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Luke 23:1-7 - Jesus before Pilate (First time)

Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, "We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king." Then Pilate asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" He answered, "You say so." Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, "I find no basis for an accusation against this man." But they were insistent and said, "He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place." When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time.


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Verse one begins with a capitalized “Kai,” marking the beginning of a new section in this story, while most importantly stating there was a spiritual “uprising” now taking place. The whole of this verse can be literally read as saying, “Kai having raised up , all together this assemblage of themselves they led away himself on the basis of this Pilate .” Whereas this immediately conjures up the image of seventy Jewish leaders (including Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea) jumping to their feet as if some rabble, all shouting and lighting torches, the truth comes forth by seeing the power within the souls of those Temple rulers was most importantly “raised up.” The connotation of “to raise up, to rise” becomes divinely elevated when placed on a soul level of existence. They then felt as if they were gods on earth. The element of “all together this assemblage” says they all felt the same sense of being all-powerful, whose decisions must be accepted by Caesar himself (also a son of god); so, to read “of themselves” (their souls) “they led away himself” (the soul of Jesus) says they had triumphed against the one thorn in their sides, who was leading the common Jews to question their authority in Mosaic Law (their ‘cash cow’). However, for seventy men wearing the finest robes money could buy, they were not about to all go traipsing across the Temple courtyard for Gentiles, into Fort Antonia, when Jerusalem was packed solid with pilgrimaging Jews. The would have sent an envoy of messengers to Pilate, telling him of a significant matter having come up; and, demanded an audience of the Sanhedrin at a certain time. With the messengers would have “been led” Jesus, probably in a covered cart, to keep him from being seen (because he had been teaching on the Temple steps for four days, the previous Monday through Thursday); and, Jesus had a growing following from having been in ministry for three years. The messengers would have placed Jesus under guard in a secure holding cell, prior to the Sanhedrin arriving to present their case against Jesus to Pilate.

Relative to the capitalization of the name “Pilate,” that means “Freedman.” While not written here, the name “Pontius” means “Fifth.” The reason Pilate was named “Fifth” is a mystery, although many Romans were given names related to numbers. Perhaps it is mere coincidence, but “Pilate” was the “Fifth” Prefect of Judea, following the death of Herod the Great and the initial (unofficial) holder of that title: Herod’s son Archelaus. The official others were: Coponius (3 years), Marcus Ambivulus (3 years), Annius Rufus (3 years), Valerius Gratus (11 years). Pontius was then the “Fifth” Prefect of Judea, who would be in that position for ten years. At this time, Pilate was in his fourth year as the leader of Judea. As such, he assumed that position when John the Baptist was still around, before Jesus began his ministry.


As a “Freedman,” this implies that “Pilate” had been a soldier who fought against Rome, but was captured. Most likely, he had a different name before, with “Pilate” being his new Roman name. Through some process he became a slave to a Roman master, but worked his way to freedom, through loyalty, willingness to fight, follow orders, and with some sense of intellectual ability. This means Pilate had known slavery and was not about to let his honor be weakened by failing to manage his assignments, wherever they might be. His role in Judea was relatively unimportant, as that position mostly meant ensuring taxes were collected and forwarded to Rome. Still, he had to be diplomatic and avoid some uprising the Jews were known for, when the Prefect of Judea tried to do things that belittled the religion of the Jews and its Temple. The Jews were no match militarily to the Romans; but a dead Jews could not pay taxes; so, a Prefect of Judea was to let the rulers of Jerusalem’s Temple coordinate most of the dirty work of tax collection, with them keeping some for their efforts. That meant Pilate was inclined to pacify the ruling elite of Jerusalem, even when he saw them as weaklings who were like all the priests he knew – self-absorbed with power over the people.


Knowing this history of Pontius Pilate and seeing how relatively unimportant his position was in the grand scheme of the Roman Empire, it is important to understand how unconcerned Pilate would have been, when told, “The Jews want an audience with you … again.” He had been put in a ‘baby sitter’ position, where he was paid to control the wildness, without killing the children he was overseeing. To have the Sanhedrin appear before him with Jesus must have appeared like children angry at another child, going to the baby sitter expecting the baby sitter to enact punishment. He was the ‘adult mind’ that had to listen to childish arguments; and, he somehow had to make everyone happy … so he would not be urged to kill them all, simply for thinking they had any power beyond pretending. As such, verse two literally states what Pilate heard as the reason for this ‘emergency’ meeting, saying, “they commenced now to make accusations of himself , saying ¸ This have found corrupting this people of ourselves kai hindering tax to Caesar to offer , kai calling himself Anointed one , a king , to exist .


Here, the capitalization of “Touton,” meaning “Jesus” (“This”), must be seen as a divinely elevated reference that aligns “Jesus” with Yahweh. Thus, when we are told, “they began to accuse his soul” (“himself”), then “This” is identifying a Yahweh elohim. There is no mention of the pseudo-confession they heard from Jesus, where they asked him if he admitted he was the “Son of God” (“Huois tou Theou”), because Caesar was a so-called “god” and Pilate (not being a Jew) did not recognize the “god of the Jews.” The word “Messiah” (“Christ”) was a term kicked about by countless Jewish zealots, for many years (the last being John the Baptist); so, to tell Pilate “calling himself Anointed one” was meaningless, and they knew that. Therefore, they accused the Son of Yahweh with charges they trumped up: corrupting the people (when he healed them); hindering tax to Caesar (when he said give Caesar what was his); and, a king (which Jesus never said). Certainly, this all sounded to Pilate like children being brats; but, if Jesus were claiming to be “a king,” then that demanded proof. A Jew corrupting Jews was how Pilate saw the Sanhedrin (business as usual). Hindering tax collection was an allusion to a prior revolt (about thirty years prior), when a man named Judas of Galilee (or Judas of Gamala), where that leader was put to death; but Pilate had seen no proof of the taxes not being paid on time, in full.


Verse three then has Pilate responding to the accusations, with the first word capitalized, showing divine elevation in “Ho.” That word also translates as “This,” but without the implication of “Jesus.” That means the divinely elevated question Pilate asked was relative to “This” false set of accusations. One can imagine how Pilate heard the crybaby children grossly exaggerating the wrongs they saw in one of the other ‘kids on the block.’ The whole of this verse can be seen literally saying, “This now Pilate questioned himself , saying , You exist this King of this of Jews ?” Here, when the use of “auton” is assumed to mean “him,” referring to Jesus, the ambiguity says (when translated as “his soul”) Pilate greatly doubted all the accusations, especially that claiming Jesus said he was ‘a king.” This says “This now Pilate questioned [in his own] soul,” while directing his words at Jesus. In the writing of Luke (again, allowed to divinely be a ‘fly on the wall’ in this private meeting, where visitors in the viewing gallery were most likely not allowed in, due to the popularity of Jesus and it being a ‘packed house’ at Passover week), he reported the accusations as being “a king,” in the lower-case. The capitalization made by Pilate’s question divinely elevated what he heard to the state of an Emperor, simply because Jerusalem was filled with “Jews” from all around the world. So, if Jesus was “a king,” it must be one that had divine powers, like Caesar, such that his reign spread over vast reaches of the world. In essence, the word “Basileus” should be translated as asking if Jesus was “Emperor” (a valid alternate translation) “of this” he was being charged with, realizing he did not rule anyone other than those “of Jewish” race. That must be seen as Pilate asking that question with tongue in cheek. It says that charge was ridiculous; and, he knew it, baby sitter that he was.


Because Pilate directed that question to Jesus, verse three then continues with Jesus’ response to Pilate’s question. This also begins with the capitalized word “Ho,” which says “This” question ask was divinely elevated to require a divinely elevated answer. The whole of verse four then literally states, “This now taking up the conversation to himself , he was declaring , Yourself speaks .” This is commonly translated as Jesus responding by saying, “That is what you say,” but that puts words in Jesus’ mouth; and, Jesus was speaking as the Father, not himself. Because Pilate had made fun of Jesus being an “Emperor of this of Jews,” he had made fun of the commitment the Israelites made to always recognize the Passover. Jesus had not commanded Jews to come from all around to Jerusalem – Yahweh had. So, Pilate had asked Jesus, “Are you the God of this [Passover] of Jews?” Therefore, Yahweh “took up the conversation (not Jesus), telling Pilate, “Your soul speaks,” where the capitalization of “Sy” is a divine elevation of Pilate, to the soul given to him by the same Yahweh (whom Pilate did not know, like none of the Sanhedrin knew Yahweh).


Verse four then also begins with a capitalized “Ho,” which is a divinely elevated response made by Pilate, to that said by Jesus. “This” saying, “You say” is not a confession to Pilate, indicating Pilate did not hear Jesus tell him anything confirming his claim to be “a king,” as asserted by the Jews. Since Pilate (“Yourself”) had no accusations against Jesus, Jesus had just told Pilate to ask himself, “What do You say? Do I look like “a king” to You?” Therefore, Pilate next addressed the Sanhedrin, based on his questioning of Jesus. The whole of this verse can then be found literally saying, “This now Pilate said towards those chief priests kai those multitude of common people , Not I find cause within to this man to this .” The presence of the word “kai” says Pilate not only addressed the leader of the Temple who had read the charges they brought forth against Jesus, to Pilate, but more importantly Pilate spoke to the “multitude” that accompanied their leaders, without saying anything. Their presence was a ‘show of support,’ so Pilate wanted to let them know he saw that support; and, because there were more “common Jews” (Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes not called “chief priests”), they needed to hear what Pilate had to say. He told them all, “I do not find any cause for criminal charges against this man you brought to me.” The comparison must be made here, to “tous ochlous” (“those multitude of common people”) and “tō andrōphō” (“this one of the human race”). That comparison says Pilate said, “This man is as guilty as are all of you, who come here like you are some form of royalty.”


Verse five is then has the chief priests responding to this dismissal of Pilate. This also begins with a capitalized word – “Hoi” – which is a plural form of “This,” referring to the seventy all beginning to murmur in unison. While only one would be the designated speaker (most likely Caiaphas, the high priest), all knew to make this big of a deal out of Jesus and have it so quickly be dismissed made them all look like fools; and, they had come out of the darkness of their hole at the Temple to show their faces before Pilate, to be known as a fool could mean they would face difficulties walking the streets of Jerusalem. After all, they did think they were royalty, because they memorized the Law handed down to Moses by Yahweh. They just rejected the thought that any other form of Jew could be handed down by Yahweh as the Messiah; so, they protested for their own personal benefits.


The whole of their complain can be shown literally as saying: “These now they became more urgent , saying cause , He moves to and fro this people , teaching throughout of whole of this of Judea , kai he has rule away from of this Galilee as far as to here .” In this rebuttal, the Temple Jews of Jerusalem said the reason for their charges against Jesus were just, “because he moves to and fro,” seeking out only Jews. The capitalization of the word “Anaseiei,” which is divinely elevating the third person, as “He moves to and fro” or “He stirs up,” when they were blaming Jesus for doing what they routinely did, only not for Yahweh. Jesus “moved to and from” to “the people” as the “Son of man,” sent to tell “the people” (the Jews) that service to Yahweh meant marrying their souls to Him … not the Temple and its rulers. Jesus (“He”) was not only seeking Jews only to tell that to, “He” was not telling them to revolt against Rome. The revolt was against the Temple elite being corrupt. The Pharisees and scribes did exactly the same as did Jesus, except they were sent by the Temple, not Yahweh. They did that not only in Judea, but also in Galilee. However, when they complained that Jesus had “rule away from this Galilee,” that became his out, making it easy to then repeat his dismissal.


The NRSV makes one of its self-inflicted separations of the text, sticking in a new section heading [Jesus before Herod] at this point, as if the next two verses are not part of the same hearing before Pilate. By placing these next two verses with an entirely separate set of verses, it gives the impression that Pilate and Herod were in the same building together; so, all Pilate needed to do was bow and back away, while Herod made a grand entrance. That would be shown in a Hollywood movie about the Passion Play; but it rejects reality. These next two verses go along with the “Jesus before Pilate” section; and, because no Episcopal Church priest will ever address this reality, it will be addressed here, in this analysis.

Verse six points out that Pilate is quick of mind and a good listener. He heard what was said about the “cause” of Jesus doing the exact same thing the Pharisees and scribes did, going throughout Judea and Galilee; but he picked up on the Galilee aspect. This verse says literally, “Pilate now having listened , inquired of if this man a Galilean exists .” This says Pilate (divinely inspired to hear and receive heightened intuition) heard the chief priest-high priest say “Galilee,” knowing his jurisdiction did not go beyond Judea. When the truth was revealed that Jesus was from Nazareth, in Galilee, then verse seven becomes the final dismissal Pilate needed.


Verse seven begins with a “kai” (in the lower-case), which shows it is important what Pilate heard. The whole of this verse then literally says, “kai having recognized because from out of of this of power to act of Herod he exists , he sent back himself advantageous for Herod , existing kai himself within Jerusalem to these these days .” Here are two important statements. The first is Pilate heard that Jesus was a Galilean, at which point Pilate said Jesus was to be judged by Herod Antipas, whose realm covered Galilee and Perea. Pilate said he had no jurisdiction (no “power to act” judiciously) on a matter involving a Galilean. This is important because Pilate knew that Herod had arrested John the Baptist, who was a Galilean (born in Samaria of Judea); and, Pilate knew the warnings sent out to watch for insurrections, due to Herod having John beheaded. Pilate knew Herod would enjoy having another zealot to judge. In the final segment of words to this verse is found the second use of “kai,” but there is a one-word statement made, following a comma mark, which leads to the importance noted. That singular word is “onta,” which means Herod was the “real” judge for a Jew claiming to be “a king” of the Jews. This one-word statement says Pilate saw the enjoyment of sending a man charged with claiming to be “a king” of all Jew to a real King of Jews (those in Galilee and Perea). The importance that then follows says (due to it being Passover festival time), Herod was in Jerusalem.


Now, it must be realized that the Sanhedrin arranged for Jesus to be taken to Fort Antonia, which was to the north of the Temple, where the Sanhedrin’s room was hewn into rock. The palace of Herod the Great (then the palace in Jerusalem to be occupied by his heirs) was to the west-southwest of the Temple. That palace was closer to the palace of Ciaphas, than to the Temple. As that was where Jesus had been kept prior to his appearance before the Sanhedrin, that would be the most likely place he would have been taken after Pilate dismissed that hearing. There would be no excuse for a Roman fort to house a prisoner found without cause. Thus, with Jerusalem packed with pilgrims and with disciples of Jesus possibly rousing other Jews to attempt to free Jesus, Jesus would have been secretly moved from Fort Antonia to the palace of Caiaphas; and, he would be held there until the next morning (Monday morning).


Unstated in this exchange between Pilate and the Sanhedrin, verse seven hints that not only was the Sanhedrin in luck, with Herod in town for the festival, but Pilate assured the Sanhedrin that he would do his best to make it possible for Jesus to get an audience with a King of the Jews the next day. In verse twelve, where Herod and Pilate strike up a friendship, which had prior been a cold relationship, due to Jesus being sent before him, says Pilate sent a letter to Herod explaining what he could expect. In the letter sent by messenger, Herod would have taken delight in knowing he could rid his soul of some of the guilt he held, from having beheaded John, whom Herod feared. This letter, which Pilate assumed would be an amusement for Herod, would be Herod’s way of getting back at Pilate, so someone else would share in his guilt over having killed a man of the One God.

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