The Lord's Day Morning

October 9, 2011

“Are You the King of the Jews?”

Luke 23:1-5

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 23. We’ll be looking at verses 1 to 5 this morning as we continue through the gospel of Luke. I'd invite you also, as you’re turning there to Luke 23:1-5, to allow your eyes to look back to verses 66 to 71 of Luke 22. Those verses contain the account that Luke gives of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, or the council of the elders, those who were the key religious leaders of the people of Israel, and they are the ones that are referred to, if you look at verse 1 of Luke 23, “Then the whole company of them,” they are the ones who arrive and take Jesus to Pilate.

If I could set this scene for you, so that you understand what's going on here a little bit better, the Sanhedrin, the council of the elders, the supreme religious body of the Jewish people, did not have the right of the death penalty. If the death penalty was going to be administered to Jesus, even though they had found Him guilty of blasphemy, the highest crime that a Jew could have been found guilty of, they would have to go to Pilate, the Roman authority, in order for that death penalty to be assigned and sentenced and carried out. Normally, Pilate would have been in Caesarea, that's where his seat of office was, but it's Passover week and so Pilate and his company is actually in Jerusalem because he's there to make sure that nothing goes awry during the Passover week where all of those Jews from all around Judea have come to celebrate the Passover. His job is to keep the peace. He worked directly under the legate who was over all of Syria and reported through him back to the emperor.

And Pilate had a very contentious relationship with the Sanhedrin, with the council of the elders, and with the Jewish people in general. We have Jewish sources from this time, the time of the story that we're reading and studying together, outside of the New Testament, that account his relationship with the Jews as very problematic. They considered him greedy; they considered him contentious and condescending. He did things that provoked the Jews. For instance, he laid his hands on monies that were meant for the temple service and used them to build an aqueduct. If you can imagine a public official here in Jackson getting hold of monies that were meant for Christian churches and using them for public works that would create quite a stir amongst the Christians of the Jackson area. Well, you can imagine how the Jewish people responded to that kind of treatment by Pilate. So he was a very unpopular man and he didn't like to do what the Jewish leaders asked him to do. That's very apparent in this passage here.

Now you need to have John 18 in your mind as you look at this passage because Luke is giving you a little snippet of a larger story that is told about this very encounter in John 18. There's more to the questioning of Pilate to Jesus and of Jesus’ answers to Pilate than Luke tells us here. You have to pick up a little hint that Luke makes in this passage that are expanded by the parallel passage in John 18, but they’ll help you understand what's going on. But here are the three things that I want you to be on the lookout for.

First, I want you to note that in verse 2 you will find the charges of guilt by the Sanhedrin against Jesus to Pilate. John 18 will tell you that when the Sanhedrin gets to Pilate, what they ask him to do is not to try Him, but to sentence Him. Basically they say, “We've already tried Him; we've already found Him guilty. We’d like you to sentence Him to death.” And Pilate says, “Well, what charges are you brining against the Man?” And basically the Sanhedrin says to Pilate, “That's none of your business. We want you to sentence Him to death. You don't need to worry about the basis of His being found guilty.” And Pilate says, “I'm not going to do that. You’re going to have to tell me what charges you’re bringing against this Man.” Now in verse 2, you will find three charges that the Sanhedrin brings against Jesus. Now what's so interesting is how different this is from verses 66 to the end of the chapter back in 22. You remember there, the big charge against Jesus is blasphemy. Now, the big charge against Jesus is rebellion and treason and claiming to be a king who is going to oppose Caesar's rule. So we go from a religious charge to a political charge. That's very important. Luke wants you to see that. You see that in verse 2. So there are charges of guilt.

Then, in verse 4, I want you to be on the lookout for Pilate's pronouncement of Jesus’ innocence. This is very important to Luke. Luke wants you to know that the charges that get Jesus sentenced to death and sent to the cross are false. That is vitally important. He is not on the cross because He deserves to be on the cross, He is on the cross in spite of the fact that He does not deserve to be on the cross. And Luke is going to have, from the voice of the spokesman of the best legal system in the world in Jesus’ time, declare His innocence. So the best legal system that existed on planet Earth, their representative is going to declare Him innocent and then is still eventually going to put Him on the cross. That's important for Luke, for you, to understand.

And then third, if you’ll look in verse 3, there's the question of kingship. The big thing that this interview circles around is the issue of who Jesus claims to be. And Pilate directly asks Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And Jesus answers in a very careful way. And if you know again the background from John 18, you’ll understand why because this was a big area that both the Jews and the Romans misunderstood about Jesus, about His claims, and about what the Old Testament said about the Messiah.

So I want us to look at the charges of guilt in verse 2, the pronouncement of innocence in verse 4, and the question of kingship in verse 3. Before we do, let's pray and ask for God's help and blessing.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and Your Word is true. Sanctify us in Your truth. Your Word is powerful and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, so break through our carelessness, our indifference, our preoccupation with other, lesser things, with Your powerful Word and arrest us Lord. Get our attention. Speak deeply into our souls about who Your Son is and what He has come to do. Grant, O God, that we would behold wonderful things in Your Word and respond in faith. We pray it in Jesus' name. Amen.

This is the Word of God; hear it, in Luke 23 beginning in verse 1:

“Then the whole company of them arose and brought Him before Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, ‘We found this Man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is the Christ, a king.’ And Pilate asked Him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ And He answered him, ‘You have said so.’ 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.’”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Well, it's the second interrogation that Jesus has gone through, first by the council of the elders — we saw that in verses 66 to 71 of Luke 22. The questioning had started in the middle of the night, but the Sanhedrin was not allowed to meet except between sunup and sundown, and so at the very crack of dawn the council of the elders had been gathered and Jesus had been questioned, and if you’ll look back to Luke 22 they had asked Him in verse 70, “Are You the Son of God then?” and He had responded by saying, “You have said it yourselves.” And they respond then to His response by saying, “You’re blaspheming; You’re claiming to be the Messiah; You’re claiming to be the Son of God. You’re not, and therefore You’re guilty of blasphemy, You’re guilty of death, and we're going to recommend to the Roman officials that You be put to death.” And so He's taken to Pilate who is conveniently in Jerusalem. They don't have to go all the way to Caesarea; they just have to go to Pilate and his residences in Jerusalem.

Now Roman officials were famous for having early working hours. They typically were in the office at 6am and they met the public from 6am to noon. Those were their business hours. The Romans were hardworking folks and their public officials were in the office early and so he was already there and they show up with Jesus. And as John 18 tells us, they show up to Pilate, they say, “We've found this Man guilty; you need to sentence Him to death” and Pilate doesn't want to go along. He says, “Wait a minute. What are the charges?” And initially they say, “Well that's none of your business. You just need to sentence Him to death.” And he says, “It is my business. I want to know what the charges are.” And here in verse 2, Luke more clearly than any of the other gospels, in very few words — it's amazing how the economy of words that Luke uses — Luke summarizes the three charges that they've brought against Him; the charges of guilt.

And they are as follows.


First of all, they said that He was misleading the nation. Look at verse 2. “We found this Man misleading our nation.” Now clearly they are intimating to Pilate more than that He is leading the people in theological error. The suggestion is that He is engaged in sedition. He's engaged in treason. He's leading the nation astray. Now that would have been something that would have concerned a Roman official because when Jesus was a little boy in about AD 6, a tax revolt had been led against the Romans by a Messianic Jew and he had raised up a rebellion in the land against the tax system of the Romans in Judea. And so Roman officials were very concerned about this type of activity and it's clear that the charges that are being made are political in nature, that He is some sort of a rebel against Roman rule.

Secondly, look again at verse 2, they say, “He forbids to give tribute to Caesar.” Now this is an outright lie because we've already heard what He said when they brought the Roman coin to Him. What did He say? “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's.” So this is an outright lie but it fits into the political charges that they’re bringing against Him.

And then finally, “Saying that He Himself is Christ, a king.” No, there's a mixture of truth and error in that, isn't it? He had indeed, what Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” said, “Peter, you’re right, and God's revealed that to you.” But He had been very careful of using either Messianic language or Kingly language. Why? Because people misunderstood it. He was very careful about using that kind of language about Himself in public because the Jewish people were expecting the Messiah to be a political figure who was going to deliver them from Roman oppression and Jesus did not want to make people think that that was His goal for coming into the world. He had a much greater, a much grander, a much more important reason for coming into this world and the Messiah was about much more than that. And so the charge, “He claims to be the Messiah-King,” again has political overtones. “He's claiming to be king as opposed to Caesar being king and lord. He's setting Himself up over Caesar's rule.” So the charges are political.

But here's what Luke wants us to see. They’re all false. They’re false in different ways but they are all false charges. If you take care to listen to Jesus’ own ministry, He is exonerated of these charges. So the first thing that Luke shows you is that He was falsely charged.


The second thing that Luke wants you to see though is that He is publicly cleared. He's not only falsely charged, He's publicly cleared. Look at verse 4. After questioning Jesus, Pilate says, “I find no guilt in this Man.” Now this is interesting. He asks Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus responds in a way that is very similar to the way that He responded to the Sanhedrin back in verse 70, “You've said it yourself,” which is a reluctant affirmation. But Pilate's response is totally different from the Sanhedrin's response. If you look back in verse 70 when they say, “Are You claiming to be the Messiah?” and Jesus says, “You’re said it yourself,” their response is to say what? “Ah ha! You’re admitting that You claim to be the Messiah, the Son of God, therefore You’re guilty of blasphemy.” Pilate, when Jesus says, “You’re said it yourself,” says, “I find no guilt in this Man.” And you’re asking yourself — why that reaction? John 18 explains it. Would you turn with me to John?

In John 18, this conversation is elaborated on. When Pilate first asked Jesus the question, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answers by saying, “Are you asking Me that because you want to know or are you asking me that for another reason?” And they go back and forth on that in verse 35 and then in John 18 verse 36 Jesus begins His answer by saying, “Pilate, My kingdom is not of this world.” Now you need to understand, at that point, Pilate is no longer interested in what kind of claims to kingship Jesus has, because the only kingdom that Pilate cares about is the kingdom of the Roman Emperor, Tiberius. He doesn't care about any other kind of kingdom. If Jesus isn't a rebel against that kingdom, he just doesn't care what He's rebelling against. He can be a king of another world as far as Pilate is concerned. Pilate is very cynical. You can see it throughout the rest of John 18. He's very cynical. In fact, he’ll utter in the course of this conversation the famous words, “What is true?” Pilate's concern is to see whether Jesus is a political rebel against Roman rule, and when Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” the thing is all cleared up.

Now if you go on in John, you will notice that Pilate asked again, “Are You the King of the Jews?” and you get from John the same language that Luke used, “You’re said it yourself.” And then Pilate says, “I find no guilt in this Man.” Now you know why Pilate has the reaction that he has. He turns to the Jewish leaders and he says, “This Man is not claiming to be someone who is kicking Caesar out of office or taking over rule from Caesar in Judea. You’re coming to me with these political charges but I find this Man guiltless of your charges. I find this Man innocent of your charges so I have no intention of sentencing Him to death because He's innocent of your charges.” So Luke shows you not only Jesus falsely charged, he shows Him publically cleared. This is important because when Jesus is on the cross, normally a penalty reserved for rank criminals, He is on the cross as an innocent Man, and not only as an innocent Man, but as a Man who is declared innocent by the highest authority of Rome in Jerusalem at the time! So though He is falsely charged, He's publicly cleared.


But here's the thing I really want you to see this morning. If you’d look back at verse 3 and this interaction between Pilate and Jesus. When Pilate asks, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus’ answer is, “You have said so. You've said it yourself.” Now that's an interesting answer. Jesus, in all of these interviews is on the horns of a dilemma. Now normally, when we are being interrogated by somebody who wants to do us wrong and they’re asking us a question that puts us in a Catch-22, our reluctance to answer is because we don't want to incriminate ourselves and get ourselves in trouble. You know, when somebody says, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” you pause and think about that a little bit because you don't want to get in trouble with your answer. It's clear that that is not motivating Jesus at all. Jesus is not trying to avoid the cross by His answer.

So you have to ask yourself a question — why is Jesus answering the way He answers? Well first of all, to the Sanhedrin's question and to Pilate's question, He can't say, “No, I'm not the Messiah; No, I'm not the Son of God; No, I'm not the King of the Jews” because He is! And so He can't say no. But if He gives an emphatic claim, an endorsement, that He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the King of the Jews, what's going to be the problem? It will be misunderstood. Jesus’ answers in each of these cases are given so carefully not because He's trying to avoid getting in trouble, not because He's trying to get out of a sentence, but because He wants to be clear on who He is and what He has done.

By the way, this is one of the testimonies to me of the truthfulness of Scripture. Verse 70 of Luke 22 and verse 3 of Luke 23 are two of those verses that just prove to me the truthfulness of Scripture and the historicity of Scripture. Let me tell you why. Amongst all the early Christians, all early Christians believed that Jesus was the Messiah, all early Christians believed that He was the Son of God, all early Christians believed that He was not only the King of the Jews but the King of the world. So if you were making up an account of Jesus’ trial and He was asked, “Are You the King of the Jews? Are You the Messiah? Are You the Son of God?” if you were making up that account, what would you have Him say in response? It would be a very clear, emphatic response, wouldn't it? And Luke doesn't do that. He records these interesting, these reluctant affirmatives – “You've said it yourself.”

Why does he do that? Because he's telling you what actually happened! That's exactly what happened! That's why he's telling you that way! If you and I were making this up, this isn't how we would have written it, but because Luke is telling you what actually happened — and remember, he was a historian, carefully speaking to the people who were primary participants in all these events and compiling it, of course under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to be completely accurate — he tells you what happened.

Why is Jesus being so careful though? Because He is not the kind of King that Pilate and the Sanhedrin think He is. He's not the kind of King that the Sanhedrin is expecting. He's a different kind of King. He's not there to kick the Romans out of Judea. He's there to forgive the world of sin. That's the kind of King He is. He is an exponentially greater King than the kind of King that the Sanhedrin and Pilate are quibbling about. He is a King of so much greater significance than the petty squabble that they’re involved in that He has to answer that question very carefully. “Are You the King of the Jews?” Yes, He is, but He says, “You've said it yourself,” precisely so they will not misunderstand who He is and what He's come to do. He's not come for political reform in Palestine, He has come for the bearing of the sins of the world.

And that is why it's so important what Pilate says in the very next verse. “I find no guilt in this Man.” Now it's not that that is a declaration that He has never sinned. Of course that's the declaration that He's not guilty of the charges that have been brought against Him by the Jewish leaders, but Luke has been careful to let you know what? This Man never sinned. This is a King with no sin and no guilt and that is the kind of King that you and I need because we do have sin and guilt and we need a king who can liberate us from that sin and guilt and the only kind of king who can liberate us from that sin and guilt is one who is Himself not in bondage to sin and guilt. So Jesus is so careful in these answers, affirming but correcting, even in the way that He answers the question because it's vital for us to understand that as the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of this world, He is the King that came to die for sin though He didn't deserve to die for sin because He could never sin. But He died for sin in our place that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Luke wants us to understand that as we continue to make our way to the cross in this gospel.

May the Lord bless His Word. Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You for the privilege of hearing it read. Grant that You would teach us of Christ and of the Gospel as we hear it and study it. In Jesus' name, amen.

Now, let's sing of the King, the real King, the Lord Jesus Christ, as we take out our hymnals and turn to number 295 and sing, “Crown Him With Many Crowns.”