Luke 23

Luke 23:1

Then the whole body of them got up and brought Him before Pilate.

(a) The whole body meaning the ruling council or Sanhedrin (see entry for Matt. 26:59).

(b) Brought Him before Pilate the Roman governor of Judea. The chief priests had good reasons for making Rome co-partners in the execution of Jesus. If the religious leaders stoned Jesus and his followers rioted, Rome could bring the hammer down on both the Sanhedrin and the nation (John 11:47-48). But if the Romans killed Jesus, then they would have to deal with any consequences that might arise.

(c) Pilate. Pontius Pilate was the governor or prefect responsible for of the Roman province of Judea. Normally resident in the coastal town of Caesarea, he came to Jerusalem for the festivals to keep the peace and administer justice. See entry for Luke 3:1.

Luke 23:2

And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.”

(a) Accuse him. Accusations against you will typically come from three sources: (1) the Accuser, a.k.a. Satan (see entry for Rev. 12:10), (2) law-lovers who are opposed to grace (see entry for Matt. 12:10), and (3) a conscience that is mindful of the law (Rom. 2:15). What these three things have in common is an affinity for using the law as a weapon of condemnation.

(b) A King. Of the three charges brought against Jesus by the Sanhedrin, only the last would be of interest to a governor. If Jesus could be portrayed as a political player and a threat to stability, Rome would regard him as a threat (Matt. 27:11).

Luke 23:3

So Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him and said, “It is as you say.”

When presented with this accusation, Jesus admitted to being a king, but added that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). Pilate may not have appreciated the spiritual significance of these words, but he realized he had nothing to fear from Jesus.

Luke 23:4

Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.”

I find no guilt in this man. How could Pilate come to any other conclusion? The Jews had brought no evidence, they had no witnesses testifying to a seditious plot, and Jesus’ followers had participated in no rebellion.

Luke 23:5

But they kept on insisting, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching all over Judea, starting from Galilee even as far as this place.”

He stirs up the people. The only way the chief priests can sell their case is by convincing Pilate that Jesus is a threat to law and order (Luke 23:14).

Luke 23:6

When Pilate heard it, he asked whether the man was a Galilean.

A Galilean. It is hard not to imagine Pilate’s ears pricking up when he heard Jesus was from Galilee. With hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in Jerusalem for Passover, Pilate had a busy week in front of him. He had better things to do than deal with the envy of the Sanhedrin (Matt. 27:18). As soon as he saw an opportunity to palm off Jesus to Herod, he took it

Luke 23:7

And when he learned that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who himself also was in Jerusalem at that time.

(a) Herod Antipas was one of the sons of the infamous Herod the Great. After his father died, he became the tetrarch or ruler of Galilee. He ordered the beheading of John the Baptist (Matt. 14:10) and allegedly tried to kill Jesus (Mark 3:6, Luke 13:31).

(b) Was in Jerusalem. Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee (Luke 3:1) and lived in Tiberias, a city he founded. (A tetrarch is literally a ruler of a fourth part of the kingdom.) Like many Jews, he was in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.

Luke 23:8

Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him.

(a) Herod; see previous verse.

(b) Very glad. After Herod beheaded John the Baptist, he heard a rumor that John the Baptist had come back from the dead in the form of Jesus (Mark 6:14). Since Herod believed this rumor (Mark 6:16), he was naturally curious to meet Jesus (Luke 9:9).

(c) Sign. Like many of the Jews, Herod wanted a sign from heaven to prove that God was with Jesus (Matt, 12:38, 16:1, Mark 9:11, Luke 11:16, John 2:18, 6:30). His request revealed his unbelief. Jesus had already given many signs by healing the sick, delivering the oppressed, and raising the dead (Matt. 4:24, 9:24–25). How many mute people needed to speak; how many cripples needed to walk; how many dead little girls did Jesus need to raise before Herod believed him?

Luke 23:9

And he questioned Him at some length; but He answered him nothing.

He questioned Him. Herod’s questions were probably of the kind, “Are you John the Baptist whose head I chopped off? You are, aren’t you! Are you? Can you show me a miracle?” (see Mark 6:16).

He answered him nothing. What can you say to a fool who thinks you are somebody else and wants you to perform miracles on demand?

On his final morning, Jesus had conversations with four authority figures: Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod. Judging by the terseness of his words to Annas (John 18:21), and the absence of his words to Herod, it’s hard not to get the sense that Jesus felt Annas and Herod were wasting his time. Neither was essential to his mission. Jesus needed Caiaphas to lead the Sanhedrin in condemning him and he needed Pilate to order the execution. In contrast, Annas and Herod were timewasters who made a difficult day longer than it needed to be.

Luke 23:10

And the chief priests and the scribes were standing there, accusing Him vehemently.

No doubt their accusations centered on Jesus being a rival king and therefore a threat to Herod and his family. But no matter how loud they were, the absence of evidence supporting their claim was louder still.

Luke 23:11

And Herod with his soldiers, after treating Him with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate.

(a) Contempt and mocking. The chief priests treated Jesus like a blasphemer, and the Romans treated him like a criminal, but Herod’s men mocked him as a wannabe-king.

Herod was not a king but a tetrarch, which is like saying he was a quarter of a king. He wanted to be a king like his father, so when the chief priests presented him with a man who claimed to be a king, he would have been curious, even suspicious. But any suspicions were allayed by the silence of the man. “Why this man is nothing more than a pretender,” thought Herod, and he treated him as such.

(b) A gorgeous robe. Was this the same purple robe that the Roman soldiers later put on Jesus (Mark 15:17, John 19:2)? Or was this a white robe such as might have been worn by a Jewish ruler? Nobody knows.

(c) Sent Him back. Like Pilate, Herod found that Jesus had done nothing worthy of the death penalty (Luke 23:15).

Luke 23:12

Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been enemies with each other.

Pilate had killed some Galileans which may have earnt the enmity of Herod, the ruler of Galilee (Luke 13:1). These men had little in common until they were united by their mutual dismissal of Jesus. When they met afterwards, they would have discussed Jesus and their part in his death. Although Pilate held the power, Herod had set the tone. The Sanhedrin saw Jesus as a serious threat, but Herod said Jesus was a joke, not to be taken seriously. The mocking Romans followed Herod’s lead (Luke 23:36-37, John 19:2).

Luke 23:13-14

Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him.

(a) One who incites the people to rebellion. The chief priests had presented Jesus as a seditious threat who “stirs up the people” (Luke 23:5). However, their claim was unsupported by evidence.

(b) I have found no guilt in this man. For the second time, Pilate declares Jesus to be innocent (Luke 23:4).

Luke 23:15

“No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him.

Reading the Gospel accounts it’s easy to get the sense that Pilate and Herod were unwitting dupes of the Machiavellian Sanhedrin, and that neither was really responsible for the death of Christ. However, the early Christians understood that Herod and Pilate, along with the Gentiles, were just as guilty as the Jews in the execution of Jesus (see Acts 4:27). Pilate had several opportunities to release Jesus but chose not to, while Herod had toyed with the idea of killing Jesus for some time (Mark 3:6, Luke 13:31).

Luke 23:16

“Therefore I will punish Him and release Him.”

I will punish Him; see entry for Luke 23:22.

Luke 23:17

[Now he was obliged to release to them at the feast one prisoner.]

This custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover seems to have been a Roman innovation. Although Pilate said it was the Jews’ custom (John 18:39), the practice of releasing criminals is not recorded in the law and seems contrary to the demands of justice. More likely the Romans introduced the practice when they colonized Judea, perhaps as a conciliatory gesture towards those who felt they had been mistreated by harsh Roman law.

Luke 23:18

But they cried out all together, saying, “Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!”

Barabbas or Bar-Abbas means son of the father. This unusual name has leads to all sorts of speculations. Was Barabbas a nickname for an illegitimate or fatherless child? Was he the son of a Rabbi? Was his name an evil parody on the true Son of the Father?

Some Church Fathers noted that in early manuscripts Barabbas’s first name was identified as Jesus. If so, his name may have been removed by Christian copyists who were unwilling to honor a murderer with the same name as the Savior of the world (source: Adam Clarke).

Since there were two Jesuses being considered for release, Pilate identifies the rebel by his last name. So one way to read his words in Matthew 27:17 would be; “Do you want me to release Jesus who is called Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”

Luke 23:19

(He was one who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection made in the city, and for murder.)

An insurrection. Barabbas was “a notorious prisoner” and the sort of criminal Rome feared (Matt. 27:16). Pilate would not have wanted to release him.

Luke 23:20-21

Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again, but they kept on calling out, saying, “Crucify, crucify Him!”

Crucify Him! The same city that shouted “Hosanna” on Sunday, shouted “Crucify him!” on Friday. But we can’t blame the people for being fickle. It was the religious leaders who persuaded them to change their tune (see entry for John 19:7).

Luke 23:22

And he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has this man done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; therefore I will punish Him and release Him.”

(a) What evil has He done? Again Pilate asked for evidence of some crime and again he has judged Jesus to be innocent of all charges (Luke 23:22).

(b) I have found in Him no guilt. For a third and final time, Pilate announces that Jesus has done nothing deserving of death (Luke 23:4, 14). By all the rules of evidence and due process, Jesus must be released.

(c) I will punish him. If Jesus is guiltless and about to be released, why punish him? This unjust act shows that Pilate’s resolve was starting to crack. He feared the mob. Perhaps by meeting them halfway, by punishing rather than killing Jesus, he could get them off his doorstep. If so, he was mistaken.

(d) Punish. The original verb (paideuō) means to educate, teach, or train up (e.g., Acts 7:22, 22:3). Pilate is saying, “I will teach him a lesson.”

Luke 23:23

But they were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified. And their voices began to prevail.

(a) They were insistent. Religious fanatics are not easily deterred. Their ploy of portraying Jesus as a threat to Rome had come to nothing, but Caiaphas and the chief priests were not about to give up. “If we can’t convince Pilate that Jesus is a threat to stability, we must show him. Inflame the mob!” (see Matt. 27:24, John 19:8).

(b) With loud voices. The religious leaders whipped the crowd into a frenzy by saying Jesus claimed to be the Son of God (see entry for John 19:7).

(c) Their voices began to prevail over Pilate’s weakening resolve. Pilate was alarmed at the hostility of the crowd (John 19:8). With so many Passover pilgrims in the city, he knew Jerusalem was a powder keg.

Luke 23:24

And Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand be granted.

Such was the intimidation and hatred emanating from the crowd, that Pilate reversed his judgment.

Luke 23:25

And he released the man they were asking for who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, but he delivered Jesus to their will.

(a) He released the man. The sinner (Barabbas) was freed and the righteous man bore his punishment.

(b) He delivered Jesus to their will. The desire of the chief priests was for Jesus to be given a Roman execution (see Luke 23:23). This outcome killed two birds with one stone: it removed the threat of Jesus and it made Rome responsible for any fallout that might follow.

Luke 23:26

When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus.

Simon of Cyrene was one of nine men named Simon in the New Testament; see entry for Matt. 4:18.

Luke 23:28

But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.

This is an astonishing halt on the walk to the cross. Jesus is minutes away from being crucified, yet he pauses to warn those who are mourning him. Trouble is coming to Jerusalem in the form of Roman destruction, and Jesus wants these weeping women to be prepared. See entry for Matt. 24:19.

Luke 23:29

“For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’

This bleak prophecy was fulfilled within a generation. In the summer of AD70, four Roman legions besieged Jerusalem. It was an unprecedented time of suffering and more than a million Jews died. Those who survived, were marched off in chains to slavery.

Luke 23:34

But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.

(a) Father; see entry for Luke 2:49.

(b) Forgive them. Jesus forgave the people who put him on the cross to show us that God freely forgives us without regard for our behavior (Eph. 1:7). Jesus died for us while we were sinners, and he forgave us while we were sinners (Col. 2:13). Before you repented, confessed, or did anything, the Lamb of God carried away all your sins – past, present, and future.

Prior to the cross, Jesus preached conditional forgiveness to those living under the old law-keeping covenant. “If you forgive, God will forgive” (Matt. 6:14, Mark 11:25). However, as the messenger of the new covenant of grace, he also demonstrated and proclaimed unconditional forgiveness (Matt. 9:2, 18:22, 27, Luke 7:42, 47, 11:4, 15:22-24, 23:34, John 8:11).

On the night he rose from the dead, he told the disciples to preach the good news of unconditional forgiveness (see entry for Luke 24:47). After the cross, the apostles described God’s forgiveness as a done deal and a gift to receive (see entry for Acts 13:38). In Christ, you are completely and eternally forgiven in accordance with the riches of his grace (Eph. 1:7).

The God Jesus revealed is a merciful, gracious and forgiving Father (Matt. 6:14, 18:27, Luke 6:36, 7:47, 15:22, John 1:14).

(c) Forgive; see entry for Forgiveness.

Luke 23:38

Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

The charge for which Jesus was crucified was written in three languages (John 19:20), and was a sore point for the chief priests (John 19:21).

Luke 23:43

And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

Paradise is wherever Jesus is which, in context, implies heaven (2 Cor. 12:3).

In his letter to the Ephesians, Jesus says “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). Jesus is the Tree of Life who sustains those who feed on him, namely believers (Rev. 22:14). The Tree of Life (Jesus) is in the Paradise of God (heaven).

Luke 23:44-45

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two.

(a) The sixth hour. As measured from dawn, the sixth hour is noon. Darkness covered the land from mid-day to mid-afternoon, when Jesus died. Further reading: “Good Friday Timeline.”

(b) Darkness fell over the land like a shroud from midday to mid-afternoon. The timing of this dark period, coinciding as it did with the passing of Christ, should leave no doubt as to its supernatural origins. This was not an eclipse or a mere meteorological phenomena. As the Light of the world (John 9:5) was extinguished, darkness reigned.

(c) The whole land. Scholars debate whether this means Judea or the whole earth. It could be the latter. The God who blanketed Egypt with darkness for three days (Ex. 10:22), would have no trouble shading the earth for three hours.

(d) The sun was obscured or darkened. The natural mind reaches for natural explanations such as thick clouds or a sand storm, but this was a supernatural darkening of the sun’s light.

(e) The veil of the temple was a four-inch thick curtain that divided the Holy Place from the innermost Holy of Holies in the temple (Ex. 26:33). The veil was parted once a year on the Day of Atonement to allow the high priest to enter (Heb. 9:7). The supernatural tearing of the veil that coincided with the death of Jesus signified that the way to God had been permanently opened.

Luke 23:49

And all His acquaintances and the women who accompanied Him from Galilee were standing at a distance, seeing these things.

(a) His acquaintances. Who were these acquaintances of Jesus who watched from a distance? They were his friends and followers, but not the eleven disciples who had abandoned him in the garden (with the exception of John; see John 19:26).

If the Eleven had been present at the crucifixion, the scriptures would have said so. The Eleven were together when Jesus reappeared after the resurrection (Mark 16:14), and the Eleven were together in Galilee (Matt. 28:16) and at Pentecost (Acts 2:14). But there is no mention of the Eleven at the cross. The same men who locked their doors for fear of arrest (John 20:19), stayed away.

(b) The women. The disciples abandoned Jesus (Matt. 26:56), but many women followers were present at the cross because they were less likely to be arrested. Prior to Pentecost, Christian women were largely invisible to the authorities. But after Pentecost, they became equal ministers and equal targets of persecution (see Acts 8:3, 9:2).

Luke 23:50

And a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man

(a) Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man and a secret disciple of Jesus (Matt. 27:57, John 19:38).

(b) The Council. Israel’s ruling council or Sanhedrin (see entry for Matt. 26:59).

(c) A good and righteous man. Before the cross, no one could be made righteous. The gift of righteousness had not been given and the “one act of righteousness” had not be done (Rom. 5:18). This is why Old Testament saints such as Abraham were credited with righteousness on account of their faith in God (see entry for Rom. 4:3). The Jews probably considered Joseph righteous because he was a good man and a member of the Sanhedrin, but God considered him righteous because he a disciple of Jesus. He was a believer.

Luke 23:51

(he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God;

He had not consented. In the other Gospels we read that the whole council met to try Jesus and their condemnation was unanimous (Matt. 26:59, Mark 14:64). Since Joseph did not consent to their plan, it seems he had not been present at the trial. The same may also be true for Nicodemus (John 19:39). Knowing these two men would speak up for Jesus, the chief priests made sure they weren’t invited to the illegal trial held in the middle of the night at Caiaphas’s house.

Luke 23:52

This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

It took incredible courage for a secret disciple of Jesus to face Pilate (John Mark 15:43). A governor who ordered the execution of innocent men might not hesitate to crucify his followers.

Luke 23:53

And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain.

Luke 23:54

It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.

Preparation day is the Friday that precedes a Sabbath or special feast (Mark 15:42). Good Friday was doubly special as it coincided with the Passover and preceded the Feast of Unleavened Bread that began on the Sabbath (John 19:31).

Luke 23:55

Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid.

The women who went to the tomb to see where Jesus had been laid were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (Mark 15:47). Possibly three other women went as well (see entry for Luke 24:1).

Luke 23:56

Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes.
And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

(a) Prepared spices. Since they visited the tomb before sunrise on the first day of the week (John 20:1), the two Marys must have purchased the spices prior to the Sabbath ended. It is possible that Joanna paid for them (see entry for Luke 24:10).

(b) They rested according to the commandment, which is more than can be said for the chief priests and the Pharisees; see entry for Matt. 27:62.

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