The Epilogue

13. Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, 26:1-28:20

viii] The civil trial of Jesus


Having found Jesus guilty, the religious officials hand him over to Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate examines Jesus, but finds the charge against him baseless. In an attempt to progress the matter, Pilate proposes the release of either Jesus, or Barabbas, but the crowd chooses Barabbas and so Pilate hands Jesus over to be crucified.


The blood of Israel's innocent messiah ends the salvation-history of God's historic people.


i] Context: See 26:1-16.


ii] Structure: The Civil Trial of Jesus:

Jesus arraigned before Pilate, v11-14;

"Are you the King of the Jews?"

They damn an innocent man, v15-23;

"Crucify him!"

Pilate capitulates, v24-26;

"His blood is on us."


iii] Interpretation:

Jesus now finds himself standing before the local hJgemonoV (a word used for Roman legates and proconsuls), "governor". The action most likely takes place in the Tower of Antonia, but Pilate may have taken over Herod's old palace. Pilate immediately tackles the political charge brought against Jesus by the Jewish authorities. There is no mention of the real charge, namely blasphemy, just a fabricated charge of sedition for the benefit of the secular authorities. Pilate's investigation focuses on Jesus' claim to authority. Jesus' answer, su legeiV, "You say", to Pilate's question "Are you the king of the Jews", is probably a qualified "Yes". John brings this out in his gospel. Jesus' authority, his kingship, is spiritual; he does not challenge the authority of Rome in secular matters. Obviously Pilate gets the point, but because Jesus is not willing to provide a full defense of the charges brought against him by the religious authorities, Pilate is not really in a position to ignore their charges and set him free. And in any case, why bother stirring up a gaggle of pesky wowsers (Australian slang for moralists, religious zealots, or humbugs who feel it is their ordained duty to interfere in the lives of others).

Pilate's historical record indicates that he is not the type of man who would be very bothered with executing a Jew on a trumped up charge, particularly if that's what the Jewish establishment want done. Matthew gives us an insight as to why Pilate tries to get around the determined will of the religious authorities. A wife who has just suffered a nightmare can be a very persuasive advocate for justice, v19 (tradition has it that her name was Claudia Procula, later regarded as a saint in Eastern Christianity). Pilate finds a solution to his problem in a local custom. At the time of Passover the governor releases a prisoner chosen by the crowd. In prison at the time was a epishmon, "a notorious" prisoner by the name of Jesus Son of Abba (probably bar-raan, "teacher"), "Jesus Barabbas". Mark tells us that he is a bandit, or probably more likely a terrorist, and that he is in jail for murder.

The trouble is that Pilate's calculated move to free Jesus backfires when the gathered crowed is prompted by the religious authorities to call for the release of "Jesus Barabbas" rather than "Jesus the one called Christ". And when Pilate asks what they want him to do with Jesus, they call out "Crucify him!" Given the teaching of Deuteronomy 21:23 that a person hung on a tree is under the curse of God, the crowd is proclaiming that Jesus, and everything he has stood for, is under God's curse. Even when Pilate asks "what crime has he committed?", they shout even louder, "Crucify him!" (an imperfect verb is used, probably expressing durative action, "they kept shouting out").

Pilate, the true politician, faced with an insurmountable problem, blames his constituents , v24. Pilate's action in washing his hands is somewhat unusual for a Roman, although he may well be aware of this Jewish custom (a symbol of purging guilt, cf., Deut.21:6-9) and so uses it to make a point. The crowd gets the point and calls down the curse of innocent blood on themselves, v25. Theologically, this action proclaims the lost state of old Israel, a people who, in the sight of God, have rejected God's messiah. It is certainly not a sociological statement designed to promote anti-Semitism. Matthew, who is himself obviously a Jew, builds his gospel upon the apostolic tradition of Jesus' disciples, all Jews, a tradition concerning Jesus Christ, also a Jew.

Pilate wastes no further time on the issue, and so hands Jesus over for scourging in preparation for crucifixion. Scourging, whipping with a flagellum made of three leather thongs with lead inserts, attached to a handle, was used for interrogation. Matthew sees it as a punishment prior to crucifixion. John, in his gospel, implies that the scourging was part of Pilate's strategy to have the crowd choose Jesus over Barabbas, a way of gaining their sympathy - so also Luke.


iv] Synoptics

Although this passage aligns with Mark 15:2-15 it may well derive from Matthew's own source material, most likely oral. This probably explains the three particular elements not found in Mark, namely, the given name for Barabbas, "Jesus", the dream of Pilate's wife, and Pilate's hand-washing. We would expect Luke to record these three elements if he had Matthew's gospel in front of him, and so also Mark. Their mutual independence seems likely, although most scholars hold that Matthew works off Mark, or at least a proto-Mark.

Text - 27:11

The civil trial of Jesus, v11-26: i] Jesus is arraigned before Pilate, v11-14. Roman governors faced numerous insurrections stirred up by local prophets, and they put them down brutally. Jesus never preached against Rome and so obviously he wasn't on Pilate's watch-list, which explains why Jesus' qualified "Yes" to Pilate's question didn't cause concern. Pilate got the point of "My kingdom is not of this world", Jn.18:36. When the religious authorities pile on their accusations, presumably amplifying the charge "king of the Jews", Jesus says nothing. Matthew tells us that Pilate is "amazed, surprised", probably with the sense "impressed"; "Jesus was not like other defendants, and Pilate was impressed", France.

de "meanwhile" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative.

legwn (legw) "-" - [jesus stood before, in the presence of the governor, and the governor asked, interrogated him] saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to ask, inquire"; redundant.

twn Ioudaiwn gen. adj. "[the king] of the Jews" - [you, are you the king] of the jews? - The adjective serves as a substantive, the genitive being adjectival, idiomatic / subordination; "the king over the Jews." Quarles suggests that the use of the pronoun su, "you", may serve to mock Jesus; "Well you - are you the king of the Jews?", Phillips.

su pro. "you [have said so]" - [and jesus said] you [you are saying]. Emphatic by use and position. The answer "is to be taken as an obliquely expressed affirmative", Nolland. "As you say", Berkeley.


en tw/ + inf. "when he was [accused]" - in the [to accuse him]. This construction, en tw/ + inf. serves to introduce a temporal clause, contemporaneous time, "while, during", as NIV.

uJpo + gen. "by [the chief priests]" - by [the chief priests and the elders, he answered nothing]. Here expressing agency, as NIV. "He said nothing in response to the accusations of the chief priests and elders", TEV.


autw/ dat. pro. "[asked] him" - [then pilate says] to him. Dative of indirect object.

ouk "[do you] not [hear]" - This negation is used in a question expecting an affirmative answer. "Do you hear that long list of accusations? Aren't you going to say something?" Peterson.

sou gen. pro "[against] you" - [how many things they testify against] you. Genitive of direct object after the kata prefix verb "to testify against."


autw/ dat. pro. "-" - [and he did not answer] him. Dative of indirect object.

proV + acc. "to [a single charge]" - [not even] toward [one word]. Adverbial use of the preposition, expressing reference / respect, "not even with respect to one word"; "But Jesus refused to answer a single word", TEV.

wJste + inf. "[to the great amazement]" - so as [to amaze the governor greatly]. This construction, wJste + inf., serves to introduce a consecutive clause expressing result, "with the result that, so that." The infinitive "to be amazed" may mean that Pilate is "astonished", Morris, or better, "impressed", so France, even "embarrassed", so Hill, but then again it may express confusion, "leaving him completely at a loss", Rieu.


ii] The crowd damns an innocent man, v15-23. The tradition of releasing a prisoner at Passover is known only in the NT. Some commentators question whether a murderer would be released, given that such could only be authorized by the Emperor. Morris argues that "there is nothing unlikely about it since in the ancient world prisoners were sometimes released as a gesture of goodwill."

de "now" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative.

kata + acc. "at [the festival]" - according to = at each [festival, feast]. Distributive use of the preposition, indicating the division of a whole into parts; "at each feast / festival", Quarles.

apoluein (apoluw) pres. inf. "to release" - [the governor was accustomed] to release. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "was accustomed."

tw/ oclw/ (oV) "[chosen] by the crowd" - [one prisoner] to the crowd [who they wanted]. Dative of indirect object / interest, advantage.


Mark tells us that Barabbas, along with others, had been arrested for a recent insurrection, so obviously he is a popular identity. Matthew calls him a lhsthV, v38, 44, possibly meaning "a bandit", although Josephus uses this word to describe those who have rebelled against Rome, so "a freedom fighter." His given name "Jesus" is not present in most manuscripts. It is obvious why it would be removed, but not obvious why it would be added. Only Matthew records the name. As for "Barabbas", the word means "son of the father / teacher". It is likely that he was the son of a scholar.

tote adv. "at that time" - [but/and] then. With de this temporal adverb is usually just transitional, "then", but it is likely that here it also marks a point in time here, as NIV; "On this occasion ...."

eicon (ecw) imperf. "they had" - The imperfect is probably used to express the durative nature of imprisonment. The subject is obviously the Romans, although France suggests the crowd; "'they had' their own candidate already selected and presumably Pilate had been informed of this."

legomenon (legw) pres. pas. part. "whose name was" - [a well-known, notable, notorious, prisoner] being called [jesus barabas]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, introducing a relative clause limiting "prisoner", "who was called Jesus Barabbas."


Matthew now records Pilate's futile attempt to find a way around the determined efforts of the religious authorities to have Jesus' executed. Matthew notes the corrupt motives of the religious authorities, v18, but it seems likely that his efforts are prompted by his wife's nightmare.

oun "so" - therefore. Inferential; probably just establishing a logical connection, "accordingly, consequently", but possibly drawing a logical conclusion, "so, therefore", ie., given the opportunity provided by the tradition to release a prisoner at Passover, and the presence of another "Jesus" in prison, Pilate therefore, when the crowd had gathered, asks them ........

sunhgmenwn (sunagw) gen. perf. pas. part. "when [the crowd] had gathered" - [they] were having been gathered. The genitive participle together with the genitive pronoun "they" forms a genitive absolute construction, best treated as temporal, as NIV.

autoiV dat. pro. "[asked] them" - [pilate said] to them. Dative of indirect object.

apolusw (apoluw) aor. subj. "[do you want] to release" - [who do you will] i may release [to you]? Olmstead classifies the subjunctive as deliberative, which, after qelw, "I will, wish, desire", often introduces a doubtful question, cf., v21. "Who do you wish me to set free - Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Christ?" Rieu.

legomenon (legw) pres. pas. part. "who is called" - [do I release jesus barabban or jesus] the one being called [christ]? The articular "Barabbas" stands in apposition to "Jesus", and the participle "the one being called", is attributive, as in v16.


Matthew records Pilate's question to the crowd in this verse and then repeats it again in v21. In between these verses, Matthew provides background information. First, the motives of the religious authorities; Second, the intervention of Pilate's wife; Third, the manipulation of the crowd by the religious authorities.

gar "for" - because. Introducing a causal clause explaining why Pilate seeks Jesus release via the crowd's approval, namely, because of the corrupt motives of the religious authorities, although possibly just transitional, serving to introduce the first piece of background information on the unfolding events, namely, the motives of the religious authorities.

oJti "-" - [he had known] that. Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what Pilate knew.

dia + acc. "[it was out of self-interest]" - because of, on account of [envy, jealousy, they delivered over him]. Causal, introducing a causal clause explaining why the authorities betrayed Jesus; "they handed Jesus over because of their envy." Beare notes that there is no evidence that the authorities were envious of Jesus, although D&A suggest that "their envy came from thirst for power", and Hagner, "envy of his influence among the people." The sense could also be "sheer malice", Phillips, or "out of sheer spite", Peterson. Beare suggests "fear"; the authorities were afraid that Jesus was going to cause trouble with the Romans, Jn.11:47-50.


As France notes, the arrival of the message probably explains Pilate's "attempt to avoid having to make a judicial decision by invoking the amnesty." Nothing is known of Pilate's wife, but it seems likely that she has some understanding of Jesus, which, in the context of her dream, prompts her to declare his innocence against the condemnation of his own people.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative, introducing a second piece of background information.

kaqhmenou (kaqhmai) gen. pres. mid. part. "while [Pilate] was sitting" - [he] sitting [upon the platform = judgment seat]. The genitive participle with the genitive pronoun "he" forms a genitive absolute construction, best treated as temporal, as NIV.

legousa (legw) pres. part. "this message" - [the wife of him sent toward him] saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to send", serving to introduce the content of the message.

soi dat. pro. "[with that innocent man]" - [nothing] you [and that righteous man]. As with the demonstrative pronoun ekeinw/, "that man", the function of the dative is unclear, particularly as the clause is elliptical. Most translators treat the datives as datives of association, "with"; "Have nothing to do with you and with that righteous man", in the sense of Pilate having no association with / not part in, the act of putting this particular righteous (NIV "innocent" is probably on the mark) man to death - "repudiate any dealings with the righteous man in question", Morris. "Don't get mixed up in judging this noble man", Peterson.

gar "for" - because. Introducing a causal clause explaining why Pilate should not get involved in the shenanigans of the religious authorities.

kat (kata) acc. "in [a dream]" - [i suffered today] according to [a dream]. Temporal use of the preposition, "during a dream"; "I dreamt about him in the night and was much distressed", Rieu.

di (dia) + acc. "because of [him]" - Causal, "because of, on account of."


"The blind lead the blind", D&A.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative, introducing the third piece of background information; "Now the chief priest and the elders ....", ESV.

iJna + subj. "to [ask for Barabbas]" - [the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds] that [they should ask for barabas]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what the religious authorities persuaded the crowds, namely, to ask for the release of Barabas, and the death of Jesus.

de "and" - but/and [that they should destroy jesus]. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrast.


Having provided the necessary background to Pilate's question, v18-20, the reader is now able to understand why Pilate would seek the release of Jesus, and why the crowd would choose Barabbas over Jesus.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a return to the narrative.

autoiV dat. pro. "-" - [having answered the governor said] to them. Dative of indirect object. Note the use of the redundant complementary participle, "having answered." It seems unlikely that Pilate is actually responding to some question or statement made between v18 and this verse, contra Quarles. In line with Semitic form, the text can mean northing more that just "the governor asked them / said to them." Possibly "again said to them", ESV, RSV, ..., but it is probably Matthew repeating the question, rather than Pilate - having given us background information Matthew returns to the question; "So when the Procurator returned to the matter and asked them which of the two they wished him to set free, they said Barabbas", Rieu.

tina pro. "which" - whom [do you will, wish, from the two, should i release to you]? Interrogative pronoun introducing a question.

apo "of [the two]" - from the two. The preposition is used instead of a partitive genitive, as NIV.

apolusw (apoluw) aor. subj. "to [release]" - should i release. As Zerwick notes, qeletw, "you wish", followed by a deliberative subjunctive, as here, serves to introduce a doubtful question.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the dialogue to a new speaker.

oiJ "they [answered]" - the = they [they said, barabbas]. The article serves as the nominative subject of the verb "to say."


As Carson notes, both Jesus and Barabbas are popular personalities, but given the whispering campaign by the religious authorities, the crowd comes down on the side of Barabbas.

autoiV dat. pro. "-" - [pilate says] to them. Dative of indirect object. As with legousin, "[all] says", the verb "to say" is a historic / narrative present tense. It is obviously not used to indicate dialogue transition, so presumably it is giving some emphasis to Pilate's words.

poihsw (poiew) aor. subj. / fut. "[what] shall I do" - [therefore what] may / will i do with]. Deliberative subjunctive, possibly future, but with the same function.

oun "then" - therefore. Inferential, prompting a logical question from the answer of the crowd; "What then am I to do with Jesus?" Cassirer.

ton legomenon (legw) pres. pas. part. "who is called" - [jesus] the one being called [christ? all says, crucify]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "Christ", as NIV, but may also serve as a substantive standing in apposition to "Jesus", "Jesus the so-called Christ", Moffatt.


"In Judea it was common to confront the Roman authorities with as noisy and large delegation as possible", Carson. So, Pilate is now in a corner and reason will no longer prevail.

de "-" - but/and [he said]. Transitional, indicating a step to a new speaker.

gar "Why?" - for [what evil, wrong has he done]? - Here more reason than cause, indicating that the question seeks a reasoned answer. Not usually expressed in English, so "But what crime has he committed?" Rieu, although many translators bring the sense out with "Why", as NIV.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a new speaker.

legonteV (legw) pres. part. "-" - [the = they they were calling out, shouting out, more] saying [crucify]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to call out"; redundant. Note that the adverb perisswV, "more, all the more", makes the point that the crowd is crying out "crucify" even more loudly. "They yelled all the louder, 'Nail him to a cross!'" Peterson.


iii] Pilate capitulates, v24-26. A local riot would be of limited concern to Pilate, but there is no point in trying his luck, so he gives the crowd what they want. Pilate's declaration of innocence by symbolic hand-washing is Jewish in custom, not Roman. This may well be a poke at Jewish sensibilities, similar to his demand that the notice on the cross should read "The King of the Jews." The response of the crowd is particularly Jewish. Matthew no longer has ocloV, "crowd", but laoV, "people." As France notes, this term "is especially associated with the community of Israel as God's chosen people." This is a declaration by "all the people", ie., "the whole house of Israel", and it includes the "children." Matthew is clearly extending the bloodguilt beyond the crowd to the historic people of Israel of Matthew's time. They, the tenants of the vineyard will be cast out and a new people will take over the tenancy (often linked to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD). Matthew's perspective is theological, not sociological; his words are not designed to promote antisemitism. Matthew reveals "the dead-end road to which the salvation history of Israel as the people of God has led", Luz.

idwn (oJraw) aor. part. "when [Pilate] saw" - [but/and pilate] having seen. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal, as NIV, although a touch causal as well; "Now when / because Pilate realized ......"

oJti "that" - that [nothing is gaining but rather tumult is becoming, happening, starting, imminent]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what Pilate became aware of; "that there was every prospect for a riot", Barclay.

labwn (lambanw) aor. part. "he took" - having taken [water he washed the hands before the crowd]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to wash"; "he took some water and washed his hands in the presence of the crowd", Moffatt.

apo + gen. "of [this man's blood]" - [saying, i am innocent] from [the blood of this man]. Here expressing separation. Pilate claims he is separated from, "away from", the guilt associated with Jesus' death; "I am not responsible for the death of this man", TEV.

legwn (legw) "he said" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle, or modal, expressing the manner Pilate's washing.

oyesqe (oJraw) fut. imp. "it is [your] responsibility" - [you] see. The future imperative is used to express a command; a "dismissive command", Quarles. "You look to this matter" = "You must assume that responsibility yourselves", Junkins.


apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "answered" - [and] having answered [all the people said]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to say." Although redundant, it does indicate that the words of the people are in response to what Pilate said.

autou gen. pro. "his [blood]" - [the blood] of him. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, so Olmstead, rather than partitive, so Quarles.

ef (epi) + acc. "[is] upon [us]" - [is / be] upon [us and upon the children of us]. The statement "is common idiom signifying responsibility for someone's death", D&A, cf., 2Sam.1:16, 3:28, Ezek.18:13, 33:4, sometimes with the addition of "us and our children", cf,. Gen.31:16. Such a proverbial statement will often be elliptical, with its verb assumed. Is the verb indicative, so Morris, France, ... "the responsibility is ours", or imperative, even an optative, a wish / prayer? D&A argue that it "is not a self-curse", rather a statement like "we acknowledge our involvement if the governor will not", although from Matthew's perspective it is "ironic prophecy." The people are accepting responsibility, but they wouldn't knowingly burden their children with a blood-curse, so responsibility for the action of the people falls on the religious authorities, the shepherds of Israel; they orchestrated the crime (but note the bigger picture, Acts 2:23)


D&A, quoting Brown, Death, suggest that "the brevity in describing Pilate's decision has the psychological impact of portraying a man making a decision under pressure."

tote adv. "then" - then [he released barabbas]. Transitional use of the temporal adverb; next in time.

autoiV dat. pro. "to them" - Dative of indirect object.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating the next step in the narrative. "And it was then that he pardoned Barabbas as a favor to them, while, as for Jesus ....", Cassirer.

fragellwsaV (fragellow) aor. part. "he had [Jesus] flogged" - having scourged, whipped, [jesus he handed him over]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to deliver over", so most translators, as NIV, but possibly temporal, "after having Jesus flogged, he handed him over for crucifixion", Rieu.

iJna + subj. "to be crucified" - that [he might be crucified]. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose, "in order to be ..."


Matthew Introduction


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