Pilate is clearly a conflicted man when Jesus is brought to him. He understands that the Jewish leaders have an agenda in wanting to see Jesus crucified (see Matthew 27:18). On the other hand, he has a responsibility to maintain the Pax Romana (Roman peace) established by Augustus and maintained by his successor Tiberius. Whatever transpires, he wants to stay on Rome’s good side.
In the middle of this is Jesus. It seems to me that as Pilate interacts with Jesus, two things become increasingly clear: he has never met anyone who is anything like Him, and he has a growing reluctance to have anything to do with allowing Jesus to be crucified.
In 19:1ff, Pilate has Jesus flogged. The soldiers clothe Him in a purple robe and put the crown of thorns on His head. Pilate brings Him out before the crowd, seemingly in hopes that they will be appeased by this mistreatment.
They’re not. The Jewish leaders call out for Jesus to be crucified. Pilate repeats that he has found no basis for a such a charge. The leaders respond by saying that Jesus has committed a capital offense according to their law by claiming to the Son of God.
When Pilate hears this, John tells us “he was even more afraid.” You can feel his growing uneasiness around Jesus. Christ had said, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me” (Matthew 12:30) and Pilate is like most unbelievers—he’s not comfortable being against Jesus. He would much prefer to find some type of middle ground—but there is none. He then asks Jesus, “Where do You come from?” (v. 9). He had started off his interview by asking Christ if He was the King of the Jews (18:33), but they are way past that now. Pilate is probing to find out exactly what manner of person is standing before him.
Jesus is absolutely no help as John tells us He “gave him no answer” (v. 9). Most of us have heard of Christ’s seven statements from the cross, but before that there was this moment when He chose not to speak. It was a temporary measure, to be sure, as He resumed speaking shortly after that. Nevertheless, He adopted this strategy more than once when He was “tried” before the Jewish and Roman leaders (see Matthew 26:63, 27:14). This should give us pause to reflect upon the possibility that sometimes the most powerful thing to say is . . . nothing at all.
That’s a truth that doesn’t get much traction in our culture. We have been inculcated with the idea that we should speak if for no other reason, because we can. Or, we sometimes say something because we feel like we must—to not speak is somehow seen as being powerless or a sign of weakness (try telling that to Jesus).
“I have the right to express my opinion!” That’s true. It’s also true that there is a vast difference between opinions and informed opinions. Proverbs tells us, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding, but delight in airing their own opinions” (18:2). Sadly, we’ve all come across too much on social media that has bore witness to this.
Still, none of this was true for Jesus. His silence wasn’t because He couldn’t have said something meaningful—it was because the most meaningful response was none at all! There is a time to speak but also “a time to be silent” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). We are to be “quick to listen, and slow to speak” (James 1:19).
I leave us with this challenge: if you haven’t done this in a while, try it. The next time you really don’t have anything to say—don’t say anything (I promise it will be all right!). The next time you really don’t have an informed opinion to offer, be content just to listen (and maybe ask a few thoughtful questions). The next time you’re in a discussion with someone who is really not listening to you, save your words until they are ready to hear what you have to say.
Remember the example of Jesus—there is power in silence!