As we have continued our study on Sunday morning’s at Grace on “Experience the Passion” from Mark 14-16, we have seen the arrest and trial of Jesus before the Jewish Sanhedrin. Now, in the first 20 versus of Mark 15, we see the sentencing of Jesus to death through crucifixion.
At the end of chapter 14, the Jewish Sanhedrin, in an evening trial, had concluded that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy and worthy of execution. He had already stood in trial before Annas, the former High priest of Israel and before Caiaphas and the other members of this powerful Jewish council. He now stands before them again in the early hours of the morning for the formal rendering of a verdict. The reason for the delay was due to the fact that it was against Jewish Law to have a trial at night so they waited until dawn to cement their findings. However, this council had no power to execute so they led Jesus to Pilate in order to pressure this Roman leader into doing their dirty work.
Pilate was the 5th Roman Procurator of Judea and had been appointed by the Emperor Tiberius. He was a harsh governor who despised the Jewish people (Luke 13:1-2). His main responsibility was to keep peace in Palestine and to see that Jewish tax money kept flowing into Rome. He was the one who had the power of life and death and who decided all Jewish cases regarding capitol punishment. He lived in Caesarea, but due to the Passover feast, he had come to personally keep the crowds in-line. His main motive was not justice, but rather personal and political self-gain. He feared making the Jews angry because reports had already gotten back to the Emperor of his offending Jewish customs. This included the time that he took money from the temple treasury to erect an aqueduct. Many Jews rioted in protest and Pilate sent in soldiers dressed as civilians to slaughter many of these unarmed protesters. Pilate had been warned that one more offense could not only result in the loss of his position but also the loss of his life.
Pilate questioned Jesus, asking if He was the King of the Jews as had been the claim. The Jewish religious leaders had tried to make this a political issue claiming that He was a threat to Roman interests (Luke 23:2). Jesus responded affirmatively. This didn’t seem to alarm Pilate so the religious leaders began to heap all kinds of false accusations on to the charge. Pilate gave Jesus a chance to respond to these accusations but He remained silent. Pilate was amazed at the innocence and dignity of this prisoner in comparison to the emotional hatred and anger of His accusers. Trying to avoid being the one to sentence this innocent man to death, he sends Jesus to Herod Agrippa but Herod, in turn, sends Him right back to Pilate.
Pilate now has an idea to get himself out of this predicament. It was customary at the great feast of Passover for the Governor to release a prisoner as a gesture of good will. The crowd asks for this activity to take place. Pilate brings forth a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. This prisoner was the leader of a very violent group of insurrectionists and was also known for being a murderer. Surely the crowd would pick Jesus over him!