THE PASSION OF OUR LORD:
DETAILING THE EVENTS OF OUR LORD’S SUFFERING AND DEATH
Session #13 (Most quotes are NIV)
TRIAL #2—STILL FRIDAY NIGHT: THE ILLEGAL TRIAL AT CAIAPHAS’ PALACE
To appreciate fully the Jewish mindset of the trial before the Jewish Council, read the entire chapter of Deuteronomy 13. Moses tells the people the signs of a false prophet: 1) they will lead you to worship false gods 2) they will claim to speak in God’s name. Anyone guilty of this, says Moses, must be put to death. The Council members see Jesus as a false prophet. Now all they have to do is put him on trial and prove it. If they can prove it, they can pass the death sentence upon him. But before sentencing, they have to have two witnesses who agree in detail about the charges. Mark 15:46 says “Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.” They couldn’t even LIE about Jesus accurately—that’s pretty bad.
Here is a breakdown of the Jewish Council:
- The President was Caiaphas, the HIGH Priest.
- The five Chief Priests were next, in this order:
- The Chief Priest & Vice President. He assisted the High Priest on all feast days and assumed the duties of the High Priest if necessary. He controlled the Temple Guard.
- The Chief Priest in charge of temple activities: he arranged and supervised all the personnel of the Temple, the festival activities, the rotation of the priestly duty roster, procurement of any and all Temple consumables, etc.
- The Three Chief Priests in charge of the Temple treasury, which amounted to millions of dollars in 1st Century money! Safrai and Stern, The Jewish People in the First Century, claim that all three were Annas’ family members!
- The Elders. These were the family heads of the most prominent families in Jerusalem. Joseph of Arimathea was in this category. Luke 23:50-51 “Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man,who had not consented to their decision and action.” (might not have been invited to the trial!)
- The Scribes. Most of these were Pharisees. Primary activity of a scribe was copying manuscripts and producing all manner of legal documents needed by the population.
All discussion and voting were done strictly by AGE—the youngest up to the oldest. The oldest members had the last say because they were seen to be the wisest and most experienced. The sessions were normally held in the Chamber of Hewn Stones, an adjunct of the Temple complex itself. When the Council (or Sanhedrin) met there, they met in a semi-circle format. On rare occasions, like this early Good Friday morning, they would meet in the palace of Caiaphas. YES, it could handle 70 people plus aides easily—it was that spacious!
PREFERRED CHARGE: THREATENING TO DESTROY THE TEMPLE
There’s a certain “timetable of urgency” involved here. This Friday morning is the “Day of Preparation” for the Holiest Day of the Year on the Jewish calendar: The Sabbath Finale of the 8 days of the Feast of Passover and/or Unleavened Bread. The Jewish leaders know that they must conduct a “legal” trial before they can go to Pilate, get Pilate to see their point of view, get Jesus crucified, get him off the cross and bury him, ALL BEFORE 6 P.M. because that is when the Holy Sabbath begins—sundown.
That having been said, the second illegal trial is being held to “get their ducks in a row.” Reading Matthew 27 and Mark 14 makes it clear that they want to charge him with preaching against the Temple. Mark 14:58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’” There were several occasions upon which Jesus spoke of the Temple being destroyed or that his body was the Temple. As pointed out before, they couldn’t get their stories “straight.” Jewish law required absolute agreement in detail in order for a charge to stick.
Speaking against the Temple was a serious charge in the Jewish mind; it was the equivalent of speaking against God. This was where God lived among His people. It was so important that all synagogues at the time were built to face the Temple in Jerusalem!
But even in his early ministry, Jesus had attacked the Jewish notions about the Temple. See John 2:18-19. After Jesus had trashed the tables of the money changers, “The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’”
WHY was this their preferred charge? There’s a good reason: the Jews did not have the right of capital punishment. They could pronounce a sentence of death, but they were not allowed to carry it out. But there was one exception! According to ROMAN law, anyone who committed a sacrilege against a temple—any temple—could be killed on the spot without the consent of the governor.
And THAT is why they tried so hard to get Jesus on a Temple-charge. And they failed! He wouldn’t discuss it.
THE CHARGE OF BLASPHEMY
The frustrated High Priest, Caiaphas, gets a brain storm. Let’s get Jesus to testify against himself! Mark 14:61-62 “Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ Jesus answered ‘I am.’” (Σὺ εἶ ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ εὐλογητοῦ;ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν· Ἐγώ εἰμι.”) (I AM) Mark doesn’t use the phrase the same way the Gospel of John does and Jim Voelz doesn’t think it’s a circumlocution for the divine name Yahweh. But for a phrase that “isn’t supposed to mean anything,” it sure keeps popping up in the darndest places!
At least three things are at work here:
1. The “Son of the Blessed One” is unquestionably meant to avoid the use of “Yahweh.” The Old Testament refers to God as “blessed” multiple times. Gen. 9:26 is just one example: “Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Shem…” The question asked to Jesus means: “Are you Yahweh’s Son?”
2. Jesus isn’t willing to be crucified on the “wrong charge.” He was refusing to speak to Caiaphas or the witnesses AT ALL until Caiaphas asked the right question! Once the right question was asked, Jesus said enough for them to react with a charge of blasphemy.
3. Blasphemy was a very specific charge. According to Jewish law, “blasphemy” occurred if a) a person credited God with a false trait—e.g. “God plays dice with the Universe” b) a person took from God a trait which belonged to him—e.g. “God doesn’t know everything!” c) a person ascribed to himself a trait which belongs only to God—e.g. “I know everything that God does!”
NOW they’ve got Him! Jesus has called himself God, and that is blasphemy—a capital offense. All that is left is to wait until daylight, make the charge official and then off to Pilate.
Jim Voelz, Mark Vol. 2, p. 925f, points to a statement which Jesus had made earlier in the week (perhaps on Tuesday). Look at Matt. 22:45; Mark 12:37; Luke 20:44! All three say “If David calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” But in the Greek, Mark and Luke are worded differently: “his” is in the emphatic position. Therefore, the correct translation is “If David calls him Lord, how can he be his (meaning ‘GOD’S’) son?” Since Jesus has recently accepted the title “Son of David” in Jericho, and again on Palm Sunday, this would affirm his claim to divinity—“I am the Son of God!” (Jim earned his Ph.D. in Greek grammar and syntax from Cambridge.)
The point? Jesus had by this statement given the Jewish leaders all the ammunition they needed to charge him with blasphemy at trial, but they fumbled around with a Temple charge until Jesus took matter into his own hands and said “I’ll start talking when you have the correct picture! Make a charge against me I’m willing to die for! I AM the Son of God!”