Luke: Trial by Pilate, Herod, and the People

Read: Luke 23:1-25

Luke provides a detailed account of the official process through which Jesus was tried and convicted. The Jewish leadership form an entourage and invade the courts of Pilate for the first pass. Pilate then passes the buck to Herod who passes it back to Pilate. Ultimately, he succumbs to political pressure from none other than the crowds of people gathered to ensure Jesus is crucified. It seems we have not learned much in our modern political system, but at least crucifixion is not on the menu of choices for any criminal. That being said, our Savior was betrayed, tortured, and sacrificed by us and for us at the same time. More on that tomorrow.

Pilate – Phase One

Satisfied they got the answer they wanted, the Sanhedrin seizes the moment and marches Jesus to Pilate for immediate execution.

Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. Luke 23:1

Their lawyers provide three claims for which they demand justice:

  1. subversion
  2. tax evasion
  3. sedition

The third charge was specific to the claim of being the Messiah and therefore a king. Rome certainly could not allow a king to rise from anyone, let alone the Jews. Pilate picks up on this count and asks if Jesus is the king of the Jews. Once again, Jesus provides an indirect response for which Pilate concludes:

I find no basis for a charge against this man. Luke 23:4

Pilate is a clever politician dealing with an obstinate people that are most likely a pain and nuisance to him. He forces them to raise the ante on their claims and the provide an out for him by suggesting Jesus is from Galilee. Great! Send Him to Herod and let him decide!

Herod – Phase Two

Apparently, Herod was in town for the festivities, though I’m not sure about the circumstances that surrounded his visit. Pilate, of course, would know about this, so they cart Jesus off to see Herod.

This is the same guy that beheaded Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. Jesus is not about to be toyed with by this man. He answers no questions. Herod wants to see a magic trick or something entertaining. The complete disdain for Jesus as a human is reproachable enough. That this is our Messiah makes my stomach turn. Herod gets nowhere with Jesus, so they put royal robes on Him and return Him to Pilate.

Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies. Luke 23:11-12

Verse 12 provides some strange insight into these men of authority. By mocking Jesus, Herod and Pilate became friends. It’s all a game to them.

Pilate – Final Phase

Again, Pilate tries to avoid punishing Jesus, but the people have been stirred up by the Sanhedrin.

Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Luke 23:20-21

Why would someone in authority relent to a crowd? Was it just political embarrassment? Is it because Herod is in town that Pilate doesn’t want to deal with a riot? I can’t claim to understand Pilate’s thought process in the least, you should be happy about that! All we know is that he washed his hands of the entire affair and with a few words, disposed of a human life.

So Pilate decided to grant their demand. Luke 23:24

Barabbas was released and Jesus was convicted by the people.

I don’t understand the thoughts of the Romans, but I don’t understand the minds of the people either. Their collective demand for the death of Jesus is ultimately what led to crucifixion.

It’s hard to wrap my mind around. The closest I can come to having some appreciation for these events is when I read from the Voice of the Martyrs. These modern-day mock trials and execution of our brothers and sisters for Christ are hard to believe, but we know they happen far too frequently.

Lord, help us to understand and appreciate the extent to which You went for our benefit.


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