Main | Luke 22:47-71 »

Luke 23:1-25

As Jesus being brought before Pilate as Chapter 23 opens, it would seem from the outside as if everything is unraveling. Luke however has taken great pains, as do the other Gospel writers, to show that everything happens only through the allowance of Jesus as He faithfully carries out the Father’s plan. The legal appearances that begin the chapter reflect a muddled political situation. When Herod the Great died, his territory was divided among three of his sons. Herod Antipas and Philip both took over smaller parts, while Herod Archelaus took over the majority of the territory, but it was taken away from him and put under Roman governship in 6 AD. This area included Jerusalem, and it was at this point governed by Pontius Pilate, who was in Jerusalem for the festivals to help keep peace.

Pilate was already unpopular with the Jewish people because of the disrespect that he had shown to their religion, and history shows that his authority was already on tenuous footing as a result. This would have given greater reason for him to avoid upsetting the people as this matter is brought before him. The Jewish leaders bring Him to Pilate claiming that He is causing unrest, opposing payment of taxes, and claiming to be a king. The latter, if it includes advocating an overthrow of Rome, would bear the most weight and draws the focus of Pilate. When asked if He is king of the Jews, Jesus gives an implicit affirmation, but says nothing to demonstrate a political threat, leading Pilate to declare that there is no basis for their claims. However, when the people insist and reveal that Jesus started His ministry in Galilee, Pilate has reason to pass the case to Herod Antipas, whose territory included Galilee. Luke 9 first brought Herod’s curiosity about Jesus to light, and we learn now that Herod was eager to see Jesus perform a miracle. Jesus frustrates Herod not only by not performing a miracle, but also by refusing to even answer his questions. This frustrates Herod and he lashes out by mocking Jesus and dressing Him in the clothes of royalty before he sends Jesus back to Pilate. This ironically leads to a friendship with Pilate as both feel strong contempt for the religion of the Jewish people and feel that is an insult to them.

Pilate still finds no legal support for the charges that the leaders had leveled against Jesus. Since neither he nor Herod found any reason to condemn Jesus to death, he hopes to appease the people by simply having Jesus flogged as a warning against causing any unrest in the future. However, the people are not pleased with this solution. Since it was tradition for the Romans to pardon one prisoner during the festivals, they demand that Pilate condemn Jesus and instead release Barabbas to them. Barabbas was to be crucified after being convicted of murder and revolutionary activity. Likely a member of the Zealots, Barabbas was a well-known and likely popular figure among those who distrusted Rome. Since by this point the people did not seem to hold out hope that Jesus would be the political revolutionary that once believed Him to be, now they turn their support to someone who is. Pilate accedes to their demand, and although Luke does not reference this act, tries to signify his own innocence by ceremonially washing his hands. Since this was not a Roman custom, it was likely adopted from the Jewish tradition which was tied back to Deuteronomy 21.

Pilate’s washing of his hands did nothing to actually absolve himself, as Luke makes clear in Acts 4:4-7; everyone involved from Pilate to Herod to those in the crowd bears responsibility. Pilate’s recognition of Jesus’ innocence only serves to highlight his guilt; the guilt of one who sees the right thing to do and fails to act out of cowardice or a desire for personal gain. The crowds who once supported Jesus now see that He is not going to do for them what they hoped, which is to lead a political revolution. Now they support another figure whose activities were also well-known to them. Perhaps Barabbas, the revolutionary figure, will be the one to deliver them from the bondage of Rome, and so they choose that hope over supporting the one who would deliver them from the bondage of sin. But we also know that the conviction and rejection of Jesus happened according to the sovereign plan of God, to offer atonement for us for our sins. Even if it was Barabbas’ cross that Jesus took, we know that He was no less taking our place, and we need to look no further than ourselves to see why Jesus had to suffer the rejection and shame of the cross.

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