Read Matthew 27:11-26
Jesus is now standing before Pilate the governor, he is in Pilate’s judgement room currently and it’s early in the day, the rooster crowed, and the sun is now up. Pilate asks Jesus, “are you the king of the Jews?” The people who led Jesus to Pilate did not call Jesus their king. In fact, looking at John 18:29-37 gives us more detail on the opening dialog between Pilate and the Jewish leaders.
Let us set the scene a little more. You have the Jewish elders, the leaders of the Jewish church along with the temple guards all escorting Jesus to Pilates residence. It is the time for the Passover meal and the men do not want to miss their celebration meal, so they stay outside of Pilates home. You see Jewish custom was if they went into the home of a Gentile then they would be unclean. This uncleanliness would prevent them from celebrating Passover. These men are all about obeying the laws, so they stay outside.
Pilate respected their customs enough to come outside to speak to them. And the first thing he asked was, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” At first, they refuse to answer the Pilate’s question. They answer by saying, “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”
Their reply was interesting. It was arrogant, I think. Its like saying, “how dare you question our motives?” “If we say a man is a criminal, then the man is a criminal, we don’t need you to question why.” At this point they did not give a legitimate reason for bringing Jesus to Pilate, Jesus was not guilty of breaking a Jewish law and absolutely was innocent of breaking any Roman laws.
Pilate then tells the elders to “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own laws.” Clearly, he didn’t break a Roman law and Pilate could care less about any Jewish laws, so he tells them to deal with him themselves. And that is when the truth comes out. They admit they only want Jesus executed and they have no right to do it-legally of course. Which fills the prophesy that Jesus will die a Roman’s death.
Getting no answers to his legitimate questions, Pilate headed back inside and asked Jesus, “Are you the king of Jews?” Typical of Jesus (John 18:34) he answers Pilates question with a question. “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?” He wants to know where Pilate heard that term and how it relates to him.
The few hours prior when Jesus was arrested, Roman soldiers were with Judas at the garden. For the soldiers to be there they would have been given permission by Pilate. So, it is likely the elders filled Pilate in on why they wanted to use the soldiers, he had a basic understanding of what the men were trying to do. He knew this whole event was self-serving and he understands that Jesus is not guilty of breaking any laws.
Pilate is essentially calling Jesus the king of the Jews and Jesus agrees, “you have said so.” Pilate continued the conversation with Jesus, getting nowhere, he goes back outside to speak to the Jews who have gathered at his palace and lets them know he finds no basis for a charge against him.
You can study Luke 23:1-25 gives us more detail; I encourage you to study this chapter on your own. Luke tells us that Pilate declared several times that Jesus did not commit any crimes, that he did not find any reason to sentence him with the death penalty. And each time the Jewish leaders insisted Jesus be crucified. Over and over they shouted and chanted crucify him.
They accused Jesus of breaking Roman laws like opposing payment of taxes to Caesar and that he claimed to be Messiah, a king. Which is true but not in the way they were trying to convince the Roman king. They wanted Pilate to feel threatened by Jesus’ claim to be king. They insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching starting in Galilee.”
You can read in Luke how Pilate tried to push Jesus off onto Herod Antipas, ultimately Herod, who was overly excited to finally meet Jesus, ridiculed and mocked him, dressed him in an elegant robe and sent him back to Pilate. Jesus refused to answer Herod in any way, shape or form. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were there too, and they vehemently accused him, and Jesus gave no answer.
(Luke 23:13-16) Back at Pilates palace, Pilate calls together all the leaders and tells them that they accused Jesus of inciting the people and leading a rebellion, but he did not find any of those accusations to be true. Even Herod agreed that those accusations were not true. Jesus did nothing to deserve death.
One of the customs during the festival was for the governor to release one prisoner. The prisoner was chosen by the crowd. (Mark 15:8) The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. Pilate tried to get them to agree to release Jesus but in stead the chief priests stirred up the crowd and got them to chant for the release of Barabbas instead. Barabbas was guilty of inciting an uprising and during it he committed murder, Barabbas was guilty of what Jesus was to be crucified for. Barabbas was released, he was acquitted of his sins, while Jesus went to the cross.
Vs. 22 Pilate asked, “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” He was shocked, “What am I supposed to do with Jesus?” They just pressed in harder, shouted louder, crucify him!
Pilate didn’t want to execute Jesus. However, the pressure to do so was intense. He knew Jesus was innocent, he knew he didn’t break any laws, he wanted to set him free, but most of the citizens were wanting something different. They didn’t want truth; they wanted their way.
We live in a nation where majority rules. We vote and the majority wins. That doesn’t mean that the majority is always right, it just means they get their way. This is what Pilate is faced with. He needs to make the majority happy or they will cause bigger problems for him.
According to John 18:8 Pilate was afraid, and he became even more afraid when he heard they wanted to kill Jesus because he claimed to be the Son of God. John 18:12 Pilate tried to set Jesus free.
Already fearing the Jewish God, while sitting on the judge’s seat, Pilate’s wife sends him a message. Urging Pilate, the note said, “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
We aren’t given any indication of what Claudia’s dream was about. We do know that it caused her a lot of mental and emotional stress. It is believed that Claudia was in fact a Christian. A letter written in Latin says that Pilate’s wife sought out Christ to heal her son Pilo’s crippled foot. Being connected to Christ makes it possible for her to possibly be visited by angels in her dreams, this would cause you distress if the angel warned you about imminent danger or judgement.
Regardless of the dream the crowd still wanted Barabbas to be released and Jesus to be crucified. After trying to reason with these people repeatedly, Pilate finally relented. He realized he was getting nowhere and instead an uproar was starting. He decided to wash his hands.He must have been worried about germs too. He decided to wash his hands of being responsible for Jesus’ death. He was attempting to wash away his guilt in this whole situation. Matthew is the only one to write about the hand washing. The book of Matthew was written with the intention of having Jewish readers and they would have completely understood what Pilate was doing.
He washed his hands in front of the crowd (vs. 24). “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” I don’t know that it works this way, but he did his best to withstand the peer pressure of these blood hungry men.
The whole crowd proudly proclaimed, “His blood is on us and on our children!” In Matthew 23, Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem for shedding innocent blood. The whole crowd agreed with this curse. The shedding of Jesus’ innocent blood did in fact bring on a curse it played out a few years later Jerusalem was destroyed. These men hated Jesus so much that they were willing to bring a curse down on themselves and their children.
Vs. 26 Barabbas was released. Pilate followed through and had Jesus flogged and then handed him over to be crucified. Pilate tried to reason to only have Jesus flogged, he did not want to give him the death sentence. The Roman floggings were so brutal that often the victims would die before crucifixion. The crowd is crying out for Jesus to be crucified, not necessarily asking for both a flogging and crucifixion. I wonder why Pilate who was afraid to condemn Jesus to death decided to do both.
I wonder if he were hoping Jesus would die from the floggings. He felt OK with this punishment, he didn’t want the blood of execution on his hands. If Jesus died from the floggings, maybe, just maybe he would be released from the guilt that could follow. Jesus didn’t die from the flogging; it was prophesied he would die on the cross and that is where he died.