[Matthew:26:47-68]; [Matthew:27:1-2], [Matthew:27:11-26].
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
Two days before the feast of the Passover, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of Caiaphas. the high priest, to plan a method of killing Jesus without arousing the multitudes. It was soon after this that Judas bargained with the chief priests and agreed to betray Christ for thirty pieces of silver just as Zechariah had prophesied: “And I said unto them, If ye think good. give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver” [Zechariah:11:12]). From that time forward Judas awaited his opportunity. The night of the Passover, Jesus was alone with the twelve. This was Judas’ opportunity. Christ had told him that he was the one who would betray his Lord, but that did not stop him. At the head of an armed crowd which the chief priests had furnished him, Judas said, “Hail Master,” and kissed Jesus.
The First Trial
Although it was yet night the scribes and elders were assembled to determine how Jesus might be put to death. These men, no doubt, constituted a quorum of the council, or Sanhedrin, which was the high court of the Jews. It was unlawful for the council to meet at night, but here they were, sitting in judgment of the MAN against Whom they had conspired. The fact that they were prejudiced against Christ was sufficient to disqualify them from acting as judges to try Him. Nearly everything the council did to try Jesus was contrary to the traditions they were supposed to uphold.
False witnesses were sought whereby they might bring accusation against Jesus before the court, but it was difficult to find two who agreed. “At the last came two false witnesses, And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days” [Matthew:26:60-61]). “But neither so did their witness agree together” [Mark:14:59]). In as much as these two did not entirely agree, their testimony was of no value according to the Law. “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\” [Deuteronomy:17:6]).
Jesus heard these witnesses bring false accusations against Him, but He never uttered a word in His own defence. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” [Isaiah:53:7]).
The rules of the Sanhedrin prohibited any member from acting as accuser. But it was with the finger of accusation that their leader, the high priest, said, “I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God” [Matthew:26:63]). Being thus put under oath Christ broke His silence and replied, “Thou hast said.” Jesus’ answer given in Mark was, “I am.” It was illegal for any man to be incriminated by his own testimony. By forcing Jesus under oath to answer this question they were compelling Him to testify, that they might incriminate Him.
Jesus was unanimously voted guilty of blasphemy and judged worthy of death upon His own admission that He was the Christ, the Son of God. This could not be called blasphemy unless proof were made that He was not the Messiah. No attempt was made to prove His statement untrue. We understand that according to the Jewish law, at least one of the judges must defend the accused; this judge was honour bound to cast a vote of not guilty. A unanimous vote of guilty in capital cases meant that the verdict was invalid because of the lack of defence. Thus the first trial of Jesus was invalid, because (first), a unanimous vote of guilty was cast by the court; (secondly), no two witnesses agreed against Him; (thirdly), the charge of blasphemy could not stand, because it was by His own testimony that He was the Son of God, and no proof was obtained that denied His Messiahship.
The Second Trial
It was a matter of law that in capital cases a sentence of death could be given only after two trials. These two trials had to be separated by an interval of a full day. A pretext of legality was maintained by waiting until daybreak for the second trial. No witnesses were examined, and the court again violated the law by requiring Jesus to testify against Himself. None of the judges defended Him. The unanimous verdict of guilty, which was reached, was invalid because of lack of defence. Instead of being acquitted, Jesus was condemned to death because He was judged guilty of blasphemy.
Had the Sanhedrin the authority at this time to carry out the execution of the sentence, Jesus would no doubt have been stoned immediately. The Roman government left the Jewish courts free to regulate their own civil and religious affairs, but offences involving life or death had to be tried before the Roman magistrate. The Jewish court had arrived at a verdict and pronounced a sentence, which it had no legal right to pronounce, or to execute. The extent of the authority of the Sanhedrin in this case was to make an accusation before the Roman magistrate.
While in custody of the Sanhedrin, Jesus should have been treated in a civil manner; but, instead, He was shamefully treated — spit upon and buffeted. This was not only a violation of a duty imposed upon the court by law, but was also a degradation of the dignity of the highest court of the Jewish nation. Isaiah prophesied of this treatment: “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting” [Isaiah:50:6]). We often refer to the Cross as the example of Christ’s suffering for us, but many were the sufferings He went through before He reached the cross. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” [Isaiah:53:5]).
The Sanhedrin, having arrived at a verdict of guilty and a sentence of death by reason of blasphemy, bound Jesus and took Him before Pilate, the Roman magistrate. The full measure of the mockery of the trial by the Sanhedrin is easily seen from the charges made against Jesus before Pilate. Their verdict of His being guilty of blasphemy is entirely forgotten. Jesus is charged with treason against the Roman government. This charge would gain the ear of Pilate, while the charges of blasphemy would not, because blasphemy was not a violation of Roman law. “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]). What a flagrant falsehood this is in the face of the words of Jesus, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” [Matthew:22:21]). Pilate rendered his first acquittal with the words, “I find no fault in this man” [Luke:23:4]).
When it was told Pilate that Jesus was from Galilee, which was under the jurisdiction of Herod, Pilate sent Jesus to him. Before Herod “the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him” [Luke:23:10]); but Herod found no fault in Jesus. Although Jesus was declared innocent, “Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate” [Luke:23:11]). This was Christ’s second acquittal before a Roman court.
Before Pilate the Second Time
“And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, Said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him. I will therefore chastise him and release him” [Luke:23:13-16]). With these words Pilate rendered his second verdict of “not guilty.”
Had Pilate been a man of high principle he would have stood by his convictions and released Jesus. Instead, the clamour of the multitude prevailed. “And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required” [Luke:23:24]). In so doing, Pilate broke that splendid legal maxim of the Roman law which says: “The idle clamour of the populace is not to be regarded when they call for a guilty man to be acquitted, or an innocent one to be condemned.”
But far worse than violating a maxim of the Jewish law and the Roman law, Pilate violated the laws of Heaven in denying justice to One of Whom he said, “I find in him no fault at all” [John:18:38]), and by handing Him over to His enemies to be crucified, fearing the wrath of man more than the wrath of God. Thus the Scriptures are fulfilled which declare: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed” [Psalms:2:2]).