3. The trial
The trial was stretched out over an exhausting night, with Jesus being dragged from the garden of Gethsemane to Annas’ house, then to Caiaphas’ house, two meetings of the Sanhedrin, to Pontius Pilate’s house, to Herod’s palace, back to Pontius Pilate and the Roman garrison, and finally up the steep road to Mount Golgotha (English name, Place of the Skull; Latin name, Calvary).
3.1. What was unfair about the trial of Jesus
3.1.a There were two high priests
There was only supposed to be one high priest at a time but there were two people acting as high priest at the time of Jesus, Annas and his son-in-law, Caiaphas.
In the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness (Luke 3:2).
Under God’s design, high priests were high priests for life but Annas was only the official high priest from A.D. 6 to 15. The Romans removed him from office but he was still a power behind the scenes. Five of his sons succeeded him as high priest and his son-in-law was the high priest at the time of Jesus’ ministry. All of the money changing and the buying and selling of the sacrifices in the temple was called “the bazaars of Annas.” (John 2:13 to 17). Jesus went in and overturned the tables and threw everybody out.
And led him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 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 18:13,14).
Most of the judges were legally disqualified to try Jesus. Some had bought their way into office, according to Josephus. Under the Romans, high priests could be voted into office year by year. There were 12 ex-high priests at that time, all part of the Sanhedrin.
3.1.b Peter denied him
Peter said three times that he did not know Jesus, even though he had previously said he would die with him, and all the other disciples said the same.
John 18:15-17, 25-27. 15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, 16 but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. 17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself….
25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Peter again denied it, and at once a cock crowed.
Matthew, Mark and Luke have Peter in Caiaphas’ courtyard (Mt 26:57-58; Mk 14:53-54; Lk 22:54) whereas John has him in Annas’ courtyard. Probably Annas and Caiaphas lived in the same place or at least did official business in the same place.
3.1.c There was an extra interrogation before only one judge
Jesus was privately examined by a high priest before His regular trial by the Sanhedrin.
Later laws stated, “Be not a sole judge, for there is no sole judge but One” and “An accused man must never be subjected to private or secret examination, lest in his perplexity, he furnish damaging testimony against himself.” These laws may have been in place in Jesus’ time.
John 18:19. The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples, and about His teaching.
3.1.d A servant hit Jesus
One of the Annas’ servants hit Jesus for telling Annas to check with witnesses. Since Jesus was bound, there was no way for him to defend himself.
John 18:20-23. When he had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, “Is that the way you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike me?”
3.1.e Jesus was charged with blasphemy
The high priest said Jesus blasphemed and the rest of the Sanhedrin said he deserved death.
Leviticus 24:16. “If anyone blasphemes the name of God, he is to be put to death.”
Matthew 26:63-66. 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgement?” They answered, “He deserves death.”
According to the Mishnah, blasphemy involved the use of the sacred name of God, Yahweh. Jesus did not commit blasphemy.
3.1.f The Sanhedrin spat on Jesus
The religious aristocracy spat on Jesus, blindfolded him and punched him. Then the temple priests beat him up.
Mark 14:65. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.
To the Jews, the supreme sign of contempt was to spit.
Numbers 12:14. And the LORD said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again.
Deuteronomy 25:9. Then shall his brother’s wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother’s house.
3.2 What was unlawful about the trial of Jesus
a. The Sanhedrin brought charges
b. The witnesses did not agree
c. The high priest tore his clothes
d. The Sanhedrin convened before dawn
d. The trial only took one day
e. The trial was on the day before the Passover
g. The verdict was unanimous
3.2.a The Sanhedrin brought charges
The Sanhedrin was not supposed to originate charges; it could only investigate charges brought before it by witnesses.
In Jewish law the witnesses are questioned, not the accused. When Jesus told Annas that he had said everything openly in front of witnesses, it was essentially a demand for a fair trial, with witnesses to defend him.
Numbers 35:30, Deuteronomy 17:6, Deuteronomy 19:15 all say you have to have two or three witnesses.
John 18:20-21. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.”
Mark 14:55. Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, ‘What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?’
3.2.b The witnesses did not agree
The accounts of the witnesses against Jesus did not agree.
A person could only be charged with a crime by two or three witnesses; they had to be specific about what they saw; they had to do it in a public assembly; and their evidence had to agree.
Deuteronomy 19:16-19. If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, then both of the men who have the dispute shall stand before the Lord, before the priests, and the judges who will be in office in those days. And the judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother; thus you shall purge the evil from among you.
Matthew 26:59-61. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’”
Mark 14:57-59. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree.
The Sanhedrin should have been prosecuting the false witnesses.
3.2.c The high priest tore his clothes
The high priest was not allowed to tear his clothes – but he did so here and that stirred up emotion and prejudice.
Leviticus 21:10. “And he who is the high priest among his brethren, on whose head the anointing oil was poured and who is consecrated to wear the garments, shall not uncover his head nor tear his clothes.”
Mark 14:55-65. Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, ‘What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?’ And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. 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”.
3.2.d The Sanhedrin convened before dawn
The Sanhedrin convened before the offering of the morning sacrifice.
The Mishnah makes it very clear a meeting of the Sanhedrin in the night was illegal. The Sanhedrin could only sit between the morning sacrifice and the evening sacrifice. The morning sacrifice is offered at dawn.
Jesus was taken before Caiaphas and a quorum of the Sanhedrin at night and then a more formal trial after dawn before the full Sanhedrin (Mt 26:57; 27:1; Mk 14:53 and 15:1; Lk 22:54, 66; Jn 17:24, 28).
3.2.e The trial only took one day
Jesus was arrested, tried and executed within about nine hours.
The Mishnah says that, if a person was found guilty of a capital offence, sentence could only be passed on the third day, so that the judges had a day in between to fast, meditate and pray about it. This also allowed time for any witnesses in support of the accused to present themselves.
3.2.f The trial was on the day before the Passover
Jesus’ trial was held on a Friday that was also the day before a Jewish festival.
No court of justice in Israel was allowed to hold sessions on the Sabbath (Saturday) or any of the seven Jewish festivals. Trials of capital crimes could not start on the day before any of these holidays, because it was not legal, either to adjourn them for more than one night, or to continue them on the Sabbath or a holiday.
3.2.g The verdict was unanimous
If none of the judges defended the culprit, i.e., all pronounced him guilty, when he had no defender in the court, the verdict of guilty was invalid and the sentence of death could not be executed.
Mark 14:64b. …they all condemned Him to be worthy of death.
The Mishna said the members of the Sanhedrin sat in a semicircle with a secretary at each end. One secretary recorded the votes in favour of the accused, the other the votes against him. The proper method of voting was to have each judge in turn absolve or condemn. In ordinary cases the judges voted according to seniority, the oldest first. In a capital case, the youngest voted first so that the younger members of the Sanhedrin could not be influenced by the views or the arguments of their more mature, more experienced colleagues.
Jesus was convicted by acclamation.