Beyond God’s Reach?

Pontius Pilate is a complex character.

The Jewish historian Josephus says Pilate offended the Jewish people by bringing imperial standards bearing Caesar’s image into Jerusalem, used the temple treasury to pay for a new aqueduct, and ordered those who protested to be beaten with clubs.

Later, Pilate let his troops slaughter a group of Samaritans near Mount Gerizim, which caused his recall to Rome.

He arrived in March 37AD and, although some say he was executed by Emperor Caligula or committed suicide, others believe the case was either forgotten, put on hold, or dismissed.  

The four Gospels show the Roman governor to be both wilful and easily intimidated.

The second-century theologian Tertullian described Pilate as someone ‘who himself also in his own conscience had become a Christian’ – the sixth century church father Augustine writing, ‘It could not… be torn from his heart that Jesus was the King of the Jews, but was fixed there, as in the superscription, by the truth itself.’

It was thanks to this and the dissemination of various apocryphal manuscripts that a number of Coptic and Ethiopian Christians eventually believed that Pilate became a Christian.

The fourth-century Gospel of Nicodemus portrays him as a convert who blamed the Jews for Jesus’ death, while the fifth-century Paradosis Pilati shows Pilate being martyred for following Jesus. (A similar story appears in the medieval Gospel of Gamaliel and the Martyrium Pilati.)

The fifth or sixth century Book of the Cock (or rooster) shows Jesus curing Pilate’s allegedly deaf and mute daughters and exonerating the official for His crucifixion.

So, although the West eventually regarded him as a weak, capricious, and cynical Roman governor who was probably punished for his sins, the Eastern Church tended to view Pilate more sympathetically.

Interestingly, according to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), an Islamic religious leader who claimed to be ‘The Promised Messiah and Mahdi’ and described Pilate as a follower of Jesus, ‘When Caesar of Rome came to know that Pilate… had helped the Lord escape from death on the cross in a deceitful way, by helping Him to run away secretly… Pilate was thrown in prison… and then beheaded.’

Whatever the truth concerning the man who asked, ‘What is truth?’, the possibility of Pilate’s conversion – real or imagined – reminds us that no one is too far from Christ to receive God’s mercy.

The 1961 film Barabbas even depicts its eponymous anti-hero as a reluctant convert – the rabblerouser Bar Abbas (‘the son of the father’) apparently becoming a follower of Abba, our heavenly Father.

Perhaps there’s someone in your life who seems far from God or appears unyieldingly resistant to the Gospel. Maybe you’ve even despaired of a parent, sibling, child, spouse, or close friend ever accepting Christ’s love.

The Bible reminds us that, ‘God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).

Scripture is full of unlikely converts. Take Manasseh, the wicked king who erected shrines to Baal, made an Asherah pole, built altars to the starry hosts in the temple, then bowed down and worshipped them, sacrificed his son in the fire, practiced divination, and consulted mediums and spiritists (2 Kings 21:1-18).

Or what about Saul, who approved of Stephen’s stoning (Acts 7:55-8:1), and was determined to imprison the disciples (9:1-2)?

But Saul, as we know, later became known as the apostle Paul (13:9).

Manasseh, despite his evil practices, also had a happy ending. He later humbled himself, destroyed the altars to Baal, got rid of the image in the temple, restored the altar of the Lord, sacrificed fellowship and thank offerings to God, and told Judah to serve the Lord (2 Chronicles 33:11-19).

So let’s not give in or give up on our Gospel witness and prayers. If God can call Manasseh or Saul to Himself, He can call anyone.

Although no one knows what really happened to Pilate, we do know that – for those who are still alive – there is hope.

The criminal in Luke 23:40-43 may possibly have spent a lifetime rebelling against God but, on the cross, he came to fear Him. He knew he was getting what his deeds deserved but realised who Jesus was, and asked to be remembered when the Messiah came into His Kingdom.

Pray that Jesus’ response, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’, will apply to those we love who have yet to enter His Kingdom.

Written by: Gary Clayton

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