Dreaming of Jesus
April 17, 2017
Have you ever had a bad dream?
For most of us, the answer is yes. Scientists tell us almost everyone dreams every night. Most of our dreams disappear from memory when we wake up. Try as we might, we can only remember tiny fragments of what we dreamed during the night. Soon even those fragments vanish from our consciousness.
Have you ever had a bad dream?
But now and then we all have bad dreams.
We’re deep asleep when some terrifying apparition fills our mind and seems to overwhelm us. Waking with a start, we may shout in the darkness, as if to drive the nightmare away. Occasionally the dream seems so real that we are afraid to go back to sleep. Darkness closes in, we hear noises in the night, we imagine footsteps outside the door, our breathing stops, our throat tightens, and we are frozen in bed, too frightened to move. Sometimes it takes an hour or more to go back to sleep. The next morning we may feel oppressed by the dark shadows left behind by the nightmare.
Something like that happened to Pilate’s wife. Her whole story is told in just one verse:
“While he was sitting on the judge’s bench, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for today I’ve suffered terribly in a dream because of Him!’” (Matthew 27:19)
We don’t know her name.
Tradition suggests the name Claudia or the name Procula, but no name is given for Pilate’s wife in the New Testament. This is the only verse where she is mentioned. She enters the stage of biblical history for one brief moment, then she disappears.
Why do they hate Jesus?
Evidently Pilate had discussed the case of Jesus with his wife. Perhaps he had expressed his uncertainty to her. Who is this strange Jewish rabbi who seemed to have run afoul of his own leaders? What had he done that made them want to kill him? What law, if any, had he broken? What should Pilate do about Jesus of Nazareth?
If I try to put myself into this story, two questions come to mind:
What would it take for me to send a message like that?
Would I have listened if I had been Pilate?
The truth is, most of us can hardly remember our dreams. Even the bad ones fade away eventually. Whatever happened in that dream, it was so intense Pilate’s wife felt compelled to send a message to her husband. Most of us wouldn’t have done that. I wouldn’t do it because I would fear being thought strange. People in the ancient world put more stock in dreams than we do. They were accustomed to the idea of divine messages coming in the form of a dream. Still, it must have taken great courage for the wife to send such a message to her husband.
Pilate knew Jesus was innocent!
As to the second question, we can’t be sure how Pilate responded. In his heart, he knew she was right about Jesus. He knew Jesus was innocent of the charges brought against him. The gospel records are quite clear on that point. He kept saying, “I find no fault in him,” meaning, “There are no grounds to punish him.”
During the long hours when Jesus stood on trial, only one person spoke up for him:
A Gentile woman.
A pagan woman.
The wife of the Roman governor.
The wife of the man who answered to the emperor.
Pilate’s wife is the only one who spoke up for Jesus!
We don’t know exactly what she saw in her dream, and we don’t know how much she already knew about Jesus. As the wife of the Roman governor, she would probably have heard of Jesus because the whole city of Jerusalem was talking about him. No doubt Pilate discussed this case with his wife. It seems likely that she had an open heart and a desire to know God.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Consider the warning she sent to her husband. It was . . .
It was a Timely Warning—It came while he was seated in the place of official judgment.
An Urgent Warning—Have nothing to do with this righteous man.
A Truthful Warning—He was an innocent man.
A Providential Warning—She was troubled in a dream.
An Unheeded Warning—He did not follow her advice.
She must have loved him greatly.
She must have been deeply disturbed.
She must have loved him deeply
Notice the word “today.” Since Pilate’s interviews with Jesus took place early on Friday morning, this must mean his wife had her terrible dream sometime Thursday night. Perhaps God gave her understanding that her husband had Jesus’ fate in his hands that very morning. This little vignette reminds us God can use dreams to awaken the conscience.
Pilate knew Jesus had committed no crime worthy of death. But like many a politician caught between a rock and a hard place, he caved in to pressure from the Jewish leaders who wanted Jesus dead.
Pilate was a coward
He is guilty of moral cowardice in the moment of crisis.
He is guilty of selling out an innocent man to save his job.
He is guilty of condemning a man he knows to be innocent.
His name has become a symbol for all the evil done to Jesus. Every Sunday, in churches around the world, Christians recite the Apostle’s Creed. Only three personal names are found in the creed—Jesus, Mary, and Pilate. It reads this way: “Born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. He tried to release him, repeatedly saying, “I find no fault in him.” Yet he handed over Jesus to be crucified anyway.
Let me suggest three things we learn from the story of Pilate’s wife.
How God Warns Before He Judges
Pilate was about to commit the crime of judicial murder. That’s what happens when you knowingly sentence an innocent man to his death. The gospel writers stress Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. He tried everything he could to placate the Jews without putting Jesus to death:
He told them to handle the matter themselves.
He repeatedly said, “I find no fault in him.”
He sent Jesus to Herod.
He ordered him scourged.
He offered them a choice of Barabbas or Jesus.
Her dream was God’s final warning
In normal times, that should have been enough to satisfy the Jewish leaders. But these were not normal times. Provoked by envy and angered by Jesus’ popularity, they would not be satisfied until Jesus was dead.
When Pilate’s wife had her dream, it was God’s final warning to the Roman governor. This should not surprise us since in biblical times, God often communicated through dreams. He spoke to Joseph in a dream in Genesis 37. Later he spoke to King Nebuchadnezzar in a dream in Daniel 2. Dreams occur frequently in the he story of Jesus’ birth. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him to take Mary as his wife. The Magi were warned in a dream not to go back to Jerusalem after they had given gifts to the baby Jesus. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, warning him to take his family and flee to Egypt. Later an angel appeared in another dream, telling him it was safe to return to Israel.
People sometimes ask me if God can speak to hearts today. I tell them not to worry about it because God has your number on speed dial. He can ring your phone any time of the day or night. And you won’t put him on call waiting either.
How God Speaks Through Unlikely People
We don’t know anything about Pilate’s wife other than this one verse. Secular history provides no additional evidence. Various traditions arose over the centuries, including the belief that she became a Christian and her husband followed her example. That may be true. I can easily see where Pilate’s guilty conscience and the continued witness of his wife might lead him to faith in Christ.
God has your number on speed dial
If you saw Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, you will remember there was a very vivid scene of Pilate and his wife discussing what to do about Jesus. All the dialogue in the movie is spoken in either Aramaic or Latin. When Pilate asks his famous question, “What is truth?” you hear him say the Latin word for truth—veritas. Before his final decision, he confers privately with his wife Claudia. Although this scene is not biblical, it is entirely believable. What Jesus said about listening to the truth haunts him. “Do you recognize the truth when you hear it, Claudia?” he asks. Veritas, he says, do you recognize veritas when you hear it? Claudia says she does. With a look of love and sorrow, she tells Pilate that since he can’t hear it, he will never know veritas. Not even when the Truth stands in front of him.
Is Pilate in heaven?
What about his wife?
The only thing we know for certain is what she said and how her husband responded on that fateful morning in Jerusalem. Though she was not a literal angel, she was a messenger sent from God for such a time as this. Like Esther, she delivered her message, not knowing how it would be received. We know the end of the story in Esther’s case. In the case of Pilate’s wife, we’ll have to wait until heaven to find out the rest of the story. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see her there. If Pilate himself shows up, we will discover God used his wife to get him there. But all of that is speculation. Let us be content with the knowledge that if God can use Pilate’s wife to send his message to the right person at the right time, he can use us in the same way.
How God Accomplishes Redemption
If we stand back and ponder the last hours of Jesus’ life, it appears evil has overcome good and events have spun completely out of control. No doubt it must have seemed that way to the disciples. But appearances are deceiving. Suppose we stand back even further and look at Jesus’ life from the beginning. We quickly discover it is bracketed by dreams: Joseph, the Magi, and Joseph again. God intervenes again and again at just the right moment to ensure his Son arrives safely on earth. Now at the end of Jesus’ life, God speaks to Pilate’s wife through a dream to warn Pilate against sending Jesus to his death.
God often communicated through dreams
When Herod attacks the baby, God warns Joseph in a dream.
When Pilate is about to commit judicial murder, God warns him through his wife’s dream.
These things did not happen by accident. When evil men rise up against his Son, God moves from heaven so we will know that all things are happening according to his divine plan. Consider the question: “Who killed Jesus?” Wars have been fought over the answer to that question. Some say the Jews killed Jesus, and it is true the Jewish leaders conspired against him. Others say that Judas is responsible, and it is true that he betrayed the Lord. You certainly can say Pilate killed Jesus because only he could give the order for Jesus to be crucified.
But instinctively we know something greater is at work here. Just a few weeks after the Ascension, during a time of growing persecution of Christians in Jerusalem, Peter and John addressed this very point:
“Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:30-31).
These verses perfectly blend human responsibility and divine sovereignty. Herod is guilty and so is Pilate and so are the Jewish leaders. They conspired to kill Jesus of Nazareth. But God worked in and through their wicked choices to accomplish his plan for saving the world. Isaiah 53:10 (CSB) says it even more plainly: “The Lord was pleased to crush him severely.” That statement is so startling that we can hardly comprehend it. As a father of three sons, I cannot fathom that, have no category for it, cannot imagine willingly putting one of my sons to death, much less taking pleasure in it. But the truth stands and cannot be denied: Jesus died because his Father willed that he should die. The terrible suffering our Lord endured did not happen by chance, nor did it happen solely because the Jewish leaders wanted it and Pilate cravenly caved in. Behind the evil deeds of evil men stands the Lord God Almighty. He and he alone sent Jesus to the cross. Until you understand that fact, the true meaning of the death of Christ will be lost to you.
God willed that his Son should die
As we close our study, certain facts stand out very clearly:
Jesus was innocent, and Pilate was guilty.
Pilate’s wife did the right thing, and Pilate did the wrong thing.
He should have listened to his wife instead of to the howling mob.
The blood would not come off!
He washed his hands, but the blood wouldn’t come off. He passed the buck, but it came back to him. He tried to make a deal, but the deal fell through. He tried to compromise and ended up being blackmailed. Pilate seems pitiful, frightened, weak, unable to do what he knows is right.
Pilate, what did you say to your wife that night? Did you wash your hands in front of her?
Run to the Cross!
Jesus stands at the end of life’s road for all of us. There can be no middle ground. To ignore him is the same as to hate him because you end up without him either way. Perhaps hatred is nobler than casual disinterest because when you hate, you at least must pay attention to the object of your hatred, and that very attention may lead someday to a change of heart. To ignore Jesus altogether means to live as if he doesn’t matter at all. But no one can ignore him forever. We all have an appointment with Christ sooner or later.
The question of the ages
Pilate’s final question to the crowd still rings across the centuries: “What shall I do with Jesus?” (Matthew 27:22). It is the question of the ages, and every person must eventually give an answer.
There are only two possible answers. I can crown him or I can crucify him. There is nothing else, no middle ground.
Let’s turn the question around and make it more personal: “What will you do with Jesus?” If he is the Son of God, then crown him the Lord of your life and give your heart to him. If he is a fraud, then send him off to be crucified.
You will never regret trusting in Christ!
But I cannot decide that for you. No one can answer that question but you. The friends of Jesus cannot answer for you. Neither can his foes. Pilate tried to wash his hands, but water won’t wash off that kind of blood. You can’t claim neutrality. Either join those who crucified him or join those who follow him.
I ask the question once more: What will you do with Jesus? You can’t put it off forever. We all must make a decision for Jesus or against him.
My last word to you is this: If you choose Jesus, you will never be sorry. No one will ever regret coming to Christ.
If you want to know Jesus,
If you want to be saved,
If you want to be forgiven,
Run to the cross and lay hold of Jesus Christ who died for you. Lay hold of Jesus by faith and never let go. Behold the dying form of the Son of God, bleeding for you. His death paid the price for all your sins. Run to the cross! Do not hesitate. Do not wait. Do not put it off for some better day. Do it now.