Luke 23: 1 – 12 Jesus before Pilate and Herod – continued
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 Messiah, a king.’
So Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’
‘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.’
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 a sign of some sort. 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.
* * *
The council of the elders, having heard a claim from Jesus they could construe as blasphemy, hurried to the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate. Their problem, though, was that blasphemy against Yahweh was not a crime recognised in Roman law. They charged Jesus instead with subversion – plotting to overthrow the Roman regime. Specifically, they said that Jesus opposed payment of taxes to Rome and that he claimed to be a king.
Let’s look at these allegations.
On the occasion when Jesus was asked whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, he replied by pointing at a coin and asking, “Whose image and superscription are these?” When the questioners answered “Caesar’s,” Jesus said “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
Jesus was asked many times whether he was the Messiah, but he didn’t publicly claim the title. He always deflected the question, not denying the title, but not claiming it either.
For example, when he entered Jerusalem, the crowds were shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” When some of the Pharisees asked Jesus to rebuke his disciples, he replied “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19: 37 – 40, paraphrased).
When Peter made his confession of faith, that Jesus was God’s Messiah (Luke 9: 20 – 21), Jesus strictly warned his disciples not to tell this to anyone.
Pilate listens to the charges, and asks Jesus directly, “Are you the king of the Jews?” And Jesus replies, “You have said so.”
What would you expect a man to say under those circumstances? Almost everyone, I guess, would realise that the game was up and would deny any claim to be king. After all, those who were serious about rebellion and claiming kingship would have taken care not to be arrested in the first place.
And what in any case does it mean? In its original Greek, Pilate’s answer is συ λεγεις. Possibly a more idiomatic translation than “You have said so,” would be, “That’s what you say.”
Does that apply to us? Sometimes I doubt my faith. It’s as though I’m asking Jesus, “Are you really king?” The answer from Jesus, “That’s what you say,” is actually quite true. Jesus will only be king in my life, king in my heart, if I proclaim him so. That is the awesome responsibility that comes with free will; the right to exclude the king – not just of the Jews – but of the universe.
Another slant on Jesus’ reply to Pilate’s question is to view it as prophecy. What did Pilate have written on a notice above Jesus on the cross? “This is the king of the Jews”
Jesus’ answer, “You have said so,” must have been a complete surprise to Pilate. It’s neither a denial nor a claim. Pilate clearly thought that Jesus was no danger to Roman rule in Judea because his immediate response is to tell Jesus’ accusers that he finds no basis for a charge against Jesus.
But that doesn’t satisfy them. They insist that he is stirring up people throughout Judea, and furthermore, he started in Galilee; his subversion is spreading.
Pilate was delighted to hear that Jesus was a Galilean; he could hand over this political hot potato to his old enemy, Herod, who was in Jerusalem for the Passover. Herod for his part is greatly pleased to have the chance to see and question Jesus. Perhaps he would see a sign!
He plied Jesus with questions, to which Jesus made no answer.
You see, Herod was not a sincere seeker for truth; he was looking for entertainment. He had listened to John the Baptist: ‘…Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.’ (Mark 6: 20) But he did nothing to repent of the sins that John had pointed out to him, and eventually, for the sake of a promise made at a banquet, he had John executed.
Jesus will answer questions that are asked sincerely, even those from opponents – see, for example, the teaching he gave Nicodemus in John 3: 1 – 21. But questions which are asked hypocritically either receive an enigmatic answer, or no answer at all.
He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.
Jesus is alone, and remains silent.
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.
What a vivid picture St Luke paints. The chief priests vehemently accusing Jesus; Herod trying to entice Jesus into debating with him; the whole company descending to mockery and insults. Who lost their dignity? Who kept his dignity? I wonder how much it hurt Jesus to see these men and to be unable to touch their hearts because they refused to listen?
Thank you for the fortitude and dignity of Jesus under interrogation. Thank you for his steadfast obedience to your will. Help us to be obedient whenever we are called to witness to Jesus.
In Jesus name, Amen