Larry Kirkpatrick

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The Last Hours of Jesus #6: Christ or Barabbas?

We are looking at the last hours of Jesus. We have followed Him from the garden of Gethsemane, to various hearings through the night, finally to stand for judgment before Pilate. Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, Herod abused Him and sent Him back. He faces the prospect of crucifying Jesus, whom he believes to be innocent.

The passages we are especially looking at today are:

Mt 27:15-26

Mk 15:6-15

Lu 23:13-24

John 18:39-40

Things do not go on endlessly; eventually there is a resolution. People think they can just drift and evade and move nimbly along. Eventually everyone must make a choice.

There is a sequence in the events of Pilate offering the choice between Jesus and Barabbas:

  1. Jesus sent back to Pilate from Herod
  2. Pilate’s Wife intervenes
  3. Pilate attempts to placate priests, rulers, and people
  4. Pilate’s handwashing
  5. Pilate’s unjust submission to the mob and pronouncement that Jesus will be crucified

We begin a Luke 23:13ff. With Jesus returned from Herod, and having been beaten and mocked, Pilate calls together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people.

All present know the heathen tradition of letting go one prisoner, and Pilate is ready to pose the choice. “Whom do you want me to release to you,” he asks. “Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”(Matthew 27:17)

Barabbas, whose name means “son of the father,” was a widely known murderer and revolutionary. He was a rough character bearing no resemblance to Christ. To offer the choice between these was sharply to contrast light and dark. One “son of the father” would be released, and one “son of the father” would not that day. In choosing which son would live, the nation was also choosing which father it would honor. Jesus’ Father was in heaven. Barabbas’ father, by his actions, was the devil who was a murderer from the beginning. The choice would be stark.

In answer to Pilate’s question, they gave their answer. They wanted him to release Barabbas. This was not because they loved Barabbas but because they hated Christ. Pilate asks them several times what they want him to do and they are clear: give them Barabbas and crucify Christ. The literal language has them saying, “pierce Him, Pierce Him.”

All Pilate’s entreaties fall on deaf ears, but he does his best to shame them. He addresses them.

“You have brought this man to me as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this man concerning those things of which you accuse Him.”

Pilate rebukes the leaders, the pagan politocrat telling them they sought Jesus’ death but they have not sustained their charges. He is telling them to their face they have morally failed for attempting to have an innocent man killed. He examined them and found no cause worthy of death in Him.

This is a very embarrassing rebuke; their faces must have crimsoned with humiliation and range. But Pilate is not done.

“No, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him.”(15)

The leaders are doubly rebuked. Not one but two pagan Romans have refused to confirm their condemnation of Jesus. But now here comes the main thing Pilate wanted to say:

“I will therefore chastise Him and release Him (for it was necessary for him to release one to them at the feast.”(16-17)

By having Jesus beaten in chastisement, Pilate was making a concession. He is giving them something.

But they’re having none of it. They are under the influence of fallen angels. It is all or nothing and they are going to exert themselves and do everything they can do in their power to lead the crowd to lose their minds and have Jesus be crucified.

The gospel of Mark tells us the priests were foremost in stirring up the crowd (Mark 15:11). Matthew 27:20 says the chief priests and the elders.

Christ’s Last Attempt to Save Pilate

Not only had Christ tried to save Pilate in their brief discussion of truth, but Jesus went a step further. The gospel of Matthew has an interesting report for us at 27:19:

While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, ‘Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.’

Listen to this paragraph from The Desire of Ages, p. 732:

In answer to Christ’s prayer, the wife of Pilate had been visited by an angel from heaven, and in a dream she had beheld the Saviour and conversed with Him. Pilate’s wife was not a Jew, but as she looked upon Jesus in her dream, she had no doubt of His character or mission. She knew Him to be the prince of God. She saw Him on trial in the judgment hall. She saw the hands tightly bound as the hands of a criminal. She saw Herod and his soldiers doing their dreadful work. She heard the priests and rulers, filled with envy and malice, madly accusing. She heard the words, ‘We have a law and by our law He ought to die.’ She saw Pilate give Jesus to the scourging, after he had declared, ‘I find no fault in Him.’ She heard the condemnation pronounced by Pilate, and saw him give Christ up to His murderers. She saw the cross uplifted on Calvary. She saw the earth wrapped in darkness, and heard the mysterious cry, ‘It is finished.’ Still another scene met her gaze. She saw Christ seated upon the great white cloud, while the earth reeled in space, and His murderers fled from the presence of His glory. With a cry of horror she awoke, and at once wrote Pilate the words of warning.

Some time during His sleepless night, Jesus had prayed for Pilate. The Father had responded by giving this dream to Pilate’s own wife, who might have influenced him to preserve Christ alive.

Vacillating Leadership

Pilate goes back and forth with the leaders but they are determined: give them Barabbas and crucify Christ. Just here Pilate’s character weakness was his undoing. He attempts a half-step. He has found Jesus innocent but he will have Him chastised anyway, to placate these leaders.

Again, from The Desire of Ages, p. 732:

He had declared that Jesus was innocent, yet he was willing for Him to be scourged to pacify His accusers. He would sacrifice justice and principle in order to compromise with the mob. This placed him at a disadvantage. The crowd presumed upon his indecision, and clamored the more for the life of the prisoner. If at the first Pilate had stood firm, refusing to condemn a man whom he found guiltless, he would have broken the fatal chain that was to bind him in remorse and guilt as long as he lived. Had he carried out his convictions of right, the Jews would not have presumed to dictate to him. Christ would have been put to death, but the guilt would not have rested upon Pilate. But Pilate had taken step after step in the violation of his conscience. He had excused himself from judging with justice and equity, and he now found himself almost helpless in the hands of the priests and rulers. His wavering and indecision proved his ruin.

All our decisions matter. Especially in the tiny daily decisions we are forming our own destiny by forming our character. A decision to be honest over a penny shapes our character to be honest over ten dollars, 100 dollars, 10,000 dollars. Each decision is the pathway to your next decision. All of us stand at the end of a long stream of decisions. Some of our decisions have been just and fair and honest, some not. A zig-zagging line stretches from our childhood years to the present. Pilate’s line had come to this day, this moment, and at last his moral deficit led him to zag here over the line into ruin.

Finally, Pilate resigns himself to what he feels he must do. He feels he must submit to the mob. He calls for a basin of water to be brought. Matthew tells us what happened:

When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.’(Matthew 27:24)

Pilate’s symbolic ceremony was a rebuke to the mob, but since he was the judge, it earned him nothing. He declared himself innocent while acting-out injustice. He placated the mob by consenting to kill the innocent.

Our words are not magic; words do not change moral realities. Either we are repentant and god-seeking or we are unrepentant and self-seeking. Pilate did not want to have a bad report go back to Caesar. He was self-seeking. So Jesus must die.

Neutrality Versus the Necessity of Decision

One of the first demonic ploys is neutrality. You don’t need to make a decision about Jesus. But Pilate found that he could not remain neutral. Pilate knew they had handed Jesus over out of envy (Mark 15:10; Matthew 27:18). He knew they were unjust. And while Pilate was no paragon of justice and virtue, he had determined that Jesus was innocent.

All of us have some Pilate in us. Eventually we are all confronted by Christ. Eventually we all must make a decision what we will do about Christ. We try our hardest to defer making a decision. We need to think about it some more. We need to consult with certain spiritual friends. We need to ask the pastor, the bishop, the atheist podcaster. We need to watch some more videos, read some more books, go to more meetings, consult, delay, dangle, wrangle, womble, and wander just a bit longer. Then we can make our decision; then we will be ready.

Only there never is a time when it will be easier. Satan marshals his forces at every turn, he has a full scientifically-tested series of special procrastination operations ready to drop on you. Don’t choose Jesus. Not yet. It’s too soon. You don’t know enough. Don’t be rash now. There is more time. And the devils will always tell you you have more time.

But everyone has to decide. At some point you will not have more time and you don’t know when that day is coming. Do you recall the parable of the barns?

Then one from the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But He said to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?’ And He said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.’ Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops? So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.(Luke 12:13-21)

Greed begets greed. Materialism begets materialism. We always think we have more time, more time to build bigger barns. But there is an endpoint. There is a place in your life if you let it go that far, that mercy will make its final call.

Can we doubt that on heaven’s calendar, this rendezvous with Jesus at the throne of judgment was Pilate’s end date? It was mercy’s last call.

Finally, when Pilate washed his hands, all the people declared, “His blood [the blood of Jesus] be on us and on our children.”(Matthew 27:25) Just as Pilate had overstated his innocence, the people overstated their ownership. His blood would be upon them personally. The children would be guilty only as they participated in their parent’s sins. At the end of the day we are saved or lost individually. This overstatement of the people has been a snare to Jewish people ever since. This text is used to attack the New Testament as an antisemitic document.

In truth, we all have a choice whether we will keep on sinning and in that way participate in the murder of Jesus, or whether we will admit our own guilt, and turn to Him, and receive His gift of forgiveness which we do not deserve but which He freely gives us.

Each of us is receiving the son of one of the fathers. Jesus the son of the living God. Or, Barabbas, a murderer and son of the first murderer Satan. We are choosing our character, choosing what we love, what we emulate, what we copy, what we pass on into this ever-darkening world. Today is our opportunity to make the kinds of choices that please God and that lead us to become self-sacrificing copies, very far removed from but at least in the footsteps of Jesus. That is what I want for me.


2022-01-08 Fremont MI SDA church

2022-01-08 Muskegn MI SDA church