On Your Mark by Dr. George O. Wood
The Crowd, the Governor, & the Religious Leaders
Aug. 17, 2014
Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing that it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. (Mark 15:6-11, NIV)
Each of the four Gospels provides details that give us a composite understanding of Jesus before Pilate. Mark gives the condensed account.
First, there is the crowd. At first glance, the crowd is neutral. They simply ask Pilate to do what he customarily did at the Passover time — release to them a prisoner. However, crowds are easily swayed by authorities and propaganda. How else can one explain entire populations falling sway under a persuasive leader, as happened in Germany in the events leading to World War II? Propaganda and coercion work.
It’s alarming to see this same phenomenon happening today in American culture. Just look at how the populace has been swayed on issues of sexual morality by the influence of politicians, entertainment personalities and the media. These sources are the “chief priests” of our day, influencing the masses to make the wrong choices.
Second, there is a group known as the chief priests. In Jesus day, they were the ones leading the religious establishment, with control over the temple and its functions. Jesus’ popularity was a threat to them. Out of envy, they pressed the crowd to ask for the release of Barabbas so that Pilate would deliver Jesus to the cross.
Whenever religious leaders resort to or urge force to impose their will, you know they are corrupt at the heart. Jesus never used violence, intimidation, threat or coercion. His disciples are to follow His example. Persons must be free to say “yes” or “no” to God’s love. It must be against our religion to impose our religion.
Third, there is Pilate.
Luke’s Gospel gives the added detail that the case of Jesus was sent by Pilate over to Herod, and then back again to Pilate for a second hearing (23:6-12). Pilate attempted to avoid making a decision even after Jesus had been returned to him (23:13-23).
Matthew’s Gospel relates that Pilate’s wife sent him a message telling him that she had suffered many things in a dream and that Jesus was an innocent man (27:19). Pilate would have done well to heed his wife’s counsel. But, like many a husband, he ignored the good advice she gave.
John’s Gospel tells us that Pilate took Jesus inside the palace and privately questioned Him. Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world but that Pilate was right in saying He was a king. When Jesus said that He came “to testify to THE truth,” Pilate dismissively answered with, “What is truth?” Clearly, Pilate did not believe there is ultimate truth (John 18:28-40).
As we meditate on Jesus before Pilate, the practical question for us is this: do we identify with the main actors — the crowd, the religious leaders or Pilate? I hope not! All of them made the wrong choices. What will you do with Jesus?
A prayer of response
DR. GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.
On Your Mark