Hey everyone, Josh Hawkins here, this is Episode 142 of Opening Up the Gospels. Since Episode 135 we’ve been looking at the progression of events from Jesus’ arrest and capture in the Garden of Gethsemane. We’ve seen Him before Caiaphas, before the Jewish ruling council on two separate occasions, before Pilate, the Roman governor, and before Herod Antipas, the man in charge of Galilee. We’ve seen how the Jewish authorities sought to make Jesus out to be an insurrectionist, an evildoer, a hater of Rome, and a blasphemer according to Jewish law. By this point in the story, Jesus has been treated with contempt, severely beaten, spat on, and mocked multiple times in the span of perhaps only 7 or 8 hours - by the Jewish authorities, the Romans, and then by Herod and his soldiers. In the last episode, I discussed how Jesus was sent to Herod, and how He remained completely silent before him, just as He had done before the Jews. This says so much about His character, doesn’t it? He knew the joy that awaited Him, and as the author of Hebrews says, this is what gave Him the strength to endure the cross and despise the shame. Wow. In today’s episode we’re going to look at Jesus’ journey back to Pilate for His final sentencing. All four Gospels vividly record this, each from a bit of a different perspective. And as I’ve talked about so many times throughout this series, the complementary nature of the Gospels enables us to put together a clearer picture of the events. We’ll be looking at various passages in Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 18 and 19. Let’s start by reading some from Luke 23:
"Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, said to them, “You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him. I will therefore chastise Him and release Him” (for it was necessary for him to release one to them at the feast)."
(Luke 23:13–17 NKJV)
So Jesus had been sent back to Pilate after being with Herod for an unknown amount of time, perhaps an hour or so, maybe less. I’m sure Pilate had thought that he was done with the situation after having sent Jesus to Herod, but once more he is having to deal with it. And so he summons the Jewish authorities, likely from the Temple, and again declares before them as well as the multitude that had gathered that he finds no fault in Jesus at all, and that he would simply chastise Him and then release Him. Now apparently it had become an established custom for Pilate to release a prisoner at the Passover every year. This is what caused the people to shout for a man named Barabbas to be released rather than Jesus. Luke 23 continues:
"But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder."
(Luke 23:18–19 ESV)
The Jewish authorities incited the crowds and together they cried for a murderer and insurrectionist to be released to them instead of Jesus. A lot has been written and said about this - but just think about what was going on deep down inside the hearts of the Jews to want a known murderer on their streets instead of the meek and humble Jesus? The Jewish authorities were envious and were threatened by Jesus. He had condemned their teaching, their lifestyle, their lack of repentance, and their lack of love for God so often, and they were afraid to be in disrepute with the people. Their positions of power and influence would be threatened if Jesus was indeed that promised final king from David’s line that they had all been waiting for. Even the Roman governor Pilate understood these things. Check this out from Mark 15:
"And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up."
(Mark 15:9–10 ESV)
Look at that. Pilate wasn’t a dumb, clueless Roman puppet leader - he knew that the Jews had handed over Jesus because they were envious of Him. This is such a tragic thing for the Jews to be doing. Just imagine the turmoil Pilate was enduring as he sat outside the Praetorium wrestling in his mind what to do with Jesus. The Gospel authors give us the impression that Pilate was not at all comfortable with what was going on. Matthew’s Gospel gives us yet another reason for Pilate’s wrestle. Check this out from Matthew 27:
"Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.”"
(Matthew 27:19 ESV)
So as Pilate was sitting outside on what was called the “judgment seat”, the place where the governor would pronounce his verdict and sentence, his wife sends him word of a very troubling dream she just had. Now let’s not forget, the Jews had originally brought Jesus to Pilate very early in the morning, Friday morning, as the sun was rising, at perhaps 6:30 or 7am according to our modern reckoning. Most people in the city, including Pilate’s wife, were still sleeping at that point. Matthew doesn’t tell us exactly what Pilate’s wife dreamed, but hearing that she had a troubling dream about Jesus was even more evidence for Pilate to believe that He was innocent and just. The Gospels record the now infamous details of the next part of the scene. Let’s read some of the accounts, first from Matthew 27:
"Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”"
(Matthew 27:22–23 ESV)
Also Luke 23:
"Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed."
(Luke 23:20–23 ESV)
So here we are in April of 29AD, it’s still fairly early in the morning, and the Jews are yelling with one voice “crucify Him! crucify Him!”. And whereas before when the Jews were before Pilate for the first time, before Jesus was sent to Herod, it was likely just some of the Jewish leadership there. But now, after Jesus was sent back from Herod, it seems like the Jewish authorities had perhaps gone back to the Temple and stirred up the people to get a larger crowd to come to the Pavement. Remember, Jerusalem is full of people for the Passover feast, but if you recall back to Episodes 116 and 117, there were two very different sentiments toward Jesus among the people in Jerusalem. First, there were the people who had come to the feast from afar, including those from Galilee who had seen the miracles and knew of the fame of Jesus. And then there were the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people that had not come out on Sunday to greet Jesus but had long ago hardened their hearts toward Him. It was these people who were likely the ones who were part of the crowd and attended this second meeting before Pilate. Luke says that they were “demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified, and their voices prevailed.” Now just imagine the emotions filling Jesus’ heart at that moment. He had come to His chosen people Israel to seek the fruits of repentance and their return to the covenant, and the majority of them did not only refuse to repent, but now the leadership is vehement on having Him put to death. Though His own did not receive Him, as John 1 says, there will be those who do. The story of the nation of Israel would not end here.
Matthew 27 goes on to record something very significant. As the crowds continued to shout and voices were added to the uproar, we see Pilate performing a staggering ritual in the sight of everyone gathered there. Let’s read from Matthew 27:
"So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.”"
(Matthew 27:24 ESV)
The reason why this is such a staggering act is because a Gentile is performing a Jewish rite. The washing of the hands was not just because he needed to freshen up. This was something the Jews would have been very familiar with. Pilate was using the Jewish manner of communicating innocence to vindicate himself before the people. He does this to give the rioting crowds a clear understanding that he did not think Jesus was deserving of death. Alfred Edersheim gives us more detail:
All reasoning having failed, Pilate had recourse to one more expedient, which, under ordinary circumstances, would have been effective. When a Judge, after having declared the innocence of the accused, actually rises from the judgment-seat, and by a symbolic act pronounces the execution of the accused a judicial murder, from all participation in which he wishes solemnly to clear himself, surely no jury would persist in demanding sentence of death. But in the present instance there was even more. Although we find allusions to some such custom among the heathen, that which here took place was an essentially Jewish rite, which must have appealed the more forcibly to the Jews that it was done by Pilate. And, not only the rite, but the very words were Jewish.2 They recall not merely the rite prescribed in Deut. 21:6, &c., to mark the freedom from guilt of the elders of a city where untracked murder had been committed, but the very words of such Old Testament expressions as in 2 Sam. 3:28, and Ps. 26:6, 73:13, and, in later times, in Sus. ver. 46. The Mishnah bears witness that this rite was continued. As administering justice in Israel, Pilate must have been aware of this rite.
Edersheim, A. (1896). The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Vol. 2, pp. 577–578).
What follows after Pilate’s act and declaration of innocence comes from the lips of the Jews and is perhaps one of the most tragic statements in all of scripture, yet at this point in the Biblical story, it’s not surprising. Matthew 27 says:
"And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified."
(Matthew 27:25–26 ESV)
Think about this - the Jews are asking for the bloodguilt of Jesus to be put on them and their descendants. Isn’t this madness? Didn’t God through Moses make clear what the consequences for disobedience and covenant breaking would be all the way back in Deuteronomy 28? The statement once again exposed the deep hatred for God and His commands in the heart of the Jews. The promised covenantal curses would soon come upon them. The Temple would be destroyed, the people would be scattered and once again sent into exile in the nations - all because of their refusal to repent and obey. But as we know, this is not the end of the story for the Jewish people.
Well, we’ve almost come to the end of our look at these terrible proceedings. In the next episode I’ll detail the scourging and final sentencing of Jesus as we look at His final journey to Golgotha for His crucifixion. In the meantime, you can find all the past episodes in this series on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and come back next time.