Luke 23 details the darkest day of the life and ministry of Jesus, and indeed—at least from one perspective—the darkest day in all of human history: the unjust trial, sentencing, death, and burial of Jesus. From one perspective, this is completely dark; it is unjust, it is absolutely sinful. At the same time, it is what Luke has been telling us “it is necessary” to happen. Jesus Himself said this would happen, and through this darkness, God accomplishes what we never could have: the settling of wrath over sin.
Pilate confesses Jesus to be the King of the Jews! And Jesus affirms this. Pilate confesses truth, yet we are unsure if it’s in faith or not. This is something not to be missed; often people (and demons!) confess the truth about God, and specifically about Jesus, yet they do not always do so in faith.
Jesus is a “hot potato” for the political leaders. There’s nothing that they can find to actually convict Him of wrongdoing. Pilate especially wants nothing to do with convicting an innocent man. It becomes crystal clear that Jesus is being treated wrongly here.
Pilate ultimately gives in to the crowds’ demands for “justice”. There seems to be a good argument that Pilate did this to avoid an uprising by the Jewish people, something that he desperately wanted to avoid because it had happened before and it threatened his position as a governor of the land in the Roman hierarchy. Historian Paul Meier’s book Pilate, though technically a historical fiction book, gives some great insight into the surrounding political context.
The accounts of the journey to the cross and the crucifixion are so well known. Keep in mind that Jesus did all of this, knowing full well what was going on, and allowing Himself to suffer all of it for our sake. A couple more notes of irony here: The mocking by the criminal (v. 39) again confesses the truth that Jesus is in fact saving people at this point, but does not confess it in faith. As well, the inscription also confesses the truth, yet may have been intended to mock. Or, possibly, it could be an actual confession of faith by Pilate, subverting the mocking of the Jewish leaders at the thought that Jesus was in fact their king.
It’s important to notice that Jesus committed Himself to His death. His life was not taken from Him; He offered it freely for our sake. (See also John 10:17-18.)
Joseph of Arimathea is an interesting figure; he is a member of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council) yet seems to have been a believer that Jesus in fact was the Messiah. His action here is an example of an act of faith-full service.