The cry of the ignorant
Reflect on how the world treats Jesus today. What have you noticed about his popularity, his following, his reputation?
After Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples and declared that one of the Twelve will betray him and one of the Twelve will deny him three times, Jesus lead his disciples to the Mount of Olives to pray that they be delivered from temptation. It was that same night that a crowd came with clubs and swords, lead by Judas, one of the Twelve, to betray Jesus with a kiss. It was that same night that Simon denied knowing Jesus three times. It was that same night that Jesus began to be beaten and mocked just as he said that he would (Luke 18:32). All the while, Jesus says very little but to disperse any ideas that he is leading a rebellion. It was a very eventful night, but now that the rooster has crowed, the nightmare for Jesus is just beginning. The plans of the teachers of the law to kill Jesus will go ahead, despite the innocence of Jesus.
Read Luke 22:66-23:25
66 At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and the teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67 “If you are the Messiah,” they said, “tell us.”
Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”
70 They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”
He replied, “You say that I am.”
71 Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.”
23 Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 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 Messiah, a king.”
3 So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
4 Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”
5 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.”
6 On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7 When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.
8 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 a sign of some sort. 9 He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12 That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.
13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 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. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” 
18 But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)
20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
22 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.”
23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 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.
What did you see?
- The ‘kangaroo court’ of the Jewish council (22:66-71)
- Pilate sees no need to worry about Jesus (23:1-7)
- Herod doesn’t see what all the fuss is about (8-12)
- Pilate and Jesus and the crowd (13-55)
- Pilate’s first decision – Crowd cried “Barabbas!”(13-19)
- Pilate’s second appeal – Crowd cried “Crucify!”(20-21)
- Pilate’s final attempt to release Jesus – the cries prevail (22-25)
The ‘kangaroo court’ of the Jewish council (22:66-71)
“At daybreak the council…met together…” Luke did not inform us of the discussions of the night at the High Priest’s house. Mark 14 and Matthew 26 provide a conversations similar to the conversation that follows in Luke’s gospel. It appears that much was discussed during the night and in the day, they met again and bound Jesus to take him to Pilate. The council consisted of the chief priests and the teachers of the law. It was probably the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:1a; Matthew 27:1). These are the very breed of people who had grown in their hatred toward Jesus. They wanted to kill Jesus but were afraid of the people (Luke 20:19 and 22:2). Both Josephus and Mishnah (historians) place such meetings outside the temple or in the outer court.
“If you are the Messiah…tell us.” Their question is weird. Is this the evidence of a crime or are they simply wanting Jesus to stop speaking in parables and tell them clearly. What if he said plainly, YES! Would they then examine the evidence that Jesus has already brought to support his claim: healing sick and demon possessed, raising Lazarus from the dead, teaching wisely and truthfully from the scriptures? Well, it seems that if Jesus has been vague about his identity as the Messiah, it was clearly at the heart of their questioning. That is, people were talking about him like he is the Messiah.
The title ‘Messiah’ is Hebrew for Christ. The NIV has chosen to use the word Messiah so that the reader can enjoy the synergy between the Old and New Testaments. The word describes God’s chosen king, that is, an undisputed ruler because it is God who appoints him. It is a regal title and to call Jesus the Christ is to confess his rule. The question of who the Messiah is has been spread across Luke’s gospel (see 2:11, 26; 3:15; 4:41; 9:20; 20:41).
“Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer.” This reminds me of Jesus’ previous conversation with the teachers of the law in 20:1-8. The question was asked, quite likely, by many of the same people on the Sanhedrin. Jesus refused to answer their question then because they were not prepared to answer truthfully and fairly. Their question was vagur then: who gives you this authority? They now get straight to the point: are you the Messiah? But they are still not prepared to listen and judge based on the truth. Are they willing to say and conclude for themselves that he is NOT the Messiah? As we read through the courtroom conversations with Jesus we grow increasingly aware of how these leaders hate Jesus – Messiah or not.
“But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” This is the information Jesus chooses to reveal to them. Speaking in riddles. It declares that a time has come right now for something significant and eternal. From now on! The Son of Man refers to a righteous man who speaks God’s words in truth. That is, it is a rightful title of someone who has filled the purpose of mankind perfectly. This definition comes from the way it is used in the book of Ezekiel who is called son of man and directed to speak God’s words with complete obedience. It also comes from the brief but vivid description in Daniel 7 of one like the son of man who ascends and sits at the right hand of God. Jesus uses this title rather than Son of God as he seeks to be the perfect man and only one worthy to sit at the right hand of God. Jesus, therefore, in this only statement before the Sanhedrin, declares that the Old Testament promises of God are now ready to be fulfilled. While he does not answer ‘yes’ to the question of being the Messiah, his riddle certainly paints that picture. You just need to know your Old Testament to hear it. 2 Samuel 7:12-16 and Daniel 7:13-14 provide key background verses to Jesus’ statement.
“Are you then the Son of God?” They appear to have understood something significant from Jesus. Is what you are saying, to be understood by us, that you are the Son of God? Perhaps the question springs from their theology of the Messiah. Perhaps 2 Samuel 7 gives them the formula that the Messiah will be the Son of God. Perhaps even Jesus gave them information to flesh out their theology back in 20:41-44? He stretches their ideas of the Messiah from being merely a son of David to being someone who even David worshipped.
“He replied, “You say that I am.” This is cryptic too. In our understanding it can seem like neither a denial nor a confirmation. He is certainly not meaning: Yes, I am! Nor is he meaning: If you say so. He could be saying, “That’s exactly what you are going to judge me on.” As in, that is the conclusion to make, but it’s for you to make it and then decide what to do with me. His lack of denial is enough for the court to convict him of blasphemy. Jesus doesn’t need to trip up in order to go to the cross. He knows where this will end. It is interesting that his answer includes the words “I AM” in it but I’m not sure if we can do too much with it. Perhaps Jesus is quietly mocking them.
“Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.” They are very quick to convict. Their evidence is so flimsy and even if Jesus was clearly stating that he is the eternal Son of God (which is certainly implied), why is it a full gone conclusion that this is evil? It is only worth convicting if it were untrue. Our world has heard the testimony from Jesus and his disciples for thousands of years and continues to discredit him without a fair trial.
Pilate sees no need to worry about Jesus (23:1-7)
“…the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate.” This was their aim from the beginning of the trial. What they need, though, is not a conviction of blasphemy but a conviction of uprising against Caesar. They need the Romans to see why he needs to die. Pilate was the governor in Jerusalem at that time.
“We have found this man subverting our nation.” Their claim to care about the nation under Roman rule is just buttering up to Pilate. They appear to be on the same side as Pilate.
“He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar…” That’s wrong. See Luke 20:22-26.
“…and he claims to be Messiah, a king.” What is really on trial here is the Jewish teachers who are rejecting Jesus as their king. Jesus has shown all the right reasons for concluding that he is the Messiah without having to travel around with a banner declaring him as Messiah. The evidence is there but Jesus’ ministry has not been defined by his declaration of himself to be Messiah. The closest he came, perhaps, is when he did not deny being the Messiah only three verses earlier. It’s not his Messiahship on trial here but the rejection of the people of the Messiah that will characterise his execution. But the Jews put before Pilate the two things that he can be tried for in the Roman court: opposing taxes to Caesar and challenging the kingship of Caesar.
“So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” This is the claim that interested Pilate the most. Not so much the money question.
“You have said so,” Jesus replied. Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” The accusation is not sticking nor making an impact on Pilate. The best shot of the chief priests was to show Jesus as a subversion to the Romans but Pilate can’t see it. Pilate is not feeling threatened. The reply from Jesus resembles his response back in Verse 70. Jesus is simply affirming what people are saying around him.
“But they insisted…’He stirs up the people…He started in Galilee…” The accusers are desperate for Pilate to see the danger that Jesus represents. Can’t he see how dangerous Jesus is? This man who was taken by night in a quiet place while praying? He healed the cut ear of the temple guard and taught to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. What a dangerous rebel he was! Why can’t Pilate see this! It is because the threat that Jesus holds is not to governments but to the hearts of people. These leaders did not want to concede that Jesus was sent from God. The news that he was a Galilean gives Pilate a way to be done with Jesus without releasing him. Verses 6 and 7 provide that detail with no need to expand on it.
Herod doesn’t see what all the fuss is about (8-12)
“…Herod…was greatly pleased, because…he had been wanting to see him…he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort.” Reports of the comotion Jesus had been making in his ministry had reached the ear of Herod. Luke 9:9. To some, Jesus will remain an amusement and someone to sit in judgement over – is he entertaining?
“But Jesus gave him no answer.” Jesus is not a show pony. It is we who respond to his invitation to come and find mercy. It is not his duty to do what we ask of him. This is one of the key failures of the human race. God has created, sustained, shown his character and invited us to relate with him like a Father, he has sent the Son to save. All this, God has done! Yet mankind will continue to ask God to show us more and then we’ll believe.
“The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him.” Jesus did not perform for Herod. He did not even entertain by responding to his accusers and so Herod joined in on the mocking. Herod’s long awaited encounter with Jesus did not satisfy him. Note that the chief priests and teachers of the law were sticking with this vendetor to make sure the death penalty would be applied and stick.
“…they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends – before this they had been enemies.” Going with the biblical principle that nothing is put in the bible for trivial purposes, why does Luke include this little detail? Perhaps it works as a fulfillment to Psalm 2:1-2 as Acts 4:24-28 describes it. Since Luke wrote both Luke and Acts, it is possible. The depiction of how that fulfillment takes place is not as great nations furiously rising up against the Almighty but as two officials taking very little notice of Jesus but using this event to build bridges. Luke conveys a moment where the salvation story intertwines with political history. The rejection of the Messiah was at the centre of repairing differences between Pilate and Herod. This trial took place on the pages of history. This is why we include Pilate in our creed – the cross took place in real time and space.
Pilate and Jesus and the crowd (13-55)
This section now involves Jesus before Pilate but it is no longer an interaction between them but between Pilate and the people. The crowd includes no less than the chief priests and teachers of the law, but may include all those who came behind Judas the previous night and because the day is getting on and the story of how Jesus has been arrested must have travelled around the city, who knows how big the crowd is now. But the voices of those who love Jesus will be silent before the many who want to see him gone.
Pilate’s first decision – Crowd cried “Barabbas!”(13-19)
“You brought me this man…I have examined him…and found no basis for your charges…neither has Herod…Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” The decision to punish Jesus before releasing him was surely an attempt by Pilate to appease the crowd. If he is innocent, then a lashing will help the crowd see that a warning has been sent to Jesus. This ought to be enough discipline dealt out. But Pilate clearly sees no weight to the accusations of Jesus. Both Pilate and Herod are not threatened by Jesus. In John 18:36, Jesus declares that his kingdom is not of this world. He is not interested in Rome or Jerusalem. He has come to lay down his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
“But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” Luke does not explain why Barabbas is suddenly asked for but did you notice that Verse 17 is missing? Some manuscripts include a sentence similar to Matthew 27:15 or Mark 15:6 which described the custom of releasing a prisoner as requested by the crowd – a kind of good-will gesture. Perhaps a minor offender could be pardoned. But the crowd here ask for a known rebel and murderer to be released. If Pilate is not a stupid man, do you think he’d notice the hypocrisy of the people asking for an innocent man to be sentenced for causing an uprising and for the release of a guilty man who had murdered and caused an uprising? About Verse 17, some copiers may have felt the need to explain the crowd’s request and so included that info from the other gospels. So the placeholder for Verse 17 is kept but the more trustworthy manuscripts do not include this info.
Pilate’s second appeal – Crowd cried “Crucify!”(20-21)
“Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again.” Each of the gospels portray Pilate in this light. The emphasis is not on Pilate’s decision but on the outright, unjust betrayal of the Messiah from the leaders of Jerusalem. The parable of Luke 20:9-15 is being played out.
“But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Crucifixion was the execution style of the day. It was not pleasant. It was in plain sight of the people. And it was kept for the shameful criminals. The crowd are requesting more than death, they want Jesus humiliated. What has become the standard logo for Christianity was a cry of hatred toward our Saviour.
Pilate’s final attempt to release Jesus – the cries prevail (22-25)
“For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed?…” Pilate cannot justify their request. The people had brought Jesus to Pilate with some shallow accusations and demanded that Pilate do the ‘right thing’ by them. Now it is Pilate’s turn to ask the crowd: what do you have against this guy?! And Jesus remains on trial like that to this day. What has he spoken against our world that we would not stop and pay attention to him? Have you noticed how easy it is to quote Buddha or Confucius or Ghandi or Mark Twain without getting any flack. But quote Jesus and the reaction from people is not as neutral. Jesus marks the great divide between humanity and God. He did not simply stand for truth and love. He stood for the kingdom of God. That, according to Jesus, is the most precious thing in the world. It is not inner peace. It is not live and let live. It is not simply love thy neighbour. It is: seek first the kingdom of God. If you don’t like that priority in life then Jesus is a great stumbling block. Other gurus seek mutual peace. Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword. And the weapon swung by the disciples of Jesus is not made of steal but of words.
“But…their shouts prevailed.” The crowd knew what they wanted even before they entered the Mount of Olives to seize Jesus. Innocent or not, justified or not, they wanted Jesus killed by crucifixion. Though Pilate had the power to release him (after all, he was not guilty of anything), the shouts and obsession of the crowd won the day. Here is evidence that democracy is not perfect. The masses can outcry those who know better. And those who know better may need to live with the consequences of the foolish masses.
“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.” Jesus will go to the cross with no complicated drawn out trial. It will be plain old sin that sends him there. No mercy. No room for appeal. And no real basis for his death. Pilate’s decision is no different to a man being pushed into a corner and giving into temptation. Which is the easiest thing to do: release Jesus or let the crowd have their way? It is far easier to sin than to act righteously. That is why we needed the cross to be occupied by the Innocent One. The innocent goes to death and the murderer is set free. Nathan Tasker wrote a wonderful reflective song on this very exchange and imagines himself as Barabbas. The guilty is set free in exchange for the innocent.
What did we learn?
The chief priests, teachers of the law and the crowd gave it to Jesus like the world always has and continues to this day. Who cares about the truth and justice, just crucify Jesus and let the guilty go free. Our world treats God the same way. It’s a kangaroo court that presumes Him to be in the wrong and we deserve freedom. While God sent the Son of Man into the world to set it free. The world treated him as a nuisance to get rid of. But this trivial event that barely caught the eye of Pilate and Herod marked the beginning of the Messiah’s eternal reign by the Father’s side. The question is, do we stand by Jesus or Barabbas?
Topic A: Learning to learn by listening. The Son of God was standing before the leaders of Israel, before Pilate and before Herod. None of them, even Pilate, had the time to learn from Jesus. Each were more concerned with their own futures than with the truth of the eternal future. Jesus is the King. Learning to stop and listen to his words, his message, will give us reward for this life and the next.
Topic B: Seeing God’s great work hidden in almost nothing. It took less than a day and a couple of conversations to decide that Jesus was to be crucified. For Herod and Pilate, this event did not register too highly. Pilate just wanted to get past it without a riot. The riot was averted and Pilate moves onto the next thing. God went to the cross for the church that day. God has not stopped working to draw in his church and grow. The true church is not magnificent or wealthy or attractive to this world. But it exists, it thrives, it grows and spreads. What we do each week in Growth Groups is small and often underwhelming but it is the work of the Spirit transforming us through his word. God is doing great work in this day. People just won’t notice.
Topic C: The great exchange. An innocent man went to the cross while a murder went free. The murderer was able to go free because an innocent man went to the cross. It isn’t fair or logical. But it is grace. Perhaps listen to the Nathan Tasker song and reflect how Barabbas is a metaphor for sinners being freed because of Jesus’ injustice.