8 Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was of a long time desirous to see him, because he had heard concerning him; and he hoped to see some miracle done by him.9 And he questioned him in many words; but he answered him nothing.10 And the chief priests and the scribes stood, vehemently accusing him.11 And Herod with his soldiers set him at nought, and mocked him, and arraying him in gorgeous apparel sent him back to Pilate.12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day: for before they were at enmity between themselves.
13 And Pilate called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said unto them, Ye brought unto me this man, as one that perverteth the people: and behold, I, having examined him before you, found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: 15 no, nor yet Herod: for he sent him back unto us; and behold, nothing worthy of death hath been done by him.16 I will therefore chastise him, and release him.18 But they cried out all together, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas -- 19 one who for a certain insurrection made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.20 And Pilate spake unto them again, desiring to release Jesus; 21 but they shouted, saying, Crucify, crucify him.22 And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath this man done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him and release him.23 But they were urgent with loud voices, asking that he might be crucified. And their voices prevailed.24 And Pilate gave sentence that what they asked for should be done.25 And he released him that for insurrection and murder had been cast into prison, whom they asked for; but Jesus he delivered up to their will.
The Jews had been deprived by their Roman conquerors of the right to inflict capital punishment. When, therefore, their chief council had decided that Jesus was worthy of death, the rulers brought him to Pilate, the Roman governor, that he might confirm their sentence and execute the cruel penalty of crucifixion. The trial before Pilate developed into a disgraceful contest between the murderous and determined Jewish rulers and the weak and vacillating Roman governor, who was at last compelled to act contrary to his conscience and his desire and to submit his will to that of the subjects whom he detested.
Luke gives only a bare outline of the story, which is sketched best by the apostle John. Enough, however, is given to show the infamous baseness of the Jews and the futile endeavors of Pilate to avoid the judicial murder which he finally committed. The Jewish rulers had asked Pilate to pronounce sentence without hearing the charge; this Pilate properly refused to do. When the accusation was made, Luke shows most clearly how craftily the decision of the Jewish court was perverted, and how forcibly the false charge was presented. Jesus had been convicted of claiming to be the divine Messiah. It was the claim of deity, and thus of blasphemy, on which he was condemned. The Jews knew that this would make no impression on Pilate. However, the office of Messiah did imply rule and authority, and therefore the claim of Jesus was distorted into a political offense and he was charged with sedition, with forbidding tribute to Caesar, and with claiming to be a king.
How absurd all these accusations were, Pilate soon learned; he probably was not a little suspicious of the sudden zeal for their Roman tyrants shown by these rebellious Jews. However, he lacked the courage of his convictions; he declared Jesus to be innocent, but fearing to offend the rulers and the crowds whom they had won to their will, he hesitated to release Jesus. That was a fatal step; the only thing to do is to act with decision and promptness as soon as one sees what is right. It is surely true in matters of conscience that "he who hesitates is lost."
Then Pilate did what all weak men are apt to do: he attempted to avoid making a decision; he tried to shift the responsibility; he learned that Jesus was from Galilee, and so Pilate sent Jesus to be judged by King Herod, within whose realm Galilee lay. Herod was then in Jerusalem, and he was eager to see Jesus, of whom he had heard so much, and he hoped that his curiosity might be gratified by seeing Jesus perform some miracle. However, when appearing before Herod, Jesus refused even to answer him by a single word. Jesus has a message for every penitent, and a miracle for every believer; but for the murderer of John and for the shallow, sinful profligate there is only silence and contempt.
To wreak upon Jesus a petty revenge, Herod mocked Jesus by clothing him with royal apparel, and sent him back thus arrayed to Pilate. It was a cruel jest, but it was an acquittal of Jesus as guilty of no political offense. Thus Pilate was forced to act as judge; others cannot decide for us questions of conscience. When compelled to act, Pilate attempted a second maneuver familiar to all weak souls; he proposed to compromise. He would do what was wrong but he would avoid the crime of murder. He offered to scourge Jesus, whom he declared to be absolutely innocent, or to release him as a notable criminal, as one such was usually released at this feast. On the one hand, he would be subjecting Jesus to the most agonizing bodily torture; on the other, he would brand Jesus as a malefactor who had deserved death. Compromise in a case of conscience is always a sign of weakness, and the enemy is sure to press his advantage. As the rulers saw Pilate yielding thus far, they asked for the release of a notorious murderer by the name of Barabbas; and as they saw Jesus coming forth from the scourging, torn and bleeding, they cried out for his life, "Crucify him, crucify him." As Pilate hesitated, the rulers used their most deadly weapon; they suggested that they would report Pilate to the emperor as shielding a political revolutionist; they would imperil the position and life of the governor. This attack Pilate could not withstand; when some personal loss was involved conscience was no longer to be considered. He decided to do what he knew to be wrong; he "gave sentence that what they asked for should be done;" and so doing he placed himself near the head of that long list of moral cowards who share his eternal infamy for fearing to do the right.
The degradation of the Jewish rulers was even greater. With all their knowledge of the moral law, they who professed to be special representatives of God put to death his Son, and chose a murderer instead of the Saviour. To the tragedy of such a choice Luke refers with horror in the only personal comment he makes upon the scene. V.25. Are not thousands, however, making that same choice to-day? There can be no neutral ground; indecision is impossible: one must choose either Barabbas or Christ.