We now come to the most disturbing, evil part of the account of the life of Christ, His mock “trial” by what can best be described as a “kangaroo-court“, and His crucifixion. We are only going to look at the first part of His “trial” this week, and we will look at the second part of His “trial” and the “verdict” next week.
This was a cosmic miscarriage of “justice“, crucifying the Incarnate Son of God.
Jesus before the Priests
12 So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, 13 and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people. (John 18:12-14)
Jesus went willingly…
Annas was one of the most influential Jewish leaders of that era, and although he had been deposed from the high priesthood by the Romans, he still wielded significant clout. That Jesus was being tried at night was a significant irregularity, and capitol-crimes were not supposed to be tried on the eve of a Sabbath or feast day. They were violating their own laws!
Jesus’ appearance before Annas was probably a “preliminary-hearing“, because He also appeared before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, where He was finally “convicted“. As if the Jewish religious leaders weren’t corrupt enough on their own, they even sought out “false-witnesses” to bolster their “case” against Jesus. “Truth” didn’t matter. All they cared about was carrying out their “agenda“. They not only violated the Law of God, they also violated their own regulations for legal-proceedings.
15 Simon Peter was following Jesus, and so was another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, 16 but Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in. 17 Then the slave-girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself. (John 18:15-18)
Simon Peter followed Jesus to this first “hearing“, as did John (another disciple). How or why John was “known” to the high priest is unknown, but he was, and he went into the court with Jesus. Simon Peter stayed outside in the court-yard, which sets up his denial of His Lord, which he had claimed that “he would never do“. John must have had some clout, because he was able to bring Peter inside with him. Of all the people who could have confronted Peter about one of Jesus’ disciples, the “slave-girl” who was the door-keeper would seem to have been the least “intimidating“, but Peter, possibly to avoid “trouble“, denied his Lord. So much for “Mr. Tough-guy“…
19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. 21 Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.” 22 When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?” 24 So Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. (John 18:19-24)
Annas wanted to know what kind of “corrupt” teaching Jesus had been doing, possibly trying to figure out why Jesus had such a loyal-following, but Jesus wasn’t going to give him any more “ammunition“. If he thought he was going to get Jesus to contradict Himself, that WASN’T going to happen. Jesus simply told him to ask other people about Him, but that answer wasn’t “good-enough” for Annas. Evidently one of the court-officers didn’t like it either, because he took a swing at Jesus. Never mind that what he did was illegal. This was a “kangaroo-court“, so “legal” or “illegal” didn’t matter. Unable to get the “answers” he was looking for, Annas sent Jesus to Caiaphas, who was just as corrupt as he was, if not worse.
Peter’s Denial of Jesus
25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” He denied it, and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” 27 Peter then denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed. (John 18:25-27)
As Peter was warming himself by the fire, someone else confronted him about being one of Jesus’ disciples. His simple denial, “I am not“, wasn’t good enough for someone who had seen him in the Garden with Jesus, particularly since Peter had taken a swipe with his sword at one of his relatives. 74 Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:74-75) Poor Peter had been caught “red-handed“. Sorry Peter, “three-strikes, and you are OUT“. That fateful rooster crowed, and Peter realized that he had “blown-it” big-time. How could Jesus ever trust him again?
For many of us, myself included, there have been times in our lives when it was difficult to figure out which “side” we were on, because, while claiming to be a “Christian“, we were acting like a “heathen“. I wasn’t “pastor-material” twenty-five years ago, and neither was Peter or Paul, but God can uses “messes” like us to fulfill His purposes. It also during those times when God’s abundant grace, mercy and forgiveness are the sweetest. It is amazing what God can do.
Jesus faces the Sanhedrin
55 Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and they were not finding any. 56 For many were giving false testimony against Him, but their testimony was not consistent. 57 Some stood up and began to give false testimony against Him, saying, 58 “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’” 59 Not even in this respect was their testimony consistent.
60 The high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” 61 But He kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? 64 You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. 65 Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, “Prophesy!” And the officers received Him with slaps in the face. (Mark 14:55-65)
First of all, we must understand that the Jewish religious leaders had already given their verdict, that Jesus must die was a forgone conclusion, so now they are going to try to find “evidence” to support their verdict. Now, mind you, this was the same bunch of creeps who had tried to get Jesus arrested before and even tried to stone Him. Their hatred of Jesus was way over-the-top. Even though their corruption and hatred are obvious to us, there was nobody “grading their homework” back then. They WERE the “top-dogs“. When they were finally able to find some “witnesses” who were willing to give false-testimony against Jesus, no two agreed on their testimony.
At his wits-end, the high priest finally stood up and asked Jesus “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” Jesus wasn’t even going to straighten the false-witnesses out, so finally the high priest asked “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” This question was either going to make or break their case, because if Jesus said “No“, He would be lying, and if He said “Yes“, they could accuse Him of blasphemy, which was a capitol-offense.
62 And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Jesus was either a liar or a fraud, or who He said He is, but His answer needed no further clarification. Notice that He used His favorite title for Himself, Son of Man, which He used more frequently than any other title throughout His earthly-ministry.
63 Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? 64 You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” The high priest had caught Jesus in His own mouth-trap. He now had all the “evidence” he needed to render the verdict, and things were going to get even uglier from then on.
And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. 65 Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, “Prophesy!” And the officers received Him with slaps in the face.
All pretenses of human-decency went out the window, as they who were supposed to be so “holy” started behaving like school-yard-bullies. Even though they claimed to be “children of Abraham“, they were acting like “children of the devil“. Jesus had nailed them back in John 8:44. “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Now, all they had to do was get Pilate to agree with their verdict…
Jesus before Pilate
28 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover. 29 Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” 30 They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.” 31 So Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.” The Jews said to him, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death,” 32 to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die. (John 18:28-32)
We have an interesting scene here. The Jews didn’t want to become “ceremonially-unclean” by entering the Roman governor’s mansion, which also doubled as a courthouse, so Pilate had to go out to them. One might wonder what their ceremonial condition was after the role they played in putting the Son of God to death! They were so concerned about ceremonial-purity, but it was all for outward-show.
What was their true spiritual-condition? Their hearts were totally-corrupt. Only the Romans could impose the death-penalty and execute prisoners, and since the Jews had been unable to “silence” Jesus any other way, the only way they could “get-rid” of Jesus was to have Him crucified, but they had to convince Pilate first.
29 Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” Pilate wanted to know why the Jews were bothering him with their “problems”, particularly first-thing in the morning. First, they had hornswoggled him out of a contingent of Roman soldiers, and now they were expecting him to try this poor guy. What was up with that? Couldn’t they handle their own problems?
30 They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.” Could they have gotten any LESS SPECIFIC? “Evildoer”? What kind of mischief had Jesus gotten Himself into to be an “evildoer”? They were grasping at straws that didn’t exist.
31 So Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.” Get Him out of here and handle your own problems. DON’T BOTHER ME WITH YOUR PROBLEMS!!!
The Jews said to him, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death,” Since when? That hadn’t kept them from trying to stone Jesus, or wanting to stone the woman who had been “caught” in adultery (John 8:2-12). That also didn’t keep them from stoning Stephen in Acts 7:57-60. They wanted Pilate to do their dirty-work for them.
32 to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die. ( As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; (John 3:14)) Jesus had made it abundantly clear that He was going to be crucified.
33 Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom was of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” 37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”
There was no love-lost between the Jews and the Romans, and Pilate had no desire to be the Jew’s “hatchet-man“, BUT, if he didn’t placate the Jews somehow, he might have a riot on his hands, which would NOT have looked good if word got back to his superiors. His whole political-career was on the line, and one misstep could have sent him packing. Pilate was stuck between the proverbial “rock and a hard-spot“. How was he going to save his “neck” and save Jesus also? In the end, he couldn’t have it both ways.
“Are You the King of the Jews?” Was Jesus a threat to his authority and political-career? If Jesus was, Pilate would have to quash that rebellion immediately. After all, the Jews were looking for a “Messiah” who would throw the Romans out and liberate the Jews, which would be bad-news for the Romans.
34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” Jesus wasn’t very sympathetic with Pilate’s predicament. Had Pilate figured this out on his own, or had the Jews “snitched” on Jesus. 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I?” Pilate WASN’T a Jew, so it was highly-unlikely that he would have known about the Messianic-prophesies on his own. “Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” Pilate was basically asking Jesus “what He had done to tick the Jews off”. It must have been pretty-bad for them to drag Jesus before Pilate.
In our world, where we never know what or who to believe, where lies and half-truths are peddled to us constantly, where “political-correctness” and “situational-ethics” reign supreme, “What is truth?” remains the question of the ages. It wasn’t just poor Pilate who had no clue what the truth was, we also struggle with that same question.
Unknown to Pilate, but Jesus had answered that question for us, when He said “I am the way, the truth and the life”. The answer to the great question about truth is that Jesus is the very embodiment of Truth. I seek to proclaim the truth, but I am NOT the truth.
And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him…
Next time, we will look at “Jesus on Trial – The Verdict”, so stay tuned.
Sola Deo Gloria!