It is incredible to hear that the highest political authority in the world of Christ’s time was frightened of the weakest, the meekest and the most harmless man of the day. The question arises: why was he so afraid of Jesus? Was he frightened of the Jews or Jesus? What were his inhibitions and dilemmas? Was Pilate really the most powerful man of the day? What had really caused his fear?
Let us succinctly probe into these queries.Our question hinges around the “phobia syndrome” of Pontius Pilate, the Governor of Syria and Palestine. Was he afraid of the Jews or Jesus? The fear of the Jews (crowd) is justifiable, but of the latter is not so. Why? Why should he be afraid of a criminal condemned to the cross? Is he not the weakest and the most harmless person on earth?
“When Pilate heard these words, he was more afraid” (Jn 19:8). Now the question arises. What were “these words” that frightened the highest political authority of the day? How could some reported words of the “Chief Priests,” the highest spiritual authority of the Jews frightened the Governor? What were these reported words of the Jewish authorities? What were their real implications? “He made himself the Son of God” (Jn 19:7). The fear has to do something with the divine title: “the Son of God.”
We remember that when the temple police went to arrest Jesus, “they fell down to the ground” (Jn 18:6) at the majestic pronouncement of His Name: “I am He” (Jn 18:5). Elsewhere the Saviour mentioned that there is sin if we don’t believe the implications of this title: “I am He” (Jn 8:24). The fullest revelation of this divine Name was revealed only to Moses: “God said to Moses, “I am WHO I AM” (Ex 3:14). It is a blessing and grace to know “who He is?”
The context reveals that Pilate was “frightened” of the divine utterance, “the Son of God,” and so he entered the praetorium once again and enquired of the origin of the “Son of God”: “From where are you?” (Jn 19:9). The truth of the matter is that “when Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from?” (Jn 7:27).
In fact in the middle of the temple Jerusalem, he asked them: “You know me, and you know where I come from?” (Jn 7:28). Later on, Christ had to reverse the role: Christ the Son of God will judge the sons of man, including Pilate (Mt 25:31). And at the divine name of Jesus, every knee shall bend and every tongue shall confess that Christ is Lord (Phil 2:10-11).
Why was Pilate so frightened? Why did he tremble before the weakest criminal? The answer lies in one of the Psalms: “Tremble O earth, at the presence of the Lord” (Ps 114:7) for he comes to rule the earth! It was the utterance of the divine name that frightened Pilate, for God has exalted “Thy Name and thy Word above everything” (Ps 138:2).
– – – written by Fr. J. Eapan SDB