Gospel of John [18:39-40]. Christ's trials, part 12. Barabbas, the washing of hands, and the curse upon Israel.

Class Outline:

Title: Gospel of John [18:39-40]. Christ's trials, part 12. Barabbas, the washing of hands, and the curse upon Israel.


Announcements/opening prayer:



So we move to the final part of Christ's time before Pilate and before the religious leaders and the Jews in Jerusalem celebrating the Passover (by demanding the crucifixion of the Son of God).


Trial 1: Annas

Trial 2: Caiaphas in the evening

Trial 3: Caiaphas in the morning

Trial 4: Pilate

Trial 5: Herod

Trial 6: Pilate, priests and elders, Jerusalem mob.


It is undeniable that Jesus was condemned to death by the representative of the Roman Empire and on the basis of Roman law, and the sentence of death by crucifixion was carried out as a Roman penalty. But it is just as clear that without the pressure of the Jews Jesus would have never been condemned by Pilate. Yet without Pilate the Jews would not have been able to put Him to death.


JOH 18:39 "But you have a custom, that I should release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?"


JOH 18:40 Therefore they cried out again, saying, "Not this Man, but Barabbas." Now Barabbas was a robber.


"robber" - lhste,s[liestes] = one who plunders openly and by violence. Josephus habitually uses this word for Zealot insurgents.


In MAR 15:27 and MAT 27:38 the same word is used of the two men who were crucified along with Jesus.


MAR 15:6 Now at the feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested.


MAR 15:7 And the man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection.


The fact that Barabbas is equated with other insurrectionists who had committed murder makes it very likely that he and the other two Zealot insurrectionists were to be crucified.


That morning on Cavalry it was originally going to be murderer #1, Barabbas, and murderer #2. Christ took Barabbas' place in the center.


We have no further account of this particular insurrection, but the reference is probably to some recent outbreak of militant resistance against the Roman occupation. There is no little irony in the fact that the man whose release was granted had been convicted of the same kind of offense as that with which Jesus was now charge; the irony, we may be sure, was not lost on Pilate.


Barabbas - "son of the father." Not likely his real name. He represents the entire human race as we deserved to be on that center cross but Christ took our place.


We are all sons of a father. Christ was not for through the virgin birth Joseph did not qualify as His rightful father. The one born into this world without an earthly father took the judgment upon Himself for all who were born of an earthly father.


MAR 15:8 And the multitude went up and began asking him to do as he had been accustomed to do for them.


MAR 15:9 And Pilate answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?"


Pilate uses the title "King of the Jews" in announcing Christ as well as in writing upon the cross just to get under the skin of the Jews whom he distained.


MAR 15:10 For he was aware that the chief priests had delivered Him up because of envy.


MAR 15:11 But the chief priests stirred up the multitude to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead.


Pilate again states that Jesus has done nothing worthy of death.


LUK 23:18 But they cried out all together, saying, "Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!"


LUK 23:19 (He was one who had been thrown into prison for a certain insurrection made in the city, and for murder.)


LUK 23:20 And Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again,


LUK 23:21 but they kept on calling out, saying, "Crucify, crucify Him!"


LUK 23:22 And he said to them the third time, "Why, what evil has this man done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; I will therefore punish Him and release Him."


LUK 23:23 But they were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified. And their voices began to prevail.


Pilate now sits on the judgment seat and a message comes from his wife about her dream, and the warning entreaty to have nothing to do 'with that righteous man.'


MAT 27:19 And while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, "Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him."


An omen such as a dream, and an appeal connected with it, especially in the circumstances of that trial, would  powerfully impress a Roman. But this next pause given to Pilate was overwhelmed by the increasing clamor of the crowd for the release of Barabbas.


MAT 27:20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes to ask for Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death.


MAT 27:21 But the governor answered and said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas."


MAT 27:22 Pilate said to them, "Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all said, "Let Him be crucified!"


MAT 27:23 And he said, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they kept shouting all the more, saying, "Let Him be crucified!"


That such a cry should have been raised, and raised by Jews, and before a Roman governor, and against Jesus the Christ, are in themselves almost inconceivable facts, to which the history of these 19 centuries has made a terrible echo. In vain Pilate expostulated, reasoned, and appealed.


Popular frenzy only grows as it is opposed.


MAT 27:24 And when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of this Man's blood; see to that yourselves."


The passing off of guilt to another is reenacted from the Garden of Eden from the Sanhedrin to Judas and Pilate to the Sanhedrin - "See to that yourself."


MAT 27:4 saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to that yourself!"


The priests and elders and Pilate state that they are innocent of the matter so the other party should see to their own guilt themselves. Adam blamed the woman and the Lord and the woman blamed the serpent (the devil made me do it). Sometimes taking responsibility and doing the right thing has its own consequences. To attempt to avoid the proper consequences for doing the right thing by doing the wrong thing (lying and blaming) is to only acquire different consequences that are always worse. The truth sets us free. It is always better to take the path of truth no matter what the consequences are.


Amazingly the Jews did not recognize the significance of this act, but then again, a frenzied mob does not recognize much outside of its one objective.


The washing of hands in order to portray innocence or cleansing of wrongdoing is truly a Jewish rite, of which obviously Pilate is aware.


He's been governing Jews for almost 10 years. The fact that such a thing was done in front of the Jews by a Roman should have appealed to them more forcibly.


Yet this in no way would make Pilate innocent. No amount of washing could do so. One legend tells that in storms on Mt. Pilatus in Switzerland his ghost comes out and still washes his hands in the storm-clouds. In Shakespeare used this imagery in Macbeth, where Lady Macbeth dreams of the blood on her hands as she sleepwalks and incessantly washes them to no avail saying, "Out damned spot, I say." Pilate will commit suicide in less than 10 years from this time.


Notice what their law states:


DEU 21:1 "If a slain person is found lying in the open country in the land which the Lord your God gives you to possess, and it is not known who has struck him,


DEU 21:2 then your elders and your judges shall go out and measure the distance to the cities which are around the slain one.


DEU 21:3 And it shall be that the city which is nearest to the slain man, that is, the elders of that city, shall take a heifer of the herd, which has not been worked and which has not pulled in a yoke;


DEU 21:4 and the elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with running water, which has not been plowed or sown, and shall break the heifer's neck there in the valley.


DEU 21:5 Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come near, for the Lord your God has chosen them to serve Him and to bless in the name of the Lord; and every dispute and every assault shall be settled by them.


DEU 21:6 And all the elders of that city which is nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley;


DEU 21:7 and they shall answer and say,' Our hands have not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it.


If they or any one of them is lying and they have committed the murder then the discipline of God will be upon them.


DEU 21:8 'Forgive Thy people Israel whom Thou hast redeemed, O Lord, and do not place the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of Thy people Israel.' And the bloodguiltiness shall be forgiven them.


DEU 21:9 So you shall remove the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the eyes of the Lord.


PSA 26:6

I shall wash my hands in innocence,

And I will go about Thine altar, O Lord,


DEU 19:8

So innocent blood will not be shed in the midst of your land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, and bloodguiltiness be on you.


Let's keep an eye on DEU 21:9 as we turn back to Mat.


DEU 21:9

So you shall remove the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the eyes of the Lord.


MAT 27:25 And all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us and on our children!"


In less than forty years their city and temple were overthrown and destroyed. More than a million of the people perished in the siege. Thousands died by famine; thousands by disease; thousands by the sword; and their blood ran down the streets like water, so that, Josephus says, it extinguished things that were burning in the city. Thousands were CRUCIFIED suffering the same punishment that they had inflicted on the Messiah. So great was the number of those who were crucified, that, Josephus says, they were obliged to cease from it, "room being wanted for the crosses, and crosses for the men." He also stated that the hillsides were barren of trees from the making of so many crosses.


The Jews, led by the Zealots, revolted against the Roman garrison in the city in 66 AD and expelled them from the city. 30,000 Roman troops were sent to take back the city and they were ambushed on the way by the Jews and completely defeated. The Zealot leaders contended that they had finally gotten what they had always wanted and what God wanted for them, independence. The following winter Vespasian arrived with his son Titus and beginning in Galilee they began a murderous rampage in town after town killing tens of thousands including woman and children, the best of which were taken into slavery. Jewish refugees fled south. Town by town the Romans went south for two years causing the refugees to flee south to their last place of refuge, the thick walls of Jerusalem. The Romans would meet them there and the city would be fully ravaged and the temple completely destroyed. Within the city, during the Roman siege, different groups of Zealots controlled different parts of the city. They killed each other and burned each other's food supply so that many starved when they had adequate grain for years that was burned by jealous, rivaling groups of Jews. The Roman's finished off the rest. Some were disemboweled to check for gold or precious stones that they might have swallowed. The massacre was enormous. They certainly got the curse that they had asked for.


MAT 27:26 Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he delivered Him to be crucified.


None of the gospel writers give any details about the scourging. It is likely that Pilate had hoped that once the crowd had witnessed Him after the scourging that they might have mercy. They did not.


Some have imagined that since Christ was silent that the soldiers who scourged Him went way beyond the normal, desiring to hear the normal cries and screams of all other prisoners. Others have believed that Pilate was impressed enough with Jesus that he would have instructed his soldiers to go easy on Him. Neither of these can be substantiated.


However, by prophecy we may conclude that His scourging was severe.


ISA 52:14

Just as many were astonished at you, My people,

So His appearance was marred more than any man,

And His form more than the sons of men.


The Romans often used what is called a flagellum. It consisted of at least three strips of leather that were weighted down at the ends with bits of lead or bone. The design enabled the blow to dent or even break the skin while simultaneously lacerating the spot so that the cuts were deep.


The Romans reserved this treatment for non-citizens. Typically, the one to be punished was stripped naked and bound to a low pillar so that he could bend over it, or chained to an upright pillar so as to be stretched out. Two lictors (some reports indicate scourgings with four or six lictors) alternated blows from the bare shoulders down the body to the soles of the feet. There was no limit to the number of blows inflicted - this was left to the lictors to decide, though they were normally not supposed to kill the victim. Nonetheless, LivySuetonius and Josephus report cases of flagellation where victims died while still bound to the post. Flagellation was referred to as "half death" by some authors and apparently, many victims died shortly thereafter. It was described as the intermediate death before the death of the cross.


ISA 53:4-5

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,

And our sorrows He carried;

Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,

Smitten of God, and afflicted.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions,

He was crushed for our iniquities;

The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,

And by His scourging we are healed.


ISA 50:6-7

I gave My back to those who strike Me,

And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard;

I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting.

For the Lord God helps Me,

Therefore, I am not disgraced;

Therefore, I have set My face like flint,

And I know that I shall not be ashamed.


Christ knew this would happen to Him for He knew the Roman practice. He warned the disciples of this before they journeyed to the city.


MAT 20:17 And as Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them,


MAT 20:18 "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death,


MAT 20:19 and will deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up."


When the scourging was ended the soldiers clothed Him and led Him back to the Praetorium in order to torture Him and mock Him some more.


MAR 15:16 And the soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort.


MAR 15:17 And they dressed Him up in purple, and after weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on Him;


MAR 15:18 and they began to acclaim Him, "Hail, King of the Jews!"


MAR 15:19 And they kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting at Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him.