Earlier today I was reading about Jesus’ last few hours in the book of John. I reached chapter 19, verse 22 and I just sort of…stopped.
I went back a few verses and started reading again, to make sure I was reading it correctly.
When I think of the Jesus’ death on the cross, I usually don’t consider Pilate much. I know who he is, and I know what he did. I know he was pretty iffy about finding Jesus guilty of any charges, that he eventually caved to the demands of the people, and symbolically washed his hands of Jesus’ death in Matthew 27:24.
And then there’s this verse. John 19:22.
“Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.'”
Context: verse 19 says that Pilate fashioned the sign that was to hang above Jesus’ head on the cross, and it said “JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS.”
That phrase was written in three languages for all to read – Aramaic, Greek, and Latin.
Now, the chief priests of the Jews were absolutely livid about this. Jesus wasn’t their king. That’s why they were having him crucified. Because He was spreading lies and false teachings and speaking blasphemously.
Jesus wasn’t their king.
So they argued with Pilate. Asked him to rewrite the sign to say that Jesus claimed to be king of the Jews.
Pilate responds and essentially says, no, I meant what I wrote the first time.
After reading that, I was struck by this thought:
Now, Pilate might not have known every detail of the Old Testament prophecies. He might not have heard Jesus ever speak before this. He might have been the least spiritual man around.
But, Pilate knew enough. In listening to the high priests, watching the crowds, and talking with Jesus himself, Pilate had just enough insight.
Pilate knew enough to make a sign (in three different languages) proclaiming Jesus as King of the Jews.
Pilate knew enough to ignore the demands to change it.
To be honest, I’ve always viewed Pilate as a bit of a self-righteous coward, too afraid to really call out the people who wanted to murder an innocent man. And I’ve always thought that sign above Jesus’ head was simply there to mock the Savior-King as He died for us.
But, what if it wasn’t?
What if Pilate knew that this Jesus, this man who had committed no crime by the standards of any law, was truly the Messiah and King of the Jews? And what if while Pilate knew he could not save Jesus from death by crucifixion, Pilate also knew he had to do something?
I picture Pilate being upset by Jesus’ impending death.
Alone. Pacing. Trying to regain control. Clenching his fists. Muttering to himself – perhaps praying to God for the first time.
And then he stops.
Head down. Hands shaking.
He takes a deep breath. Calls someone to him. Asks for writing utensils.
Then, almost afraid of messing up, he begins to write – Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.
First in Aramaic…
I imagine his hands still shaking as he writes, because he has to get this right. He knows he can’t save Jesus from the cross, that’s not how this has to play out – that’s not the plan.
But Pilate can make sure the people who see Jesus on the cross at least know who He is.
When it’s done, Pilate calls someone to him again.
He tells them he wants this sign attached to the cross that’s to be used to hang Jesus. They stare at him oddly, not understanding, mouth opening a bit to ask a question before Pilate shuts them down with a shake of his head, a grunt, a wave of his hand.
And then the high priests see it.
I imagine that Pilate knew they would be upset, that he knew it would rub them the wrong way. And so when they protest and tell Pilate to change the wording, he’s already prepared to tell them no, what I have written, I have written.
And that’s that. I imagine Pilate doesn’t even look at them when he says it. Maybe he’s looking at some new message he’s received from Caesar, maybe he’s walking away from them – absolutely exhausted.
Or, maybe he’s standing and looking into the distance, his eyes following the Savior of the world as He carries His cross to Golgotha, with a sign proclaiming to everyone that He’s the King of the Jews.
Now, as a disclaimer, this is what my pastor would describe as “sanctified imagination”, for the most part.
But, I think it’s something worth thinking about. It certainly grabbed my attention.