sense of what his crime was. His own people turned him over. Surely he would defend himself, state his case, even show us in Roman or Jewish law where he was innocent.
But he did not.
He started talking about his kingdom, so there we go! Or so we thought! He said it was not “of this world.” Was he suggesting another world? Another life?
It was very bold of him, Governor, to assert that he would have already been freed by his own people if he were to claim political kingship. What did that mean? He had a following, good sir. He could have rallied for position if he truly wanted to.
Then, my lord, you asked him again: Are you the king of the Jews, and it was as if he taunted you, saying you say that he is. Why couldn’t the man just answer the question? How did you keep your temper?
I have read the court records a hundred times, Governor. I could not believe his assertion about bearing truth. Why would he be in so much trouble with his own people for speaking of truth?What truth could be so offensive? Was he speaking something they didn’t want to hear? He may have been a bit off his rocker, thinking he was born to convey some kind of truth and that only people who believe that truth can hear him, but a criminal? No. Perhaps someone to wander the tombs of the Gerasenes talking to himself, scantily clad. Maybe a bit disillusioned or self-preoccupied, but to be put to death?
I watched you get out of that tight spot, good sir. You navigated that beautifully. Let the blood of Jesus fall on the Jews. Why should we Romans take the fall?
But before that, Governor, you asked such a good question. And that, that is why I write to you today. If these Jews were willing to kill their own rabbi in the name of this truth Jesus spoke of, what was it?
I can’t sleep, my lord. It has been months now, and I think of nothing else. You asked him what truth was and still found him not guilty.
The Jews crucified their own, I’m sure of that. They wanted this. It’s not on your hands, but good sir, could you tell me what this truth is?
I look again at this cross, stained now with the blood of many men after him. Bad men. Deserving men.
But this Jesus? What truth would he go to such great lengths as to believe he was born to die for it? King of the Jews? Their God’s son?
Who hung there, Governor? Would you tell me, because my guard friends tell me the tomb was empty just days later, burial linens just laying there.
Tell me, please, I beg of you: What truth did he speak of?
I want to know a truth so strong that the people being told go to such great lengths to silence it.
Rome remains a great power, good sir. But, I fear, somehow, we all need to know the answer to your question in this life—Jew or Roman.
That I may be granted a response or time before you would be a great honor, sir.
Omnibus salutem dicit Apollonius. [Apollonius sends greeting to everyone.]
Cura ut valeas. [Take care that you are well.]
John 18:28-40. ESV
Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor's headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor's headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “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.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about parenting, marriage, mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, the healing cloak of Jesus, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
Her book, Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day, offers anecdotes on all of these subjects and Scripture for each situation as well as Book Discussion Questions for deeper exploration.