Under Pontius Pilate
As we consider the crucifixion, we notice a statement in the Nicene Creed that is quite different from the rest of the creed. The creed explains that Christ was crucified for us ‘under Pontius Pilate.’ This is the only historical statement made in the creed, The Son of God is begotten from the Father before all ages. We know the Political Leaders at the time of Christ’s birth (Luke 2:1-3, Matt 2:1ff). Why is this political reference made? The birth of Jesus is only mentioned in two of the four gospel accounts; however, Christ’s death takes up a considerable amount of time in all four Gospels and even the remainder of the New Testament. The creed states facts which are true. The line teaches us that Christ’s crucifixion happened within history. That moment of history was when Pontius Pilate was ruling Judea (c. 26-37 AD).
During the 20th Century, many books were written to find the ‘Historical Jesus.’ This came into prevailing thought in a book called “A Quest for the Historical Jesus” by Albert Schweitzer. Within this field of study, scholars sought to find the ‘real’ Jesus, not the one presented in the Bible. They believed that Jesus ‘evolved’ throughout history to address issues in the surrounding culture. Some believe that there was no real man called Jesus (Myth Theory), who was the founder of the Christian religion. The accounts in the Gospels and his death were merely story made up to form a religion. We do not have time to go into this in great detail. However, when we confess ‘under Pontius Pilate,’ we inevitably reject the claim that of Christ’s death as a myth. It happened within history.
The historical accuracy of Christ’s life and death are recorded in many external historical accounts. One of which is found in ‘Annals’ written by Roman Historian Cornelius Tacitus. In his account of the death of Christ,
“Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.” (Annals 15.44)
In his historical account, we see the historical accuracy of the Bible. Luke explicitly mentions Tiberius Caesar and Pontius Pilate as the Governor of Judea (Luke 3:1) at the start of John the Baptist’s ministry. Pilate would be the man who seeks to be innocent of Jesus’ death (Matt 27:24) because he sees no guilt in him (Luke 23:22). However, he seeks to appease the crowd rather than see true justice. Pontius Pilate is referenced 55 times in the New Testament and three times in sermons found in Acts (3:13, 4:27, 13:28). Christ was a real man born in history who was sentenced by the state to death; that ruling official was Pontius Pilot. Interesting that Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” The Governor should have asked if he was the King of kings?