Pilate asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" And he answered him, "The words are yours." Pilate said to the head cohanim (priests) and the crowds, "I find no ground for a charge against this man." Luke 23:3-4In this moment, Pilate questions Jesus by asking if He is the King of the Jews. Jesus says neither yes or no, but instead says, depending on translation, "The words are yours," or, "You have said so."
The question Pilate asked Jesus was now turning back to him, just as when Peter was telling Him who the people said Jesus was; the real question was, "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus answers Pilate by stating something rather unexpected, "You have said so." Jesus, i believe, is saying that Pilate had at some point acknowledged Jesus as the Christ.
So how does Pilate react? He turns from Jesus and tells the Jews that he finds no guilt in Jesus. Jesus has been charged with claiming to be the Messiah, and so Pilate asks him a simple question--and he finds no guilt in Him. Jesus didn't deny the charges. It was common knowledge that He was going around preaching the Gospel, healing the sick, raising the dead, making broken people whole. If He called Himself the Christ or the King of the Jews, He was in stark opposition to Caesar, yet He did make the claim.
Pilate found Him innocent because He was not subverting the government. Speaking truth gives no guilt. So he turns to the crowds, "I find no ground for a charge against this Man." In other words, He claims to be the King, which puts Him at odds with the Emperor, but He is not wrong in Pilate's eyes.
When the crowd demanded that Pilate carry on his tradition of releasing one prisoner during a festival, he succumbed; he looked for a murderous rebel. He picked someone the crowds would've hated worse. He picked someone who would safeguard Jesus' release.
Nevertheless, the Jews were stirred into a commotion and asking for Barabbas.
Pilate appealed to them again, because he wanted to release Yeshua. But they yelled, “Put him to death on the stake! Put him to death on the stake!” A third time he asked them, “But what has this man done wrong? I haven’t found any reason to put him to death. So I’m going to have him flogged and set free.” But they went on yelling insistently, demanding that he be executed on the stake; and their shouting prevailed."Why?" he asks. What crime did Jesus commit? Pilate still saw no guilt in the Accused. He didn't see Him as having done a thing wrong, not even in His claiming to be the Christ ("Everyone who claims to be a king is opposing the Emperor!" - John 19:12; in saying he found no guilt in Jesus, he was claiming that Jesus was not wrong in opposing Caesar).
Even as they demanded Christ's death, Pilate still asked their reason, but according to Matthew's account, they only got louder in demanding His death, to the point that a riot was starting. So in order to keep the peace, he gives in and allows Jesus to be crucified.
When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water, washed his hands in front of the crowd, and said, “My hands are clean of this man’s blood; it’s your responsibility.” (Matthew 27:24)He washed his hands because he didn't want the death of the Messiah on his head. Let someone else take the blame. And the Jews agreed to shoulder the responsibility. It would appear as though Pilate got with compliance Scot-free.
It may seem i'm defending Pilate in all of this, but such is not the case. This particular perspective creates something perhaps worse than seeing him as an accuser.
He washed his hands. He didn't want the burden. He didn't want the blame. He didn't want the guilt. He wasn't willing to risk his reputation for the man he himself had admitted to believing in. He wasn't willing to change for the sake of the Lord.
He embodied the modern Church's stance; "I won't let acknowledging Him change my life; won't let it make me uncomfortable or hated."
What's worse: to not believe, or to believe and not act? Surely the man who can see evil and does nothing about it is far greater an accomplice than the man ignorant of it. If Pilate had not known, that would've been one thing. But to believe and yet still allow it falls on an entirely different order of complacency.
If we truly believe Jesus to be the Messiah, we better be ready to defend that belief. We must be ready to lay down our reputation, find enmity in our friends, become an enemy of the government, and to lose everything we know and care about for His sake. Because if we don't, we will appease the crowd, wash our hands, and say, "Don't let this affect me."
In doing so, we are as guilty (nay, more guilty!) as those who don't believe.
The only way to have clean hands is to have them bathed in Christ's redemptive blood.