The Bible: Jesus' religious trial

Jesus stands before his judges. Photo: Todd Bolen

VANCOUVER, Wash., March 24, 2013 — Upon completing the Upper Room Discourse, the largest body of teaching recorded in Scripture, the disciples accompanied Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus began an evening-long struggle with his pending death.

Modern readers find the agonizing Jesus suffered in those short hours before his arrest unimaginable. The language describing his struggles is illuminating: His soul overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death; distressed and troubled; pleading for the hour to pass him; and then to sweat blood-like drops. After three years of abuse by the religious leaders of Israel, Jesus had never experienced anything like this.

The picture of Jesus in the Garden reveals a man facing an agonizing death fearlessly, yet with the full knowledge of the necessity of his pending suffering. Jesus knowingly faced an awful death. His death enveloped more that a physical demise. Upon him rested the payment for the sins of mankind. As a man he feared the agony of the wrath of God. Jesus without sin was about to become sin: “Giving himself as a ransom for many;” “bearing our sins in his body;” “suffering for sins once and for all;” and “becoming a curse for us.” The “amazing grace” is that in spite of all of this anguish, Jesus said, “Yet not as I will, but as you [God] will.” With that confession, Jesus embraced his hour of suffering.

As the Temple police drew near, Judas approached Jesus and gave him the customary kiss for identification. While the general public knew of the Galilean who did great wonders, many did not know what he looked like, and certainly not in the dark. Jesus unhesitatingly identified himself to the mob. Peter would have none of it. Like a super hero, Peter unsheathed his sworn and with a mighty crushing blow cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave. Jesus quickly rebuked the brave, overzealous, and impulsive Peter, reminding him that if he wanted to avoid the experience, he could call more than twelve legions of angles to fight his battle.

Jesus’ rebuke crushed Peter’s spirit. He felt hurt and rejected. “Why wouldn’t Jesus let me defend my master?” Peter debated in his mind. “Is he not going to establish the kingdom now? Must he really die?” Did Jesus’ reprimand play a part in Peter’s mind when he denied the Lord only a few hours later? Peter’s war lay within, but it would be played out openly.

As the Temple police led the prisoner from the Mount of Olives, Peter and John followed the determined mob from a comfortable distance. As they approached the House of Annas, the Jewish high priest, the gatekeeper denied Peter entry. Fortunately, the high priest knew John and he gained access for Peter. The rest of the disciples slinked away, perhaps making their way to the safe confines of the compound of Mary and Martha in nearby Bethany.

The awful night began with Jesus’ interrogation before Annas (John 18:13). Jesus did not cooperate very well as he stood before the high priest. John witnessed the proceedings with disgust. He could read the handwriting on the wall. This trial would end in disaster.  Jesus curtly reminded Annas he had done his miracles in plain sight and the law gave the duty to the high priest to investigate any contrary ministry. After answering questions not appreciated by his captors, they struck Jesus. With that Annas sent Jesus to another high priest, Caiaphas.

The trial before Annas was not an official trial, but an attempt to find adequate charges to bring before Caiaphas, the official high priest appointed by Herod. In order for the Roman authorities to carry out the sentence desired by the religious community, Caiaphas, not just Annas, must condemn Jesus. The captors escorted Jesus in. Peter followed the party from Annas’ house to Caiaphas’. (Matthew 26:58).

The night passed slowly; it was, perhaps, between midnight and 2 AM. The law required the proceedings to be conducted in broad daylight. By getting an indictment from the high priest late at night, they could send their recommendation to the council of the Sanhedrin for judgment by daybreak, or at least before Jesus’ loyal followers found out about the trial.

Caiaphas, while interrogating Jesus, could get no false witnesses to testify against him. Then someone stepped forward and accused him of threatening the destruction of the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days. (Matthew 26:61) With this the high priest accusingly barked, “Jesus, are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed one?” Caiaphas was clearly losing patience.         

Jesus often refused to answer foolish questions, or questions whose answers his inquisitors should know, but when asked about his person he answered. He snapped “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Jesus’ direct and pointed answer brought the full wrath of Caiaphas down on him. Tearing his garments was not in a fit of rage, but the judicial response to a person admitting guilt. With little empathy for another human and in his rage, he permitted the prisoner to be slapped and beaten. He is pronounced — guilty.

With that gesture, a chorus of protestors shouted, “He is worthy of death.” (Matthew 26:66) The world’s greatest travesty was unfolding. Jesus’ fate awaited: the cross.



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Donald L. Brake, Sr.

Donald L. Brake, Ph.D., is Dean Emeritus of Multnomah Biblical Seminary, past president of Jerusalem University College, Israel; author of A Visual History of the English Bible: The Tumultuous Tale of The World’s Bestselling Book; Baker Books, 2008 (a 2009 ECPA Christian Book Award finalist), A Visual History of the King James Bible: The Dramatic Tale of the World’s Best-Known Translation, Baker Books, 2011, A Royal Monument of English Literature: The King James Bible 1611, Credo House Publishers, 2011; and antiquarian collector with his extensive collection of rare and significant Bibles and artifacts currently at the Dunham Bible Museum, Houston Baptist University, Houston, Texas.

Contact Donald L. Brake, Sr.


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