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"Then Pilate called in the high priests, rulers and the others and said, 'You brought this man to me as a disturber of the peace. I examined him in front of all of you and found there was nothing in your charge. And neither did Herod, for he has sent Him back here with a clean bill of health. It's clear He's done nothing wrong, let alone anything deserving of death. I'm going to warn Him to watch His step and let Him go.'
"At that the crowd went wild: 'Kill Him! Give us Barabbas!' (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for starting a riot in the city and for murder)." Luke 23:13-19 (The Message).
Pilate's true colours begin to show in this exchange with the Jewish religious hierarchy. Their resolve to kill Jesus was pitted against his resolve to set Him free. Into the mix came Pilate's fear of a riot in Jerusalem and underneath that, his fear for his own skin.
His first step towards defeat was his attempt to negotiate with Jesus' accusers. He was the highest Roman authority in Jerusalem and he had the last word. Why did he try to enter into an agreement with them? He could have simply given them his verdict, released Jesus and that would have been that. But he did not. He tried to appease them by bringing Herod into the picture, (so much for Herod's part in this 'justice' system!), and trying to convince them that he and Herod were in agreement regarding His innocence.
His approach through reason met with a barrage of violent opposition. The bottom line was: 'We want Jesus dead. Justice does not come into it any more. Even if we have to trade His life for a dangerous man's, we will bulldoze you into agreeing to the death sentence.'
And so, spurred on by their religious leaders, the mob began their campaign of intimidation. Their first weapon was unrestrained behaviour coupled with volume and vehemence. They also had a big gun - the practice of releasing one prisoner at Passover. The other gospels state that the initiative came from Pilate. He offered Barabbas, knowing that he was a violent criminal, and hoping that the mob would choose Jesus because He gave no evidence of being dangerous in spite of their accusations.
That plan did not work. In fact it only seemed to add fuel to the flames. Instead of appeasing them, he added to his problem by offering to release into society a man who had already taken lives. It was becoming more and more difficult for him to put the brakes on. Even his offer to have Jesus beaten was a pathetic substitute for what they were demanding.
Behind this tussle between civil and religious authorities lay the real battle, but we must never think that it was war between two evenly matched powers, God and Satan. Amazingly, the scales were tipped against Jesus from the beginning and He knew it. He was also a willing party to it because God's passion to rescue mankind from the devil's clutches had to be satisfied through Jesus' sacrificial death, blood for blood, an innocent man for the guilt of mankind because that was the only way for the debt of man's sin to be paid.
"'This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead...'" Acts 2:23-24a (NIV).
Peter was there and he saw it all. Could there be any clearer statement than his? "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God." 1 Peter 3:18 (NIV).
After all, there was no contest. It was Pilate's decision and he was responsible for it, as were those who yelled for Jesus' death. But God had the last word and, through Jesus' death, exposed and vanquished the devil once for all!
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