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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

MATTHEW 27:15-23; MARK 15:6-14;
LUKE 23:13-23

Matthew 27:15-23

Mark 15:6-14

Luke 23:13-23

15. Now the governor was wont at the festival to release to the multitude one prisoner, whomsoever they wished. 16. And they had at that time a notable prisoner, who was called Barabbas. 17. When they were assembled, therefore, Pilate said, Which of them do you wish that I should release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus, who is called Christ? 18. For he knew that they had delivered him up through envy. 19. And while he was sitting on the judgment-seat, his wife sent to him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that righteous man; for I have suffered many thing today in a dream on his account. 20. But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitude to ask Barabbas, and put Jesus to death. 21. And the governor, answering, said to the, Which of the two do you wish that I shall release to you? And they said Barabbas. 22. Pilate said to them, What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ? They all say to him, Let him be crucified. 23. And the governor said, But what evil hath he done? But they cried so much the more, saying, Let him be crucified.

6. Now at the festival, he was wont to release to them one prisoner, whomsoever they demanded. 7. And there was one who was called Barabbas, who was a prisoner along with his accomplices in the insurrection, that had committed murder in the insurrection. 8. And the multitude, crying out, began to demand that he would do as he always had done to them. 9. And Pilate answered them, saying, Do you wish me to release to you the King of the Jews? 10. For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him up through envy. 11. And the chief priests stirred up the multitude, that he would rather release to them Barabbas. 12. And Pilate answering again, said to them, What then do you wish me to do with him whom you call King of the Jews? 13. But they cried out again, Crucify him. 14. And Pilate said to them, But what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more vehemently, Crucify him.

13. And Pilate, having assembled the chief priests, and magistrates, and the people, 14. Said to them, You have brought before me this man, as one who subverteth the people; and lo, having interrogated him in your presence, I find no fault in this man, as to those things of which you accuse him. 15. Nor even Herod; for I sent you to him, and lo, nothing worthy of death hath been done to him.  257 16. When I have chastised him, therefore, I will release him. 17. Now he was under the necessity of releasing to them one at the festival. 18. Then the whole multitude cried out together, saying, Take away this man, and release to us Barabbas; 19. Who had been put in prison on account of a certain insurrection that had been made in the city, and for murder.  258 20. And Pilate again spoke to them, desiring to release Jesus. 21. But they cried out, saying Crucify him, crucify him. 22. And a third time he said to them, But what evil hath he done? I find in him no fault worthy of death. I will therefore chastise him, and release him. 23. But they persisted with loud voices, demanding that he should be crucified; and their voices and those of the chief priests prevailed.


Matthew 27:15. Now the governor was wont at the festival Here is described to us, on the one hand, the insatiable cruelty of the priests, and, on the other, the furious obstinacy of the people; for both must have been seized with astonishing madness, when they were not satisfied with conspiring to put to death an innocent man, if they did not also, through hatred of him, release a robber. Thus wicked men after having once begun to fall, are driven headlong by Satan, so that they shrink from no crime, however detestable, but, blinded and stupefied, add sin to sin. There can be no doubt that Pilate, in order to prevail upon them through shame, selected a very wicked man, by contrast with whom Christ might be set free; and the very atrocity of the crime of which Barabbas was guilty ought justly to have made the resentment of the people to fall on him, that by comparison with him, at least, Christ might be released. But no disgrace makes either the priests, or the whole nation, afraid to ask that a seditious man and a murderer should be granted to them.

Meanwhile, we ought to consider the purpose of God, by which Christ was appointed to be crucified, as if he had been the basest of men. The Jews, indeed, rage against him with blinded fury; but as God had appointed him to be a sacrifice (κάθαρμα) to atone for the sins of the world,  259 he permitted him to be placed even below a robber and murderer. That the Son of God was reduced so low none can properly remember without the deepest horror, and displeasure with themselves, and detestation of their own crimes. But hence also arises no ordinary ground of confidence; for Christ was sunk into the depths of ignominy, that he might obtain for us, by his humiliation, an ascent to the heavenly glory: he was reckoned worse than a robber, that he might admit us to the society of the angels of God. If this advantage be justly estimated, it will be more than sufficient to remove the offense of the cross.

The custom of having one of the prisoners released by the governor on the festival, to gratify the people, was a foolish and improper practice, and, indeed, was an open abuse of the worship of God; for nothing could be more unreasonable than that festivals should be honored by allowing crimes to go unpunished. God has armed magistrates with the sword, that they may punish with severity those crimes which cannot be tolerated without public injury; and hence it is evident that lie does not wish to be worshipped by a violation of laws and punishments. But since nothing ought to be attempted but by the rule of his word, all that men gain by methods of worshipping God which have been rashly contrived by themselves is, that under the pretense of honoring, they often throw dishonor upon Him. We ought therefore to preserve such moderation, as not to offer to God any thing but what he requires; for he is so far from taking pleasure in profane gift that they provoke his anger the more.

19. While he was sitting on the judgment-seat. Although the thoughts which had passed through the mind of Pilate’s wife during the day might be the cause of her dream, yet there can be no doubt that she suffered these torments, not in a natural way, (such as happens to us every day,) but by an extraordinary inspiration of God. It has been commonly supposed that the devil stirred up this woman, in order to retard the redemption of mankind; which is in the highest degree improbable, since it was he who excited and inflamed, to such a degree, the priests and scribes to put Christ to death. We ought to conclude, on the contrary, that God the Father took many methods of attesting the innocence of Christ, that it might evidently appear that he suffered death in the room of others, — that is, in our room. God intended that Pilate should so frequently acquit him with his own mouth before condemning him, that in his undeserved condemnation the true satisfaction for our sins might be the more brightly displayed. Matthew expressly mentions this, that none may wonder at the extreme solicitude of Pilate, when he debates with the people, in the midst of a tumult, for the purpose of saving the life of a man whom he despised. And, indeed, by the terrors which his wife, had suffered during the night, God compelled him to defend the innocence of his own Son; not to rescue him from death, but only to make it manifest, that in the room of others he endured that punishment which he had not deserved. As to dreams, which serve the purpose of visions, we have spoken elsewhere.

20. But the chief priests and elder’s persuaded the multitude. The Evangelist points out the chief instigators of the wicked proceedings; not that the foolish credulity of the people, who were influenced by others, admits of any excuse; but for the purpose of informing us that they were not, of their own accord, hostile to Christ, but that, having sold themselves to gratify the priests, they forget all justice and modesty,  260 as well as their own salvation. Hence we learn how pernicious is the influence of wicked men, who can easily turn in every direction, to all kind of wickedness, the giddy and changeful multitude. Yet we must attend to the design of the Evangelist, which was to show, that the death of Christ was so eagerly demanded by the voice of the people, not because he was universally hated, but because the greater part of them, ambitiously desirous to follow the inclination of their rulers, threw aside all regard to justice, and might be said to have sold and enslaved their tongue to the wicked conspiracy of a few.

22. What then shall I do with Jesus? Perceiving that they are so blinded by madness, that they do not hesitate, to their own great dishonor, to rescue a robber from death, Pilate resorts to another expedient for touching them to the quick, and bringing them to a sound mind. He argues that the death of Christ would bring disgrace on themselves, because it had been commonly reported of Jesus, that he was the King and the Christ. As if he had said, “If you have no compassion for the man, pay some regard, at least, to your own honor; for it will be generally thought by foreigners, that he was put to death for a chastisement to you all.”  261 Yet even this did not abate the fierceness of their cruelty, or hinder them from proceeding to manifest a greater degree of opposition to the public interests than of private hostility to Christ. Thus, according to Mark, Pilate, in order to wound them still more deeply, says that even themselves call Jesus the King; meaning, that this title was constantly used, as if it had been his ordinary surname. Yet, throwing aside all shame, they obstinately insist on the murder of Christ, which brought along with it the disgrace of the whole nation. The Evangelist John (Joh 14:15) states a reply, which the other three Evangelists do not mention; namely, that they had no king but Caesar. Thus they choose rather to be deprived of the hope of the promised redemption, and to be devoted to perpetual slavery, than to receive the Redeemer, whom God had offered to them.

Luke 23:16. I will therefore chastise him, and release him. If any slight offense had been committed, which was not a capital crime, the Roman governors  262 were wont to cause the offenders to be beaten with rods; and this kind of punishment was called, in the Latin language, coerctio Pilate, therefore, acts unjustly when, after pronouncing Christ to be free from all blame, he resolves to punish him, as if he had been guilty of an ordinary offense; for he not only declares that he has found in him no crime worthy of death, but asserts his innocence in the most unqualified manner. Why, then, does he beat him with rods? But earthly men, who are not confirmed by the Spirit of God in a constant wish to do what is right, even though they are desirous to maintain integrity, are accustomed, in this manner, to yield so far as to commit small injuries, when they are compelled. And not only do they reckon it a valid excuse, that they have not perpetrated a very heinous crime, but they even claim for themselves the praise of mildness, because they have, to some extent, spared the innocent. As to the Son of God, had he been dismissed in this manner, he would have carried with him the shame of having been scourged, without any advantage to our salvation; but on the cross, as in a magnificent chariot, he triumphed over his enemies and ours.

Would to God  263 that the world were not now filled with many Pilates! But we see that what was begun in the head is accomplished in the members. The Popish clergy persecute his holy servants with the same cruelty with which the Jewish priests cried out, demanding that Christ should be put to death. Many of the judges, indeed, willingly offer themselves as executioners to follow out their rage;  264 but when they shrink from shedding blood, so as to save innocent men from dying, they scourge Christ himself, who is the only righteousness of God. For when they compel the worshippers of God to deny the Gospel, for the purpose of saving their life, what else is it than to cause the name of Christ to undergo the disgrace of being beaten with rods? Yet in their defense they plead the violence of his enemies; as if this pretense were a sufficient cloak for their treacherous cowardice, which, if it was not excusable in Pilate, deserves to be viewed in them with the highest detestation. But though our three Evangelists pass by this circumstance, yet it is evident from the Evangelist John, (Joh 14:1,) that Christ was beaten with rods, while Pilate was still laboring to save his life, in order that so appalling a spectacle might appease the rage of the people. But John has also added, that it could not be appeased until the Author of life was put to death.



"Rien ne luy a este fait (ou, rien n'a este fait par luy) qui soit digne de mort." — "Nothing hath been done to him (or, nothing hath been done by him) that is worth of death."


"Avec meutre;" — "accompanied by murder."


D’autant que Dieu l’avoit ordonné pour estre celuy sur lequel seroyent mis tousles pechez du monde,, à fin que l’expiation et purgation en fust faite;” — “because God had appointed him to be the person on whom should be laid the sins of the world, in order that the expiation and cleansing of them might be accomplished.”


Toute equité mosiste, et honnesteté:” — “all justice, modesty, and propriety.”


Pour vous chastier, et vous faire despit à tous;” — “to chastise you, and pour contempt on you all.”


Les Gouverneurs deputez de par l’Empereur de Rome;” — “the Governors appointed by the Emperor of Rome.”


Pleust à Dieu.”


Entre les juges, la plus grand’ part ne demandent pas mieux que de servir de bourreaux pour executer la rage des supposts de l’Antechrist.” — “Among the judges, the greater part ask nothing better than to act as hangmen to execute the rage of the supporters of Antichrist.”

Next: Matthew 27:24-32; Mark 15:15-21; Luke 23:24-32