John 18:39
But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
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(39) At the Passover.—Comp. Excursus F: The Day of the Crucifixion of our Lord.

The King of the Jews.—These words are of course said in mockery, but not at Jesus who was still in the palace. They seem to mean, “This is your king; Such is your national subjection, that He is bound in the Prætorium of the Roman governor. Shall I release Him unto you?”

18:33-40 Art thou the King of the Jews? that King of the Jews who has been so long expected? Messiah the Prince; art thou he? Dost thou call thyself so, and wouldest thou be thought so? Christ answered this question with another; not for evasion, but that Pilate might consider what he did. He never took upon him any earthly power, never were any traitorous principles or practices laid to him. Christ gave an account of the nature of his kingdom. Its nature is not worldly; it is a kingdom within men, set up in their hearts and consciences; its riches spiritual, its power spiritual, and it glory within. Its supports are not worldly; its weapons are spiritual; it needed not, nor used, force to maintain and advance it, nor opposed any kingdom but that of sin and Satan. Its object and design are not worldly. When Christ said, I am the Truth, he said, in effect, I am a King. He conquers by the convincing evidence of truth; he rules by the commanding power of truth. The subjects of this kingdom are those that are of the truth. Pilate put a good question, he said, What is truth? When we search the Scriptures, and attend the ministry of the word, it must be with this inquiry, What is truth? and with this prayer, Lead me in thy truth; into all truth. But many put this question, who have not patience to preserve in their search after truth; or not humility enough to receive it. By this solemn declaration of Christ's innocence, it appears, that though the Lord Jesus was treated as the worst of evil-doers, he never deserved such treatment. But it unfolds the design of his death; that he died as a Sacrifice for our sins. Pilate was willing to please all sides; and was governed more by worldly wisdom than by the rules of justice. Sin is a robber, yet is foolishly chosen by many rather than Christ, who would truly enrich us. Let us endeavour to make our accusers ashamed as Christ did; and let us beware of crucifying Christ afresh.See the notes at Matthew 27:15-21. 39. But ye have a custom that I should release one unto you at the passover, &c.—See on [1907]Mr 15:7-11. "On the typical import of the choice of Christ to suffer, by which Barabbas was set free, see the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus, particularly Le 16:5-10, where the subject is the sin offering on the great day of atonement" [Krafft in Luthardt]. Whence this custom came is uncertain; most probably from the Romans, who in some honour of this great festival of the Jews, and in humour of them, granted them the life of any criminal whom they desired. Pilate propounds Christ as the prisoner whom he had most mind to release, perceiving that his prosecution was of malice, rather than for any just cause.

But ye have a custom,.... Not a law, either of God or man's, but a custom; and which was not originally observed at the feast of the passover, and perhaps was not of any long standing; but what the Roman governors, by the order of Caesar, or of their own pleasure, had introduced to ingratiate themselves into the affections of the people; and being repeated once and again, was now looked for:

that I should release unto you one at the passover; which was at this time; and more than one it seems it was not customary, to release:

will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? who they had said called himself so, and was so accounted by others, and which Pilate says, in a sneering, sarcastic way; though he was heartily willing to release him, and was in hopes they would have agreed to it, since nothing could be proved against him; however, he proposes it to them, and leaves it to their option.

But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
John 18:39-40. Instead of stedfastly protecting the innocence of Jesus, he seeks, unwisely enough, in order not to be unpopular, a circuitous way, by which he practically surrenders the innocent one.

ἵνα, κ.τ.λ.] A custom exists amongst you: I ought to release to you, etc. On the thing itself, see on Matthew 27:15.

ἐν τῷ πάσχα] Pilate could thus express himself as well on the 14th (against Hengstenberg), as also on the 15th Nisan, but the releasing itself corresponds most naturally to the sacred significance of the 14th. Comp. on John 18:28. Moreover, it is in itself more probable that the statement of the time of this customary release as one that was legally stationary is expressed even in the strict sense of τὸ πάσχα (Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 28:16).

βούλεσθεἀπολύσω] Do you wish that I should release? Deliberative conjunctive. Comp. on Matthew 13:28; Kühner, II. § 464.

τὸν βασιλ. τ. Ἰουδ.] Unwise and scornful bitterness. Hengstenberg imports a serious view of the idea of Messias, which certainly Pilate was not equal to.

πάλιν] presupposes a general clamour already raised in John 18:30-31.

Βαραββ.] See on Matthew 27:16.

ἦν δὲ ὁ Β. λῃστής] Tragical addition. The designation by λῃστής does not exclude the statement in Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19; λῃσταὶ φονεύουσι, Soph. O. R. 719. According to Matthew 27:17, Pilate offered a choice between Barabbas and Jesus; Mark, and also Luke, agree with John.

39. ye have a custom] Nothing is known of this custom beyond what is told us in the Gospels. Prisoners were sometimes released at Rome at certain festivals, and it would be quite in harmony with the conciliatory policy of Rome to honour native festivals in this way in the case of subject nations. In Luke 23:17 the custom is said to be an obligation; ‘of necessity he must;’ but the verse is of very doubtful genuineness.

that I should] Literally, in order that I should. See on John 15:12.

the King of the Jews] Expressive of scornful contempt. Comp. John 19:15.

John 18:39. Ἐν τῷ πάσχα, at the Passover) Therefore the Passover was on that day. And on that day the people, who were assembled together, begged the favour of Pilate.

Verses 39, 40. - (c) [Without the Praetorium.] The Roman trial continued without the Praetorium, where Pilate declared Christ innocent, and made another effort to save him. The Barabbas-proposal. Before the scene which John here introduces with a but - as though it followed immediately upon the utterance of a verdict of acquittal - Luke tells us that casual reference was made to the circumstance that Jesus was a Galilaean, and was in Herod's jurisdiction. Eager to quit himself' of a troublesome presence and business, Pilate caught at the expedient of sending Jesus at once to the court of Herod (Luke 23:6-12). This issuing in no result except in fresh and hideous mockery of the King of kings, and in a renewed protestation of his innocence and harmlessness, so far as the Roman Pilate or the Herodian tetrarch could discover, Pilate offered to scourge the Son of God, and release him. The utter meanness and cowardice of his offer to add ignominious pain and insult to the brutal mockeries of Herod and his soldiers, brands Pilate with eternal shame. As soon as the word "release" broke upon their ears, there was a reminder from the people that Pilate should follow at the feast the custom for some time in vogue, of releasing a prisoner. Now, there was a notorious criminal, who had stirred up a bloody insurrection in the city, one which had resulted in murder. He may have been popular among the vehement anti-imperial party for some seditious proceedings against constituted authorities; he may, in fact, really have been guilty of the very charge brought wickedly against the holy Jesus. This is only conjecture. But there he stood - Barabbas, and, according to some manuscripts, "Jesus" also by name, "Son of the Father," but a violent man, a λῃστής, statue with crime, whether he were a Gaulonite or not. The notion of releasing Barabbas, in accordance with a time honored custom, did, according to Luke, originate first of all with some of the people; and this apparent difference between the synoptic narrative and John's is represented and referred to in this Gospel by the introduction of a πάλιν (Ver. 40). For although John does not mention the first attempt to secure the safety of Barabbas, he implied that the infernal shout, "Not this Man, but Barabbas!" had already burst upon his ears, and was repeated so soon as Pilate had exclaimed, as John briefly reports, Ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the Passover (or, κατὰ δὲ ἑορτήν, Mark 15:6). We know nothing of the origin of this "custom," nor is it elsewhere referred to. The two classes into which critics are divided about the "day of our Lord's death," here take opposite views as to the meaning of the phrase, ἐν τῷ πάσχα. The one class press the fact that the Paschal meal must be over, and that this must have been the first day of unleavened bread, in order to justify this expression; the other critics urge that since the feast had not commenced, Pilate was prepared to grant release in time for Barabbas to take his place with his friends in all the national ceremonies. The phrase, according to Meyer and others, is so indefinite that it may most certainly belong to both the 14th and 15th days of Nisan, and no conclusive argument can, from its use, be drawn in favor of either day. Will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? Again therefore they cried all, Not this Man, but Barabbas! Now Barabbas was a robber. Possibly Pilate wished to find out whether among the ὄχλος there were any sympathizers with Jesus, who might be gratified at the expense of the hated priests; for he "knew that by reason of envy they had delivered up Jesus to him." He wished to set the multitude and the priesthood at variance, and to save Jesus through their mutual recriminations. He would have made a diversion in favor of his Prisoner. He adroitly suspected that some of the surging crowd might have been the friends or accomplices of Jesus, and he would have been gratified to free himself from the responsibility of slaying an innocent man. The phraseology of Mark suggests that Pilate would have been justified in such a conjecture, for a momentary pause occurred. There were some symptoms of wavering in the crowd. But the suggestions of the chief priests passed to the people. Matthew (Matthew 27:20) says, "The chief priests and elders persuaded (ἔπεισαν) the multitudes that they should demand Barabbas, and destroy Jesus." They needed some persuasion, then: but, alas! they yielded to it. Mark (Mark 15:11) is still more explicit: "The chief priests stirred up the people(ἀνέσεισαν), in order that he might release Barabbas unto them." The double phrase sets forth, in vivid touches, the eager circulation to and fro among the crowds of the hot- headed and malignant priests and elders, who thus secured, not without some difficulty, a popular confirmation of their malignant scheme. "NOT THIS MAN, BUT BARABBAS!" was the repeated cry of a stupefied crowd. The memory of all the gracious words and life-giving actions of Jesus did not subdue the raging passion of their lust; they could neither see with their eyes, nor hear with their ears, nor understand with their hearts. The light that was in them was darkened. They preferred that a murderer should be granted to them. "Not this Man, but Barabbas!" is their verdict. Human power and popular feeling and corporate conscience reached the bottomless abyss of degradation. Jerusalem that killed the prophets would have none of him. Even human nature itself must bear the shame which by this cry for vengeance against goodness was branded upon its brow for ever. Through this daemonic hatred of the noblest and the best, manifested by the world, the world is itself condemned. "Who is he," said John afterwards, "that overcometh the world? Even he who believeth that Jesus is the Son of God." The world has made its Sesostris, its Tiberius, its Nero, its Antinous, into sons of God; the world has ever cried, "Not this Man" - not Jesus of Nazareth - but "Jesus Barabbas is son of God." It will find out its mistake too late. The synoptic narrative (Matthew 27:19-23; Mark 15:12-14; Luke 23:20-23) had already made the Church familiar with other details more or less connected with this incident, and which preceded the final sentence. John, who followed his Master as closely as possible, was acquainted with some interesting facts, full of suggestion, which throw additional light upon the conduct of Pilate, and bring forth some sublime traits in the character and bearing of our Lord. From the synoptists we learn that Pilate struggled for some considerable time to get his own way, and he remonstrated repeatedly with the people concerning their choice of Barabbas, the murderer and brigand, and their refusal to recall their malignant deliverance of Jesus to him as a malefactor. The bare idea that this gentle, silent, magnanimous Sufferer, bereft of his friends, mocked by Herod, deserted by his disciples, should have the faintest shadow of a claim to sovereignty in the only sense in which Pilate could understand such an idea, revolted his common sense. The message from his wife (Matthew 27:19) had furthermore excited his semi-superstitious fears, and he maundered in a feeble fashion, "What shall I do with Jesus that is called Christ?" -"with him whom ye say is (accused of being) King of the Jews?" and for the first time the ominous and terrible cry is returned, "CRUCIFY HIM!" They do not ask that he be speared or beheaded, or treated like a convicted aspirant or usurper; nay, they will not be pacified until the doom of a common malefactor, the shameful death of a criminal slave, is meted out to him. Pilate is amazed, and even horrified, by the intensity of their spite and the cruelty of their hatred. Once and again Pilate said, "Why, what evil has he done? I found in him no proved occasion of any kind of death." The tumult was rising every moment, and Pilate would have been glad to compromise the matter by sending Barabbas to the cross; and before he took the course dictated by the angry mob, he washed his hands in a basin of water, and proclaimed the fact that he had, and would take, no responsibility for the judicial murder to which they would hound him. "I am guiltless of the blood of this Man: see you to it" (Matthew 27:24, 25). Many commentators refer this proceeding of Pilate to the moment when he finally uttered the cursed verdict: Ibis ad crucem. Matthew's account is much more concise at this point than John's. Heathen writers had repeatedly scoffed at the notion of water washing away the guilt of blood. We can hardly suppose that Pilate meant more than a disdainful repudiation of any sympathy with the infuriated crowd (see Steinmeyer). This act, instead of appeasing, served to madden the fury of the populace, who shouted in bitter earnest, "His blood be upon us, and upon our children" -a sentence of their own, which rankled in their memories, and came back a few months afterwards with grim earnestness (Acts 5:28). "Then," says St. Matthew, "Pilate released Barabbas to them." To do this, the governor would return to the Praetorinm, and Jesus was thus once more face to face with him. Probably the gorgeous robe which Herod had thrown over his fettered limbs had been taken from him; and then Pilate, bewildered, weak, with some ulterior motive of staving off the madness of the Jews, and satiating their inhuman thirst for blood, adopted another expedient.

John 18:39

Ye have a custom

The word συνήθεια, custom, originally means intimacy, habitual intercourse, and thence naturally passes into the meaning of habit or custom. Only John puts the statement of this custom into the mouth of Pilate. Matthew and Mark relate it as a fact.

At the Passover (ἐν τῷ πάσχα)

More specific than Matthew and Mark, where the expression is general, κατὰ ἑορτήν, at feast-time.

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