These four accounts are focused on the first phase of the Roman trials of Jesus. They are covering the same trial but one could be forgiven for doubting that fact. There is so much extra material that is added by each of the four writers. 467 / 580 words are added over four gospels. There are only 113 words of shared text. So 80.5% is added material expressing the unique perspectives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. That is highly significant. It tells us that each of these writers has something different to say about the same event. Each writer takes the basic story and retells it adding his unique perspective. Did you notice the uniqueness of Luke in his approach to this event? The other three gospel writers focus on the issue of whether Jesus was a king or not. Luke’s approach is wider than that. His is a wider, more all encompassing perspective. Remember, he has been following the nature of the plot against Jesus on the part of the Sanhedrin for the last two chapters in detail. Before that, focusing on the growing opposition step by step. This is not a surprise. It has been building for a long time. Luke takes a wider look at the first Roman trial than the other gospel writers do.
We know that the members of the Sanhedrin have been plotting how to get rid of Jesus. They were looking to have Jesus arrested on a trumped up charge of sedition or treason against the Roman Empire. The Jewish courts had no authority to hand down a death penalty. That is what the Sanhedrin wanted to happen. They didn’t want this man to be a thorn in their side any longer. No Roman court would convict someone on a charge of blasphemy. That was a religious issue. The fact that the Sanhedrin had got Jesus to admit that He was Messiah and the I AM of God, did not carry any weight in a Roman court. Hence, Luke makes it clear that the Sanhedrin turn the charge into a political matter. It’s ironic that the three accusations against Jesus in the Roman court were linked to the claim that He was one who incited sedition, or one who was wanting to throw off Roman rule and that He was claiming to be the One who would become King of the new political entity. Ironic isn’t it that these are all the aspects of their view of Messiah that Jesus disclaimed. He was not a Messiah in the form they were looking for. They were claiming Jesus was Messiah according to their aspirations, when in fact these were all the aspects of their so-called Messiah that He rejected. His accusers knew full well that He had rejected such expectations of Him. Yet their charges against Him were a deliberate reversal of the truth. They were painting Him out to be a Messiah in the very mould they were looking for and He had rejected. In fact, their claims can all be refuted by the facts, as we will see, but let’s follow Luke’s steps.
Mark and Luke make it clear that the entire council of the Sanhedrin was involved in taking Him to Pilate. Mark and Matthew spell it out more clearly that it involved the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law. The whole body of the Sanhedrin it seems, went en masse. They wanted to make it clear this was serious and they all agreed with the accusation they were bringing. They wanted to show the authorities there was “huge support” for their decision. Did the entire Sanhedrin really go en masse? Were all 72 there? I suspect at best there were 70 there. (We can even discuss whether the full Council was seventy or seventy-two, but I won’t get into that here.) I suspect that two were missing at least – Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. They had already indicated they were secret followers of Jesus. The rest wanted to show Pilate they were unanimous in their ruling. Literally the words are: They began to accuse Him, saying: “We found this man perverting our nation AND forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar AND saying that He Himself is Christ a king.”
Their accusation was a result of the three Jewish trials already completed. They bring the evidence that they have “found”. Found how? [Heuramen] can have the meaning catching someone in the act. We caught Him in the act of sedition and found him out. Or it could mean they found and amassed the evidence which points to His guilt. There are some commentators who think one way and some who think the other. If indeed it is the latter then it is the culmination of the three Jewish trials that have been presented now to the Roman court. But the evidence cannot be presented in the same way that it was to Jewish hearings. That won’t suffice before the Roman court. So now the ploy is to dress it up in political terms so that it was convincing to the Roman Procurator. Hence, the word [diastrepho] was used. It had a range of meanings – namely to pervert, to mislead, incite to revolt, stir up political trouble, to act seditiously. If this was true then the Roman Emperor or his representatives would come down hard on such a perpetrator. Hence they had a three part charge to prove their point:
- He is perverting our nation
- He is forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar
- He is saying that He is Christ, a rival king to Caesar.
Serious charges indeed if they were true.
Notice the word “OUR” nation. This is not the Roman empire that is at threat. This is the small enclave of Jews living in the context of Palestine. Later in the hearing the accusers make it clear that His influence has spread far and wide – He stirs up the people all through Judea and from Galilee even to this place, bringing His seditious teaching to the very capital itself. I.e. This man is a major threat. The verbs are present participles inferring this is on-going planned subversive action. He is stirring up a revolution among our people. Our nation, we Jews; not our nation, we fellow Roman citizens or slaves. It is not as though the Jews saw themselves as Roman citizens. Theirs was token subservience. Feigned support for the political majority only. At any moment they themselves wanted to throw off Roman oppression and be free. This was the kind of Messiah they were looking forward to, but Jesus wouldn’t take the bait. If Jesus had been this kind of Messiah, the Sanhedrin would have pulled in behind Him. But He was not that kind of Messiah and made it clear. At no time did Jesus talk in terms of being involved in subversive behaviour. Rather, He always shunned such behaviour.
Let’s investigate the charge related to forbidding them from giving tribute. Here again this was what the members of Sanhedrin wanted to do – not pay the Roman tax. It was abhorrent to them, especially when the coin used had Caesar’s image on it. The tax was particularly irksome. If they did not have to pay, they wouldn’t have. Notice the way they stated the charge – He is forbidding us (on-goingly) from giving tribute to Caesar. “Oh, Procurator you know how much we members of the Sanhedrin love to give our tribute to Caesar but He is stopping us.” Oh really? Let’s look at the facts. Just a couple of days before this encounter happened:
“Now tell us—is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” He saw through their trickery and said, “Show Me a Roman coin. Whose picture and title is stamped on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well then,” He said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”Luke 20:22-25
Luke tells us in 20:20 They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus. In no conceivable way could Jesus’ answer be construed to suggest Jesus was forbidding them to pay the tribute tax to Caesar. He was encouraging them to give the tax to Caesar and more importantly to give to God what was His. It is nonsense to suggest Jesus forbade them to pay their tribute tax. But it makes for a good argument in the case to have Him put to death for sedition.
What about the claim that He said He was a king? Their words were: He is claiming He is the Messiah, a king. Notice how they append to the term Messiah, the word [basileus] a king of a political entity or a country. The term Messiah meant nothing to the Romans, so the sneaky members of the Sanhedrin played on the term to convince Pilate that Jesus was claiming kingship to a political entity. In doing so they tried to persuade Pilate that He was setting Himself up as a rival king to Caesar – a serious charge.
So Pilate asks Him straight out, “Are YOU the King of the Jews?” The “YOU” is emphatic which carries the sense that Pilate is surprised that this man in front of him is of the nature to be a king. It appears that the idea was absurd to Pilate. Jesus answered him, “You have said so.” This could have two meanings:
- You have said and it is indeed true.
- You are saying that, but I am not.
If it is the second of these alternatives, Jesus is not denying that He is Messiah. Rather He is denying that He is a king of the nature that threatens Caesar’s position as a ruler of the Roman Empire. Jesus has no aspirations to rule in Palestine or anywhere else. He is destined for rule in God’s Kingdom. The Broadman’s Bible Commentary has the notion of Jesus response to mean, “You are using the terminology with its political implications, not I.”
It is clear that Pilate was not swayed at all by the Sanhedrin’s tactics and saw right through what they attempted to do. It is highly likely that Pilate asked more than one question. In fact in the fuller account of the other gospels we see more of the dialogue that takes place. Yet Luke has truncated the proceedings significantly. Pilate on the basis of what he heard and saw makes the statement, “I find no [aitios] – crime, guilt, fault, wrong in this man.” In other words, there is no proof of any wrong doing that would demand legal action in a Roman court. And there is most certainly no reason Pilate has found as to why He should be put to death. As the Roman procurator or governor, he has declared the Sanhedrin had no case. At which point they (the Sanhedrin) all rise up and claim even more vehemently His guilt. This time the word [anaseio] is used. This is a stronger word than the one used before – [diastrepho]. This word is to stir up, or incite a riot, to stir up or to inflame a situation, to be a trouble maker who is up to no good. It is like they are impressing upon Pilate the error of his ruling. You can’t let this man go. He is dangerous and the end result of his subversive activities will be to cause trouble – through all Judea, from Galilee to Jerusalem.
Their closing response then puts the onus back on Pilate. You can’t do this, He is dangerous. Do something. Give us the death penalty as we have asked.
Difficulties break some men but make others.Nelson Mandela
Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice.Nelson Mandela
A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.Nelson Mandela
There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.Nelson Mandela