Jesus Brought Before Pilate
15 Early in the morning, after forming a plan, the chief priests with the elders and the experts in the law and the whole Sanhedrin tied Jesus up, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2 So Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He replied, “You say so.” 3 Then the chief priests began to accuse him repeatedly. 4 So Pilate asked him again, “Have you nothing to say? See how many charges they are bringing against you!” 5 But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
Jesus and Barabbas
6 During the feast it was customary to release one prisoner to the people, whomever they requested. 7 A man named Barabbas was imprisoned with rebels who had committed murder during an insurrection. 8 Then the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to release a prisoner for them, as was his custom. 9 So Pilate asked them, “Do you want me to release the king of the Jews for you?” 10 (For he knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of envy.) 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas instead.
Probably the only historical fact about Jesus’ trial before Pilate is contained in the words of the creed, “he suffered under Pontius PIlate.” The narrative must have been constructed out of the memory of public aspects of the trial-perhaps the offer of setting a prisoner free- along with runour, imagination and invention based on the Old Testament.
The assumption made by Mark and used by other gospellers, is that Jesus was brought to Pilate as a messianic rebel. There had been a number of these in recent history, and there were to be more, for example in AD 70, around the time that Mark was writing, who brought defeat and destruction to the Jewish people. Mark is clear that Jesus did not avocate armed struggle, but equally clear that he did advocate the rule of God rather than the rule of Rome. For the Christian church in the Roman Empire it was convenient to present the rule of God as apolitical, but chapter 13 of Mark’s gospel contains apocalyptic language about the “Son of Man coming on the clouds” which is a coded promise that God’s saints will rule on earth. I think Jesus intended that his community would disrupt the normal business of empires by their allegiance to God and their persuasive message. I don’t imagine that Roman Emperors would have treated the church less harshly if they’d been told this.
Mark does not miss the irony of Pilate’s decisions; faced with a prisoner whom he does not think is a terrorist, he ends up releasing a convicted terrorist. The non-committal silence of Jesus before PIlate is portrayed by Mark as a) a refusal to submit to imperial authority, b) reluctance to either accept or reject the title of Messiah, and c) a fulfillment of Isaiah Ch 53 (“as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth”).
Although Jesus has no room for manoevre, Mark depicts him as acting with sovereign freedom, as indeed some of his followers have done under persecution by the state, and sadly, non-Christians have done when persecuted by his followers. The theological transformation of a Roman injustice into a drama of salvation has prevented the Christian Church from deriving ethical and political lessons from the story of Jesus’ suffering.