At the time when Pilate and Herod made friends, there was an astonishing contrast between the united front of the enemies of Jesus and the complete disarray of his friends. (‘And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves,’ Luke 23: 12.)
At this time, the kings and princes of the earth were combining and conspiring against the Lord’s Anointed. Judas betrayed him to an armed squad of chief priests, captains of the temple, and elders. The whole multitude of the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes took him to Pilate. Herod and his men of war set him at nought and mocked him. The people all shouted together that he should be crucified. All these groups coalesced in their desire to have Jesus destroyed. Whatever normally divided them, they now discovered a common cause in wanting rid of him.
Meanwhile, Jesus stood alone. The disciples had fled and scattered. Their perplexity and confusion must have been extreme – they had trusted that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel, and that now seemed impossible. It must have been incomprehensible, not to mention how the circumstances were so shocking and so humiliating. Their Saviour was being put to death as if he was a common criminal, and who could fathom what that would mean for the trustworthiness of God or their soul’s salvation.
But the reality of the whole situation was nothing like how it appeared on the surface. On the one hand, the isolation of Jesus’ followers was quite illusory. In fact, this was the one time when their oneness and unity was most starkly real. Although Jesus was standing alone, he was standing for them all. They were all gathered up together in him, and taking them as a most complete whole he was caring for them, acting for them, and holding them completely safe. He looked, and there was none to help, and he wondered that there was none to uphold – therefore his own arm brought salvation. He died for us, they would later realise. It was one for the many. As he was their covenant representative, the interests of these many, their pasts, their sins, their futures, their souls’ salvation, were all condensed and concentrated into one burden that he carried alone, and everything for them depended on how he would succeed in what happened on the cross.
And on the cross, on their behalf, he was successful – a conqueror, victorious. Not just that he suffered voluntarily (although there is something impressive about voluntary suffering), and not just that he complied with the Father’s will and fulfilled all the prophecies about himself. He was victorious on the cross in the sense that he actually achieved what he had to do, and really defeated his and his people’s enemies. He actually made atonement, he actually propitiated the wrath of God and actually expiated their sins. He really and truly spoiled principalities and powers, triumphing over them in his cross. All he did was for his people – all those innumerable individuals collected together and considered as lined up behind him, sheltering under his care, carried on his strong shoulders, united to him, identified as one with him.
Meanwhile, the united front of his enemies was itself a facade. Although they all had in common an inveterate hostility to God, they each took their own way of expressing it, and combined with the others only to the extent that it suited their own selfish ends. Everyone on the broad way carves out their own track to walk in, and the root cause of their befriending any fellow travellers is never honestly altruistic. Although it is a fact that they too have their own covenant representative in Adam, this is something they grudge against and resent – they would disown their first father if they could, so as to stand on their own two feet and speak in their own defence, no matter how impotent and incompetent they are to do so. This all-consuming impulse to individualism means that they accept neither their own covenant representative, Adam, nor the only other possible covenant representative, Christ. In spite of Christ being a fully qualified Saviour who invariably saves to the uttermost, it’s the hardest thing of all for a sinner to entrust themselves to him – the most entrenched position of the sinner’s heart is their determined resistance against giving up their autonomy to anyone else on the question of their soul’s salvation, their wilful insistence on staying responsible for their own eternal destiny, even though the strategy is suicidal.
So although a Pilate and a Herod may temporarily join forces to reject the Lord and his Anointed, there is ultimately no more lonely place than to stand in opposition to Jesus. In the confrontation between individual me and the holy God, there is no question but that things are hopeless for that sinful puny I – and that that hopelessness persists however many other individuals also choose to array themselves against him. The only thing that guarantees a lasting and honourable solidarity, or meaningful acceptance, belonging, togetherness, is oneness with Christ – it’s the oneness of his people in Jesus that overrides all their differences, and makes it certain that they all will be forgiven and kept eternally safe. It’s because he lives, that they will live also.