Matthew 27:24-31 (ESV)
24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
Pilate couldn’t believe that the crowd begged for Barabbas instead of Jesus. His plan to have Jesus released backfired, and a notorious criminal was freed as a result. Now that the crowd was riled up, there was no going back. Pilate was frustrated, and in protest, he washed his hands, declaring to the crowd, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” Washing the hands was actually a Jewish custom used to demonstrate innocence. Pilate realized that Jesus was about to be unjustly murdered, and he did not want to be liable for Jesus’ execution. The crowd, however, had a completely different response. In fact, they willingly accepted full responsibility for Jesus’ death upon themselves and their children (v. 25). They clearly did not see Jesus as innocent. The religious leaders successfully infuriated the crowd and convinced them that the claims Jesus made about himself were worthy of his murder. The crowd must have been ecstatic at this point. They forced Pilate to release a murderer and they dictated that Jesus be crucified. They felt totally in control, powerful, and gladly took responsibility for their choices.