Not Guilty

[Pilate] said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him. I will therefore chastise him, and release him.
— Luke 23:14-16

When Jesus was returned to Pilate’s court, Pilate assembled the chief priests and rulers; then he told them, “…Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him. I will therefore chastise him, and release him.”

Notice Pilate said he had “examined” Jesus. This Greek word, anakrinas, means to examine closely, to scrutinize, or to judge judicially. You must recall that Pilate was the chief legal authority of the land. He knew Roman law and was invested with power to see that Roman law was kept. From a judicial standpoint, he couldn’t find a single crime Jesus had committed. Perhaps Jesus had broken some Jewish religious law, but Pilate wasn’t a Jew and couldn’t care less about Jewish law. From a purely legal standpoint, Jesus wasn’t guilty. To add weight to his action, Pilate backed his view by saying, “Herod has arrived at the same conclusion as I have: This Man has committed no unlawful offense.”

Knowing that the religious leaders were bent on seeing the shedding of Jesus’ blood, Pilate offered to chastise Jesus, hoping this would appease the bloody appetite of the mob. Had this offer been accepted, the beating would have been minor; however, it would have been viewed as a warning that Jesus needed to limit His activities.

Then Pilate announced that after Jesus was chastised, he would “release” Him. When the mob heard the word “release,” they jumped on the chance to reverse Pilate’s decision. You see, it was a custom at this particular time of the year for one prisoner to be “released” from prison as a favor to the people. Because Israel hated being occupied by Rome, many Jewish sons fought like “freedom fighters” to overthrow Roman rule. Therefore, each year when it came time for this big event, all of Jerusalem waited with anticipation to see which prisoner would be released.

By choosing to “release” Jesus at this moment, it was as if Pilate was making the choice himself which prisoner would be released — and his choice was Jesus. When the people heard of Pilate’s decision, they cried out, “…Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas: (who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison)” (Luke 23:18,19).

Who was Barabbas? He was a notorious rabble-rouser who had been proven guilty of “sedition” in the city of Jerusalem. What is “sedition”? It comes from stasis, the old Greek word for treason, which refers to the deliberate attempt to overthrow the government or to kill a head of state.

It is interesting that treason was the very charge the Jewish leaders brought against Jesus when they accused Him of claiming to be king! However, in the case of Barabbas, the charge was real, for he had led a volatile insurrection against the government that resulted in a massacre. Nevertheless, Barabbas’ act of bravery, although illegal and murderous, made him a hero in the minds of the local population.

Luke informs us that this Barabbas was so dangerous that they “cast” him into prison. The word “cast” is the Greek word ballo, meaning to throw, which suggests the Roman authorities wasted no time in hurling this low-level bandit into jail for the role he played in this bloody uprising. The Roman authorities wanted him off the streets and locked up forever!

Luke 23:20,21 says, “Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them. But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him.” The word “willing” is the Greek word thelo. It would be better translated, “Pilate therefore, wishing, longing, or desiring to release Jesus….” Pilate searched for a way to set Jesus free, but the multitude screamed for crucifixion.

This was the first time crucifixion had been specially demanded by the crowd. Luke says the angry mob “cried” for Jesus to be crucified. The word “cried” is the word epiphoneo, and it means to shout, to scream, to yell, to shriek, or to screech. The Greek tense means they were hysterically screaming and shrieking at the top of their voices — totally out of control and without pause.

Pilate appealed to them again, “…Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go” (Luke 23:22). Again the Roman governor hoped that a beating might satisfy the people’s bloody hunger, but “…they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed”(v. 23).

The words “they were instant” is the Greek word epikeima, a compound of the words epi and keimai. The word epi means upon, and the word keimai means to lay something down. When compounded together, this word meant that the people began to pile evidence on top of Pilate, nearly burying him in reasons why Jesus had to be crucified. To finish this quarrel, they threatened him, saying, “…If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar” (John 19:12).

Pilate was taken aback by the threat of treason these Jewish leaders were bringing against him. Once he heard these words, he knew they had him in a trap — and there was only one way legally for him to get out of the mess he was in. He had to make a choice: He could either set Jesus free and sacrifice his own political career, or he could deliver Jesus to be crucified and thus save himself.

When confronted with these two stark choices, Pilate decided to sacrifice Jesus and save himself. But as he turned Jesus over to the masses, Pilate first wanted to make it clear to everyone who was listening that he didn’t agree with what they were doing. This is why Matthew 27:24 tells us, “When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.”

Pay careful attention to the fact that Pilate “…took water, and washed his hands….” Water, of course, is symbolic of a cleansing agent, and hands are symbolic of our lives. For instance, with our hands we touch people, we work, we make money — in fact, nearly everything we do in life, we do with our hands. This is why Paul told us to “lift up holy hands” when we pray and worship (1 Timothy 2:8). When we lift our hands to God, it is the same as lifting our entire lives before Him, because our hands represent our lives.

In Bible times, the washing of hands was a ritual often used symbolically for the removal of one’s guilt. So when Pilate washed his hands in that basin of water and publicly declared, “I am clear of all guilt regarding the blood of this just person!” he was demonstrating what he believed to be his total innocence in this matter.

As long as Pontius Pilate thought he could stand with Jesus and keep his own position as well, he protected Jesus. But the moment Pilate realized that saving Jesus would mean he would have to sacrifice his own position in life, he quickly changed his tune and gave in to the demands of the unsaved mob who were screaming all around him.

Can you think of times in your own life when your walk with Jesus put you in an unpopular position with your peers? What did you do when you realized your commitment to the Lord was going to jeopardize your job or your status with your friends? Did you sacrifice your friendship and your status, or did you sacrifice your commitment to the Lord?

Let’s make a decision today to never make the mistake of sacrificing our relationship with Jesus for other people or other things. Instead, let’s resolve to stand by Jesus regardless of the situation or the personal cost we may have to pay for staying faithful to Him.

Remember what Jesus said: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39 NIV). When we hang on to the wrong things, our wrong choices always costs us the most. On the other hand, when we let go of things we count dear and choose to give everything we have to Jesus, we always end up with more! So let’s be sure to stand by Jesus regardless of what we may have to temporarily lose or lay down!

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My Prayer for Today

Lord, forgive me for the times I’ve denied You and the principles of Your Word because I was afraid I’d jeopardize my popularity if I remained faithful to You. I am truly sorry for this, and I repent for my wrong behavior today. The next time I’m put on the spot and required to make this kind of choice, please help me put aside any worry about saving my own popularity or reputation and make the decision that honors You.

I pray this in Jesus’ name!

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My Confession for Today

I confess that living for Jesus Christ is the most important thing in my life. I will stand for Him, live for Him, speak up for Him, and never back down. Regardless of the pressure that comes to push me away from this rock-solid position, I will not move from my wholehearted commitment to Jesus. His power strengthens me and helps me remain strong even in the face of opposition and conflict!

I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!

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Questions to Answer

1. Can you think of a time when you sacrificed your relationship with Jesus in order to save yourself a little pain from ridicule or rejection?

2. How did you feel after you did this? Were you regretful that you didn’t stand tall in your commitment to the Lord?

3. What are you going to do the next time you find yourself in such a situation? What do you need to start doing now to make sure you will be strong enough to resist that temptation the next time you face it?