It was the custom to release a prisoner each year at Passover to show the good will of the Romans toward the Jews. Pilate figured out the way to make this “wash your hands of the mess” scenario into a win. He could walk away while giving the Jews a prisoner to commemorate Passover.
The people were saying that they wanted Jesus dead, so the very least Pilate could do was to order a severe beating. After all, the Romans were infamous for their technique of beating a man to within an inch of his life. Wouldn’t that be enough?
What could work better? They would see Him beaten nearly to death but then Jesus would be released. No death on Passover.
But the reaction of the crowd was not what Pilate wanted. They were not about to accept a beating when what they wanted was a death.
They shouted their choice. They wanted Barabbas. Jesus would be crucified and Barabbas would be set free.
“But the whole crowd shouted, ‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!’ (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ For the third time he spoke to them: ‘Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.’ But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.”
How completely unfair! Jesus was innocent. He had done nothing to deserve death. But the insurrectionist Barabbas was chosen to get to leave his prison sentence at the gates of the jail and go free. It would be Jesus who would pick up the cross and walk to His death sentence.
So unfair that the same offer is made to us. Leave your sin sentence at the gates of hell. Jesus picked it up when He walked to His death sentence at the cross.