“Jesus’ Trial before Pilate
Very early in the morning the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law—the entire high council (Sanhedrin) – met to discuss their next step. They bound Jesus, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.
2 Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus replied, “You have said it.”
3 Then the leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, 4 and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” 5 But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise.
6 Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner—anyone the people requested. 7 One of the prisoners at that time was Barabbas, a revolutionary who had committed murder in an uprising. 8 The crowd went to Pilate and asked him to release a prisoner as usual.
9 “Would you like me to release to you this ‘King of the Jews’?” Pilate asked. 10 (For he realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy.) 11 But at this point the leading priests stirred up the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus. 12 Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?”
13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!”
14 “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”
But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”
15 So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.”
I am going to be referring to Steve Wilmhurst’s commentary, A Ransom for Many, several times in today’s devotions as well as some direct quotes. There were many points he made that I’d never considered before, and found so interesting and helpful.
Steve Wilmhurst talks about what Jesus went through the previous 12 hours before he was brought to Pilate.
“It is worth recalling what Jesus has already been through before he faces Pilate. In the course of a totally sleepless night, he has struggled with the horror of death and the dread of God’s wrath as he’s wrestled in solitary prayer; he has been betrayed by an ally and deserted by his friends; he has faced volleys of unjust accusations by people who hate him; and then he’s been beaten up – all in the last twelve hours. In other words, before this story even begins, he has encountered more trauma and provocation than we ever will.”
We often wonder how people could be so fickle. It was just over a week before when they celebrated Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. In his commentary, Steve Wilmhurst mentions that the crowd we see in this scene is not the crowd who sang Hosanna to Jesus. Those people were Jews from all over the countryside who were on their way to Jerusalem, and met Jesus along the way. They would likely camp out outside Jerusalem at night, and not be present at this early morning hour. The crowd in this chapter probably had gathered near where the Sanhedrin met, and they followed the Temple leaders as they brought Jesus to Pilate. They were more likely under the influence of the Temple leaders.
Pilate has obviously figured out that Jesus is not really a problem. “For he realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy”. (v. 10) He has questioned Jesus himself, and really found nothing to convict him of. He likely thought he could avoid the whole situation by offering a release of a prisoner, a custom practiced at this time of year. Instead, the crowd calls for Barabbas, not Jesus. (“ But at this point the leading priests stirred up the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus” – v. 11)
Steve Wilmhurst tells us more about Barabbas. “Thirdly, let’s look at Barabbas. All the gospel writers mention Barabbas, but while Mark’s account of Jesus and Pilate is barely half the length of what we find in the other three gospels, he tells us more about Barabbas than any of them do. Mark clearly wants us to think about this man. What does he want us to see? Whatever his precise motives, Barabbas is a murderer. In one of the frequent failed uprisings of those days, he has killed people – perhaps he even managed to kill a Roman soldier, or maybe it was just some Jewish collaborator. He is a big sinner; a certainty for crucifixion, he fully deserves what he is going to get. By rights, it should be Barabbas carrying his cross out to Golgotha with the other criminals, that spring Friday morning. But instead, the soldier who comes and takes him from his cell this morning does not drag him outside the city walls to the place of execution. Instead, he leads him to the gates of the fortress, pushes him outside and turns his back, Go on – you’re free! And that is what the cross of Jesus does. The cross substitutes an innocent victim for a guilty criminal, so that the guilty criminal walks free. Barabbas is you and me – the offenders, the criminals, the guilty ones: released from our cell, taken out into the light, and set free. Like us, Barabbas deserves his sentence. Like us, Barabbas contributes nothing to his freedom except for his sin. As with us, the action takes place somewhere else while he reaps the benefit – just outside the city, where the innocent victim is nailed to the cross and takes the wrath of God on himself; and meanwhile we walk free.”
“The Soldiers Mock Jesus
16 The soldiers took Jesus into the courtyard of the governor’s headquarters (called the Praetorium) and called out the entire regiment. 17 They dressed him in a purple robe, and they wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head. 18 Then they saluted him and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” 19 And they struck him on the head with a reed stick, spit on him, and dropped to their knees in mock worship. 20 When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.
21 A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, (a city in North Africa) was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.) 22 And they brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). 23 They offered him wine drugged with myrrh, but he refused it.
24 Then the soldiers nailed him to the cross. They divided his clothes and threw dice to decide who would get each piece. 25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 A sign announced the charge against him. It read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 Two revolutionaries (criminals) were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.
29 The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Ha! Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. 30 Well then, save yourself and come down from the cross!”
31 The leading priests and teachers of religious law also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe him!” Even the men who were crucified with Jesus ridiculed him.
The Death of Jesus
33 At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 34 Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
35 Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. 36 One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. “Wait!” he said. “Let’s see whether Elijah comes to take him down!”
37 Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
39 When the Roman officer (centurion) who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!”
40 Some women were there, watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James the younger and of Joseph), and Salome. 41 They had been followers of Jesus and had cared for him while he was in Galilee. Many other women who had come with him to Jerusalem were also there.
The Burial of Jesus
42 This all happened on Friday, the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath. As evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea took a risk and went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. (Joseph was an honored member of the high council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.) 44 Pilate couldn’t believe that Jesus was already dead, so he called for the Roman officer and asked if he had died yet. 45 The officer confirmed that Jesus was dead, so Pilate told Joseph he could have the body. 46 Joseph bought a long sheet of linen cloth. Then he took Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapped it in the cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone in front of the entrance. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where Jesus’ body was laid.”
While Jesus was hanging on the cross, there were taunts thrown at him. One was the label at the top of the cross – King of the Jews. They thought – especially Pilate – that claim was ridiculous. The Roman Empire was in control, and Israel certainly didn’t have a king. The fact that Jesus did not deny it (v. 2) showed just how pathetic Jesus was, didn’t it? The temple leaders had used the term, King of the Jews, as a rough translation of Messiah, thinking Pilate would be more upset with the idea of someone who thought he was a king. That sign nailed to the top of the cross actually stated the truth. Jesus was the Messiah!
Many walked by the cross taunting by saying, “Ha! Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, save yourself and come down from the cross!” (v. 29 – 30) Where did they get that idea? In John 2, we read the account of Jesus going to the Temple close to Passover time earlier in his ministry.
“It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. 15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. 16 Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”
17 Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.”
18 But the Jewish leaders demanded, “What are you doing? If God gave you authority to do this, show us a miraculous sign to prove it.”
19 “All right,” Jesus replied. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 “What!” they exclaimed. “It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and you can rebuild it in three days?” 21 But when Jesus said “this temple,” he meant his own body.”
As they yelled at Jesus on the cross, you can imagine them saying the Temple looks quite wonderful. It’s still standing firm this morning. Haha. Yet that taunt was the truth. We know that Jesus raised from the dead in 3 days. Maybe that taunt was actually a calming reminder to Jesus that this horror would be over in 3 days.
Others taunted him with “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! “Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe him!” (v. 31 – 32) For three years they had watched him heal many. We’ve read the stories as we’ve gone through the Gospel of Mark. Jesus had even raised people from the dead. The priests and religious leaders thought they had it right. Jesus may have done some mysterious things, but he sure couldn’t save himself now. But … actually they spoke the truth. Jesus had saved many people from disease and death. But he would not save himself. His purpose for being here on earth was to save us by his own death.
“He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.”
That day was the most important day in history. It was the day that changed everything. It was the day that made our relationship with God possible. We humans, both the Jews and the Romans, thought we were getting rid of am imposter, a pathetic man. Actually, we were the recipients of God’s incredible love and forgiveness. Why didn’t God ‘write us off’? I would have if someone I was trying to help treated me like they treated Jesus. We can never thank him enough, serve him enough, love him enough – but that didn’t matter to Jesus. He loved us so much more!
Steve Wilmhurst, A Ransom for Many: the Gospel of Mark Simply Explained, Welwyn Commentary Series, Evangelical Press, 2011 – Chapter 22
Here is a song that expresses this chapter – At the Cross by Hillsong