The Passion Story
What motivated the crowd.
Christians tend to believe that the people of ancient Jerusalem saw Jesus as a false prophet who committed blasphemy by claiming to be God and for this reason Jesus had to be put to death. The gospels seem to focus on this as the motivation, but the gospels mostly describe people asking for Jesus to be crucified without dealing with the question of why people wanted Jesus executed. Jesus had gone as far as to raise the dead, and such stories would surely circulate. The rejection of Jesus certainly wasn't unanimous, and those who rejected Jesus had different reasons for wanting Jesus crucified. Some people were political rebels who would have wanted Jesus killed because He was too friendly to the Romans. There were also a great many people in Jerusalem who believed that Jesus was the Messiah or a prophet of God.
Those who believed Jesus came from God would not so quickly turn on Him. People tend to hold on to their beliefs especially those beliefs that give them comfort and hope, and many would cling to their belief in Jesus to the bitter end. Even when Jesus was near death there were those who were still looking for a miracle.
Matthew 27:46-49 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
The miracle they were waiting for was divine intervention to come and rescue Jesus, and if they were waiting for this miracle to occur just before Jesus died, they must have been waiting for this miracle to occur throughout the entire ordeal.
Mark 15:30-32 Save thyself, and come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save. Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.
The idea of Christ miraculously overcoming the crucifixion was mocked, but an idea must exist to be mocked. There must have been some people expecting a miracle for there to be other people who were mocking that idea.
It was the will of God.
This explains another reason why people wanted Jesus crucified. For some people, Jesus had to be crucified, not because He was a false prophet, but because He was the Messiah, or perhaps He was the Messiah. They were not sure, but this was a way to find out. It is important to realize that everyone believed that the Messiah would establish the kingdom of God in this world. This means that the Messiah would overthrow the kingdoms of the world most notably the Romans. But when Jesus came into Jerusalem, He wouldn't make a move against the Romans. If Jesus wouldn't make a move against the Romans, perhaps the Romans would need to make a move against Jesus, and this is how the divine intervention would be triggered. When the Romans tried to crucify Jesus, the wrath of God would come down and destroy the Romans.
In order to bring the wrath of God down on the Romans, Jesus would have to be killed by the Romans, and he would have to be killed for a violation of Roman law so that Rome was responsible for His death. This explains why the accusers of Jesus argued that Jesus was a threat to Caesar.
Overtime at Passover?
It has often been pointed out that the Sanhedrin would never hold a night session during Passover merely to execute a false prophet since false prophets were not all that unusual. On the other hand, if some members of the Sanhedrin believed that Jesus might be the Messiah, they would want to test this theory during Passover, and this causes the night session during Passover to make sense. Those members of the Sanhedrin who believed Jesus was a false prophet could be persuaded to go along with the night session if other members of the Sanhedrin were convinced that this was the will of God.
Another thing to consider is the betrayal by Judas. Christians tend to believe that Judas was never a true follower of Jesus, and might have even been working undercover for the Sanhedrin. The problem is that Judas did spend a lot of time with Jesus, and Judas would have witnessed many great miracles. Judas would have witnessed a man who displayed perfect righteousness, and who was able to heal the sick and raise the dead. Judas would have even been able to do remarkable things himself when Jesus gave his apostles the ability. How could Judas not believe that Jesus was sent by God, but believing this, how could Judas be foolish enough to betray Jesus? The answer is that Judas did not believe he was betraying Jesus. Judas and his fellow conspirators on the Sanhedrin believed they were doing what God wanted them to do.
God did put them in this position. The Jews were under Roman law and could not execute anyone. If someone was to be executed the suspect had to be turned over to the Romans. This means the Sanhedrin was in a position to have the Romans kill Jesus and this would bring the wrath of God down on the Romans. There was also something that Jesus said in Jerusalem that might cause some to believe He had to be turned over to the Romans.
When Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”, this could be taken to mean they should turn Him over to the Romans accorded to Roman law and then the world will be turned over to God.
Pilate washes his hands.
Judas and his co-conspirators believed that crucifying Jesus would establish the kingdom of God in this world, and understanding this motive causes the words and actions of Pontius Pilate to make sense. Pontius Pilate was a brutal man who had sent many to their deaths, and it seems odd that he would have any difficulty crucifying Jesus especially if the only story going around was that Jesus was some crazy guy who claimed to be God. On the other hand, if there were a few respected priests who believed that Jesus was some kind of “Messiah” and killing Jesus would bring the wrath of God down on the Romans; Pilate might be a little bit hesitant to kill Jesus. After Jesus showed no hostility towards his persecutors and no change in manner after a horrible beating, Pontius Pilate might start to believe it could maybe be true. Pilate made a point to wash his hands of the killed. He was laying the blame for the death of Jesus squarely on those who insisted that Jesus be crucified, and this argues that the God of Israel should not punish the Romans, but the Israelis. Shakespeare could never come close to the drama of that moment, or the spectacle of the night before when a crowd stayed up all night waiting for a miracle as a man is beaten.
When Pontius Pilate asked the people what he should do with Jesus, many of the people called for Jesus' death because they believed Him to be a false prophet. This view was more widespread than it had been the day before. There were those who had stayed up all night with no miracle, and they would be hostile to Jesus for having wasted a good night's sleep. Others called for the death of Jesus because that is what the priests told them to do.
Matthew 27:20 But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
The priests had been calling for the death of Jesus, but not necessarily because of a belief on their part that Jesus was a false prophet. Some of the priests would be calling for the Romans to kill Jesus because they hoped it would bring the kingdom of God to the Earth. Just in case it did not work out, the priests would not tell people why they were being told to ask for Jesus' crucifixion, and with some priests clearly claiming that Jesus was a false prophet, the crowd would become more and more hostile to Jesus.
Belief that Jesus was a false prophet was a result of the events, not the cause.
When Jesus came into Jerusalem many people believed He was the Messiah, but there were those who believed He was a false prophet. Some members of the Sanhedrin, particularly Caiaphas, were clearly hostile to the idea that Jesus was the Messiah. When they first arrested Jesus, hostile members of the Sanhedrin questioned Him about His divinity and Jesus acknowledged His divinity, and from that point the support for Jesus would decline. Yet, we know from the gospel account that there were those who held on until the end for a miracle. It is only when that miracle never came that everyone, including the apostles, abandoned the idea that Jesus was the Messiah. The belief that Jesus was a false prophet was the dominate belief at the end of the story, so looking back at the crucifixion that is seen as the dominate motive. Yet this view was clearly in the minority at the start of the story when Jesus came into Jerusalem.
After the death of Judas, no one would know Judas' true motive other than his co-conspirators, but these members of the Sanhedrin would never admit that they too, like some in crowd, were waiting for a miracle. Judas was wrong, but in a sense, he was actually correct. Judas and his co-conspirators on the Sanhedrin believed that by turning Jesus over to the Romans they would establish the kingdom of God, and they were right about that. It just didn’t happen the way they thought it would.
The Messiah was supposed to defeat the enemies of God, and Jesus did that, but what Judas failed to understand is that the enemies of God are not the Romans or any other group of people. God had many children among those Romans and in every nation. The enemies of God are Satan and the fallen angels and Jesus is now a witness against them. Christ, through His death, has defeated the enemies of God and this victory will establish the Kingdom of God in the world.