Sentenced to Death

“Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified” (v. 26).  

- Matthew 27:24–26

Ultimately, Pontius Pilate does not believe that Jesus wants to supplant the caesar and destroy the Roman Empire as an Israelite king. Several factors explain why he finds no fault in Jesus (Matt. 27:11–23). First, whether through outside sources or his own intuition, Pilate sees that Caiaphas and the other leaders seek Jesus’ death out of envy, not the truth (v. 18). Secondly, his wife has had a nightmare about the events transpiring (v. 19) and sees involvement in the death of Jesus as disastrous for Pilate. Finally, the response of Jesus Himself to His accusers strongly refutes their accusations. John’s gospel tells us that at one point in the trial our Savior assures Pilate that His kingdom is “not of this world” (18:36) and therefore not interested in the violent overthrow of the caesar. Coupled with this is Jesus’ appearance before Pilate bound and beaten, which likely convinces him that the Nazarene is no real threat to the Empire.

Jesus’ innocence, however, makes Pilate no less willing to give in to his fear of a riot and have Jesus crucified to prevent an uprising (Matt. 27:26). Ultimately, this compounds his guilt — to commit the great sin of executing the Lord of glory Pilate must unashamedly cast justice aside. Moreover, the gathered mob is not excused for demanding Christ’s death simply because they are following their leaders (v. 20). But if in this mob there are those who once hailed Jesus as David’s heir (21:1–11), why do they follow along? It is because they want a violent conqueror and their expectations cannot accept that this bound man is God’s Messiah. Barabbas is willing to overthrow Rome by any means necessary (Mark 15:7); thus, the people prefer him over the humble Jesus (Matt. 27:21).

Pilate futilely tries to shift blame to the crowd, and, tragically, the crowd’s acceptance of responsibility for Jesus’ death has been used over the centuries to justify anti-Semitism (v. 25). Many professing Christians have literally brought blood upon Jewish people, a gross misuse of the text given that Jesus and His disciples are Jewish and that the crowd is speaking for itself, not an entire ethnic group. In reality, all people are guilty of having Christ killed, for our sin made His death necessary in the first place (Rom. 3:21–26).

Coram Deo

A select group of corrupt religious leaders and unjust Roman officials are those who enacted the legal procedures that resulted in Jesus’ death. Yet in a sense, we all killed Jesus, because had we not sinned, there would have been no need of His death. It is sobering to realize that we put Jesus on that cross; still, He went there willingly so that we could be forgiven of our sin. How amazing is God’s marvelous grace!

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 3:17–19
Genesis 3:17–19
Romans 8:3–4
Romans 8:3–4

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.