“Then the whole group of them rose up and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man subverting our nation, forbidding us to pay the tribute tax to Caesar and claiming that he himself is Christ, a king.’ So Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ He replied, ‘You say so.’ Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no basis for an accusation against this man.’ But they persisted in saying, ‘He incites the people by teaching throughout all Judea. It started in Galilee and ended up here!’” (Luke 23:1-5 NET)
The events leading up to the execution of Jesus of Nazareth show the extreme hatred that the Jewish leaders had towards him. They wanted rid of Jesus no matter what! They were desperate to find something they could charge him with that would result in his conviction and execution by the Romans. But that was the problem, wasn’t it?
Throughout the long night of his mock trial by the high priests and at least part of the Sanhedrin, they struggled to find witnesses that would agree on what Jesus had said – or at least on something that he had said that could be construed as being inflammatory. He was finally asked point blank: “Are you the Son of God?” to which he answered, “You say that I am” which they understood correctly as being an acknowledgement (see Luke 22:63-71).
But this was the problem – no pagan Roman court would convict and execute Jesus because he claimed to be the Jewish Messiah. They needed something more. So they began with three accusations to the Roman governor: 1) they found Jesus subverting the nation, 2) he was forbidding them to pay the Roman tribute tax, and 3) he claimed to be the Messiah, a king.
In John’s account of Jesus on trial we find more detail about Pilate’s first interview with him. Of the three accusations it was the third one that caught Pilate’s attention – the first two could be found out by examining witnesses, of which none had been produced. John recorded that when Pilate asked him if he were the king of the Jews that Jesus replied that his kingdom was not of this world. No wonder Pilate did not see him as a threat to Rome.
When he announced to the Jewish leaders that he found no basis for an accusation against Jesus, they persisted and increased the charge: “He incites the people by teaching throughout all Judea. It started in Galilee and ended up here!” At least this had a basis in fact in that Jesus began teaching in Galilee and had spent the last few months in Judea.
Pilate thought by hearing Jesus was from Galilee that he could get out of issuing a judgement against an innocent man. Herod was ruler of Galilee and he was in town, so he sent Jesus to him, only to have him returned a little later with no more information coming to light.
When he announced once again to the crowd that he found Jesus innocent of any crime deserving death, they began to shout “Crucify! Crucify him!” They were insistent and their shouts prevailed. The Jews were a problem for the Roman governor and he could not risk a confrontation and riot. He gave into their demand and had Jesus crucified for being “the king of the Jews” (Luke 23:38). He was executed for being who he was.
Although the Romans gave the death sentence, it was the Jewish leaders who were behind his death. They thought they would get rid of Jesus once and for all. Little did they realise that this was God’s plan for bringing forgiveness to all, both Jew and Roman.
As we see how much Jesus was hated we need to take heart when people hate us and hurl unjust accusations against us. If they did this to the Messiah can we, as his people, expect anything less?
Photo by Jon Galloway, Gabbatha site, Jerusalem, January 2018
Readings for next week: Luke 22-24, Philemon, Hebrews 1