Trial & Denial – 14th Nissan

This examination before Annas was informal, and extrajudicial, distinct from the formal trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. Yeshua was not yet accused of anything; so far, no judge had ascended the judgment-seat, neither were any witnesses called to give evidence against the prisoner. It was held with the view of extorting something from the captive, which might afterwards be used against Him. Brutality and intimidation were employed to try to force a confession. Yeshua‘s response exposed both this illegitimate procedure of trying to force a confession from the accused instead of hearing testimony from witnesses and Annas’ sin of plotting in secret against Yeshua’s life as opposed to Yeshua’s innocence in doing everything in the open: 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.”

The inquisitor himself was so ashamed, and for the moment so confounded, that a zealous official struck Yeshua with his open hand. The innocent, unabashed face of our persecuted Lord was thus smitten because His simple defense had silenced His cruel opponent. Seeing his tactics were failing and feeling uncomfortably exposed, the senior Kohen Gadol (High Priest), Annas, sent Yeshua on to the official Kohen Gadol at that time, his son-in-law Caiaphas.

As we saw in Who Wrote Each of the Four Gospels 7 – The Witness of the Scriptures on John – Renewal Blog, the author of John’s gospel appears to have been a priest who lived in Jerusalem and served in the temple. So, he was known to the high priest, familiar with his palace and comfortable in its courtyard. He fit in with the other priests gathered to see what the commotion was about. Peter, however, was like a fish out of water. He didn’t know anyone else here, didn’t dress the same or sound the same, with his Galilean accent. Peter would have both looked and sounded conspicuously out of place in that setting. The lowly servant girl who kept watch at the door was the first one to guess at why this stranger was sitting among them, come over to Peter and challenge that he had been with Yeshua.

Fear gripped Peter, he was a stranger in a strange and threatening place. He had lashed out in the garden and slashed off the ear of the High Priest’s servant, and now he was in the courtyard with those who had witnessed his crime, those who were determined to kill his Master. He wanted to be there for Yeshua, but couldn’t do anything to help, every option only made things worse. He was traumatized and confused. How could this be happening? None of it made sense and there was nothing he could do to fix this mess. Before he knew what had happened, Peter had denied his Lord a second time.

The pressure was mounting. Now it wasn’t just a lowly servant-girl who challenged Peter, but another man, someone who with authority, a servant of the High Priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, someone who had personal reason to want to do him harm. This time the questioning was more menacing. Peter felt trapped, like a cornered animal. He began to invoke a curse on himself, to curse and to swear an oath:I do not know the Man!

The rooster crowed. Mark tells us it was for the second time. Yeshua turned and looked at him. Suddenly Peter realized what had been happening. He had done what he was determined he would never do, denied his Lord and best friend three times. He had totally failed. He knew it and Yeshua knew it, Yeshua had known it from the beginning and now Peter saw this weakness his Master had known all along, and he was devastated. He fled that place of utter failure, went out and wept bitterly, grieving the loss of who he thought he was.

John obviously did not have access to these proceedings before the Sanhedrin, and so gives us no record of them, as he only recorded that which he witnessed personally.

Although our Saviour was falsely accused and slandered when He had done no wrong, said no wrong and thought no wrong, it is worth remembering when we are falsely accused that (as Spurgeon preached):
When I have been slandered, I have often said to myself, “Ah! they have spoken a
lie against me; but, if they had known me better, they might have said quite as bad
a thing as that, and yet have only spoken what was true.” There is not one man
living, who is in his right senses, who would like to have all his thoughts written
down, or all his words and acts recorded.
(The Spurgeon Library | Christ Before Annas)

The Mishnah, written around 200 A.D. to record the Oral Torah of second temple times and beyond, presented Jewish ideals of their legal system. Few legal systems live up to their ideals. According to the Mishnah, capital cases had to be decided by a Sanhedrin of 23 judges, a Great Sanhedrin of 71 judges for accusations such a false prophet. It is unclear whether Caiaphas convened the full Great Sanhedrin of 71 judges or just formed a Sanhedrin of 23 judges sympathetic to his cause for this hastily convened court at the crack of dawn for a capital case trial. He did what was needed to ensure the desired verdict.

The Sanhedrin were not to originate charges but only investigate those brought before it by at least two credible witnesses who had warned the perpetrator immediately prior to committing the act that it was a capital offense and whose testimony had to be in total agreement in every detail.  If the conviction in a capital case was unanimous but rendered too quickly the accused was acquitted on the assumption that the judges had not adequately considered the possibility of the defendant’s innocence.   The Mishna concludes that:

The Talmud declares that “forty years before the destruction of the [Second] Temple, capital punishment ceased in Israel. This date is traditionally put at 28 A.D., a time that corresponds with the 18th year of Tiberius’ reign. From this time on, the Sanhedrin required the approval of the Roman governor of Judea (Pilate) before they could punish anyone by death, and only the Roman governor could order execution by the most shameful and cruel means – crucifixion.

These rushed proceedings to get Yeshua convicted and crucified while Pilate was in Jerusalem for Passover contravened Jewish law but those involved justified their unlawful actions on the basis of necessity.

When their witnesses proved to be false the only legal option was to acquit the accused. They were too heavily invested in Yeshua’s guilt to do that. A sense of urgency propelled them to have Him convicted and done away with NOW, before His popularity could grow any stronger or the cries of “hosannah to the son of David” grow any louder and threaten their good standing with Pilate. No one who was not appointed by Rome could have any position of leadership over the people. That’s why groups like the Essenes considered the Temple leadership and practices irredeemably corrupt.

Yeshua‘s reply: “you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven” makes direct reference to Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13. It would have left no doubt in the minds of Caiaphas or those on the council: Yeshua of Nazareth was claiming to be the eternal Messiah and Son of God. Instantly, they all condemned Him as deserving death and some of these judges on the Sanhedrin showed their disgust by spitting on Him, mocking Him and striking Him. Solemn court proceedings had degenerated into mob violence, and that carried out by the very judges themselves!

For this sentence to be carried out they had to take Yeshua to Pilate.

John, with his particular focus on all things priestly, notes for us that the contingent from the Sanhedrin did not go into the Praetorium because entering this Gentile area would have made them ceremonially unclean and thereby unable to eat their Passover meal that evening. With Pilate’s history of brutally crushing any dissent or perceived threat to Rome’s absolute rule it is interesting that he shows any reticence to rubber stamping the Sanhedrin‘s verdict and executing this usurper who seemed so little moved by Rome’s power. He was used to men pleading or cursing, but this man did neither, showed neither fear nor disrespect but a quiet confidence that everything was going to some plan that Pilate could not grasp.

Yeshua was sent from one side of the palace to the other, from Pilate to Herod, and a friendship was born. The chief priests and scribes from the Sanhedrin followed His across to continue with their accusations and determination that the death penalty be applied before time ran out and the Passover was upon them. Herod had feared that somehow Yeshua might be a reincarnation of Yohanan the Immerser, whom he had imprisoned and then, at the insistence of his stepdaughter, murdered. Herod had enjoyed many a long and deep theological discussion with Yohanan, but Yeshua would say nothing to him, nothing! Relieved that Yeshua was clearly not Yohanan, Herod quickly tired of this sport, and sent him back to Pilate. With this political maneuver Pilate had gained an important ally in his efforts to govern these strange, stubborn people whose ways were so different to those of other groups in the Roman Empire with their insistence on only one God and vehement rejection of every Roman god, including Emperor worship.

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In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* Have you ever been falsely accused, and what can we learn from how Jesus responded?
* What problems arose from the High Priests also taking political power?
* What can we learn from Peter’s denials?
* Why do you think many Jews considered the High Priesthood of Jesus’ day to be corrupt?
* What do you think of Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin?
* What did Jesus’ hearing before Pilate and before Herod prove?