Mark 15:1–20—Jesus before the Romans
1 Very early in the morning the leading priests, other leaders, and teachers of religious law—the entire high council—met to discuss their next step. They bound Jesus and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor. 2 Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “Yes, it is as you say.” 3 Then the leading priests accused him of many crimes, 4 and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to say something? What about all these charges against you?” 5 But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise. 6 Now it was the governor’s custom to release one prisoner each year at Passover time—anyone the people requested. 7 One of the prisoners at that time was Barabbas, convicted along with others for murder during an insurrection. 8 The mob began to crowd in toward Pilate, asking him to release a prisoner as usual. 9 “Should I give you the 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 mob to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus. 12 “But if I release Barabbas,” Pilate asked them, “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 crowd only roared the louder, “Crucify him!” 15 So Pilate, anxious to please the crowd, released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to crucify him. 16 The soldiers took him into their headquarters and called out the entire battalion. 17 They dressed him in a purple robe and made a crown of long, sharp thorns and put it on his head. 18 Then they saluted, yelling, “Hail! King of the Jews!”
19 And they beat him on the head with a 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.
Points of Interest:
- ‘met to discuss their next step’—having already condemned him at night, they now discuss how to implement their plan in the clear light of day. One of the big things they have to decide is how to accomplish Jesus’ death. The Jewish council doesn’t have jurisdiction to execute someone; only the Romans can give out the death penalty. But their judgment against Jesus, that he has committed blasphemy in the Jewish religion, isn’t exactly the kind of thing Rome is concerned about. They could flout Roman authority and kill him anyway, but then the Romans could depose them or even kill them. So, instead they decided to change the charges to something that the Romans would be interested in: that Jesus is an insurrectionist, setting himself as a king outside of Roman authority.
- ‘For he realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy’—Pilate is no fool. He recognizes that Jesus is not a political agitator. However, the priests have managed to gather a mob friendly to their cause. In fear of the crowd, Pilate gives permission to execute Jesus nonetheless. This representative of the mighty Roman empire is no more a leader with true authority than the priests are. He too makes his decisions out of fear of the people he is supposed to be governing.
- ‘to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus’—This exchange of Jesus for Barabbas is full of irony. First of all, the priests are pretending to be doing Rome a favor by handing Jesus over to them for insurrection; then, they turn and demand the release of a true political insurrectionist, Barabbas. The second level of irony comes from Barabbas’ name, which means, ‘Father’s Son’ in Aramaic. Mark is writing to a Greek-speaking audience, who wouldn’t have known this any more than English-speakers would; but he left us hints within his story so that even non-Aramaic speakers would understand the significance. In the entire story of Mark, there are two words spoken in Aramaic and then translated into Greek: in 10:46 (April 4), we learn that the blind man’s name is Bartimaeus, or the son of Timaeus; in the prayer in the garden, (14:36, April 13), Jesus says, ‘Abba, Father.’ All we need to do is put ‘bar’ and ‘abba’ together to get ‘son of father.’ So, when the priests and mob demand Barabbas be released instead of Jesus, they are choosing which Son of the Father they want. The Messiah they want is Barabbas, the murderous political revolutionary, not Jesus, who offered life and the Kingdom of God.
- There is further significance to Barabas’ name. On the one hand, we can associate Barabbas and Jesus as two possible ‘Sons of the Father,’ alternate pictures of the Messiah. On the other hand, Barabbas is an everyman, a father’s son. He represents all of us, who are father’s sons or daughters. Jesus dies on the cross on which Barabbas was intended to die; in other words, he dies in place of every father’s child. He experiences the death that is intended for us.
- ‘turned him over to the Roman soldiers to crucify him’—another element of Jesus’ prophecy about his future comes true. His death is happening just as he said it would. This accuracy should give us confidence that he will also rise again, just as he said.
- ‘Hail, King of the Jews’—while the temple guards mocked Jesus as a prophet, the Romans mock him as a king.
Taking it Home:
- For you: Jesus died on the cross of everyman, a father’s child. He took on suffering that was intended for us. Spend a few moments today praising Jesus for his willingness to die for the ransom of many, including you (10:46, April 4th).
- For your 6: Pilate refuses to act according to the truth he knew about Jesus for fear of the crowds. He doesn’t want to cause any trouble with the people around him. Is fear of what other people will say or do getting in the way of your 6 seeing and acting on the truth about Jesus? Pray that God would protect them from fear of others as they decide how they will respond to Jesus.
- For our church: Jesus doesn’t engage in a tit-for-tat argument with the priests. He doesn’t respond defensively to their accusations and charges. We may very well face false accusations and charges as we try to bring the Kingdom of God to San Diego county and the world. Ask the Holy Spirit to give us the grace not to defensively sink to the level of our accusers.