Matt 27: 11-26
11 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. 12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer.
13 Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor. 15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the <emcrowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus [a] Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” 20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
As I have been preparing for Holy Week, I have been doing some historical research about our scripture text along with, much prayer, which is the very life and breath of these devotionals, cross referencing bible verses as well as a character study of those interacting with Jesus along the way.
Let’s take a look at Pilate. What are some things that we already know about him? Pontius Pilate was the fifth prefect or governor of Judaea from AD 26 to 36. He served under Emperor Tiberius. He is said to be responsible for sentencing Jesus to death by crucifixion. He was married to Claudia Procura and she went to Pilate when he was judging Jesus and begged him to have nothing to do with that innocent man (Matt 27:19 paraphrased).
Some other facts about Pilate and his wife are:
- Pilate usually ruled in Caesarea. He was only sent to Jerusalem to keep order during the Passover feast, a major national holiday.
- Pontius Pilate was concerned that if he took no action against Jesus, it could create more problems for him with the Roman government, as well as, the throngs of Jewish people who were calling for Jesus’ death.
- Pilate and his wife are commemorated as saints in many parts of the world, having remorse for sentencing Jesus to death.
- Pontius Pilate committed suicide as ordered by Emperor Caligula in about 39 AD, though some say it was in great remorse over the death of Jesus.
There is a part of me that feels sorry for Pontius Pilate. I’ve seen many portrayals of him in various movies, books and other media. From what I’ve seen, he felt pressured, by the Roman government that he so diligently served, by the Jewish leaders and rulers that sent Jesus to him for sentencing, by the crowds who had been stirred up by the chief priests and elders to have Barabbas released (Matt 27: 20), and finally by his own wife who had begged him to have nothing to do with Jesus. Pilate skirted around the issue and declared Jesus innocent, but, in the end, gave in to the pressure. He washed his hands in front of the crowd to say to the masses, “This is on you! I am innocent of this man’s bloodshed!” (Matt 27:24 paraphrased)
If only it were that easy. He still passed the death sentence, in a way, he was like Judas. The difference being that historical documents suggest that Pilate asked for forgiveness and gave his life to Jesus a few years later. Surprised to hear that?
Many people are.
How about you? Do you feel like you have done the unforgivable? Jesus is waiting
for you to talk with Him. The forgiveness is already there. The unforgivable was paid for
on the cross.
Next, we will take a look at Jesus Barabbas. Before this study, I strongly disdained putting the name Jesus next to Barabbas. However, after reading what his name means, it makes sense in a way you won’t believe! Barabbas’ name is derived from Aramaic, the language of the area at the time of the Messiah’s passion and death. Jesus Barabbas’ Aramaic translation of his name is Yeshua Bar-Abba or God saves, Son of the Father. This totally blew my mind because we all know that Barabbas was an insurrectionist, a bandit and a murderer. Yet the crowds shouted for his release when given a choice. They were shouting, “Give us Barabbas”, “Give us Son of the Father”!! Yes, they were influenced by Jewish leaders to make that choice, but they spoke the language, yet they didn’t even recognize what they were saying. Perhaps, calling for Barabbas’ pardon and release of his many sins, is symbolic of our own forgiveness of guilt, while Jesus Messiah, the innocent God/Man, took on the death sentence in our stead.
My last thought has to do the the chief priests and elders. Jesus called them many interesting things, knowing what they were thinking and doing. They were called “white washed tombs,” pretty on the outside, dead on inside. “Brood of vipers” which in our lingo means a “bunch of snakes”! That particular group of men can be seen in our scripture text, working the crowd to persuade them to choose Barabbas for release and sentence Jesus to death. Would the crowd have chosen differently without the Jewish leaders there to rabble rouse? After all, this was the same crowds shouting Hosanna less than a week before when Christ entered Jerusalem.
This is the way it had to work out to complete the mission which was the Father’s plan all along. That’s why Jesus came. Even if we want a different ending to this story, it’s was way that it had to be. We can be sad that it cost Jesus so much, but we must also be eternally grateful for His suffering, death and resurrection which has restored us to our Father in Heaven and guarantees a place for us in our eternal home.
Thank You, Papa, for loving us so much that You sent Your only Son here on such a difficult mission. Even Jesus wanted to be spared if there was a way. But, when there
wasn’t, He willingly gave it all for us. We honor and Praise You, oh High King of Heaven and Earth. In Jesus Name, Amen!