Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief
The word “trial” has multiple meanings, and the Easter season brings many of them before us.
We use the term to represent (1) determination of guilt or innocence before a judge and jury; (2) an effort to test a hypothesis scientifically with several possible variables; (3) an effort to try to do something; (4) suffering through a difficult experience; (5) an annoying person.
In a crowded Jerusalem as thousands of visitors prepared to celebrate the Passover festival, Caiaphas, the high priest, summoned the chief priests and the elders to his palace. There, they conspired to arrest Jesus of Nazareth by stealth and kill him (Matt. 26:4). He had grown in popularity and had spoken critically of them throughout the land. They determined to avoid doing this during the festival in fear of rioting by the people. Nevertheless, they openly discussed how they might bring this plan to fruition.
Jewish law required them to have two witnesses to testify that Jesus had been warned that what he was doing was punishable by death and that he kept doing it anyway. They began to select those to testify and to fabricate what they would say.
The following morning, Judas, one of the 12 followers of Jesus, bargained with them and gave them a plan.
Two days later, Thursday, Jesus celebrated in comfortable surroundings a warm and festive Passover meal with his disciples. It was the first of the Days of Unleavened Bread—the day they prepare the Passover sacrifice.
This man, Jesus—whom the disciples had followed daily for three years, hearing him speak to large crowds and single souls—had spoken to them of God’s new covenant with mankind, of a different way to relate to each other and to him. Tonight, however, he seemed subdued, more formal.
Then, as the conversation stilled, Jesus spoke shocking words: “One of you will betray me,” he said.
The disciples became distressed as they looked around them, denying that this traitorous treachery could be done by any of them. In the midst of their confusion, Judas slipped out of the room.
Jesus gave each of them bread as a symbol of his body and wine as a symbol of his blood, and asked them to remember him. Then, they left, crossing the Kidron Valley to spend the night in the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.
Upon finishing the walk from Jerusalem, the disciples settled in for the night. Jesus took Peter, James and John some distance away and asked them to wait for him and pray. He went further on and knelt, petitioning God in a heart-wrenching prayer of obedience to his Father. When he returned, he found his disciples asleep.
Suddenly, a crowd of soldiers of the high priest surrounded them. Judas was with them and stepped forward to deliver the signal to the soldiers as to the person to arrest. He betrayed Jesus with a kiss. In the melee that followed, the disciples deserted Jesus and fled.
They took him to Caiaphas. By this time, it was early Friday morning.
Jewish law requires trials to be held on either Monday or Thursday and never on the first or last day of Passover and never at night.
With great difficulty they finally found two witnesses to testify against Jesus. They testified that Jesus had said that he could “destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days.”
Jesus did not answer this charge.
At daybreak, the high priest challenged him to answer and stated: “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
Jesus answered: “You yourself have said it. But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Caiaphas tore his clothes and charged him with blasphemy. “We need no witnesses. You have heard him yourself.” He then asked the assembled elders for a verdict. They replied: “He is worthy of death.”
Immediately, they took him to Pilate, the Roman governor. They accused him of refusing to pay taxes to Caesar and alleged that he claimed to be the Christ, a king. Pilate asked him if he was the king of the Jews. Jesus answered: “Yes, it is so.”
Pilate stated to the chief priests and the mob: “I find no basis for a charge against this man,” and after discovering Jesus was a Galilean, ordered him sent to Herod.
Herod questioned him, but Jesus refused to answer. Then Herod and the soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. They dressed him in an elegant robe and sent him back to Pilate. Pilate, concerned after his wife reported her dream about Jesus to him, reminded the accusers that he found no basis for the death penalty but would imprison the man. He tried three times to dissuade the priests and the mob demanding crucifixion. The mob prevailed. Pilate granted their demand.
What happened was mob rule. There was no justice here—no due process, certainly nothing like our fifth amendment or our freedom of speech. They violated their own codes as those in authority sought only self-preservation. It was murder by the state—or were they only unwitting instruments of a higher power, laying a sacrificial lamb on life’s altar and placing before mankind a new covenant of grace?