Matthew 27:1-26 Part 4


Our Lord has now been led to the top of God’s holy mountain (Mt. Zion)… to the dome of the Rock, where He has not received the honor and adoration due to Israel’s King… but where He has received the “prize” of degradation.

Completely outside the pale of the Law, Israel’s leadership (in assembly) have accused Him of blasphemy (which is a summary of the first table of the Law!).  And, please, this is very important for us to realize:  outside any law structure (which is God’s structure for all society), without benefit of any law, Jesus was judged guilty of the first table of the Law!

As that sinks in a little bit, let me say it in another way.  Structure and order in human society is defined by God.  And that definition is found in the Revelation of His Law-word (beginning with the first four Commandments concerning the acknowledgment and worship of God!).  All individuals and all groups are bound under that Law-word; and, outside It, all humanity breaks down and becomes chaotic.

But the Jewish leadership (elders and priests of Israel), outside the structure of law, brought the first table of the Law against God’s Messiah – i.e. blasphemy.  Jesus had no benefit of law structure – He was cast completely outside it – yet He was judged a “blasphemer” – a “breaker” of the first four Commandments (the first “Table” of Law).

As you may remember, the first “Table” of Law has to do with our duties with respect to God; and the second concerns our duties before God with respect to men.

And in our present text, Jesus has been led to Pilate (the representative of world government).  As I said last Lord’s Day, now the accusations are completely changed.  Now the accusations have to do with Rome’s interest – Pilate’s interests.  Where before they had to do with the acknowledgment and worship of God, now the accusations have to do with men.  Therefore Jesus in now accused of breaking the second “Table” of the Law!

Still completely outside any law structure (Pilate vacillates all over the place in concerned self-interest), Jesus is now judged by the world government (the fourth great kingdom)… having been accused by the Jewish leaders of having broken the second table of God’s Law-word!

He’s accused of sedition (perverting the nation); He’s accused of rebellion (not paying the tax); and He’s accused of not extending honor and obedience to earthly authority (the emperor)!

So in a magnificent “twist” of irony (from our standpoint), the hypocrite leaders of Israel cast Jesus outside any law structure; but, at the same time, they bring the entire table of God’s Law-word against Him.

Now.  Having heard the Jews’ accusations against this Man, Pilate has taken Jesus inside the praetorium and examined Him.  We read that examination last Lord’s Day (from John eighteen).  And now Pilate has come out and pronounced Him faultless!  Please note here that Jesus did submit to Pilate’s authority; and He answered all his questions.  He spoke the Truth – without guile, without inflammatory statements, without degrading the magistrate.  And Pilate was convinced that Jesus was without any fault!

But while Jesus submitted to God’s earthly authority, we have to make mention here of the fact that the representative of world government examined and judged God’s Messiah – the King!  Now, isn’t that a bit upside down?

And yet we observe governments doing the same thing all the time – including our own!  All government (both civil and ecclesiastical) are under the authority of Christ.  Yet our government has judged Him and pronounced itself outside the realm of all things religious!  It has separated itself from that which is religious (especially Christianity) and declared itself “free” from that authority!

It has “banned” Christianity from its own government schools (and all other government property); it has declared “Christian conversation” in the workplace to be reason enough for harassment charges… and has attached penal sanctions to it!  It has used a misinterpretation of its own constitution to separate itself from Christ’s authority, thereby perverting its own foundational documents!

And much more.  And in all of this it has reversed the positions… placing itself above its King.  The Christ is no longer the Judge, but the One Who is being judged!

But, as we’ve said before, God “laughs” at such a prospect.  And that’s because it can’t be done.  Christ is still the King.  It’s a ridiculous idea to think that the positions are reversed.  Our real position is “under” the King rather than “over” the King.  He can’t be judged… His IS the Judge!

When governments judge the Judge, they become chaotic… and societies fall apart; when families won’t submit to the King, they disintegrate; when individuals live according to their own authority, they end up in ruin.  God is a Covenanting God, and disobedience to His Covenant brings chastening!

Our rightful position is not as a judge… we don’t pronounce judgment.  Our position is to acknowledge and obey.

But Pilate judged God’s Messiah.  And he pronounced Him faultless.  And, as we left off last time, the governor vacillated under pressure.  Having heard the ruling, the crowd became angry and began to shout accusations against Jesus.  And Pilate, instead of enforcing his ruling, shifted the responsibility back to Jesus to answer the charges.

But Jesus, having been judged and found innocent, would not speak!  And in the tension of the silence, the entire weight of the situation shifted back to Pilate!  As verse fourteen says, he was “amazed”.

Now that word shouldn’t give us the impression that Pilate was somehow “detached” from that which was happening in front of him.  “Amazed” possibly isn’t the best translation.  But the fact that Jesus didn’t utter one word (as Matthew says) “charged” the atmosphere to an even greater intensity… which all redounded to Pilate’s governorship.  The word “amazed” probably means that he was embarrassed and in a state of uncertainty… maybe disoriented.  Already in a quandary… now he is off-balance as all the attention shifts back to him in the silence.

Matthew leaves this out; but Luke informs us that Pilate then vacillates again, and tries to find some “middle ground”.  So, he offers to the crowd to “chastise” Jesus (that means to whip Him) and then he would release Him (hoping that they would be satisfied with that).

Now, it’s at this point that Matthew informs us (parenthetically) of an old custom of having one person released from prison during the festival (verse fifteen).  The magistrate would allow the crowd to choose who they wished released.  (That custom probably dated back before Rome came to power.  And it was so well-established that the Roman governors continued it.)

Mark says that some of the Jews then suggested to Pilate that he might put this custom into practice in this case.  I think we can easily visualize Caiaphas and some of the priests realizing that things were not going as well as they expected… and, off to the side, conspiring to get what they wanted:  a release from Pilate to kill the Man Jesus!

So they come up with the idea of releasing a prisoner at the festival – according to the custom.  And they go up and approach Pilate with the suggestion.  And so, with great relief, Pilate sees a way out of this predicament.

And it’s at this point that Matthew (verse sixteen) informs us that a notorious criminal named Barabbas was being held (i.e. being held under Roman guard).

Barabbas was a Jew (whose name, by the way, means “son of god”) who, as the other evangelists describe him, was a robber and a murderer and one who had been caught in an insurrection (which is open, usually armed, rebellion against authority).

Matthew uses the word “notorious” to describe him.  That word comes from the root word snma… which means “mark”.  He was a “marked” man… a “known” criminal… a notorious person who everyone knew to be a dangerous, habitual criminal.

Well, Pilate, perplexed as to what to do, pressured form every side… even though he had pronounced Jesus free from guilt, offers to beat Him anyway… and then he would set Him free.  He offers to beat an innocent Man!  And the beating he meant is a terrible one.

In exchange for getting out of his “conundrum” – his perplexity – his dilemma, he offers the Jews a “whipping” of a Man who he has already declared innocent!  The vacillations of an unprincipled man only deepen the quagmire and make him susceptible to the devious suggestions of other unprincipled men.

And that’s exactly what happened; because the effort to kill Jesus now hinges on the conspiracy of the festival custom.  Not wanting Jesus released, the Jews now approach Pilate and suggest that he give them a choice to “release” someone (as was the custom).  And then they would ask for someone else… leaving Jesus to be executed!

And Pilate saw that another way.  He didn’t see the conspiracy… he saw a way to shift the blame for whatever happened to someone else!  Never mind he had already declared Jesus innocent!

So Pilate, now having new life, and in an attempt to determine the outcome of this festival custom, nominates only two from whom the Jews could choose one.  He nominates Barabbas, the well-known notorious criminal, whose guilt was beyond question; and Jesus, in Whom he has found no fault!  By naming only two – one of which was so evil – Pilate thought that he could still have an effect on the outcome.  He takes the worst criminal being then held… thinking that the Jews couldn’t possibly unite on releasing him.

So again, having declared Jesus innocent, Pilate shifts the responsibility off of himself and places it elsewhere; and he presents Jesus alongside the criminal (as if He were in the same category), and tells the Jews to choose between them.  Verse seventeen:


“Who do you wish I should release to you:  Barabbas, or Jesus the One called ‘Christ’?”


You see, he presents them as if they were the same; one who is obviously guilty, and One Who is obviously innocent – and declared so!

Now, although Pilate, who knows the Jews brought Jesus there out of “spite” (according to verse eighteen), (although he) anticipates the crowd making the obvious choice (Jesus), he has been completely unprincipled and lawless in his rulership!

But, even so, he still expects the crowd to make the right choice!  First he ruled that Jesus was innocent of the charges and accusations; then, under pressure, he backed off of that and shifted the responsibility of his innocence back to Jesus; and now he has found a way to put the whole responsibility back on the Jews!

And after all of that unprincipled lawlessness, he still hopes the crowd will do right.  How can a magistrate – how can any leader, or business owner, or head of a family – expect those under his care to do what is just and right and godly when he, himself, is unprincipled?!

How can a president or a king or a local magistrate govern, and expect the people to be law-abiding, when he has no principled example to set?  How ludicrous it is for a man to expect his children to turn out “right” when he, himself, is undisciplined!  Or what should a pastor expect from his flock if he has no example to set?  Should he expect them to be godly anyway?

Why should Pilate expect the crowd to do the right thing?  Here he made a critical mistake.  In verse eighteen Matthew states one of the factors involved in Pilate’s resorting to this method.  The Jews had delivered Jesus to him (to secure a death penalty) because of spite… or envy.  (At least the priests and elders were moved by envy – he thought, not the rest of them!)

What is envy?

The crowds following Jesus and clamoring after Him were large; the healing of the blind and the deaf and the crooked and the demon-possessed; the joyous singing of “hosannas” to David’s Son and David’s Lord (upon entering Jerusalem); the Biblical and theological defeat of the pharisees and the priests, in public, upon entering the temple; His open condemnation of their lawlessness; the fear of His attempt to become king of Israel….

Envy.  The envy was a burning, heart-felt desire for this Man not to have what He had; not to be what He was; to bring Him down… to take it away; to take Him away; to destroy Him.

Now, covetousness is somewhat different, isn’t it?  (When I began thinking about envy again, I also began to think about the tenth Commandment – “You shall not covet….”).  That Commandment is a “cap” to the Law and another “summary” of the Law.

Covetousness has its reference in “the world”.  It is a desire for “the world” – meaning “the world order”.  Where envy concerns a person (or persons) and the burning desire for that person not to possess what he possesses, covetousness focuses on the human desire to be human apart from God!  Therefore it does, indeed, summarize the entire law!

Covetousness is view of the world from one who is of the world; it is the pride of life and the lust of the eyes; it is a need for the world and the desire for the things it offers.  And envy is the craving for the other man not to have it.

Jesus Christ is the Royal High Priest of God Who entered into the Holy of Holies once and for all.  The alien priests of Israel were not.  And they envied Jesus.

Jesus Christ is the Real Elder and Shepherd of the people Who feeds and tends and nurtures and disciples His flock.  The alien elders of Israel were not.  And they envied Jesus.

And Jesus Christ is the Law-giver and fullness of the Law; the Just and Mighty One Who was blameless, faultless, innocent and obedient to His Father’s Will.  The alien pharisees were not.  And they envied Jesus.  Their craving was for Him not to be all those things.  Their craving, as a matter of fact, was so strong they sought to destroy Him.

Pilate knew that the priests had delivered Jesus through envy; but the crowd was large.  And he rested on the hope that many would require the release of Jesus rather than Barabbas!  And that they would never unite on behalf of the criminal!

But he didn’t consider that all that were here (so early in the morning) were people who were connected to the temple.  They were temple guards, servants, attendants to the priests; assistants to the elders.  He hadn’t considered that these are the very ones who went to Gethsemane and arrested Jesus; nor did he know that they had all been up all night during Jesus’ trial before Annas and Caiaphas.

These were all people who depended on the priests and elders for their jobs!  Their lives were connected to the temple and to Israel’s leadership.  It was inevitable how they would respond.

But with some hope Pilate put the choice before the crowd.  “Barabbas, or Jesus the One called Christ?”  And at that point, as the priests and elders began to persuade the rest of the crowd to ask for Barabbas, a messenger arrives with a note from Pilate’s wife.

And it’s a terrible note.  A warning.  A reminder to him that this Man is a just Man – innocent.  Pressure.  The representative of the fourth great kingdom of the earth… what does he do as the history of God’s creation reaches its focal point in the trial and crucifixion of God the Son?