I believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
– Apostles Creed
The creed does not mention such events in the Lord’s life as his baptism, his wilderness temptation, his several years of ministry, his teaching, or his miracles. But when summarizing our faith the creed does call attention to Jesus’ suffering under Pontius Pilate, his crucifixion, death, and burial. But why is the Roman governor of Judea so important that he merits mentioning in one of the earliest and most important Christian creeds?
But of course, the Scriptures press upon us the importance of the events surrounding Jesus’ trial and Pilate’s role in the entire matter. In the weeks before his crucifixion the Lord Jesus frequently predicted the circumstances of his approaching trial and death. Jesus told his disciples that he would be handed over by the Jews to the Gentiles:
“We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.” (Matthew 20:18-19)
Crucifixion was a form of legal execution. It was reserved by the Romans for the worst kind of criminals. In his sovereignty, God had decreed that Jesus would be sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate and executed in that most gruesome fashion as the worst of criminals. God decreed that Jesus would die in a legal fashion, as it were. His death would be forensic both legally and spiritually. He was not murdered by an angry mob nor stoned to death as a blasphemer by the Jewish religious leaders. Rather, he was tried, convicted, sentenced, and executed by the Rome’s governor of Judea. Jesus was quite literally our legal representative; our guilt being imputed to him.
This detail reminds us that Christianity rests not upon spiritual principles or ecstatic experiences. Rather, Christianity rests upon actual events in history. Jesus was truly tried and executed under the Roman governor. It happened outside the city of Jerusalem upon the killing grounds of Golgotha. And just as the Scriptures established from as early as Genesis chapter 3, Jesus truly died in the place of sinners. Therefore, our hope is not grounded in sentimentalities but in historical realities. Jesus died and did so for our sins.
Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood
Sealed my pardon with this blood
Hallelujah, what a Savior!