In our study of Mark chapter fifteen, we look at Pontius Pilate's decision to give in to a mob rather than to stand up for truth and the final hours of Jesus' earthly ministry. We will see how each and every one of us have the same choice to make.
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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.
As we saw in chapter 14, the Sanhedrin had met to find a way to eliminate Jesus but they did not have the authority to put anyone to death. They had accused Him of blasphemy (a charge of which he was not guilty) but that would still not allow them to put Him to death. They decided to hand Jesus over to the Roman authorities who routinely executed people.
'Are you the king of the Jews?' asked Pilate. 'You have said so,' Jesus replied. The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, 'Aren't you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.' But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.
We see that, instead of the charge of blasphemy, the Sanhedrin charged Jesus with treason against the Romans by saying that He was the "king of the Jews". Pontius Pilate was a politician and, as it always is with politicians, they are consumed with retaining their power and position. So, Pilate asked Jesus if the charge was true and Jesus did not directly say yes or no and refused to answer the accusations that were made against Him. We see that "Pilate was amazed" by the fact that Jesus did not defend Himself like a normal prisoner. Surely, Pilate was used to men begging him to spare their lives but Jesus did not even utter a word. He could have easily opened His mouth and proved that the charges were false but, in keeping quiet, Jesus was remaining focused on the will of the Father. The prophet Isaiah had foretold the fact that the Messiah would not cry out even as He was being afflicted and oppressed (see Isaiah 53:7). Even as He was facing death, Jesus held true to the word of God as given by the prophets.
Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested.
The "festival" refers to the Passover and Pilate had a tradition of releasing a prisoner that was on the Roman death row in Jerusalem. We remember that he was ever the politician and this act of generosity was intended to maintain peace in the area.
A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.
Barabbas was a Zealot that had taken part in one of the many small uprisings against the Roman occupation of Israel. He had been caught and convicted of murder so he would have been sitting in prison waiting for his time of execution. The Zealots opposed paying taxes to a pagan emperor as well as all influence of pagan culture in the land of Israel.
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 self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
Pilate gave the crowd the opportunity to choose Jesus to be released because he knew that Jesus was not really guilty of anything. He knew that it was the religious leaders that wanted Barabbas released and they were wanting Pilate to kill Jesus because they could not. So, what does this have to do with us as Christians in the world today? This passage shows us the dangers of trusting in any politician as well as trusting in a crowd to do the right thing. Each time there is an election in the world, it seems that politicians try to bribe Christians to make them happy (much like Pilate did with the Jews in this situation). We must remember that a true politician is more concerned about maintaining their own power and position than doing the right thing. We also see that a crowd is easily manipulated into doing the wrong thing. Even so, we have to remember that God was in control of this situation and His plan was still being carried out.
'What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?' Pilate asked them. 'Crucify him!' they shouted.
The politician continues to play to the wishes of the mob as he asks them what to do with Jesus. Their answer was to have Him crucified and we often forget that this was not a punishment that was handed down to your average person who committed a crime. This punishment was reserved for slaves and the vilest of offenders and was designed to maximize suffering and humiliation. It makes us ask the question of why the crowd would call for that punishment. It comes down to the fact that the leaders of the religious system wanted to disgrace Jesus and, by doing so, to cause His followers to abandon what they considered to be a cult.
'Why? What crime has he committed?' asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, 'Crucify him!'
In this verse, we are reminded of the fact that Pilate knew that Jesus had not committed a crime but he also was willing to do whatever it took to keep his position and authority. This also serves to remind us of the way things will be in the last days. A political leader will emerge that will stir up the masses and oppose God much like what was happening here. Even so, we are once again reminded of the fact that this was all in God's plan and He is in control.
Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
Pilate went above and beyond the desires of the crowd as he delivered Jesus up first to be flogged. This was a process where the prisoner was whipped using a special whip that had pieces of bone embedded in the ends of the strips of leather. These pieces of bone would rip through the flesh and cause maximum damage and suffering. The Jews limited flogging to 40 lashes but would actually limit it to 39 in case there was a miscount. The Romans had no such restriction and, in fact, many people did not survive the flogging.