The Answer to the Procurator's Question
Text: Matthew 27 : 1 - 31
Pilate’s question to the multitudes had not been answered. Once again, he raised the question.
“The governor answered and said to them,
‘Which of the two do you want me to release to you?’
They said, ‘Barabbas!'”
The Roman procurator must have been stunned by the response of the multitudes! How could the multitudes decide on asking for Barabbas to be released from prison? His attempt at releasing Jesus proved to be a futile effort.
Not yet outdone, Pilate raised another question to the multitudes.
“Pilate said to them, ‘What then shall I do with
Jesus who is called Christ?’ They all said to him,
‘Let Him be crucified!'”
Pilate tried hard to appeal to the multitudes. Surely they must reconsider their first request to have Barabbas released. Would they not prefer to have Jesus the Christ released? What would they do with Jesus? To his horror, the multitudes began to clamour for Him to be crucified! Deep down, Pilate knew that he was standing on shifting sand. He was fast losing ground. But why did he need to appeal to the multitudes in the first place? He was after all the powerful Roman procurator, whose imperium overruled the authority of even the mighty Sanhedrin Council. The authority (imperium) that Rome gave to him allowed him to make decisions without having to consult with the multitudes or anybody else.
One more attempt, Pilate decided. Perhaps he could stop this stampede yet.
“Then the governor said, ‘Why, what evil has He done?’
But they cried out all the more, saying,
‘Let Him be crucified!'”
Pilate appealed to both reason and emotions. What crime had Jesus committed? What specific evil deed could the multitudes name?
The Jews had done their evil work well. They had primed the people to chant, ‘Let Him be crucified!’ When a multitude of people began to chant like that, he knew that there was no way in which he could reason with them. Their minds and hearts were already closed. The stampede had begun, and there was no way he could have stopped the mad run spooked by the Jews. He had not factored in properly just how wicked the Jewish leaders really were, and how low they could stoop!
How could the multitudes call for Jesus to be crucified? Did they not know just how painful and cruel a death that was? From time to time, criminals were crucified and left to die a slow and lingering death – for days at times! Did the people really desire to have Jesus crucified?
WASHING HIS HANDS OFF THE CASE
Pilate yielded to the multitudes. However, he was not done yet. He wanted it to be made very clear that the decision to have Jesus crucified was not his wish. He was merely acceding to their demands. The custom of releasing one prisoner during this Feast was maintained. The multitudes must think again one last time. Did they really want the blood of a Just Man on their hands?
“When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all,
but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water
and washed his hands before the multitude, saying,
‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.’
And all the people answered and said,
‘His blood be on us and on our children.'”
1. Two reasons for acceding to the multitudes
Pilate was no judge! He was more of a politician than a judge. Two reasons are given as to why he decided against Jesus.
a) ‘He could not prevail at all’
Pilate gambled and lost! He had hoped to persuade the multitudes if not the Sanhedrin Council. However, he had not reckoned carefully enough just how deadly influential the Sanhedrin Council was. He assessed the multitudes and realized that no matter what he did, he would not prevail at all.
b) ‘Rather that a tumult was rising’
Pilate had seen ‘tumults’ before as procurator. The normal residence of the Roman procurator was in Caesarea. Pilate decided that he would rather have his headquarters in Jerusalem instead. He knew that many of the Jews resented his presence in the Fortress Antonia, which was built just next to the temple.
When Pilate first arrived in Judea to take up his appointment, he brought in the usual Roman standards and shields. These were considered idolatrous objects by the Jews and a tumult had arisen. He was forced to comply. These offensive objects were not brought into Jerusalem at the end of the day. The last thing he wanted was to have to deal with another tumult.
2. The symbolic washing of hands
Pilate literally washed his hands off the case! He felt that he could somehow exonerate himself if he did that! Was he truly innocent of the blood of Jesus simply because he washed his hands off the case?