Trial Before Pilate, 27:11-26
After Jesus was pronounced innocent, the chief priests and scribes renewed their vehement accusations, in reply to which Jesus was completely silent. As Lenski points out, this is the second important silence of Christ, the first being in Matthew 26:63 and the third in John 19:9. Pilate marveled that Christ could keep silent under the circumstances. The fact is that after Pilate pronounced Him innocent, Jesus was under no obligation to answer the Jews further; and, if more investigation was required, it was up to Pilate to reverse his former judgment and continue the examination. It was in the course of further accusation by the chief priests and the scribes that Pilate learned that Jesus was from Galilee and used this as an occasion to refer the whole matter to Herod.
When Jesus was later sent by Herod back to Pilate, a plan occurred to Pilate to get out of his problem. According to Matthew 27:15, it had been the custom for many years to release a prisoner whom the people would choose on the occasion of the feast. Pilate picked the worst possible prisoner, Barabbas, who, according to Mark 15:7, was guilty of insurrection and murder. (There is an interesting play on words here, as Barabbas means “son of the father.” Barabbas was released instead of Jesus who was the true Son of the Father.) Pilate, assured that Jesus was popular with the people and that the plot against Him was connived by the Jewish leaders, thought the people would choose Jesus rather than Barabbas and thus relieve him of the problem of making a final judgment. Matthew 27:18 notes that Pilate knew that the chief priests had delivered Jesus to him because of envy.
While in the process of discussing this, the wife of Pilate sent him a message which said, “Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him” (v. 19). There has been much speculation as to who Pilate’s wife was and what the background of this incident could have been. The simplest explanation is that she had such a dramatic dream that she felt compelled to share it with her husband, with whom, no doubt, she had discussed Jesus on previous occasions. As Tasker points out, Pilate’s wife was concerned at the possibility of an innocent man of prophetic character being killed unjustly.
Meanwhile, however, the chief priests and elders had been busy persuading the people to ask for Barabbas and to request that Jesus be killed. To Pilate’s amazement, when the question was posed to the people, they asked for Barabbas to be released. In his astonishment, he asked, “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” He hoped for a punishment short of death. They replied, “Let him be crucified” (v. 22).
Pilate was now occupied not only with the justice in the case but how he could reasonably sentence a man who had not been convicted of any real crime. Accordingly, he asked again, “Why, what evil hath he done?” But the people cried all the more, “Let him be crucified.” Unquestionably, they were influenced by the chief priests and elders.
Pilate, then, under great pressure lest there be an insurrection against him which would be damaging to his reputation, publicly took water and washed his hands before the multitude saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.” Remarkably, in the same chapter, Jesus is pronounced innocent both by Judas and by Pilate (vv. 4, 24). The people recklessly responded, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” How tragically these words seem to have been fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and the slaughter of several hundred thousand Israelites on that occasion.
Having reversed his earlier judgment that Jesus was innocent, Pilate now released Barabbas, scourged Jesus, and delivered Him to be crucified.
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