Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
The Roman government was, in many ways, ruled by the mob. Roman officials feared the people and potential uprisings (rightly so), so they pacified them whenever possible. That’s why Pilate would release any prisoner, however dangerous though he may be. And that’s why, even though he realized Jesus was innocent, and even though his conscience told him not to harm Jesus, Pilate handed Him over to be crucified. He was more afraid of a riot than he was of God.
But that is important. Pilate and the Romans did not condemn Jesus to death, the people did. The Jews did. He was betrayed by His own people in favor of a notorious and possibly dangerous man. And why? Because they let the Priests stir them up in to an angry mob. In many ways you can see that the Jews are no better than they were back when Aaron told them to worship the golden calf. They haven’t learned their lesson, and they follower their leaders blindly, even in to sin.
Let this be a warning to us. We cannot mindlessly go with the crowd. We can’t do as other want us to do simply because we are afraid or we want to fit in. We have to be better than the culture around us and listen for God’s will instead. We cannot blindly trust our leaders either. How many times were the Jews led in to sin by their leaders? Instead we must use our brains and our hearts to determine whether we are being asked to do the right thing.