Our Lord Jesus was condemned as a blasphemer in the spiritual court, but it was the most impotent malice that could be that this court was actuated by; for, when they had condemned him, they knew they could not put him to death, and therefore took another course.
I. They accused him before Pilate. The whole multitude of them arose, when they saw they could go no further with him in their court, and led him unto Pilate, though it was no judgment day, no assizes or sessions; and they demanded justice against him, not as a blasphemer (that was no crime that he took cognizance of), but as one disaffected to the Roman government, which they in their hearts did not look upon as any crime at all, or, if it was one, they themselves were much more chargeable with it than he was; only it would serve the turn and answer the purpose of their malice: and it is observable that that which was the pretended crime, for which they employed the Roman powers to destroy Christ, was the real crime for which the Roman powers not long after destroyed them.
1. Here is the indictment drawn up against him (Luke 23:2), in which they pretended a zeal for Caesar, only to ingratiate themselves with Pilate, but it was all malice against Christ, and nothing else. They misrepresented him, (1.) As making the people rebel against Caesar. It was true, and Pilate knew it, that there was a general uneasiness in the people under the Roman yoke, and they wanted nothing but an opportunity to shake it off; now they would have Pilate believe that this Jesus was active to foment that general discontent, which, if the truth was known, they themselves were the aiders and abettors of: We have found him perverting the nation; as if converting them to God’s government were perverting them from the civil government; whereas nothing tends more to make men good subjects than making them Christ’s faithful followers. Christ had particularly taught that they ought to give tribute to Caesar, though he knew there were those that would be offended at him for it; and yet he is here falsely accused as forbidding to give tribute to Caesar. Innocency is no fence against calumny. (2.) As making himself a rival with Caesar, though the very reason why they rejected him, and would not own him to be the Messiah, was because he did not appear in worldly pomp and power, and did not set up for a temporal prince, nor offer to do any thing against Caesar; yet this is what they charged him with, that he said, he himself is Christ a king. He did say that he was Christ, and, if so, then a king, but not such a king as was ever likely to give disturbance to Caesar. When his followers would have made him a king (John 6:15), he declined it, though by the many miracles he wrought he made it appear that if he would have set up in competition with Caesar he would have been too hard for him.
2. His pleading to the indictment: Pilate asked him, Art thou the king of the Jews? Luke 23:3. To which he answered, Thou sayest it; that is, “It is as thou sayest, that I am entitled to the government of the Jewish nation; but in rivalship with the scribes and Pharisees, who tyrannize over them in matters of religion, not in rivalship with Caesar, whose government relates only to their civil interests.” Christ’s kingdom is wholly spiritual, and will not interfere with Caesar’s jurisdiction. Or, “Thou sayest it; but canst thou prove it? What evidence hast thou for it?” All that knew him knew the contrary, that he never pretended to be the king of the Jews, in opposition to Caesar as supreme, or to the governors that were sent by him, but the contrary.
3. Pilate’s declaration of his innocency (Luke 23:4): He said to the chief priests, and the people that seemed to join with them in the prosecution, “I find no fault in this man. What breaches of your law he may have been guilty of I am not concerned to enquire, but I find nothing proved upon him that makes him obnoxious to our court.”
4. The continued fury and outrage of the prosecutors, Luke 23:5. Instead of being moderated by Pilate’s declaration of his innocency, and considering, as they ought to have done, whether they were not bringing the guilt of innocent blood upon themselves, they were the more exasperated, more exceedingly fierce. We do not find that they have any particular fact to produce, much less any evidence to prove it; but they resolve to carry it with noise and confidence, and say it, though they cannot prove it: He stirs up the people to rebel against Caesar, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place. He did stir up the people, but it was not to any thing factious or seditious, but to every thing that was virtuous and praiseworthy. He did teach, but they could not charge him with teaching any doctrine that tended to disturb the public peace, or make the government uneasy or jealous.
II. They accused him before Herod. 1. Pilate removed him and his cause to Herod’s court. The accusers mentioned Galilee, the northern part of Canaan. “Why,” saith Pilate, “is he of that country? Isa. he a Galilean?” Luke 23:6. “Yes,” said they, “that is his head-quarters; there he was spent most of his time.” “Let us send him to Herod then,” saith Pilate, “for Herod is now in town, and it is but fit he should have cognizance of his cause, since he belongs to Herod’s jurisdiction.” Pilate was already sick of the cause, and desirous to rid his hands of it, which seems to have been the true reason for sending him to Herod. But God ordered it so for the more evident fulfilling of the scripture, as appears Acts 4:26, 27, where that of David (Ps. 2:2), The kings of the earth and the rulers set themselves against the Lord and his Anointed, is expressly said to be fulfilled in Herod and Pontius Pilate. 2. Herod was very willing to have the examining of him (Luke 23:8): When he saw Jesus he was exceedingly glad, and perhaps the more glad because he saw him a prisoner, saw him in bonds. He had heard many things of him in Galilee, where his miracles had for a great while been all the talk of the country; and he longed to see him, not for any affection he had for him or his doctrine, but purely out of curiosity; and it was only to gratify this that he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him, which would serve him to talk of as long as he lived. In order to this, he questioned with him in many things, that at length he might bring him to something in which he might show his power. Perhaps he pumped him concerning things secret, or things to come, or concerning his curing diseases. But Jesus answered him nothing; nor would he gratify him so much as with the performance of one miracle. The poorest beggar, that asked a miracle for the relief of his necessity, was never denied; but this proud prince, that asked a miracle merely for the gratifying of his curiosity, is denied. He might have seen Christ and his wondrous works many a time in Galilee, and would not, and therefore it is justly said, Now he would see them, and shall not; they are hidden from his eyes, because he knew not the day of his visitation. Herod thought, now that he had him in bonds, he might command a miracle, but miracles must not be made cheap, nor Omnipotence be at the beck of the greatest potentate. 3. His prosecutors appeared against him before Herod, for they were restless in the prosecution: They stood, and vehemently accused him (Luke 23:10), impudently and boldly, so the word signifies. They would make Herod believe that he had poisoned Galilee too with his seditious notions. Note, It is no new thing for good men and good ministers, that are real and useful friends to the civil government, to be falsely accused as factious and seditious, and enemies to government. 4. Herod was very abusive to him: He, with his men of war, his attendants, and officers, and great men, set him at nought. They made nothing of him; so the word is. Horrid wickedness! To make nothing of him who made all things. They laughed at him as a fool; for they knew he had wrought many miracles to befriend others, and why would he not now work one to befriend himself? Or, they laughed at him as one that had lost his power, and was become weak as other men. Herod, who had been acquainted with John Baptist, and had more knowledge of Christ too than Pilate had, was more abusive to Christ than Pilate was; for knowledge without grace does but make men the more ingeniously wicked. Herod arrayed Christ in a gorgeous robe, some gaudy painted clothes, as a mock-king; and so he taught Pilate’s soldiers afterwards to do him the same indignity. He was ringleader in that abuse. 5. Herod sent him back to Pilate, and it proved an occasion of the making of them friends, they having been for some time before at variance. Herod could not get sight of a miracle, but would not condemn him neither as a malefactor, and therefore sent him again to Pilate (Luke 23:11), and so returned Pilate’s civility and respect in sending the prisoner to him; and this mutual obligation, with the messages that passed between them on this occasion, brought them to a better understanding one of another than there had been of late between them, Luke 23:12. They had been at enmity between themselves, probably upon Pilate’s killing of the Galileans, who were Herod’s subjects (Luke 13:1), or some other such matter of controversy as usually occurs among princes and great men. Observe how those that quarrelled with one another yet could unite against Christ; as Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek, though divided among themselves, were confederate against the Israel of God, Ps. 83:7. Christ is the great peace-maker; both Pilate and Herod owned his innocency, and their agreeing in this cured their disagreeing in other things.