Luke 23: 13-25 – End of the Trial of Jesus

This is the final scene of the trial of Jesus before Pilate. At the end of this scene Pilate will yield to the persistent demands of the Jews and deliver up Jesus to their will. This scene can be divided into two parts. The first (Lk 23: 13-16) is exclusively Lukan and is closely connected with the trial of Jesus before Herod (Lk 23: 6-12). The second (Lk 23: 18-25) is parallel to gospel of Mark 15: 11-15, although it is worded differently. Here Pilate repeatedly affirms the innocence of Jesus and tries to secure his release, but the Jews persistently clamour for Jesus’ crucifixion. At the end Pilate reluctantly yields to their demands.

After the return of Jesus, Pilate summons the Jewish authorities and the people and gives his verdict. Elsewhere in the gospel the “people” (laos) are not presented as hostile to Jesus. In summoning the people Pilate may have been expecting them to support Jesus against the leaders. It may be that Luke mentions the presence of the “people” in order to emphasize the responsibility of the Jewish people too in the death of Jesus. Whatever may be the reason for the inclusion of the people in this part of the passion narrative, Luke’s main interest here is stress the innocence of Jesus. This is the verdict of Pilate. Summing up the main charge against Jesus (cf. Lk 23: 2), Pilate solemnly repeats the opinion he had already expressed in Luke 23: 4, namely, that Jesus is innocent of the charges brought against him (Lk 23: 4). Pilate reinforces his verdict by stating that even Herod did not find Jesus guilty (Lk 23: 15). Bu the addition, “I will therefore chastise him and release him” (Lk 23: 16) is difficult to understand! Why should Pilate chastise Jesus if he is not guilty? The ‘chastisement’ mentioned here is repeated again in Luke 23: 22 in identical terms. There are thus two references in Luke’s gospel (Lk 23: 16, 22) to the “scourging” of Jesus. The ‘chastisement’ or ‘scourging’ may be regarded as a compromise suggestion by Pilate in order to eventually set Jesus free.

The second part of the trial scene (Lk 23: 18-25) is in effect a dialogue between Pilate and the Jews. Whereas Pilate repeatedly declares Jesus’ innocence, the Jewish leaders and the people vociferously demand his crucifixion. Gospel of Luke 23: 18-25 seems to be based on gospel of Mark 15: 11-15. Luke also mentions Barabbas, but his omission of Mark 15: 6-10 makes Barabbas’ introduction very abrupt. Luke also omits any mention of the custom of the Roman Governor releasing a prisoner at the feast (cf. Mk 15: 6). In order, therefore, to achieve a smooth reading of the Lukan text, some manuscripts retain Luke 23: 17 which explains the festival custom: “Now he was obliged to release one man to them at the festival.” The name Barabbas is mentioned only once in gospel of Luke (Lk 23: 18) in comparison with the five occurrences in gospel of Matthew and three times in gospel of Mark. The evangelist of the gospel of Luke is not interested in Barabbas (he explains who Barabbas is in Luke 23: 19) and he is reluctant to parallel Jesus with a murderer.

Pilate proposes several times to release Jesus. To his first suggestion the Jews responded by demanding the release of Barabbas (the name means “Son of the father”). The Jews prefer the criminal. Barabbas, “Son of the father” to Jesus who is truly the Father’s Son (God’s Son). His nest attempt to release Jesus (Lk 23: 20) was met with the continued shout of the Jews: “Crucify, crucify him” (Lk 23: 21). This is the first occurrence of the word “crucify” in the Passion narrative. There follows the third (or fourth) declaration of Jesus’ innocence by Pilate: “Why, what evil has be done? I have found in him no crime deserving death” (Lk 23: 22; cf. Lk 23: 4, 14, 15b). But Pilate’s efforts come to nothing in the end. The loud cries of the Jews demanding Jesus’ crucifixion prevails and Pilate yield to their demand by releasing Barabbas and delivering up Jesus to their will.

Undoubtedly, the principle emphasis of Luke in the narrative of the Roman trial is on the innocence of Jesus. Pilate’s initial declaration of Jesus’ innocence (Lk 23: 4) is repeated and amplified in the successive stages of the trial (Lk 23: 14, 15, 22). Moreover, Pilate also repeats his intention to release the accused (Lk 23: 16, 20, 22). In contrast the Jews insistently demand Jesus’ death. The evangelist thus minimizes the culpability of Pilate and blames the Jewish nation for the death of Jesus. Jesus as the innocent sufferer is an example for his followers who will also be called upon to face suffering and persecution on account of their allegiance to Jesus.

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