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PILATE AND PROCULA

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, February 28, 2010

“When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him” (Matthew 27:19).


Predictably, U.S. News and World Report and Newsweek both say that the Bible is wrong in its portrayal of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who ordered Christ’s crucifixion. Newsweek said,

Pilate was not the human figure [Mel] Gibson depicts [in The Passion of the Christ]. According to Philo of Alexandria, the prefect was of “inflexible, stubborn, and cruel disposition,” and known to execute troublemakers without trial (Newsweek, February 16, 2004, p. 48).

Newsweek went on to say that the writers of the four gospels went out of their way to portray the Roman governor in a good light to make Christianity “attractive to as broad an audience as possible” (ibid).

U.S. News and World Report said,

Pontius Pilate was far from being Gibson’s (or the Gospel’s) somewhat benign [humane] figure, puzzled by the high priest’s insistence on punishing Jesus. He was, rather, as the first-century historian Josephus relates, a notoriously harsh prefect, quick to crucify even potential rebels (U.S. News and World Report, March 8, 2004, p. 42).

As Bible believing Christians, we have learned not to trust Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, and the secular media in general when they comment on Christianity. For instance, Newsweek quoted Philo to cast doubt on Pilate’s actions toward Jesus as recorded in the four gospels. But Philo was hardly an eyewitness of what happened between Jesus and Pilate. Philo was born and lived in Alexandria, Egypt, hundreds of miles from Jerusalem. He never even saw Pilate or Jesus! He only wrote from second-hand knowledge. The Encyclopedia Britannica says that Philo “appears to have spent his whole life at Alexandria” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1946, volume 17, p. 757).

U.S. News and World Report quotes the historian Josephus. Josephus was not even born until 37 A.D., four years after Jesus was crucified (Encyclopedia Britannica, volume 13, p. 153). Philo lived in Egypt. He was never in Jerusalem. Josephus was not even born yet. It is dishonest to quote either of these men against the eyewitness reports given by the Apostles in the four gospels. Matthew was present. He saw what happened. Mark was present. He saw what happened. John was present. He saw what happened. Luke wrote his gospel from the eyewitness account of Peter and others who saw what happened. They were actually there. They were eyewitnesses. Philo lived hundreds of miles away in Africa and Josephus had not yet been born!

Both Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report reject the eyewitness reporting of the Apostles, and favor the report of a man who wasn’t born yet, and another man who lived hundreds of miles away, in North Africa! That sounds like biased reporting to me! But we have learned that there is a bias in the secular news media – against Christianity. They don’t do it to any other major religion, but they take a swipe at Christianity and the Bible at every opportunity. We’ve come to expect that from them. As David Limbaugh said,

Have you ever noticed the prevalence of stories discrediting biblical Christianity in the nation’s leading magazines during Christmas or Easter seasons? Columnist Don Feder observed that during Holy Week in 1996, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report both had cover stories debunking Christianity (David Limbaugh, Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity, Regnery Publishing, 2003, p. 271).

Many conservative authors have noticed how the liberal news venues are biased against Christianity.

The New Testament does not whitewash Pontius Pilate. We do not need Philo or Josephus to tell us that Pilate was a harsh Roman governor. Luke 13:1-2 tells of an incident when Pilate slaughtered many Jews in Galilee. The Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible tells us that

Pilate never became popular with the Jews. He seemed to be insensitive to their religious convictions and stubborn in the pursuit of his policies. But when the Jews responded to his rule with enraged opposition, he often backed down, demonstrating his weakness…Pilate is a good example of the unprincipled achiever who will sacrifice what is right to accomplish his own selfish goals. Although he recognized Jesus’ innocence and had the authority to uphold justice and acquit Jesus, he gave in to the demands of the crowd rather than risk a personal setback in his career (Herbert Lockyer, Sr., editor, Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible, Thomas Nelson, 1986, p. 842).

Why, then, was Pontius Pilate reluctant to crucify Jesus? I think there were three main reasons: the political situation, his wife’s warning, and his weakened position. Pilate had to be aware that vast throngs of people had welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem only a week earlier. They cried out,

“Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:9-11).

This certainly put the governor on notice. He was already thinking about Jesus.

Then Jesus cleansed the Temple.

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them” (Matthew 21:12-14).

Pilate knew all about that, too.

The triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the cleansing of the Temple, the supernatural healings – as the governor, Pilate heard all about those things. Then they brought Jesus to him. He questioned Jesus,

“And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly” (Matthew 27:14).

Secondly, his wife sent a message to him. Let us stand and read Matthew 27:19 aloud,

“When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him” (Matthew 27:19).

You may be seated.

According to ancient tradition his wife was a convert to Judaism. Pilate himself was in no sense a modern man. As a Roman, he believed in many gods, spirits – both evil and good, and in omens and dreams. From the record of Scripture, Pilate seems to have been close to his wife. Her name was Claudia Procula. The fact that she sent him this message while he was in the midst of hearing an important case, shows their emotional closeness.

So, you had this scene of incredible activity during the week of Passover. You had the triumphal entry of Christ, with all those people chanting and applauding Him. Then there was the cleansing of the Temple. I think Mel Gibson was right when he had Pilate say, “Isn’t this the prophet you welcomed into the city? Can you explain this madness to me?” (cf. Newsweek, February 16, 2004, p. 49). That rings true. It’s very likely that those were the exact thoughts of Pilate.

Then, you also had his wife sending him a message of warning about Jesus – during the trial. The supernatural flavor of the message would have troubled a superstitious Roman of that time.

Third, Pilate was in a much weaker position. Apologist Lee Strobel says he was

…reminded…of how some critics have questioned the accuracy of the gospels because of the way they portray the Roman leader. While the New Testament paints him as being vacillating and willing to yield to the pressures of the Jewish mob by executing Jesus, other historical accounts picture him as being obstinate and inflexible.
      [But Dr. Edwin Yamauchi, a famous archaeologist and Bible scholar, pointed out that Paul Maier, in his 1968 book Pontius Pilate] “…shows that his [Pilate’s] protector or patron was Sejanus and that Sejanus fell from power in A.D. 31 because he was plotting against the emperor…this loss would have made Pilate’s position very weak in A.D. 33…when Jesus was crucified. So it would certainly be understandable that Pilate would have been reluctant…That means the biblical description is…correct” (Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ, Zondervan, 1998, p. 85).

For those three reasons I don’t think there is anything peculiar about Pilate’s reluctance to crucify Jesus. The pre-modern mind of Pilate undoubtedly viewed Jesus as having supernatural power of some sort. The Bible says that he “marvelled greatly” [was greatly surprised] that Jesus gave so few answers to his questions. And, so, he was hesitant. He thought about his wife’s strange dream. He heard Jesus say,

“Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above…” (John 19:11).

Somehow, in his superstitious, pagan heart, Pilate knew he was dealing with the supernatural – with God. The words of his wife went through his mind,

“Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him”
       (Matthew 27:19).

Let’s look more closely at the message Pilate’s wife sent to him.

I. First, it was a warning against sin.

It was a providential dream. In the Old Testament God often spoke through dreams. God spoke to Pharaoh in Egypt through a dream. God spoke to King Nebuchadnezzar through a dream. God spoke to Joseph through a dream, and told him to take the baby Jesus to Egypt to escape from King Herod. Procula’s dream was accompanied by mental suffering. She said, “I have suffered many things…in a dream because of him” (Matthew 27:19). The Greek word translated “suffered” is from “pascho.” It is translated as “passion” in Acts 1:3, referring to the passion of Christ, the suffering of Christ. Pilate’s wife, Procula, may have seen some of the terrible suffering of Christ in her dream. She may have seen some of her husband’s terrible fate.

Certainly her dream was a warning against sin. And it spoke to Pilate’s conscience. Procula told him that Jesus was a “just man,” a righteous man. Pilate’s own conscience agreed with her. When he washed his hands of the matter, he called Jesus “this just person,” echoing his wife’s description of Christ (Matthew 27:24). Although Pilate was affected by his wife’s words, he wavered. He was pulled by his conscience on one side, and his fear of man on the other.

Then the crowd cried out,

“If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar” (John 19:12).

That pushed him over the line. Dr. Ryrie says,

He did not want another report to get to Rome that he had offended Jewish customs or could not control a situation – charges made to [the emperor] Tiberius earlier (Charles C. Ryrie, Ph.D., The Ryrie Study Bible, note on Mark 15:1).

The…authorities reverted to the political charge against Jesus, suggesting a potent threat to a provincial governor [like Pilate] who served at the whim of the emperor (Tiberius). The Jews had already protested to Rome Pilate’s actions in other matters where he was insensitive to their customs (ibid., note on John 19:12).

And so the fear of man caused Pilate to disregard Procula’s warning, go against his own conscience, and commit sin. The Bible says,

“The fear of man bringeth a snare” (Proverbs 29:25).

There are people here this evening who are thinking about Christ. Like Pilate, you have been warned about Him. You have been told to turn from sin and trust Christ. Will you do that? There will be strong temptation to “wash your hands” and walk away from Jesus, as Pilate did. People will tell you not to become “a fanatic.” They will try to pull you away from Christ. Which way will you go? Will you come to Christ and be saved? Or will you be pulled back by those who are against Christ? You have the same choice that Pilate had. Pilate’s wife warned him, but he hesitated – too long!

II. Second, it was a warning that was rejected.

Make no mistake here. Pilate rejected his wife’s warning. He followed the crowd instead of listening to her godly advice. John Trapp says, “Was it not pusillanimity [cowardliness] and popularity that misled Pilate, and so muzzled him, that he could not contradict the many-headed multitude?” (John Trapp, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Transki Publications, 1997 reprint, volume V, p. 271).

Why didn’t he listen to his wife? Because of self-interest and cowardice. He was afraid he would lose his position as governor if he listened to her.

Are you afraid you will lose something if you trust Christ? Four times in the gospels it is recorded that Jesus said,

“Whosoever will save his life shall lose it” (Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; Luke 17:33).

Turn in your Bible to Matthew 16:25-26. Let us stand and read these two verses aloud. Jesus said,

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26).

You may be seated.

Jesus said that if you seek to hold on to your life the way it is, you will lose your life. What do you profit if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul? Pilate made the wrong choice. He kept his role as governor – for another three years – but he lost his soul.

Josephus tells of a bloody encounter with the Samaritans, who filed a complaint with Pilate’s superior, Vitellius, the governor of Syria. Vitellius deposed Pilate and ordered him to stand before the emperor in Rome and answer for his conduct… Eusebius reports that he was exiled to…Gaul (France) where he eventually committed suicide (Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible, ibid.).

Pilate rejected the warning God gave him through his wife. Pilate lost everything – including his soul. The only reason we remember him at all is because he presided over the trial of Jesus who is called the Christ! Pilate’s wife warned him – but he rejected her warning.

III. Third, it was a warning that had overwhelming consequences.

The Puritan commentator John Trapp quotes Theophylact, who said, “Opus providentie Dei; non ut solveratur Christus, sed ut servaretur uxor,” – “A providential work of God, not in order to save Christ, but in order to serve her husband” (John Trapp, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Transki Publications, 1997 reprint, volume V, p. 271). Theophylact was a skillful and sensible twelfth century Greek Bible commentator. He tells us that Procula’s warning was not given to save Christ, but to serve her husband. “Have thou nothing to do with that just man” (Matthew 27:19). God served her husband well with that dream, but he rejected his wife’s warning. Please turn to Acts 13:28-31. Let us stand and read these four verses aloud.

“And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree [the cross], and laid him in a sepulchre. But God raised him from the dead: And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people” (Acts 13:28-31).

Jesus is alive. He has risen from the dead. Pilate is dead. He failed to listen to the godly warning of his wife. He lost his soul – forever in Hell.

Spurgeon said that Procula will stand and condemn her own husband, Pilate, at the Last Judgment. Spurgeon had in mind Matthew 12:42,

“The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it…” (Matthew 12:42).

Spurgeon said,

      It will not be a piece of mere imagination if I conceive that at the last great day, when Jesus sits upon the judgment seat, and Pilate stands there to be judged for the deeds done in the body, that his wife will be a swift witness against him to condemn him. I can imagine that at the last great day there will be many such scenes as that, wherein those who loved us best will bring the most weighty evidences against us, if we are still in our sins. I know how it affected me as a lad when my mother, after setting before her children the way of salvation, said to us, “If you refuse Christ and perish, I cannot plead in your favour and say that you were ignorant. No, but I must say Amen to your condemnation.” I could not bear that! Would my mother say “Amen” to my condemnation? And yet, Pilate’s wife, what canst thou do otherwise? When all must speak the truth, what canst thou say but that thy husband was tenderly and earnestly warned by thee and yet consigned the Saviour to his enemies?
      Oh, my ungodly hearers, my soul goes out after you. “Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?” Why will ye sin against the Saviour? God grant you may not reject your own salvation, but may turn to Christ and find eternal redemption in him. “Whosoever believeth in him hath everlasting life” (C. H. Spurgeon, “The Dream of Pilate’s Wife,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1973 reprint, volume 28, p. 132).

Jesus is standing in Pilate’s hall –
   Friendless, forsaken, betrayed by all:
Hearken! What meaneth the sudden call!
   What will you do with Jesus?
What will you do with Jesus?
   Neutral you cannot be;
Someday your heart will be asking,
   “What will He do with me?”
(“What Will You Do With Jesus?” by Albert B. Simpson, 1843-1919).

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Matthew 27:15-24.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“What Will You Do With Jesus?” (by Albert B. Simpson, 1843-1919).


THE OUTLINE OF

PILATE AND PROCULA

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him” (Matthew 27:19).

(Matthew 21:9-11, 12-14; 27:14; John 19:11)

I.   First, it was a warning against sin, John 19:12; Matthew 27:24;
Proverbs 29:25.

II.  Second, it was a warning that was rejected, Matthew 16:25-26;
Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33.

III. Third, it was a warning that had overwhelming consequences,
Acts 13:28-31; Matthew 12:42.