Matthew 27:15
Now at that feast the governor was wont to release to the people a prisoner, whom they would.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(15) The governor was wont to release.—It is not known when the practice began, nor whether it was primarily a Jewish or a Roman one. The fact that the release of criminals was a common incident of a Latin lectisternium, or feast in honour of the gods, makes the latter the more probable. If introduced by Pilate (and this is the only recorded instance of the practice) it was, we may believe, a concession intended to conciliate those whom his previous severities had alienated. Before this stage of the proceedings we have to place (1) the second conference between Pilate and the priests after his dialogue with our Lord (Luke 23:4-5), and their definite charge of sedition, now urged for the first time; and (2) his attempt, catching at the word “Galilee” as the scene of our Lord’s work, to transfer the responsibility of judging to Herod (Luke 23:6-12).

Matthew 27:15-18. Now at that feast, &c. — It had become a custom with the Roman governors, at the feast of the passover, to gratify the people with the pardon and release of any one prisoner they pleased. There was no law to oblige them to do this, nor is it certain when or how this custom arose. But as acts of grace are generally popular things, it is probable it originated with the Romans themselves, and that they introduced and continued it to please their tributaries. It was, however, a bad custom, being an encouragement to wickedness, and an obstruction to justice. And they had then a notable, επισημον, a remarkable, or notorious prisoner — Who had really been guilty of the crime whereof they falsely accused Jesus; had made an insurrection, with accomplices, and committed murder in the insurrection; a crime which, though their impudence exceeded all bounds, they durst not lay to Christ’s charge. When they were gathered together — About Pilate’s tribunal, and began with great noise and clamour to demand of him that he would do, at this passover, as he had always done upon the like occasion, Mark 15:8; and would discharge a prisoner, Pilate asked, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas or Jesus? — Pilate, desiring to preserve the life of Jesus, of whose innocence he was fully convinced, in order to induce the people to ask for his release, proposes no other alternative than that scandalous and outrageous criminal who has just now been mentioned. For he knew that for envy, as well as from malice and revenge, they had delivered Jesus. That it was not his guilt, but his goodness that they were provoked at: and that they envied him because the people magnified him. Hence Pilate was willing to make the proposal to the people in such a form as might be most likely to secure his life.27:11-25 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!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.

Mt 27:11-26. Jesus Again before Pilate—He Seeks to Release Him but at Length Delivers Him to Be Crucified. ( = Mr 15:1-15; Lu 23:1-25; Joh 18:28-40).

For the exposition, see on [1372]Lu 23:1-25; [1373]Joh 18:28-40.

See Poole on "Matthew 27:18". Now at that feast,.... The Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions read, "at every feast": which looks as if the authors of these versions thought the sense was, that the following custom was used at each feast in the year, at the feasts of pentecost, and tabernacles, and passover; whereas it was only at the feast of the passover; and which is meant by the feast here, as is clear from John 18:39. It was but once a year that this was done; at every returning passover; and so the Persic version renders it, "every year on the day of the feast"; that is, of the passover, and which was frequently called by way of emphasis, "the feast":

the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would. It was not a law, but a custom; it was not enjoined by the law of Moses; for they that sinned against that; died without mercy: nor is it agreeable to strict justice, that there should be such a release of criminals; nor was it a Jewish custom, as an emblem of their deliverance out of Egyptian bondage. I have not met with the least trace of any such custom of theirs at the time of the pass over in any of their writings; but it seems to be a Roman one: and from all the accounts of the evangelist, it appears to be peculiar to the Roman governor, who, either by the order of Caesar, or of himself, introduced such a custom to get the favour of the people; for it was to them the release was made, and the person, whom they pleased; and this being repeated annually for some time, was expected by them, and at last became necessary.

{3} Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.

(3) Christ is first acquitted by the same judge who condemns him, that we might see how the just dies for the unjust.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 27:15 Κατὰ ἑορτήν] on the occasion of the feast, i.e. during the feast-time (Kühner, II. 1, p. 412; Winer, p. 374 [E. T. 500]); that the Passover is here meant is evident from the context.

As there is no allusion to this custom anywhere else (for an account of which, however, see Bynaeus, de morte Chr. III. p. 97 ff.), nothing whatever is known as to when it originated. But whether we date the custom back to the Maccabaean age or to an earlier period still (Ewald, Gesch. Chr. p. 570), or regard it as having been introduced[33] for the first time by the Romans (Grotius, Schleiermacher, Friedlieb) for the purpose of conciliating the Jews, we cannot fail to see in it a reference to that which is intended to be set forth by the Passover (sparing mercy), and applicable most probably to the 14th of Nisan (comp. on John 18:24; John 18:39).

[33] It may be mentioned as tending to favour this supposition, that while no trace of such a custom is met with in the Talmud, there is something to a certain modified extent analogous to it in the practice observed by the Romans at the feast of the lectisternia (Liv. Matthew 5:14). Schoettgen detects an allusion to some such origin in Pesachim f. 91, 1, though this is very doubtful. Then, as for the statement of Josephus, Antt. xx. 9. 3, which is quoted by Keim, it cannot be said to imply the existence of any practice, and it refers besides to a case in which ten persons were liberated.Matthew 27:15-18. Appeal to the people.—Pilate, not inexperienced in Jewish affairs, nor without insight into the ways of the ruling class, suspects that there are two sides to this matter. The very accusation suggests that the accused may be innocently popular, and the accusers jealous. An existing custom gives the opportunity of putting this to the test.15. the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner] The origin of this custom is quite unknown; St Mark says, “as he had ever done unto them,” as if the custom originated with Pilate; St Luke has, “of necessity he must release;” St John, “Ye have a custom.”

No trace of this custom is found in the Talmud. But the release of prisoners was usual at certain festivals at Rome, and at Athens during the Panathenaic festival prisoners enjoyed temporary liberty. It is not, therefore, improbable that Herod the Great, who certainly familiarised the Jews with other usages of Greece and Rome, introduced this custom, and that the Roman governor, finding the custom established and gratifying to the Jews, in accordance with Roman practice (see Introd. p. 22 (3)) retained the observance of it.Matthew 27:15. Κατὰ δὲ ἑορτὴν, κ.τ.λ., But at the feast, etc.) This [custom of releasing a prisoner at the Feast] accorded with the deliverance from Egypt.—ἑορτὴν, feast) St John calls it expressly the Passover.—εἰώθει, had been wont) Even political customs subserve Divine Providence.—ἓνα, one) i.e., one, and not more than one.Verses 15-26. - Barabbas preferred to Jesus. (Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:17-25; John 18:39, 40.) Verse 15. - Pilate now tries another expedient for delivering himself from the responsibility of condemning Jesus. At that feast (κατὰ ἑορτήν, at a feast, at feast time). Doubtless the Passover is meant, which was the feast especially of the Jews, and it is very improbable that the practice mentioned in the clause was allowed at any other of the feasts. The governor was wont to release unto the people (τῷ ὄχλῳ, the multitude), etc. St. Luke says, "Of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast." The custom is not elsewhere mentioned. It was, however, most probably an institution established of old time in memory of the Exodus (John 18:39), and continued by the Romans when they became masters of the country. A similar custom obtained at Rome and in Greece on certain great festivals. Whom they would. The governor usually left the priests and people unfettered in their choice; on the present occasion he desired Jesus to be selected.
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