Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Innocent yet Guilty
In the first 31 verses of Chapter 23 of Luke’s gospel, the plot against Jesus by the Jewish religious leaders comes to fruition. It was really a three-part plan. 1) Find Jesus at a private moment so they could arrest Him without the crowds intervening. 2) Find a way to condemn Him to death according to Jewish law. 3) Find a way to get the secular government to also condemn Him and then execute Him. We’ll follow the narrative all the way up to the location of that execution, but we’ll save the cross narrative until next time.
1 – 2
Luke says the “whole assembly” led Jesus to Pilate. Likely this included the members of the Sanhedrin, the temple police, and the “mob” that was there arresting Jesus. When trying to force your way it always helps to have a bunch of people on your side. This was a crucial step because the Romans had removed the authority for the Jews to perform capital punishment and popular opinion is fickle. The same crowds who adored Him only days before now condemn Him and will the power of the mob to overrule the power of truth. The ruling council of Israel had accused Him of blaspheme—making Himself out to be the Messiah and the Son of God. Had it not been true that would have been enough under Jewish law. But to get Him condemned to death under Roman law, they had to adopt a different strategy.
I’m sure the whole thing took Pilate by surprise. The Jews were unruly enough as it was, but now in the midst of a huge feast he has the leaders of the Jews rushing in with an important matter.
The Jewish accusations against Jesus were designed to get Pilate’s attention:
- Subversion was a serious charge. Rome had a hard time keeping the Jews in line, and for someone to come along and foment rebellion would have been something to take seriously but was not a violation of Roman law.
- Opposing payment of taxes was under Pilate’s purview as he was charged with keeping the peace and collecting the taxes. The accusation would have stemmed from the incident in Luke 20:20-26 where the religious leaders asked Jesus if it was legal to pay taxes or not. But that He told people not to pay taxes was a blatant lie. As is often the case, the seriousness of the charge becomes more important than the existence of proof.
- The third charge was that Jesus claimed to be a king. Now this was more concerning as it could potentially challenge Rome’s authority in the region. This is the charge Pilate takes up to investigate.
3 – 7
John 18:33-38 provides a longer version of the interaction between Jesus and Pilate. Pilate asks Him directly if He is the king of the Jews. Jesus answers as He did to the charge from the religious leaders in Luke 22:70 as to whether He was the Son of God. In the Greek Jesus’ answer is basically “You have said so.” We don’t know why exactly, but Pilate concludes that this is basically an inside-baseball Jewish matter and apparently determines that Jesus is no threat to Roman rule.
So he turns to the crowd gathered for blood and declares His innocence. “Insufficient evidence” is basically what Pilate tells them. But the religious leaders are far from finished. The “evidence” they submit is that His teachings “excite” the people and they seem to suggest that there is this wave of revolt rolling towards Jerusalem from the Galilee Region. “He is a threat to the Pax Romana” – the peace of Roman rule, they say. This should have gotten his attention. In fact, later on, Pilate will be relieved of duty for putting down a supposed rebellion in Samaria too harshly.
Some have suggested that Pilate was in collusion with the religious leaders, but the gospel accounts show him more of a victim and a spineless leader. Pilate never seemed to know how far to go when dealing with the Jews and at the time of this trial was pretty vulnerable politically because his main ally in Rome, Sejanus, had died. Here, once Jesus’ accusers mention Galilee, Pilate sees a way out of his dilemma by sending Jesus to the political leader of the Galilee region—and an enemy: Herod.
8 – 12
This is Herod Antipas. Jesus had already accused him of being a “fox” in Luke 13:31-33. Herod was not Jewish but was more interested in the Jewish religion that Pilate. The reason Herod wanted to see Jesus was to experience a miracle, not to become a disciple. This is always a danger—don’t rely on the supernatural to bring you to faith in Jesus. His death, burial and resurrection is miracle enough.
Herod pestered him with questions but Jesus would not even answer. Herod means nothing to Jesus, but it is an opportunity to show the utter contempt that ruler, soldier, and leader had for Him. Herod has no accusation so he just dresses up Jesus in fancy clothes so they could mock Him.
Luke notes that until then, Herod and Pilate had been hostile towards one another. Now they became friends. I guess the old saying is true: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. History also proves this to be true. After 33AD, relations between Herod and Pilate improved.
13 – 17
I’m pretty sure Pilate was surprised by how quickly Jesus returned. He calls together the leaders and formerly acquits Jesus of the crime of subversion. But sensing the mood of the people, Pilate apparently thinks that if he punishes Jesus, it will be enough to satisfy their anger. Maybe seeing Him all bloodied up would cause them to want to show some mercy. Pilate is having a hard time knowing how to follow Roman law but also not put his own rule into jeopardy. Verse 17 is in brackets and doesn’t appear in some manuscripts, but the idea of someone being released during the festival is also recorded in Matthew 27:15, Mark 15:6, and John 18:39.
18 – 25
Pilate has already determined Jesus’ innocence twice but is still under arrest. Something bigger is going on here. Jesus has to be crucified by the Romans on a cross (Joshua 10:25-26, Deut 21:22-23) so He could be cursed for our cleansing (Galatians 3:13-14). So the Lord combined a weak-willed, yet brutal governor in Pilate, with vehement Jewish leaders who will stop at nothing to remove a threat to their power—and you have what it takes to use man’s weakness to accomplish God’s will.
No one—not the Sanhedrin, and not Rome—could find anything Jesus had done illegal. He was innocent. Yet they continued to pressure Pilate to crucify Jesus. They hated Rome and they hated crucifixion (as Rome used it to punish the Jews on more than one occasion). Yet here they demand Rome to do their dirty work.
And to add insult to injury—they want a person convicted of actual crimes, and even murder, to go free so an innocent Man could be killed. They will do ANYTHING to serve their needs. Notice Luke tells us that Pilate “handed Jesus over to their will.” Humanity killed Jesus—the same Man who saved us. Because of this, only Jesus can take credit for our salvation.
The scourging, beating, and lack of rest would have taken its toll on Jesus. He literally could not carry His own cross, which was what Rome demanded. Crucifixion was supposed to be public and it was supposed to be humiliating. Jesus obviously falls or drops the cross-beam so the soldiers grab a man named Simon, who had come to Jerusalem from Cyrene, modern day Tripoli for the feast.
So why this note here? It’s possible that that this event affected Simon and his two sons very deeply. Mark 15 tells us that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus. In Romans 16:13, Paul the Apostle wants his greetings sent to a man named Rufus who is “chosen in the Lord.” It’s possible that this is the very same man who as a boy witnessed his own father carry the cross of Christ.
27 – 31
Others followed Jesus to the cross as well. Not everyone was calling for His crucifixion. As Luke mentions on a number of occasions, many women were among His disciples and supporters. Luke mentions that a group of them are weeping and lamenting. We don’t know if these are disciples or just people in the crowd but Jesus stops and despite enormous pain and agony, speaks prophetically to them.
Jesus has spoken already of the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 21:20-24) for rejecting Him as their Messiah. As that rejection reaches its climax He reminds them of the difficult times to come—times so hard that some might have wished they had never been born or had kids. At that time people will rather be killed by a landslide than face the horrible military onslaught that would occur. Jesus quotes Hosea 10:8 here. There will come another time when people will also cry out with those prophetic words. The time immediately preceding Jesus’ return are also going to be that bad—and in Revelation 6:16 the people of earth will cry the same cry rather than face the judgment of God on a sinful and rebellious earth.
Jesus speaks a proverb to them—that if the torture and death of an innocent Man is considered bad in a time of peace—how much more will there be suffering of those who are guilty of rejecting the Messiah in a time of war.
- Jesus was 100% innocent
We see trial after trial, accusation after accusation—yet no one could find anything Jesus had done wrong. The religious leaders found nothing to sustain their accusations. Three times Pilate declares His innocence. Why?
- Jesus became 100% guilty
2 Corinthians 5:21 (HCSB) He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
- He traded His innocence for our guilt making us 100% pure in the bargain
Isaiah 53:5 (HCSB) But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.
As we’ll look into more next time—God’s wrath, the natural reaction to anything sinful—had to be satisfied. It was fully satisfied in the death of Jesus so God can be fully satisfied with us for eternity without guilt.