Pilate would gladly be free from the blood of the innocent Christ, so not only does he wash his hands, but he says of himself, “I am free.” But a basin of water from the local spring can do nothing to free us from the stain of sin. The only effectual cleansing for a heart racked by sin is the washing of water by the word (Eph. 5:26). We must personally partake of the Water of Life if we desire to be thoroughly clean and truly free.
And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go.
How often are we backed into a position of choice between taking our stand alone with Christ or succumbing to the jeering crowd making a mockery of our God? At this mock trial of Christ before the people, with Pilate occupying the judge’s seat, he finds himself in a similar predicament. He must either condemn this Jew whom he believes to be innocent or identify himself as an enemy of Caesar. That is precisely the choice put to him by the religious leaders who initially brought Jesus to Pilate, “He that makes himself a king as this man does is an enemy to Caesar, and if you let him go, you are not Caesar’s friend,” (John 19:12).
Pilate is afraid of either choice and would happily spare both Jesus and Barabbas, but that choice is not an option. And so, he chooses to spare himself rather than Jesus. The religious leaders brought Christ to trial out of envy (Matt. 27:18), and Pilate delivers him over to the executioners out of fear. Pronouncing Christ’s innocence and publicly washing his hands of his blood guiltiness only serves to secure his own eternal condemnation, for innocence either absolves the prisoner or condemns the judge. To say, “Take him and crucify him,” and yet, “I find no fault in the man,” (John 19:6; Luke 23:14) turns the point of Pilate’s sword into his own heart and makes the bench the bar.
With his wife’s dream and our Savior’s confession on the one side (Matt. 27:19), and the people’s willful violence and the threat of being identified as Caesar’s enemy on the other, Pilate’s soul is bound for destruction. How soon does he discover that his own conscience is a worse enemy than Caesar? Guilt at once kindles in the heart both shame and horror (Matt. 27:24), and it is so fierce a fire that the basin of water before him cannot put it out. For what can a little water in a bowl or even Jordan’s floods do toward washing those stained hands that had the power to release innocence and yet chose not to (John 19:10)?