Limited Power

When Pilate heard that, he was the more afraid, and went again into the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.

Then Pilate said to Him, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?”

Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”

From then on Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.”

When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus out and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”

But they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!”

Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?”

The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!”

Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. Then they took Jesus and led Him away. (John 19:8–16)

Pontius Pilate was the fifth Roman governor of Judea. As the governor, he held absolute power over Jesus as both judge and jury. He could have freed Jesus just as easily as he ultimately had him executed.

But Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases” (Proverbs 21:1 NIV). Pilate could do only as much as God would allow him to do. He was not the one ultimately in charge. In fact, Jesus told him that the one who had delivered him to Pilate—Judas—was far more guilty than Pilate could ever be.

Pilate soon demonstrated his lack of control when he faced the people of Jerusalem. Despite his belief that Jesus was innocent, he felt constrained to follow the whim of the crowd that demanded Jesus’ blood. Because of Pilate’s lack of character, his power was much less than he liked to imagine.

In the end, God’s will was done, though those who performed God’s will were motivated by evil and therefore guilty of a great crime. In the end, we learn that God is always in charge. Nothing that happens to us is a surprise or beyond God’s ability to control.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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