Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. "Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate, knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. "What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?" Pilate asked them. "Crucify him!" they shouted. "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!" Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
In a Nutshell
Now Mark tells us of the freeing of a criminal while the Innocent is handed over to be crucified.
Think about the way the religious leaders had trapped Pilate.
What kind of ruler is it who takes orders from a mob?
Mark's story seems to have told us something of his own difficulties. He tells us how Peter got into difficulties and finally collapsed. It sounds like a nervous breakdown. He also tells us how the Chief Priests and Pharisees got into trouble, deep trouble. Their deceit was obvious. Pilate almost decided to let Him go. But …. instead of taking the just and right decision Pilate hesitated. And then … Maybe Pilate had realised he would expose the terror-campaign of the religious authorities against their own people - against Jesus and His disciples (John 18:19). He realised the religious leaders had conspired to get rid of Jesus.
The high priest was embarrassed by this event but was still as determined as ever to get rid of Jesus. And the soldiers - they couldn't help themselves and started belting this helpless Man. This Fellow, whoever He was, was simply a helpless prisoner. Whoever He was, no-one was stepping forward to grant Him asylum. Whoever He was, He was fair game. Probably He was just another trouble maker. The soldiers had had a long night. But Pilate was in a fix.
It is Luke who tells us about Herod's Jerusalem holiday at the time Pilate learned that Jesus was a Galilean. So could holiday-maker Herod sort it out? Perhaps this fellow would speak to Herod. Pilate was no a good judge of character. Would Jesus allow Himself to be interrogated by the cowardly killer of His cousin? Herod was hardly interested in justice (Luke 23:6-12). But the occasion became famous afterwards because out of it Herod and Pontius Pilate became really good buddies.
So not even the word of a ruler's wife on behalf of an innocent and righteous man (Matthew 27:19) can prevail when power and pomp is at stake. Pilate, knowing the envy, and suspecting the evil intent of the Jewish authorities, had every reason to hesitate. Was he being used? Remember, now we know the rest of the story. What we are reading here is the slaughter of the Innocent. What we have here is an unjust execution. Pilate clearly and unequivocally indicates that the religious leaders had no case. There was no case for Jesus to answer. And so … but instead of making a public declaration of Jesus' innocence, Pilate plays to the mob, plays to the religious leaders and the crowd that had gathered. Pilate had privately declared Him to be innocent …. he tried to strike a deal.
Mark may have been a young fellow. But his account is breathtaking. This is about evil. Jesus is innocent and Pilate tries to bargain with the crowd.
"Who do you want? Jesus or Barabbas?"
Pilate thought he might come out a winner. Roman Governors really do know how to get things done, don't they? But Psalm 146 says:
Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man in whom there is no help.
When his breath departs he returns to the earth; on that day his plans perish.
This song was not in Pilate's I-Tunes list. He could hardly put his trust in this helpless Son of Man, but he presumed he could get Jesus off by some smart scheme. He could stitch a deal. He could negotiate. He could get the mob on side.
Mark avoids saying outright what his readers would be thinking. Pilate is a fool! The situation got worse. Things began to get ugly. The Jewish authorities were off-side, Herod's blood-thirsty regime in Galilee was also exposed. Questions could be asked. Questions higher up. Questions back at Rome. Now it was Pilate's ability to maintain crowd control. And the crowd cried out:
Crucify Him; Crucify Him!
Remember Hosanna? That was a week earlier. But this was a different cry. Jesus didn't play politics. Jesus wasn't on a power trip. He didn't save His innocent skin by performing tricks for the audience. And so, Jesus paid the price.
So Pilate wishing to satisfy the crowd released Barabbas for them …
Barabbas - hero for the day …. the guilty went free. The innocent went to the gallows to allow the guilty to go free. Pilate played with people's lives to safeguard his own place in Caesar's Empire.
Pilate delivered Jesus over to them to be crucified.
O wondrous love, that suffered such correction!
The Shepherd dying for His flock's protection,
The Master pays the debts His servants owe Him
And they betray Him!