Someone remarked to me the other day that he had heard several sermons over the years stating that Pontius Pilate and Judas are condemned to burn eternally in hell for their role in Jesus’ crucifixion. I stared at him for a moment and said, “That’s absurd.”
Blaming Pilate, or Judas, for Christ’s crucifixion takes the blame out of our own hands. Because here is the bitter truth: you put Him there. I put Him there. Even as nice as we can be, as perfect as we strive to become, as few commandments as we break… we are still nowhere near worthy of approaching the throne of God. Even though we are saved through Christ, we are still sinners. That will not change until we are dead and beyond this fallen world. Pilate is not to blame. Judas is not to blame. God permitted them to play a role, along with the Sanhedrin and Herod, but neither of them is condemned to hell for it.
There is only one sin that cannot be forgiven, and that is rejection of the Holy Spirit – that is, denial of Christ. Judas causing Jesus to be arrested was not that denial. In fact, it may have even turned out radically different from what he wanted. We know nothing of the motivations of Judas, only of his betrayal. Was it truly for financial gain, or did Judas want Jesus to become the Messiah, and thought that by having him arrested, it would force Jesus to claim leadership over the Jews? We will never know. But we do know that if Judas repented before killing himself, he was not condemned to hell.
How is Pilate even in the wrong? He did not want to condemn Jesus. He gave the crowd multiple chances to change their mind. He ordered Jesus flogged hoping it would satisfy their bloodlust. And when faced with no other choice but to avoid a riot, he “washed his hands” of Jesus’ death. Part of this may have been his wife’s warning not to be involved. Part of it might have been that he knew Jesus was innocent. Pilate was brutal, unforgiving, and not known for his mercy. But he wanted to spare the Messiah. If he acknowledged Jesus as “more than a man,” is that not an indication of a changed heart? Pilate’s story did not end there. In scripture, it did, but what became of him? Many ancient rumors involve him in the early Christian church. Is it possible that Pilate was so changed that day that he did become saved? If so, he is most certainly not burning in hell for all eternity.
Claiming that God ordains events and then condemns those who participate in them to hell is unfair of God. Yes, God ordains events… but He allows us to participate in them according to the nature of our own sins, not because He has “made” us involved. God used Judas’ greed (or ambition?) but it did not have to be Judas. God also used a brutal governor at risk by being sanctioned by Rome, but it did not have to be Pilate. Is the Centurion who nailed Christ to the cross and then professed later, “Truly, He must have been the son of God!” condemned because his hands drove in the nails?
Even closer to home… are any of these men worse than we are? Just because we were not in the crowd, or sitting on the governor’s seat, or kissed Him in the garden does not mean it was not our fault. It was, is, and always will be our fault. But because He did it, none of us are condemned.