34 The Illegal Trial before the Sanhedrin

Dr. Doug Bookman

A. Jesus Is Led to the House of Caiaphas the High Priest

Scripture: Luke 22:54; Matthew 26:57; Mark 14:53; and John 18:12

Notes: Elaborate preparations had been laid so that the Accused could be tried and convicted and executed before the city awoke – all of this because everyone concerned (except Jesus, and perhaps Mary, Lazarus’s sister – John 12:7) was persuaded – on the basis of the events of Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday – that if the city were aware of what was about to be done to the Nazarene, they would riot in His defense. Thus, for the first stage of the Jewish trial, Jesus is taken speedily to the home of Caiaphas on the Western Hill of Jerusalem, near the “upper room.” (This trial was illegal, as trials were never to occur in a private home, but in a public place where witnesses could be found.) His enemies (again, illegally because witnesses could not be called at night) attempt to find an indictment against Jesus that could be taken to Pilate.

B. Peter Follows Distantly

Scripture: John 18:15-18 and Luke 22:54

Notes: Peter, having protested his greater allegiance to the Lord, does follow the band of soldiers and Sanhedrinists as they lead the Lord in chains back across the city and up to the home of the High Priest. However, Peter is unable to gain entrance into the courtyard until “the other disciple” (John the apostle, author of the fourth gospel) speaks a word on his behalf. By this means, Peter is in the courtyard of the priestly villa, is confronted three times with the charge that he was with the Criminal who had been arrested, and before the rooster crows denies the Lord three times – the final denial under the watching eye of the Lord as He is being brought back into the house.

Questions/Observations: The drama of Peter’s denials, despair, and restoration is an important element of the passion narrative. Compare Luke 22:31-32; John 21:15-19; and 1 Peter 5:10.

C. Stage #1 of Jewish Trial: Preliminary Interrogation before Annas

Scripture: John 18:13-14, John 18:19-24

Notes: This interrogation was a “fishing expedition” for the purpose of finding some accusation that could be made against Jesus. The Sanhedrinists had arrested Him, intended to turn Him over to the Romans for execution, but so far had been unable to discover any sort of indictment they might lodge against Him. Annas’s impertinent questioning was illegal by Jewish jurisprudential protocols: every matter was to be settled “by two or three witnesses,” not by forcing the accused to testify against Himself. Thus, Jesus’s measured and appropriate response to Annas’s questions.

Questions/Observations: The Synoptics state that after Jesus was arrested He was taken to Caiaphas (high priest at that time). John states that He was taken first to Annas. Annas was Caiaphas’s father-in-law; he had been a high priest for some time, had been deposed for cruelty and rapaciousness, but continued to live in the priestly villa.

D. Stage #2 of Jewish Trial: Primary Hearing Before the Sanhedrin

Scripture: Matthew 26:59-66 and Mark 14:55-64

Notes: This “trial” was illegal on several counts; it was intended not to determine guilt but to accomplish execution. There is much about the dynamics of the week, about the difficulty of Jesus’s claims, and about the sorry state of leadership in the Jewish nation at this time that combines to produce this travesty of justice, and it was all, of course, in the providence and purposes of God. There is no sense in which the Jewish people as a whole incur any special guilt because of the events of this night. The record is clear that “by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God,” Jesus was “taken by wicked hands, crucified, and put to death” (Acts 2:23).

Questions/Observations: When Jesus was finally (illegally) required to testify against Himself, He openly confessed to the charge that He had made a two-fold claim concerning Himself. What was that two-fold claim that Jesus made?

E. Jesus Is Held and Abused while His Captors Await the Dawn

Scripture: Matthew 26:67-68; Mark 14:65; and Luke 22:63-65

Notes: Again, the abuse described in these verses is sub-human and offensive. Under Roman rule, the Jewish leadership was given significant authority to arrest, try, and even punish criminals, but the Romans did not allow them arms. Therefore, in all of those efforts, the Jewish leaders would depend upon Roman soldiers “loaned” them for the effort. It is likely that most of these abuses were perpetrated by those Roman mercenaries, caught up in the crescendo of hatred and anger that was, in fact, very much a part of this scene. Mark 14:65 speaks of the “officers” (according to the Greek, “underling, inferior officer”), and Luke 22:63 specifies “the men who held Jesus” as the perpetrators of these abuses. Compare Isaiah 50:6, which is specifically fulfilled in this awful scene.

F. Meanwhile, Peter Denies Jesus a Third Time

Scripture: Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; John 18:25-27; and Luke 22:55-60

Notes: The Sanhedrinists knew that the trial held in the middle of the night was illegal and that it likely would not pass muster with the Roman procurator. So, they intended to bring Jesus back into the chambers at the first blush of dawn (see below) for a brief “post-sunup” hearing, get him to confess to His claims once again, and then take Him to Pilate. They had been holding Him in some sort of underground installation – perhaps a cistern or cellar, and as they brought Him back into the chamber, He was manhandled through the courtyard. Peter was still in that courtyard, and just as He denied Jesus a third time, the rooster crowed (recall that Jesus’s enemies had been waiting for the dawn to bring Him back into the judicial chamber). Thus, Jesus was nearby as Peter loudly denied Him. Jesus looked upon Peter, and Peter looked up to see the Lord gazing on him – and then Peter went out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:61-62).

G. Stage #3 of Jewish Trial: Jesus Brought Back and Formally Accused of Blasphemy

Scripture: Luke 22:61-62 and Luke 22:66-71

Notes: Only Luke records this. Again, this is an attempt to put a façade of legitimacy upon the illegal nocturnal trial to which Jesus had been subjected; thus it occurred “as soon as it was day” (Luke 22:66). There were no witnesses or interrogations; Jesus was simply required to confess once again His two-fold claim: to be Messiah and to be God come in the flesh.

Questions/Observations: Notice how careful Jesus is to ensure that the charge against Him is precise and complete; He refuses to affirm the charge until it is stated completely. Understand that the charge of claiming to be the Messiah was the incendiary issue to the Romans; they had no toleration for pretender kings! Thus, that is the charge which the Sanhedrinists emphasize.

Adapted from the Life of Christ study notes of Dr. Doug Bookman, professor of New Testament Exposition at Shepherds Theological Seminary (used by permission).