So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. (Mark 15:15 ESV)
Having been forsaken by his disciples, yet continuing to set his face toward the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus stands alone at the last phase in his rushed and unjust trial. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, had the power to enforce the death penalty that the Jewish council condemned Jesus to endure. As a pagan Roman, however, he would have little interest in punishing someone for blasphemy. So the charges highlighted by the Jews focus more on Jesus as a political threat to Caesar’s domain. In particular, they claimed that Jesus called himself the “King of the Jews.”
Other gospel writers report that Jesus was also accused of inciting disrespect toward the Roman Empire and encouraging people not to pay taxes. All these charges were false, of course, but they came from the wicked desire to untie the Roman authorities with the Jewish authorities under the common cause of destroying Jesus. If this man thinks he’s a king, and he’s causing trouble in the empire, then he must be eliminated.
Pilate, however, had one issue. He personally didn’t see Jesus to be what the authorities claimed he was. In fact, Mark tells us in verse 10 that Pilate thought the Sanhedrin was envious of Jesus and thus the charges were embellished. He then turns to the crowd, probably expecting them to have a different opinion, and offers to release one of two prisoners – Jesus of Nazareth, or Barabbas, a convicted insurrectionist and murderer. To Pilate’s surprise, the crowd goes along with the Jewish leaders and demands that Jesus be crucified. In a thoroughly political move, likely to save his own career, Pilate gives the masses what they want in order to satisfy them and keep order in the empire. Jesus would then be beaten and mocked as the cross is set up for his execution.
In this passage, Jesus is presented as helpless; his fate is seemingly in the hands of the various people to whom he is delivered over. But is he? It would seem that the disciples delivered him up to the Jewish authorities, who delivered him up to Pilate and the Romans, who delivered him up to the crowd, who delivered him up to the cross.
While these may be the human factors leading to the crucifixion, behind the scenes we know that ultimately, God delivered up his own Son: Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him (Isaiah 53:10)
If Christ’s suffering at the hands of the authorities and the people was all part of God’s sovereign plan of redemption, then what was the point of the trial? The verdict was already etched in stone. Or perhaps – maybe it wasn’t Christ who was on trial after all. Maybe the one being judged is actually the Judge of the whole world. Maybe it was the Sanhedrin, Pilate, the crowd – you and me – who are on trial, and the question isn’t whether or not Jesus claims he is King of the Jews; the question is, will we bow before him as the King?