Was Pilate released from his guilt of crucifying Jesus by washing his hands?

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Pilate repeatedly declared Jesus‘ innocence: “I find no fault in Him at all” (John 18:38; John 19:4) for he knew that the Jews had accused Him through hatred and malice and that his duty was to release Jesus. But instead of doing that which is right, he wavered and tried several attempts to evade his responsibility in administering justice.

First, Pilate tried to convince the Jews to deal with the case themselves – applying their own law (John 18:31). Second, he sent Jesus to Herod (Luke 23:7). Third, he tried to release Jesus as the pardoned Passover prisoner (John 18:39). Fourth, he scourged Jesus hoping that this action would appease the Jewish religious leaders and thus save Jesus from the death penalty (Luke 23:22).

Pilate was willing to sacrifice justice and principle in order to compromise with the Jewish leaders. If at first Pilate had stood firm, refusing to judge an innocent man, he would have been freed from the guilt of sentencing Jesus to death. This guilt haunted his life. Had he followed his conscience, Jesus would have eventually been put to death, but the guilt would not have rested upon him.

Pilate’s weakness empowered the Jews even more for they realized that if they push further they would succeed. They threatened him saying, “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar” (John 19:12). Their threat was hypocritical. The Jewish leaders were the most bitter enemies to Rome and yet they pretended to be zealous for Caesar’s honor.

God Himself warned Pilate to stand for the truth through a message that his wife sent him saying, “Have thou nothing to do with that just Man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of Him” (Matthew 27:19). Pilate was already convinced of the innocence of Jesus, and the warning from his wife provided him with divine affirmation.

“Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it'” (Matthew 27:24). This symbolic washing of hands didn’t erase Pilate’s responsibility in sentencing the innocent Jesus to death. History tells us that five years later, he was deposed of his position and soon thereafter he committed suicide (Josephus Antiquities xviii. 3. 2; 4. 1, 2).

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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