Pontius Pilate - Page 4
At this point the crowd was swollen by new arrivals asking for the release, in accordance with an old Passover custom, of a prisoner named Barabbas. At once Pilate clutched at the possibility of securing their support and getting them to clamour instead for Our Lord’s release.
However, the chief priests persuaded the crowd to gang up with them and to clamour for the crucifixion of Christ. Then Pilate, having already yielded his true ground when he failed to make his stand on moral principles, caved in before this ugly situation and delivered Jesus to the preliminary flogging. He feebly sought, by his hand washing, to calm his conscience by publicly putting the responsibility on his opponents.
In view of the monstrous crime which he was going to authorise, however, his conscience was not so easily silenced, and he made one last bid to avert Our Lord’s crucifixion. He appealed to their pity and presented Jesus to them, bleeding and derided, with the words, “Behold the Man”, and again affirmed his Prisoner’s innocence (John 19: 4-6).
Pilate was still showing some sort of resistance, but the chief priests knew now that they had him, and they brought a more powerful argument to bear – blackmail. They taunted him with disloyalty to the Emperor in favouring a pretended King and rival.
It was their appeal to Pilate’s political ambitions which turned the scale and he weakly handed Our Lord over to be crucified. But his obstinacy would not permit him to comply with the Jews’ request that he should change the title on the Cross – “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (NRSV, John 19: 19-22) – its very offensiveness to them being its principal merit in his eyes.