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Mid-morning on Thursday of Passion week Jesus was nearing the end of six trials or inquisitions in almost as few hours.  But whereas He was judged—or more accurately, prejudged—guilty at each of His three appearances before the Jews, at each of His three trials before the Gentiles He was found not guilty of any of the crimes the Jewish leaders had charged Him with in order to have Him put to death; Luk 23:4,13-15 Joh 18:38.  Pilate was therefore seeking a way to release Him, and even his wife, who was tormented in a dream that very day on account of the injustice happening against Jesus, interceded with her husband on His behalf.  And yet, because of the political necessity as the Roman procurator to work with the Jewish leaders in governing the province, this wasn’t as simple as we might imagine.  Because of the Roman occupation, relations with the Jews were strained at best.  And as much as he may have personally wanted to do right, for the good of Rome’s interests he needed to exercise good will toward the Jewish leaders upon whom he depended to help maintain the Pax Romana over the Jewish nation.  Thus, especially on this day of their celebration, and because granting His execution could not be deemed a threat to his greater Roman interests, he was also pressed by the need to appease them.  What does this teach us about the difference between the true justice of God that always does right, and the justice of the world that is more pragmatic and given to expedience?  What do the complications that such worldly practicalities add to justice in this world teach us about the need to pray for justices to resist such pressures in order that true justice may prevail?  While we often think of the dictatorial force that those in power have over those they rule, what does the hard place Pilate found himself in also teach us about the power that subjects who are ruled also have over their rulers, which makes leadership over a worldly people so dangerous?

In spite of the pressure he felt to appease the Jews, Pilate still wanted to release Jesus, and he saw an opportunity to turn the political pressure back upon the Jewish leaders when the crowd came and began asking him to do as he had been accustomed in releasing at the festival one prisoner whom they requested (Mar 15:6,8), which was in keeping with the deliverance communicated by the Passover celebration.  Because he knew the chief priests had handed Jesus over out of envy, he answered the crowd if he should release for them Jesus, the “King of the Jews”.  For the other option they had in mind, since they could hardly have known Jesus of Nazareth was in custody since He had only a couple hours earlier been delivered up to him, was, according to some manuscripts, another Jesus, Jesus Barabbas, who was a violent robber who had been imprisoned for insurrection.  Hence, in the sovereignty of God, the Jewish people themselves, represented not only by their leaders, but by the crowd there that morning—absent His disciples, was presented a clear choice between two very different Jesuses, and two very different saviors.

While Pilate was dealing with the message from his wife (Mat 27:19), what does Matthew say happened as the crowd was deliberating the choice Pilate put before them between Jesus and Barabbas?  See Mat 27:20, cf. Mar 15:11.  Whereas righteous leaders are a blessing to a people as they seek to lead them in the way of the Lord wherein is found that blessing, what does Matthew 27:20 remind us about where self-serving, unrighteous leaders lead their followers?  Cf. Mat 27:25.  What choice then does Matthew record that the people made, having been misled by their leaders?  See Mat 27:21; cf. Joh 18:39-40.  Considering that just a few days prior the multitude had hailed Jesus with loud hosannas as He entered Jerusalem on a donkey, what does this turn of events remind us about the tremendous influence leaders can have over a people, whether for good or evil?  What does it also remind us about how fickle and easily manipulated a worldly people can be who are only focused on their own self-interests?

Still determined to release Jesus even though the crowd was persuaded to ask for Barabbas, what did Pilate then ask them, in hopes that he could still turn the pressure back onto the Jewish leaders?  See Mar 15:12.  Consider that, even at this stage, the crowd could have asked that Jesus also be released, and Pilate would likely have obliged as it was his desire to do so.  But perhaps supposing he would only release one, and that asking for Jesus to also be released he might not then release for them Barabbas, what did they answer Pilate in regard to Jesus?  See Mar 15:12, Mat 27:22.  In what way then did Pilate’s plan to enlist the multitude to turn the pressure back onto the Jewish leaders not only fail, but completely backfire?  In what way did the crowd’s answer also condemn the Jewish nation all the more not only in choosing Barabbas over Jesus, but in demanding Jesus be put to death?

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