Jesus had spent the entire night after His arrest in the halls of the Jewish leaders. They had accused Him, beaten Him, and sent Him on to Pilate to make sure that His judgment would end in death. When Pilate witnessed the jealousy of the leaders and the breathtaking dignity of Christ, he could not bring himself to make the judgment that the leaders were demanding. Instead of making a decision, he sent Jesus to King Herod so he could deal with it. When Herod was not able to reach any conclusions about the case of Christ, he sent the Lord back to Pilate. By that time, the whole city knew that Jesus, the radical young preacher who so many thought was the Messiah, was on trial.
Pilate had a tradition with the Jewish people. Every Passover, he would let them request any one prisoner, and Pilate would set him free. At that time, the Romans were holding a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. He was part of a Jewish resistance movement that wanted to overthrow the power of the Roman government over Judea. His group had whipped up insurrections against Pilate. Barabbas himself had committed murder and robbery in the process. Many of the Jews held him in contempt for his crimes, while others loved him for his cause. They hated Roman rule, and so Barabbas was a kind of hero for his daring, deadly exploits.
The Jews had gathered outside the Praetorium to ask Pilate to release the Passover prisoner. Meanwhile, Pilate called up the religious rulers and chief priests and said of Jesus, “‘You brought this Man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and after examining Him before you, behold, I did not find this Man guilty of any of your charges against Him. Neither did Herod, for he sent Him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by Him. I will therefore punish and release Him.’” Pilate increasingly realized that the only reason these men had brought Jesus before him was out of envy. However, their jealousy was no reason for him to kill an innocent man.
Pilate went out to the crowd and sat on his judgment seat. He said, “‘Who do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Christ?’” Surely the crowds would side with the Preacher! Once again the Jews had a choice…they were faced with an opportunity to repent of their accusations. They could have demanded the Jesus go free.
While Pilate was sitting there, he received a message from his wife. “‘Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.’” Once again, Pilate was being offered a chance. He was given a warning. He had a choice.
Meanwhile, the chief priests and elders had been going out among the crowds, convincing them to ask Pilate to release Barabbas instead of Jesus. They incited them to demand that Jesus be put to death. How active was their hate! How skilled they were at manipulating their people to their own ends.
Pilate called out, “‘Which of the two do you want me to release to you?’”
“‘Away with this Man!’” the mob declared, “‘and release for us Barabbas!’”
Imagine the position of Pilate. He had a riot on his hands, and yet he was a man committed to Roman justice. Rather then send Jesus to His death, Pilate had Him taken and scourged with whips by his soldiers. Perhaps if the religious leaders saw that Jesus had been humiliated and punished, they would be satisfied. Perhaps Pilate could save His life.
The soldiers had been listening to rumors of this Jesus all day. By the time He was brought to them, the accusation that He had claimed to be King was well known. It was such a ridiculous thing for a lowly little Jew to say that they couldn’t resist the temptation to make sport of Him.
In the violence and malice of their own dark souls, they found true delight in beating Him with whips until Jesus’ blood ran down His back. By the time they were done, the flesh on His back was torn and raw all the way down to His muscles and bone. But the cruel savagery of the Roman soldiers wasn’t satisfied yet. Some of them had gone and cut branches with long thorns. They weaved it into a crown and crushed it onto His head. Then they put the robe of royal purple on across the shoulders of His wretched, bleeding back. “‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” they declared as they beat Him in the face.
The soldiers brought Jesus back to Pilate. The torture Christ had suffered was evident. Surely this would be enough. Pilate went out to the crowds and said, “‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.’” Then Jesus was walked out before the people. Blood dripped from the crown of thorns on His head, and the purple robe clung to His bloody body.
Pilate declared, “‘Behold, the Man!’” Perhaps after the shock of seeing Jesus in such a terrible state, they would relent. But they did not. “‘What shall I do with Jesus, who is called the King of the Jews?’” he asked.
The chief priests began to yell out, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!’” The crowd joined in. The people were working themselves into a fury.
“‘Why? What evil has He done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; I will therefore punish Him and release Him’” Pilate said. But the crowd only grew louder: “‘Crucify Him!’” they screamed.
In the midst of the chaos, some of the Jews told Pilate, “‘We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.’”
This only made Pilate more afraid. Jesus had already told him that He was a King of another place, and his wife was having dreams about Him. He went back into the Praetorium where Jesus was being kept. “‘Where are you from?’” he asked.
But Jesus wouldn’t answer. Pilate spoke with exasperation, “‘You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?’”
Jesus said to him, “‘You would not have authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin.””
Wow. The assured, dynamic confidence of Christ vibrated throughout every word. It rang out even in His silence. Pilate mistakenly believed that he was the highest authority that day. Jesus told him that in fact, Pilate received his authority from God…and the outcome of this sinful day was of God’s choosing.
When Pilate heard this, he began to make even greater efforts to save Jesus. But the Jews were growing more and more out of control. He could tell that there were about to break out into a riot. The some of the Jews declared, “‘If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar’”
Their words were no true expression of loyalty to the Caesar of Rome. The Jews hated the emperor as much as they despised Pilate and Herod. They were making a threat. If Pilate didn’t crucify Jesus, they would take a case of this all the way to Rome. They would accuse Pilate of treason. In Rome, treason was punishable by death. That was not a sacrifice that Pilate was willing to make for this Man.
When Pilate heard this, he went out and sat down again on his judgment seat. By this time, the early hours of morning had passed and midday was approaching. The events of the Passover celebration at the Temple were in full swing. At noon, the Passover lambs would be sacrificed in remembrance of the blood that saved the firstborn sons of Israel on that dark night in Egypt fifteen hundred years before. It paved the way for the salvation of the nation. Now the Firstborn Son of God would offer His blood to bring salvation to all the nations.
Pilate had Jesus brought out before the people. “‘Behold, your King!’” he said.
“‘Away with Him, crucify Him!’” the people cried. The frenzy of the mob had reached a fevered pitch.
“‘Shall I crucify your King?’” Pilate asked.
The chief priests declared, “‘We have no king but Caesar!’”
Wow. The chief priests of the nation of Israel had declared their utter rejection of the Son of God…and of God the Father, the King of Heaven.
Pilate took some water and washed his hands in front of the raging crowd. “‘I am innocent of this Man’s blood’” he declared. “‘See to that yourselves.’”
The crowd shouted back, “‘His blood be on us and on our children!’”
Then Pilate pronounced the sentence against Jesus. The demands of the religious leaders and the crowds were to be granted. Barabbas was released into freedom, and Jesus was delivered up to be crucified.