Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tried by the Sanhedrin

Life of Christ 169

          It is well after midnight. Jesus has poured out His soul to His Father in Gethsamane and received the strength He needs to face Calvary. He wakens the Apostles from sleep and then calmly awaits the advent of the end. And He doesn't wait long. And immediately, while he yet spake, cometh Judas, one of the twelve, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. (Mark 14.41-43)
          Judas Iscariot, after leaving the Last Supper in the Upper Room, must have gone immediately to the Sanhedrin. He proceeded to inform them that Jesus was in the city after dark and that He could thus be arrested quietly. The Romans would not allow the Sanhedrin much in the way of an armed force. They appealed to Pilate in order borrow some of the Roman cohort that was stationed at Fortress Antonia adjacent to the Temple, and Pilate consented. Taking to the streets with Judas Iscariot they marched to the Upper Room and found it empty. Bethinking himself of other places to which Jesus was wont to go at night the Iscariot led them next to the Garden of Gethsamane.
          It would be easy to get confused in the dark and so the conspirators had previously agreed on a necessary signal for identification. Thus it is that Judas Iscariot comes to place the infamous traitor's kiss upon the brow of our Saviour. Once having been so marked, the Roman soldiers ask for verbal confirmation. Jesus gives it, and then asks them to spare His Apostles (John 18.8) most of whom are rapidly departing the scene. Peter puts up a bit of a fuss, wildly swinging his short ceremonial Passover sword to a not quite so deadly effect before he is calmed down. Jesus' hands are bound and He is led through the sleeping streets of Jerusalem to the high priest's palace. (John 18.12-13)
Jesus Before the Sanhedrin,
William Brassey Hole, 1900
          The position of high priest had long ago devolved into a corrupt family business. The Romans sold the position to Annas' family, and they maintained a hold on it using differing relatives over a period of several decades. The Bazaars of Annas were infamous in the day, and the corrupt monopoly they held over Temple transactions had twice moved Jesus to visible displays of wrath. Annas' son-in-law, Caiaphas, nominally held the position of high priest at the moment but it is to the power behind the throne that Jesus is first brought for examination.
          Annas seeks first to establish the extent of Jesus' teaching and of His followship. (John 18.19). Jesus retorts that this information was readily known for His ministry was nothing if not public. (John 18.20-21) This response, viewed as impudent, was met with the harshness of blows from Annas' lackeys. (John 18.22) This terminates the interview, and a frustrated Annas turns Jesus over to his son-in-law, Caiaphas, and a hastily assembled Sanhedrin. (Mark 14.53-65)
          Technically, this was a pre-trial examination. Realistically, it was a kangaroo court. How do you convict a man of a capital crime who has never done a single thing wrong in His entire life? That was the conundrum facing the Sanhedrin. At first they sought to get around that gigantic obstacle by paying witnesses to lie. That did not work for their testimony, being hastily made up, did not agree and so this angle had to be abandoned. Next they tried to question Jesus and get Him to make some kind of incriminating silence. But he held his peace and answered nothing. After all, why talk when your prosecutors are doing a swell job of making their indictment look foolish? Finally, Caiaphas asked Jesus directly if He was the Messiah, and if He claimed to be God. This Jesus, in good conscience, could not and was not willing to deny. He confidently asserted that He was and that the day would come when He would sit in judgment on those who were now sitting in judgment on Him. This answer, which included a claim to be divine, was tantamount to blasphemy. Finally, the Sanhedrin had stumbled upon a capital offense. Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death.
          What followed was a demonic orgy of hate. These venerable doctors of the Law gathered around Jesus and began to spit on Him. Others struck him with open hands and even fists. The religious leadership of the nation of Israel had lain down with Judas Iscariot and woken up in Satan's bed. For the next twelve hours their actions would be marked by an increasing bloodthirstiness that is only explainable when we accept it was birthed in the pit of hell.
          Finally, the sun rose to see the worst day in the history of humanity. Once dawn had come the Sanhedrin was legally allowed to assemble. Hurriedly they formally poll the assembled quorum and a sentence of death results.
       Beyond the spiritual disaster we see unfolding it is worth noting that the Sanhedrin committed numerous illegalities in their examinations of Jesus. This was true via both common law and common sense, but it was also true via the known Jewish canon law of the day. The arrest was illegal - it was entered into on the word of Judas and he had been bribed. The examination before Annas was illegal – he was naught but a private citizen. The indictment was illegal – the Sanhedrin was not permitted to originate charges against a person only to investigate them. The trial before sunrise was illegal – examination of capital cases was limited to daylight hours because of the seriousness of the offense and the necessity for a careful, thorough, deliberate examination. The length of the trial was illegal – the Mishnah only allowed for one day trials if they resulted in acquittal; this was in order to leave sufficient time for the defense to find witnesses. Jesus' sentence of death was illegally pronounced – it was done at Caiaphas' palace and the Talmud states that capital sentences can only be pronounced in the legally specified courtroom; in this case that was the Hall of Hewn Stone within the boundaries of the Temple; to this even Maimonides agrees. Jesus' sentence was illegal – He was judged by those who had a long and deeply held animosity against Him. Jesus' conviction was illegal – the stated cause of guilt before the Sanhedrin (blasphemy) was completely changed when presented later to the Romans (sedition).
          No matter how you slice it, legally or morally or spiritually, the Sanhedrin's actions were nothing short of appalling. But hell had loosed the dogs of war on Jesus Christ. They had plenty of rebellion and hatred and jealousy and evil with which to work, and their work would not cease until the blood pooled at the foot of the cross.

          …and what precious blood that is! The imps of hell and the wicked doctors of the Law together unknowingly combined to produce the greatest of victories.  Without shedding of blood is no remission. (Hebrews 9.22) But it was shed, and there is glorious remission.

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