The verse has only 38 words in the King James Version of the Bible: “When [Pilate] was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him” (Matt. 27:19).
Pilate is in a terrible dilemma: He doesn’t know what to do with Jesus. He is typical of people who want to do right but are tempted to do wrong.
It's early Friday morning. Christ has been illegally tried before the Jewish authorities. Ellen White describes the scene: "When the Savior was brought into the judgment hall," "[Pilate] had been called from his bedchamber. . . . He was prepared to deal with the prisoner with magisterial severity.”* But time is running out for Pilate as he deliberates about how to pass judgment on Jesus.
Dramatically, at the very time Pilate is hesitating concerning the verdict he will render about Jesus, he receives a message from his wife, who, according to Christian tradition, later became a follower of Christ. Some believe Pilate’s wife is the Claudia of church history, and may have been referred to by Paul in 2 Timothy 4:21.
The dream passage—Matthew 27:19—contains five principles that reveal grace and offer insight about how God provides escape from temptation.
Wherever there is sowing, there will be reaping.
First, we see the timing of providence: “When he was set down on the judgment seat . . .” God has divine sympathy for persons subject to temptation. At the right time He uses providence to interrupt their descent into error and sin.
Second, the rationale for right: “his wife . . .” God sought to provide Pilate an escape through his wife’s challenge to avoid implementing a gross injustice. Today God uses the Bible, family, friends, memories, and events to arrest wrongdoing.
Third, the appeal of logic: “Have thou nothing to do with that just man . . .” Pilate’s wife doesn’t simply say, “Don’t do wrong”; she gives a definite reason he should do right. She knows, as Pilate does, that Jesus has done no wrong. Like Joseph with Potiphar’s wife, sin is wrong done against others and God (Gen. 39:7-10).
Fourth, the impact of sin: “For I have suffered many things this day in a dream . . .” Doing wrong always has negative consequences. Unrighteousness is never an isolated act; whenever there is sowing there will be reaping (Gal. 6:7). The antidote is confession, repentance, and submission to God’s will.
Fifth, the inevitability of judgment: “Because of him.” The end of all things is judgment (Heb. 9:27). How Christ is treated will be the cause for the rising and falling of many (Luke 2:34). In her dream Pilate’s wife saw the Crucifixion, Second Coming, and final judgment.
Pilate didn’t accept his wife’s warning, and, as far as we know, never made peace with God. According to some traditions he was later exiled and committed suicide. His life is a tragic example of spurning grace. May we be the wiser for it.
* Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), pp. 723, 724.
Delbert W. Baker is vice chancellor of the Adventist University of Africa, near Nairobi, Kenya.