Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.
2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”
5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.
6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.
9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
13 “Crucify him!” they shouted.
14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
Pilate and Barabbas
Pilate has been represented many ways. The images that come to mind of this scene are now images marked by The Passion of The Christ by Mel Gibson. In some ways such a movie helps clarify the imagination, in other ways it spoils the ideas that we have had. I had always imagined Pilate as a skinny man, but the movie represents him as well fed. The text and the movie do agree, though, on the fact that he was indecisive. Some people in history have tried to show him as virtuous, but in the end he is a pragmatist. He is a political figure swayed by the request of the majority into doing what is wrong.
Of course, the Bible says that the majority in each age will continue with their lives unaffected by the gospel. They will continue to make moral choices more mindful of themselves than of any deeper principles. America and the west are in a moral decline of sorts despite our scientific advancements. Scientific studies show our sense of fair-play and honour are being corroded by self-serving pragmatism. If government in democracies is formed by the majority, our futures look bleak. If we allow ourselves to go with the trends of our times, like Pilate, we may be reluctant but our condition will be the worse for it.
Barabbas is an interesting figure. The Passion of the Christ portrays him as grotesque, but I do not think that was the case. I believe he shows the kind of person who attempts to bring the redemption of Israel by violent means. Many in the crowd would have associated with Barabbas because he had the courage of his convictions to throw off Roman tyranny. So they clamour for his release possibly because he is like them. Mark shows how Jesus is exchanged for one like them. His peaceful act of submission and servanthood stands in stark contrast with the majority’s desire for violent revenge. Their representative goes free because Jesus pays his price.
Jesus, like Pilate I am swayed by the masses and my sense of morality is sometimes dulled by media, friends, and daydreaming. I find myself excusing questionable choices because those around me have deemed those choices acceptable. Let me not compromise in those areas. Help me to live out the exchanged life that you have purchased. Like Barabbas, I should have been condemned. Like him I want control, respect, and power but you have replaced the way of revenge and rebellion with a way of peace and grace. Help me to walk in it.
- If Jesus’ response was translated “Whatever you say,” how does that explain Pilate’s consternation?
- Why do you think Pilate still crucifies Jesus?
- What does Barabbas teach us?
- How do you identify with Pilate and Barabbas?
- What was God the Father doing in allowing his Son to be tried in this way?