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Luke 23:23-25 meaning

The Crowd Prevails and Pilate's Verdict: The crowd was insistently loud in demanding that Jesus be crucified. Eventually their voices began to prevail so that Pilate granted their wishes. He released Barabbas for them, but gave Jesus over to their murderous will. This passage concludes Luke's account of the third and final phase of Jesus's Civil Trial. This phase is called: "Pilate's Judgment."

Matthew 27:23b-26, Mark 15:14b-15, John 19:4-8, 19:12-16 contain more expansive parallel Gospel accounts of this passage.

Unlike Matthew or John, Luke's Gospel does not detail the dramatic arguments and counter arguments between Pilate and the chief priests during the later moments of the third phase of Jesus's civil trial (Matthew 27:24-25, John 19:4-15). Instead of focusing on the arguments, Luke focuses on the effect that the crowd's loud voices had in wearing Pilate down until he gave into their demand

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)

To learn more about the timing and sequencing of these events, see The Bible Says' "Timeline: Jesus's Final 24 Hours."

Following the crowd's rejection of Pilate's offer to pardon and release Jesus (Luke 23:18), the governor had Jesus scourged, despite His innocence (Luke 23:22, John 19:1) as an attempt to satisfy the crowd's demands for punishment. It did not work. In fact, the governor's desire to appease them appears to have signaled weakness to the Jewish leaders and encouraged them to press their advantage.

The Crowd's Loud Persistence
Luke writes: But they were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified (v 23a).

The crowd, led by the chief priests (Matthew 27:20, Mark 15:11, Luke 23:4) was unpersuaded at the sight of seeing Jesus mutilated by the Roman scourging and humiliated by the mocking crown of thorns and "kingly robe" when Pilate presented Him after the flogging (John 19:4-6). They remained as insistent as ever. 

With loud voices, they were asking that Jesus be crucified. The crowd was vocalizing their anger. And they were directing their disapproval toward the governor because he desired to release Jesus (John 19:12, Acts 3:13b), whom he believed was innocent (Luke 23:4, 23:14-15, 23:22

Luke writes their voices were loud. It was getting noisy. The noise was likely the result of both the crowds' intense shouting (Matthew 27:23); and the fact that it had grown to be so large, which amplified their voices. Previously Luke told us that they were shouting "Crucify, crucify Him!" (Luke 23:21). These shouts were possibly rage-filled chants that bore into Pilate's mind.

As the volume of sound increased it had an intimidating effect on Pilate who began to fear that a riot was starting (Matthew 27:24). 

How the Crowd Prevailed according to Matthew and John
In addition to the fact that they were insistent in asking that Jesus be crucified, John tells us some of the things the chief priests argued as the crowd shouted: "Crucify, crucify Him!" (Luke 23:21) in the background.

First, the chief priests changed their charges from insurrection (Luke 23:4) to blasphemy (John 19:7). They made this change possibly because they had shifted their focus from convincing Pilate to provoking the crowd, elevating their newfound leverage against Pilate

Pilate should have dismissed the case. Blasphemy is a religious crime of the Jews and was not a civil crime Rome particularly cared about. But Pilate did not dismiss the case. Probably because the insistent voices and noise of the crowd was beginning to cloud or overwhelm his judgment. Instead of dismissing the case, Pilate attempted to investigate their new charge by interviewing Jesus a second time (John 19:9-11).

The Bible Says commentary for Pilate's second interview with Jesus is available here

Then, the chief priests threatened Pilate by claiming that he opposed Caesar if he let Jesus go (John 19:12). They put the governor in a diabolical dilemma. They framed Pilate's choice as either being loyal to Caesar by crucifying Jesus, or betraying Caesar by letting Him go. 

The truth was that if Pilate followed Roman Law he would release an innocent Man. But there was also a good chance that if there was a riot, Pilate might lose his position. From Pilate's actions, it seems he was not willing to risk that outcome. So when the Jews framed his choice as an indication of loyalty to Caesar, they effectively cornered him to do their will

"Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat..." (John 19:13) to bring the trial to a close. Pilate then presented Jesus to the Jews as "your King" (John 19:14b). 

The governor seems to have done this as another attempt to release Jesus—for he knew the chief priests despised Jesus (Matthew 27:18, Mark 15:10) and they would resist accepting this title, but if they corrected Pilate, and denied that Jesus was their king, then they would be agreeing that Jesus was not an insurrectionist, nor a rival to Caesar, and therefore should be released. It was a brilliant political move. 

But the chief priests swept aside Pilate's framing and chose to blaspheme God rather than admit or deny that Jesus was their King. They responded: "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15b). For the Jews, only God is King. Caesar was merely one more illegitimate human tyrant in a long line of men who had conquered or oppressed the Jews (Pharaoh, Jabin, Nebuchadnezzar, Antiochus Epiphanes, etc.). 

Therefore, when the chief priests told Pilate "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15), they were really saying "We have no God but Caesar." They were in essence saying, "We will swear loyalty to Caesar if you will crucify Jesus, and we will riot and knock you out of office if you don't." It was quite a devilish and effective political maneuver. 

It was ironic that the chief priests brazenly (and hypocritically) committed the same sin (blasphemy) with which they falsely condemned Jesus (Matthew 26:65, Mark 14:64). 

To learn more about the significance of Pilate's question and the Jews' answer: "We have no king but Caesar,"—see The Bible Says Commentary for John 19:12-15

The chief priests' blasphemous assertion was their break-through to impose themselves on Pilate. Matthew writes:

"When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, 'I am innocent of this Man's blood; see to that yourselves.'"
(Matthew 27:24)

In a rather dramatic moment, Pilate washed his hands in front of the crowd as either a final appeal to the crowd to let him release Jesus, or a feeble attempt to assuage his guilt for the sin he was about to commit in condemning Jesus to death—or both. The crowd was quick to reassure Pilate.

"And all the people said, 'His blood shall be on us and on our children!'"
(Matthew 27:25)

To learn more about the significance of Pilate's handwashing and the bloody response from the crowd, see The Bible Says commentary for Matthew 27:24-25.

The combination of their persistence, loudness, and arguments unnerved the governor. He was overwhelmed by the intensity of these circumstances and caved to the pressure.

All of this Luke aptly summarized with his simple expression: And their voices began to prevail (v 23b).

Pilate's Verdict
And Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand be granted (v 24).

The sentence Pilate pronounced was that Jesus should be crucified. This was the sentence which the crowd had been so insistent upon. Their evil demand was finally granted.

Roman crucifixion entailed fastening its victims to a raised wooden beam by the wrists (often with nails) to hang there until death. Archeological evidence also shows that the ankles were sometimes nailed, not to each other at the front of the cross, but separately on either side of the main wooden beam. Crucifixions were done in public with the crimes posted for all passersby to see as a way to be deter future crime. 

Criminals would sometimes agonize on their crosses for days before they died from suffocation, dehydration, or cardiac arrest. The entire process was designed to be torturous and humiliating and serve as a deterrent for breaking Roman law.

After many diabolical twists and turns, the religious leaders' conspiracy to murder Jesus had achieved its goal. What was put in motion the night before—when Judas alarmed the priests that Jesus had identified Him as part of the plot twelve hours earlier—led to their:

  • scrambling to arrest Him; 
  • secretly and illegally gather for nighttime trials; 
  • flailing to find a charge; 
  • staging of a "crime" with which to condemn Him; 
  • retrying Him at sunrise; 
  • bringing Him before Pilate
  • following Him to Herod's court for an additional trial (without a guilty verdict); and 
  • relentlessly pressuring Pilate to crucify Him. 

This had all resulted in the verdict they sought. Jesus was put to death so that the priests and elders could keep their position within the nation (John 11:49-50).

Nothing about this outcome was a surprise to Jesus

He had foretold that He would be handed over and crucified (Matthew 20:18-19). 

None of this was a surprise to God. 

God foreknew, even before the world was created that this would happen (Revelation 13:8). God spoke of this when Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3:15). Isaiah makes it quite clear that it was the LORD's plan, will, and desire that Jesus be killed.

"But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him."
(Isaiah 53:10

"The things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled."
(Acts 3:18)

God sent His Son into the world so He would die for the sins of the world (John 3:16, Hebrews 10:5-9, 1 John 2:2, 4:10).

After stating how Pilate pronounced the executionary sentence, Luke explains the trial's dual outcomes:

And he released the man they were asking for who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, but he delivered Jesus to their will (v 25).

The trials two main outcomes were: Pilate's release of Barabbas (Luke 23:18)—the man they were asking for who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder; and Pilate's condemning Jesus (who was innocent of insurrection) to death when he delivered Him to the crowd's will

When Pilate released Barabbas (Matthew 27:26a, Mark 15:15a, Luke 23:25a), Barabbas's life is literally saved in a physical and legal sense. His liberation from Roman prison is a result of Jesus taking his place and being punished for his crimes. In this sense Barabbas (who was actually guilty of insurrection) becomes a visible illustration that Jesus (who was innocent and falsely condemned of insurrection) was sent to save sinners. 

It is appropriate that Jesus (the Savior of the world) literally dies in the place of a criminal. The moment he is pardoned, Barabbas immediately becomes a living breathing depiction of one who is saved by Jesus spiritually, through being given a new birth and life (John 3:3). Barabbas's earthly physical salvation is a graphic portrait of everyone who is saved spiritually from the penalty of sin—spiritual death and separation from God—through the death of Jesus who died on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

With Pilate's delivery of Jesus to their will, namely, that He be crucified, the third and final phase of Jesus's civil trial came to a close. 

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