Calvin on Pontius Pilate
There are some great little "dialogues" in Calvin's Geneva Catechism. They remind me more of Anselm's Cur Deus Homo than Westminster or Heidelberg. One such dialogue is particularly relevant today on Good Friday in which Christ is put to death under Pontius Pilate.
56 M. Why then do you add the name of Pontius Pilate, under whom he suffered, and not say, in one word, that he was dead?
C. That not only respects the truth of the history, but proves also, that his death was inflicted by a judicial sentence.
57 M. Explain this more fully.
C. He died that he might bear the punishment due to us, and in this manner deliver us from it. But as we all, as we were sinners, were exposed to the judgment of God, that he might suffer it in our stead, he was pleased to place himself before an earthly judge, and to be condemned by his mouth, so that we might be absolved before the throne of the heavenly Judge.
The imagery itself is classic Calvin. The symmetry of earthly and heavenly judgment in the death of Christ and redemption of man is exhilarating. But Calvin rightfully notes (and inserts into the dialogue) that Pilate pronounced Christ innocent. So in what sense was Christ judged on earth?
58 M. But Pilate pronounced him innocent, therefore he was not condemned as a malefactor (Matthew 27:24).
C. It becomes us to observe both these points. For thus the judge gives the testimony of his innocence, that it might be witnessed, that he suffered not for his own sins, but for ours. Yet, at the same time, he was condemned, in solemn form, by the same sentence, that it might be manifest, that by undergoing, as our substitute, the punishment which we merited, he might deliver us from it.
The innocence and sinlessness of Christ are pronounced by the one who convicts him. This proves the judgment he endured was not his own. Today on Good Friday, "the punishment which we merited" was carried away. As the author of Hebrew wrote:
For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. - Hebrews 13:11-14