All the Way to Calvary: Enemies No Longer

It is likely that Herod was still angry with Pilate for the massacre of Galileans who were going to the temple to offer sacrifices (Luk 13:1). Although we do not know what Pilate may have personally thought of Herod, Luke tells us “they had been enemies” (23:12).[1] But a prisoner arrived early in the morning who would change the nature of their relationship.

Not wanting accusations of an unlawful, hastily-arranged overnight meeting, the Jewish council reconvened in the morning to officially pronounce Jesus’ guilty verdict. The meeting would also give them time to discuss their options in bringing the case to Pilate. A charge of blasphemy would be dismissed immediately. Although they had determined Jesus to be worthy of death, as a nation under Roman rule they had no authority to carry out the sentence (see Joh 18:31). Pilate did. Jesus was bound again and led away.

To Pilate

The council agreed on three charges they could bring against Jesus. They alleged He was guilty of corrupting the nation, forbade the paying of taxes to Caesar, and claimed to be a king (Luk 23:2). Only the last charge interested Pilate, for it could possibly lead to an uprising. He began to probe. “Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ He replied, ‘You say so’” (v3). Pilate would need to discern the nature of this kingship Jesus claimed to possess.

The Lord Jesus explained that His kingdom was not of this world and, therefore, His servants would not fight (Joh 18:36). Pilate was convinced Jesus represented no actual threat and pronounced Him “not guilty.” But the council would not give up that easily. More accusations followed, one mentioning His teaching in Galilee (Luk 23:5). As Galilee belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, it was the perfect opportunity for Pilate to rid himself of the nuisance of this morning case. Conveniently, Herod just happened to be in Jerusalem at the time, so Pilate gave instruction to send Jesus to him. He could move on with more important matters. But there would never be a more important matter than what Pilate decided to do with Jesus of Nazareth.

To Herod

Unlike Pilate, the interruption to Herod’s day was met with pleasure. He had heard plenty of news about this miracle worker and hoped to see one himself. Also, it would please Herod immensely that Pilate honored him by essentially seeking his counsel on this case.

This was the same Herod (Antipas) who had murdered John the Baptist and threatened to murder Jesus also (see Luk 13:31). Now he was face to face with Him. Herod began his questioning. Silence. More questions were met with more silence. Luke tells us “Herod questioned him at considerable length; Jesus gave him no answer” (23:9). Jesus spoke to Annas. He spoke to Caiaphas and even prophesied to him. Jesus conversed with Pilate, declaring the nature of His kingdom and His mission of testifying to the truth. But our Lord spoke not a word to Herod. When Herod cowardly yielded to the demand for John’s beheading, he silenced not only the voice of John but the voice of God. Therefore, when God manifest in the flesh stood before him, he was met with silence.

Herod’s story is a tragic one. While John was alive, Herod feared him, knowing that he was righteous and holy. Mark informs us that “he liked to listen to John” (6:20). Perhaps spiritual desires were stirred within him when he listened to John’s message. But that was then; this was now. Since ordering John’s execution, it seemed that all spiritual sensitivity had vanished. The Bible does warn against a seared conscience (1Ti 4:2).

Annoyed by Jesus’ refusal to break under his interrogation, Herod and his soldiers launched into disgraceful behavior. The charge against Jesus of claiming to be a king became the occasion for sport. They dressed Him in a “bright” (Greek lampros) robe and returned Him to Pilate.

Not being in Galilee at the time, Herod deferred to Pilate and gave him the green light to act as he saw fit. And thus was the breach between the two rulers rectified – “That very day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other, for prior to this they had been enemies” (Luk 23:12).

To Pilate Again

A brightly adorned Jesus was suddenly back on Pilate’s doorstep, accompanied by council members who still didn’t possess the death sentence they had relentlessly sought. Pilate officially called the Jewish leaders together and made his pronouncement: “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. When I examined him before you, I did not find this man guilty of anything you accused him of doing. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, he has done nothing deserving death” (Luk 23:14-15). More glaring than the robe on Jesus’ back was His obvious innocence, as “the agreement of such an unlikely pair [Pilate and Herod] … renders beyond doubt the absolute guiltlessness of Jesus.”[2]

Again, Pilate’s verdict was “not guilty.” But the Jewish leaders were not about to give up. They were insistent that Jesus be put to death. Pilate pondered another possibility. A custom during the Passover festival may just give him a way out.

But for at least a few moments, Pilate would be able to reflect upon and appreciate this welcome reconciliation between himself and Herod. The trial of Jesus, originally considered an irritating intrusion into his day, turned out to have at least one pleasant side effect.

What Pilate did not know nor ever learned was that Jesus was standing before him as part of the necessary path He must take to effect a far more meaningful reconciliation. Christ was going all the way to Calvary to reconcile a world of sinners unto God (2Co 5:19), that we might be His enemies no longer. Sadly, both Pilate and Herod refused God’s Son and, in so doing, missed the reconciliation that matters most.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the NET.

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Luke Volume 2 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), 368.