The Water Bowl: Why Pilate Washed His Hands of Jesus

Imagine being Pontius Pilate torn between conviction and affliction, the weight of the world in human flesh standing before you (Matthew 27:23).

No question, it's a compelling scene: a harsh Roman official desperate to spare a man he deemed innocent yet didn't believe in versus a riotous mob who screamed guilty yet had every reason to. Granted, most Jews didn't understand Jesus' Messianic identity and viewed blasphemy as a supreme offense.

Still, it's fair to wonder what Pilate must have been thinking, especially as he prepared to wash his hands (v. 24) (Yes, I know we tend to start the Cross narrative in the wake of what follows; however, after re-reading Matthew 27, I submit there's significance in weighing this particular moment).

For starters, the washing of Pilate's hands not only symbolized his personal verdict, but embodied what Jesus came to do in the first place - to cleanse us from sin (1 John 1:7) and to set free the captives (Luke 4:18). Thus, the prisoner exchange in v. 15-23 can be seen not only as foreshadowing, but also as a microcosm of the Cross: Jesus, the son of God, taking the punishment that Barabbas, the anonymous everyman, rightfully deserved. A man guilty of rebellion that led to murder offset by the one who was murdered for every man’s rebellion


Reading on, we note the verbal exchange between Pilate and the crowd (v. 24-25): 

I am innocent of this man's blood2
; see to it yourselves. 
His blood be on us and on our children!"

Again, it's hard to ignore the irony of the situation considering these people, only a week removed from waving palm branches, were declaring judgment on the one who would shortly take away their judgment. 

Still, how fitting is it that those who knew not what they did would speak truth3 into those who know not what they do? That though the condemners didn't understand the power in the blood at the time, they were essentially declaring what we understand today: Christ's blood is sufficient to cover the sins of mankind.

I don't know about you, but I can't help but marvel at the symmetry in this passage.

'Cause while Pilate would ultimately relent to the unrelenting on the ground (v. 26), it was God's unrelenting from on high that used all things to fulfill the completion of his Word.

And it's here I want to zero in since it's this truth, this past/present/future reality that exemplifies why we celebrate Easter.

For God so loved the world, he had the Cross in mind before he created it. For God so loved us, he was making a way before we even needed it. How sweet it is to know the same God is still unrelentingly reconciling us to himself!

My prayer for you is that as you meditate on Christ's death and resurrection, you come into a fresh understanding not only of what Christ came to do, but what he wants to do in you.

‘Til then, I wish you all a wonderful Easter full of peace and rest as you reflect on the ultimate sacrifice.

He is Risen!


1) Thanks to yoexpert for this point's inspiration
2) Some manuscripts say 'righteous blood'
3) Albeit the wrong angle

Photo creds: Pinterest, Ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri &

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