Jesus on Trial, pt.1

I have never been accused of something so that I had to go to court and appear before a judge. I’ve never served on a jury in court. In fact, the closest thing I’ve come is when I was summoned for jury duty near Christmas one year and was not waiting more than 20 minutes when they announced we could go home, have a merry Christmas. As we turn our attention to Luke 23, Jesus, who has been convicted by the Sanhedrin for blasphemy, is brought to trial before Pilate (v.1-5). Who is Pilate? He is Pontius Pilate, a Roman kinght and procurator of Judea (one who collects revenue) who held this office from 28-36 AD. In 36 AD he was removed from office in disgrace, the Emperor entirely unhappy with Pilate’s rule.

Jesus was convicted of blasphemy, however, blasphemy is not a charge serious enough to warrant death under Roman law. Hence, the Jews bring Jesus to Pilate with three different charges. They call Jesus “this man,” further pointing to the contempt with which they view Jesus. They claim:

1. Jesus is misleading (or perverting) our (the Jews) nation. In other words, they charge Jesus with leading the whole nation of Israel from the kind of behavior the Romans demand under pax romano. The idea is that Jesus has been inciting the people to riot and rise up against the Roman government.

2. Jesus is forbidding the Jews to give tribute to Caesar. Tribute is taxes. So Pilate, being the revenue collector of Judea, would have heard this charge. However, as Adam Clarke puts it, “These were the falsest slanders that could be invented.” Indeed, just days before in the life of Jesus He had confounded perhaps the same chief priests and scribes when He, looking upon a denarius, had proclaimed “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Luke 20.25).  Since the money had Caesar’s face on it, it must His. Further, in the life of Jesus, as recorded by Matthew a former tax-collector, we see Jesus paying the temple tax (Matt 17.24-27). Albeit, taxes to Caesar may be another thing, the fact stands that Jesus paid His taxes and taught others to do the same both in word and deed.

3. Jesus is calling Himself Christ the king. Couched in this, though tangled a bit, is the blasphemy charge the Sanhedrin has convicted Jesus of in 22.66-71. But they have cunningly worded it so as to make sound as though Jesus is an insurrectionist. While the charge may be true, it is false in the way they meant it. Jesus Himself says elsewhere that He is king of a kingdom “not of this world” (John 18.36). The Sanhedrin, though, wants to and does set Jesus up as a rival of Caesar’s earthly throne. Pilate would understand that is their meaning when they call Christ “king.”

Pilate privately questions Jesus about His kingship. For more on this, you can read John’s account of the lengthy discussion between Jesus and Pilate (John 18.33-38). Luke only records one question Pilate asks Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answers, “You have said so.” Again, as seen in 22.70, this is not Jesus giving what some term “reluctant assent.” Jesus is not saying, “Well, that’s what you say or think” or “Those are your words not mine.” This was a rabbinic way of affirming what someone has spoken. This is not a “reluctant assent” but a “real affirmative.” It is in essence a “Yes” answer. And in John’s extended account, we see exactly what Jesus means in it.

Pilate comes out of this private meeting with Jesus and announces for everyone to hear (“crowds,” v.4), “I find no guilt in this man.” Pilate is not dummy; he can see through the malice and hatred of the Jews that there is no capital charge that would warrant Jesus’ presence before him. Indeed, the word used for “guilt” or “cause” is a word which means the author or one responsible for a particular thing. Pilate knows Jesus is not the cause of this ruckus but the Sanhedrin have orchestrated this whole ordeal.

But the Sanhedrin is relentless and presses the issue, adding strength and vehemence to it. They keep after Pilate about Jesus stirring up the people all over Judea, “from Galilee even.” Galilee seems to strike a note with Pilate and sees a possible way of escape. He asks if Jesus is from Galilee which He is. Therefore, he is under Herod Antipas’s jurisdiction and must be heard by him. Perhaps to get these Jews out of his hair or to pay some kind of tribute to Herod, Pilate dismisses the group to go see Herod, who is in Jerusalem at this time.

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