“And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said,
Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 ESV)
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Pontius Pilate gets right to the point: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answers with two words–σὺ λέγεις—which means: you say (Mark 15:2). The chief priests accuse him of many things. Pilate asks Jesus a second question: “Have you no answer to make?” (Mark 15:4) Jesus does not respond (Isaiah 53:7). Pilate is amazed.
The night before, the high priest asked Jesus if he is the Messiah (Christ). Jesus responded using the words God from Exodus 3:14 saying: “I am”. Then, in case anyone misunderstood him, he paraphrased the messianic prophecy in Daniel 7:13: “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62 ESV). The high priest accordingly accused Jesus of blasphemy which is punishable by stoning under Jewish law (Leviticus 24:16). But since Rome reserved the right to decide all cases of capital punishment, the chief priests accused Jesus of the political crime of sedition—treason against Rome. This is why Pilate asked Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:2)
What Kind of Messiah?
Realizing that Jesus is innocent of the charge of sedition, like a good politician Pilate begins working the crowd. In offering to release a prisoner named Barabbas, who was guilty of both sedition and murder (Mark 15:7), Pilate is effectively asking the crowd what kind of Messiah they prefer. The crowd asked for Barabbas who was known to be a Jewish nationalist—in other words, the crowd prefers a kingly Messiah.
Messiah means anointed one in Hebrew which translates as Christ in Greek. Three types of roles are anointed: prophets, priests, and kings. In his earthly ministry, Jesus embodied the first two roles (prophet and priest), but the crowd wanted a king—someone to drive the Romans out—as we saw earlier in Mark 11:10.
So Pilate gave them what they wanted (Romans 1:24-25), washed his hands of the decision, and sent Jesus to the cross.