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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Trials, Legal and Otherwise

Various Scriptures

Lesson audio

“Nothing is ever a total loss – it can always be used as a bad example.” We shall find both good and bad examples here. The good example is Christ, and his conduct in the face of persecution. The bad examples will show us the perversion of justice for the expediency of the state.

The Arrest

John 18:2-12 NASB Now Judas also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with His disciples. (3) Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, *came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. (4) So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and *said to them, "Whom do you seek?" (5) They answered Him, "Jesus the Nazarene." He *said to them, "I am He." And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. (6) So when He said to them, "I am He," they drew back and fell to the ground. (7) Therefore He again asked them, "Whom do you seek?" And they said, "Jesus the Nazarene." (8) Jesus answered, "I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way," (9) to fulfill the word which He spoke, "Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one." (10) Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave's name was Malchus. (11) So Jesus said to Peter, "Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?" (12) So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him,

All four Gospels record this incident, which signifies its importance. We may see here the tragedy begin:

·         First, Jesus is betrayed by Judas, one of the twelve who have been with him since the beginning of his ministry.

·         Peter – who will later deny him – reacts in a very wrong way. He defends the Prince of Peace with the sword. (Luke assures us that the servant was healed by Jesus.) Jesus rebukes him for this; those who live by the world’s ways do not live by God’s way.

·         All the disciples leave him – in accord with prophecy. Jesus, alone, will pay the price of reconciliation. It is as planned; it is as Jesus wanted it; but it still leaves him alone.

We may point out one more thing: the awe in which the mob held him. No number of chickens ever added up to one lion. Jesus has great courage; he will need it.

Trial before Annas

John 18:12-14 NASB 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 18:19-24 NASB 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.

(It must be remembered that inner Jerusalem of that time was about two miles along the diagonal – so all these trials in so short a time are indeed feasible.)

Annas brings two charges which are favorites of those who pervert justice:

·         First, there is his teaching. Remember that most societies permit only the veneer of free speech – controlling what is said in public, by fear, uncertainty and doubt, is a common form of government power.

·         The next is more familiar to modern students: conspiracy. Have you ever heard of a conspiracy theory without some evil intent to it? Those who do good need not conspire in secret to do it, the argument goes.

In short, there is plotting in the dark here. We want the names of all the conspirators.

Christ’s defense is rather straightforward. It consists of the truth, put directly. If the doctrine is pernicious, produce witnesses to testify to it! If there is something wrong, be specific.

That last is most important. It used to be a hallmark of English and American justice that a defendant could only be tried for a crime known to the law. You had to be able to point to law and section for the accusation; only those accusations could be tried in court. Now, very generic crimes are allowed.

Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin

Mark 14:53-65 NASB They led Jesus away to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes *gathered together. (54) Peter had followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the officers and warming himself at the fire. (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.

We see here another common perversion of justice. In our own times we have seen too many men acquitted after years in prison by having the crime scene DNA analyzed – and discovering that the “guilty” man had nothing to do with it. One way we do it is with jailhouse informants – men who receive a reduced sentence in return for cooperation. Something of the same sort happened here. As is often the case, when in a hurry, the witnesses didn’t have time to get their stories together.

But Caiaphas knows the simple road. There is one thing that this man will not deny: he has openly claimed to be the Christ. Since they “know” that he can’t be the Christ, he must be guilty of blasphemy. The logical fallacy is easy to spot, but here there is no other conclusion in anyone’s mind.

The question, however, has not lost its importance: Just who do you say this Jesus of Nazareth is? Is he the liar, the lunatic or the Lord?

Pilate – Round One

John 18:28-40 NASB 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. (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 were 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?" And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and *said to them, "I find no guilt in Him. (39) "But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?" (40) So they cried out again, saying, "Not this Man, but Barabbas." Now Barabbas was a robber.

Television viewers will no doubt recognize the phrase, “perp walk.” The accused is paraded before TV cameras, in handcuffs, in what has become almost a ceremonial fashion. The idea is to set in the public’s mind a clear conviction of the person’s guilt. The technique has its ancestor here: we wouldn’t have arrested him if he hadn’t done something.

Pilate is an experienced bureaucrat of the Roman Empire, and he knows what to do with this. It was a point of pride of the Romans that they brought justice with their conquests. You must remember that justice at this time, outside Roman justice, was largely a function of the justice of the individual ruler. You pleaded your case before the local prince, and he gave you whatever justice you were going to get. The Roman system was a great improvement on this, and Pilate is concerned to preserve the appearance of justice.

So he attempts to pass the buck back to the Jews. The man seems to have violated some Jewish law, but nothing a Roman magistrate would consider a crime. Fine. Try him yourself. Then comes the problem: the Romans did not permit the Jews capital punishment. We want him dead; you’ll have to do it.

At this point Pilate – other accounts tell us – found Jesus’ silence very frustrating. In Roman law the accused was required to defend himself; otherwise, it might not be a valid trial. Only when Pilate asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews does he get a response. Even then, Pilate isn’t sure what to do with it.

Frankly, my dear, Pilate doesn’t give a &*((). But there is one revealing moment here: “What is truth?” Pilate the cynic would be at home in modern intellectual circles.


Luke 23:6-12 NASB When Pilate heard it, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. (7) And when he learned that He belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who himself also was in Jerusalem at that time. (8) Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him. (9) And he questioned Him at some length; but He answered him nothing. (10) And the chief priests and the scribes were standing there, accusing Him vehemently. (11) And Herod with his soldiers, after treating Him with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate. (12) Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been enemies with each other.

Pilate is nothing if not an experienced politician. The man is a Galilean. Herod is in town. What simpler solution could you want – hand him over to the tame king set up under Roman rule. The technique is classic: passing the buck.

Herod, like so many others of us, has a method for determining if Jesus is really who he says he is. He’ll just tell him to perform a miracle for him. I hope you see that this is indeed a contradiction of God’s character. The Lord of the universe does not perform miracles on command, like some petty fraud. Just to make such a demand is reason enough to deny it.

Pilate, Round 2

Matthew 27:15-26 NASB Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the people any one prisoner whom they wanted. (16) At that time they were holding a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. (17) So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" (18) For he knew that because of envy they had handed Him over. (19) While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, "Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him." (20) But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death. (21) But the governor said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." (22) Pilate *said to them, "Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all *said, "Crucify Him!" (23) And he said, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they kept shouting all the more, saying, "Crucify Him!" (24) When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this Man's blood; see to that yourselves." (25) And all the people said, "His blood shall be on us and on our children!" (26) Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.

We may note four things to our understanding:

·         First, Pilate acknowledges that he finds no guilt in the man. He flatly tells the mob the man is innocent. But their leadership wants blood.

·         Pilate personally has been warned by his wife to get out of this mess and hand it back to the Jews. Dreams were taken seriously in those days, and the standard bearer for Roman justice could not help but feel the guilt. Pilate was a just and merciful man – until it got risky.

·         He adopts, therefore, what might be called the “poison pill” defense. OK, I’ll crucify the man for you – but you get Barabbas instead.

·         All practical help at an end, Pilate resorts to the symbolic. He washes his hands in front of the crowd. It is a pivotal moment, for it causes the Jews to acknowledge that they killed the Christ. The results have haunted them since.[1]

Pilate feels rewarded. He has disavowed responsibility and – a great triumph – he has the notoriously rebellious Jewish leadership chanting, “We have no king but Caesar.” It should be a triumphant moment for Pilate. Instead, it seals his fate for history.

One last thing we may note: Except to confirm the truth of his being the Messiah, Jesus does not bother to defend himself. When faced with unjust persecution, the Christian will do well to imitate this. This is the way our world treated the Son of God, the Messiah. Do you think his followers deserve better?

[1] It should not be necessary to add that this does not justify the Christian slaughtering the Jew – but sometimes the random reader misses these things.

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