“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is an ancient proverb from India, predating the Lord Jesus by about four centuries. It is generally used to forge military alliances between non-allied nations against a common foe. For example, the United States and France were not allies at the time of the American Revolution, but both had Great Britain as a common enemy at the time, leading France to assist the States in their war for independence.
In today’s reading we find a similar situation, but even more intriguing. Both Pilate and Herod viewed Jesus as an enemy. Pilate not so much holding Jesus as a personal enemy, but an obstacle to ruling in peace and keeping the Jews in check. Herod Antipas, on the other hand, viewed Jesus as a specific threat to his reign in Judea, not unlike his father Herod the Great (cf Matthew 2).
But unlike our ancient proverb, Herod and Pilate were not unaffiliated. The text makes it clear that these two were themselves enemies of one another (v 12). It was only their mutual fear of and contempt for Jesus that caused them to set aside their differences and join themselves against their common foe.
What a tragic choice on the part of both men! Herod well knew of the teaching and deeds of this remarkable man from Galilee. And Jesus knew Herod well also (cf Luke 13:32).
To me, Pilate is the most tragic of all the characters in this scene. The Bible tells us Pilate believed that Jesus was innocent (v 4, 14). He recognized Herod’s own lack of charges against Jesus (v 15). Pilate wanted to release Jesus (v 20). He knew that the Jews had delivered up Jesus because of their envy (Mark 15:10). He had even been warned by his own wife not to deal treacherously with Jesus, as she had “suffered many things in a dream because of Him” (Matt 27:19).
Yet, in spite of his own investigation, the marvel of the man who had been brought before him, his distrust of Jesus’ accusers, and the testimony of his own wife, Pilate chose friendship with the world (the Jews and Herod), making him the enemy of God (James 4:4).
He should’ve made himself a friend of Jesus.