As far as the Sanhedrin was concerned, they had arrested Jesus and put him on trial. Since Rome had long since taken away their right to carry out a death sentence, they had to take him to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate for another trial. In fact, however, Jesus never was and never can be on trial. Whoever encounters Jesus for whatever reason is on trial. The stakes are higher than life or death of the body. The outcome of the trial determines eternal destiny.
The Jewish leadership dragged Jesus to Pilate’s palace and accused Jesus of sedition against Rome. He refused to pay taxes and claimed to be king. With such a charge they forced Pilate to take notice. Pilate asked Jesus if he was king of the Jews, and Jesus quietly said that he was and refused to respond to any of what the Jews shouted about him.
And so Pilate knew that Jesus was no political threat to Rome. He could have simply dismissed the Sanhedrin and their crowd and gone back to bed. Instead, he tried to deal with the Jews and equivocated. The opportunity to be strong and decisive passed. The longer the Jews shouted at him, the weaker his position grew.
When the crowd reminded him of his custom of releasing one prisoner, he could have simply announced that he would release Jesus, but he couldn’t resist trying to get back at the Sanhedrin by mocking them. Knowing that they had only brought Jesus to him out of envy, he asked the crowd if they wanted him to release the King of the Jews.
He got his little revenge against the priests and in the process embittered them all the more. They stirred up the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead. The only way to avoid an immediate riot was to hand Jesus over for crucifixion.
Many Old Testament scriptures predict the judicial murder of Christ. Psalm 22 describes the crucifixion in graphic detail. As the outcome of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the blessings of Abraham came upon the Gentiles, and God offered the entire human race the grace to receive salvation. So, did Pilate or any of the others really have any choice?
Yes and no. Hindsight always tells us what we could have done instead of what we did. For every bad choice we make, a good choice would have led to a better result if only we had thought of it in time (or at all). The fact is, all of us sin, and sin limits the choices that we can notice and puts high value on what seems attractive at the time.
Pilate knew Jesus was innocent and wanted to release him, but wanted even more to the Sanhedrin with contempt. He so despised them that he failed to take their political astuteness into account and found himself outmaneuvered when he appealed to the crowed they had themselves assembled. In the end, Pilate condemned a man to flogging and death whom he knew to be innocent, just to please a crowd of people he despised.
How different is anyone else? As Will Rogers observed, “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” Does any choice made on such a basis result in the best possible outcome? Maybe we don’t get anyone killed, but does that excuse the damage that comes from a decision-making process limited by our sinfulness?
That’s why the world needs a savior. That’s why Jesus had to die–not because God had to make all of the Old Testament prophecies come true, but because the effects of human sin cannot be cleansed and erased by anything less.