Matthew 27:24
When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see you to it.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(24) He took water, and washed his hands.—The act belonged to an obvious and almost universal symbolism. So in Deuteronomy 21:6 the elders of a city in which an undiscovered murder had been committed were to wash their hands over the sin-offering, and to say, “Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.” (Comp. also Psalm 26:6.) Pilate probably chose it, partly as a relief to his own conscience, partly to appease his wife’s scruples, partly as a last appeal of the most vivid and dramatic kind to the feelings of the priests and people. One of the popular poets of his own time and country might have taught him the nullity of such a formal ablution—

“Ah nimium faciles, qui tristia crimina cædis

Flumineâ tolli posse putetis aquâ.”

“Too easy souls who dream the crystal flood

Can wash away the fearful guilt of blood.”

Ovid, Fast. ii. 45.

Matthew 27:24-25. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing — That he could not convince them what an unjust, unreasonable thing it was for him to condemn a man whom he believed to be innocent, and whom they could not prove to be guilty; and that instead of doing any good by his opposition to their will, a tumult was made — Through their furious outcries; he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude — Pilate did this, says Origen, according to the custom of the Jews, being willing to assert Christ’s innocency to them, not in words only, but by deed. Thus, in the instance of a murder, committed by an unknown hand, the elders of the city nearest to the place where the dead body was found, were to wash their hands over a heifer slain by way of sacrifice to expiate the crime, and to say, Our hands have not shed this blood, Deuteronomy 21:6. Alluding to which ceremony, the psalmist, having renounced all confederacy with wicked and mischievous men, says, I will wash my hands in innocency. But as washing the hands in token of innocence was a rite frequently used. also by the Gentiles, it is much more probable that Pilate, who was a Gentile, did this in conformity to them. He thought, possibly, by this avowal of his resolution to have no hand in the death of Christ, to have terrified the populace; for one of his understanding and education could not but be sensible that all the water in the universe was not able to wash away the guilt of an unrighteous sentence. Saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it — Nevertheless, solemn as his declaration was, it had no effect; for the people continued inflexible, crying out with one consent, His blood be on us and on our children — That is, We are willing to take the guilt of his death upon ourselves. The governor, therefore, finding by the sound of the cry that it was general, and that the people were fixed in their choice of Barabbas, passed the sentence they desired. He released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired, but he delivered Jesus to their will, Luke 23:25. In this conduct, notwithstanding his efforts to save Jesus, he was utterly inexcusable, and the more so the more he was convinced of Christ’s innocence. He had an armed force under his command sufficient to have scattered this infamous mob, and to have enforced the execution of a righteous sentence. But if not, he ought himself rather to have suffered death than to have knowingly condemned the innocent. Accordingly, as the ancient Christians believed, great calamities afterward befell him and his family, as a token of the displeasure of God for his perversion of justice in this instance. According to Josephus, he was deposed from his government by Vitellius, and sent to Tiberius at Rome, who died before he arrived there. And we learn from Eusebius, that quickly after, having been banished to Vienne in Gaul, he laid violent hands upon himself, falling on his own sword. Agrippa, who was an eye-witness to many of his enormities, speaks of him, in his oration to Caius Cesar, as one who had been a man of the most infamous character.

As to the imprecation of the Jewish priests and people, His blood be on us and on our children, it is well known, that as it was dreadfully answered in the ruin so quickly brought on the Jewish nation, and the calamities which have since pursued that wretched people in almost all ages and countries; so it was particularly illustrated in the severity with which Titus, merciful as he naturally was, treated the Jews whom he took during the siege of Jerusalem; of whom Josephus himself writes, [Bell. Jud., 50. 5:11, (al. Matthew 6:12,) § 1,] that μαστιγουμενοι ανεσταυρουντο, having been scourged, and tortured in a very terrible manner, they were crucified in the view and near the walls of the city; perhaps, among other places, on mount Calvary; and it is very probable, this might be the fate of some of those very persons who now joined in this cry, as it undoubtedly was of many of their children. For Josephus, who was an eye-witness, expressly declares, “that the number of those thus crucified was so great that there was not room for the crosses to stand by each other; and that at last they had not wood enough to make crosses off.” A passage which, especially when compared with the verse before us, must impress and astonish the reader beyond any other in the whole story. If this were not the very finger of God, pointing out their crime in crucifying his Son, it is hard to say what could deserve to be called so. Elsner has abundantly shown, that among the Greeks, the persons on whose testimony others were put to death used, by a very solemn execration, to devote themselves to the divine vengeance, if the person so condemned were not really guilty. See Doddridge.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!He took water ... - The Jews were accustomed to wash their hands when they wished to show that they were innocent of a crime committed by others. See Deuteronomy 21:6; Psalm 26:6. Pilate, in doing this, meant to denote that they were guilty of his death, but that he was innocent. But the mere washing of his hands did not free him from guilt. He was "bound" as a magistrate to free an innocent man; and whatever might be the clamour of the Jews, "he" was guilty at the bar of God for suffering the holy Saviour to be led to execution, in order to gratify the malice of enraged priests and the clamors of a tumultuous populace.

See ye to it - That is, take it upon yourselves. You are responsible for it, if you put him to death.

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 27:26". When Pilate saw he could prevail nothing,.... That it was to no purpose to talk to them, and in favour of Jesus; he saw they were determined upon his crucifixion, and that nothing else would satisfy them:

but that rather a tumult was made; there was an uproar among the people, and he might fear the consequences of it, should he not grant their request; otherwise, as Philo the (p) Jew says of him, he was, , "naturally inflexible, rigid, and self-willed": but he knew the temper of these people, and had had experience of their resoluteness, when they were determined on any thing; as in the case of his introducing the golden shields into the holy city, of which the same author speaks: and was then obliged, though sore against his will, as now, to yield unto them:

He took water, and washed his hands before the multitude; either in conformity to a custom among the Jews, whereby they testified their innocence as to the commission of murder; see Deuteronomy 21:6, or to a Gentile one, used when murder was committed, for the lustration or expiation of it (q):

saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person; though this did not clear him from all guilt in this matter: he ought to have acted the part of an upright judge, and not have yielded to the unrighteous requests of the people; he ought not to have scourged an innocent man, and much less have condemned and delivered him to be crucified, as he did; though in this he bore a testimony to the innocence of Christ, and which is somewhat remarkable in him; who was, as Philo says (r), notoriously guilty of receiving bribes, of injuries, rapine, and frequent murders of persons uncondemned:

see ye to it; you must be answerable for this action, and all the consequences of it. The Syriac version renders it, "you have known"; and the Persic version, "you know": and the Arabic version, "you know better"; See Gill on Matthew 27:4.

(p) De Legat. ad Caium, p. 1034. (q) Vid. Ovid. Fast. l. 2. Anticlidis Redit. l. 74. Triclinius in Ajac. Sophocl. 3. 1. (r) Ubi supra. (De Legat. ad Caium, p. 1034.)

{4} When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and {g} washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the {h} blood of this just person: see ye to it.

(4) Christ being acquitted by the testimony of the judge himself is nonetheless condemned by him, in order to acquit us before God.

(g) It was a custom in ancient times that when any man was murdered, or there were other slaughters, to wash their hands in water to declare themselves guiltless.

(h) Of the murder; a Hebrew idiom.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 27:24 The circumstance of Pilate’s washing his hands, which Strauss and Keim regard as legendary, is also peculiar to Matthew.

ὅτι οὐδὲν ὠφελεῖ] that it was all of no avail, John 12:19. “Desperatum est hoc praejudicium practicum,” Bengel.

ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον θόρυβος γίνεται] that the tumult is only aggravated thereby.

ἀπενίψατο τὰς χεῖρας] he washed his hands, to show that he was no party to the execution thus insisted upon. This ceremony was a piece of Jewish symbolism (Deuteronomy 21:6 f.; Joseph. Antt. iv. 8. 16; Sota viii. 6); and as Pilate understood its significance, he would hope by having recourse to it to make himself the more intelligible to Jews. It is possible that what led the governor to conform to this Jewish custom was the analogy between it and similar practices observed by Gentiles after a murder has been committed (Herod, i. 35; Virg. Aen. ii. 719 f.; Soph, Aj. 654, and Schneidewin thereon; Wetstein on our passage), more particularly as it was also customary for Gentile judges before pronouncing sentence to protest, and that “πρὸς τὸν ἥλιον” (Constitt. Ap. ii. 52. 1; Evang. Nicod. ix.), that they were innocent of the blood of the person about to be condemned; see Thilo, ad Cod. Apocr. I. p. 573 f.; Heberle in the Stud. u. Krit. 1856, p. 859 ff.

ἀπὸ τοῦ αἵματος] a Greek author would have used the genitive merely (Maetzner, ad Lycurg. 79). The construction with ἀπό is a Hebraism (נקי מדם, 2 Samuel 3:27), founded on the idea of removing to a distance. Comp. Hist. Susann. 46, and καθαρὸς ἀπό, Acts 20:26.

ὑμεῖς ὄψ.] See on Matthew 27:4.Matthew 27:24. ὅτι οὐδὲν ὠφελεῖ, that it was no use, but rather only provoked a more savage demand, as is the way of mobs.—λαβὼν ὕδωρ, etc.: washed his hands, following a Jewish custom, the meaning of which all present fully understood, accompanying the action with verbal protestations of innocence. This also, with the grim reply of the people (Matthew 27:25), peculiar to Mt.; a “traditional addition” (Weiss).24. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing] St Luke relates a further attempt on Pilate’s part to release Jesus, “I will chastise Him and let Him go” (Luke 23:22). Will not the cruel torture of a Roman scourging melt their hearts?

St John, at still greater length, narrates the struggle in Pilate’s mind between his sense of justice and his respect for Jesus on the one hand, and on the other his double fear of the Jews and of Cæsar. (1) He tried to stir their compassion by shewing Jesus to them crowned with thorns and mangled with the scourging; (2) hearing that Jesus called Himself the “Son of God,” he “was the more afraid;” (3) at length he even “sought to release Him,” but the chief priests conquered his scruples by a threat that moved his fears, “If thou let this man go thou art not Cæsar’s friend.” This was the charge of treason which Tacitus says (Ann. iii. 39) was “omnium accusationum complementum.” The vision of the implacable Tiberius in the background clenched the argument for Pilate. It is the curse of despotism that it makes fear stronger than justice.

took water, and washed his hands] Recorded by St Matthew only. In so doing Pilate followed a Jewish custom which all would understand. Deuteronomy 21:6; Psalm 26:6.

see ye (to it)] See note Matthew 27:4.Matthew 27:24. Οὐδὲν ὠφελεῖ, he availeth nothing[1187]) Why not Pilate? This practical prejudging is desperate, when men say, “We do nothing.”[1188]—ΟὐΔῈΝ, nothing, is in the nominative, or the accusative; cf. John 12:19.—μᾶλλον, rather) not greater. He feared a sedition.—λέγων, κ.τ.λ., saying, etc.) A protestation contrary to fact.—δικαίου, righteous) Pilate adopted this word from his wife’s warning; Matthew 27:19.—ὑμεῖς ὄψεσθε, see ye to it) As the Jews said to Judas, so Pilate says to the Jews. A formula of rejection; see Acts 18:15.

[1187] E. V. He prevailed nothing.—(I. B.)

[1188] Sc. We make no progress, we are effecting nothing; and therefore it is useless to persist in the endeavour.—(I. B.)Verse 24. - He could prevail nothing (οὐδὲν, ὠφελεῖ, he prevailed nothing). Naught that he did altered the determination of the multitude. But that rather a tumult was made (γίνεται, is arising). The present tense gives a graphic touch to the narrative. The delay and hesitation of the governor exasperated the people, and there were ominous signs of a riot, which must be suppressed at any sacrifice of principle or equity. He feared that a report might reach Rome of his having occasioned dangerous excitement at the Passover by refusing to punish a pretender to the Jewish throne, he submits to the popular will, but endeavours to save himself from the guilt of an accomplice in a most atrocious murder. Took water, and washed his hands before the multitude. This symbolical action would appeal to the Jewish sentiment, as it was a mode of asserting innocence prescribed in the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 21:6; Psalm 26:6). Pilate thus publicly, in the sight of all the multitude who might not have been able to hear his words, attested his opinion of the innocence of Christ, and weakly cast the guilt upon the people, as if the administration of justice lay with them and not with him. Such lustrations were not exclusively Jewish, but were practised both among Greeks and Romans in expiation of guilt (see Wetstein, ad loc.; and Kuinoel, ad cap. 3:6). I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. Some manuscripts, followed by Alford, Tischendorf, and Westcott and Hort, omit "just Person (δικαίου)." If the word is genuine, it must be regarded as an echo of the wife's message to Pilate (ver. 19). The cowardly governor thus shakes off the responsibility of the perversion of justice which he allows. See ye to it (ὑμεῖς ὄψεσθε, vos videritis, as ver. 4). You will take all the responsibility of the act; the blame will not be mine. Vain hope! Pilate may wash his hands, he cannot purify heart or conscience from the stain of this foul murder. As long as the Church lasts so long will the Creed announce that Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate."
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