Having engaged Jesus and the religious leaders as well as he might this phase of this pseudo-trial ended. Pilate had drawn at least two conclusions from those events: Jesus was innocent and the religious leaders were jealous. Despite his own opinions the matter had yet to be put to rest and therein came the next phase of that unpleasant day. Pilate’s quandary was how to balance his own sense of justice with his duty to Rome of keeping the peace.
6 Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. 8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. (Mark 15:6-15–ESV)
The prisoner release program
Mark makes an abrupt turn from Pilate being amazed that Jesus would not defend himself (verse 5) to the prisoner release program. It was a good-will gesture to help keep the peace by simmering down the natural unrest of the Jews. Mark briefly described this program as annual event connected to the Passover, and then introduced a new character: Barabbas. This new fellow, an inmate, was introduced for he would be a major player in the events that would play out. There is some evidence that he was actually named Jesus Barabbas which may also have added to the confusion that morning.
Somehow this prisoner release program took the forefront at this phase in the disposition of Jesus.
The crowd asked for a prisoner to be released
Verse 8 tells us that the crowd initiated a request for a prisoner to be released. This is the only one of the four gospels that puts it in this light. It may be that the earliest move was from the crowds who adored Jesus. It may be said that the crowds feared the religious leaders, but the religious leaders clearly feared the crowd. Remember that the Pharisees were wringing their hands looking for a sly way to arrest Jesus? They did not want it to be during the feast for fear the people would riot.
So I think it possible though not provable that among the people a move took shape, and some thought that it might result in the release of Jesus.
Pilate perceived a way out of his quandary
In verse 9 Pilate appealed to the people that he release Jesus the Christ. Verse 10 tells us that Pilate asked that question since he knew the religious leaders were envious. The word envy is pivotal in the process for who was envious? The Pharisees. What were they envious of? The manner in which the crowds adored Jesus.
If the crowd could be used to sway the release of Jesus then Pilate’s most perplexing facet of this situation could be dissolved. He would not have to override his sense of justice and the crowd would not riot. Of course, by invoking this choice of Jesus versus Barabbas a fork in the road was taken. One or the other would be freed.
The religious leaders hold sway
While there surely was support in the crowd for Jesus the clout of the Pharisees among the people certainly excelled the clout of Pilate. Verse 11 demonstrates how the religious leaders spread their influence turning the crowd toward their own opinion. This may have been made the more doable as the composition of the crowd would have been slanted toward the visitors. Jesus had walked throughout Palestine, but many in Jerusalem for the Passover would have come from farther away than that. In an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar circumstances the Roman governor would not have had much sympathy.
The battle for Jesus was lost
Pilate having made his offer and sought the release of Christ lost the vote. Barabbas was released and in some manner Jesus went to the cross in his place.