“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.” When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.” (Luke 23:4–12, ESV)
“But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.” (John 18:39–40, ESV)
Earlier in the book of Luke we read, “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas...” (Luke 3:1–2, ESV). Luke records for us that after Jesus was first brought to Pilate who ruled over Judea, He was then sent to Herod who was the ruler over Galilee and was also in Jerusalem at the time.
Looking at John and the other gospels it is a bit difficult to figure exactly where this happened, but it seems most reasonable that it occurred after Pilate had declared Jesus not guilty and before the crowd was presented with the choice between Jesus and Barabbas which would have put it between verses 38 and 39 of John chapter 18. The Jews did not get the satisfaction that they wanted from Pilate and they continued to press Him, to which the Jews responded that not only had He stirred people up in Judea (Pilate’s jurisdiction) but He also did so in Galilee. It was when Pilate heard the word “Galilee” that he asked if Jesus was a Galilean, and finding out that He was, Pilate thought he had his out and sent Him to Herod.
As I read this I thought of the words of a 1970 rock opera I was familiar with even before I became a Christian. From “Jesus Christ Superstar” I remembered the words, “You're Herod's race! You're Herod's case!” Pilate having heard that Jesus was a Galilean thought he could now wash his hands of Jesus and he sent Him away to Herod. Luke also recorded for us that Herod was very glad to see Jesus. Whereas years before Herod was the one who had John the Baptist put to death, now Herod wanted to meet Jesus and hopefully see for himself some of the signs that he had heard that Jesus had done. So Herod tried to push Jesus into putting on a personal show and answer his questions, but Jesus remained silent, not answering Herod’s questions. Observing this, we read that the chief priests and scribes stood there all along strongly and loudly accusing Him. It must have been quite a scene as Herod pressed Jesus to respond and His accusers stood there trying to press their point. I can only imagine how it might even have made Herod seem powerless, frustrated, and even foolish. With all of his appointed power he was unable in front of witnesses to get this one man to respond to what he demanded. As things continued we read that Herod and his soldiers grew in contempt for Jesus and began to mock Him. They even went so far in mocking Him that they dressed Him in splendid clothing (as if a king), and still not receiving any satisfaction they eventually sent Him back to Pilate.
Luke writes that it was then that these two men, Herod and Pilate, who had little use for each other became friends with each being equally on the same side of an issue. Neither man found real fault with Jesus nor did either man really want to deal with Him. But the Jews were not going to let them off the hook. Herod had washed His hands and sent Him back to Pilate and again Pilate was forced with dealing with a very volatile situation. Trying to maneuver his way out of it Pilate came back out to speak to the Jews and offered them a solution by which he would save face and Jesus, who he felt innocent, would be set free.
It seems that in striving to have a balanced relationship with the Jews there was a custom of setting a prisoner from among the Jews free at Passover. I don’t know whether his wording was intentionally inflammatory or not, but he went out to the Jews and offered them the release of Jesus referring to Him as “the King of the Jews.” The very charge they brought against Jesus to Pilate was being turned back around on them as Pilate offered to release Him as charged. Of course the Jews were not going to accept the offer, but rather chose the known robber Barabbas to be set free instead. But Barabbas was more than just a common run of the mill robber. The word actually means plunderer, and in Acts we have the words of Peter who was witness to the event, “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,” (Acts 3:13–14, ESV). Peter called Barabbas a murderer. Clearly Barabbas was a bad person, and they chose him over Jesus. They chose this man of evil over the innocent Son of God, not because of anything that Jesus had done wrong but because He was a threat to what they held dear.
It is an amazing thing when hatred becomes so strong that evil grows in acceptability. But this is the way of Satan. He is the father of evil and destruction, and he will do all that he can to thwart God’s plan so that evil might flourish. These Jews did not know God. They might have known the words of the law, but they did not know God. The hardness of their hearts and their actions were driven not by a love of God, but by their own selfish desires which were consistent with the will and actions of the devil himself. And as the people refused to look to God evil was set free in their midst. This was what they requested by the release of Barabbas, and it is what happens today when man refuses to look to and trust in the Father and the Son whom He sent.
Peter continued speaking to the Jews in Acts saying, ““And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus,” … “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”” (Acts 3:17-20, 26, ESV)
All was not over for the Jews having made the choice of Barabbas over Jesus. Peter told them all they had to do was to turn and to trust and they would be saved. The same is true for all of mankind. The Bible says that by believing in Jesus we will be forgiven of our sins and given new life in Christ.
Joshua said at the end of his life, “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served … and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve…. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14–15, ESV)
Jesus said, ““For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95)