“I find no guilt in this man” [Luke 23:4 ESV].
Pilate declares Jesus innocent. He is not an enemy of Rome. In a court where justice rules this declaration would have ended the trial. Even the kangaroo court and summary judgment declared in the courtyard of the High Priest could not over rule the governor’s decision. However, Pilate is no more just than the High Priest. Instead of looking for a way to remove Jesus from the world he is looking for a way to remove himself from the religious circus playing out before him. From telling them to judge Jesus according to their own law to the next discovery tells us Pilate wants nothing to do with this man. Pilate doesn’t care about Jesus. He thinks he is a lunatic. But the crowds, made up of priests and temple guards, insists Pilate do something to stop this man from speaking against them. “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place” [Luke 23:5 ESV]. They want him dead.
This crowd was vehement in their declaration and desire to have Jesus murdered by Rome. To them, the crime against Rome is secondary, a flimsy excuse to bring Jesus before Pilate. Jesus gave the people who they were supposed to lead reason to not listen to them, their God ordained religious leaders. This is because Jesus says they have forgotten God and are misleading the people, like a blind person leading another person who is blind. He is speaking this message throughout the land. Finally, Pilate hears Jesus has been in Galilee, discovers the man is a Galilean, from Nazareth, and finds a way to get himself out of having to make a decision. “When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time” [Luke 23:6-7 ESV].
Nothing happens by coincidence. There is no such thing as luck. There is God who orchestrates circumstance without overriding the personalities of those involved. Those who are acting wanted to act the way they were because their actions reveal who they are. This is a leap in theological thought which will be borne out as we continue to examine the circumstances and experiences of Christ and those he met and influenced.
Herod Antipas is the son of Herod the Great who was truly a mad man. In his desire to stay in control he murdered his wife, murdered many great and wise men and even murdered baby boys under the age of two when he heard Jesus had been born in Bethlehem. He was deeply religious and wanted to be remembered after his death. He was remembered as someone who hurt people not as one who helped them. After Herod’s death his kingdom, even though ruled by Rome, was split and Herod Antipas was give a fourth, ruling Galilee while his brothers ruled other areas. Herod Antipas was every bit his father’s son but more deeply rooted in pleasure. Herod Antipas liked his entertainment and coveted the adoration of the people under him.
Herod Antipas arrested John, known as the Baptizer, Jesus’ cousin, kept him in prison but could not bring himself to murder John, because he feared the people who held John in high esteem. He seized John, who rebuked him because of the adultery he committed with his brother’s wife, something which a leader of the Jewish people should not have done. But, Herod cared nothing for the customs and traditions of the Jewish people other than what he could get from them for his own pleasure. He finally did have John murdered and the circumstances give a more complete picture of this man ruled by pleasure.
But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.’ And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. [Matthew 14:6-11 ESV]
He had no scruples of conscience, hesitating only based upon what others thought of him. In some way, he and Pilate were similar, though he was the career politician and Pilate had been appointed by Rome.
Herod’s interest in Jesus was purely for entertainment value. He had been hearing about Jesus since he had murdered John. He even entertained the though Jesus was John raised from the dead. “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him” [Matthew 14:1-2 ESV]. Finally, he would meet the man who performed miracles and did wonders. He could see him and laugh and clap and point and ask him to do more.
What was Herod’s interrogation like? What sort of questions did he ask?
Here is a cup of water. Can you turn it into wine? Make and ax head float? Here, give my servant leprosy then heal him. Can you do that? What am I thinking? Can you turn this rock into bread? Can you tell me what’s under this robe? How many hairs do I have on my head? How many beads in this jar? How much money in my treasury? I have a boil, can you heal it? What’s my servant thinking? Can you not make the sun stand still? Or go backwards? Make the shadow go backwards? Here’s a dead sheep. Can you raise it from the dead and give it life again? Can you make this table float in the air? Let’s roll dice. Make each roll come up the same number. Make it dark in here. Aren’t you good for anything? Make them deaf and mute so they cannot speak or hear. Those people, the one’s accusing you.
“When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer” [Luke 23:8-9 ESV].
Jesus answered nothing. Is Jesus’ silence unnatural? He is standing before a man who wouldn’t listen to him even if he spoke. Before them both is a crowd of men who accuse him of wrongdoing but cannot give any evidence of what he has done wrong. Jesus will not be tricked into answering their lies nor will he enter their trap. He does not beg for his life. He will not entertain Herod. He will not defend himself because he has done nothing wrong. His silence is not abnormal or out of character. His silence does acknowledge his submission, but not to Herod, or Pilate, or the religious leaders who want him dead. His silence is submission to God.
Because Jesus will not entertain them Herod and his soldiers begin to mock him. Is this not what those who rule by emotion do? When they do not get their way, when their unreasonable expectations are not met, do they not revile and hold in contempt those who refuse to be controlled by them? People who think they are in control use their words to belittle those who would dare to be against them. Herod’s actions toward Jesus are those of an immature and spoiled man. Before this, he and Pilate were adversaries. Pilate probably held Herod in contempt, as he viewed all who were not true Romans. But now they had something in common. Now they had both met and tried Jesus, come to the same conclusion, and been silently rebuked by the man, which stung their pride.
And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other. [Luke 23:11-12 ESV].
Is there anything about this incident which sounds mythical or unrealistic? Is there any reason, not excuse, to not believe Herod acted the way he did, or that he and Pilate became friends? Or that Jesus would stand silent before Herod? There is nothing within this account which would suggest what happened did not happen. Jesus was examined by both Pilate and Herod, and though mocked by Herod and treated as a lunatic by Pilate neither man found any reason to condemn him to death. Jesus did nothing wrong. There was no human reason for him to be brought to trial. There was no human reason for him to be murdered.