The truth hurts.
And if the truth hurts enough, we sometimes don’t want to hear it. There are even times we’ll actively suppress and attack it.
After the remarkable events of the Last Supper, Jesus led His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. After Judas Iscariot betrayed him, Jesus was arrested. The disciples scattered. Peter denied Jesus three times. Annas and Caiaphas had questioned Jesus. We continue in John 18:28-40.
The text drips with irony: the Jewish leaders were afraid of being ceremonially unclean by entering the Palace of a Gentile but were content to have the blood of an innocent man on their hands. Still, here we are.
Normally, the official headquarters, judgment seat, and command center in the sub-province of Judea and Samaria were in Caesarea Maratima. During festival times, which attracted huge numbers of visitors to Jerusalem, the governor moved the command center to Jerusalem. Most likely, the location of this temporary headquarters was Herod Antipas’ palace.
As Pilate stumbles out of bed and steps out on the porch, he asks about the charges. This is the beginning of the formal trial of Jesus. Since Romans were involved in Jesus’ arrest and transport, Pilate most likely had some knowledge of this impending need to try Jesus.
Their response is a classic example of avoiding the question, “If He were not a criminal, we would not have handed Him over to you” (verse 30). They dismissed the Son of God as a common criminal. But that wasn’t Pilate’s question.
Pilate already knew what they wanted, and there wasn’t enough evidence by Roman law to convict Jesus. The Jewish religious leaders are forced to object, reminding Pilate, “We have no right to execute anyone.” Being under Roman occupation, they could not carry out capital punishment. But Pilate could.
So Pilate brings Jesus inside so he can interrogate Him himself. In this interrogation by Pilate, Jesus turns the tables, and the prisoner becomes the judge.
Romans did not believe in an absolute moral code at this point in history. Truth was highly individualistic and loosely held together by their law. Even in their legal proceedings, it eventually got to the point where it was difficult even to try criminals because what was true for the Roman government was not held as true by the criminals.
Historically, we know Pilate often struggled with convicting criminals because he wrestled with the tension that Roman law considered something wrong or immoral, but how could he convict someone when that wasn’t true for them? Sound familiar?
Pilate wasn’t being merciful or generous in trying to release Jesus. He was trying to save his own neck by dismissing Jesus as King and forcing the Jewish leaders into a corner. If Pilate had to choose between the execution of an innocent man and a riot, he would choose the execution.
When given a choice between a man against whom they had trumped up charges and Barabbas, a convicted criminal, the people chose the criminal.
Don’t give us the truth of God; give us the insurrectionist.
Don’t give us the reality of God; give us something to make us happy.
Don’t give us the truth; give us something we want to hear.
Don’t give us Jesus; give us Barabbas.
When we read the Scriptures and are faced with obedience or rebellion, do we choose Jesus or “Barabbas”?