A Creedal Crescendo—Suffered Under Pontius Pilate

Why are we told not just that Jesus suffered but that He suffered at the hand of this Roman governor?

Pilate served as a civil judge. The Jews were accusing Jesus of all sorts of things, from blasphemy to treason. In his judicial capacity, Pilate examined Jesus and made this declaration: “I find no fault in Him” (John 19:6). In legal proceedings, Jesus was declared “not guilty” and would be sentenced to death as an explicitly innocent man.

 

Pilate then went out again, and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.” (John 19:4, NKJV)

The Apostles’ Creed takes us to the death of Jesus by a particular route, namely His suffering under Pontius Pilate and His being crucified. Why is Pontius Pilate mentioned by name in the Creed? Why are we told not just that Jesus suffered but that He suffered at the hand of this Roman governor? Certainly, suffering is a significant component of God the Son coming into this world. Suffering characterized His mission as He entered a world filled with sin and in rebellion against God. Old Testament passages describe Jesus as God’s Suffering Servant (Is. 42, 49, 53). In his first letter, the apostle Peter highlights Christ’s suffering on the road to His death (1 Pet. 3:18) and describes the intensity of Christ’s suffering (1 Pet. 2:21-24). But what is so significant about the suffering Jesus endured under Pontius Pilate?

Naming the Roman governor locates the suffering and death of Jesus at a certain point in history (26-36 A.D.). We do want to be reminded that what Jesus accomplished actually occurred in time and space as historical happenings. The mention of Pilate also helps us to understand how crucifixion became Jesus’ means of death. The Jews did not have the authority to impose capital punishment, let alone the ability to employ crucifixion to fulfill biblical prophecy (Dt. 21:22; Gal. 3:13).

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