1 Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” 3 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” 5 But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”
6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. 9 So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.
13 Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. 16 I will therefore punish and release him.” – Luke 23:1-16 ESV
The next phase of Jesus’ trial was about to begin. The high priest and his compatriots on the high council now had the evidence they needed to bring accusations of treason against Jesus. By claiming to be the Messiah or king of Israel, Jesus had given them ample reason to get the Romans involved. The Roman government, while tolerant of other religions, was ruthlessly intolerant of insurrection in any form. There is little doubt that they had heard the rumors concerning Jesus. Though He was nothing more than an itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth, He had attracted a large following and many were claiming Him to be the next king of Israel. So, the Sanhedrin knew that Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, would be more than interested in interrogating their prisoner. And their hope was that Pilate would protect the interests of Rome by having Jesus put to death.
While the Sanhedrin had determined that Jesus deserved death because of His blasphemous claims of divinity, they were prohibited by Roman law from practicing capital punishment. So, their plan was to use the rather lame charge of treason to incite the Romans against Jesus. And it seems that the entire religious leadership of Israel was party to this deadly charade. Luke indicates that “the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate” (Luke 23:1 ESV). The two high priests, Caiaphas and Annas, as well as the members of the council and the elders of Israel were all part of the contingent that accompanied Jesus to the Roman governor’s palace.
This angry mob dragged Jesus before Pilate and immediately began to level their charges against Him. It’s unlikely that they entered the palace of the Gentile governor because that would have rendered them unclean (John 18:28). So, they stood in the courtyard, their prized prisoner in hand, delivering their carefully crafted indictments against Him.
“We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” – Luke 23:2 ESV
They deliberately distanced themselves from Jesus, choosing to treat Him with disdainful anonymity. Refusing to use His name or His rightful title of Rabbi, they paint Jesus as just another radical revolutionary stirring up trouble in Israel. And they attempt to portray themselves as friends of Caesar, dedicated to protecting his interests and in full allegiance to Roman rule over their nation. In fact, John records the disingenuous response of these men when later, Pilate mockingly declared Jesus to be their king.
“Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!”
“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back. – John 19:15 NLT
Luke makes it clear that Jesus’ alleged claims of kingship were the primary focus of Pilate’s interest in Him. Having heard the accusations of the religious leaders, Pilate turned to Jesus and asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Luke 23:3 ESV). Luke reports that Jesus simply responded, “You have said so” (Luke 23:3 ESV). But John provides much more detail regarding the exchange between Pilate and Jesus. He notes that Jesus responded to Pilate’s question by asking, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” (John 18:34 ESV). This cleverly worded question seems to be inquiring whether Pilate is expressing personal interest in Jesus’ kingship or simply parroting the accusations of the religious leaders. In a sense, Jesus wanted to know if Pilate was simply looking for a confession of guilt or was curious to know if the rumors about Jesus were true. Was He really the Messiah, the son of David and the legitimate heir to the throne of Israel? But Pilate, sensing what Jesus was doing, quickly redirected the conversation.
“Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” – John 18:35 ESV
Pilate was looking for proof of Jesus’ guilt. He had been accused of promoting tax evasion and of declaring Himself the rightful king of Israel. These were serious charges and Pilate was attempting to give Jesus the opportunity to tell His side of the story. But instead, Jesus chose to clarify the nature of His kingship and kingdom.
“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” – John 18:36 ESV
Pilate and the Romans had nothing to fear from Jesus. He was not an insurrectionist and He had no desire to disrupt the political status quo in Israel. He had not come to usher in a physical kingdom or wage war against the Romans. In fact, His battle was with the religious leaders of His own people, who were standing in opposition to His mission of repentance and redemption. They, of all people, should have recognized Jesus as the Messiah. But because Jesus had not appeared in the form they had been expecting, they had rejected Him. He had not fulfilled their expectations concerning the Messiah, so they sought to destroy Him. But what they failed to understand was that the Messiah’s kingly mission would not be about crowns and conquests or the defeat of Israel’s political enemies. Jesus had come to deliver His people from slavery to sin, not subjugation to Rome.
But all this talk of kingship led Pilate to ask, “So you are a king?” (John 18:37 ESV). To which Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37 ESV). The truth was that Jesus was a king. But He was a completely different kind of king who had come to establish a different kind of kingdom. He had come to wage war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). His fight was not with Rome, but with Satan. His objective was the deliverance of men from spiritual slavery to sin and the condemnation of death that accompanied. The apostle Paul would later declare, “He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross” (Colossians 2:14-15 NLT).
But all of Jesus’ talk of otherworldly kingdoms meant nothing to Pilate. He sensed that Jesus was no threat to Rome and delivered his conclusion to the religious leaders gathered in the courtyard of his palace.
“I find no guilt in him.” – John 18:38 ESV
But this pronouncement was not what Caiaphas and the rest of the Sanhedrin wanted to hear. So, they became even more agitated and desperate, demanding that Jesus was a clear and present danger to the Roman republic.
“He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.” – Luke 23:5 ESV
The mention of Galilee gave Pilate an excuse to pass the buck. He wanted nothing more to do with Jesus, so he had Him transferred to the royal palace of Herod, the governor of Galilee. Since Jesus was accused of stirring up trouble in Herod’s jurisdiction, Pilate decided to let his fellow governor get in on the action. But Herod wasn’t interested in making a deliberation concerning Jesus’ guilt or innocence. He had heard all about Jesus and was hoping this miracle worker from Nazareth would oblige him by performing one of His famous signs. But Jesus refused to play Herod’s game and, before long, Herod lost interest and sent Him back to Pilate. All the while Jesus was in Herod’s palace, the religious leaders stood outside shouting their accusations against Him. But to no avail. Herod had Jesus dressed up in “splendid clothing” (Luke 23:11 ESV) and then subjected Him to the ridicule and contempt of his guards. But before long, Jesus found Himself back in Pilate’s palace.
What happened next is critical to the story of Jesus’ final hours. Pilate reported to Jesus’ accusers that their charges were insufficient to warrant His death. They had failed to produce enough evidence to convince either him or Herod to order Jesus’ execution. And for the second time, Pilate announced, “after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him” (Luke 23:14 ESV). The Gentile rulers declared Jesus to be innocent of all charges. Pilate agreed to punish Jesus but would not condemn Him to death. At least, not yet.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.