Pilate asks one of the most interesting questions I think there is in the New Testament (that is not, of course, a riddle of Jesus), long after we think we're finished with Pilate. It comes in Mark 15:44. Jesus has died, and Joseph from Arimathea requests His body for a proper burial before the Sabbath begins, lest the Lord be left to rot on His own holy day.
Pilate's answer? Pilate wondered if Jesus had already died. So he summoned the officer to ask him if Jesus was, in fact, dead.
It's a question we read right over more often than not. At least, I usually have. Pilate was a big-time governor in the province of Judea. He had a lot of things going on. And at precisely this time, he had even more things going on. Not long before Joseph shows up, Pilate's territory erupts in what can only be described, from an administrative standpoint, as a nightmare.
Something's wrong with the sun. It's been dark for hours, and people are starting to worry. They can't understand what's going on, and Pilate is left trying to protect the day in the midst of the darkness.
There's been an earthquake. Buildings, and citizens, are rattled. There's probably damage. This house is crumbling; that building is starting to crack. Persons are concerned about their loved ones. I mean, I'm just assuming that persons in ancient Judea respond in much the same way we do; how many other ways are there to react when the ground you're standing on literally starts to shake? So there's the aftermath of that.
Not only that, but a bunch of the Jews are scrambling about, concerned about the destruction in the Temple. The most sacred curtain in all the world has just been torn. There's no longer anything to keep the unholy out of the holy place. Some are screaming. Some are crying. Some are searching for the rabblerousers who would do such a thing. Still others are trying to find the cloth-workers to see how long it will take to repair it. Others, still, are guarding the entrance to the Most Holy Place, backs turned, trying not to look inside while a faithful who understand the implications are doing all they can to get a glimpse of the Lord's dwelling place among them.
On top of all that, the ground has busted open all over the region and corpses are surfacing everywhere. People even claim the corpses are walking around!
It's an administrative nightmare. Who has time any more to worry about the criminal on the cross? Who has time to keep tabs on whether the condemned has, in fact, died?
Do you see what I'm getting at? The kingdom is in chaos, and Pilate is likely doing all he can to manage the fallout. He's sending out his grounds crew to light torches in the streets. He's sending out his managers to check on the structure of integral buildings. He's sending out his soldiers to quiet the crowds around the Temple. He's sending out...whoever he's got left to check on these reports coming out of the graves. He's looking out from his balcony over a city in chaos, and he hasn't stopped to consider....
Which is weird because it's not really a hard conclusion to come to. Nobody had understandings of seismic activity back then; an earthquake, as the least of all these signs, would have been considered a sign of the gods. And Pilate himself has already said that there was nothing guilty about this man he condemned. His wife had warned him. He had washed his hands of it. He knew there was something special about this Jesus. If the gods are upset, doesn't it make sense that his mind might be drawn back to Jesus rather quickly? To this condemned man on a Cross just a courtyard or so away?
But such is the trick. It was the trick in the time of Pilate, and it's the trick today: when the power of God is revealed, it's far too easy to pay attention to the power and forget the God. It's too easy to start sifting through the rubble. Too easy to riot in the Temple. Too easy to cower at the graves. It's far harder to look to Calvary. It's far harder to keep your eyes on the condemned, on the criminal on the Cross.
Pilate wondered if Jesus had already died.
Really? REALLY? Pilate wondered about that? Tell me, Pilate...if you don't know whether the Lord has lived or died, then what do you make of the earthquake?