We are with Jesus again today as He finishes His time with Pilate. Jesus has answered none of the religious leader’s charges, except the one concerning Him being King of the Jews. Jesus’ attitude and behavior impressed Pilate. In our reading today we will see how hard Pilate tried to release Jesus.
Pilate was a Roman citizen and the Governor of this province. That is why the High Priest and the Sanhedrin brought Jesus to him. He had the power to carry out a sentence of death upon any prisoner. The Jewish religious leaders lacked that authority, as they were under Roman rule.
One of Pilate’s main jobs was to keep the peace. He was charged with keeping the Jewish people in line, collecting taxes, and ruling on legal matters of higher importance. Today he would find himself in conflict with two of his duties. He was ruling on the legality of the death sentence for Jesus and keeping the peace in Jerusalem.
We have already read about Jesus being delivered to Pilate and His inquisition. Pilate really did take the religious leaders’ concerns seriously, but he found no basis of fact for their charges. He tries telling them that Jesus has committed no crime worthy of death, but they would hear none of it. Pilate is a shrewd leader and has realized that the only reason Jesus is even on trial is because the religious leaders are jealous of Jesus’ power and are afraid of losing their own positions of power. Pilate was also warned by his own wife concerning getting mixed up in the religious leaders’ schemes. His wife has reported that she has been having troubling dreams concerning “that righteous man.” Pilate has learned from experience not to discount her dreams.
Because the stubborn, stiff necked religious leaders won’t listen, it is time to appeal to the people. Pilate hopes to go around the religious leaders and get the people to do what is right; to free Jesus. Jesus has been popular with the crowd so this should be easy enough to accomplish. What Pilate doesn’t know is that the religious leaders have been working on the crow while Pilate was occupied with Jesus’ inquisition. They have seeded the crowd with their followers and people dedicated to their plans.
Pilate sits on his judgement seat thinking about the problem. He calls for the jailer. When the jailer arrives he questions him about all the prisoners currently in custody. Jesus has been sent to the holding area to await Pilate’s decision. Pilate is interested in hearing about the prisoners with the most heinous offenses. A man named Barabbas is listed among the prisoners currently in custody and his charges include murder and sedition. Sedition was a very serious crime, to Rome and to the Jews. Rome was famous for mercilessly crushing anyone involved in such acts. The Jews didn’t want to be caught under the Roman boot. After hearing his full report, Pilate instructed the jailer to ready both Jesus and Barabbas for presentation to the crowd.
Now it was time to bait the hook. Pilate stepped out on his portico and called the crowd to attention with a wave of his hand. Pilate signaled the guards to bring both prisoners forward. “You know it is the custom for me to release to you one prisoner during the feast. I have for you two choices. Tell me whom should I release? Do you wish Barabbas, the murderer, or Jesus, who is called Christ?”
Before Pilate even finished presenting the choices the people began to answer that they wanted Barabbas released. “Give us Barabbas.” Pilate is stunned. This was NOT what he expected. Is this man Jesus truly that hated? Maybe they didn’t understand the seriousness of Barabbas’ crimes and Jesus’ lack of guilt. Pilate decides to try representing the evidence and calling for another vote.
“Barabbas is before you on several charges of murder. He killed several people in his mad push for power. If freed he will surely return to his ways and cost the lives of many more of your citizens. Jesus on the other hand has been reported to be healing the sick and other such good works. Which of these two men do you wish me to release?” During Pilate’s speech he has had to caution the people to remain respectful while he was speaking. This was accomplished through the use of well-placed guards and meaningful looks sent out by them.
As soon as the offer is completed from Pilate’s mouth the people begin to shout, “Give us Barabbas! Barabbas! Barabbas!” There is no mistaking their intent. Pilate is sweating profusely by this time. What is wrong with these people? Don’t they realize that they are condemning an innocent man?
“Fine. I will release Barabbas. But what am I to do with Jesus who is called Christ?” Immediately the crowd yells out, “Let Him be crucified!” Pilate tries one last time. “Why? What crime has He committed?” The crowd starts chanting “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Their cry is so loud it is reverberating off the building.
Pilate realizes that the crowd is getting out of hand, so he holds up his hands again for silence. It takes a few moments, and a few soldiers grabbing people in the crowd, before order is restored. Pilate calls his servant to him and instructs him to bring out a basin of water and towel. The crowd stands silent but ready as they wait to see what Pilate will do next.
Once the basin arrives, Pilate slowly dips his hands in the water and begins scrubbing at them vigorously. As he scrubs he speaks from a heavy heart, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to His death yourselves. I want no part of it.” Pilate retrieves the towel from his servant’s arm and begins drying his hands. The crowd as one replied to Pilate’s statement by saying, “Let His blood be on us and on our children!”
Pilate turned to the guard holding Barabbas and said, “Release him to the people. Let his crime be on their hands.” Pilate then turns to the guards holding Jesus and said, “Take Him and scourge Him in preparation for crucifixion. Let His blood be on their heads.”
Pilate leaves his portico and returns to his judgement seat. Pilate is angry with the people and he is furious with the religious leaders. How could they be so arrogant!?! They got what they wanted. He had to sacrifice his principles today to prevent an outright riot and possible rebellion. It is a good thing he was able to get control of the situation. There is no telling what would have become of him and this town if he hadn’t given in to their demands.
While Pilate is sitting on his judgement seat he has an idea of how he can get back at the religious leaders in a way that they can’t do anything about. It is required for each prisoner being executed to have their charges posted. Pilate calls his scribe and instructs him in the writing of the charges against Jesus. The scribe is told to write, in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, “This is Jesus King of the Jews.” Pilate smiles to himself as he envisions the faces of the religious leaders as they read this inscription. He will NOT relent on this.
Father God, it is amazing the influence the religious leaders wielded during that exchange. In truth, it was You who actually allowed them this influence. You could have easily prevented this, but this too was part of Your plan. Jesus had to die for us and You chose the method of crucifixion. This would involve both Gentile and Jews in Jesus’ death. The guilt of Jesus’ blood would be spread over all people this way.
Lord Jesus, I’m so sorry for all You endured. I know my sin was a part of the burden You carried through Your ordeal. I have done so much against You, yet You love me anyway. I don’t know why but I am SO grateful for Your love.
Where were the people who loved You during the crowd’s cry? Were they crying out for You? Were You holding them silent? Were they afraid to speak? I know it was God’s plan, but the silence of their voices, did it pierce Your heart? It does mine. I wish I could have shouted out for You. I don’t want to judge them because I was not in their shoes. Forgive me for ever believing that I would have acted differently. Please let me act differently now though. Give me boldness when asked to stand for You. Thank You for Your blood being on my head. Never let me forget the price You paid to put it there.