Luke 23:1-24: Pilate, Herod and the Jews: A Study in Fallen Human Nature

1Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2And 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."

3So Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.

4Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, "I find no basis for a charge against this man."

5But they insisted, "He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here."

6On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7When he learned that Jesus was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

8When 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. 9He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.

13Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14and 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. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16Therefore, I will punish him and then release him."

18With one voice they cried out, "Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!" 19(Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)

20Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21But they kept shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

22For 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."

23But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24So Pilate decided to grant their demand. (NIV)


A. Here we see one way in which the world hates Christ: the false accusations that are brought against him.

The assembly knew that they couldn’t convince Pilate that Jesus was a criminal because He claimed divinity, so they tried to accuse him on political grounds. Notice how on the first and third charges (i.e. subverting the nation and claiming to be a king), there are kernels of truth, but they are couched in such a way as to mislead unsuspecting leaders like Pilate. As for the second charge – that Christ opposed the payment of taxes to Caesar – it was outright lie. Remember how Christ said in Luke 20:25: “…give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

B. In Herod, we see an example of how fickle unconverted people can be towards Jesus: initially glad because of something He appears to “offer” to them, and then contempt towards Him if He doesn’t deliver.

Herod was initially glad to see Jesus, because he hoped He’d perform a sign. When Jesus (presumably) didn’t deliver one – and did not even answer any questions, Herod’s contempt was revealed by the way he ridiculed and mocked Jesus, along with his soldiers.

Reflection question: What does Jesus say elsewhere – particularly in Matthew 12:39 and 16:4, about the character of the person who demands signs and wonders? Why does such a person revealed to be such through his or her demandingness?

C. In Herod and Pilate, we also see an example of how two enemies can become friends: through their common opposition to the truth.

It is not clear, to be sure, just how or why Herod and Pilate became friends, but it’s easy to conclude that there was something about their common indifference to Jesus that brought them to have an affinity with one another.

D. In Pilate, we see how the fear of man, and the quest to continue in power, can so easily lead one to capitulate to the demands of others.

Although Pilate says three times in this passage that he finds no basis on which to charge Jesus, any serious conviction he may have had easily gives way before the shouting crowds. One of the last things that many political leaders want is unrest.

But if Pilate thought he was “washing of hands” of guilt, he was wrong. It is clear from the believers’ prayer in Acts 4 that he, as well as Herod, share the responsibility – along with the Jewish leaders and crowds, and other Gentiles – of condemning Jesus to death (Ac 4:27-28).

”Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.” (Prov 29:25)

E. Hatred of Christ has no basis in reason; it cannot ultimately be traced to the mind, but to the heart.

Even though Barabbas was guilty of the very thing that Jesus was accused of – i.e. inresurrection (to say nothing of murder), the crowd wanted him to let go and have Jesus be condemned. It’s hard to conceive of any greater example of the blindness and illogical character of sin.

Regarding these crowds especially, Paul’s words to the Romans are most appropriate: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Rom 1:21)

Yet, we who know Christ were once no less guilty of such folly and darkness; we can count ourselves among the crowds. “….that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Co 6:11)