It’s best to understand from the outset what he is on trial for. Before the Sanhedrin the accusation was “blasphemy” (he claimed to be God), and before Pilate the question is “Are you the king of the Jews?” (23.3). This is the vital problem, and all four gospels have Pilate asking this question. The Jews have sent him to Pilate with this accusation (or else Pilate would not have accepted the case). The specific wording would be an accusation of treason against the emperor.
Jesus is fully aware that “king of the Jews” is capable of more than one definition, so he is tactful with his answer: “You have said so.” He is not admitting either to the affirmative or negative, but is actually putting the question back on his inquisitor. In other words, as with Annas, Pilate is now on trial, not Jesus. Jesus is “asking” Pilate to define the sense in which he is and is not a king.
Pilate, the consummate politician, tries to end the proceedings, but the Jews keep stirring the pot with accusations of political upheaval: “He stirs up the people all over Judea!” Pilate learned that Jesus was Galilean, and sends him to Herod.
Herod was a shallow but unpredictable man, a loose cannon of pride and superficiality. He was hoping for a show out of Jesus, but Jesus gave him nothing—not even answers to his questions. Not being a man of depth and lacking a coherent plan of how to deal with Jesus, Herod had some sport with him and sent him back to Pilate. Pilate rules that there is no actionable case of treason against Jesus, leaving it that the only legitimate thing he is being accused of is claiming to be God.
Several points interest me. First, if there was ever a misunderstanding to straighten out, this would be it. A quick way to end the trial and torture to follow would be to renege and say, “Listen, boys, I’m sorry you misunderstood. I never claimed to be God. Somewhere there must have been a miscommunication.” Obviously Jesus let the accusation stand as accurate.
Secondly, its intriguing how much of a threat to the system this simple man and his message were. Both the Jews and the Romans were defending themselves against what they perceived to be a serious threat. Since Jesus was not indicating the real possibility of armed and violent revolt, the message of his words must have seemed to them of intense political and religious relevance. Is it just possible that they could sense in his presence an earth-shaking, culture shattering, life-changing substance? Amazing.