Mark 15:1-15 – Jesus Before Pilate


Mark 15:1-15


Jesus refuses to participate in the continuation of his sham trial. Pilate seeks to keep the peace and condemns Jesus to death.


After the chief priests and the elders decided that Jesus deserved to die, the trial shifted into Roman judicial space. The multiple trials within a trial underline the informality of the Roman justice system; the justice system in Roman provinces did not revolve around judges and juries and questions of legality. Rather, it involved politicians making decisions about how best to keep the peace. This emphasis on keeping the peace underlies all of Pilate’s decision making.

The first detail to note in Pilate’s questioning is the difference between the statement that Jesus made to the high priest (14:62) and Pilate’s concern. The high priest pressed Jesus with a religious question and Jesus answered with an apocalyptic pronouncement. Pilate as Roman governor is interested in a political question; he wants to know whether Jesus claims to be king of Judea. The Romans did not allow Judea to have a king; rather they had divided Herod the Great’s kingdom into four parts and given one part to each of his sons in an effort to limit infighting among Herod’s children and to consolidate their own power. If Jesus claimed to be king of Judea, it would put him in direct conflict with Roman political objectives.

Jesus replies by dismissing the question and then refuses to engage with the accusations brought by the chief priests (15:5). Pilate, in one of his more astute moments as governor, understands that the conflict is not so much between Jesus and the Roman authorities, but between Jesus and the chief priests. He attempts to weasel his way out of the situation by appealing to the crowds. The custom of releasing a prisoner for the crowds during the festival of Passover is another example of the way in which Pilate’s primary concern was not justice, but placating his colonized subjects. The crowds ask for Barabbas and call for Jesus to be crucified. Rather than asking whether this is just or whether Jesus is guilty, Pilate orders him to be crucified. The death sentence against Jesus demonstrates the arbitrariness and brutality of the Roman colonial government much more than any understanding that Pilate had about Jesus’ life and ministry.