15:1-15 – There are a number of interesting things about Jesus’ trial scene before Pilate. We see that the priests have cleverly changed the charge against Jesus. A blasphemy charge might be punishable by death under Jewish religious laws, but at that point in history, they were under the administration of the Romans, and the Jewish religious courts did not have authority to carry out executions (although this sometimes happened anyway as a result of mob violence, as in Acts 7). Only the Romans were permitted to execute criminals, and the priests knew that they would not consider a blasphemy to be a capital crime. So they changed it to a charge that Jesus was claiming to be king. This would have been an appropriate theological-political claim for Jesus to make within the context of Israel, given his Davidic descent and his position as God’s Messiah—but it’s not actually a political claim he ever laid down for himself in the Gospels, at least not in so many words (but probably implied in his actions). It would have been seen as a treasonous offense by the Romans, and would have summoned an immediate execution. Pilate, though he has been informed of this charge, is unimpressed, and sees through the priests’ motives fairly easily. As in the other Gospels, Mark makes a point of Jesus’ silence in the face of his accusers. In this he fulfills the prophecies in the Old Testament about the suffering servant (see Isaiah 53), but he also indicates his submission to the will of God the Father. Certainly there was more that he could have said—as in John’s account, he could easily make clear to Pilate the nature of his kingship. But he knows that Pilate is more concerned with avoiding a riot than with administering equitable justice, so nothing that Jesus could have said would have made any difference. Pilate bows to the will of the crowd, because Passover week was an inflammatory time, and there are records of other murderous insurrections during that holiday at various junctures in Pilate’s term of office. The great irony of this passage, though, has to do with the prisoner that Jesus is traded for. The crowd asks to have Barabbas released to them, a known insurrectionist. The irony has to do with the fact that Barabbas’ name, which is Aramaic, literally means “Son of the Father.” In a moment of blindness, the crowd cries out for the “Son of the Father” to be given to them, not realizing that they are condemning the true Son of the Father to his death.
Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.