After we are told about Judas Iscariot and his betrayal, remorse and suicide, the scene shifts to Jesus and his relationship and interaction with Pilate, the chief priests and elders, Barabbas and the crowd. Jesus is the one man that everyone was to deal with in the end. He is the great watershed; the stumbling stone; the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him.
In Matthew 27:11-26 there are two things that stand out about Jesus. First, he is called the "King of the Jews" (v.11) and secondly, he refuses to defend himself against the charges of the chief priests and elders (v.14). With regard to him being the "King of the Jews" we should remember that this was a mixed kind of title. He is the King of the Jews but not in the sense that Pilate was worried about. His kingdom, though very real, is not of this world. In a way, the Jewish leaders know this and this is why they try to politicize the charges against Jesus. Jesus is a king who makes claims on everyone, yet not as Pilate feared. His refusal to answer the charges brought against him completely amazed Pilate the Roman governor. According to Roman law Jesus had to say something or most likely be found guilty. But having answered Pilate's initial question, Jesus remains silent. This is because he is fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy about the Lamb of God (Isaiah 53). At this point in redemptive history he goes as the Lamb to the slaughter. He goes willingly. He has people to save and he has embraced the Father's will.
Pilate was a cruel man who had burned many political bridges at this point in his career. For a variety of reasons he tried everything within his power to release Jesus but he was unable because he finds himself ensnared in a political trap. In the end, he tries to evade responsibility by "washing his hands" of Jesus, but the careful reader of Matthew's Gospel knows that this is not evasion at all. Nor is it this easy to avoid the claim of Jesus on our lives. We can try to run but we can never hide from the one appointed by the Father to judge the world at the end of the age. There is no neutrality with regard to Jesus. Either we are for him or against him, there is no middle ground!
The chief priests and elders were determined to get rid of Jesus anyway they could and yet appear legal. They were blind leaders of the blind who did not see the glory of Jesus because they did not understand the deepest needs of their own hearts. They were committed to a religious system that could not really take away sin because they had not followed the biblical storyline from Genesis to Zechariah and they did not grasp their need to know the saving work of the one of whom the Law and the Prophets prophesied. And to make matters worst, they were not only content to destroy themselves but they led others astray as well.
Barabbas was almost certainly a political revolutionary, someone who would be called a "terrorist" today. His name means "son of the father" and he had been condemned to die for his part in an uprising that had taken place earlier. Now he escapes on a technicality. He escapes because Jesus dies in his place. The Prince of Peace for a terrorist. And once again we see that at every point along the way there are illustrations of the very thing that Jesus will accomplish at the cross.
Last of all there is the crowd. It would be wrong merely to focus on Pilate and the Jewish leaders. The crowd that gathered early in the morning also had a role to play. While it is likely that they were a specific group of people who were sympathetic to the position of the chief priests, nonetheless, they represent what Isaiah said long ago: "All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." The crowd shouted, "Crucify him!" And they would not relent even when Pilate tried to reason with them. So it is with all of us by nature. We do not want the Jesus to reign over us. We foolishly try to break off the chains and throw off the shackles of the Lord and his anointed (Psalm 2). How thankful we should be that God does not always give human beings what their hearts desire but instead he comes to us in grace and mercy and gives us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to respond to his sovereign authority and his loving offer of salvation.