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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

Trials

John 18:13-40, Matthew 26:57 - 27:26, Mark 14:53 - 15:15, Luke 22:63 - 23:25

(A note: it can sometimes be confusing to reconcile the Gospel accounts as to the number and type of trials. I have followed Thomas and Gundry on this; other accounts vary slightly.)

The trials of Jesus are a great example of overcoming evil with righteousness. If you will recall that the purpose of Christ was to be the Passover lamb for our sin, you will see that his innocence is clearly shown here – and thus his fitness for God’s purpose.

Jewish Trials

The Trial before Annas

{16} but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in. {17} "You are not one of his disciples, are you?" the girl at the door asked Peter. He replied, "I am not." {18} It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself. {19} Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. {20} "I have spoken openly to the world," Jesus replied. "I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. {21} Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said." {22} When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. "Is this the way you answer the high priest?" he demanded. {23} "If I said something wrong," Jesus replied, "testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?" {24} Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.

The High Priest, Caiaphas, begins the trial (if we may call it that) with two sets of questions:

·         First, who are your disciples? A most important question if you are trying to break up a movement. Throughout the Jewish phase of the trials we shall see that Jesus’ accusers are strongly of the opinion that he has come to kick them out of their place. In one sense they are right. Naturally, they want the names of the accomplices. Jesus, however, is still holding to God’s will that not one of his sheep will be lost.

·         Next, there is the matter of his teaching. Jesus is silent on the matter of his disciples, but his defense here is that of a righteous man. The facts are plain; he has spoken openly in the Temple. He has nothing to hide. His apparent righteousness is so strong that frustration takes hold, and one of them strikes him. Jesus, again, is righteousness itself. If something is wrong, let it be identified; otherwise, why did you hit me? He is relying here on the principle of Jewish law (like our own) that does not require a person to incriminate himself.

It is not that Jesus is expecting justice. He is showing us righteousness, which is a different purpose altogether. Justice he will not have, for this is the house of Annas:

·         Annas and his family have a nice little business: these are the folks who have the monopoly on money changing and “acceptable” sacrifices in the Temple. It was not unusual for sacrifices to bring 20 times the market price. This is extortion in the name of God. Jesus, you will recall, has twice cleared out this lovely little racket.

·         They’re also a bunch of toadies. They maintain this position of power by being the willing, pliable tools of the conquering Roman Empire.

Second and Third Trials

Note that some scholars do not see a third trial. It appears, however, that Matthew recounts a trial at night and Luke one in the morning. The results of both were the same. The most likely explanation is that the Sanhedrin, which was not supposed to meet at night for a trial, was assembled partially during the night and fully at daybreak.

(Mat 26:57-68 NIV) Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. {58} But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome. {59} The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. {60} But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward {61} and declared, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.'" {62} Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" {63} But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." {64} "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." {65} Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. {66} What do you think?" "He is worthy of death," they answered. {67} Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him {68} and said, "Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?"

(Mark 14:53-65 NIV) They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. {54} Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. {55} The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. {56} Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. {57} Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: {58} "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.'" {59} Yet even then their testimony did not agree. {60} Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" {61} But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" {62} "I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." {63} The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. {64} "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death. {65} Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, "Prophesy!" And the guards took him and beat him.

(Luke 22:63-71 NIV) The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. {64} They blindfolded him and demanded, "Prophesy! Who hit you?" {65} And they said many other insulting things to him. {66} At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. {67} "If you are the Christ, " they said, "tell us." Jesus answered, "If I tell you, you will not believe me, {68} and if I asked you, you would not answer. {69} But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God." {70} They all asked, "Are you then the Son of God?" He replied, "You are right in saying I am." {71} Then they said, "Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips."

Jesus now makes things easy for them in a sense. He tells them the truth they are afraid to hear. First, however, they try it their way. They bring in a stack of witnesses who seem to have some difficulty in getting their stories straight. This is a problem with conspiracies; sometimes the bribed witness forgets his lines. Jesus again meets this with the silence it deserves. The moral force of his character must have been overwhelming to them.

One can imagine that the Jews now have a problem. The witnesses are not agreeing and daybreak is coming on. The less cynical members of the Sanhedrin will soon arrive. On another occasion[1] one of their members kept them from excess. What are they to do?

They put the question to Jesus, and (as the High Priest should) for once they get it right. “Are you the Christ?” The High Priest, who in Levitical law was to offer the sacrifice for sins, places the question to him.

Jesus reply is quite simple.

·         He says, by Mark’s Gospel, “I AM.” Nothing could be more succinct and final than this. It is the name of God. He probably said it in Aramaic, possibly Greek, but in Hebrew it is the name of God and they knew it.

·         Just to make the point absolutely certain to them, he quotes Daniel 7:13. This is one of the clearest of Messianic prophecies (which relates, by the way, to his second coming).

There is no doubt what he is saying: I am the Messiah, I am God in the flesh. The claim is so outrageous, so completely beyond mankind, that it has had “reasonable” men for two thousand years saying that he could not have meant it. The dilemma is this: for the rationalist, Jesus just couldn’t be God. Therefore, if he said he was, then he must be crazy (and the world record holder at it). But everything else he says is sane and shrewd. So he’s not crazy. So he must not have said it, right? But he did.

The Roman Trials

A glance at the diagram will be of assistance in determining where these trials happened:

map

 

(Mat 27:11-14 NIV) Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. {12} When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. {13} Then Pilate asked him, "Don't you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?" {14} But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge--to the great amazement of the governor. (Mark 15:1-5 NIV) Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate. {2} "Are you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate. "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. {3} The chief priests accused him of many things. {4} So again Pilate asked him, "Aren't you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of." {5} But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. (Luke 23:1-5 NIV) Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. {2} And they began to accuse him, saying, "We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king." {3} So Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. {4} Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, "I find no basis for a charge against this man." {5} But they insisted, "He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here." (John 18:28-38 NIV) Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. {29} So Pilate came out to them and asked, "What charges are you bringing against this man?" {30} "If he were not a criminal," they replied, "we would not have handed him over to you." {31} Pilate said, "Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law." "But we have no right to execute anyone," the Jews objected. {32} This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled. {33} Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" {34} "Is that your own idea," Jesus asked, "or did others talk to you about me?" {35} "Am I a Jew?" Pilate replied. "It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?" {36} Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place." {37} "You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." {38} "What is truth?" Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, "I find no basis for a charge against him.

The Jews hope to get this over with quickly, and without a lot of fuss. Pilate, a Roman, disappoints them. Throughout the entire set of trials we will see Pilate looking for an easy way out. He won’t find it.

The first tactic is simply to use the policeman’s argument: we wouldn’t have brought him in if he wasn’t guilty of something! Pilate is too experienced a bureaucrat to fall for that. They want him to take responsibility for their actions. He tells them, “do it yourself.” It becomes obvious that they must formulate a charge which

·         Is known to Roman law, and

·         Carries with it the death penalty.

That charge is sedition, or the making of a rebellion against Rome. Being “king of the Jews” is not a crime in Roman law, unless you don’t acknowledge the emperor. So Pilate questions him.

·         At first, to the various acts charged, he maintains silence. This astonishes Pilate greatly – the Jews must have been great talkers.

·         But when it comes to the “I AM” question – here put in words the Roman would understand – Jesus explains it clearly. The kingdom is not of this world. It is a great explanation of the kingdom that the servants do not fight. The servants of the kingdom of God do God’s will, and His will is that Jesus will go to the cross. We are in the world, not of it.

·         That kingdom is intrinsically bound up with truth. Pilate, the one man in this drama who appears thoroughly modern in his thinking, is too much a cynic to know truth when it stands before him. “What is truth?” he says. It is the sad cynicism of our time that truth cannot be known. It is the glory of the church that truth can be known – in person.

Herod’s Trial

(Luke 23:6-12 NIV) On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. {7} When he learned that Jesus was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. {8} When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. {9} He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. {10} The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. {11} Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. {12} That day Herod and Pilate became friends--before this they had been enemies.

There are three sad points about Herod:

·         First, like so many, he wanted a miracle. He did not want the God of miracles, only the effect. Magic, not holiness, was his aim.

·         And so God was silent before him. God is not a tame lion to be commanded about by the kings of earth.

·         For his part in sending the innocent of innocents to death, he became a conspirator. Herod and Pilate became friends, because they connived together. Friendship by mutual shame brought the tool of the Roman Senate (Herod) together with Caesar’s representative (Pilate).

He now sends him back to Pilate for the last trial.

Second Trial Before Pilate
(Mat 27:15-26 NIV) Now it was the governor's custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. {16} At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. {17} So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" {18} For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him. {19} While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this message: "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him." {20} But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. {21} "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" asked the governor. "Barabbas," they answered. {22} "What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?" Pilate asked. They all answered, "Crucify him!" {23} "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!" {24} When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!" {25} All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" {26} Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:6-15 NIV) Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. {7} A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. {8} The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. {9} "Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate, {10} knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. {11} But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. {12} "What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?" Pilate asked them. {13} "Crucify him!" they shouted. {14} "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!" {15} Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Luke 23:13-25 NIV) Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, {14} and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. {15} Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. {16} Therefore, I will punish him and then release him." {17} {18} With one voice they cried out, "Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!" {19} (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) {20} Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. {21} But they kept shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" {22} For the third time he spoke to them: "Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him." {23} But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. {24} So Pilate decided to grant their demand. {25} He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will. (John 18:39-40 NIV) But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release 'the king of the Jews'?" {40} They shouted back, "No, not him! Give us Barabbas!" Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.
(John 19:1-16 NIV) Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. {2} The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe {3} and went up to him again and again, saying, "Hail, king of the Jews!" And they struck him in the face. {4} Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him." {5} When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!" {6} As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, "Crucify! Crucify!" But Pilate answered, "You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him." {7} The Jews insisted, "We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God." {8} When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, {9} and he went back inside the palace. "Where do you come from?" he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. {10} "Do you refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" {11} Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." {12} From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar." {13} When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge's seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). {14} It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. "Here is your king," Pilate said to the Jews. {15} But they shouted, "Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!" "Shall I crucify your king?" Pilate asked. "We have no king but Caesar," the chief priests answered. {16} Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.

Pilate is now nervous, for he has been warned.

·         He has been warned by his sense of justice. The Romans were renowned for bringing justice and law, and all his training revolts against this.

·         He has been warned by his conscience.

·         He has been warned by his wife’s dream – a thing taken most seriously in that time.

So he comes up with what he thinks will be an acceptable answer. The man is clearly innocent as far as Rome is concerned (and he does not care what the Jewish law says). But I’m willing to go half way with you: I’ll flog this guy and then let him go. In fact, I will do this as an act of mercy which is customary at Passover. (The Romans often catered this way to local customs of conquered people). Then he offers them a choice: this Jesus, or the local villain, Barabbas.

It’s a shrewd move. Barabbas is the obvious menace; Jesus has upset the priests. The law and order types clearly don’t want Barabbas out on the streets again.

It didn’t work. The priestly propaganda machine is at work, and nothing but Jesus’ blood will do

He now tries to pass the buck again, because the sweating is getting serious. The Jews explain the charge – that he claims to be the son of God. Pilate probably isn’t quite sure what that means, but it there’s even the remotest chance it’s true – and this guy has been behaving strangely all day – then he wants no part of it. First he appeals to Jesus (hey, give me a little help here fellow – don’t you realize you could get crucified today?). When that doesn’t work, he tries just once to face it like a man.

He goes back to the crowd and states the obvious. There simply isn’t a charge against this man. He’s done nothing. What is your problem here? All he gets back is mob reaction. He is now in a pickle. He tries to release the man.

There is a critical point here. Every one who sins hands Satan a handle with which to manipulate him. Pilate has done his share; he has his guilt. The Jews know a bureaucrat by his weakness. As the phrase goes, no guts, no glory. And Pilate has no guts.

The dirty deed is sealed. Pilate puts it to them as patriotic Jews: should I crucify your king? The bargain is made. The priests, the crowd and all ratify the agreement:: you crucify him – we will have no king but Caesar.

Pilate is not done. There is one last step: he symbolically proclaims his innocence in this. He washes his hands of the matter, literally. Matthew’s account tells us that they ratify this too: “His blood be upon us and our children.” For the next 1900 years that was tragically the case. It is no excuse for persecution, but the rejection of the Messiah by the Jewish nation caused them to become, as the King James Version had it, a “hiss and a byword” from then on.

In stark contrast we see the way of God contrasted with the way of the world. The man of God defies the world with overcoming righteousness. The world replies with its greatest power, the power of death. It is the power of man to kill. It is the power of God to give life. One must decide which power one will obey.


[1] Acts 5:34

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