“Suffered under Pontius Pilate”

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Why is there a reference to Pilate (of all people!) in our creed? This is a statement of essential beliefs about God, isn’t it? Pilate was a traitorous, manipulative, self-seeking, power-hungry, cowardly, political figure. In other words, he’s one of us. He imagines himself to be what the first Adam wanted to be: the self-made master of his domain, the judge of God himself. In this he represents the old humanity. We all share that nature, and he acted on our behalf with regard to Jesus Christ. His historical actions as a public representative have profound spiritual significance.

Jesus suffered under Pilate. He suffered false accusations, the destruction of his reputation, public humiliation, unjust punishment, and mindless cruelty under Pilate’s power. He was willing to do that. The Son of God condescended to submit to the corrupt authority of Adam’s race as exercised by Pilate, even to death. He suffered under us; the True King suffered under would-be usurpers. And the beauty of it is that he suffered for us. His suffering perfected him as our savior (Hebrews 2:10). His suffering reveals a God who is willing to take the pain of hostility in order to remove the hostility, to let our rebellion wash over him so that he could raise us to his right hand in glory. He didn’t set aside his divine authority in order to suffer under our corrupt authority; his suffering revealed precisely the shape of his divine authority as the authority to lay down his life for the sake of love (John 10:17-18). In his submission Jesus’ new humanity opposes the old, imperious humanity, and “loses.” But, actually, the victory belongs to him, because his is the true humanity in God’s image, and our old humanity stands self-condemned for having opposed him.

Do you think political leaders only represent us in remote, limited, administrative ways, or in more comprehensive, spiritually-significant ways? How do you feel about Pilate representing you? How do you feel about current political leaders representing you? Do you believe that Jesus, in his new humanity, represents you? What does that mean? What does it mean to live as a citizen of his Kingdom? What does it mean to exercise authority like his? What does it mean to stand in opposition to the old humanity through our solidarity in Christ’s new humanity?

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