Jesus had just been falsely accused of blasphemy, blindfolded, spit at, beaten, and bound; they led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate. Pilate is the representative of the civil government, and whose guilty verdict was necessary to crucify Jesus. The Jews did not have such authority at this time.
“*The resolution (15:1) by the Sanhedrin in the final stages of its meeting was to accuse Jesus before the civil authority, not of blasphemy, but of high treason. The Roman government would not have considered blasphemy a punishable crime.” John tells us (18:30) that these religious leaders wanted Pilate to hand over a death sentence solely based on their accusations against Him. Still, Pilate refused their urgent request and began questioning Jesus for himself.
Mark does not give any information about who Pilate is or why he is in Jerusalem at this time. Perhaps he assumes his readers would already know this information. “1 Pilate was the Roman procurator (governor) of Judea from A.D.26-36. His official residence was in Caesarea, but he was in Jerusalem for Passover.” This man, Pilate, was placed in the awful position of placing judgment upon Jesus, the “king of the Jews.” And even though he “found no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4) and knew that the chief priests were doing this out of envy (Mark 15:10), he handed their messiah over to be crucified.
This is the moment in time we observe through the pen of Mark. Let’s dig into it. Ready? Let’s begin!
15 Early in the morning, the chief priests with the elders, scribes, and the entire [a]Council immediately held a consultation; and they bound Jesus and led Him away, and turned Him over to Pilate. 2 Pilate questioned Him: “So You are the King of the Jews?” And He answered him, “It is as you say.” 3 And the chief priests started accusing Him [b]of many things. 4 But Pilate questioned Him again, saying, “Do You offer nothing in answer? See how many charges they are bringing against You!” 5 But Jesus said nothing further in answer, so Pilate was amazed.
FOCUS ONE: JESUS BEFORE PILATE (1-5)
Mark says that this decision of the Sanhedrin happened early in the morning, most likely around daybreak, between 5:00-6:00 a.m. Jesus was led to the palace of Herod, where Pilate was residing at the time. This was located in the northwestern section of the city. It was there where the bound prisoner, Jesus, was delivered to Pilate. As mentioned above, Pilate refuses to hand down a judgment against Jesus based solely on the Sanhedrin’s verdict, so he begins questioning Jesus for himself (15:2).
Pilate’s questions are twofold: First, he asks Him directly, “are you the king of the Jews” (v. 2). This being his very first question; the one of most importance to him, seems to stem from the fact that the charges against Jesus were probably made known to him already.
“Mark gives us only a summary of the trial. According to Luke, the Sanhedrin brought before Pilate three charges against Jesus (1) He is subverting our nation; (2) He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar; and (3) He claims to be Christ, a king (Luke 23:2). And it is the last charge that Pilate was interested in! Why? Because if true, it would make Him guilty of rebellion against Rome.
Jesus answers the question from Pilate. “It is as you say.” In other words, Jesus acknowledges that He was Israel’s rightful king. His answer, although a positive acknowledgment, appears to be somewhat a “qualified one” as well. “I am, but not exactly in the way that you are thinking.” So this leads Pilate to ask another question: “Do you not answer? See how many charges they bring against you?”
Jesus did not reply, and that amazed Pilate. Most people would aggressively deny the charges against them or make some emotional plea, but Jesus did neither, and that not only surprised Pilate but also baffled him. However, observing that the questioning was not in their favor, the Chief priests took the lead and began harshly accusing Jesus (v. 3). “Jesus made no further answer.”
6 “Now at the Passover Feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested. 7 And the one named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the rebels who had committed murder in the revolt. 8 And the crowd went up and began asking Pilate to do as he had been accustomed to do for them. 9 Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead.”
FOCUS TWO: PILATE BEFORE THE CROWD (6-11)
The custom refers to releasing a prisoner at the Passover Feast. It appears to have been a Roman custom. Luke tells us that there was an uprising in the city and that Barabbas was involved in it and even committed murder during the uprising. “*Barabbas was probably a member of the sect of Zealots, who deeply resented the Roman occupation of Palestine.”
The crowd began “asking him to do as he had been accustomed to do for them” (v. 8). “1 Pilate undoubtedly saw this annual custom as the way out of his dilemma regarding Jesus.” But it seems that most of the crowd had come to Pilate’s tribunal to ask for Barabbas to be released. But, even if that is true, the chief priests felt they needed to stir up the crowd and incite them to ask for Barabbas to be released, not Jesus.
Pilate’s first question: “do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?” The leader’s response: Release Barabbas. So Pilate asks another question. “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the king of the Jews?” The crowds damning response: “Crucify Him!”
We already know that the plan to kill Jesus was hatched earlier in His ministry (11:18), but here we are told their motivation for His murder- envy!
12 “And responding again, Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” 13 They shouted [a]back, “Crucify Him!” 14 But Pilate said to them, “Why, what [b]evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him!” 15 Intent on satisfying the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus flogged, he handed Him over to be crucified.”
FOCUS THREE: THE CROWD BEFORE JESUS (12-15)
How sad, no, how heartbreaking it is to read that Jesus was rejected for a murderer. Pilate’s final attempt to save Jesus leads him to ask, “why, what evil has He done?” But the crowd “*now a mob, ignored his question (v. 14). They had reached a stage where they were beyond reason.” Only crucifixion would satisfy them. Death was not enough for the unruly mob; he had to suffer immensely.
“Crucify Him, Crucify Him” was their mantra, shouted so loudly as to drown out any other plea. We can get a picture of how this scene looked by reflecting on the riots of recent days. Crowds gather to protest, and some people with “other” motives join the group. The volume rises, violence erupts, and there seems to be no sense or reason to it anymore, just pure anarchy. And the loud, violent crowd gets its way! Jesus is scourged and handed over to be crucified.
But don’t miss out on one of many testimonies to the innocence of Jesus throughout the passion narrative. Pilate’s testimony of Christ’s innocence is seen in his statement, “why, what evil has He done.” Also, “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4). And again, “having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him” (Luke 23:14).
Sadly, Pilate was a “man pleaser.” He desired to please the Jews because of fear and political reasons. “To save himself from Rome’s displeasure” is what ultimately overcame his desire to set Jesus free!
So, the guilty go free and the innocent to the cross! But do not forget that God was in control of all of it. None of this was a surprise to Him. It was all told to us hundreds and even thousands of years before through the prophets!
Take time to read these scriptures:
Isaiah 53:3-John 1:11: Luke 23:18
Psalm 41:9-Luke 22:47-48
Psalm 35:11-Mark 14:57-58
Isaiah 50:6-Matthew 26:67
Zechariah 12:10-John 20:27
*The Expositors Bible Commentary, pg. 773
1. MacArthur Study Bible, Mark footnotes
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It never gets old reading of what Jesus faced heading to the Cross
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