The name Pontius Pilate is not something so unfamiliar. Reflecting about this name, few things stand out clearly. Firstly, Pontius Pilate invokes the memory of the ancient Roman Empire.
Secondly, at the time of Jesus, he was the procurator or rather a prefect of the Province of Judea which was then occupied by Rome. And most importantly, it was through this manâ€™s judicial trial and verdict that Jesus was sentenced to death. As an ambassador of Roman Empire to Judea, Pilateâ€™s duty was a serious one. It was a challenging one and he must not fail. Â If he failed, he would be summoned to query by the power that planted him in his position. As history depicts, Rome trained and maintained a large and very brutal military control over any land they conquered. And as always the case with any super power, Roman socio-political and economic interest comes first above anything else, even human lives. Thus the maintenance of law and order was implemented with martial vigor. Pilate was aware that there were many zealous freedom fighters in Judea province.Â
Pilate understood that certain Judean nationalists pose great threat to Roman political interest. They often use violent strategies, to achieve socio-political, cultural, economic and national liberation from the oppressive Roman rule. They waylay Roman soldiers and kill them. For the Roman government, these freedom fighters were nothing but terrorists, guerrilla warlords, enemies of civil structures orderliness and instigators of lawlessness. So many of these people were hunted and executed as mere criminals in the crucifixion manner.
We have to remember that it was during the feast of Passover that Jesus stood trial before Pilate. Thus it was a time of national celebration of the Jewish people. Thus it became also a time when the Roman authorities were more likely to watch out for trouble makers and breakers of law and civil harmony. The Roman law enforcers were at most alert at this time. The armies were stationed on different points in case there would be unprecedented civil unrest by certain elements within the society.
Pilate must have been aware of Jesusâ€™ activities but perhaps he never took him so serious. He must have heard how Jesus was commanding crowds but perhaps he had not posed any serious threat yet. Until the Sanhedrin having arrested and queried Jesus and having considered his replies very blasphemous, dragged him before Pilate as the supreme decision taker of the land. And this is where the drama of history began to unfold. The Jewish Sanhedrin knew the Political tension between Rome and some elements in Judea who considered themselves nationalists and freedom fighters. Having sensed how impossible Pilate would be willing to convict someone based on religious blasphemous language; they decided to use political propaganda against Jesus to make their point. They simply made Jesus appear like an enemy to the Roman rule. They told Pilate Jesus was a rebel. He goes about teaching people not to pay allegiance to the Roman authority by refusing to pay tax.
Anyone who refuses to pay tax is anti-Caesar who was the emperor of Rome. As it is today especially in the developed world, the Roman government took the payment of tax serious. So refusing or teaching others to refuse to pay tax was a capital crime. Added to this propaganda of linking Jesus to tax evasion oratories, they also accused him of declaring himself to be kind of the Jews. This is also to set him in a legal collision with the super power, the Roman government.Â It was a clear cut straggly and it worked, just like so many vicious propagandas. Claiming to be a king automatically defies Caesar. As stated, the main aim of these propagandas against Jesus was to make him appear as a radical revolutionist who attempts the overthrow of Roman government in Judea.
Â Pilate questioned him closely regarding his claims to kingship. In other words, he wanted to determine if Jesus was the sort of person who would constitute a political danger to the government. It took Pilate only a little question to find out that Jesus was not a threat to his political future. His juridical findings were clear: â€˜I donâ€™t find him guilty of any crimeâ€™. Already there were crowd waiting to hear Pilateâ€™s final verdict. They were not satisfied since they wished Jesus dead.
Pilate was a typical politician. He wanted to do popular things not necessarily the right and just thing. At this point he was in a sort of crossroad. If he left Jesus to go freely, it might well-up some form of violent demonstrations, chaos and civil unrest. Rome might declare him incompetent of maintaining order and perhaps remove him from the office. Again, if he let him go free, his public poll and political support in Judea might wane as well.Â Already the crow was implicating him before Caesar his president in Rome when they told him: â€˜If you set him (Jesus) free, you are no friend of Caesarâ€™s). It means, if you do not condemn any rebel who defies Caesarâ€™s government, we might even right petition against you.
For any politician or rather any foreign diplomat, this is a battle between conscience and carrier. It was between unjustified popular political standpoint and justified unpopular moral action. And we all know that political power is not so easy to relinquish. If he refuses to sentence Jesus to death, he might fall out of favor not only in Judea but also in headquarters in Rome. So in the end, he condemned Jesus to die. He cowed to massive political pressure.
This is often the case with so many politicians today even in our modern time. The pressure mounted by public opinion might make one abandon justice and the dictates of moral reason. Â Any politician who always chose the most popular action from the opinion of the masses no doubt will accrue high point in public polls and favorability. Mass pressure could be overwhelming for any one in the position of leadership. One is caught in-between two opposing forces. Between satisfying ones own moral conscience or choosing to please the people and the authorities. Not all popular opinions are reasonable or just even though, some might be.
And in my own judgment, it is better to be at peace with the depth of oneâ€™s own self and conscience than to please the masses and live in the crises of conscience for the rest of ones live. Better if the masses reject someone than for oneâ€™s moral conscience to live in guilt. Rulers have been forced by mass pressure to invade another country because it was politically popular and widely acceptable. People have killed other people because it was popular.Â Many people in the past kept other people as slaves because it was popular, not because their moral reason justifies it.
So many people have been condemned, even to death, in the law court not because they were guilty but because it is the most popular thing to do. Even the judges who are supposed to be the epitome of justness, with regards to the rule law could fall to popular opinions that are politically correct but morally evil. In our present world order where the people are being tried and condemned by media frenzy, even before they go to law courts, it is necessary that judges are not forced to do what is politically popular but that which is right and just.