more conventional treatment of the character of Pontius Pilate may be found in
the Life of Christ series.)
founder of the church encounters the state. Up until this point, the Roman
Empire is unaware of the existence of this man Jesus. His only acknowledgement
is the famous “render unto Caesar…” In this passage, we see how the
church-state relationship is always a tense one.
28Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to
the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid
ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be
able to eat the Passover. 29So Pilate came out to them and asked,
“What charges are you bringing against this man?”
30“If he were not a criminal,” they replied,
“we would not have handed him over to you.”
31Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and
judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to
execute anyone,” the Jews objected. 32This happened so that the words Jesus had
spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.
33Pilate then went back inside the palace,
summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your
people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have
“My kingdom is not of this
world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.
But now my kingdom is from another place.”37“You are a
king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In
fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to
testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
38“What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this
he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against
him. 39But it is your custom for me to release to
you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the
king of the Jews’?”
40They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us
Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.
1Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his
head. They clothed him in a purple robe 3and went up to
him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in
4Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am
bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge
against him.” 5When Jesus came out wearing the crown of
thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
6As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him,
they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
But Pilate answered, “You take
him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
7The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that
law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
8When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he
asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10“Do you
refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to
free you or to crucify you?”
11Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were
not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is
guilty of a greater sin.”
12From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus
free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of
Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
13When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus
out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement
(which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14It was the day of Preparation of Passover
Week, about the sixth hour.
“Here is your king,” Pilate
said to the Jews.
15But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him
away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?”
“We have no king but Caesar,”
the chief priests answered.
16Finally Pilate handed him over to them to
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.
The relationship between church and state has a long history of
trouble in it. It is troubling in the best of times that such a relationship
must be defined. Indeed, among the pearls of wisdom in this struggle are that
things should be left vague, and arguments made over trivial, not important,
items. In democratic states the method varies. There is an official Church of
England, which has the right to hold canonical court upon its members. No
such thing exists in the United States. But in all societies there is a set of
boundaries which the state imposes upon the church – and the church resents.
Until recently, the relationship in the United States descended
from the English legal system. The doctrine of “urgent necessity” prevailed.
Any action against the church could only be justified if it met the criteria of
urgency and necessity. A common example would be fire sprinklers:
- They meet a “necessary” form of
government – to save lives is a necessity for a government.
- They are also “urgent” in that
when the fire breaks out, it’s too late to install the sprinklers.
This doctrine reflects the nature of government and the nature of
- Government is said to be
“temporal” - that is, existing in time. Its purposes are not eternal but
here and now. It is therefore fitting that they should attempt to save
lives from fire, for example.
- The church is eternal, living in
a temporal world. Her actions reflect the will of her Lord, Jesus
Christ. As such, she is bound to a higher authority.
So we would like to think. But the state has been redefining its
basis for power lately. The basis for power determines the kind of government
which eventually will arise.
- Power may be by conquest. It is
indisputable at the time, but subject to a later conqueror. “Power grows
out of the barrel of a cannon” (Chairman Mao). But to rest upon the
people without a state sponsored terror, the people must be convinced that
the government is legitimate.
- Sovereignty may also be held to
come from God (the “divine right of kings.”) In our time, this is held to
be taken from the people. In this model, it is not assumed that the
people are perfect; rather, that they are a safeguard against tyranny.
This works well when most are Christians. Such a theory guided our
constitution and (earlier) Magna Charta – the king is not above the law.
- The newer theory is that
sovereignty is derived from the people - in and of themselves. The
government is ultimately responsible for favoring public opinion polls,
but no longer under the law. This is a subtle change in democracies, and
usually not announced.
The Jews and Caesar
We may now take a good look at how the Romans ruled in Judea, and
the examples this brings to us.
To begin with, you need to understand that Rome ruled its
conquered provinces by one of two methods:
- The province might be considered
unruly; if so, a Roman governor was appointed (and furnished with
troops). Pontius Pilate is a good example.
- If the province was stable and
peaceful, the Romans would select a local sample of the nobility and use
him as puppet ruler. Herod was such a man.
In support of either of these methods you would usually find a
group of quislings. In this instance, the quislings come from an unusual
source: the religious world. But note this: they saw religion as a way to
social and political status. Their religion made them look good. The Romans
were not such fools; they saw these leaders as being a good way to govern
without the investment of sending more troops. It gave the citizenry the
appearance of independence without the reality.
The true role of the state
Understanding the true role of the state is made much easier if
you start with one fact: the state is temporal. It deals with the here and
now, not the here and forever. The state should not interfere with the church
not because the state isn’t good enough but because the state is established to
deal with other concerns. Indeed, in our own history we have seen our
government stand as a bulwark against those who would oppress the church. In
this instance, Pilate would be concerned with the mob.
The demand of the state
Here we see Pilate maneuvering his quislings. There is no getting
around it; this Jesus is innocent. But the leaders seem out for his blood. A
good politician extracts from this unpleasant situation all that he can. “We
have no king but Caesar” is the Roman loyalty oath.
Any government which is not based upon God’s authority is doomed.
For all authority in heaven and on earth is given to Christ. Variation from
this is rightly seen as corruption.
Christ and the State
this drama, gives us three keys to understanding the relationship of church and
My kingdom is not of this world
If it were, the servants would fight for it. But to grasp the
sword is to grasp the weapon of Satan. The power of the church is in weapons
the world cannot begin to comprehend.
We are to be “in the world, not of the world.” We are not to
seek the desires of power, the flesh or pride. Against the armor of humility
the state has no weapon which will bite.
I AM a king
The kingship of Christ is clear: he is the king of Israel. He
tells Pilate as much. He says he is a king, born to do just that, sent by the
Father. He is there to testify to the truth – even approaching death.
His mission is so clear that the truth is brought forth as the
source of the mission. It is still true today, those who seek the Truth, find
This is why we are taught to intercede. Our rulers may seem
powerful, but they are human too. We are therefore taught to intercede on
their behalf – for their burdens are heavy, and all too few are those who are
No power if it were not given to you.
In this statement Christ tells us the fundamental legitimacy of
government. Government, if it stays in its proper sphere, the Christian owes
it both service and intercession before the throne of grace. It is the Christian
version of Urgent Necessity.
The American Church
It is sad to see the decline of the American governmental system –
which parallels the American church. That is not an accident; Jefferson
himself said that our system would not work except where there was a
Our Founding Fathers were, almost without exception, Christians.
They believed in the equality of all men, for that was revealed in the Bible.
The fact that they did not include slaves nor women in that has taken us some
time to address.
But you can see the Christian view all through our constitution.
There is a balance of power; why? Because men are sinners! They must be
watched carefully – hence elections. Similarly, the state, composed of
sinners, should rule over the Church.
If this government goes bad, the church will be persecuted. (See
Thomas a Becket). That’s the worry of this system.
We have changed. No longer is God the source of authority; the
people are. This is government by opinion poll. This is coupled with the
drive to abolish the church from public life. The concept of “sinner” is
obsolete; therefore checks and balances are no longer necessary.
The biggest blow struck in this was the 1991 case before the
Supreme Court in which the court threw out the doctrine of urgent necessity.
When this was first published, the ACLU called for a constitutional amendment.
Now, however, seeing how anti-Christian this is, they have changed their mind.
Forecasting is exceedingly difficult – especially when it concerns
the future. But I think there are two continuing trends:
- The ACLU will continue to use the
courts to inflict political correctness. There are instances such as the
one in Pennsylvania in which a young lady, wearing a cross on her
necklace, was told to take it off. She was eventually suspended without
pay for a year. Why? Because that would have allowed Christianity to
have a chance in the work place.
- On the local front, the ACLU will
continue to threaten municipal authorities (which usually don’t have the
revenue to go to court so much) to send a letter to cities, school boards
and other local agencies threatening them with lawsuit if they do not
conform. Zoning laws are especially useful for this.
The objective of all this is the humanist society; one in which
Christianity cannot be mentioned, but all the fruits of “liberation” are in
front of us all the time.
Have you prayed for your country today?