|His Way is Perfect Part I:Â Calling for Barabbas
The perfection of the word of God is always exhilarating.Â The records of the gospel often complement each other in ways no human writer could ever compose.Â For instance, a tremendous section in which the gospels complement each other concerns the others crucified with Christ.Â Another section of the gospels that also reveals Godâ€™s tremendous care for His word concerns the record of Pilateâ€™s decision to release Barabbas instead of our Lord.
The record begins in Luke 23:11; the only gospel that includes the Lordâ€™s appearance before Herod.Â In Luke 23:11-16 the narrative moves from the Lordâ€™s return to the praetorium to Pilateâ€™s response:
And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate.
12 And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves.
13 And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people,
14 Said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him:
15 No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him.
16 I will therefore chastise him, and release him.
Pilate did not want the responsibility for the trial and execution of Jesus (John 18:31).Â Thatâ€™s one reason he sent Jesus to Herod in the first place.Â Why, then, did Pilate gather â€śthe chief priests, and the rulers and the peopleâ€ť?Â From the start, Pilate planned to release Jesus to the people as part of the Passover custom (John 18:39).Â The people had been flocking to Jesus throughout the preparation for the Passover feast.Â Surely, Pilate thought he would be applauded for releasing Jesus despite the Phariseesâ€™ displeasure.
While the gospel of Matthew does not recount the Lordâ€™s trial before Herod, Matthew 27:11-14 does tell of another interrogation of Jesus, somewhere outside the Praetorium.Â This interrogation involved Pilate, the chief priests, and the elders:
And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.
12 And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.
13 Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee?
14 And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.
This second interrogation by Pilate is also included in Mark 15:2-5.Â Matthew 27:15-18 then skips to the end of the story of the peopleâ€™s call for Barabbas:
Now at that feast the governor was wont (pluperfect) to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.
16 And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.
17 Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?
18 For he knew (pluperfect) that for envy they had delivered him.
This is the final, official form of Pilateâ€™s decision to release a prisoner at Passover, but Pilate, as Luke shows, did not want to release Barabbas.Â Matthew 27:19-21 now fills in the events leading to the outcome in Matthew by a chronological parenthesis:
When he was set down (present participle: while he is sitting) on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.
20 But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
21 The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.
The use of the present tense in 27:19 reintroduces the timeline.Â Pilate offers the crowd a final between choice between â€śBarabbas or Jesus who is called Christâ€ť was only after 1) Pilate sat at his judgment seat, 2) after his wife sent him a note warning him to release Jesus and 3) after chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should destroy Jesus, and 4) after the crowd does or says something to which Pilate answers in 27:21. Matthew 27:20 does not record the people demanding Barabbas; however, Matthew 27:21 reads that the governor answered and said.Â Matthew doesnâ€™t reveal what the conversation was between the governor and the crowd, but Matthew plainly records that some exchange took place.Â
Returning to Luke 23:14-17, we can see the start of the exchange between Pilate and the crowd.Â Based on his previous disinclination to put Jesus to death for the jealous priests and elders, and with the warning from his own wife about Jesus Pilate resolutely proclaims his purpose:
I will therefore chastise him, and release him.
Matthew tells us the crowdâ€™s unity came from the chief priests and elders, but it must have surprised Pilate to hear, as Luke 23:18 records, the crowd as one, in unison, call for Barabbas:
And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas:
Releasing Barabbas was never part of Pilateâ€™s plan. The idea started with the people shouting together before Pilateâ€™s judgment seat.Â The idea had originated with the chief priests and elders.
Mark 15:6-9 picks up where Luke leaves off:
Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired.
7 And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection.
8 And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them.
9 But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
Here, the crowd seems to be objecting to Pilateâ€™s failure to live up to the rules of the tradition of the Passover.Â But why?Â Hadnâ€™t Pilateâ€™s whole plan been to release his most famous prisoner, Jesus the Messiah?Â Why are the people crying out for him to keep the tradition?Â In Luke 23 Pilate had not offered the people a choice, he had simply decreed that he would release Jesus.Â The people have now spoken and said that they want their choice of prisoners because, as Mark 15:6 says, that was the tradition (see also Matthew 27:15).Â Pilateâ€™s first response to the crowdâ€™s call for Barabbas is not the final, formal offer Pilate makes in Matthew.Â He does not mention Barabbas at all in his second offer to release a prisoner.Â But Pilateâ€™s tone has changed.Â He does not simply state, â€śhaving scourged him, I will release him.â€ťÂ Now, Pilate asks, â€śWill ye that I release to you the King of the Jews?â€ť
In Mark 15:11 the crowdâ€™s response is implied rather than given explicitly:
But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.
John 18:39-40, though, records Pilateâ€™s second offer and the response of the crowd:
But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
40 Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.
Johnâ€™s account is abbreviated.Â John gives Pilateâ€™s purpose in gathering the people before his judgment seat, Pilateâ€™s second offer, and the crowdâ€™s second response.Â Even though Johnâ€™s account is abbreviated, it is plain that Pilate had not planned to release Barabbas at all.Â His plan, all along had been to release Jesus.Â The crowd responds again in the way first recorded in Luke 23:18.Â The mob demands that Barabbas be released.Â Fearing the crowdâ€™s displeasure, Pilate finally makes the formal offer recorded in Matthew 27:17.
Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ
Now, notice the word again in John 18:40.Â The entire account in John of calling for Barabbas is given in the two short verses shown above.Â The word again makes no sense in John alone.Â Again only makes sense with the truth of all three gospels, for the original event is in Luke, yet John records the crowd response as a repeated event.Â Yet, if Johnâ€™s gospel did not use that single word again, we would not have the completely established picture of Pilateâ€™s decision to release Barabbas.Â Do each of the four gospels bear witness to one another as an inseparable cannon, or do they not!Â No human writer could be so precise and so perfectly knowledgeable of the entirety of events.Â His way is perfect (Psalms 18:30).
By Ren Manetti, next week His Way is Perfect II:Â Pilateâ€™s Second Attempt to Release Jesus