“And Pilate asked him, ‘are you the King of the Jews?’ And he answered him, ‘You have said so.’” V. 2
Pilate sat on the edge of his bronze couch staring across the dirty street outside his palace. He watched the people rushing in and out of the markets, priests scurrying like rats to their duties, and soldiers sleepily keeping morning watch. Balancing his goblet between his heavily jeweled fingers he looked at his distorted reflection on the surface of the wine.
“What will I do with this man?”
The beleaguered Governor had been at this for seven years, about five years too long. He was weary of desert living, among strange people with strange ideas. At first he found the silly costumes and obsessive practices of the priests to be amusing. He could entertain himself for hours listening to the meticulous pharisaic regulations about food, clothing, days of the week, and the contradicting interpretations of ritual cleanness. How much easier to please are the gods of Rome, than this Hebrew deity. He never understood how, amidst all the regulations and purifications, anyone ever found time to live. Religious obsession can be fun to watch, but beyond that he saw little use for it.
But now, after almost a decade of placating these fools the fun had worn off. “Oh Tiberius, what great offense to you and the gods did I commit to deserve this fate?”
He was sick of religion. Sick of politics. Sick of playing games. But something happened this morning that left him shaken.
It was early morning. The sun had barely managed to crawl out of its bed behind the sandy horizon and the sky offered only a hint of daylight. Pilate’s deep wine induced sleep was shattered by the trembling voice of his servant,
“Sir, your attention is needed. It seems the Jewish priests have a man in custody. They say he is inciting rebellion.”
Pilate, still hung over from the previous night, tried to keep his head from rolling off his shoulders and splattering into the floor. He struggled to adjust his red eyes to sunlight.
“This had better be good! Have them wait until I arrive.”
The Governor took a bit of pleasure in making them wait as long as possible. When he arrived and took his place on the Judgment seat he condescendingly waved his hand, signaling the plaintiffs to speak. Few things can compound the throbbing pain of a hangover like a gaggle of angry priests screaming obscenities against the marble walls. All he could make out was something about false prophets, and someone claiming to be King of the Jews. Finally Pilate, unable to handle any more, lifted up his hand, with pained eyes closed.
“Stop! Leave the criminal here with me. The rest of you, get out of my sight!”
Two soldiers escorted the council out into the courtyard. When they were alone, Pilate still nursing his headache surveyed this man standing before him. The idea of such a humble man posing any threat to Rome made Pilate chuckle within himself. “Let’s just get this over with. I need a bath.” He muttered, and then spoke to Yeshua.
“They say you claim to be the King of the Jews. I can hardly imagine why anyone would want to rule over such people, but, to each his own. Nevertheless, making such a claim, regardless of how absurd it may appear, is considered treason against Rome, and is punishable by death. So now I’m going to ask you a question, and you must consider carefully how you answer. Do you understand what’s at stake here?”
Silence filled the room. Yeshua simply stood staring into eternity. Pilate was struck with the serene courage of this man. He started to wish he had soldiers with that kind of strength. After a few moments of waiting, the question came.
“Are you the king of the Jews?”
Pilate felt an uneasy tension, knowing that what Yeshua said next would determine how they would spend the afternoon. If he said, “No” Pilate could set him free. But if “Yes” death was automatic. The battered messiah raised his head and stared into Pilate’s weary soul. His eyes seemed to say more to Pilate than he had ever heard from a prophet or priest of any religion.
“You have said so.” was the reply.
Pilate was stunned. Yeshua had put the ball back in the Governor’s court. The decision about Jesus Kingship had to be decided in the heart, not in the courtroom. Pilate was now the one on trial, as is everyone confronted with Yeshua. The Nazarene had presented Pilate with more than religious games. He was confronting him with the condition of his heart. Will this Nazarene be king or not? Pilate could only stand so much introspection, so he sent Yeshua out, walked over to his couch, poured himself some wine and looked out on the streets of Jerusalem.
“What will I do with this man?”