(1) Introduction.

In John11v45to53 we read how the Sanhedrin responds to the growing popularity of Jesus after the raising of Lazarus from the dead. They are fearful of a growing popular movement headed by Jesus provoking action by the Romans and the subsequent loss of their power. Caiaphas asserts that it is better for one man to die than for national identity to be lost. So from that time, with the greatest ineptness, the Sanhedrin plotted to take Jesus' life.

Thanks to Judas, Jesus was arrested and taken bound to former Chief Priest, Annas, for a preliminary hearing. See Jn18v12to14 and 19to24. Doubtless the authorities thought Annas could soften up Jesus and gather some incriminating information about his teaching. He was certainly a wily operator and immensely rich from the scams he ran in the temple.

Jesus refused to answer the questions of Annas. He said, quite reasonably, that evidence should be taken from those who had listened to him teach in public - from both his opponents and supporters.

So, an official standing by, slapped Jesus for his pains and he was sent, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest. All over our wicked world men are trying to bind Jesus and halt the progress of Christianity - without success, thank God.

(2) The trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin.

The Sanhedrin was the chief Jewish court in the land. It was composed of priests, Pharisees and elders. The president of the court was the chief priest, Caiaphas. Before examining in detail the trial of Jesus it is worth noting the illegality of proceedings such was the urgency with which the Sanhedrin sought the death of the man from Nazareth:

  • The court sat at night whereas it should only sit in the day time.

  • Jesus, the accused, was allowed no counsel. It is likely Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were not aware that Jesus had been arrested.

  • No witnesses were called to speak in Jesus favour. There were plenty of people who had benefitted from Jesus' healing ministry - but they had no say at Jesus' trial.

  • A verdict of death was pronounced on Jesus without first getting clear what he meant by the titles, 'Messiah,' and 'Son of God.' It was a premature judgment not shared later by Pilate.

Today Christians get short shrift when they accept what Jesus said about marriage and oppose gay marriage. A registrar was sacked for refusing to officiate at gay marriages. She was said to discriminate against gays. But in certain circumstances it is appropriate to discriminate if, for example, behaviour is not beneficial to society as a whole. You could argue that on the whole heterosexual marriage is better for having children and rearing children. However, by and large, the authorities in England will not listen to arguments like this.

So let us look at aspects of Jesus' trial:

(a) The false witnesses.

According to the law, (See Dt17v6) at least 2 or 3 witnesses have to agree before a man could be convicted of a crime.

At the trial of Jesus all sorts of accusations were levelled at Jesus but no two were alike. There were even disagreements between two men who had heard Jesus say, "I will destroy this man made temple and in three days build another, not made by man." Mk14v57. He had referred to the temple of his body which would be destroyed and raised again after three days. See Jn2v19. He had also predicted the destruction of the temple - but not by himself. See Lk21v5and6.

It seems from this that the false witnesses were men with a grudge who gave vent to their grievances regardless of whether they agreed with one another. It is also possible that some members of the Sanhedrin questioned the witnesses who proved unreliable under cross-examination. But what really surprises me is that two or three witnesses were not well primed so that their testimonies regarding the temple agreed. Nothing could have been easier! The lack of coherent and believable false witnesses must be down to either sheer incompetence on the part of those who wanted Jesus dead or a reluctance on the part of Caiaphas to commit so grave an offence.

We must be thankful that through the centuries the enemies of Christianity have not been quite ruthless enough to eradicate Christianity altogether. Stalin was no friend of Christianity. He persecuted the church. But I can remember something Solzhenhitsyn wrote; he observed that Russian grannies held onto and hid their religious icons. They used these to teach their grandchildren Bible stories and keep the Faith alive.

(b) Jesus kept quiet.

Jesus did not respond to the accusations made against him although urged to do so by Caiaphas. He remained silent. It was the best policy for three reasons:

  • There was no need for Jesus to say anything. The two witnesses to his comments about the temple did not agree upon what he said.

  • It would only make matters worse if he got into an argument with the two false witnesses. Let them argue among themselves.

  • Jesus maintained his dignity by remaining calm and silent. He exercised the self-control for which he was unique.

    We Christians have a lot to learn from Jesus. We are very apt to fly off the handle if falsely or unfairly accused. We are not a bit like Moses who kept quiet when his brother and sister grumbled against him and virtually accused him of hogging the limelight. I wasn't often falsely accused as a teacher but I can remember one occasion when a mother came in with a litany of complaints because I had called her unmotivated son a pillock. Now, although I admitted using the word pillock, the other complaints were malicious. I didn't wait for the headmaster to enumerate them all. Instead I stormed out of his study in disgust. This reaction did me no favours!

    (c) The intervention of Caiaphas.

    The High Priest had enough of what he considered was the evasiveness of Jesus. He was determined to get a response. So he put Jesus under oath; he asked him in the name of the living God whether he is the Messiah, the Son of God.

    What did Caiaphas mean by the name, 'Messiah'. It means God's anointed one. Many Jews linked the name to God's promise to David in 2Sam7v12to14: "I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father and he shall be my son.

    The popular view was that God would raise up a great warrior king to deliver his people from the rule of Rome. Jesus was recognised as such by most of his disciples. Right from the beginning they believed Jesus was the Messiah. Andrew told his brother Peter, "We have found the Messiah." And he brought him to Jesus. From that time till Jesus' ascension the disciples expected Jesus the King to establish an earthly kingdom.

    Jesus rarely adopted the name, Messiah, for himself. This is because it created false expectations. However, he did occasionally use it. He told the Samaritan woman at the well that he was the Messiah.

    We knnow what Caiaphas meant when he asked Jesus if he was the Messiah. He was later accused before Pilate of claiming to be King of the Jews.

    It is understandable that Caiaphas should want to know if Jesus had ambitions to be King of the Jews. However, it is not so easy to understand why he coupled being the Messiah with being the Son of God. It was surely possible for Jesus to be a great king, a mighty warrior, the nation's saviour without being called the Son of God. Very few of the Sanhedrin believed that the Messiah's relationship with God would be like that described by the author of Hebrews: For which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father." Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son." Hebv1v5.

    It is possible that the High Priest and many others considered it appropriate to describe the close relationship that would exist between the Messiah and God in terms of the relationship that exists between a son and his father. In other words the expression, 'Son of God' describes the relationship the Messiah has with God. It could be a close, loving, obedient and successful relationship without Jesus being of the same nature as God.

    We certainly need to be clear about our relationship with Jesus. Is he our king? Are we his loving and obedient subjects?

    But we also need to decide whether Jesus is God's son as described by the writer to the Hebrews: The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. Heb1v3and4.

    If we accept the writer to the Hebrew's description of the status of Jesus we do more than respect and obey Jesus, we worship him as divine. We say with Thomas, "My Lord and my God."

    (d) The response of Jesus.

    Jesus acknowledged that:

  • He was and is the Messiah - a special king. In the end that is what the Sanhedrin accused Jesus of before Pilate. They said: "He opposes paying taxes to Caeser and claims to be Christ a king." Lk23v2. Pilate asked Jesus, "You are a king then!" Jesus answered: "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." "What is truth?" asked Pilate.

    Jesus came to earth to establish the values God wished his subjects to exhibit in their lives. They are at the same time the values Jesus expects his subjects to live by. He is a king because God the Father gave him the authority to establish kingdom values and to gather together a people who would be subject to them. Jesus came to earth to declare God's truth and to win many devotees of this truth. The kingdom of God is Christ's kingdom too. It consists of men and women subject to Jesus; converts who accept his rule and live to please him. Pilate was contemptuous of a kingdom of Truth. He did not reckon it any threat to the supremacy of Caesar!!

    We have to ask ourselves to what extent we submit to Christ's truth. He outlines his kingdom's values in the Beatitudes. We cannot read them often enough or meditate on them long enough. On becoming thoroughly acquainted with them we should implement these values in our lives. See Series on the Beatitudes.

  • He was the Son of God. There are two ways this expression could be true of Jesus. He could be called the Son of God because as a man no-one had loved God as much or served him as well as Jesus. It was something he had learned and chosen to do. But Jesus could also be called the Son of God because he was of the same nature as God. A dog can help a blind person to walk because it has been trained to do so. A man may hold the arm of a blind person and lead them along, not because he has been trained to do so, but because the blind person is his mother.

    In the New Testament there is an important fivefold testimony to the divinity of Jesus. There is the testimony of:

  • The centurion supervising Jesus' crucifixion. He said at his death: "Surely this man was the Son of God." The Romans and Greeks believed that it was possible for demigods to have a human mother and divine father. Zeus for example had offspring by many mortal women. So, it is possible the centurion was affirming both the humanity and divinity of Jesus. Pagan belief that the gods can conceive children in mortal women may also explain why Pilate was so keen to release Jesus after being told of his claim to be the Son of God. See John19v7to12.

  • Peter. When Jesus asked his disciples for their opinion of him, Peter said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man but by my Father in heaven." Here we have a three-fold testimony to the divinity of Jesus; from Peter, Jesus himself and the Father in heaven.

  • Gabriel. The angel told Mary: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God." Lk1v35. It is significant that the only other person called the Son of God in the Bible is Adam and he, too, was a special creation - made in the image of God. Jesus was God - made in the image of man.

  • God. At the baptism of Jesus a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." Mt3v17.

  • Jesus himself makes it clear that it is in his nature to be the Son of God. Jesus asserted to his critics: "I and the Father are one." See Jn10v30. See also Jn5v16to18. In the latter reference: The Jews tried the harder to kill him ..... he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

    Eventually Jesus' accusers before Pilate were driven to say that Jesus called himself the Son of God, a blasphemy for which he deserved, under their law, to die. See John19v7. So Jesus accusers obviously thought he was claiming to be of the same nature as God rather than someone who was like God in feeling, mind and will.

  • He was the Son of Man in Daniel's vision described in Dn7v13and14: He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

    Jesus went further than he needed to in response to the question of Caiaphas. For the Son of Man to be worshipped, to have an everlasting dominion and a kingdom never to be destroyed, he must be of divine status. It was a red flag to a bull as far as the rationalistic chief priest was concerned. Caiaphas was a pragmatist - not a visionary.

    (e) The verdict.

    Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need anymore witnesses? Look now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" "He is worthy of death," they answered. The high priest's melodramatic ripping of his robe was actually against the law. See Lev21v10.

    The high priest's judgment was pathetic! He should at the very least questioned Jesus on what he meant by claiming to be Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of Man. I would appreciate a clear, accurate statement of what each title signified! The lack of such a statement has led to endless controversy through the years which shows no sign of coming to an end.

    The high priest should have explained how Jesus was blaspheming in claiming to be the Messiah and referring to himself as the Son of God. But Caiaphas was not interested in pursuing the truth. He just wanted the bare minimum of evidence to have Jesus tried befor Pilate.

    There are plenty of people today who have no interest whatever in examining carefully the claims of Jesus. I don't expect members of the Secularist Society read the Bible very often.

    Caiaphas should have examined the possibility that Jesus was everything he claimed to be. He should have listened to the testimonies of those who knew him and followed him. The high priest could have investigated the miracles and teaching of Jesus. He could have had a chat with Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.

    There were some things Caiaphas knew: Jesus had a large following of people who believed he was the Messiah, he was very popular and he was willing to expose the corruption of people in high places. Caiaphas was envious of Jesus' popularity and worried that any uprising would result in the loss of his own influence.

    Very few people in Britain are interested in studying Christ's credentials today. Most Britons assume Jesus was a good man who said a few worthwhile things. But he is nothing more. He's certainly not the Son of God! The majority of people I know do not have an open mind about Jesus. It is closed to all views but their own. Caiaphas did at least realise Jesus claimed to be more than a good man.

    Jesus is either a lot more than a good man or a lot less. Really, only the Son of God could say something like, "I am the way, the truth and the life - no man comes to the Father except by me." - or a nutter!

    (f) The mockery.

    The temple guard who arrested Jesus took him away - to the guard house, perhaps - and abused him. He was mocked, slapped, beaten and spat at. What brave fellows those guards were! Their actions revealed humanity at its very worst: abusing the defenceless, taking perverse pleasure in beating up the innocent and indulging in truly Satanic cruelty.

    What a contrast:

    The rough, savage, wanton brutality of the guard and the sweet, heavenly dignity of Jesus.

    The unrestrained, bestial violence of the guard and the unshakeable self-control of Jesus.

    The noisy, profane clamour of the guard and the calm and holy silence of Jesus.

    All over the world there are those who hate Christ and loath Christians. All over the world, from day to day, Christians are savagely abused. All over the world persecution is rife, liberty and life is lost - AND THE BRITISH POLITICAL ELITE, THE MEDIA FOLK and the INTELLIGENSIA - COULDN'T GIVE A DAMN.

    Probably not one of my best expositions.