Updated: Apr 29, 2020
"Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. 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. The chief priests and the Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.Finally, two came forward and declared, ‘This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’ 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?’ 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 Messiah, the Son of God.’ You have said so,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ 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. What do you think?’ ‘He is worthy of death,’ they answered” (Matthew 26:57-66).
THE CONTEXT - DARKNESS
Following the actions of Jesus’ betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was brought before the high priests, and the Sadducee-controlled Sanhedrin to undergo questioning regarding His actions. It is abundantly clear that before any questions were asked or any “witnesses” were produced, death was the only outcome that would satisfy those who took Jesus (Matthew 26:4).
Though Jesus appeared before them each day in the temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 26:55; Luke 21:37-38), the chief priests could not act upon their desire to take Jesus for multiple reasons. If they arrested Him in the temple, the multitudes would see their actions and riot. Jesus’ reputation preceded Him, and the people knew of His astounding ministry (Matthew 21:8-9; John 12:12). Taking Him prisoner in front of the people who loved Him would undoubtedly anger them and cause them to turn against the high priests and their companions (Acts 5:26). Questions would also arise as to why — why take Jesus? The people's conclusion would be quick and easy. The people knew of the chief priest's wealth and power, and an arrest of Jesus would put it further in the spotlight. Also, if the rulers publicly arrested Jesus, they would be forced to try Him publicly. A public trial would need to be a fair trial, something that rulers could not afford if they were to succeed in having Jesus killed. A court of the entire Sanhedrin was unlikely to explore the option of the death penalty let alone carry out the sentence in front of a crowd that hung on the words and teachings of Jesus.
The Mishnah tells us “a Sanhedrin that puts a man to death once in seven years is called destructive. [While some] say a Sanhedrin that puts a man to death even once in 70 years [is destructive]. [Others still] say: Had we been in the Sanhedrin none would ever have been put to death” (Mishnah, Makkot 1:10).
The only chance the chief priests and scribes had was to convene in the house of the high priest, in darkness, with restricted access to the general population, where very few would know what was occurring. (John 18:15-16, Acts 5:28).
The idea that Jesus had a “trial” is a modern-day creation. According to the laws of first-century Judaism, what Jesus experienced was not a trial. A trial signifies order and justice, two actions that were lacking in the final hours of Jesus’ life.
As there was no real evidence to subject Jesus to death, the chief priests and their Sadducees were forced to bring Him before the only people who would carry out the despicable action with no repercussions — the Roman authorities under the leadership of Pontius Pilate. Within a few short hours, Jesus was brutally flogged and sentenced to death by the Romans. Pilate had the absolute power to free to Jesus, but chose to wash his hands of it.
Under the guise of “justice,” the death of Jesus was unjust. From the perspective of the natural world, Jesus had committed no crime, let alone a crime worthy of the punishment of death. The Gospels are adamant to point out that each witness who comes against Jesus is a false witness, and after a thorough examination of Jesus, no guilt could be found (John 19:4).
From the supernatural perspective, the death of Jesus was by no means “just,” as death is a deserved result of sin (Romans 6:23). However, the witnesses of the ministry and testament of Jesus proclaim that there was no sin in His life (1 Peter 2:22).
THE APPLICATION - WHAT IS JUST?
The definition of “justice” in all senses is “the fair or reasonable recourse for an action in attempt to make one whole or complete.” The death of Jesus was an unjust action that served as an act of grace beyond measure. The justice that should deservedly be placed upon man due to sin was placed upon Jesus. He willingly died so that those deserving death could gain the opposite — life itself.
It is amazing that the act of humanity's perversion of “justice” through the death of Jesus brought about the greatest act of grace and mercy for those who believe. What was done in secret, what took place in the dark, was turned on its head to save humanity from sin and eternal suffering.
Written by Jeremy Stein, Content Development Coordinator for the Center for Holy Lands Studies.
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