"And they all cried out at once, saying, 'Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas'" (Luke 23:18). Consistency would demand that the Jewish leaders select Jesus to be freed since none of their "charges" against Him were comparable to the actions of Barabbas. However, the religious leaders could not care less about consistency at this moment. They want Jesus dead at any cost! The Jews accused Jesus of being a dangerous man to the Romans when He was not, and they asked for the release of Barabbas who was a significant threat to the Romans! Never has humanity sunk lower than when these professedly religious leaders deliberately chose to have a murderer released so that the sinless Son of God might die. No wonder there was darkness over the land for much of the time the most noble and pure person who ever lived was wrongly crucified (cf. Luke 23:44).
"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'" (Matt. 27:19). The message from Pilate's wife implies that Jesus was not unknown to Pilate's household. Romans were typically heavily influenced by dreams for they considered them to be of great importance.
"But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus" (Matt. 27:20). It is easy to see who is really in control of this situation. Evidently the people were willing to listen to Pilate, but were ultimately persuaded by the religious leaders. It was bad enough that the Jews chose Barabbas, but even worse is the character of those men who influenced the mob to support this choice.
Pilate then asked again whom he should release. They responded with - "Not this Man, but Barabbas!" (John 18:40). "Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them" (Luke 23:20). Pilate does not give up easily, yet he is not willing to anger the multitude and exercise his authority to free Jesus.
"What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" (Matt. 27:22). If Pilate released Barabbas, then he wanted to know what he should do with Jesus. "But they shouted, saying, 'Crucify Him, crucify Him!'" (Luke 23:21). "'Why, what evil has He done?' But they cried out all the more, 'Crucify Him!'" (Mark 15:14). Pilate heard their cruel cries, but he is not ready to succumb to their will yet.
"So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him" (John 19:1). Pilate, with the demands of the multitude ringing in his ears, decides that he will take Jesus and have Him scourged, hoping that such would suffice. According to Josephus, Roman law required that those about to be crucified must first be scourged. Scourging was such a cruel punishment that often the individual would die under its affliction (Roman scourging was more severe than that which the Jews inflicted since the number of lashes was not limited to forty). Scourging was performed by stripping the condemned person and fastening him to a low post. This would stretch the skin due to the bending of the back. The weapon that was used, called a flagrum, was a short whip consisting of several heavy, leather thongs with two small balls of lead attached near the ends of each. The heavy whip was brought down with full force again and again across Jesus' shoulders, back, and legs. At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produce large, deep bruises, which are broken open by subsequent blows. The end result is massive stripes of torn, bleeding tissue all over the victim's torso (cf. Isa. 53:5). When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death, the scourging is finally stopped. No wonder Jesus later struggled to bear the weight of His cross! Perhaps Pilate is thinking that the Jews would take pity upon Jesus once they see His scourged, pitiful body and would cease demanding His crucifixion. If this was the case, Pilate truly did not understand the depth of animosity found in Jesus' enemies (e.g., they even taunted Him on the cross).
We will continue studying this narrative in our next lesson.