I don’t have it on my list of recommended books, but I really like Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison. It’s a classic apologetic by an archeologist who examined the historical evidence of the Resurrection from a scientific standpoint. He started out as a hardcore skeptic and ended up a fervent Christian after he looked at the available evidence. Another interesting aspect of his book, however, is that he offers an insight into Pontius Pilate and a theory about the “behind the scenes” story regarding the trials.
Morison asks a good question: Is it reasonable to think that the Sanhedrin just dropped Jesus at Pilate’s “doorstep” (so to speak) without consulting Pilate at all beforehand? We know that they officially couldn’t administer the death penalty themselves under any circumstances. They brought Jesus to trial, “found” him guilty (we’ve talked before about the blatant illegalities of the trials), and then brought him to Pilate. Pilate tries at least three times to let Jesus go, appearing exactly like a man looking for an excuse to free him or at least pass off responsibility for his case. And the Sanhedrin representatives are completely taken aback by this, which would make sense if they had a prior arrangement with Pilate concerning the rabbi from Nazareth. What causes Pilate’s change of heart? Why did he suddenly not want to have anything to do with the case? The best explanation, in fact the only one that makes sense to me—A note from his wife urging him to stay away from all this, precipitated by her dream.
Why do I bring all this up? Just to provide some “inside baseball” about the trials? No. The point I’m making is this—Pilate just thought that this was a routine case. Do you honestly think this was the first trial he oversaw in which he suspected that an innocent man was being framed? Of course not. And most of the time, he couldn’t care less. But this Man was different, and he knew it. He tried to set Jesus free, but the cries of “You’re no friend of Caesar!” changed his mind back again. So he thought he could be neutral on the issue of Jesus. But he couldn’t, and we can’t be either.
In the end, no one is going to successfully rest as a fence-sitter. Pilate actually represents a lot of people today. They don’t want to think badly about Jesus Christ, but they’re not ready to submit to him in trust and obedience. They try to make themselves believe they hold no ill will towards him. But they’re fooling themselves. In the end, you’re either a follower of his or not.
Let’s talk just for a moment about Barabbas, shall we? We know next to nothing about the man, but we do know some things. He was guilty of insurrection and murder, which were capital crimes. The criminals (not “thieves” as some people call them) on either side of Christ were likely his partners in crime. Since he was guilty of promoting rebellion against Rome, he was set free on the charge by which Jesus was officially killed. Remember, the Sanhedrin couldn’t execute anyone, and Pilate wouldn’t kill someone on the basis of a religious disagreement. But insurrection against the Empire—Talk about a zero-tolerance policy.
Also you might have noticed his name. Barabbas means “son of the father,” but the real Son of the Father died instead. So literally Jesus died in the place of Barabbas.
I believe in the literal accuracy of Scripture, but the ironies pile on top of each other, don’t they? Barabbas is you. Barabbas is me. We stood condemned, and like the original criminal, we were in line to get exactly what we deserved. But Someone died in our place.
Lord Jesus, words escape me. What else can I say but “Thank you”? That and “I belong to you.”