The Water Bowl: Why Pilate Washed His Hands

Written on 4/16/2017; revised 4/25/2020

Bible Passage: Matthew 27:11-26

Imagine being Pontius Pilate torn between conviction and affliction, the weight of the world in human flesh standing before you (Matthew 27:23).

No question, it’s a compelling scene: A headstrong Roman official desperate to spare a man he deemed innocent versus a bloodthirsty mob ignorant to Jesus’ Messiahship.

Ecce_homo_by_Antonio_Ciseri_(1)

Who knows what Pilate must have been thinking? What convictions were racing through his mind as he procrastinated the inevitable? If only we could jump inside his head into the tug-of-war, perhaps we could make better sense of such pivotal pressure.

For now, what we can discern is realizing the mob was threatening to riot…

“…he took water and washed his hands before the crowd…” ~ Matthew 27:24 (ESV)

Now, if you think is verse is random, I get it. Without context, this is simply an anecdotal observation; however, in context, this moment carries powerful significance.

For starters, the washing of Pilate’s hands not only symbolized his personal verdict but embodied what Jesus came to do in the first place – to cleanse us from sin (1 John 1:7) and free mankind from captivity (Luke 4:18). In addition, it gave future humanity the opportunity to identify with Barrabas. Like the notorious prisoner, we who deserve death have been given a second chance at life to know what real death is. Accordingly, the prisoner exchange (Luke 4:15-23) can be seen not only as foreshadowing but also as a microcosm of the Cross: Jesus, the son of God, taking the punishment that Barabbas, the anonymous everyman, rightfully deserved – a man guilty of murderous rebellion offset by the one murdered for every rebellion.

Reading on, note the verbal exchange between Pilate and the crowd (v. 24-25):

I am innocent of this man’s blood¹; see to it yourselves. 

His blood be on us and on our children!”

Again, it’s hard to ignore the irony of the situation considering these people, only a week removed from waving palm branches, were declaring judgment on the one who would soon take away their judgment. In a sense, those who knew not what they did were prophecying into those who know not what they do. Though the condemners didn’t understand the power in the blood at the time, they were essentially declaring what we understand today…

Christ’s blood is sufficient to cover the sins of mankind.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but marvel at this passage’s symmetry.

‘Cause truth is: While Pilate would ultimately relent to the unrelenting on the ground (v. 26), it was God’s unrelenting from on high that used all things to fulfill the completion of his Word.

And it’s here I want to zero in on since it’s this truth, this past/present/future reality that exemplifies why we celebrate Easter.

For God so loved the world, He had the Cross in mind before he created it. For God so loved us, he was making a way before we even needed it. How sweet it is to know the same God is still unrelentingly reconciling us to himself!

My prayer for you is that as you meditate on Christ’s death and resurrection, you come into a fresh understanding not only of what Christ came to do but what he wants to do in you.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” ~ 1 Peter 4:1-2 (ESV)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” ~ Micah 6:8 (ESV)

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” ~ Philippians 1:9-11 (ESV)

And as you seek Him, I encourage you to pray the blood over your house and the generations to come knowing you can now receive it in joy. Unlike those pleading, ‘Give us Barrabas‘, we can now cry, ‘Give me Jesus‘.

What a way to live the new life we have.

Selah.

Until next time, I wish you all a wonderful Easter full of peace, rest, and grace.

He is Risen…

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Footnotes 

1) Some manuscripts say ‘righteous blood’

Photo creds: Pinterest, Ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri & jasongoronocy.com

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