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?
Jesus does not make any attempt to exonerate Himself. This is frustrating to Pilate because it is so out of the ordinary, especially considering that Pilate seems to think Jesus is innocent. I think Pilate was either catering to the masses or mocking the Jews or maybe both. He repeatedly calls Jesus their king and rejects the Pharisees’ request to not have the sign “king of the Jews” on the cross. Pilate dresses Jesus in a royal robe and crown of thorns to mock and belittle Jesus. But he does not appear to be malicious to Jesus Himself, but rather intrigued and willing to let Jesus go.
I have often wondered what kind of man Barabbas was, his perspective on the events and on Jesus’ “redeeming” him from prison. So much speculation has gone into what he had done, but it seems the majority think he may have been a zealot. Regardless, Barabbas fit into the Sanhedrin’s expectations of a citizen than Jesus did. I think I identify more with Pilate because I know more about him from the Gospels. I have been swayed by the crowd, acted out of spite and scorn, lived for the pragmatic ideal. It is so easy in our culture.
One thing God was doing by allowing Jesus to be tried in this way was to establish Jesus as an innocent man, tried as a criminal, and executed amongst criminals. It also is telling of Jesus’ impeccable character and love even in the midst of suffering and humiliation. I think it may have also fulfilled scripture.
I think that Jesus’ response to Pilate proved his innocence. This is why Pilate was hesitant, because he knows deep down that Jesus is innocent, but yet still hands Jesus over to be crucified. Pilate valued his reputation and pleasing the relentless crowd over doing what was right. Like Pilate, I have made decisions throughout my life that dishonor the Lord. Like Barabbas, I should have been punished for my sin but Jesus took my place. I think that Barabbas teaches us about our own depravity, and gives a visual of what God did for us. Jesus took our place, just like He took Barabbas’ place. In reality, we are Barabbas. I believe this is why the Father allowed His Son to be tried this way, because it gave a realistic picture of what God has done for us. Many would find it outrageous to think that Barabbas would be freed and Jesus would suffer, yet this is the very thing that has happened to us. It is just as outrageous, if not more, that Jesus would be punished on our behalf. But this demonstrates God’s great love for us (Romans 5:8). Hallelujah!