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God’s Word for You

Luke 23:16-21 Crucify! Crucify him!

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, June 10, 2019

16 “So after I have him flogged I will release him.”

I think Pilate imagined that if he punished Jesus and had him whipped, that the mob would give up their blood lust and be satisfied enough to let Jesus go.

Luke has compacted the account quite a bit, and this is the only reference to Jesus’ flogging. The term paideuo (παιδεύω) can mean something as simple as “instruct,” but usually means “correct” or “discipline,” and in this instance it simply means to have Jesus whipped like a soldier or sailor who had broken the rules.

Some examples of whipping involved more than 100 lashes, up to 120. We don’t know whether Jesus would have received that many. The Law of Moses said that a guilty man should not be flogged with more than forty lashes (Deuteronomy 25:3), but the Romans did not answer to the law of Moses.

The Romans used something like the cat-o’-nine-tails, a whip of several leather cords with metal or bone fragments tied at short intervals so as to create maximum pain. The Bible tells us that after Pilate made this threat, he did indeed have Jesus flogged (Mark 15:15; John 19:1).

17 Pilate had an obligation to release one prisoner to them at the Festival.

Several ancient Egyptian manuscripts of Luke do not have this verse, but most copies from the five other regions of the ancient New Testament manuscripts have it.  Matthew and Mark say that this business of releasing a prisoner at the time of the Passover was “the governor’s custom” (Matthew 27:15; Mark 15:6; cp. John 18:39). Luke’s word is much more precise; he says that the governor was obligated to do so. There is no account yet uncovered in history of any other prisoner being released during the Passover, but there is no single Passover (apart from the first one, Exodus 12) which is described in as great a detail as this one. There was an ancient Roman festival, celebrated since the 300s BC, called Lectisternium, when prisoners were released. This week-long festival permitted and even insisted on the release of prisoners, obliteration of debts, and even quarrels were meant to be forgotten about (the Lectisternia took place in September).  However, a careful reading of John 18:39 reveals that Pilate said, “It is your custom for me to release a prisoner….” This might indicate that the custom was not one used by anyone before Pilate, but that Pilate accepted it during his tenure as governor to appease the crowds.

18 But with one voice they all shouted together: “Away with him! Release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas had been thrown in prison for a rebellion in the city and for murder.) 20 Pilate appealed to them again, because he wanted to release Jesus, 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify! Crucify him!”

Perhaps Barabbas had some friends among the high priests. This is more likely than some might think, because any insurrection against the Romans was likely to be supported by the Pharisees (perhaps behind the scenes). Barabbas may have been a Pharisee himself. The murder mentioned here and in Acts 3:14 probably happened during the attempted uprising.

It is here, after Pilate proposes releasing a prisoner, that the shouts of “Crucify!” began. Pilate’s reasoning was flawed, and his intentions, however well-meant, were not served by his means. This isn’t clear to every reader, so let’s examine the details of what was happening:

1, Pilate had already declared Jesus to be innocent, but he took what he thought was a minimal risk by placing Jesus into the same category as Barabbas, a convicted and condemned criminal and murderer. This effectively reduced Jesus in the eyes of the crowd to the same level as Barabbas.

2, Pilate underestimated the hatred of the Sanhedrin. Members of the group began to stir up the crowd. “The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed” (Matthew 27:20).

3, By allowing Jesus to be placed into the same category as Barabbas, Pilate played into the hands of the Sanhedrin and allowed them the chance to have the people condemn the Savior. Pilate tried to use a trick to save Jesus, but it backfired. “This thing of using questionable and wrong means to accomplish good ends has wrecked more men than Pilate” (Lenski, p. 1120).

Now Jesus was lumped together with a man guilty of breaking the Fifth Commandment. Jesus endured this, too, without defending himself and without comment. The Father’s will was that Jesus would die to forgive murderers, too. David said, “Wicked and deceitful men have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues. With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause. In return for my friendship they accuse me” (Psalm 109:2-4). Jesus was willing to bear this shame and to bear the punishment the crowd was now screaming about. He did this to free us all of our sins. An innocent man was being punished like a murderer so that those of us who are truly guilty of hatred and other sins might be set free. His death has given us everlasting life.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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