THE RELIGIOUS TRIALS
(Mt 26.57-27.1; Mk 14.53-15.1; Lk 22.54-71; Jn 18.12-27)
The hypocrisy of the Jews was appalling. Despite claiming to uphold Gods cause - under Law blasphemy incurred the death penalty (Ex 20.7; Lev 24.10-23; Deut 5.11; Mt 26.65,66) - nearly every detail of their trial proceedings broke either Mishnah rules or Mosaic Law. For example, the Law condemned lying and false witnesses (Ex 20.16; Deut 5.20; 19.15-21), exhorted judges always to judge righteously (Deut 16.18-20), and forbad Israels high priest from ever rending his garments (Lev 21.10; Mt 26.65).
Justice was the last thing on their minds. Afraid of losing political power (Jn 11.48-50), full of inexplicable hatred for Christ (Jn 15.25), and deeply envious of His power and authority (Mt 27.18), they sought His death. After initial questioning by Annas (Jn 18.13,24), they transferred the Lord Jesus to Caiphas house (Lk 22.54). Here He was interrogated through a late evening and early morning session by Caiphas and the entire Sanhedrin (Mt 26.57-27.1; Mk 14.53-15.1; Lk 22.54-71; Jn 18.12-27). This was the supreme Jewish court of justice in Jerusalem, representative of a nation that had now sunk so low as to hate its own Messiah. With cruelty they taunted, smote and spat upon Him (Mk 14.65), and in so doing fulfilled Micahs prediction (5.1). While they accused Him of blasphemy (Mt 26.65,66), they themselves blasphemed Him "Who is the image of the invisible God" (Lk 22.65; Col 1.15).
He was misrepresented. Having no true accusation, the Jews "sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death" (Mt 26.59). His own prediction, "Destroy [His death at Jewish hands] this temple [His body], and in three days I will raise it up [His resurrection]" (Jn 2.19), was completely distorted into, "This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days" (Mt 26.61). Even these witnesses disagreed with each other (Mk 14.59).
He was mistreated. Physically cold and sleep deprived (Jn 18.18), the Lord Jesus felt the full impact of the Jews unleashed fury when they blindfolded Him, spat on and struck His face, and then scornfully demanded that He prophesy (Mt 26.67,68; Mk 14.65; Lk 22.64).
And yet, the Lord Jesus remained calm and dignified. When arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane He submitted to being bound and led into the city (Mt 26.57). He reacted to false accusations and intense provocation with majestic silence. This did a number of things. First, it showed His complete disapproval of their deliberate use of lying witnesses. Second, by not mentioning His disciples He lovingly shielded them from potential reprisals (Jn 18.19). Third, as Gods spotless Lamb He fulfilled Isaiahs prophecy (Is 53.7). Fourth, since "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city" (Prov 16.32), the Lord Jesus showed Himself to be the perfect man. Therefore, such self-constraint under pressure provided an unparalleled example for us to follow (1 Pet 2.21-23).
When the Saviour did speak there was no sense of angry retaliation. In fact, when put under a solemn oath by an angry high priest (Mt 26.63), He answered because Gods Law required it (Lev 5.1). He unambiguously affirmed that He was Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, whom they would see "sitting on the right hand of power [a reverential substitute for God], and coming in the clouds of heaven" (Mt 26.64; Dan 7.13). The Lord Jesus courageously exposed the Jews obstinate refusal to believe in Him or even contemplate releasing Him (Lk 22.67,68), and even challenged the officer who struck Him to justify himself (Jn 18.22,23). When asked about His doctrine He reminded the Sanhedrin that He had "not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth" (Is 45.19), but "openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing" (Jn 18.20). Therefore, said He, "Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me" (Jn 18.21). No one else has ever reacted so impeccably under pressure.
Judas demise (Mt 27.3-10)
Greedy Judas finally learnt the hard lesson, which no Christian should ever forget, that "He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver" (Eccl 5.10). Fully convinced of Christs innocence, Judas was filled with a deep sense of remorse at His condemnation. However, this regret never led to genuine repentance, but instead, having returned his ill-gotten gains, he killed himself (Mt 27.3-5; cp. 2 Cor 7.10). Even though the Jews were unmoved by Judas conscience, their own scruples prevented them from putting his money into the treasury. Instead, they bought a cemetery for foreigners (Mt 27.6-10). This unintentionally fulfilled prophecy (Zech 11.12,13; Mt 27.9,10). Matthew probably attributed this prediction to Jeremiah, rather than Zechariah, because the prophetic books of the Babylonian Talmud (Bab Bathra) are headed up by Jeremiah, who therefore became representative of all the prophets.
Peters three-fold denial warns of many spiritual dangers we may face as well as the alarming speed with which Satan can take down a child of God. Events probably went something like this. It began with his boastful attitude: "Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended" (Mt 26.33). Having thus set himself on a pedestal, Peter must have felt compelled to prove his words true; and so, instead of praying to avoid temptation (Lk 22.40), he "followed afar off" (Mt 26.58). This distant position, much like Israels stragglers in the past (Deut 25.18), made him an easy target for satanic attack. God preserve us from pride and self-confidence which nearly always precede a fall (Prov 16.18). Instead, let us pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5.17) and energetically keep up with Christ who is our example (1 Pet 2.21). Having surreptitiously lurked outside Caiphas house for a time, Peter was eventually let in because of a word from another disciple, possibly John (Jn 18.15,16).
Denial 1. Once inside, Peter, full of despondency, "sat with the servants [to see the end], and warmed himself at the fire" (Mt 26.58; Mk 14.54). This close affinity to the ungodly further endangered him, in much the same way it can for us. Far better to maintain a clear distinction between believer and unbeliever. Remember that the truly blessed man "walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful" (Ps 1.1). The same flames which gave heat also provided illumination. This allowed the maid to carefully scrutinise Peter, and so recognise him as one of the Lords disciples (Mt 26.69; Mk 14.67; Lk 22.56; Jn 18.17). Peter pretended to misunderstand her (Mt 26.70), claimed not to know Christ (Lk 22.57), and flatly denied being one of His disciples (Jn 18.17). He retreated to the porch. At this point, as a gracious but unheeded warning, the cock crowed (Mt 26.71; Mk 14.68).
Denial 2. Peter returned to the fire (Jn 18.25). After a "little while" (Lk 22.58), several people accused him simultaneously of being with Jesus of Nazareth (Mt 26.71; Jn 18.25). Peter denied with an oath (Mt 26.72).
Denial 3. "About one hour after" (Lk 22.59) those standing by became even more convinced that Peter was one of the Lords disciples. His Galilean speech gave him away (Mt 26.73). We may ask ourselves whether our speech, not so much its accent but its character and content, would betray us as belonging to Christ? One of Malchus relatives even recognised Peter from the Garden as the one who had rashly cut off his kinsmans ear (Jn 18.26). How "a swift unpremeditated action may have all sorts of consequences".1 In this case it contributed to Peters failure. He cursed and swore, claiming misunderstanding, and in no uncertain terms stated that he did not know Jesus of Nazareth (Mt 26.74; Lk 22.60). Immediately the cock crowed (Mt 26.75). It is amazing that the Lord Jesus had not only predicted exactly when Peter would deny Him, but as Sovereign over His creation the precise moment of a birds crowing. Suddenly it was all over. "The Lord turned, and looked upon Peter" (Lk 22.61), who, remembering the Lords words, "went out, and wept bitterly" (Lk 22.61,62).
Peters story is not meant to depress us, but to warn us of the perils of self-confidence and also to give erring saints hope. In spite of everything, Peter was soon fully restored, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and useful for the Lord.
To be continued.
1 Heading J. What the Bible Teaches: John (John Ritchie Ltd., 1988).