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*Scripture verses covered in this section's commentary are noted in italics

Luke 23:22 meaning

Pilate’s Third Attempt to Release Jesus

Pilate attempts to release Jesus a third time and asks the crowd (who is demanding Jesus’s crucifixion) “Why, what evil has this man done?” No response is recorded. Pilate then reiterates Jesus’s innocence and tells the crowd that he will punish Him (by Roman flogging) before releasing Him.

This event is part of the third phase of Jesus’s Civil Trial. This phase is called: “Pilate’s Judgment.”

Matthew 27:23a and Mark 15:14a are the parallel Gospel accounts of this event.

Having already failed twice to release Jesus, Pilate makes a third attempt to convince the crowd and Jesus’s accusers to let him release Jesus, whom he has already declared to be innocent (Luke 23:4, 23:14-15, John 18:38). The crowd was implicitly threatening a riot, and the more this process dragged on the more it seems they sensed they could get their way through this threat. It appears Pilate was highly desirous of following the law, so long as he did not lose order. It is likely he feared that by losing order he would lose his position. 

Both of Pilate’s previous attempts to release Jesus have taken place in the third phase of Jesus’s civil trial.

The three phases of Jesus’s civil trial were:

  1. Jesus’s Arraignment before Pilate
    (Matthew 27:1-2, 11-14, Mark 15:1-5, Luke 23:1-7, John 18:28-38)
  2. Jesus’s Audience before Herod Antipas
    (Luke 23:8-12)
  3. Pilate’s Judgment
    (Matthew 27:15-26, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:13-25, John 18:38-19:16)

Pilate’s first attempt to release Jesus was when he offered to punish Him (by Roman flogging) before he let Him go (Luke 23:16). This was an extraordinary (and illegal) gesture by Pilate. The crowd rejected it. 

Pilate’s second attempt to release Jesus was when he offered to use his customary “Passover Pardon” (Mark 15:9; John 18:39). But instead of accepting this offer, the crowds (with a little coaxing from the elders and priests—Matthew 27:20, Mark 15:11) demanded that Pilate release the notorious prisoner Barabbas instead (Luke 15:18, John 18:40). When Pilate asked what they wanted him to do with Jesus (Matthew 27:22a, Mark 15:12), they cried out “Crucify, crucify Him!” (Luke 23:21—see also Matthew 27:22b, Mark 15:13).

By now it was apparent that the judicial protocol of Jesus’s civil trial has been flipped upside down. Pilate, who was the sole judge of the case was acting as if he was a defendant seeking permission from Jesus’s accusers who were judging and condemning the governor’s verdict. 

Meanwhile Jesus, who was without fault (Luke 23:4, 23:14-15, John 18:38), quietly stood by, obedient to His Father’s will (Luke 22:42), as His corrupt trial exploded around Him.

Again, the Roman governor tried to persuade the crowd to let him release Jesus a third time

And he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has this man done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; therefore I will punish Him and release Him” (v 22).

Pilate began his third appeal by asking them two questions. They seem to be genuine and not rhetorical, even though Luke records no response from the crowd.

Pilate’s first question was simply: Why? 

The governor was asking the crowd: “Why do you want me to crucify Him?” This was the fully expressed version of his question. But apparently Pilate only uttered—Why? Pilate’s brief utterance shows how dumbfounded he was that the crowd would want to kill an innocent man and release to them a notorious criminal. From his perspective, there was no legal or logical explanation for their murderous hatred of Jesus. Pilate knew that they envied Jesus (Matthew 27:18, Mark 15:10), but their hatred of this man apparently went far beyond what he imagined.

Pilate’s second question was: What evil has this man done? (v 22). 

The obvious and correct answer was: “Nothing. Jesus had done no evil.” 

Even the religious leaders who illegally conspired and falsely condemned Him found no real fault with Him. Their false witnesses failed to substantiate any wrongdoing during their midnight tribunal at Caiaphas’s house (Matthew 26:57-62, Mark 14:59). 

Desperate to convict Him before word got out about their wicked conspiracy to murder the man whom many hoped was the Messiah, the high priest illegally staged an incident—putting Jesus under oath to reveal His identity in order to declare (illegitimately) that He had committed the crime of blasphemy (Matthew 26:63-66, Mark 14:61-64). 

Neither had Pilate nor Herod found any fault in Him (Luke 23:14-15). 

What evil has this man done? 

As mentioned above, Luke did not record the crowds’ response to Pilate’s questions, but Matthew and Mark both did.

“But they kept shouting all the more, saying, “Crucify Him!’”
(Matthew 27:23—See also Mark 15:14)

In their own way, Matthew, Mark, and Luke indicate that the crowds ignored Pilate’s questions. Rather than answer it, they were emotionally fixated on Jesus’s crucifixion. Reason and logic seemed to be powerless means of persuasion at this point. Moreover, the politically shrewd priests and elders actively avoided answering Pilate’s questions because Pilate’s questions were concerned with the truth, which would not have yielded the outcome they sought (John 3:20). They were leveraging the threat of riot, which they seemed to sense was a “checkmate” on Pilate. 

Pilate answered his own question: I have found in Him no guilt demanding death (v 22).

This is the fourth time Luke has recorded Pilate declaring Jesus to be innocent (Luke 23:4, 14, 15, 22). Jesus was blameless and without sin (Matthew 5:17-18, 5:48, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5). Through the declarations of a Roman governor, Luke is demonstrating to his Gentile-Greek audience that Jesus truly is their ideal of a perfect human. 

From a Jewish perspective, Jesus was the spotless Lamb of Passover (1 Peter 1:19). 

When Pilate said, I have found in Him no guilt demanding deathhe should have immediately ended the trial and released Jesus. But he did not. He remained fearful of Jesus’s accusers and tried to appease them by ordering Jesus to be scourged despite His innocence before he would release Him

Therefore I will punish Him and release Him (v 22). 

Pilate had offered to do this earlier (Luke 23:16) with his first appeal. Now at his third appeal to the crowds, he followed through with that extraordinary gesture. Luke is not explicit that Jesus was flogged at this time. He only alludes to it. John, however is explicit in specifying that Pilate ordered Jesus to be scourged shortly after the people clamored for Barabbas (John 18:40-19:1). 

“Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him.”
(John 19:1)

Matthew and Mark, in their more summarized accounts of this phase of Jesus’s trial, also establish that Pilate’s sequence was to:

1.) release Barabbas
2.) scourge Jesus
3.) hand Jesus over to be crucified 

(Matthew 27:26, Mark 15:15)

Perhaps Pilate hoped that the sight of Jesus’s mutilation through a Roman scourging would satisfy the crowd’s thirst for His blood. 

Again, Luke merely alludes to this punishment; Matthew, Mark, and John only mention it (John 19:1—see also Matthew 27:26 and Mark 15:15). The likely reason that none of the Gospels go into descriptive detail about the scourging or punishment Jesus received is because their readers, as subjects or citizens of the Roman Empire, would have been horrifically familiar with its brutality. 

Here is The Bible Says commentary of John’s account of this punishment.

Flogging as a Form of Punishment
Until modern times, flogging was a common form of punishment throughout the world. The Jews used flogging as a type of reprimand. It entailed using a whip with short leather lashes that puts stripes on the wicked man’s back according to his guilt. Jewish scourging was extremely painful, but never cruel and never deadly. 

To ensure that Jewish flogging was not cruel or deadly, Moses strictly commanded how this style of scourging was to be performed:

“if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt. He may beat him forty times but no more, so that he does not beat him with many more stripes than these and your brother is not degraded in your eyes.”
(Deuteronomy 25:3)

The wicked person was made to lie down to ensure that only his back was whipped. And in case the person doing the counting made a mistake, Jewish tradition stopped whipping a wicked man after thirty-nine times as a safeguard to guarantee that Moses’s limit of “no more than forty times” was not transgressed. The intent in Moses’s command (and the Jewish tradition surrounding it) was to punish the wicked man, but preserve his humanity as a fellow person made in God’s image.

Jewish flogging is not the type of punishment Jesus received. He received a Roman flogging.

Roman flogging intentionally stripped away a person’s humanity along with their flesh. It was intentionally cruel and often deadly. There was no limitation to how much a person could be lashed under Roman law—but because it was so brutal, victims usually received fewer than forty lashes if their abusers wanted them alive. Victims of Roman flogging were tied to a post. Roman whips had long leather lashes which wrapped around a person’s entire body. The victim was usually naked, exposing every inch of their body to the torture—including the groin and face. Tied to the leather lashes were metal beads to tenderize the flesh and sharp pieces of bone, metal, glass, or nails to tear flesh from the body. After only a couple of whippings, deep, bleeding gashes appeared. After several more lashes, the victim’s back, ribs, stomach, chest, legs, and face where a gorey mess and their figure was hardly recognizable as a human.

The aftermath of the Roman scourging—where Jesus hardly looked human—was probably what Isaiah meant when he prophesied of the Messiah:

“So His appearance was marred more than any man
And His form more than the sons of men.”
(Isaiah 52:14) 

Instead of describing the gory details of the flogging, Matthew, Mark, and John all focus on the cruel mockery that Jesus suffered by the Roman soldiers both as and after He was flogged by them (Matthew 27:27-31, Mark 15:16-20, John 19:1-3).

The flogging took place inside the Praetorium and out of sight of the crowd of Jews waiting outside, but it was probably within earshot of them. They could hear each lash of the whip; the grunts of the soldier who was doing the flogging; the moans of Jesus as His skin was slashed from his bones.

Following this torturous mutilation of Roman flogging, Pilate then summoned Jesus and presented His bleeding, disfigured body to the chief priests and said: “Behold the Man!” (John 19:4-5) in apparent hopes that this would satisfy them when he released Jesus.

But when they saw Jesus bloodied and disfigured, they resumed their cries of “Crucify, Crucify!” (John 19:6)

While Pilate’s statement: “Behold the Man” (John 19:5), failed to invoke the desired pity among the crowds, it did (unbeknownst to Pilate) allude to profound insights into the person of Christ—including His identity as the God-Man, the Second Adam, and the Lamb of God. 

(To learn more about these allusions, see the Bible Says Commentary for John 19:4-5).

This was Pilate’s third attempt to release Jesus. 

Biblical Text

22 And he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has this man done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; therefore I will punish Him and release Him.”




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