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Matthew 27:19 meaning

Pilate's Wife's Troubling Dream: Pilate's wife sends him a message during the middle of Jesus's civil trial. The Roman governor receives it while he is sitting in the seat of judgment. The message is for Pilate to have no part in Jesus's conviction or execution, because his wife suffered a terrible dream about this righteous Man the night before. This event is part of the third phase of Jesus's Civil Trial. This phase is called: "Pilate's Judgment."

There are no apparent parallels for Matthew 27:19 in the Gospels.

Matthew continues his narration through the third phase of Jesus's civil trial. 

The three phases of Jesus's civil trial were:

  1. Jesus's Arraignment before Pilate
    (Matthew 27:1-2, 11-14, Mark 15:1-5, Luke 23:1-7, John 18:28-38)
  2. Jesus's Audience before Herod Antipas
    (Luke 23:8-12)
  3. Pilate's Judgment
    (Matthew 27:15-26, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:13-25, John 18:38 - 19:16)

To learn more about the timing and sequencing of these events, see The Bible Says' "Timeline: Jesus's Final 24 Hours."

In the previous verses, Matthew informed his readers of Pilate's offer to the crowd asking them which person they wanted him to release for them: Jesus, called Christ (whom the governor already twice declared to be innocent—Luke 23:4, 23:14-15, John 18:38b) or the notorious prisoner Barabbas (Matthew 27:17). 

Mark and John appear to suggest that, initially, Pilate only offered to release Jesus (Mark 15:9, John 18:39) and that it is the chief priests who proposed Barabbas as an alternative. After their suggestion of Barabbas, Pilate accepts their framing, and offers to release either Jesus, the King of the Jews, or Barabbas. Matthew's account only mentions Pilate's offer with both Jesus and Barabbas. 

If Pilate's offer evolved this way, then just prior to his offer of Jesus or Barabbas he had only proposed to pardon and release Jesus. Then, before Pilate's either/or offer, something unexpected occurred.

Apparently, after Pilate gave the crowd of priests, elders, scribes and ordinary people the offer to (only) release Jesus, he sat down on the judgment seat to allow them a moment to consider their answer.

While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message (v 19a).

Pilate's wife sent him a message in the middle of the trial. The fact the Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, while he was informed of her message indicates that he may have been about to render a final verdict. An interruption such as this would have been unexpected and highly unusual. It possibly embarrassed Pilate who was trying to gain the upper hand in managing the crowd and who was known for using excessive force whenever he was challenged. 

Pausing the trial to attended to his wife's message could have felt to him and signaled to others vulnerability and weakness, precisely the opposite qualities an insecure Roman politician would want to project at this moment.

The fact that Pilate received her message possibly indicates a considerable measure of urgency and/or insistence from his wife when she sent it.

Even more troubling to Pilate was what her message to him actually said: "Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him" (v 19b). 

That righteous Man was Jesus. And Pilate's wife wanted her husband, the governor, to have nothing to do with His conviction or death, because of her troubling dream

Matthew does not reveal the specific contents of this dream, only that Pilate's wife told her husband that she suffered greatly from this dream about Him. Nor does Matthew state that his wife's message and/or dream had an effect one way or the other upon Pilate. He only notes that it happened and perhaps implied that it bothered him

If it did bother him, Pilate may have had flashbacks to the stories he probably heard about Julius Caesar seventy years earlier, when Caesar's wife, Calpurnia, begged him not to go to the forum because of her troubling dreams. Caesar went anyway and was violently assassinated by the senate upon his arrival. 

What we do know is that Pilate had been seeking Jesus's release prior to Matthew's report about his wife's upsetting message and dream. We also know that Pilate continued to go out of his way to release Jesus, whom he believed to be a righteous Man (Luke 23:20, 23:22, John 19:1-5, 6, 8, 12 14-15). And we know that Pilate tried to absolve himself of any possible guilt when he handed Jesus over to be crucified (Matthew 27:24-25). 

Moreover, we know that these merciful attempts fraught with political risk to Pilate seem out of character from Pilate's normal pattern of behavior, which included defying Jewish laws and threatening death to those who did not comply (Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. XVIII.3.1), setting a trap to kill Jews who opposed the building of an aqueduct (Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. XVIII:3.2), mixing the blood of executed Galileans in their sacrifices (Luke 13:1), and slaughtering Samaritan worshippers (Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. XVIII.4.1). 

All this to say, Pilate's uneasiness about putting Jesus to death was notable, and his unease was likely exacerbated by his wife's message and dream

But Pilate caves to the pressure of the mob and hands Jesus over to be executed. The Bible (Acts 4:27), the Apostle's Creed ("suffered under Pontius Pilate"), and history have assigned him blame for this cowardly action. A few years after this, on an unrelated matter, Pilate will be called to Rome and dismissed from his post, never to be heard from again. 

Church lore holds that Pilate's wife later became a believer in Jesus, and that her name was "Claudia" or "Procula."

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