We could say that the four parts of the account actually correspond to the four attempts of Pilate to get Jesus off the hook.
Having interrogated Jesus twice, he is convinced that the man from Galilee is not guilty of any charge that should warrant crucifixion. Three times in the story he issues a verdict of Not Guilty.
To spare Jesus, he offers to release Him instead of the convicted criminal Barab’bas in accordance with a Jewish tradition at Passover, but he was met with objections. He also resorts to sentencing Jesus, an innocent man, to scourging in the hope of satisfying his accusers. But that didn’t work either. In the end, as we know, Pilate relents, agreeing to crucify Jesus despite being convinced of the man’s innocence.
In his encounter with Jesus, Pilate emerges as a conflicted and confused leader. He is afraid of Jesus, but he is also afraid of Caesar. When Jesus’ enemies sense that he is reluctant to have Jesus crucified, they resort to emotional blackmail: “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar.”
Pilate wants to do right by Jesus, but ends up sending him off to crucifixion. What happened?
Pilate’s struggles illustrate the “Level Two – Temptation by Pain” that we discussed yesterday. Convinced of Jesus’ innocence, Pilate wants to do the right thing by NOT yielding to the Jewish leaders’ demands for him to sentence Jesus to death. But to do the right thing in this case may have painful consequences: He may, as the Jewish leaders hinted to him, be perceived as a traitor to Caesar, which may lead to all sorts of undesirable scenarios for him and his career.
Even for someone like Pilate, often doing the right thing is painful, and the prospect of suffering the painful consequences can be a powerful deterrent to it.
This is why it is important for us to understand the mode of temptation that works best on us, so that unlike Pilate, we may be able to discern our decisions correctly.