Chapter 23 - Commentary on Luke's Gospel

23:1-25 Pontius Pilate's Trial - Pilate was obviously uneasy about sentencing Jesus to crucifixion. The case did not at all fit his idea of Roman justice. Also Matthew records that "while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, 'Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him: (Matthew 27:19). Pilate had first said "I find no basis for an accusation against this man" (23:4). Then he tried to shift the responsibility to Herod the Tetrarch (23:6-16). When that failed he said "I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him," but to placate them he offered to have Jesus flogged (23:16). He next tried to use his annual release of a political prisoner to offer them Jesus instead of Barabbas (23:18-24, Matthew 27:15-22, Mark 15:6-15). Then he presented Jesus to the crowd outside as their king (John 19:13-15). Finally having been shouted down by the crowd, and fearing a riot, he publicly washed his hands of the injustice being perpetrated. "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves," and the answer came back "His blood be on us and on our children" (Matthew 27:24-25).

23:1 Having condemned Jesus in the nation's parliament (sanhedrin, 22:66-71), the Jewish leaders knew that they did not have the authority to execute him themselves. "We are not permitted to put anyone to death" (John 18:31). So they had to get Jesus condemned to crucifixion by Roman law (as he had himself predicted, 18:32-33, Matthew 20:19, John 12:33).

23:2 The Jewish leaders offered Pilate three lines of accusation. They said Jesus was perverting the Jewish nation by upsetting some of their traditions. This was true (e.g. by rejecting their kosher food laws, Mark 7:17-19, and questioning their interpretations of the torah, Matthew 5:21-44), but this was of no interest to Pilate. Secondly they claimed Jesus was telling people not to pay taxes to the Roman government, which was false (Jesus said, "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things which are God's" Matthew 22:21).

23:3-4 Thirdly Jesus did claim among his followers that he was Messiah reigning King of the Old Testament (see 9:20-21, Matthew 16:15-16, Mark 8:29). As long as he only claimed to reign over Jews, Pilate did not care, so he dismissed the case.

23:5-7 When they tried to change his mind by claiming that Jesus had begun his teaching in Galilee, and was a Galilean, Pilate saw his opportunity to have this troublesome case transferred out of his court into the jurisdiction of Herod, the Tetrarch of Galilee. Herod happened to be visiting Jerusalem at that time, so Pilate was able to send Jesus to be examined by him.

23:8-10 Herod Antipas, whose capital was in Tiberias, and who ruled over Galilee, had previously imprisoned John the Baptist, and had him beheaded (3:1, 19, 9:9). Now still curious Herod had hoped to see Jesus perform a miracle, but Jesus refused to answer his questions (presumably because it was in Pilate's court that the case had been brought). The chief priests of the temple (mostly Sadducees) allied to the theologians (mostly Pharisees) accused Jesus in every way possible..

23:11-12 Obviously frustrated, Herod let his soldiers make a fool of Jesus, and then having put an elegant (actually bright colored, or shiny) robe on him, sent him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate had been jealous of each other's authority, but this mutual recognition of the other's importance healed the enmity between them.

23:13 The sanhedrin (made up of members of parliament, chief priests, and theologians,  22:66) had condemned Jesus (23:1), but now Pilate added representatives of the ordinary people to have their say.

23:14-16 Pilate told them that he had not found Jesus guilty of any of the charges they had laid, nor had Herod. To satisfy them he suggested having Jesus flogged and letting him go.

23:17 Some ancient manuscripts have "He was obliged to release someone for them at the festival" (see Matthew 27:15-18, Mark 15:6-10).

23:18-19 Pilate had hoped they would ask for Jesus to be released, but they chose Barabbas.

23:20-23 Pilate made two more attempts to avoid having to order the crucifixion of an innocent man. But he was shouted down by the crowd. Fearing a riot, Pilate washed his hands of the situation saying "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves," and the people answered "His blood be on us and on our children!" (Matthew 27:24-25).

23:24-25 Pilate then released Barabbas, the murderer, and handed Jesus over for crucifixion as they had insisted. Matthew and Mark record that before being led away to the cross, the soldiers clothed Jesus in a royal robe, put a crown of thorns on his head, and mocked him (Matthew 27:27-31, Mark 15:16-20).

23:26-49 The Crucifixion - The three synoptic Gospels give us more or less the same sequence of events, but we need to compare them with each other for important details. We also need the account that John gave us (John 19:16-30). In all four Gospels there is not a single note of feeling sorry for poor Jesus being so badly treated. He is the Messiah King of kings, he is in total control, and he gives himself up to death exactly in the way he had prophesied. It is Pilate who is being judged for failing in his duties as an impartial Roman judge. And the whole Jewish parliament or sanhedrin of priests, theologians, and lay deputies (22:66, 23:13), as well as the ordinary people of the city (23:13, 18-23) are under condemnation. Failing a last minute repentance, the inevitable outcome was the destruction of the temple and city as Jesus had predicted (see comments on 19:27, 41-44, 20:15-19, 21:5-28).

Mahatma Gandhi used the term non-violence (Sanskrit ahimsa). And it is often suggested that Jesus was so loving that he was totally non-violent. But we need to factor in his words: "Those enemies of mine who did not want me to be King over them - bring them here and slaughter them in my presence" (Luke 19:27, 41-44). He is the owner of the vineyard who "will come and destroy those tenants, and give the vineyard to others (Luke 20:15-16, 21:5-24). As Lamb Jesus was willing to be sacrificed on the cross (Isaiah 53:7), but in his reign as Messiah Son of God in the Old Testament, and in the destruction of Jerusalem, he assigned terribly violent consequences. The last book of the Bible suggests that he continues to do this (Revelation 6:16, 9:15, 11:18, 14:14-20, 19:11-16). Love cares about the liberation of others, and from the Messiah's point of view freedom from oppressive forces may require violent means to preserve it. As Lamb Jesus was willing to suffer and give his blood for our freedom, but we should not leave out the wrath he assigns here on earth as Messiah King.

23:26 A condemned prisoner usually had to carry his own cross. Tradition suggests that Jesus had fainted from the scourging and the wounds to his head from the crown of thorns (Matthew 27:26-30, Mark 15:15-19). So the soldiers picked on a passer by who was probably dark skinned. He was from Cyrene, the capital of Cyrenaica in present day Libya. This man was one of the thousands of Jewish pilgrims who came up from all over the world to celebrate Passover (see 2:41, John 12:20). It seems he became a Christian as a result of this experience, and his sons, Alexander and Rufus, were members of the Christian community (Mark 15:21, Romans 16:13?).

23:27 The apostles are not mentioned (except for John at the cross, John 19:26). Peter was perhaps too depressed and filled with guilt (22:62), Judas had hung himself (Matthew 27:3-5), and the other disciples had forsaken Jesus and fled (Matthew 26:56, Mark 14:50). It is also possible that by this time the male disciples were busy in the temple getting their own family Passover lamb killed for the meal that night.

23:28-31 This section is only found in this Gospel, and only Jesus could have spoken such words, which indicates that Luke must have heard this from someone who was in the procession. There were women who became disciples of Jesus (see note on 8:2-3, 23:49). As he is being taken to the cross Jesus warns the women of the terrible destruction of the city in that generation. They had probably not heard Jesus' words warning about this to the men in the temple courts (19:27, 20:15-19) or the detailed prophecy he gave to the disciples (21:20-27). We can assume that some of these women listened and responded, and were among those baptized after the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41, 5:14, 8:3). The tribulation that accompanied the siege of Jerusalem would be particularly hard on women who were pregnant and nursing mothers (Matthew 24:19-21, Mark 13:17-19). The wish that the mountains would fall on them, and end their misery, was expressed in the fall of Samaria seven hundred years before (Hosea 10:8). The saying about green wood smouldering and dry wood blazing in a fire was also proverbial of greater troubles that would befall the city.

23:32-33 Jesus was crucified between two criminals (as in Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27).

23:34 The words "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they do" do not come in the other Gospels, and they are omitted in one group of ancient manuscripts. The reason seems to be theological - rigorists assume that there is no forgiveness for the ignorant, and Augustine pushed this further to say that there is no forgiveness for the unbaptized.Jesus' prayer is for the soldiers who were doing their job they were assigned. C.S.Lewis picked this up in the Narnia story of the man who had always served the god Tash, and Aslan welcomed him (The Last Battle).John also remembered how the four soldiers divided his long undergarment among them (by cutting it up with their swords), and then gambled for his seamless tunic (John 19:23-25, see Psalm 22:18).

23:35 All three synoptic Gospels report the scoffing of the religious leaders who came to witness the crucifixion. They had heard his claim to be the Savior of others. Now they threw this back at him. "Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe" (Mark15:32). They did not grasp what Paul later explained so clearly "He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him" (Philippians 2:8-9).

23:36-37 Although Jesus had prayed for them (23:34), the soldiers joined in the mocking. Jesus refused the drugged wine which was usually given at the beginning of a crucifixion (Matthew 27:34, Mark 15:23). This was wine vinegar, which was often drunk by soldiers and poorer people as a thirst reliever.

23:38 The inscription was the charge for which Jesus was condemned, "Jesus, the king of the Jews" (Matthew 27:37, Mark 15:26). John explained that this was ordered to be put up by Pilate against the objection of the Jewish leaders, and he remembered seeing the inscription in the three languages of the Jewish world (Hebrew, Greek, Latin, John 19:19-22). This means that, having failed as a Roman judge, Pilate proclaimed to the whole world that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah.

23:39-41 All three Gospels record that the two criminals who were crucified with Jesus joined in the mocking. But Luke recorded the story (probably from the penitent thief's family) of the man's rebuke of the other criminal's railing.

23:42 The penitent thief's prayer indicates that, although the religious leaders denied the claim, and Jesus' crucifixion seemed to confirm their unbelief, he himself viewed Jesus as the Messiah.

23:43 The word paradise is a Persian word meaning an enclosed garden. It was used by the Greek translators of the Old Testament for the Garden of Delights (Genesis 2:15, 3:8. 23-24). The word became metaphorical of heaven (2 Corinthians 12:4, Revelation 2:7). Clearly Jesus told the believing thief that he would be joining Jesus that very day in heaven. Some introduce a model of going into cold storage when we die until a future resurrection. But, even while his corpse was still hanging on the cross, Jesus was already bringing up the faithful dead out of sheol (see Matthew 27:52-53, John 5:28-29, as explained in 1 Peter 3:18-19, and perhaps Ephesians 4:9). That means the penitent thief never went down into the abode of the dead (sheol). And Paul is quite clear that the moment we die we receive our resurrection body (2 Corinthians 5:1-8, Philippians 1:23). The resurrection trumpet is not after a long wait, but it welcomes us immediately we die into heaven (1 Corinthians 15:51-53). That is why Jesus said "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

23:44 Darkness descended (literally "when the sun failed to give its light"). The men of the city and the priests would have been groping around in the temple preparing the Passover lambs for the meal that night (as in Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33). This could not have been an eclipse (only possible at the full moon), so it was a supernatural awesome darkness that covered the sun.

23:45 Matthew and Mark both make clear that the curtain that divided off the holy of holies in the temple was "was torn in two, from top to bottom" the moment Jesus died (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:37-38). If the huge curtain was torn by humans, it would have been torn from the bottom upwards, but here the Father had it torn from the top downwards (see the comment in Hebrews 10:19-20). Luke omits the words of Jesus, in Aramaic "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani" meaning "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34). Perhaps Luke felt his Roman readers would misunderstand, or rather fail to understand that dying as fully man Jesus had the experience of feeling totally abandoned.

23:46 The loud cry when Jesus died is mentioned in Matthew and Luke, but John must have heard and recorded the words that Jesus spoke, "It is finished" (John 19:30). The committal of his spirit (using the words from Psalm 31:5) refers to a very deliberate handing himself over to death taking his last breath (Matthew 27:50, Mark 15:37).

23:47 The centurion (Army Captain) was in charge of the four soldiers detailed to do the crucifixion. He had seen many men crucified but now, having seen how Jesus behaved and died, he found himself praising God, and he had no doubt that he was innocent of the charges against him.

23:48-49 The crowd had come to see a spectacle, but returned home shaken and moved by what they had seen. Apparently some who knew Jesus (perhaps from having heard him in Galilee) and some women disciples (see note on 8:2-3) watched from a distance, perhaps because the sight was too harrowing to bear.

23:50-51 Joseph of Arimathea (the exact location is not known) was a member of the Jewish parliament (sanhedrin) and would have been present at the trial that morning (22:66-71). He disagreed with the sudden verdict (23:51), was convinced that the proceedings had been a travesty of justice, and that Jesus was innocent. He was a devout Jew looking in faith for the Messiah to be revealed (see 2:25), and he was also a secret disciple of Jesus (John 19:38). .

23:52 It was the Day of Preparation for the Passover (23:54, see note on Luke 22:7, Mark 15:42, John 19:31). And by asking for the body of Jesus this wealthy influential man knew he would defile himself by touching a corpse. He would need to cancel his family Passover celebration that evening, and hold it a month later (Numbers 9:6-11).

23:53 Joseph was joined by Nicodemus, another secret disciple, who helped him take the body down and brought a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes (John 19:39). They laid the corpse, properly wrapped in bandages and a shroud (John 19:40), in Joseph's own tomb that was freshly cut out of the rock (Matthew 27:60). The tomb was located in a garden (John 19:41). It is important to note that Jesus had already ascended (with the penitent thief) to the Father (see 23:43). What seems to have happened on the first Easter Sunday morning was that the already exalted Son of God did not want to leave his corpse in the tomb to be venerated, and he disintegrated it early that morning leaving the grave clothes to drop where the body had been. What the women and disciples saw for the next forty days was the ascended Son of God.

23:54 By the time Joseph of Arimathea had obtained permission to bury the body it was getting late, and already it was time for the Passover feast that night (here "sabbath" is not the weekly sabbath on the Saturday, but the abstaining from all manner of work on the occasion of every feast day). Joseph and Nicodemus probably had to break the rule about resting on the Passover feast day to complete the burial.

23:55-56 The women mentioned in 23:49 included those who came to the tomb on the Sunday morning (24:1, 10). The second reference to "sabbath" when the women rested was the regular Saturday sabbath.

Chapter 24  .....