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Pilate Stones and Jesus Rocks

Pilate Stones and Jesus Rocks

I can’t read Latin, and many of the letters had crumbled away, but the name etched into thelimestone was still obvious to me. The second line on the stone clearly said, “Pilatus,” as in Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea.

Outside of the Bible and other writings that mention Pilate, this stone provided the first concrete evidence (or “limestone evidence”) that Pontius Pilate, the man who condemned Jesus to death, walked this earth.

My wife and I saw a replica of this “Pilate Stone” when we came to what remains of Caesarea Maritima, perched on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It was our first day in Israel, and the jet-lag had yet to strike as we picked our way across the archaeological site beneath a sky as blue as the water. The remains of the city shone a brilliant light brown on this sunny spring day.

Although the Pilate Stone that we saw was a replica, the original had been discovered on this very site in 1961 while archaeologists were digging around an ancient theater at Caesarea Maritima, the city built by Herod the Great along the Mediterranean Sea. According to the inscription, the stone was part of the dedication for a temple built to worship the Roman emperor, Tiberius. Later, in the fourth century, the stone was used as part of a staircase built behind an ancient theater.

What were the odds that this stone would be used in multiple building projects and yet remain intact, with Pilate’s name visible, and be discovered all those years later? It’s truly remarkable.

As the stone indicates, Pilate was the prefect, or governor, of Judea. His home base was in Caesarea Maritima, which Herod the Great had built to rival the cities of Rome. In fact, Herod was obsessed with all things Roman, and his goal with Caesarea Maritima was to create a magnificent, Roman-style city. It had all of the proper features—a temple dedicated to Caesar, a palace, a theater, an aqueduct to supply water, and a hippodrome. (A hippodrome is for racing chariots and horses, not hippos, although I wouldn’t put it past the Romans to race hippos and other exotic animals.)

Most spectacular was the harbor that Herod constructed at Caesarea Maritima, using concrete that could harden underwater—a technology way ahead of its time. The harbor was believed to be large enough to handle 300 ships.

Herod thought big, and he built big, in the hopes that he would be remembered forever. He thought the way to be remembered was to imitate the Romans, the most powerful Empire the world had ever seen. But the book of Romans tells us something completely different. In Romans 12:2, Paul writes, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

A “form” is a shape. So when we conform, we shape our thoughts and ideas so they match someone else’s. But Paul warns us against shaping our thoughts to the pattern of the world. He says to be “transformed,” which means to change the shape of your thoughts. Instead of allowing our minds to be mindlessly molded by the world around us, Paul urges us to allow our minds to be shaped by God, like a potter works with clay.

Herod was a conformist of historical proportions as he followed the style of Rome. Pontius Pilate was also famous for conforming. When Jesus was brought before Pilate as a prisoner, the prefectwanted to release the Christ, who had been arrested for blasphemy. But when the crowd began shouting, “Crucify him,” Pilate crumbled like old stone, and he gave in. He conformed to the crowd, and Jesus died.

Paul, on the other hand, was the ultimate nonconformist. He never stopped talking about Jesus, even when he was imprisoned for his actions. Ironically, he was put in prison in Caesarea Maritima, the very same city where the Pilate Stone was discovered. Herod’s city.

Today, Caesarea Maritima’s theater, which once sat about 3,500 people, is still in good shape. But the beautiful palace located on the edge of the water is just an outline of stones on the ground. Rocks, such as the Pilate Stone, crumble and wear away. Kingdoms and rulers on earth do not last. Kings and prefects do not survive. But we will live forever with God when we allow Him to transform us.

The Jesus Rock is far stronger than the Pilate Rock because Jesus is a Rock that doesn’t crumble. Jesus is a Rock that will remain standing throughout all eternity. And we too will remain throughout eternity—if we hold on to Him.

History by the Slice Family Activity

Google “Caesarea Maritima” and check out images of the ruins of this ancient city. Next, read Acts 23:12-35 and Romans 12:1-2. Then discuss these questions:

1. How did Paul find out about the plot to kill him in Jerusalem?
2. How did Paul escape from Jerusalem and wind up in Caesarea Maritima?
3. What did the letter to Governor Felix say?
4. Where was Paul kept under guard?
5. In Romans, what does it mean to offer your body as a living sacrifice?
6. How are we conformed to this world?
7. How can you be transformed?

8. What does Romans say you will be able to do when you are transformed by the renewing of your mind?

By: Doug Peterson has written 42 books for VeggieTales and is the author of four historical novels: The Disappearing Man, The Puzzle People, The Vanishing Woman, and The Lincoln League. His latest are six books in The Legends of Lightfall series. Learn more about Doug and his books at www.bydougpeterson.com. 

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