Matt 27:15-26 The Release of Barabbas CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
Companion passages are found in Mk 15:6-15; Lk 23:17-25; and Jn 18:39-40. We’ll study these along with the text to glean all the meat out of this passage.
One of the ploys that Pilate tried, since he was determined to let Jesus go (Acts 3:13), was to release him according to a special custom that he had. At each Passover, he would release one prisoner to the Jews (Jn 18:39). He offered the Jews two men from whom they would choose (Mk 15:6, Matt 27:17): Barabbas and Jesus.
The choice was between an innocent man and a notable prisoner (Matt 27:16) who was bound in prison (Mk 15:7). He was in prison for four things:
· Insurrection Mk 15:7 – the rising of individuals to prevent the execution of law by force of arms
· Murder Mk 15:7 – he killed somebody in the insurrection
· Sedition Lk 23:19 – the raising of commotion in a state, as by conspiracy, without aiming at open violence against the laws
· Robbery Jn 18:40 – he was a thief, like Judas and the transgressors with whom Jesus was crucified
Pilate wanted to release Jesus (Lk23:20). So, evidently, it seemed plausible to Pilate that the Jews, given this choice, would not release Barabbas. After all he had committed capital crimes, whereas Jesus was the King of the Jews (Mk 15:9). All that the Jews really had against Jesus was ENVY (Matt 27:18). But envy can be a deadly cause (Prov 27:4).
Now before the decision was announced, two things happened that elevate Pilate’s apprehension about the people’s pick. First, Pilate’s wife had a bad dream and sent to Pilate saying, “Have thou nothing to do with that JUST man,” (Matt 27:19) [compare the dream of Abimelech in Gen 20:3, as an example]. Second, the chief priests and the elders stirred up the crowd to vote for Barabbas (Matt 27:20). This is a typical operation for the Jews (Acts 17:5, 13). And as is often the case, the majority was wrong and they paid the price for their error (Prov 11:21).
In Matt 27:21 the people chose Barabbas, leaving Pilate with the obvious problem of what to do with Jesus (Matt 27:22). They didn’t even hesitate to holler, “Crucify him. The Jews had been going for the death penalty all along (Jn 18:31).
Pilate could not justify killing Jesus and so asked the crowd, “Why, what evil hath he done?” (Matt 27:23). They gave him no answer. They simply replied, “Crucify him,” (Mk 15:14). At this time Pilate declared for the third time that Jesus was without fault (Lk 23:22; 4; 14). Therefore, even though Barabbas had been chosen by the people, Pilate figured that he could chastise Jesus (a form of punishment to appease the angry mob) and still release him since no crime warranting the death penalty had been committed (Lk 23:22).
The tumultuous voices of the mob prevailed over Pilate (Matt 27:24, Lk 23:23) so Pilate decided to “content” the people by crucifying Jesus instead of just chastising him. It was typical in “criminal” matters for the Romans to give into the Jews (Acts 24:27, it pleased the Jews to leave Paul bound; Acts 12:3 it pleased the Jews to kill James and to take Peter).
In a display of his innocence before the people, Pilate washed his hands in water. But it would take more than that to cleanse him from his sin of ordering the execution of the Son of God. It would take faith in the shed blood of the Lamb who was about to be slain. Notice that if Pilate were like Gallio, the judge in Acts 18:12-17, he could have dismissed the mob and prevented the crucifixion. After all, Pilate knew that he was JUST (Matt 27:24).
When the Jews saw Pilate profess his innocence they gave an oath that has haunted them for nearly 2,000 years. They said, “His blood be on us, and on our children,” (Matt 27:25). What an oath (1 Thes 2:16). From the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD to the current fighting against Hezbollah in Lebanon, these dear people have suffered for that oath continually. And they aren’t through. They still have to suffer under the tyrannical reign of the Antichrist.
Finally, Pilate gave the sentence to crucify Jesus (Lk 23:24). Then he released Barabbas, scourged Jesus, and delivered him to be crucified (Matt 27:26). If any one that day understood what was happening, Barabbas did. He got a first hand taste of the substitutionary atonement. He saw 1 Pet 3:18 in a way that none of us ever will.