Red Letter Year: 2/28

Mark 15:1-15

15 Very early in the morning the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law—the entire high council—met to discuss their next step. They bound Jesus, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.

Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus replied, “You have said it.”

Then the leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise.

Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner—anyone the people requested. One of the prisoners at that time was Barabbas, a revolutionary who had committed murder in an uprising. The crowd went to Pilate and asked him to release a prisoner as usual.

“Would you like me to release to you this ‘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 crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus. 12 Pilate asked them, “Then 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 mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”

15 So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.


You can come away from the Gospels thinking Pilate was an okay guy. That he wanted justice, wanted to set the innocent free, but was forced by the mob to hand Jesus over (when we get to Matthew, he even washes his hands). Don’t be fooled. Pilate was a piece of work. He was recalled to Rome and reprimanded by two different emperors for his violent abuse of the Jews under his governance. When your brutality shocks the likes of Tiberius, you are a thug. Pilate went out of his way to bait the Jewish people and then met resistance with lethal force. There is no reason to think Pilate was especially interested in justice on this occasion; more likely he enjoyed how agitated the religious leaders were because of Jesus and wanted to use that tension as an occasion to crack down and further subjugate the people. Jesus shows an absolute unwillingness to be used in such a way. Whatever Pilate hoped to accomplish, it is both Jesus and  the religious leaders who use him to get what they want – an immediate execution. This remains true: Jesus resists being used by those in power as a tool for the oppression and subjugation of others. This happens, but only through a grotesque distortion of the Gospel. That’s why Anglican slavers didn’t allow the Gospel shared with their cargo, because where the Gospel is truly shared the Spirit is the one really doing the sharing. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.