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When Fear Cast Out Love – Pontius Pilate

By Ron Hughes

Ron continues his “I Was There” series with a look at how fear overcame love in the life of Pontius Pilate. This series of posts recount the thoughts and actions of various individuals before and after the momentous happenings at Calvary.

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Pontius Pilate

Pontius Pilate dismissed his servant and paused at the shrine near the entrance to his sleeping quarters. When he blew on the coals of the tiny brazier, a gleam of red and a curl of smoke beckoned him to burn a pinch of incense. The career soldier and diplomat watched as the small puff of smoke obscured the face of the statue in the niche.

Fear had come to Pilate, early that morning as the chief priests and Temple guards brought Jesus of Nazareth before him. He could tell by their hard faces that they would not be distracted or dissuaded from their purpose easily this time and he feared that by the end of this day, mighty Rome would find itself serving these Judean religious fanatics. All morning, the crowd had grown. By 10 o’clock, they were screaming for blood. They wanted a Roman execution for the blasphemer—this one who made himself equal with God.


Pontius Pilate and JesusThe Memory of Jesus’ Face

Pilate shook his head violently, trying to erase the memory of the man’s face—this Jesus, who had come to him already abused, had looked into his eyes in a way that few men would ever dare. His expression confused Pilate, it communicated no fear, no belligerence, no aggression—rather compassion, perhaps pity, even love. The thought disturbed Pilate.

He made several genuine attempts to release Jesus. He had him punished by the soldiers. That was usually a crowd pleaser, but not today. It was not enough. He’d sent him to Herod, who returned him disappointed that Jesus refused to even speak to him. Pilate had never had much respect for Herod, but his heart went out to him today. What a trap they were caught in! Driven by the need for political survival, they were caught in some strange supernatural vice that through the course of the day closed to the point of crushing them.

Fear Strikes Pontius Pilate Again

Fear struck Pilate again when the mob challenged his loyalty to Caesar. Pontius Pilate had too many memories of what happened to men who demonstrated disloyalty to the Emperor. He had no intention of letting that happen, so he had released Jesus to be crucified. But not before publicly washing his hands, symbolically cleansing himself of responsibility for what he had done.

While he had tried to move on to the other administrative tasks of the day, he was brought up short when, at noon, the sky turned black. Darkness had covered the city, paralyzing all movement on its streets. He had never experienced a celestial omen like this. The seers and soothsayers could turn a cloud passing before the sun into an evil portent. What would they do with this supernatural darkness.

Just thinking about those dark hours made his heart beat faster. What had he unleashed by crucifying a man who was not merely innocent of the charges against him, but truly a good man? He no longer feared Caesar’s wrath. Perhaps he had stirred the indignation of the gods. What would they do to him?

Pontius PilatePontius Pilate’s Wife

Then there was the matter of his wife. She never dared interfere with the affairs of state in which Pilate found himself embroiled. Then, on this day for the first time, she had sent him a message to have nothing to do with this “good man.” Some power outside of usual human experience had revealed Jesus’ intrinsic goodness to her, and nothing good could come of harming Him. Yet, at the moment, fear of the crowd was more tangible than his fear of the gods. So he had caved in to their demand. Now, the situation was reversed. His impression of the man’s innocence, his wife’s dream, and the three dark hours suggested he had made a mistake.

Like many Romans in places of power in the past, Pilate buried this mistake. And once again, he had given in to these despicable Jews when they called for a guard to be placed at the tomb. He would never have done such a thing normally, but his fear extended to the possibility that this good man might be revived by the gods as rumours suggested. Perhaps He would return to punish His enemies. The prophecy was that Jesus would return from the place of the dead in three days. They would be long days for Pilate.


Pontius Pilate Rejected Love

In Jesus, Pilate had encountered love and rejected it. His fear had cast out love. His fear had crucified love at Calvary—the place of execution that would become known as the place of love. Calvary love. His fear had sealed the grave of love. He had no grasp of the truth that love can conquer fear. In fact, perfect love casts out fear—but this was not to be his experience, not on this night. As a Roman soldier, he knew that he could not waver in his service to the Emperor. “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). Pilate had made his choice.

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Pontius Pilate – Munkacsy

What is Truth – Nikolai Ge

Pilate’s Wife – James Tissot

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