The Biblical narrative telling the relationship between Christ and Pilate is interesting, and there may be some details that may escape the casual reader’s attention. So let’s take a few moments to dig deeper into the story.
One question arises as to why the Jews brought Jesus to Pilate’s court. For this, we need some background.
As Jacob neared the end of his days on the earth, he called in his twelve sons to pronounce a blessing upon them, and state a prophecy concerning their future. Concerning Judah, he had the following to say: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes.” (Gen. 49:10)
The “scepter” refers to ruling power, and we remember that Judah was the ruling tribe following the lineage of King David, and the tribe through which the spiritual king, Jesus Christ, would come. Even after the nation of Judah came under Roman rule, Judah did not lose its tribal identity and the right to pass its own laws, including the death penalty. The Jews more than once charged Jesus with blasphemy when he claimed to be equal with God, and sought to kill him (John 10:31-33) The Law of Moses called for death by stoning. “And he that blasphemeth the name of Jehovah, he shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him.” (Lev. 24:16)
But the Jewish rulers lost their self rule, and thus the possession of the scepter, when Herod came to the throne, and the legal power of the Sanhedrin was restricted some years before the trial of Jesus, thus they had to go to the Roman authorities in order to get the death penalty passed. They would have been in trouble had they actually killed Jesus. But all of this had to do with the fulfillment of prophecy. Various Old Testament prophecies describe Christ’s death, not by stoning, but in words that would refer to a crucifixion—the piercing of his hands and feet (Psa. 22:16, Zech. 2:10), his death between two thieves (Isa. 53:12), etc.
The Jewish Talmud states: “A little more than 40 years before the destruction of the Temple (which would be 30 A.D., as the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.—jdt), the power of pronouncing capital sentences was taken away from the Jews.” Remember, this was 30 A.D.
This had a profound impact on the Jewish court. Rabbi Rachman says, “When the members of the Sanhedrin found themselves deprived of the right over life and death, the judicial power of the scepter, a general consternation took possession of them. They covered their heads with ashes and their bodies with sackcloth exclaiming, ‘Woe unto us, for the scepter has departed Judah and the Messiah has not come.’”
But wait a minute! Who was walking in their midst in 30 A.D.? Jesus Christ! And the prophecy said that the Messiah had to come before the scepter departed, and the scepter departed by 30 A.D. Thus the Messiah had to be in their presence. (Quotes from The Messiah and Prophecy, pages 1 and 2 by JDT)
That bit of background helps us understand why the Jews had to take Jesus to a Roman court, since they were restricted from carrying out the death penalty themselves.
Now back to Pilate. We know that Pilate had some concerns or misgivings about the whole process. More than once he said he found no guilt in Jesus. Even Pilate’s wife warned him: “And while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, 'Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.'" (Matt. 27:19)
Pilate knew the motives of Jesus’ accusers was not right. “And Pilate answered them, saying, 'Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?' For he was aware that the chief priests had delivered Him up because of envy.” (Mark 15:9-10)
But he was afraid the Jews would cause trouble for him with the higher authorities if he refused their demands, as they were accusing Jesus of making himself a king rather than Caesar, thus claiming that he was starting a revolt against Rome.
The crucifixion then took place, and Pilate had an inscription placed on the cross, which is recorded in John 19:19-22. “And Pilate wrote an inscription also, and put it on the cross. And it was written, 'JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.'" Therefore this inscription many of the Jews read, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek. And so the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews'; but that He said, 'I am King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written."
The inscription was written in Hebrew (the language of the Jews), in Latin (the language of the government) and Greek (the common world-wide language, as English is today.)
So, how did Pilate get the “last word” or “revenge” in his disagreement with the Jewish rulers who forced him to do something he didn’t want to do? He wrote the statement of Jesus’ guilt in Hebrew so that it actually portrayed Jesus as YHWH (יהוה) (Jehovah) Himself! There are no vowels in Hebrew, only consonants. The vowels are supplied by the speaker when words are pronounced. The sentence reads “Jesus of Nazareth and the King of the Jews” in Hebrew. We know that Hebrew is read from right to left. So note the first letter of each word in English is YHWH. (ישוע הנצרי ומלך היהודים)
The acrostic formed by taking the first letter of each word of the sentence “Jesus of Nazareth and (“ו”) the King of the Jews” is “יהוה” (YHWH) – the covenant name of Israel’s God! The English translation of this is “Yahweh” (or Jehovah in some of the older translations). The YHWH is called the “tetragrammaton” (four writings). This is why the Jewish leaders were not happy with what Pilate had written. He actually wrote that Jesus was Yahweh, and they wanted him to write that Jesus said he was Yahweh, for they believed this was blasphemy.
But Pilate had the last word, much to their dislike. “What I have written, I have written.”