Jesus Tried Before Pilate


After condemnation by the Council, Jesus is brought before Pilate, then to Herod, and finally condemned by Pilate to die on the cross.

Matthew 27: 1-30; Mark 15: 1-19; Luke 22:66-23:25; John 18-28-19: 16


Pilate was a Roman of the upper mid­dle c1ass. In 26 A.D. the Emperor Tiber­ius appointed him to be the fifth governor of the Roman province of Judea. Because of a recent reversal in the policy of the Roman senate, Pilate was able to take his wife with him. After serving as gov­ernor for a period of ten years, he was recalled to Rome. To remain governor of a troublesome province such as Judea for this length of time was in itself not an ordinary accomplishment.

As governor, Pilate was in full con­trol of the province. He had full powers over life and death. The Jewish Council was only permitted to execute any non-Jews who violated the sanctity of the temple. Even a Roman citizen could be executed for such a violation.


Pilate had control of the military in the province. This probably consisted of 120 cavalry, and somewhere between 2500-5000 infantrymen. Some of these were stationed at Caesarea; some formed the garrison at Jerusalem.


The governor had the right to appoint the Jewish high priests. Originally this had been a hereditary office with life tenure. Pilate issued the high priestly vestments to the high priests for each of the three annual major festivals.  Pilate came up to Jerusalem to be in personal charge of the garrison and to maintain law and order when perhaps up to 125,000 pilgrims, charged with relig­ious fervor, came to observe the festivals at the temple. As the experience of Paul indicates, mob violence could easily erupt.




The Roman governor of a province such as Judea always faced the problem of negative pressure against him at the imperial court. Pilate, too, faced this difficulty. The record of his dealings with the Jews indicates that he had been guilty of indiscretion and poor judgment, which gave them a hold on him.

Pilate's first action after arriving as governor was to set up the Roman stand­ards at Jerusalem. Since these bore the likeness of the emperor, this was a deep affront to the Jews. They took seriously God's command as detailed in Exodus 20:5. Previous governors had not tried to do this in the holy city itself.

After 6 days of determined but passive resistance by the Jews, Pilate was forced to remove these standards to Caesarea. His threat of death was met by the de­termined willingness of the Jews to die rather than permit this crime against their faith to continue in Jerusalem.


The Jewish philosopher Philo wrote that Pilate set up golden shields in his residence of Jerusalem. Since these had the names of the Emperor and the gover­nor engraved on them, the Jews protested to the Emperor Tiberius, who ordered them to be taken to Caesarea and set up there.


The early church historian Eusebius records that Pilate used money from the temple treasury to build an aqueduct to bring much-needed water to Jerusalem. A demonstration resulted. To break this up, Pilate sent some of his soldiers in disguise into the crowd and many Jews were killed. It may be that Luke 13:1-2 refers to this event.


Keeping these events in mind helps to make the final outcome of the trial of Jesus more understandable.  Pilate could not afford to be accused at the imperial court of having failed to execute one who claimed to be "the king of the Jews." This was treason in the eyes of the Rom­an government, a crime worthy of grue­some execution such as crucifixion.




After condemning Jesus, the Council in a body led Jesus to the palace where Pi­late was staying. The term “praetorium" refers to the residence of the governor, where he also carried out his govern­mental functions.  King Herod had built a luxurious fortress-palace along the west wall of the city. This was a more com­fortable place to stay than in the fortress of Antonia at the northwestern corner of the temple area.


It must have been about 6 A.M. when the Council arrived with their prisoner. 


For ceremonial reasons they refused to go into the judgment hall in the palace lest they become unclean and unqualified to observe the festival by entering into the palace of a non-Jew. Pilate came out to speak to them on a platform in front of the judgment hall as shown in the film­strip.


Note the accusations against Jesus as detailed in Luke 23:2:

      1.  Jesus is corrupt­ing the Jewish nation;

      2. He keeps people from paying taxes;

      3. He says He is Christ (Messiah), a King.

Each of these accu­sations had dangerous political over­tones, which Pilate as the official Roman representative had to consider.


In his questioning, Pilate paid careful attention to only the third accusation. Anyone who set himself up as king was in opposition to the emperor. Read how carefully Jesus explained the heavenly nature of His kingdom. Jesus was a king, but not an earthly king in opposition to the Roman government.


Sending Jesus to Herod Antipas, the governor of the province of Galilee and Perea, did not solve Pilate's dilemna.    Herod sent Jesus back wearing white, the color of innocence.    Pilate's repeated at­tempts to persuade the Council members were unsuccessful. They chose a revolu­tionary under death sentence in prefer­ence to Jesus.  Pilate offered to "warn" Jesus by beating Him, but this failed to satisfy Jesus' accusers.


Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Florence/Scala.

All of Pilate's protestations of Jesus' innocence did little good. Jesus' accusers were determined that He must die. Pi­late's past record and the relations of the Jewish Council with the imperial court proved to be Pilate's undoing. The Coun­cil indirectly threatened Pilate when they said that if he released this man, he was not the emperor's friend since everyone who made himself a king rebelled against the emperor.


Pilate got the signal. The only way to solve the dilemna and come out per­sonally unscathed was to condemn Jesus. This he did even though he rejected any responsibility for His death. To demon­strate this, he washed his hands in front of the crowd. They responded, "His blood be on us and on our children."