By Peter Amsterdam
March 15, 2022
In each of the four Gospels1 we read of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate. However, in only one Gospel do we read about Jesus being sent by Pilate to King Herod.
In the Gospel of Luke, Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, stated that Jesus was not guilty.
Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.”2
However, the chief priests, along with the crowds, didn’t agree with Pilate and let him know their feelings on the matter.
But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”3
Other Bible translations say that the crowds kept insisting (CSB), were more fierce (KJV, NKJV), and became insistent (NLT). Clearly the priests and the crowds were not content with Pilate’s judgment.
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 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.4
Herod Antipas was one of the sons of Herod the Great. Upon Herod the Great’s death, Palestine was divided among his sons—Philip, Herod Antipas, and Archelaus. Herod Antipas became the tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea. He was the one who had John the Baptist beheaded.5 Earlier in this Gospel, Jesus was warned about him.
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’”6
The Hasmonean palace, where Herod would have been staying, was only about a ten-minute walk from Pilate’s palace.
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. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer.7
Herod was excited to see Jesus, because he hoped to see Jesus perform a miracle of some sort. He tried for quite some time to get Jesus to speak to him, but Jesus remained silent. One author comments: Jesus’ silence looks like exceptional self-control. He is treated like a criminal but he does not act like one because of his divine restraint. It may be that Jesus thinks that there is nothing more to be said when an innocent person continues to be examined.8
The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate.9
The religious leaders who were present vigorously accused Jesus, hoping to influence Herod’s verdict. When Jesus wouldn’t respond to Herod, he joined his soldiers, likely his home guard, in mocking Jesus. They dressed Him in splendid clothing, described in other translations as a brilliant robe (CSB), a gorgeous robe (KJV), an elegant robe (NIV), and a royal robe (NLT). He was then sent back to Pilate.
And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.10
We’re not told why up until this time Pilate’s relationship with Herod had been strained, only that it was. However, Pilate took the opportunity to show respect toward Herod, and so they became friends.
Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 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. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.”11
Pilate continued to declare Jesus’ innocence. In the Gospel of Luke, Pilate tried three times to release Jesus. First, he declared that Jesus was innocent and tried to get the Jews to handle the matter. Second, he sent Jesus to Herod, who mocked Him and returned Him to Pilate. Third, because he found Jesus innocent of the charges, Pilate declared that he would punish Jesus and then let Him go. The Gospel of Luke doesn’t tell of Jesus being whipped, only that Pilate says he will punish and release him. The three other Gospels specifically state that Jesus was whipped.
Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him.12
The next verse, Luke 23:17, is not included in the ESV translation, as it is considered to not be original to the Gospel of Luke. A number of Bible versions include this verse in italics, brackets, or parentheses to indicate that it may not be in the original text. The NAS version, which is in italics, states:
Now he was obliged to release to them at the feast one prisoner.13
But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”—a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.14
It’s rather ironic that the name Barabbas means “son of the father,” since Jesus was the Son of the Father. The crowd made it clear that they wanted Barabbas freed rather than Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew refers to him as a “notorious prisoner,” while Mark and Luke refer to him as someone who was involved in a riot, which likely means that he took part in one of the insurrections against Roman power, and while doing so, committed murder.
Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!”15
Pilate initially resisted the crowd’s demand. However, the crowd continued to vehemently insist that Jesus be executed. In all the Gospel accounts, the crowd’s call for Jesus to be crucified came about in response to Pilate’s proposal to release Him as the person who would be pardoned and released during the festival.
A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.”16
Once again, Pilate declared Jesus innocent. Pilate was convinced that Jesus was not guilty of anything, and stated it a number of times. However, his decision didn’t satisfy the crowd.
But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed.17
The crowds kept up the pressure on Pilate, insistent that Jesus be crucified. The crowd’s insistence indicates that their wishes were a command more than a request. Pilate was faced with the choice of a possible riot in Jerusalem during a major festival if he did not give in to the demand that Jesus be crucified. Pilate likely concluded that the death of one man was better than dealing with a riot.
So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.18
The protests from the crowds prevailed, and Pilate released Barabbas. The book of Mark says,
So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.19
The book of Matthew says,
So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”20
In each of the Synoptic Gospels,21 Pilate yielded to the wishes of those who were seeking Jesus’ death. He tried to relieve himself of the responsibility for Jesus’ death by symbolically washing his hands of it. However, he had succumbed to the pressure of the people and turned Jesus over to be executed.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.
2 Luke 23:4.
3 Luke 23:5.
4 Luke 23:6–7.
5 Matthew 14:6–12, Mark 6:22–28.
6 Luke 13:31–32.
7 Luke 23:8–9.
8 Bock, Luke 9:51–24:53.
9 Luke 23:10–11.
10 Luke 23:12.
11 Luke 23:13–16.
12 John 19:1. See also Mark 15:15, Matthew 27:26.
13 Luke 23:17 NAS.
14 Luke 23:18–19.
15 Luke 23:20–21.
16 Luke 23:22.
17 Luke 23:23.
18 Luke 23:24–25.
19 Mark 15:15.
20 Matthew 27:24–25.
21 Matthew, Mark, and Luke.