Luke 23:4–7 (ESV)
Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time.
Notice how Pilate cleverly finds a way to kick this rabble out of his office. He’s a high-level administrator and he’s annoyed by having to deal with this. He says, “I find no guilt in this man,” and they reply with the charge, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”
Oh no! Teaching and stirring! What poppycock.
But Pilate sees an out. They’ve just told him who he can delegate this to—Herod. Be gone. Go pester him.
The point is that Rome doesn’t take crucifixion lightly. They don’t just crucify anyone at the drop of a hat. Thus, their subjects don’t see the Roman Empire as being all about crucifixion. They see it as a marvelous civilization, full of modern wonders—roads, aqueducts, baths, sanitation, law and order.
Pilate’s actions show that he’s a professional. He’s taking this seriously—as he should. You don’t get yourself publicly tortured to death without doing something that must be deterred at all cost. That means anything that assaults the Roman system, thus ruining things for everyone.
Interestingly, there’s one word in Greek (lase-tase) for the two kinds of criminals we see crucified in the Bible: robbers and insurrectionists. Their crimes are the worst because they assault the functioning of the Roman system itself. The thief on the cross is a lase-tase, and so is Barabbas.
Later, the chief priests return from talking to Herod and try to make the case that Jesus’s claim to be a king makes him a lase-tase too. Their case is weak. Any large empire contains lesser kings (e.g., Herod). They need to show that Jesus is uncompliant, which they don’t do. Instead, they stir up the crowds to the point that Pilate either has to cave in to their demands or risk a riot (and unwanted attention from Rome). Pilate caves, but is furious at being manipulated, so he ceremoniously washes his hands and hits back.
Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” — John 19:19–22 (ESV)
The priests knew that Pilate’s had to keep the peace or risk Rome’s wrath. The Roman empire was orderly but was all subservient to one guy—Caesar. That’s okay as long as Caesar isn’t an anti-Christian nut.
Unfortunately for them, the first Christians suffered under some of the nuttiest dictators in history.
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