Pilate Capitulates to the Crowd
“Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” (v. 15).- Mark 15:6–15
Pontius Pilate, the Roman-appointed governor of Judea, was responsible above all else to keep the peace in his region. It was well known that the Jews did not care much for Roman rule. True, there were some Jews—the Sadducees—who did not mind the Roman authorities and actually worked with Rome so as to preserve their own position as leaders of the people and the majority party on the Sanhedrin. But they were the exception. Other Jewish responses ranged from grudging acceptance of Roman rule to outright hostility and attempts to overthrow the Roman government in Judea by force. The history of the first and second centuries is filled with stories of armed insurrectionists who attempted to cast off Roman governance and reestablish a Jewish monarchy.
Thus, Pilate had reason to be concerned about Jesus when the high priest and the rest of the Jewish leaders brought Him forward with charges that He claimed to be “King of the Jews” (Mark 15:1–2). But Pilate soon saw through the leaders, perceiving that they were motivated not by a desire to stave off a potential rebellion but by the goal of removing a rival to their religious authority (v. 10). As the trial before Pilate proceeded, however, the governor soon revealed himself not as a man of integrity who was concerned for justice but as a cunning politician who would sacrifice an innocent man to keep things calm. By the time Jesus stood before Pilate, the Sanhedrin had managed to stir up a crowd of ordinary Jews to demand our Lord’s death (v. 11). How they were able to get the city to turn against Jesus is not revealed, though we should note that the crowd just had to be large enough for Pilate to take notice and did not include absolutely every Jew in Jerusalem. In any case, Pilate capitulated to the crowd’s demands, trading Barabbas for Judas so as to prevent a revolt (vv. 12–15).
Following an unjust hearing before the Sanhedrin and a trial of political expediency before Pilate, Jesus was sentenced to death as the Roman and Jewish authorities colluded against Him and the crowd called for His life. The people preferred a violent insurrectionist (v. 7) who could give them only war with Rome to the Prince of Peace—they treasured the things of this world more than the things above. Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary Mark that the people chose the one who they thought could give them political freedom (Barabbas) over the One who could give them spiritual freedom (Jesus).
Lest we be too hard on the crowd who demanded the death of Jesus, we should recall the temptations we face to make the kingdom of this world more important than the kingdom of God. Every time we trust in political power and material comfort, we are demanding something other than Jesus. Let us search our hearts to determine where we are not trusting in the Lord and repent if we are trusting in earthly princes this day.
Passages for Further Study
1 Timothy 6:11–16