PILATE ATTEMPTS TO FREE JESUS
THE JEWS ASK FOR BARABBAS
JESUS IS MOCKED AND MISTREATED
Pilate told the crowd seeking Jesus’ death: “I . . . found in this man no grounds for the charges you are bringing against him. In fact, neither did Herod.” (Luke 23:14, 15) Now, trying to spare Jesus, Pilate uses another approach, saying to the people: “You have a custom that I should release a man to you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”
Pilate is aware of a prisoner named Barabbas, who is known as a robber, a seditionist, and a murderer. So Pilate asks: “Which one do you want me to release to you, Barabbas or Jesus the so-called Christ?” Having been stirred up by the chief priests, the people ask that Barabbas be released, not Jesus. Pilate asks again: “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” The crowd shouts: “Barabbas”!
Dismayed, Pilate asks: “What, then, should I do with Jesus the so-called Christ?” The people roar: “To the stake with him!” (Matthew 27:22) To their shame, they are demanding the death of an innocent man. Pilate pleads: “Why? What bad thing did this man do? I found in him nothing deserving of death; I will therefore punish him and release him.”
Despite Pilate’s repeated efforts, the enraged crowd yells in unison: “To the stake with him!” (Matthew 27:23) The religious leaders have worked the crowd into such a frenzy that they want blood! And it is not the blood of some criminal, some murderer. It is the blood of an innocent man who five days before was welcomed into Jerusalem as King. If Jesus’ disciples are present, they remain silent and inconspicuous.
Pilate sees that his appeals are doing no good. An uproar is arising, so he takes some water and washes his hands before the eyes of the crowd. He tells them: “I am innocent of the blood of this man. You yourselves must see to it.” Even that does not put the people off. Rather, they say: “Let his blood come upon us and upon our children.”
The governor wishes to satisfy them more than he wishes to do what he knows is right. So in accord with their demand, Pilate releases Barabbas to the mob. He has Jesus stripped and then scourged.
After this torturous beating, the soldiers take Jesus into the governor’s palace. The body of troops gather and heap further abuse on him. They braid a crown of thorns and push it down on his head. The soldiers also put a reed in Jesus’ right hand and put a scarlet-colored robe on him, such as is worn by royalty. They say with scorn: “Greetings, you King of the Jews!” (Matthew 27:28, 29) More than that, they spit on Jesus and keep slapping his face. Taking the sturdy reed from him, they hit him on the head with it, driving deeper into his scalp the sharp thorns of his humiliating “crown.”
Jesus’ remarkable dignity and strength through all of this so impresses Pilate that he makes another attempt to absolve himself, saying: “See! I bring him outside to you in order for you to know that I find no fault in him.” Could Pilate think that bringing Jesus out now, bruised and bleeding, would move the crowds to relent? As Jesus stands before the heartless mob, Pilate proclaims: “Look! The man!”
Though battered and wounded, Jesus displays a quiet dignity and calm that even Pilate must acknowledge, for his words seem to mingle respect with pity.