Matthew 27:23

ESV And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
NIV Why? What crime has he committed?' asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, 'Crucify him!'
NASB But he said, 'Why, what evil has He done?' Yet they kept shouting all the more, saying, 'Crucify Him!'
CSB Then he said, "Why? What has he done wrong? "But they kept shouting all the more, "Crucify him! "
NLT Why?' Pilate demanded. 'What crime has he committed?' But the mob roared even louder, 'Crucify him!'
KJV And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.

What does Matthew 27:23 mean?

There is little question that Pilate truly wanted to release Jesus. However, he made a fatal mistake when choosing to involve the crowds. It was in his power to simply let Jesus go when he could find nothing legally wrong (John 18:33–36). He did not believe the false accusations of the Jewish religious leaders, and understood they wanted to use political tricks to kill off a rival teacher (Matthew 27:18). This pressure was heightened by Pilate's own poor governorship. Years of disrespect and several ugly incidents of violence likely had his Roman superiors watching closely. Another major riot would likely result in consequences.

Knowing this, Jerusalem's religious leaders are whipping up a mob to create a tense, hostile scene (Matthew 27:24; Mark 15:11, 15). Instead of simply making the truthful, just call, Pilate tried to avoid being accused of ignoring Israel's leaders by pushing the decision to the people. He underestimated that some might want the rebellious Barabbas released. He failed to consider the pressure applied by Jewish leaders (Matthew 27:20) The crowd had not hesitated to ask for Barabbas and to shout that Jesus should be crucified (Matthew 27:22).

Pilate's response here might be a last-ditch attempt at reason. Of course, it's impossible to reason with a mob. More likely, this is simply an expression of disbelief (John 19:6). What possible reason could there be for someone like Jesus to be given such a brutal, shameful death? Likely coached by the chief priests, the mob simply shouted even louder: crucify Jesus!

It seems unlikely that Jesus could become so unpopular so quickly. Only days before, He was welcomed like a long-awaited Savior (Matthew 21:8–11). Most likely, those present at the governor's estate early in the morning (John 18:28) were there at the invitation of Jesus' enemies. They were likely brought to pressure the governor with the threat of a riot. Some may have even come specifically to advocate for Barabbas and knew little about Jesus. It's also possible that otherwise-neutral people realized their own priests wanted Barabbas, but the Roman governor wanted to release Jesus. Such people would be unlikely to back Rome over their own leaders.

All these count as reasons, but not excuses. Everyone present in that moment owns a measure of responsibility for Jesus' execution. That includes Pilate, the Roman Empire, Judas, and the Jewish religious leaders of the Sanhedrin. As it turns out, it also includes the sins of everyone for whom Christ died (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:8). Many share the blame for Jesus being sentenced to death.
What is the Gospel?
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