Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Roman Perspective, Part 4

As I explained in my last post, Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judea during the time of Jesus, governed his territory from Caesarea, a city on the Mediterranean sea about 75 miles northwest of Jerusalem. Immediate authority over Jerusalem itself he had delegated to Caiaphas, whom Pilate had appointed high priest of the Jewish temple.

Pilate and the Danger of Passover

But, each year during his tenure in Judea, Pilate journeyed to Jerusalem in the spring. He wanted to be in this city during the Jewish celebration of Passover. It’s not that he had any fondness for the Jews and their rituals. Rather, Pilate needed to be in Jerusalem at this time to preserve order. He didn’t trust Caiaphas with such an important task at such a volatile time.


The Passover was, after all, a festival in which Jews remembered how God had delivered them from foreign domination. During the celebration of the Passover meal they not only thanked God for his deliverance in the past, but also prayed for him to do so again. Thus the Passover itself could easily inspire anti-Roman feelings, if not outright rebellion.

Moreover, the population of Jerusalem swelled greatly during the festival. Though it’s difficult to determine precisely the population of Jerusalem during the time of Roman rule, 35,000 wouldn’t be too far off base. During the Passover, however, this number swelled by a figure of ten or more. Josephus reports that 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 people gathered in the city for the festival (Jewish War, 2.14.3, 6.9.3). While most scholars believe that Josephus exaggerated, his estimates testify to the large number of pilgrims who came to Jerusalem for Passover. A more conservative estimate would be in the 300,000-400,000 range. Pilate knew that crowds of Jews jammed together in a small area was a formula for disaster. (Photo: A picture of a crowd in Jerusalem, gathered by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1989.)


Given the themes of Passover and the massive temporary population of Jerusalem, it’s easy to see why Pilate felt it necessary to come to the city and why he would have done so with trepidation. Pilate was well aware of the fact that Jerusalem was a powder keg ready to blow during Passover. In fact, Josephus, talking about an earlier ruler who had tyrannized the Jews, mentions that “the nation of the Jews made an insurrection against him at a festival; for at those feasts seditions are generally begun” (Jewish War, 1.4.3, emphasis added).

Pilate didn’t come to Jerusalem unprepared. To help keep the peace, he brought with him a few thousand Roman soldiers from Syria. But, even then, the odds would not be in his favor if the Jews decided to stir up rebellion, since the soldiers were outnumbered by a factor of at least one hundred to one.


Given the tenuous peace of Jerusalem, Pilate must have been greatly distressed by early reports about Jesus’ actions in Jerusalem. This popular prophet from Nazareth had been welcomed into the city by a crowd of his followers who hailed him as a conquering king. Then, Jesus created a ruckus in the Jewish temple, even prohibiting sacrifices from being offered for several hours. So, while Pilate might have smirked to think of the distress this had given Caiaphas, nevertheless he’d be worried. What was Jesus’ agenda? What had he come to Jerusalem to do? Was he seditious? Was he fomenting rebellion against Rome? Pilate’s initial strategy was to watch and wait. Maybe, just maybe, he’d be lucky, and the Passover would conclude without incident. Then Jesus would go back to Galilee where he came from, and Pilate would return to Caesarea, where he could govern Judea a safe distance away from the time bomb of Jerusalem.

Pilate’s hopes for an uneventful Passover were dashed when, early on Friday morning, the problem posed by Jesus of Nazareth exploded in his face. In my next post, I’ll examine more closely Pilate’s interaction with Jesus and his accusers. 

  • Steve Martin

    Very nice explanation of the events leading to our Lord’s murder.
    And that is all true.
    But, of course being the “good” Lutheran that I am, I have to add that the real reason that our Lord had to die was(is)our wilful desire to be our own gods.

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Steve: Yes, indeed. We’ll get to that down the road a piece. Thanks for the comment.

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Mark D. Roberts. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration ...

posted 2:09:11pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? Conclusions
In this series on the death of Jesus, I have presented four different perspectives on why Jesus had to die: Roman, Jewish, Jesus’, and Early Christian. I believe that each of these points of view has merit, and that we cannot fully understand ...

posted 2:47:39am Apr. 11, 2011 | read full post »

Sunday Inspiration from the High Calling
Can We Find God in the City? Psalm 48:1-14 Go, inspect the city of Jerusalem. Walk around and count the many towers. Take note of the fortified walls, and tour all the citadels, that you may describe them to future generations. For that ...

posted 2:05:51am Apr. 10, 2011 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Perspective of the First Christians, Part 3
An Act and Symbol of Love Perhaps one of the most startling of the early Christian interpretations of the cross was that it was all about love. It’s easy in our day, when crosses are religious symbols, attractive ornaments, and trendy ...

posted 2:41:47am Apr. 08, 2011 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Perspective of the First Christians, Part 2
The Means of Reconciliation In my last post, I examined one of the very earliest Christian statements of the purpose of Jesus’ death. According to the tradition encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus died “for our sins in accordance with ...

posted 2:30:03am Apr. 07, 2011 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.