The Trials of Jesus
Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane by Roman soldiers and members of the High Priest’s security forces.
The following Scripture from John’s gospel tells us about the arrest, “So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year” (John 18:12-13, NASB1995).
During the next few hours, Jesus was brought before six courts. The Jews tried Him first and then took Him to a Roman court. He was found guilty by the Jews and Romans – on different charges.
Guilty of Blasphemy
Annas was first appointed high priest of Judea at the age of 36, in 6 AD, by the Roman government. Over the years, he and his family members had, from time to time, triumphed over the Roman governor regarding Roman customs that offended or taxed the Jews.
These actions resulted in solid political ties between Annas’ family and Rome’s government. He and his family controlled the Priesthood offices during their dynasty. Consequently, throughout the years, several members of his family had held the office of High Priest. During this period of Jesus’ trial, his son-in-law, Caiaphas, held this office, but we can be assured that Annas, as the family patriarch, was very much in control.
This family also ran a very lucrative commercial enterprise in and around the temple area. They had gained tremendous wealth from selling sacrificial animals, collecting fees required for inspections, and exchanging temple money. Jesus had previously enraged the family by overturning the money tables and calling them a den of thieves. He had few friends in the house of Annas, the place where He would face a mock trial.
Annas began his mock trial proceedings by questioning Jesus about His disciples and teachings. Although he was aware of what Jesus had been teaching, he was trying to entrap Him.
“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. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.’ When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me’” (John 18:20-23, ESV)?
“Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest” (John 18:24, ESV).
Caiaphas had been searching for false witnesses and summoned members of the Sanhedrin – the Supreme Court of Israel. The gathering, as a tribunal court, was informal and illegal because it was held in the home of Caiaphas before dawn. Moreover, their anger and bitter hatred for Jesus had provoked them to violate their own rules of the legal process.
After Jesus’ arrest, most of His disciples scattered, but John and Peter followed the mob. John seems to have had friends in the High Priest’s household and made arrangements for Peter to remain outside in the open courtyard. John went inside, allowing him to report firsthand on the court proceedings.
The mock trial opened with two false witnesses who testified against Jesus. Matthew provides us with these details. “Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, ‘This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’’ And the high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you’” (Matt. 26:59-62, ESV)?
Throughout this horrible interrogation, Jesus maintained a refined and dignified silence. He refused to answer the false charges that were brought against Him. Instead, he held his peace and remained silent.
As Caiaphas’ anger increased, He placed Jesus under oath and began to question Him directly. “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.’ 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’” (Matt. 26:63-64, ESV).
Jesus made it clear that He was the Son of God – the promised Messiah. He identified Himself with Daniel’s prophetic vision as recorded in Daniel, chapter seven. To get the full impact of what Jesus told the high priest and the court, let us look at what Daniel saw in that vision.
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14, ESV).
Since Jesus leaves no doubt about His identity, the high priest is filled with rage, as stated in the following verse. “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. What is your judgment?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death’” (Matt. 26:65-66, ESV).
“Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, ‘Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you’” (Matt. 26: 67-68, ESV)?
In the meantime, outside in the courtyard, the fearless and outspoken Simon Peter, the leader of Jesus disciples, was having his problems. Let us look at Luke’s account of what was taking place.
“When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, ‘This man also was with him.’ ‘But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ And a little later someone else saw him and said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not’” (Luke 22:55-58, ESV).
“After an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, ‘Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about.’ And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed” (Luke 22:59-60, ESV).
As they brought Jesus out of the house, “the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61-62, ESV).
After daylight, the Sanhedrin met for the second time to make their actions legal. This meeting was held in the council chamber before the entire Sanhedrin body.
Again, we look at Matthew for details. “When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death” (Matt. 27:1, ESV).
The Jews were confronted with a problem because they had no legal authority to carry out the death sentence.
Matthew continued with the details: “And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor” (Matt. 27:2, ESV)
Guilty of Treason
Ultimately, the Jews took Jesus to the Roman Governor to be condemned to death and to be crucified. John and Luke give us more details about Jesus’ appearance before Pontius Pilate than the other gospel writers; therefore, we will follow their account of events as the action unfolds in the Roman Court. We begin with John’s narrative as Jesus was brought to the governor’s official headquarters.
“Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. So Pilate went outside to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man’” (John 18:28-29, ESV)?
“They answered him, ‘If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.’ The Jews said to him, ‘It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death’” (John 18:30-31, ESV).
Luke recorded more details, “And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king’” (Luke 23:2, ESV).
Notice the change in the charge. It has been changed from blasphemy to high treason against the Roman Government.
Let us continue with John’s narrative. “So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done’” (John 18:33-35, ESV)?
“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world’” (John 18:36, ESV).
Many have interpreted this conversation to mean that the promised Messianic kingdom would only be spiritual. But let us remember that Jesus was speaking to Pilate about the present. He was no threat to the Roman Government during His first advent. His mission was to pay the price for the sins of all mankind. He made it plain to the High Priest and the Sanhedrin that He was the promised Messiah and that one day He would rule over all the nations. But that would be in the future; therefore, He was no threat to Pontius Pilate.
Let us continue with John’s narrative. “Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice’” (John 18:37, ESV).
“Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’ After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, ‘I find no guilt in him’” (John 18:38, ESV).
We don’t know why Pilate made this statement. However, it appears that Pilate may have been irritated with what the Jews were saying and doing.
Luke’s narrative again adds details to the sequence of unfolding events. “But they were urgent, saying, ‘He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.’ When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time” (Luke 23:5-7, ESV).
Pontius Pilate was having a difficult time. He knew that Jesus was innocent, but he was unwilling to rule against the Jews. The House of Annas had strong ties with Rome, had previously challenged Pilate’s authority, and won in some of the confrontations. His career might have been over if he mishandled this case. So, he tried transferring the case to another court and judge.
“When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate” (Luke 23:8-11, ESV).
When Jesus returned to Pilate, he tried again to release Him. “Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him’” (Luke 23:13-16, ESV).
Although he could find no fault with Jesus, Pilate offered to punish Jesus as an appeasement to the Jews. He then hoped to release Him in fulfillment of a Passover custom where one prisoner is released to the Jews.
Now let us go to Matthew’s narrative, which has more details. “Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’ For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up” (Matt. 27:15-18, ESV).
At that time, a captivating thing happened. “Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream’” (Matt. 27:19, ESV).
Now Pilate is trying hard to release Jesus. ”Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, ‘Which of the two do you want me to release for you?’ And they said, ‘Barabbas. ’Pilate said to them, ‘Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ They all said, ‘Let him be crucified’” (Matt. 27:20-22, ESV)!
With no other options, Pilate then offers to punish Jesus, hoping the Jews would be satisfied. We now return to John’s narrative.
Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him. Scourging was carried out using a whip with jagged pieces of bone and metal tied to multiple leather strands. The Bible does not tell us how many lashes Jesus received, but it was common practice to apply thirty-nine lashes. The following describes what probably happened with each lash.
The Late Dr. Kenneth Wuest, a well-known former Greek scholar and professor of New Testament Greek at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, in his book Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Volume 1, pp 280, says this about the beating Jesus took. “Peter, in his first epistle (2:24), in the words, ‘with whose stripes ye were healed,’ gives us a vivid picture of his recollection of how our Lord’s back looked after the scourging. The word ‘stripes’ in the Greek text is in the singular number. The word refers to a bloody wale trickling with blood that arises under a blow. The scourge so lacerated our Lord’s back that it was one mass of open, raw, quivering flesh tricking with blood, not a series of stripes or cuts, but one mass of torn flesh.”
After the scourging, Jesus was submitted to abuse by the soldiers who played a game by blindfolding Him and beating Him. Each soldier would hold up their fist in front of Jesus’ face, then blindfold Him, and all but one would punch him in the face. They would then remove the blindfold and ask which soldier did not hit Him. Even if the prisoner gave the correct answer, the soldiers would deny it and repeatedly begin the process again (Source: The Late Dr. J. Vernon McGee).
Jesus’ face was probably battered beyond recognition, and his eyes were swollen so severely that He could not see. Isaiah, prophesying many years before, said, “Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men” (Isa. 52:14, NKJV).
And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head and put a purple robe on Him; and they began to come up to Him and say, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and to give Him slaps in the face. Then they returned Him to Pilate.
“Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man’” (John 19:4-5, ESV)!
It is difficult to envision how civilized men could act like savage animals. Satan can take us to the bottom of the pit of darkness when he takes charge of our lives. The Jews, motivated by their hatred for Jesus because he had threatened their way of life, acted like savage wolves moving in for the kill. The Roman Governor, a coward at heart and fearing for the loss of his political empire, inflicted cruel and barbarous punishment upon an innocent man – a man in whom he could find no fault.
“When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God’” (John 19:6-7, ESV).
“When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore, he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin’” (John 19:8-11, ESV).
Jesus says the Jews have a greater sin because they had more insight into who Jesus was. However, that did not exonerate Pilate’s guilt.
“From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar’” (John 19:12, ESV).
Pilate tried to release Jesus because he knew He was an innocent man. But he was too faint-hearted to carry out his conviction. Instead, he sent Jesus away to be crucified. Pilate succumbed to the pressure of the Jews and declared Jesus guilty of being an enemy of Caesar and treason against Rome. The Jewish leaders had their way, and Jesus went to the cross.
Matthews concludes His narrative with these words: “So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’ And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children’” (Matt. 27:24-25, ESV)!
Then Pilate released Barabbas to them and handed Jesus over to be crucified.
They laid the heavy, rugged cross over His bleeding body and led Him out to a hillside called Golgotha, The Skull, to be crucified. Weak from lack of rest and food, the beatings, and heavy stress, Jesus fell under the weight of the heavy cross. We conclude our Scripture narrative with these words from Luke’s gospel.
“And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him” (Luke 23:26-27, ESV).
We ask the question, did the Jews or Pilate have Jesus crucified? The answer is neither – God the Father had Jesus put to death as payment for the sins of all mankind. God’s justice demanded payment for sin. The Jews and the governor, Pilate, were used by God. The Biblical timeline comes to a close. However, the Jews and Pilate were evil pawns in God’s hands and were held accountable for their sins.
Scripture quotations marked NASB1995 are taken from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1971,1977, 1995, by The Lockman Foundation, LA Habra, California. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked ESV are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Note: R. Wayne Jackson has recently published His third book: A Walk to the Cross: He Paid the Price.
Through a number of divine programs, God planned a way to redeem His chosen creation and fulfill His plans. God is omniscient, that is, He had knowledge of all possible plans for the universe. God chose a plan out of all the possible plans with their infinite number of variations. The plan the Father chose was to send His Beloved Son, in the fullness of time, to be born human and to die for the sins of mankind. God’s Son would be born of a chosen group of people called the Jews who would also put Him to death.
We began the narrative with a review of the Levitical or divine law and how Jesus fulfilled every letter of it on the cross. The narrative then follows the last six to nine months of Jesus’ ministry as He walks to His death on the cross. All the major events relating to the increase in the level of hostility between Jesus and the Jewish leaders are detailed in chronological sequence. The hostility comes to a climax during Passover week and explodes in the Roman court of Pontus Pilate.
We concluded with the details of the crucifixion, the burial, the resurrection, and a summary of God’s future programs paid for by the shed blood of Jesus.
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