Jesus in HD 195: Jesus on Trial

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To say that after “they” — to quote the Apostle John — “bound Jesus and brought Him first to Annas,” Jesus’ life would never be the same again would be a gross understatement and wholly inaccurate.

Fact is, as you are about to hear in this PODCAST, only some 15 hours after this cohort of some six hundred elite Roman soldiers led Him away in chains, Jesus’ life would be over.

The Roman leader principally responsible for Jesus’ execution? The Procurator Pontius Pilate, whom we will meet up close and personal next week.

The Jewish leader principally responsible for Jesus’ execution, whom we will meet this week? The High Priest Joseph Caiaphas.

You read that right. At this point in time, Caiaphas was — Listen! — the highest ranking religious leader throughout all the land, over all the people.

As High Priest, Caiaphas was the only person alive permitted behind the veil in Temple into the Holy of Holies, and that on only one day of the year — Day of Atonement. The Holy of Holies, where God’s manifest presence — His Shekinah Glory — literally, visibly flamed and flashed… But. Not. Anymore.

Trust me. God moved out of His house long before Caiaphas ever donned the robe and put on the vestments of his high-but-now-highly corrupt, once-holy-but-now-utterly-unholy office.

Caiaphas, an unspeakably unscrupulous man about whom we know much historically. And one whom — in an odd sort of way — I almost feel like I know personally. I say this for two reasons.

Firstly, I’ve been in his home. And, even these 2,000 years later, it’s impossible to miss the lavishness of his home that attests to his obscene wealth. Even his basement was incredible, though it speaks to the extremely perverted power that this man had over the Jewish people… and on one particular night, over Jesus Christ.

Secondly, I actually touched Caiaphas’ bone box. (Don’t tell on me… you’re not supposed to do that! …It was on display at the Israeli museum; and despite all the “Do Not Touch” signs surrounding it, I simply couldn’t help myself.)

Anyway, let’s recall that just four days prior to Jesus’ arrest, on what we call Palm Sunday, Jesus entered into Jerusalem with pageantry and fanfare. On Monday, Jesus cleared out the Temple, overthrowing the tables belonging to the money changers and other corrupt business people that were there in God’s house…

…The Temple that Caiaphas was in charge of.

When Jesus cleansed the Temple, this hit Caiaphas hard. Jesus suddenly intruded squarely into Caiaphas’ life and lifestyle. In less than a day, Jesus went from someone who was a mere blip on Caiaphas’ personal radar to someone who needed to die.

So, as Caiaphas saw Jesus as an existential threat when Jesus labeled the Temple a “den of thieves”, he recognized himself as the “Chief Thief” that Jesus was pointing out. This set in motion Caiaphas’ blindingly jealous rage, culminating in his conspiracy to kill the one and only Son of the God Caiaphas claimed to love and serve.

In actuality, if anyone should have recognized who Jesus was, it should have been the High Priest, Caiaphas. Yet, rather to embrace Jesus, Caiaphas chose to crucify Him.

So, there, in Gethsemane, Jesus was arrested by some 600 Roman soldiers and bound in chains. Remember, this was Jesus who had never brandished a weapon against anyone and instructed His followers to turn the other cheek when they were wronged by the officials. Yet still, they chained Him as they would a dangerous murderer or worse, an animal as we read in John 18:12-13,

Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.

They then led Him off to His first of six separate trials that would take place that Thursday night through Friday morning – the first three were Jewish, the second three were Roman, and all six were illegal.
Now, as we look at the role of Israel’s high priest, and as John wrote in John 18:13, it’s evident that there was only one person in that role at a time. Yet, in Luke 3, as we learn about John the Baptizer, we read:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. (Luke 3:1-2)

Did you catch that? Luke, in his historically accurate method, listed both Annas and Caiaphas as high priests… plural. Welcome to the corruption of the highest priestly office of the land!

You see, the Romans, who maintained their tight-fisted control over everything, exercised their control even over the Jewish religion. They actually controlled everything that happened in and around the Temple. They even appointed and removed Israel’s high priests at will.

Thus, the Romans effectively hijacked the spiritual sovereignty of the Jewish people. And in the process, thoroughly politicized and corrupted what should have been a totally non-political and undefiled spiritual office.

So, historical records show that Annas was indeed high priest from 6 A.D. until 15 A.D. before falling from favor of the Romans and being removed from office. For two years after that, Annas’ son Eleazar filled the high priestly role. However, while they could remove him from office, even the Romans couldn’t take away Annas’ influence and power. Annas actually oversaw a family dynasty consisting of six “puppet high priests”, including his son-in-law, Caiaphas, who served as high priest from 18 A.D. – 37 A.D. Now, the very fact that Caiaphas held his office for 19 years in an era when the Romans shuffled the priests like toys speaks to Caiaphas’ character and political leanings.

All this sets the table for Jesus’ first three trials. Upon being arrested, He was first ushered to Annas for a preliminary trial. Secondly, He received a more “proper” trial before the high priest, Caiaphas. Then, Jesus was brought before the high counsel, or Sanhedrin, which acted as the Jewish Supreme Court with Caiaphas as its chief justice to stand trial.

Talk about a rigged system!

So, Jesus was arrested and brought before Annas, Caiaphas’ father-in-law. And, as John writes about Caiaphas, just to add yet another detail:

Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people. (John 18:14)

John then writes about his a Peter’s “adventures” as they followed Jesus to Annas’ house. John was allowed in, but Peter waited outside, where he denied knowing Jesus for the first time.

15 Simon Peter and another disciple [John] were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard,16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.

He replied, “I am not.”

18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.

Meanwhile, John was able to follow Jesus and witness His preliminary trial:

 Inside, the high priest [Annas] began asking Jesus about his followers and what he had been teaching them. 20 Jesus replied, “Everyone knows what I teach. I have preached regularly in the synagogues and the Temple, where the people gather. I have not spoken in secret. 21 Why are you asking me this question? Ask those who heard me. They know what I said.”

22 Then one of the Temple guards standing nearby slapped Jesus across the face. “Is that the way to answer the high priest?” he demanded.

23 Jesus replied, “If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?”

24 Then Annas bound Jesus and sent him to Caiaphas, the high priest. (John 18:19-24)

All of this happened before Annas, who maintained the title “high priest”, just as we refer to former U.S. Presidents as “Mr. President”, even after they leave office. However, unique to Annas, was the fact that he also kept a firm grasp of his power and influence, even though Caiaphas now officially held the office.

Now, I mentioned earlier that Jesus’ trials were illegal. First off, it was against Jewish law to try a man at night. And that is just one of a laundry list of illegalities within this scam that Jesus suffered, including the multiple times Jesus was bound even though no evidence pointed to Him being a physical threat to anyone.

Matthew writes this about Jesus’ second trial:

Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. (Matthew 26:57)

This was now in the late hours of the evening. The Sanhedrin, or as Matthew described them “the teachers of the law and the elders” totaled 70 men. These men, after celebrating Passover, dropped everything they were doing that night in order to illegally meet and try Jesus.

Now, to paint the picture of the scene we are diving into, the high priest “house” was more like a compound with Annas’ house as part of it and Caiaphas’ home on the other side, both connected by a common courtyard where Peter was hiding out that night.

And, inside of Caiaphas’ house, this was taking place:

Image from the film “Passion of the Christ”

The chief priests and the whole 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 61 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?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. (Matthew 26:59-63)

As I mentioned, the system was rigged beyond imagination!

Yet Jesus remained silent. Just as Isaiah had prophesied some 700 years earlier.

…as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)

Yet, even as Jesus remained silent, the high priest continued:

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.” (Matthew 26:63)

Did you catch that? Caiaphas charged Jesus “under oath” by His Father. So Jesus answered:

64 “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.”

65 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.66 What do you think?”

“He is worthy of death,” they answered.

67 Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him68 and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?” (Matthew 26:64-67)

In Luke’s account, he adds that they blindfolded Jesus before striking Him and that they “toyed with Him”.

Meanwhile, outside the compound, Matthew describes what Peter was doing.

71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”

73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”

74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”

Immediately a rooster crowed. (Matthew 26:71-74)

At this point, Luke adds the detail:

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. (Luke 22:61) 

You can imagine Peter’s guilt and anguish!

 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:75)

This was not just a denial. Jesus was disowned by Peter.

Then, morning came. The morning of what we now call “Good Friday”… though it was not a good morning at all for Jesus.

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor. (Matthew 27:1-2)

This is where the entire Sanhedrin issued their death sentence upon Jesus and sent Him away for formal, trial by the state. They had to send Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor, because only the Romans crucified people.

This reveals something very telling about Annas and Caiaphas and their hatred toward Jesus. They not only wanted Him silenced or even killed. If all they wanted was a dead Jesus, they could have stoned Him to death.

No… they wanted Him publically tortured and crucified as only the Romans could do!

Why did the Jewish leaders go to all the trouble of bringing the Romans into this thing – to have Jesus crucified – when the Jewish leaders could have had Jesus stoned to death?

Had they stoned Him, the religious leaders knew that they would be running the risk of turning Jesus into a sympathetic figure, even a martyr, in the eyes of the Jewish people with whom Jesus was quite popular.

After all, a crowd had just welcomed Him into the Holy City on Sunday, laying coats and palm branches before the feet of the donkey he rode upon. The people loved Him!

At this point, I must dispel an historical perversion that has been propagated over the years. The Jewish people were not responsible for killing Jesus. It was the Sanhedrin – a group of 70 religious leaders – and the Romans who did so at the Sanhedrin’s behest. Let’s not hold an entire populace guilty for the decision of 70 men.

Anyway, it wasn’t enough to destroy Jesus’ life. The religious leaders also had to destroy His reputation. And the ultimate way of doing this was through crucifixion. We read it in Deuteronomy 21:23, the religious leaders knew this as they had the Torah memorized, just as Paul did when he quoted it in Galatians 3:13…

Anyone who is nailed to a tree is under God’s curse.

They didn’t just want to kill Him. They wanted to curse Him! So that the people would walk away from Him in disgust.

But, it didn’t work.

Christ, the Messiah, redeemed us from that curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”) (Galatians 3:13)

So, make this mental note – just after daybreak, the Sanhedrin, under the auspices of Caiaphas, met again to rubber stamp the previous night’s decision. Why? To legitimize a totally illegitimate process. They knew it was illegal to try a man at night (even though they just had… twice even), so they made it “legal” by meeting at dawn. Another “legal problem” they ran into was this: If a death sentence were decided upon, it could not be carried out for another 24 hours. Yet, they pronounced Jesus’ death sentence and carried it out in the same day.

Now, as I look closer at this night and day of Jesus’ life, I wonder: What did they do with Jesus in those pre-dawn hours between the second and third trials?

Excavations of the high priest’s house, beneath the compound, just adjacent to the courtyard, but underground, archeologists have discovered a pit… a dungeon. Holding cells where prisoners were whipped, tortured, and one particular “cell” which was actually a pit from which no one could escape. In fact, the prisoner would be lowered into it in a harness using ropes to hold them… likely until their next trial phase.
It would not surprise me at all that while trapped in that dark, lonely pit, Jesus prayed Psalm 88:

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
    day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
    turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
    and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit…

…You have put me in the lowest pit,
    in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
    you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
    and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
    my eyes are blinded by my tears.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
    I spread out my hands to you…
13 …I cry to you for help, Lord;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Why, Lord, do you reject me
    and hide your face from me?

15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
    I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
    your terrors have destroyed me.
17 All day long they surround me like a flood;
    they have completely engulfed me.
18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
    darkness is my closest friend.

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