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In contrast to the Jewish leaders who took extraordinary steps to condemn Jesus to death, the Roman governor Pilate discerned almost immediately that He was not guilty of the crimes with which they charged Him and was making extraordinary attempts to set Him free.  This was especially remarkable in light of the political pressure of his Roman position to appease the Jewish leaders upon whom he depended to maintain the Roman peace of the subjugated Jews, and at the low cost of simply granting them their pleasure against a powerless peasant.  For since executing Jesus would not conflict with the greater interests of Rome, and in fact, disposing of a puppet regime’s political enemies was not an uncommon Roman practice in order to shore up its local henchmen, there was really no reason why Pilate wouldn’t just grant them their request, which is no doubt what they were expecting.  Because the Jewish leaders were unmoved by his insistence that he found no guilt in Jesus, in order to turn the political pressure back against them he then turned to the crowd.  They had come to request that according to his custom he release for them a prisoner in keeping with the redemption theme of the Passover.  Because he knew it was from envy that the leaders had delivered Him up, he asked if he should release for them Jesus, expecting that the multitude of common people with whom Jesus was popular would want Him set free.  However, as Jesus was not turning out to be the sort of Messiah the people wanted, Pilate’s plan completely backfired, as the crowd was not only persuaded by the religious leaders to ask for Barabbas—who was being held for insurrection and so was closer to the type of Messiah they were seeking—but to demand that Jesus be put to death.

Consider that at this stage, the easiest and most politically expedient thing to do would have been for Pilate to just grant them their request; if he had been completely godless and concerned only for this present world there would have been no skin off his nose to consent to their desire, as it would have curried the favor of those upon whom he depended to successfully carry out his Roman duties.  And yet, what does the Scripture record that he did then?  See Luk 23:20-22, Joh 19:1-5.  In light of his desire to release Jesus, what effect might we assume that Pilate was hoping it would have upon the crowd to have Jesus scourged?  Shall we therefore understand that in scourging Jesus, Pilate’s goal was to inflict maximum pain and suffering even before crucifying Him?  Or rather, that in order to spare His life he sought to appease the crowd by merely punishing Him so that he might not have to crucify Him?  See again Luk 23:22.  Note: a different Greek word (μαστιγόω) is used by John than that used by Matthew and Mark (φραγελλόω) for scourging, so it is possible to understand the scourging described by John as a separate beating Jesus endured prior to being sentenced to crucifixion, while that described by Matthew and Mark was an additional punishment meted out as part of the sentence of crucifixion.  However, the words may also be understood as simply synonymous, especially since John wrote much later and to a different audience in a different location.  The fact that both accounts connect the scourging to the crown of thorns and purple robe seems to clearly indicate that they are describing the same event, and so it makes the most sense to understand Matthew and Mark’s accounts as an abbreviated version of John’s, and that John, writing later, expanded upon their accounts for his own purposes.

What does the fact that Pilate kept trying to release Jesus, even at this stage, indicate to us about the struggle he was having with his conscience, that also illustrates Paul’s argument that Gentiles, although not having the law, may through the witness of their conscience still carry out the righteous requirements of the law?  See Rom 2:14-15.  What do his repeated attempts to release Jesus, even to the washing of his hands before the crowd to declare his own innocence of Christ’s blood, illustrate about Matthew’s purpose in writing to the Jews at the time when so many were rejecting the gospel of their own Messiah precisely because so many of the Gentiles were embracing it?  See also Mat 8:5-13 and think: in what way would these things explain to those Jews who were on the fence about Jesus why the gospel intended for the Jews was departing from them to the Gentiles and answer those who contended that Jesus could not be the Messiah for the simple reason that the Gentiles believed it and so many of the Jews didn’t?  What do they also illustrate about the truth of Paul’s words in Rom 2:13?

How does John’s account in Joh 19:1-16 expand upon Matthew’s earlier and more abbreviated account of Pilate succumbing to the Jews’ pressure to have Jesus put to death (see Mat 27:24-31), and that demonstrates even beyond Matthew’s account the continued attempts Pilate made to release Jesus?  What apologetic effect would John’s expanded account have had upon both the Jews and the Gentiles at the time he wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem when the gospel had passed decisively from the Jews to the Gentiles?  Should Christians imagine that God will spare an apostate Church any more than He did the Jews, who likewise supposed that righteousness was not a requirement of salvation because they were His chosen people?  Cf. Paul’s words to the Romans in Rom 11:11-23, that were also written a number of years before John’s gospel, as well as the letters to the seven Gentile churches in Revelation 2-3 that were also communicated to John.

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