Pontius Pilate Biography

Pontius Pilate was appointed the fifth Roman prefect over Judea during the reign of Tiberius.  He served in that capacity between AD 26-36.  Pilate was known to be a tough leader, as relentless as he was cold-blooded.   He may have met his match, however, when he was given charge over the Jewish people.  The Jews were not easy to govern, especially by those who did not understand or respect their customs and beliefs.  Pilate clashed with the Jews at times.  On occasion he backed off, but not before flexing some Roman muscle.  And this ‘muscle’ usually left some Jews or Samaritans dead on cobblestone streets.

Jesus' trial with Pontius Pilate

Jesus’ trial with Pontius Pilate

After Jesus was arrested and hastily tried by the Sanhedrin, he was brought to Pilate for sentence.  Pilate was dragged kicking and screaming into the Jesus controversy.  It was an ugly, no-win situation, and he wanted no part of it.

During the brief hours Pilate deliberated concerning Jesus, great pressure was placed upon him from converging directions.  Most obviously, of course, he faced the Jewish religious leaders.  They vehemently accused Jesus of “perverting the nation, forbidding payment of Roman taxes, and claiming to be the Messiah, a king.”  Pilate resisted the accusations until the Jews cried, “If you free him you are no friend of Caesar’s.”  This snapped Pilate to attention, for if word got back to Rome that he was losing control of Judea, his position could be in jeopardy.

On the other hand, Pilate’s wife sent frantic word:  “Have nothing to do with this innocent man!”  She claimed to have been greatly agitated by a dream about Jesus.  In those days dreams were often treated as significant, but nothing is said about how Pilate responded to his wife’s warning.

In the midst of these pressures, Pilate tried to interrogate Jesus.  How strange Christ’s answers must have sounded.  When asked if He was a Jewish ringleader, Jesus replied that his kingdom was not of this world.  When asked if he was a king, Jesus said he was born to testify to the truth.  Pilate asked caustically, “What is truth?”  Thoroughly exasperated, Pilate asked, “Don’t you know I have the power to crucify you?”  Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me unless it was given you from above.”

Pontius Pilate at Jesus' trial

Pontius Pilate at Jesus’ trial

Meanwhile a rabid crowd was shrieking, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  Pilate was desperate.  He sent Jesus to Herod hoping Herod would decide His fate and spare him the trouble.  Herod entertained himself for a while at Christ’s expense but sent Him back.  Recalling the Roman custom to release a Jewish prisoner each year at the Passover, Pilate then tried to release Jesus on this basis.  But Christ’s enemies screamed for a thief named Barabbas instead.  Thinking a flogging may satisfy their lust for blood, Pilate offered to beat Jesus, then release him.  But the crowd wouldn’t settle for that either.

Finally Pilate granted the writ for crucifixion, but he called for a bowl of water and claimed his innocence, symbolically washing his hands of the whole affair.  Jesus was then flogged and led up the lonely walk to Golgotha.

We are left to wonder just how blameworthy Pilate was.  Jesus himself told Pilate that those who first arrested Him bore the greatest guilt.  Besides, there is the perplexing fact that Christ repeatedly prophesied that he must die for the sins of the people and be raised again in three days.  If Jesus prophesied that he had to be “bruised for mankind’s iniquities” must it be precisely established who bears the greatest guilt for the bruising?

In the final analysis, we must leave the verdict to God.  If Pilate committed suicide as one ancient historian reports, he faced God’s verdict sooner than expected.  And sooner or later we, in turn, shall also face God.

What can we learn from Pontius Pilate?

A contemporary gospel song implies that figuratively each of us hammered a nail at Christ’s crucifixion because it was our sins that contributed to his death on our behalf.  There is an element of truth to that.  It is not only the Pharisees, or Pilate, or Judas at blame.  Christ died for the sins of the world, but each of us have sinned and we each bear a bit of the blame.  However He offers us complete forgiveness for the asking.

Bible Verses about Pontius Pilate

Luke 3:1, 13:1; Matt. 27:2, 13, 24; Mk. 15:2, 15; Luke 23:4, 12; John 18:35, 19:1, 8, 22.

What questions does this help to answer?

  • Who was Pontius Pilate in the Bible?
  • What role did Pontius Pilate play in Jesus’ crucifixion?
  • Why did Pontius Pilate wash his hands?
  • Did Pontius Pilate believe in Jesus?

Author Info

Steve Fortosis served for six years as youth minister in several parishes.  Meanwhile he was also working toward his masters, then his doctorate in religious education.  Through the years he has enjoyed teaching on the college and seminary levels and writing professionally.  He has published a number of books including story and prayer compilations, missionary biography, Biblical character biography, devotional lit, children’s lit, and even stories of Bible translation. Presently he resides in Florida with his wife, Debra, where he teaches part-time and writes on a free-lance basis.

Steve Fortosis