9

John 19:14-15 NIV

14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. 15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”. “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

Pilate should have been aware of the hostility among the Jewish populace towards Roman governance, and should have remained vigilant regarding the potential emergence of a leader or king figure among them. In light of this context, why would he declare to the Jews "Here is your king"? Was Pilate genuinely convinced that Jesus was the king of the Jews, or did he have ulterior motives?

3
  • I think the "Here is" is more important than "your king" in the sentence: Pilate (Pilatus) did not want to deal with the matter (also washing his hands), so he wanted the Jews to deal with the matter (but in turn the Jews also wanted Pilate to crucify him...) - I guess Pilate would have preferred not to crucify Jesus, for whatever reason...
    – U. Windl
    Commented Mar 15 at 12:30
  • Do you not think that's one of the Questions that most Christian seminaries have been asking for a lot more than 1,000 years? Since that's so obvious, why would you suggest a few sentences or paragraphs here could be helpful? Commented Mar 19 at 21:23
  • Does this answer your question? What Was Pilate's Fear Based On? Commented Mar 23 at 8:43

5 Answers 5

12

A few verses on provides a clue as to how we could best understand that question, "Shall I crucify your king?" They read, after Jesus had been nailed to the cross:

"And Pilate wrote a title, and out it on the cross. And the writing was, "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews" This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh unto the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, the King of the Jews, but that he said, "I am king of the Jews." Pilate answered, What I have written I have written." John 19 verses 19 to 22, A.V.

This seems to underscore the verse in question, this time giving a clear indication that Pilate did, indeed, view Jesus as being King of the Jews. Or did he?

Pilate knew who the only legal rulership in the land was, and he represented it in that jurisdiction - Rome, the Empire. Anyone rising up claiming they were the right, the legal, ruler, would be executed by Rome. They tolerated no rivals.

No way could Pilate put an insurrectionist to death for attempted insurrection, then declare in public that that man was actually the King of the Jews! Pilate would have been removed from office and would likely meet with severe censure from his masters.

When he asked that question in the verse in question, he was challenging the religious leaders who had brought Jesus to him for judgment. And he did so in a sarcastic manner. He was throwing their claim back in their faces. He knew full well that they were full of hatred against Jesus, seeing him as a rival to their religious authority. ("For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy." Mark 15:10) So, that question caused the Jewish leaders to swear total allegiance to Rome. And that shoved Pilate up against the wall, for they had just told him to his face, "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar." (verse 12)

That same verse shows that Pilate was seeking a way to release Jesus. But those words exchanged between him and the religious leaders meant he felt he had no choice but to crucify Jesus.

As a final act of resentment against the cunning of the religious leaders, he had that plaque put on the cross. He knew it would goad them, which was all Pilate could do now.

His personal opinion on the matter - his belief about Jesus - is not stated in the Bible, nor does it matter. Just as he wrote what he wrote and would not retract it, he had done what he'd done, and it could not be undone.

3
  • 3
    A very good analysis. We know from the contemporary historical record (much of it written well before John) that Pilate was utterly dismissive of Jewish religious sensibilities, and was ultimately removed from office for being too violent with his subjects (Yes, too violent even by Roman standards!). So any ideas that he may have been at all reluctant to execute a Jew, or cared deeply about the opinions of Jewish leaders, would be way out of character for the man.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 14 at 14:40
  • "His personal opinion on the matter - his belief about Jesus - is not stated in the Bible, nor does it matter" It does matter as it is what this whole question is about.
    – Mat
    Commented Mar 16 at 10:15
  • @Mat Yes, it does matter re. this Q, which is why I've answered it as fully as I can, given how limited the information in the Bible is as to what this man's personal opinion was (on anything).
    – Anne
    Commented Mar 16 at 10:38
4

In terms of ulterior motives, this necessarily involves speculation. One possibility is that Pilate considered Barabbas a greater threat than Jesus. By referring to Jesus as the king of those assembled, Pilate may have hoped to release Jesus, whom he did not take seriously. This would allow him to carry out his plan to crucify Barabbas, a revolutionary who - based on the fact that his followers joined him in a public demonstration while Jesus' followers had deserted him (Matthew 26:56) - had a more committed following.

But no, Pilate did not seriously recognize Jesus as king of the Jews. "Here is your king" is not a declaration of fact but either an enticement (as above) or more likely a sarcastic insult. As procurator, Pilate himself stood in the position formerly occupied by Herod I as the Jewish king. He had no interest in promoting Jesus to that authority, with a title even higher than his own.

Conclusion: Pilate did not seriously think that Jesus was the King of the Jews. He probably said this as a sarcastic insult to the Jewish leaders who had turned Jesus over to him for punishment. This seems to have been his motive in saying what he did, although it is also possible that he meant it as an enticement to enable him to crucify Barabbas, whom he considered to be the greater threat.

5
  • +1. Good answer.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 13 at 20:38
  • 1
    Thank you for your response. While your speculation is thought-provoking, further elaboration is necessary regarding Barabbas. If Pilate truly intended to have Barabbas crucified, he would not have needed to present him as an option to the Jews. Moreover, if Pilate anticipated that the Jews despised Barabbas compared to Jesus, it challenges the notion that Barabbas was a revolutionary with followers. Commented Mar 14 at 1:11
  • Barabbas was a well known zealot revolutionary, arrested prior to Jesus. Acc. to Mt. 27 he was a "notorious prisoner." Mark 15 speaks of his leading an insurrection and committing murder in the process. I do not see Pilate offering to release Barabbas at all. Rather, he offers to release Jesus when the crowd demands Barabbas' release. [15:7-8) The text speaks of "the Jews" here, but I understand the crowd to be partly (perhaps mainly) Barabbas supporters and partly an anti-Jesus faction led by the high priest. Their common interest was to have Jesus take the place of Barabbas on the cross. Commented Mar 14 at 21:36
  • btw... as I've said elsewhere, I think the two men crucified with Jesus were not common thieves at all - but followers of Barabbas arrested with him in the insurrection. Mk 15:7 "Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection." In Pilate's eye's Jesus overturning the money changers tables and presenting himself as the Son of David was a minor infraction compared to a murderous rebellion. Commented Mar 14 at 21:41
  • Thank you for your further elaboration. Do you think if Barabbas was eventually released? Commented Mar 15 at 0:24
4

Pontius Pilate almost certainly viewed the situation purely in terms of maintaining order and control in Jerusalem and Judea. In his mind, there was no king but Caesar and anyone declaring himself "king of the Jews" was a threat to be put down ruthlessly. His only hesitation in this case was the fact that Jesus had a large following, that might be provoked into an uprising if Jesus was executed, and perhaps a feeling that he was being used by the Jewish leaders in a way that might make his job harder.

Reza Aslan in his book Zealot claims based on multiple (secular) academic sources that the inscription over the cross was most likely simply an expression of why Jesus was being crucified, for benefit of onlookers. "[This man claimed to be] King of the Jews". Other men being crucified might have "Murderer" or "Thief" placards above their heads. According to Aslan, Jesus would not have held the interest of Pilate for any more time than it took to go through the motions of trial and sentencing.

While I do not generally agree with Aslan's conclusions in his book (his conclusions are essentially a digest of skeptical academic opinions), it does ring true and is evident from the Biblical text that Pilate would not be particularly interested in Jesus one way or another, beyond the potential for Jesus to cause him problems. A mocking and half bored, half bemused attitude even emerges from reading his dialogue in the gospels.

His question to the Jewish leaders, "Shall I crucify your king?" can be read as mocking--Pilate is making fun of the idea of the Jewish Messiah. Or possibly Pilate is even setting a trap for the Jewish leaders. If the Jews accept him as their king, they have rebelled against Rome.

In John's gospel we read some dialogue from Pilate's interrogation of Jesus. After Jesus explains to Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, and "to this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth" (John 18:37), Pilate retorts with dripping cynicism. "What is truth?" he spits. He clearly has no desire to discuss philosophy or religion with this peasant teacher.

There is enough here and in the other dialogue in the four gospels to conclude that Pilate's references to Jesus as "king" were meant to refer to the Jewish leaders' accusations against him, and in a mocking tone at that. Pilate was interested only in whether Jesus meant to challenge Rome and had no interest in deciding on whether Jesus was the Jewish Messiah or otherwise getting involved in Jewish religious matters.

While Pilate could have just accepted the Jewish leaders' claims at face value--that Jesus intended to declare himself king, then lead an insurrection to expel Rome from Judea and rule it himself--Pilate was reluctant to act on this. Jesus did have a large following among the common people and everyone in power knew it. And maybe the Jewish leaders are just trying to use Pilate to do their dirty work for them. It would be much better for Pilate if the Jews handled their own affairs internally. These seem to have been the reasons Pilate declared multiple times that "I find no fault with him." Reza Aslan claims this would have been very unlike Pilate, that normally he would condemn an accused rebel or other criminal without even looking up from his papers, much less demand evidence. But if condemning this man risks an immediate uprising...

After all, there was plenty of rebellion and Messianic expectation to go around in Judea during that time. Pilate didn't want to create more problems for himself by executing a popular and respected commoner teacher whose only evident crime (in Rome's eyes) was angering the Jewish leaders. What does Pilate care about Jewish law and prophecy? Let the Sanhedrin deal with him! But finally the Jewish leaders forced his hand with their declaration, "We have no king but Caesar!" He now had no choice but to relent, or else risk being reported back to Rome as being softer on potential insurrectionists than the Roman subjects under his charge.

Pilate would try one more time to get out of the situation, by offering the choice of Jesus or Barabbas to the crowd for pardon. But the Jewish leaders manipulated the crowd, saying they should demand 'the son of the Father' (Aramaic: bar abba) be pardoned instead of this 'false Messiah'. And then notice that Pilate asks the crowd what should be done with Jesus. "Crucify him!" Now that the crowd had insisted on crucifixion, Pilate was able to famously and publicly wash his hands of the matter, and deliver him over with less fear of it leading to an uprising. (Matthew 27:15-26)

Maintaining order was all Pilate really cared about here. He didn't appreciate the Jewish leaders complicating his job by bringing him their dirty laundry to deal with, and therefore made no effort to conceal his mocking tone by referring to Jesus in their presence as their "king". (Although Pilate did salvage some benefit from the episode; he was able to build a friendship with Herod Antipas, who had wanted to see Jesus for some time. Luke 23:6-12)

2
  • Your analysis has filled in some blanks in Anne's answer. Much appreciated. Commented Mar 15 at 0:41
  • Your mention of the tetrarch Herod Antipas is interesting in this context, as his father Herod the Great had recently been King of Judea and his nephew Herod Agrippa would soon become King of Judea, both as Roman appointments, so arguably the Romans knew that the king should (or at least could) come from the Herodian dynasty.
    – Henry
    Commented Mar 16 at 3:19
2

Overview
There are really two aspects to this question.

  1. Did Pilate believe Jesus was King of the Jews?
  2. What was the consequence of Pilate declaring Jesus to be the King of the Jews?

By way of comparison, Pilate believed Jesus was innocent and Barabbas was guilty. His beliefs did not change the significance of his decisions: Jesus was crucified and Barabbas was set free.

Pilate's position was appointed by Ceasar; he was not answerable to the Senate. If the people disapproved of his decisions, they could appeal to his superior, the legate of Syria. In fact, Pilate was removed from office when the people protested to Lucius Vitellius the Elder over his handling of the Samaritan revolt.

However, from 22AD to 33AD Lucius Aelius Lamia, who had been appointed as legate of Syria was detained in Rome and never personally ruled in Syria. Effectively only Pilate ruled during this period. For example, he could have replaced Caiaphas as the high priest as Vitellius did shortly after removing Pilate.

The King of the Jews
John describes the issue before Pilate is whether Jesus is King of the Jews.

John 18 (NKJV)

33 Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all.

Frederic Louis Godet explains the significance of this exchange:

There is a distinction to be made here, not ot the thought of Pilate, but f that of Jesus. In the political sense of the term king of the Jews, the only one known to Pilate, Jesus might reject this title; but in a religious sense which every believing Jew gave to it and in which was equivalent to Messiah, Jesus must accept it whatever the consequences of this avowal might be. 1

As Godet states for Pilate King of the Jews is a political title. For Jews the title belongs to the Messiah, the Davidic king who will rule the Jewish people in the Messianic Age.

Pilate's Decree
John 19 (NKJV)

19 Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was:
JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS
20 Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. 21 Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘He said, “I am the King of the Jews.” ’ ” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

The chief priests objected to Pilate's wording because as the ranking Roman official his rulings mattered. Whether Pilate believed Jesus was the King of the Jews did not change the significance of his decision to declare Jesus was the King of the Jews. Just as declaring an innocent man guilty and a guilty man innocent, there was a legal significance to Pilate's declaration.

The chief priest's could appeal Pilate's decision, but the issue would be moot in a few hours. Pilate declared Jesus to be the King of the Jews and he executed Him for that reason. In essence, what Pilate wrote was an official Roman affirmation Jesus was the Messiah.

It is unlikely Pilate believed Jesus was King of the Jews either as a political or religious title. That did not alter the legal significance of his decree.

Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above... (John 19:11)


  1. Frederic Louis Godet, Commentary on John's Gospel, Kredel Publications, 1978, p. 928
2
  • Your analysis is also thought provoking. So when Pilate claimed Jesus was the king of Jews, it implied that even the king of Jews was under his authority. Whether he believed it or not was irrelevant. Commented Mar 15 at 0:52
  • @VincentWong The situation is similar to that of Caiaphas in 11:49-52. He is speaking of his own volition but because of his legal position there is greater meaning than he understands. In Pilate’s case he very likely intends it as derogotory to those who are asking for crucifixion, but they soon realize there is significance for them beyond what Pilate intends. So they ask Pilate to change the sign, but he refuses. Commented Mar 15 at 2:38
0

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid02zEythfTTWCvHZe3T8re7bYb4fFFSzGob83SY6dUmgMKugcZ5hAtZVhuMWBJngGTgl&id=1084603372&sfnsn=mo&mibextid=RUbZ1f This is an account of Pontious Pilots personal account of his journey with Jesus from a book in the Vatican library!

1
  • Thanks for your input. However, it is best to summarize your answer verbally on site, and not just provide a "link" without giving some of its contents. Also note that The Acts of Pontius Pilate (note spelling) is questionable as a reliable source. Keep studying the Bible; it will bring you closer to God!
    – ray grant
    Commented Mar 15 at 21:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.