The crowd shouts for crucifixion.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 April 2020

Mark 15.8-14, Matthew 27.20-23, Luke 23.18-25, John 18.38-40.

When Jesus stood trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect quickly realized Jesus was no insurrectionist. Jesus’s claim of being Judea’s king was no political threat to the Roman senate and emperor. Case dismissed.

Except it wasn’t, because the Judean senators had somehow got a crowd together which was calling for Jesus’s death. And the easiest way to get Romans in a murdery mood is to disturb their peace. That’s the one thing Romans valued most: Social stability. Not actual peace, like Jesus gives us; just the appearance of peace, where nobody grumbles too loud, would do for them. And if they didn’t get it, they’d crucify everybody till they did.

The head priests knew this, so of course they got a crowd together, and made sure they were good and noisy.

Mark 15.8-14 KWL
8 Rising up, the crowd began to ask, as usual, for Pilatus to do for them.
9 In reply Pilatus told them, “You want me to free for you ‘the Judean king’?”
10 —knowing the head priests turned Jesus in out of spite.
11 The head priests incited the crowd to instead ask that bar-Avvá might be released to them.
12 In reply Pilatus again told them, “So what ought I do with the one called ‘the Judean king’?
13 The crowd shouted again, “Crucify him.”
14 Pilatus told them, “Why? Did he do evil?” But they shouted “Crucify him” all the more.
Matthew 27.20-23 KWL
20 The head priests and elders convinced the crowd to ask for bar-Avvá, and for Jesus’s destruction.
21 In reply the prefect told them, “Whom of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Bar-Avvá.”
22 Pilatus told them, “So what will I do with Jesus called Messiah?” All said, “Crucify.”
23 Pilatus said, “Why? Did he do evil?” But they shouted “Crucify!” all the more.
Luke 23.18-25 KWL
18 The Judeans shouted out together, “Take this man away and release bar-Avvá to us!”
19 Bar-Avvá was thrown into prison because of a certain riot in the city, and murder.
20 Pilatus addressed them again, wanting to release Jesus,
21 and the crowd shouted back, saying, “Crucify! Crucify him!”
22 Pilatus told them thrice, “Why? Did this man do evil?
Nothing worth death was done by him. So I will punish and release him.”
23 The crowd insisted with loud voices, calling for Jesus to be crucified, and their voices prevailed.
24 Pilatus sentenced Jesus to have done as the crowd requested.
25 He released the one they requested, who was thrown into prison for riot and murder,
and Jesus was surrendered to the people’s will.
John 18.38-40 KWL
38 Pilatus told Jesus, “What’s ‘truth’?”
This said, he went out again to the Judeans and told them, “I find nothing in him of cause.
39 It’s your custom that one prisoner might be released to you on Passover,
so do you want me to release to you ‘the Judean king’?”
40 So they shouted again, saying, “Not him, but bar-Avvá!” (Bar-Avvá was a looter.)
41 So then Pilatus took Jesus and flogged him.

More about bar-Avvá another time.

The crowd’s constitution.

Preachers are mighty fond of claiming the crowd which asked for bar-Avvá to be freed, and for Jesus to be crucified, was the very same crowd which hailed Jesus on Palm Sunday. We have no evidence of that whatsoever, but these preachers love the idea of the crowd turning on Jesus; praising him one day, rejecting him the next, much like the students who rejected him after he told them to eat him. Denouncing hypocrites is fun, so this old claim manages to worm its way into every Holy Week message. But it’s likely rubbish.

Ancient Jerusalem was a big city. Ordinarily 40,000 people lived there, which means you could put together a dozen massive Jesus-denying crowds with entirely different people in ’em, same as such a population nowadays can easily host a dozen Jesus-affirming churches. But y’might remember Passover was going on, which every adult male Israelite was commanded to attend. Ex 23.17 During the Jewish War, which started during one of the mandatory festivals, Josephus stated the city physically held more than 125,000 people. Granted some people might’ve been in both crowds, but certainly not all. And if the head priests gathered this crowd, these definitely wouldn’t be Jesus fans.

Also bear in mind the Romans’ fort, Antonia, couldn’t hold a crowd of thousands. The temple, which Antonia overlooked, could; but no matter how much the head priests wanted Jesus dead, it’s extremely unlikely they’d have used the temple courts to host a crowd shouting “Crucify him!” So the size of this crowd wasn’t as vast as the Jesus movies make it look; we’re only talking 300 people at the very most. Even without shouting they’d make a lot of noise, but they only needed to be just noisy enough to sway Pontius. Which they did.

The other consideration is this was Friday, 3 April 33, the day before Passover and the day before Sabbath, and therefore a day you were super busy getting ready. You had to get your lamb killed and skinned and roasted; you had to go to temple for your ritual sacrifices (and get in line, ’cause there were tons of other Israelite families with Passover sacrifices, but only so many priests, and just the one altar); and if you had to go to temple it meant you had to get ritually clean the day before, and stay ritually clean till you got to temple, and couldn’t risk becoming ritually unclean by gathering in a crowded Roman fortress where there’d be a bunch of uncircumcised pork-eating soldiers who touched dead things and blood and didn’t wash their hands. So the crowd had to consist of people who finished their temple rituals first thing in the morning… and who wouldn’t mind getting ritually unclean for a little while, and do the head priests a favor.

Likewise people who didn’t have a problem getting one of their fellow Israelites crucified by the Romans. Who didn’t really have a problem with the Roman occupation period; who might’ve even profited off it. Who didn’t just reject the idea of Jesus as Messiah, but may not have even believed any Messiah was coming, like Sadducees. And since the head priests were Sadducees themselves, maybe they handpicked a crowd of fellow Sadducees. The gospels don’t say… but if the entire crowd would Sadducee, they absolutely wouldn’t have among the crowd cheering Jesus at Palm Sunday, ’cause shouting Hosanna to an incoming Messiah is way more of a Pharisee thing.

Jesus represents a total overhaul of the status quo. (Including our own.) If the crowd had more to lose by such changes, they’d shout all the more for Jesus’s destruction. And so it appears they did.

Jesus’s suffering.

In these stations of the cross articles we’re looking particularly at how Jesus suffered. And of course he suffered in hearing the crowds call for his death. He didn’t wanna die. Definitely didn’t wanna be crucified. But this was the sort of death he knew was coming; it was part of the Father’s plan, and the Father’s plan is his plan too.

And he came to save this crowd too. He wants everybody to be saved, 1Ti 2.4 even the ones who wanted him dead, even the people today who want him and Christianity gone, and would crucify him again if they could get their hands on him. It’s a pity they resisted his grace; it’s a pity people still resist it. It just goes to demonstrate how messed up humanity is. Obviously we need a savior—who isn’t gonna let us, killing him, stop him from saving us regardless.