Episode 137 - Before the Sanhedrin, part 1

February 7, 2017

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After being privately questioned by Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, is gathered in haste to the house of the high priest where He is questioned, mocked, accused, spit on, and beaten. There was no legality whatsoever to the actions of the Jewish authorities, and the steps to a judicial murder of Jesus had been set in motion. This episode looks at the first inquisition of the Sanhedrin in the late evening of Thursday of Passion Week.

This video is part of the Opening Up the Gospels series.

Hey, I’m Josh Hawkins, welcome to episode 137 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last several episodes, I’ve been looking at Jesus’ activity beginning with his arrest and capture in the Garden of Gethsemane. I talked about how John’s Gospel shows us that He was first sent to Annas, probably the most powerful Jew in Jerusalem at the time, who then sends Him bound to Caiaphas, the high priest. As we looked at in the last episode, I believe Caiaphas had interrogated Him privately in order to gather evidence against Him while the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, was awakened and summoned. Remember, it wasn’t like the entire Sanhedrin, which was likely around 70 members, were just waiting around at Caiaphas’ house at 1 in the morning during one of the busiest times of the year in the city. It would have taken some time for the servants of the high priest to go to every member’s house in Jerusalem, wake them, and tell them to come because Jesus had been captured. So during the private interview that John 18 records, the members of the council are filing into Caiaphas’ palace. We can’t discern the number that had arrived when the more public inquisition that we’re going to look at today takes place, but maybe half were there? Once enough had gathered, I think we can assume that Jesus was then moved from the private chamber into a larger meeting hall so He could be interrogated before the chief priests and the elders. So let’s read today from Matthew chapter 26. Mark chapter 14 parallels this passage from Matthew very closely. "Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’ ”" (Matthew 26:59–61 ESV) So a sufficient number of the Sanhedrin had gathered at such a late hour in the private courts of the high priest, seeking evidence that would warrant them putting Jesus to death. Now I don’t think that we can assume that the entire Jewish ruling council was present at these proceedings. Why? Well it’s an argument from silence, but surely some of them would not have been able to be gathered in such haste, and certainly some who were sympathetic to Jesus, like Nicodemus, would also have completely refused to participate altogether. The other big thing we have to keep in mind here is that there was absolutely no legality to what was going on. The Jewish governing body was bringing charges against someone and trying them in the middle of the night. This wasn’t justice, and this was not the way the Sanhedrin would normally function. They were plotting a judicial murder. So back to the passage - Matthew says that the first thing the Jewish authorities try to do is to find evidence against Jesus in order to put Him to death. It’s like they’re trying to give the appearance of being legal as they try to find something that they could say to Pilate, the Roman governor, in the morning. Matthew says that “many” false witnesses came forward. We don’t know who these false witnesses were or exactly how many of them there were, but the Gospels do make out their accusations as pretty pathetic. Mark even says this in his narration of the scene: "For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’ ” Yet even about this their testimony did not agree." (Mark 14:56–59 ESV) These false witnesses have testimony that doesn’t even agree with each other. In any court where justice is upheld, this kind of evidence would not even be considered. Now Matthew and Mark both say that one of these false witnesses charged Jesus with something that sounds very similar to what He said back at the opening of His public ministry, when He drove the money changers out of the Temple. In John chapter 2, we read: "Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body." (John 2:19–21 ESV) Almost two years to the day before this so-called “trial” transpiring in Caiaphas’ house, Jesus had prophesied that if they were to destroy the temple of His body, it would be raised up on the third day. How ironic, right? These guys were right on the verge of doing His will and fulfilling what He spoke. And the very sign they were seeking, His resurrection from the dead, would be the very thing that turns the world upside down in just a few days. This is just crazy, isn’t it? Oh, the wisdom and ways of the Lord are so stunning. Now throughout all of this so far, Jesus had remained completely silent. The Jewish authorities are hurling insults at Him, defaming Him, blaspheming Him, and He didn’t defend Himself. And this made them look all the more ridiculous. His response right here is a model, a template, for our discipleship. So often we see Jesus and the apostles telling us to love our enemies and to not defend ourselves. Jesus even said “blessed are you when men speak false things against you”. Jesus’ response here is totally different from the way we would likely respond. We are so quick to defend ourselves when we actually did something wrong. It’s like we argue for how right we were if we just did 10% of something right and the rest completely wrong. We are relentless. Think about how hard responding the way Jesus did would be in a work setting, or in a public place. It would take a massive amount of composure to not defend ourselves. But in this scene from the Gospels, we have Jesus and all these seemingly important men gathered around Him, mocking Him, insulting Him, and He isn’t saying a single thing. Oh just think about how staggering this is, considering how human beings behave under pressure. Well, let’s keep going in Matthew: "And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy." (Matthew 26:62–65 ESV) Well, Caiaphas gets so frustrated, and charges Jesus to answer. Jesus was under no obligation or pressure to answer Him whatsoever, but He knew His hour had come to lay down His life. So He finally gives an answer, saying “yes, I am that final king of Israel that was promised to David in 2 Samuel 7.” But He says more and goes beyond their question in His answer, and it’s very significant. Quoting the prophet Daniel and Psalm 110, Jesus says that they would see Him seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven. Let’s read those two passages: "“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed." (Daniel 7:13–14 ESV) And Psalm 110: "The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool… The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth." (Psalm 110:1,5–6 ESV) At this saying, Caiaphas tears his robes and said that Jesus was blaspheming by saying that corporate Israel would one day see Jesus for who He really was - the very God of Israel. Now blasphemy is an act of offense and slander against God. It was not blasphemy for Jesus to say that He was the messiah. There had been other false leaders who had risen up and who would rise up, claiming to be that final king of Israel. However, what set Caiaphas off was the fact that Jesus claimed divinity. He would be sitting at the right hand of God, saying He was equal with the Father. And of course this is thoroughly true of Jesus, as we’ve talked about often throughout this series. But Caiaphas won’t have anything of it, and Jesus has finally said something that, in his mind, is enough evidence to condemn Him. Matthew’s Gospel continues, saying: "You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”" (Matthew 26:65–68 ESV) So Caiaphas turns to the other members of the Sanhedrin and says “well, what do you think? You heard it from his own lips!” And they say that He is truly deserving of death. And they begin to strike Him and spit on Him. What’s really going on in the human heart that would cause him to raise his hand and strike the very One giving him breath? And what does this say about Jesus, that He would subject Himself to such an absurd injustice? Just think about watching someone get spit on for a second. Think about if that person is someone you deeply respect or admire. Maybe a parent, a leader, a mentor, or someone who is very godly. Think about someone beating them, spitting on them, and slapping them. Now of course this analogy falls far short, because we’re talking about God in the flesh. This one being beaten and spit on is the LORD of glory, the same one who shook Mount Sinai and the same one from Isaiah 6. He’s just standing there, and He’s permitting the Jewish authorities to do this to Him. My goodness. We have to allow our meditation on this scene to really strike us and break us. It should seem absolutely impossible that the LORD of glory, the creator of all things, would be spit upon that night by wicked, murderous people. At any moment, He could have stopped the whole thing. Yet moment by moment, He let it all happen, and He gave Himself over to that fate. So I’d encourage you - don’t just pass this by in your meditation. There is so much to be seen and known about Jesus here. Well, as I did in the last episode, I want to summarize Jesus’ steps for you after He was captured in the garden. First, Jesus is escorted from the Garden by the Romans and the Temple guards to the house of Annas where He is held briefly. Only John records this. Then, Jesus is escorted to the house of Caiaphas. Caiaphas didn’t know what Jesus was going to be like, so he sizes Him up to get material to indict Him before the rest of the Sanhedrin. Only John records this as well. And third, what we just looked at, Jesus appears before some of the Sanhedrin in the early morning hours. Matthew and Mark record this, Luke just mentions it briefly, and John doesn’t say anything about it at all. Fourth, Jesus will appear before the full Sanhedrin at daybreak. Matthew and Mark only mention this, and Luke records a more full account for us. This is what we’re going to look at in the next episode. I hope this chronology makes sense to you. If you’ve missed any of the past episodes in this series, find them all on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and come back next time.

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