Luke 23

1. Then the whole multitude of them arose and led Him to Pilate.

This makes it sound like a huge crowd led Him to Pilate, but this word “multitude” indicates “number” in Greek and shows that the entire group that had been gathered in the Sanhedrin accompanied Jesus to Pilate. When the idea of a large group is meant, the phrase is usually “great multitude” or “great number.”

None of these religious leaders were willing to be absent from this opportunity to do away with this One they hated so much. Yet notice that this number only included those members of the Sanhedrin who were present. There were some, such as Joseph of Arimathea, who were not invited to their crack-of-dawn show trial, and thus were not included in this number.

2. And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.”

Before Pilate, they begin to accuse Him. The accusations that they bring against Him have little to do with what they had determined against Him in His trial before them. Instead, they simply make up lies. They had tried to get the Lord to speak against paying taxes to Caesar in Luke 20:20-26, but He had refused to do so. Now, they just pretend that he did anyway. By lies like this they hoped to make the Lord Jesus appear to be a traitor to Rome. That is what Pilate would really be concerned with, and not some claim that He made to be the Son of God.

In spite of their words, the truth is that Christ had never openly opposed the Roman leadership. In fact, the leadership He had questioned was that of Israel, in the persons of the wicked scribes, chief priests, and Pharisees. Since Pilate was the governor and quite good at it, it was his job to watch out for possible trouble from men like the Lord Jesus. Pilate had no doubt kept an eye on the Lord Jesus and the sensation He was causing, as any good politician would. Thus he already would have known that the Lord did not preach rebellion against the Roman authority. If any evidence of such a thing had come to light, He would have been before Pilate long before this. This is why the Pharisees had attempted to trap Him into opposing paying taxes to Caesar…they knew that Pilate would soon find this out, even if they didn’t go to him immediately to tell him about it, which they would have, of course. Yet the Lord had never preached rebellion against Rome, and Pilate seems to know this. At any rate, he does not give much credence to the lies of the Jewish leaders.

3. Then Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” He answered him and said, “It is as you say.”

Pilate ignores the other claims, but focuses in on their claim that the Lord said He was a King. He asks the Lord if He is the King of the Jews? Christ readily admits that it is so. Yet Pilate would not have looked at this as a crime. Being a king was not illegal under the Roman system. As long as a king remained loyal to the Roman Empire, the Romans were perfectly willing to let the local peoples have their kings. This was one very clever way that they attempted to keep people content with living under their rule. So for Jesus Christ to claim to be a king did not condemn Him under Roman law as long as He did not preach rebellion against Caesar, which He never had.

4. So Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no fault in this Man.”

Pilate finds no wrong in the Lord’s answer, and, as I said, he had no doubt already spied on Him and found out that He displayed no rebellious tendencies. Christ’s straightforward admission convinces him that He has nothing to hide, and thus he realizes that the words of the chief priests and scribes are the real lies in this case.

5. But they were the more fierce, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place.”

Pilate’s clear perception of the case only angers the Lord’s bitter enemies. They hurl more accusations against Him, claiming that He stirs up the people throughout Judea, and beginning even from Galilee in the north. Of course, they act like this stirring up is something that Pilate and the Romans should fear. Yet the simple fact of the matter was that the stirring up of the people that Christ was doing was against these religious leaders, not against Rome. This was what they feared, and why they were so eager to see Him condemned by Rome and put to death.

6. When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean.

Pilate is a sharp man, and he picks up immediately on the word “Galilee,” for that territory of Israel is not under his jurisdiction.

7. And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

Pilate wants nothing to do with this volatile situation, and thus grasps at this first out he sees. Finding out that the Lord Jesus is indeed from the northern territory of Israel where King Herod’s jurisdiction is, he sends Christ to him. The word for “sent” here is anapempo in Greek, and means that he sent Him up to Herod. We call this passing the buck, and no doubt Pilate hoped that this would get this difficult matter off his plate so that he would not have to deal with it. Perhaps Herod will be able to diffuse this situation and solve the problem for him.

Herod happens to be in Jerusalem at this time. No doubt he is there, as the rest in Israel are, for the Passover and the upcoming Feast of Unleavened Bread. This makes it even more convenient for Pilate to pass this matter of the Lord and His accusers on to him.

8. Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him.

As we saw previously in Luke, this Herod had rejected the word of God through John, though he had feared him. Now he is excited about the chance to see the Lord Jesus. This is not because he wishes to hear His words, much less obey them. Rather, he was hoping to witness a miracle done by the Lord. His seeking out of something sensational is very similar to the attitude of many in our day. It seems that the more wild and fanciful the claims and activities of a church, the better some seem to like it. When it comes to any serious work, however, or putting away their own sin to live a righteous life, these people are not to be found. So it was with Herod.

9. Then he questioned Him with many words, but He answered him nothing.

After answering the questions of the Sanhedrin and of Pilate, the Lord Jesus now refuses to speak to Herod. We might wonder why this was so. The Sanhedrin were His enemies, and were dead set on destroying Him no matter what He said. Pilate was the Roman governor, and actually a pretty good one. He starts out at least trying to do the right thing, though he eventually buckles to political pressure and perverts justice. Herod, however, was a usurper who had no right to the throne. When he agreed to try the Lord he had no idea of justice in mind. He just hoped to enjoy some show the Lord might put on. Moreover, Herod had not only rejected the word of God through John, he had also valued his oath to a loose young woman more than the life of God’s prophet. We cannot wonder, then, that God had nothing more to say to this man. At least, not until he stands in judgment at God’s court rather than the other way around!

10. And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him.

The chief priests and scribes find themselves forced to come before Herod as well. No doubt this is not to their liking, but they have little choice if they want to see the Lord destroyed as they have planned. Thus, although the Lord will not speak to Herod nor defend Himself, these men are more than willing to accuse Him with any lies they can come up with. So they stand before Herod and bitterly accuse Him.

11. Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate.

No doubt Herod’s pride was wounded by Christ’s refusal to speak to him. Thus, finding his desire to be entertained by a miracle from the Lord Jesus thwarted, Herod chooses instead to entertain himself by mocking Him. Therefore, he mistreats the Lord and makes fun of Him along with his men of war. These were his own, personal soldiers. He would bring these with him whenever he visited Jerusalem, for the fear of assassination was always one that the leaders of the day had to deal with, particularly around Israel’s capital city at a feast time.

Now, having gotten his fun out of the Lord one way or another, Herod loses interest in the situation. He was a fickle man, and did not take anything like justice seriously. So he arrays Him in a gorgeous robe. Doubtless this was one of Herod’s own old, used robes. Thus arrayed, he sends Him back to Pilate. Certainly this Herod was not the model of an ideal ruler!

12. That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other.

Although Herod didn’t help Pilate out of his predicament, it seems that this event broke the ice between them and began a friendship. They at least had the fact that they both found this Jesus Christ difficult to deal with in common. Herod was pleased that he had gotten some fun out of the Lord, at least. And both Herod and Pilate now shared the guilt of refusing justice to a man they knew was innocent, which could also have had something to do with creating a bond between them.

13. Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people,

Pilate reluctantly finds himself back in charge of the situation. He responds by calling the accusers and their supporters together. He hopes to take charge of the situation and provide a solution that will satisfy them.

14. Said to them, “You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him;

Pilate sets forth the matter from his perspective to these rulers. No doubt he hopes to get them to see reason. They had brought the Lord Jesus to him as one who misleads the people, yet his own examination of the Lord led him to the conclusion that the Lord had not done the things they accused Him of. Of course, the leaders knew that He had not done these things. However, this would not impress them. They didn’t care if He was innocent. They wanted to put Him to death regardless and end once and for all His message, as well as His threat to their power and influence.

15. “No, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him.

Pilate also quite reasonably points out that he had sent the Lord Jesus to Herod, and that Herod did not find anything to charge Him with either. This shows that it was not just Pilate as a Roman who found the Lord not worthy of death, but also one of the Jews’ own rulers had concluded the same thing. The Lord really had done nothing deserving of death, or even of punishment.

16. “I will therefore chastise Him and release Him”

Pilate’s words until this point are fair, reasonable, and right. Now, though, he brings up this suggestion of chastising Him. Pilate had just admitted that the Lord had done nothing wrong, and yet now he speaks of chastising an innocent Man. This was obviously an attempt to be political and to appease this angry group of religious leaders. He must be thinking that seeing their enemy publicly punished and humiliated will satisfy these indignant religious leaders. He obviously had no idea of the depth of their hatred of our Lord. He also probably hoped that the people would see how harmless the Lord was when they chastised Him, and thus pity Him and conclude that He really was not deserving of death. Again, he underestimates the sway the religious leaders have over this mob that is gathered at his judgment seat.

If Pilate had carried out this suggestion and stuck by these words, we would still be favorably impressed by him. It was not good to punish a Man Who was innocent, yet at least he was doing his best to diffuse this uncomfortable situation, and was working to spare an innocent Man’s life. Yet it seems that although his perception was correct, his conviction was not strong enough to stand up to men as powerful as the leaders whom he had before him, nor to ignore the unruly mob they had gathered around them.

17. (for it was necessary for him to release one to them at the feast).

Here we have it explained to us that it was a custom for Pilate to release one prisoner to the people at the feast. We must remember that Israel was occupied territory, and there was constant tension between the people of the land and their Roman overlords. Unlike most people whose culture and religion integrated well into the Roman Empire, the character of their Divine religion and the God the Hebrews served caused the people of Israel to chafe under the rule of the polytheistic Romans. Therefore there were constantly men arising who were attempting to claim the sanction of God for their efforts at rebellion. Certain political figures would rise up in Israel who would proclaim independence from Rome and national and religious patriotism, and the sympathies of the people were often with these figures, even after they were arrested, tried, and convicted of treason by Rome.

Now it seems that the Romans (or perhaps just Pilate personally) had made a custom that, at the Israelite national holiday of the Passover, they would release one of these political prisoners to the people. This would often save such a prisoner from crucifixion. This would win them some gratitude from the followers of this figure, and might even cool their zeal against Rome.

It seems, therefore, that Pilate hopes to excite the people’s sympathies for the Lord, and then use this custom of releasing a prisoner to release Him back to them. Pilate must know that many of the people love the Lord Jesus, and hopes that they will jump at the chance to receive their hero released to them. No doubt the release of Jesus Christ would have excited great sympathy for Pilate among His many followers.

Also, this would be Pilate gaming the system a bit. Since he had already admitted the Lord was innocent, he really had no business holding Him anyway, feast or no feast. Releasing the Lord then, Who clearly did not have aspirations of throwing off the Roman overlords and fomenting rebellion, would remove from him the obligation of having to release one of the truly violent anti-Roman zealots whom he had in prison at the time. Pilate could have done nothing but gain if the people had accepted this suggestion.

18. And they all cried out at once, saying, “Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas”–

Pilate has made yet another miscalculation in his suggestion. Remember, this was still early in the morning. The Lord Jesus’ followers would have known that He was spending the night in Bethany every day during the feast, and would have expected Him to be there. They would not miss Him until the morning started to wear away and He did not appear again in the temple to teach, as He did every morning upon His return to Jerusalem. Therefore, they have no idea that the Lord is in Jerusalem and never actually left it, not to mention that He has been arrested and is even now before Pilate. The ones who might have alerted the Lord’s followers are the disciples, but they were so afraid after His arrest that it seems that most of them ran off and hid. Thus the Lord’s many followers would have thought He had made it safely back to Bethany, and no doubt they are not expecting Him back from there for several hours.

Since the Lord’s followers do not know He is in danger or has been arrested, they would not be the ones at Pilate’s judgment hall looking to secure release for Him. Rather, any men who are there would be men who know that their leader is imprisoned, and are there to seek his release. Thus it is likely that many in this crowd are followers of Barabbas, and have probably been waiting for Pilate to come out and start His judgment for the day so they can have this opportunity to request the release of their hero. The idea that the Lord Jesus might be released instead would only infuriate these loyal followers of Barabbas, and made them easy prey for the plot of the chief priests and scribes. These disciples of Barabbas, along with the religious leaders in the crowd and the many there who would love to win favor from these leaders, were enough to insure that Pilate’s plan was utterly futile. The crowd wants no part of Jesus Christ. Instead, they demand that He be punished, and Barabbas released to them.

19. Who had been thrown into prison for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder.

Often the men who arose claiming political and especially religious reasons to rebel against Rome would cause riots and rebellions. Sometimes their impassions pleas were just excuses to rob and pillage. Rome would respond, and these men would run off into the wilderness and become thieves, waging what today we would call guerilla warfare. If caught by Rome, these men would be imprisoned, as Barabbas had been. He had been a leader of this sort, and had made a rebellion in the city in which he committed murder. Yet he has loyal followers who are seeking his release.

Barabbas means “son of a father,” and could be an assumed name by this rebel. If so, he may have actually been claiming to be the Messiah, calling himself God’s son. Origen suggests that in some ancient manuscripts his name is given as “Jesus Barabbas.” This is possible, and we could certainly see how some early Christian might have been jealous for the Lord’s name being shared with this wicked man, and have removed it. However, it certainly could also be an error. At any rate, it is likely this man could himself have been a false Christ, and been chosen for release over the true One.

20. Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them.

Pilate has trouble believing that this crowd wants the violent and barbarous Barabbas rather than the kindly and unassuming Lord Jesus. He tries to get control of the unruly crowd, and calls out to them again. We do not have His words recorded for us here, but may find them in one of the other gospels. His words do little good, however. Pilate has made a serious mistake and it is too late for him to regain order now. The sly Sanhedrin members have worked the followers of Barabbas up into a frenzy, and nothing short of the Lord Jesus’ blood will satisfy them.

21. But they shouted, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”

The frenzied mob cries out for the punishment that Barabbas deserved to be laid instead upon the Lord Jesus. Although these words were shouted by the crowd, these were actually the words of the religious leaders that they had planted in the minds of these impressionable zealots.

22. Then he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go.”

Pilate again pleads for the Lord Jesus. He has found no reason for death in Him, not to mention the horrible death of the cross. He again suggests his proposal of chastising Him and then letting Him go. That was his idea, and he doesn’t want to give it up. He doesn’t seem to realize that it is already too late. This crowd, perhaps largely of supporters of Barabbas, is already convinced that nothing will do but the death of the Lord Jesus. To talk of letting Him go was just like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

23. But they were insistent, demanding with loud voices that He be crucified. And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed.

No amount of reason could reach this crowd. They hung on to their idea with the single-minded insanity of a mob, and insisted upon it with loud voices, until their insistence with the subtle pressure of the chief priests behind them won out.

24. So Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they requested.

Even if Pilate had grasped the situation at this point, it was already too late for him to sway the crowd. Yet this does not justify his actions, for he was the one with the power to crucify, and listening to this unruly mob was not the action of a true leader. This crowd at his judgment hall could not have been overly large, and Pilate had many armed Roman soldiers at his disposal. He could have used his authority to dismiss this crowd and then release the Lord Jesus. Yet he gives in to his fear and thus to the trap of the religious leaders.

It may be that Pilate was soliciting more cooperation from the religious leaders by his actions here. They had already proven to him that they could stir up great trouble for him in the aqueduct riots of some years before. Although it is difficult to confirm with certainly what took place, it would appear that Pilate helped continue an aqueduct project to bring water into Jerusalem, a project that was very much needed by the city. The aqueduct was to run directly into the temple, where much water was needed for the ceremonies performed there. Money from the temple treasury was used for the project, something that was quite permissible according to their laws. However, it would appear afterwards that there was trouble over this, with some feeling that the use of the treasury funds was not acceptable. It may be that the religious leaders betrayed Pilate and made up some story that he had forced them to use the treasury money, perhaps in hopes that he would be forced to return it. At any rate, a riot ensued, and Pilate apparently was in some trouble with his superiors for allowing this uproar to take place. It could well be that Pilate did not feel very secure in his position at this time, and he well knew the problems the Jewish religious leaders could cause him. These considerations well may have swayed his decision in this situation. He might have figured that the life of an innocent man was worth a better relationship with the Jewish leaders, not to mention not jeopardizing his own job.

25. And he released to them the one they requested, who for rebellion and murder had been thrown into prison; but he delivered Jesus to their will.

So Pilate in the end ignored justice, and did as the crowd and the religious leaders demanded. The followers of Barabbas got what they wanted, as did the chief priests and Pharisees. Again it is emphasized that Barabbas had been thrown into prison for rebellion and murder. As Peter later will accuse the men of Jerusalem, “But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.” Acts 3:14-15.