Jesus on Trial

Luke 22:66-23:25

Luke At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together,and Jesus was led before them. "If you are the Christ, " they said, "tell us."

Jesus answered, "If I tell you, you will not believe me and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God."

They all asked, "Are you then the Son of God?"

He replied, "You are right in saying I am."

Then they said, "Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips." Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, "We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king."

So Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?"

"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.

Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, "I find no basis for a charge against this man."

But they insisted, "He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here." On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him.Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends--before this they had been enemies.

Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him."

With one voice they cried out, "Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!" (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" For the third time he spoke to them: "Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him."

But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
Commentary by Donald Senior, C.P.

The long nighttime ends with an early morning session before the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews in Jerusalem. Although the gospel accounts give this event the semblance of a "trial" it was probably an informal hearing as the leaders prepared their case against Jesus for presentation before the Roman governor. Luke brings us quickly to the heart of the issue: the reader of this gospel knows from the opening scenes of the infancy narrative that Jesus is the "Messiah" and the "Son of God". But the opponents are closed to this truth.

The leaders bring Jesus to Pilate and begin to charge him with serious crimes. Luke alone emphasizes the political nature of the charges against Jesus: "We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Messiah a king" (23:2). Later they repeat the charges: "He is inciting the people with his teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to here" (23:5).

Luke's account is filled with irony. It is ironic that the leaders whose responsibility was to defend the freedom and faith of Israel would become concerned with the rights of Caesar. But the reader of the gospel is aware of another level of irony: in fact, Jesus' powerful ministry of justice was a profound threat to the oppressive might of Caesar. And indeed his mission had intended to "stir up the people" as the Lukan Jesus has journeyed majestically from Galilee to Jerusalem. But the revolution Jesus incited was not the predictable clash of alternate political systems, but a call for fundamental conversion and a vision of a renewed human family built on justice and compassion--a vision capable of shaking the foundation of every oppressive political system.

Further irony is found in the fact that the secular authorities, Pilate and then Herod, find Jesus innocent while the religious leaders tenaciously seek to destroy him. Luke has the Roman Governor and the vassal king of Galilee repeatedly affirm this. "I find this man not guilty", Pilate declares (23:4). And in a curious scene unique to Luke (23:6-16), even when Jesus is mocked as a bogus prophet by Herod Antipas, the corrupt king and murderer of prophets (9:7-9; 13:31-33) could find no guilt in Jesus.

So once again Pilate refuses to condemn Jesus; the charges of sedition are emphatically denied: "I have conducted my investigation in your presence and have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him...so no capital crime has been committed by him." (23:14; see also 23:22).

Some biblical scholars think that in so doing Luke wanted to assure his Roman readers that Jesus was not a political revolutionary and that the Christians could live in peace in the empire. Perhaps so, but Luke also presents Pilate (and even more so Herod) as weak and ultimately corrupt because they finally accede to the demands of the leaders that Jesus be crucified. Rather than attempting to soothe the anxieties of Roman officials, it is more likely that Luke wanted to show that Jesus died unjustly yet without swerving from his fidelity to God's will. This had been the fate of the persecuted prophets of Israel and it would be the fate of courageous followers of Jesus down to our own day. Jesus was the first Christian martyr, following the pattern of many of his Jewish ancestors who had suffered for their fidelity to God.

top of page