23 Then the whole body of them got up and brought Him before Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” 3 So Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him and said, “It is as you say.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.”
The Jewish leaders have condemned Jesus for blasphemy. They could kill him themselves, but the fallout from that decision might be severe enough to incite a riot among the people who have seen Jesus’ works and regard him as a holy man and prophet. A riot would bring Roman retribution and endanger their positions. The Romans might opt to remove them.
So they need Rome to kill Him. It’s the only politically expedient solution.
The problem is that Rome doesn’t particularly care about crimes against their religion and if they came complaining to Pilate about blasphemy, he’d laugh at them and tell them to handle it themselves. So they come up with charges of sedition.
Pilate isn’t an idiot. He sees through the charges instantly, even after Jesus confesses to being the King of the Jews. Pilate likely thinks Jesus is simply a crazy man or has been convinced to confess to this nonsense. And his relationship with the Jewish leaders isn’t friendly at all. They had made complaints about him to Rome. He had put down demonstrations with lethal force. Pilate wasn’t exactly inclined to do them any favors.
5 But they kept on insisting, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching all over Judea, starting from Galilee even as far as this place.” 6 When Pilate heard it, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who himself also was in Jerusalem at that time.
But the Jewish leaders wouldn’t let it go. They continue to push Pilate telling him that Jesus is gathering an army with His preaching. They know that Pilate cannot ignore the charges. Perhaps they threaten to write to Rome again if action isn’t taken. Caesar wouldn’t understand the local politics involved. He would hear of a governor that was being lax in the face of a growing threat of rebellion.
But Pilate didn’t have to play along either. Jesus was a Galilean. He could send him to the ruler of His district for judgment. So he did.
8 Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him. 9 And he questioned Him at some length; but He answered him nothing. 10 And the chief priests and the scribes were standing there, accusing Him vehemently. 11 And Herod with his soldiers, after treating Him with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate. 12 Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been enemies with each other.
Contrary to the politically calculating Pilate and priests, Herod has, several times in his life, damaged his ambitions and his country with poor decisions. His divorce from his first wife angered her father enough that there was war between the two men and the territories they controlled. His marriage to his brother’s wife antagonized the Jews living under his rule. That he arrested John the Baptizer for speaking out against him further alienated them. That he drunkenly promised John’s head to his niece as a reward for her sensual dance before him shows that he was a base fool.
He had sought out Jesus before. John’s death had haunted him for a while, and the reports of Jesus performing a similar ministry to John’s (and being related, their similar appearances) made him fear Jesus as a possible resurrected John the Baptizer. Jesus had refused to answer his summons, so Herod was happy to see Him delivered by Pilate. So much so, that he set aside their differences and embraced Pilate as a friend.
Herod listens to the priests condemn Jesus, but Herod couldn’t care less. He had no regard for these priests and their laws, and he had lived with Jesus in his neighborhood far longer. He might have been gadfly and a country preacher and possibly a crazy man, but Herod knew that Jesus wasn’t a rebel any more than John had been.
So instead, Herod decides to have some fun by humiliating the Nazarene. His soldiers mock Jesus, Herod makes jokes. There is more physical abuse. But eventually, Herod grows bored with this entertainment. Jesus isn’t doing anything interesting. He’s not even speaking. Herod decides to have one more joke, so he dresses Jesus in one of his own grand robes: king of the Jews indeed, he thought. He sends Jesus away without passing judgment along with his regards to Pilate.
Pilate accepts this in good humor, but he is back where he was before. The priests intend to use him to kill off an innocent rival. So he decides to try and tell the priests and their assembled partisans that he has no intention of being used.
13 Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. 15 No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him. 16 Therefore I will punish Him and release Him.” 17 [Now he was obliged to release to them at the feast one prisoner.]
There is a contradiction here, of course. I find him not guilty. So after I punish Him, I’m going to let him go. There was no guilt. Maybe he figured that giving them some blood, letting the soldiers flay Jesus’ back would be enough to assuage the wounded egos of the priests. It was an attempt at compromise, I suppose.
18 But they cried out altogether, saying, “Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!” 19 (He was one who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection made in the city, and for murder.) 20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again, 21 but they kept on calling out, saying, “Crucify, crucify Him!” 22 And he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has this man done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; therefore I will punish Him and release Him.” 23 But they were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified. And their voices began to prevail. 24 And Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand be granted. 25 And he released the man they were asking for who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, but he delivered Jesus to their will.
The crowd refused. Most belonged to the priests, others were talked into making the demand that a real rebel, Barabbas, be released instead. Pilate tries to convince them otherwise, but gives in. His political concerns about executing Jesus fall in the face of his political concerns about a potential riot should he refuse the demands of the crowd. And how would that look to the Romans? No doubt with plenty of letters from the local priests presenting a very one-sided case of how they tried to get Pilate to act against a dangerous revolutionary, but he refused and released the man and riots followed.
Pilate, concerned for his own position, decides to give them what they want. He’ll order the execution.
Church and State, the two major institutions of man, work together to kill the Son of God.