First Trial Before Pilate
The Charges (Luke 23:2; John 18:28-32)
It still was early morning when Jesus was lead from Caiaphas place to the Praetorium across from the Temple. This was the center of the Roman rule in Jerusalem. “Praetorium” means “hall of the governor” Latin.
Irony is again seen in the actions of the Jews. They had broken many laws in condemning Jesus. While it did not seem to bother them that they were seeking the death of an innocent man on the eve of Passover, they would not enter a Gentile building for fear of becoming unclean and being unable to eat the Passover. Worse, there was nothing in the Law that stated entering a non-Jewish building would make a person unclean.
Knowing that the Jews would not enter, Pilate came out to them to find out what accusation were being brought against the man they brought to him. The Jews appear to be defensive and instead of immediately giving an accusation, they merely stated that they wouldn’t bring a man to Pilate unless he was an evildoer. It is likely they had hoped that Pilate would just accept their word that Jesus was to be put to death and not investigate the case himself.
But Pilate refused to just accept their word. He told them to try Jesus according to their laws since they brought no charge of Jesus breaking a Roman law. Luke tells us that the charges they brought against Jesus to Pilate were sedition, encouraging people not to pay their Roman taxes, and claiming to be a king. But the Jews also stated that they could not put Jesus to death. John tells us that Jesus had prophesied that the Jews would seek to have him crucified.
The charges brought are not what Jesus was convicted of by the Sanhedrin. But the Jews understood that they would not be able to get Pilate to agree to a death sentence for blasphemy, so other charges, of which Jesus was not convicted were presented. Because Jesus drew large crowds, it is possible they thought they could encourage the fear of the Roman government by saying the purpose of the crowds was to rebel against the government. The leaders didn’t directly say that Jesus taught against the paying of taxes, though they had tried to trap Jesus into saying this earlier (Luke 20:22). Instead, they said that people were encouraged to not pay taxes by what Jesus taught – which was a pure falsehood (Luke 20:25). Finally, the charge of being the Christ, a king, was true but one they did not accept. It was brought up in hopes of causing Pilate to fear that Jesus was establishing a rebel kingdom in his territory. Taken together, the three charges make it appear that they thought Jesus was trying to establish a kingdom to rival Caesar.
Pilate’s Questioning of Jesus (Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; John 18:33-38a)
Pilate then entered the Praetorium to privately examine Jesus. The charge of Jesus being a king was the one most disturbing to him and the only one Pilate focused on. He directly asked Jesus if he was the king of the Jews.
Jesus does not answer the question, but instead asks if Pilate wanted to know for himself or if he had been prompted to ask this question. Jesus is pointing out that Pilate did not come to this conclusion because he saw Jesus acting as a king. An accusation is insufficient reason to conclude that he was the king of the Jews. Since the accusations come from the Jews, well noted for being rebellious people, Pilate should be suspicious of the source of this charge.
Pilate protests that he isn’t a Jew and would not know of their views. But Jesus was a Jew and it was his own people and their leaders who were bringing charges against him. Thus Pilate wanted to know what Jesus had done to get the leaders angered at him.
Jesus then declares that his kingdom was not a physical kingdom, but a spiritual one not of this world. In this he admits he is a king, but not in the sense that would cause Pilate concern. If Jesus’ kingdom were of this world, his people would have fought to keep Jesus from being turned over to Jews. Obviously if Jesus were a physical king, Pilate would have been aware of it directly.
Pilate again asks if Jesus truly was a king. To which Jesus agreed that he is a king by birth. It was to testify of the truth that Jesus came into this world and was born. Those who welcome truth listens to him. By implication the Jewish leaders were not interested in truth since they had rejected Jesus. But this was also an assurance to Pilate that Jesus’s kingship was a religious one, not a secular one. However, Jesus’ words imply also his pre-existence which we later see disturbs Pilate.
But for time, Pilate is annoyed that the Jews have brought a religious matter to his court. Pilate doesn’t believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth. So he asks, “What is truth?” but he doesn’t stay for answer because he believes there is no answer to the question.
Pilate’s Judgment and the Jewish Leaders’ Protest (Matthew 27:12-14; Mark 15:3-5; Luke 23:4-5; John 18:38b)
Stepping back outside, Pilate declares that he finds Jesus to be innocent of the charges. The Jewish leaders begin arguing with Pilate. They charged Jesus with many things, but what amazed Pilate is that Jesus didnít defend himself against their accusations. Pilate asks why he doesnít respond. Seeing how many accuse him must indicate that there was cause behind their charges. Yet, Jesus did not respond to him either.
It would have been a small matter for Jesus to have successfully defend himself against the charges, but such a defense would not accomplish the purpose he came into this world to accomplish (John 12:23-28). Nor was there a need for Jesus to respond. The leaders were making accusations. They were not witnesses to any wrong. If Pilate was interested in upholding justice, he should have thrown the case out of his court.
The Jews insisted that Jesus had been stirring up the people all across the country, beginning in Galilee and coming all the way to Jerusalem. Latching on the fact that Jesus came from Galilee, Pilate sees an opportunity to relieve himself of this problem.
Pilate Sends Jesus to Herod (Luke 23:6-7)
Asking and finding out that Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate decides to send him to Herod Antipas. Pilate’s jurisdiction was over Judea, but Herod ruled over the Galilee district. Because it was the Passover, Herod was in town, so it was a small matter to send Jesus to him.