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Lessons from the Trials of Christ

The trials of Christ is a vivid picture of man’s nature next to God’s holiness. Seven stages can be seen in the trial(s) of Jesus Christ. The first being His arrest, and the other six His subsequent trials.

I.  He was arrested the garden at night by betrayal (Matt. 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-53; and John 18:1-12).

The arrest was a conspiracy brought about by the betrayal of Judas for 30 pieces of silver (Matt. 26:15), the OT price for a slave who was killed buy an ox (Ex. 21:32). For conspiracy see (Ex. 23:1-2, 7, and 8).

Being that He was arrested at night has some problems especially since
trials were to be held during the day (see Acts 4:3). In fact, at least two
authors on the trial of Christ mention that both arrests and trials at night
were illegal precedings according to Jewish law. Even the Romans were against night time trials.

Consider Acts 4:3 which says “And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide.” (Note– they locked them up for the night.)

In stage number two Jesus is taken to the house of Annas.

II.  Jesus was questioned before Annas (John 18:13, 19-24).

Referring to Jesus John 18:13 says, “And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year.”

Annas was High Priest from 6 AD until 15 AD when he was removed from office by Valerious Gratus, governor of Judea. He retained much influential power since there were obviously those who felt that the office of High Priest was for life. He was also the father in-law to Caiaphas, and they are both mentioned as being the High Priest in Luke 3:2 while Annas is mention again as High Priest in Acts 4:6. Note: Annas was succeeded by three of his sons, his son in-law, and two more of his sons thereby retaining great influence for many years even after having been deposed by the Roman government.

Notice the subtle accusation in verse 19 which says “The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine” (John 18:19 KJV).

He was questioned of his disciples and his doctrine.

Questioning him about his disciples is interesting in that they had fled, leaving Him alone. There may be a sense of asking “So where are your followers now?”

Questioning him about his doctrine brings out  Deut. 13:1-10. No one could not deny the miracles. The capital offense at which Annas was trying to charge Christ
was leading the people away from God.

Jesus does not buy into this false accusation, nor does he show approval for this illegal questioning. This meeting was illegal being at night. It was illegal in that there was there was only one judge (Annas). It was illegal being that there were no witnesses bringing the charges. You see there was no prosecuting attornee in those days.

However, Christ does not waver even after being illegally struck. In fact, Christ makes it very clear the proceedings are wrong in telling them they need to “bear witness” of it. Even in the midst of this Christ is telling them to do things right (v. 23).

Why did Annas need to have such a meeting in the first place?

Annas and his family’s wealth came from the money changers and sales of items such as sacrificial animals, wine and oil for worship in the temple. The family owned four booths on the Mt. of Olives and obviously had what you might call a branch office inside the temple. They held an monopoly on these services, and they took unfair advantage of pilgrims especially during the feasts or festivals.

Twice in the Gospels we see that Jesus shut down merchandising in the temple, an obvious a front to the power of Annas (John 2:13-19 early in Christ’s ministry and then later in His ministry after the Triumphal entry in the other Gospels (Mark. 11:15-19; Matt. 21:10-13; Lk. 19:45-48).

His corruption and power were well known.

One author writes:
Even the Jewish Talmud (“The body of Jewish and canonical law, consisting of the combined Mishnah, or text, and Gemara, or commentary; also restrictedly, the Gemara alone.”[8]), which was compiled long after the death of Annas, recognizes the corruption of Annas. It says, “‘Woe to the family of Annas! Woe to the serpent like hisses’ (probably the whisperings of Annas and the members of his family, seeking to bribe and influence the judges)”  [Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: G&C Merriman, 1949), 867].

Annas had his personal trial. Considering Annas’ vested in interest in the corrupt money exchanges and animal sales in the temple, it is as if to say “you thought you were pretty big upsetting my businesses in the temple, now whose in charge?” Next, Jesus is taken to Caiphas. This brings us to stage three.

III. Jesus was questioned before Caiaphas, the elders, and the scribes Matt. 26:57-68, Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:54, 63-65[note: questioning ommitted]; John 18:24).

Caiaphas was the son in-law to Annas. It is interesting that he was able to hold on to the office of High priest for so long (from 18 to 36 AD). It was Caiaphas who prophesied Christ’s death in John 11:50. It is important to note that, from the human perspective, expediency is exactly what this trial was about, for the word itself means 1. advantageous and 2. advisable on practical rather than moral grounds.

Now, Jesus was brought before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (chief priests, scribes, and elders/rulers). This was the Jewish high court consisting of aprox. 71 members. They normally met in the Hall of Hewn stone or polished stone which was in the temple precincts. Notice they met in the house of Caiaphas. Definitely out of step to say the least if not illegal.

Notice that there were some definite violations of Jewish legal precedings.

  1. The trial was again at night.
  2. The trial was held not only on the day before the Sabbath but also on the day before the Passover. Capital punishment crimes required two consecutive days of trial.
  3. There were no witnesses that agreed (namely the two needed). Deuteronomy 17:6 says “At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.”
  4. Caiaphas demanded that Jesus defend himself. Matthew 26:63 says “But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.”
  5. Caiaphas commanded Jesus to speak under oath (Matt.26:63), but they did not take oaths because they were under the 9th commandment (Ex 20:16) anyway. This appears to be an attempt to place him under a curse found in Lev. 5:1.
  6. The court produced the charges, when they were only to investigate the charges brought before them.
  7. What is also important to see is that the charges changed in the middle of the trial.
  8. Of course the most common one we know of is the fact that the whole preceding was instigated by the court through the medium of a traitor.

This was not really a trial for the establishment of truth and justice rather a performance for the purpose of deciding just how to condemn Jesus Christ to death.

IV. Jesus was questioned and condemned at daybreak before the rest of the legal body (Matt. 27:1-2; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66-71 [Notice questioning seen here Luke];

“And as soon as it was day, the elders of the people and the chief priests and the scribes came together, and led him into their council, saying, 67 Art thou the Christ? tell us. And he said unto them, If I tell you, ye will not believe: 68 And if I also ask you, ye will not answer me, nor let me go. 69 Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God. 70 Then said they all, Art thou then the Son of God? And he said unto them, Ye say that I am. 71 And they said, What need we any further witness? for we ourselves have heard of his own mouth” (Luke 22:66-71).

The third trial we see here is the assembling of the Sanhedrin at dawn. This may have been done as an attempt to hold a trial at day. However, they could have hardly had it after the morning sacrifice; thus, this too was mostly likely still illegal.

This trial was also riddled with the same illegalities of no two witnesses being in agreement and holding this trial the day before a feast day and the Sabbath, thus denying Jesus Christ the second day of trial required for capital punishment cases.

It is important to understand is that the Jewish legal system sought to preserve life not take it.

  • The two days required for capital punishment were so that no rash decisions were made and the time was given for anything new to come out that would shed new light on the issue at hand. The evidence was gone over again and a second vote was taken.
  • There need to be a majority vote by at least two for capital punishment crimes as opposed to a majority by one for certain other crimes.
  • There needed to be two witnesses, we are aware of, but no one sitting in judgement could be one of those witnesses.
    In other words, the accuser could not also be one of the
    judges.
  • Of the votes cast, a guilty vote could be changed to innocent, but and innocent vote could not be changed to guilty.
  • The person on trial was always deemed innocent until proven guilty, and strides were made to find a away to aquit the accused rather condemn him or her.

 Clearly, Jesus was really condemned before he got there.

So far we have the trials from around midnight to sunrise in which Jesus stood before the Jewish leaders. Each one clearly not the way a trial was supposed to go. Of course the High Priest, the Saduccees, and Pharisees, and other of wealth and power would stand much to gain by the execution of Christ, especially since those in power were hand picked by the Roman government. Would the Roman government be any different?

V. Jesus was Brought before Pilate(Matt. 27:11-14; Mark 15:2-5; Luke 23:1-7; and John18:28-38).

Jesus was brought before Pilate.

“And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest. 12 And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing. 13 Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? 14 And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly” (Matthew 27:11-14).

What is most interesting is that the charges changed.

“And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King” (Luke 23:2).

Pilate, however, appears to seek Herod’s judgement on the matter or really wants to be rid of what could be a sticky situation (Luke 23:6).

The first appearance before Pilate could have stopped there with an acquital which certainly would not have sat well with the Sandhedrin. No- Pilate chose to send Jesus to Herod an easy remedy right?

VI. Jesus was brought before Herod Antipas (Luke 23:6-16).

Herod does not seem to find Jesus guilty of anything, for he sends Jesus back to Pilate.

VII. Jesus was brought before Pilate a second time and condemned to death (Matt. 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:13-25; and John 19:1-16).

Consider Matthew 27:15-26: “Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would. 16 And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. 17 Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? 18 For he knew that for envy they had delivered him. 19 When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. 20 But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. 22 Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. 23 And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. 24 When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. 25 Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. 26 Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.”

Jesus, is brought before Pilate again.

Pilate could have dismissed the case earlier, but he did not.

Pilate clearly seeks to release Jesus, but he bows to the will of the angry mob incited by the chief priests and officers condemning him to death.

Consider John 19:1-16 “Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. 2 And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, 3 And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands. 4 Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. 5 Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! 6 When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him. 7 The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. 8 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; 9 And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? 11 Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. 12 And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar. 13 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! 15 But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. 16 Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.”

Conclusion:

The trial(s) of Jesus Christ stands in stark contrast to everything morally right or just.

1. It was fueled financial greed.
2. It was fueled by lust for power.
3. It was fueled by self-preservation.

Still, Christ in his death is the very payment for our sin. We might wonder why or even how God could use the injustices of men in saving mankind. But, isn’t that just the point: The trial of Christ is a vivid picture of man’s nature next to God’s holiness.

We see man– corrupt in every conceivable way. It is our sinful state that fuels financial greed, lust for power, and self-preservation. Only God could demonstrate such powerful love that what men meant for evil, God meant for good. Only God could love us so much to wade through the muck and mire of our sinful state in order to save us. It was because of man’s sin that Jesus came to die on that cross. It was man’s sinful trial that condemned Him.

On the day of the Triumphal entry, truly a priest and king entered Jerusalem. Jesus death on the cross was God’s response to save us from our sin. Jesus Christ is the only One who could satisfy the penalty for our sin. The only One who could deliver us from the prison of our sin. Amen.

Pastor Richard Woodruff