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.
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!
Pilate appealed to them again, “…Why, what evil hath he [Jesus] 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). ["If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar." - NIV]
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.
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!