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Matthew 27:20

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 15-23

See also the parallel places in Mark 15:6-14; Luke 23:17-23; John 18:39-40.

Matthew 27:15

At that feast - The feast of the Passover.

The governor was wont to release … - that is, was “accustomed” to release.

From what this custom arose, or by whom it was introduced, is not known. It was probably adopted to secure popularity among the Jews, and to render the government of the Romans less odious. Any little indulgence granted to the Jews during the heavy oppression of the Romans would serve to conciliate their favor, and to keep the nation from sedition. It might happen often that when persons were arraigned before the Romans on charge of sedition, some special favorite of the people, or some leader, might be among the number. It is evident that if they had the privilege of recovering such a person, it would serve much to allay their feelings, and make tolerable the yoke under which they groaned.

Matthew 27:16

A notable prisoner - The word “notable” means one that is “distinguished” in any way either for great virtues or great crimes.

In this place it evidently means the latter He was perhaps the leader of a band who had been guilty of sedition, and had committed murder in an insurrection, Luke 23:19.

Matthew 27:17

Whom will ye that I release … - Pilate was satisfied of the innocence of Jesus, Luke 23:13-16

He was therefore desirous of releasing him. He expected to release one to the people. He knew that Jesus, though condemned by the chief priests, was yet popular among the people He therefore attempted in this manner to rescue him from the hands of the priests, and expected that the people would prefer Him to an odious and infamous robber and murderer. Had the people been left to themselves it would probably have been done.

Jesus, which is called Christ - That is, Jesus, who claims to be the Messiah. Pilate probably did not believe it, or care much for it. He used the name which Jesus had acquired among the people. Perhaps, also, he thought that they would be more likely to ask him to be released if he was presented to them as the Messiah. Mark Mark 15:9 adds that he asked them whether they would that he should release “the King of the Jews?” It is probable that he asked the question in both ways. Perhaps it was several times repeated, and Matthew has recorded one way in which it was asked, and Mark another. He asked them whether they would demand him who “was called the Christ,” expecting that they would be moved by the claims of the Messiah - claims which, when he entered Jerusalem in triumph, and in the temple, they had acknowledged. He asked them whether they would have the “King of the Jews” probably to ridicule the priests who had delivered him on that charge. He did it to show the people how absurd the accusation was. There Jesus stood, apparently a poor, inoffensive, unarmed, and despised man. Herod had set him at naught and scourged him, and sent him back. The charge, therefore, of the priests, that he was a “king” opposed to the Roman emperor, was supremely ridiculous; and Pilate, expecting that the people would see it so, hoped also that they would ask that he might be released.

Matthew 27:18

For he knew that for envy … - This was envy at his popularity.

He drew away the people from them. This Pilate understood, probably, from his knowledge of the pride and ambition of the rulers, and from the fact that no danger could arise from a person that appeared like Jesus. If Pilate knew this, he was bound to release him himself. As a governor and judge, he was under obligation to protect the innocent, and should, in spite of all the opposition of the Jews, at once have set him at liberty. But the Scriptures could not then have been fulfilled. It was necessary, in order that an atonement should be made. that Jesus should be condemned to die. At the same time. it shows the wisdom of the overruling providence of God, that he was condemned by a man who was satisfied of his innocence, and who proclaimed before his accusers his “full belief” that there was no fault in him.

Matthew 27:19

When he was set down on the judgment-seat - Literally, “While he was sitting.” This message was probably received when he had resumed his place on the judgment-seat, after Jesus had been sent to Herod.

See the notes at Matthew 27:14.

His wife sent unto him - The reason why she sent to him is immediately stated - that she had a dream respecting him. We know nothing more of her. We do not know whether she had ever seen the Saviour herself, but it would seem that she was apprised of what was taking place, and probably anticipated that the affair-would involve her husband in trouble.

Have thou nothing to do … - That is, do not condemn him. Perhaps she was afraid that the vengeance of heaven would follow her husband and family if he condemned the innocent.

That just man - The word “just,” here, has the sense of “innocent,” or not guilty. She might have been satisfied of his innocence from other sources as well as from the dream.

I have suffered many things … - Dreams were considered as indications of the divine will, and among the Romans and Greeks, as well as the Jews, great reliance was placed on them. Her mind was probably agitated with the subject. She was satisfied of the innocence of Jesus; and, knowing that the Jews would make every effort to secure his condemnation, it was not unnatural that her mind should be excited during her sleep, perhaps with a frightful prospect of the judgments that would descend on the family of Pilate if Jesus was condemned. She therefore sent to him to secure, if possible, his release.

This day - It was now early in the morning. The Jewish “day” began at sunset, and she employed the usual language of the Jews respecting time. The dream was, in fact, in the night.

Matthew 27:20

Persuaded the multitude - The release of a prisoner was to be to the people, not to the rulers.

The rulers, therefore, in order to secure the condemnation of Jesus, urged on the people to demand Barabbas. The people were greatly under the influence of the priests. Galileans among the citizens of Jerusalem were held in contempt. The priests turned the pretensions of Jesus into ridicule. Hence, in a popular tumult, among a flexible and changing multitude, they easily excited those who, but a little before, had cried Hosanna, to cry, Crucify him.

Matthew 27:21

Whether of the twain? - Which of the two, Jesus or Barabbas?

Matthew 27:23

And the governor said, Why? - Luke informs us that Pilate put this question to them “three times,” so anxious was he to release him.

He affirmed that he had found no cause of death in him. He said, therefore, that he would chastise him and let him go. He expected, probably, by causing him to be publicly whipped, to excite their compassion, to satisfy “them,” and thus to evade the demands of the priests, and to set him at liberty with the consent of the people. So weak and irresolute was this Roman governor! Satisfied of his innocence, he should at once have preferred “justice to popularity,” and acted as became a magistrate in acquitting the innocent.

Let him be crucified - See the notes at Matthew 27:39. Luke says they were instant with loud voices demanding this. They urged it. They demanded it with a popular clamor.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Having no malice against Jesus, Pilate urged him to clear himself, and laboured to get him discharged. The message from his wife was a warning. God has many ways of giving checks to sinners, in their sinful pursuits, and it is a great mercy to have such checks from Providence, from faithful friends, and from our own consciences. O do not this abominable thing which the Lord hates! is what we may hear said to us, when we are entering into temptation, if we will but regard it. Being overruled by the priests, the people made choice of Barabbas. Multitudes who choose the world, rather than God, for their ruler and portion, thus choose their own delusions. The Jews were so bent upon the death of Christ, that Pilate thought it would be dangerous to refuse. And this struggle shows the power of conscience even on the worst men. Yet all was so ordered to make it evident that Christ suffered for no fault of his own, but for the sins of his people. How vain for Pilate to expect to free himself from the guilt of the innocent blood of a righteous person, whom he was by his office bound to protect! The Jews' curse upon themselves has been awfully answered in the sufferings of their nation. None could bear the sin of others, except Him that had no sin of his own to answer for. And are we not all concerned? Is not Barabbas preferred to Jesus, when sinners reject salvation that they may retain their darling sins, which rob God of his glory, and murder their souls? The blood of Christ is now upon us for good, through mercy, by the Jews' rejection of it. O let us flee to it for refuge!
Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Ask Barabbas - Who had raised an insurrection and committed murder - and to destroy Jesus, whose voice was never heard in their streets, and who had, during the space of three years and a half, gone about unweariedly, from village to village, instructing the ignorant, healing the diseased, and raising the dead.

Ellen G. White
Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 37-9

The scene of Satan's accusation was presented before the prophet. He says, “He showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.” Jesus is our great High Priest in heaven. And what is He doing? He is making intercession and atonement for his people who believe in Him. Through His imputed righteousness, they are accepted of God as those who are manifesting to the world that they acknowledge allegiance to God, keeping all His commandments. Satan is full of malignant hatred against them, and manifests to them the same spirit that he manifested to Jesus Christ when He was upon earth. When Jesus was before Pilate, the Roman ruler sought to release Him, and desired that the people should choose to release Jesus from the ordeal through which He was about to pass. He presented before the clamoring multitude the Son of God and the criminal Barabbas, and inquired. “Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?” “They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let Him be crucified?” TM 37.1

The world was stirred by the enmity of Satan, and when asked to choose between the Son of God and the criminal Barabbas, they chose a robber rather than Jesus. The ignorant multitudes were led, by the deceptive reasonings of those in high position, to reject the Son of God, and choose a robber and murderer in His stead. Let us all remember that we are still in a world where Jesus, the Son of God, was rejected and crucified, where the guilt of despising Christ and preferring a robber rather than the spotless Lamb of God still rests. Unless we individually repent toward God because of transgression of His law, and exercise faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, whom the world has rejected, we shall lie under the full condemnation that the action of choosing Barabbas instead of Christ merited. The whole world stands charged today with the deliberate rejection and murder of the Son of God. The word bears record that Jews and Gentiles, kings, governors, ministers, priests, and people—all classes and sects who reveal the same spirit of envy, hatred, prejudice, and unbelief manifested by those who put to death the Son of God—would act the same part, were the opportunity granted, as did the Jews and people of the time of Christ. They would be partakers of the same spirit that demanded the death of the Son of God. TM 38.1

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Ellen G. White
Christ's Object Lessons, 294

Thus the Jewish leaders made their choice. Their decision was registered in the book which John saw in the hand of Him that sat upon the throne, the book which no man could open. In all its vindictiveness this decision will appear before them in the day when this book is unsealed by the Lion of the tribe of Judah. COL 294.1

The Jewish people cherished the idea that they were the favorites of heaven, and that they were always to be exalted as the church of God. They were the children of Abraham, they declared, and so firm did the foundation of their prosperity seem to them that they defied earth and heaven to dispossess them of their rights. But by lives of unfaithfulness they were preparing for the condemnation of heaven and for separation from God. COL 294.2

In the parable of the vineyard, after Christ had portrayed before the priests their crowning act of wickedness, He put to them the question, “When the Lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?” The priests had been following the narrative with deep interest, and without considering the relation of the subject to themselves they joined with the people in answering, “He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out His vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render Him the fruits in their seasons.” COL 294.3

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Ellen G. White
SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5 (EGW), 1105-7

Christ's Heart Rent—How different was the true High Priest from the false and corrupted Caiaphas. Christ stood before the false high priest, pure and undefiled, without a taint of sin. 5BC 1105.1

Christ mourned for the transgression of every human being. He bore even the guiltiness of Caiaphas, knowing the hypocrisy that dwelt in his soul, while for pretense he rent his robe. Christ did not rend His robe, but His soul was rent. His garment of human flesh was rent as He hung on the cross, the sin-bearer of the race. By His suffering and death a new and living way was opened (The Review and Herald, June 12, 1900). 5BC 1105.2

(Leviticus 10:6.) A Positive Prohibition—It was the general custom for the garments to be rent at the death of friends. The only exception to this was in the case of the high priest. Even Aaron, when he lost his two sons because they did not glorify God as had been specified, was forbidden to show sorrow and mourning by rending his garments. The prohibition was positive [Leviticus 10:6 quoted] (Manuscript 102, 1897). 5BC 1105.3

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Ellen G. White
The Acts of the Apostles, 42-3

“Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us unto this day.” “He ... spake of the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in hell, neither His flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.” AA 42.1

The scene is one full of interest. Behold the people coming from all directions to hear the disciples witness to the truth as it is in Jesus. They press in, crowding the temple. Priests and rulers are there, the dark scowl of malignity still on their faces, their hearts still filled with abiding hatred against Christ, their hands uncleansed from the blood shed when they crucified the world's Redeemer. They had thought to find the apostles cowed with fear under the strong hand of oppression and murder, but they find them lifted above all fear and filled with the Spirit, proclaiming with power the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. They hear them declaring with boldness that the One so recently humiliated, derided, smitten by cruel hands, and crucified, is the Prince of life, now exalted to the right hand of God. AA 42.2

Some of those who listened to the apostles had taken an active part in the condemnation and death of Christ. Their voices had mingled with the rabble in calling for His crucifixion. When Jesus and Barabbas stood before them in the judgment hall and Pilate asked, “Whom will ye that I release unto you?” they had shouted, “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” Matthew 27:17; John 18:40. When Pilate delivered Christ to them, saying, “Take ye Him, and crucify Him: for I find no fault in Him;” “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person,” they had cried, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” John 19:6; Matthew 27:24, 25. AA 42.3

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