The Trials of the Lord Jesus
The trials of the Lord Jesus took place under two jurisdictions. The first three, under Annas, Caiaphas, and then the Sanhedrin can be designated "religious trials". The second group of three, carried out under Pontius Pilate, then Herod Antipas, and then, for a second time, Pontius Pilate, can be designated "civil trials".
It is clear from the record of the Gospels that the leaders of the Jews were opposed to the Lord Jesus. They maintained that He possessed His power through "the prince of demons" (Mt 9.34; Mk 3.22); they accused the disciples of breaking the Law (Mt 12.1-9; Mk 2.23-28; Lk 6.1-5); they discussed how they might destroy Him (Mt 12.14). Johns Gospel records seven occasions when they sought to stone Him or arrest Him.
1. On the grounds that he had broken the Sabbath (5.16-18).
2. After many ceased following Him due to His teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum (7.1).
3. When the Lord Jesus attended the "great day of the feast" in Jerusalem His teaching led to a division amongst the people. Some believed Him and some did not (7.44).
4. After the Lord stated, "Before Abraham was, I am", they sought to stone Him (8.58-59).
5. After the discourse in the Temple in Jerusalem they sought to take Him (10.39).
6. After the raising of Lazarus from the dead the chief priests and Pharisees took council together to arrest Him and condemn him to death (11.47-57).
7. In the garden of Gethsemane "the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus and bound him" (18.12).
It can be clearly seen, therefore, that the purpose of the Jews to put the Lord Jesus to death was determined before He was arrested to face trial. The verdict was passed beforehand. It was, however, necessary to proceed with care as they feared an "uproar of the people" (Mk 14.2). Their motive is summed up as the chief priests and Pharisees took council after the miraculous raising of Lazarus from the grave. "What do we?", they said, "for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation" (Jn 11.47-48). They concluded that their privilege, place, and authority were all threatened by the Lord Jesus. They had no thought of searching the Scriptures to examine the teaching and actions of the Lord in the light of the writings of the prophets.
The Jews, however, had a problem to face in that they had no authority to condemn a prisoner to death (Jn 18.31). This could only be done by the Roman power. Because of this it was necessary to bring Pilate, the Roman governor, into the trial process. He, however, understood the Jews and knew that it was envy of the Lord that was behind the arrest and trial (Mk 15.10).
It is clear that it was night when the Lord was arrested. Judas and those who were intent on the arrest came carrying "lanterns and torches" (Jn 18.3), the disciples fell asleep as the Lord prayed (Mt 26.40,43,45 etc), and earlier even when Judas left the Upper Room it was already night (Jn 13.30). The Lord Jesus was condemned to death at the sixth hour (Jn 19.14). As John uses Roman time the sixth hour is 6 am. The trials, therefore, took place during the night. After the events of a long day the Lord had to endure a sleepless night during which He faced His accusers.
The Jews "tried" Him in a preliminary hearing before Annas, then before Caiaphas, and then in the early morning before the Sanhedrin. The limitation placed on them by Rome made it necessary that accusations be found that would require the Lord to stand before Pilate charged with crimes which carried the death penalty. When Pilate, however, learned that the Lord was from Galilee he sought to get rid of the problem by passing Him over to Herod who governed that area and who was in Jerusalem at that time. As Herod wished to see the Lord he was pleased at this move, but the Lord refused to answer any of his questions. Consequently they mocked Him and dressed Him in a "gorgeous robe" (Lk 23.11) and sent Him back to Pilate. On this occasion Pilate, wishing to be rid of the matter, and despite being willing to release Him, condemned Him to death.
Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the High Priest. When the Romans created the province of Judaea they appointed Annas to be High Priest (AD 6). He served for ten years but was removed from office for exceeding his authority by imposing capital sentences not sanctioned by Rome. Nevertheless, he continued to be an important and influential member of the ruling elite.
The High Priest who succeeded Annas, his father-in-law. He was appointed by the governor, Gratus, who held office before Pontius Pilate. After the raising of Lazarus it was Caiaphas who advised the Sanhedrin that, "it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people" (Jn 11.49-50; see also Jn 18.14). In the trial of the Lord Jesus he took a most discreditable part.
Little is known of Pontius Pilate before and after his term of governor of Judaea. The term appears to have been AD 26-AD 36. Governors, holding the rank of procurator or prefect, were the representatives of the empire. They were responsible for the Roman military force in the province and for the collection of taxes. Judaea was not a Senatorial province (reporting directly to the Senate in Rome) nor was it an Imperial province (reporting directly to Caesar), but rather it was a sub-province of Syria.
The Great Sanhedrin was the supreme court and legislative body in Judea during the Roman period. There was a Sanhedrin in every city that made up the land of Israel, and a Great Sanhedrin that met in Jerusalem in the Chamber of Hewn Stones in Herods Temple. This consisted of 69 members, plus a chairman, who at times was the High Priest, and a vice chairman. The Sanhedrin could try lawbreakers but had no power to carry out arrests. At least two witnesses were necessary to give evidence against an individual, and the accused could call witnesses in his defence. Lawyers did not have a part in the proceedings. The Great Sanhedrin met daily, during the day, but did not meet on the Sabbath or on Feast Days. Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin (Jn 7.50-51) and Joseph of Arimathaea, called a "counsellor" (Lk 23.50-51), may have been, as this designation was often used to denote one holding this office.
1. The Lord claimed that He was able to destroy Herods Temple and raise it again in three days a temple made without hands (Mt 26.61; Mk 14.58).
2. He spoke blasphemy because he stated, "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven" (Mt 26.64; Mk 14.62).
3. He claimed to be the King of the Jews (Mt 27.11; Mk 15.2; Lk 23.3; Jn 18.33-37).
4. He claimed to be the Christ (Mt 27.22; Mk 14.61-62; Lk 22.67).
5. He claimed to be the Son of God (Lk 22.70).
6. They claimed that He perverted the nation and forbad them giving tribute to Caesar, claiming that He was a king (Lk 23.2).
7. He stirred up the people teaching throughout all Jewry and in Galilee (Lk 23.5).
Having arrested Him the Jews sought out witnesses who were prepared to testify against Him. The first group of witnesses who brought "evidence" were clearly false. At length two witnesses appeared to lay the first charge. One important point is that those who were to judge the Lord should not have sought out witnesses to testify against Him. On that basis alone the trial was unjust.
The charges placed
Charge 1: This was based on the words of the Lord recorded in John 2.19. Read that verse and it will be clear that they misquoted Him twice. He did not say, "I am able to destroy the temple of God", nor did He say, "I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made with hands". He was speaking of His body and it was the Jews who would seek to destroy it. The charge was untrue. It was a distortion of the words of the Lord.
Charge 2: The Jews should have recognised the link between the words of the Lord and the prophecy of Daniel (7.13) that they would see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven. The charge showed determination to ignore the Scriptures or displayed their ignorance of them. They did not look into the Scriptures and learn that He was the fulfiller of them.
Charge 3: The charge that He claimed to be the King of the Jews was brought before Him by Pilate and the answer of the Lord, "Thou sayest" (Mt 27.11) was not a device to avoid the question. He was not saying, "You state that; I never have". It was affirmation that the statement was true. Pilate, however, was aware of the fact that the real motive behind the actions of the Jews was envy (Mt 27.18). Weighing up all the circumstances, none of the charges caused the governor to decide that the Lord should be put to death.
Charges 4 & 5: He claimed to be the Christ and the Son of God. These claims, and the acts and teaching of the Lord Jesus ought to have made the Jews re-consider the matter. When Pontius Pilate mentioned these as he brought the Lord out before the people it is clear that he did not consider them to be a threat against Rome.
Charges 6 & 7: He never did pervert the nation nor did He teach them to refrain from paying their taxes. Indeed, He taught them to render unto Caesar the things that were Caesars (Mt 22.21; Mk 12.17; Lk 20.25). He did not at any time "stir up" the people with a view to insurrection against the Roman power.
The demeanour of the Lord
Paul states that the Lord before Pontius Pilate "witnessed a good confession" (1 Tim 6.13), and Peter brings to the attention of saints, some of whom would be treated by others in a way that might provoke retaliation, that "when he was reviled, (he) reviled not again", but rather He "committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (1 Pet 2.23). In the face of false accusations, mockery, and violence He retained His dignity and "when he suffered, he threatened not". No doubt as he wrote these words Peter thought of his own failure on that neverto-be-forgotten night as the Lord stood before His judges.
The trial of the Lord Jesus was a great act of injustice. The judges had determined their verdict before the trial commenced, the witnesses were false, Pilate found no fault in Him, and the proceedings took place at night, doubtless because the authorities were afraid of the many in Jerusalem who had welcomed Him into the city.
We must never forget that He before whom men sat in judgment is the One who will judge the living and the dead.