Jesus on Trial

Jesus Condemned by michael o'brian53 They led Jesus away to the high priest, and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 Peter followed him at a distance into the high priest’s courtyard and was seated with the guards, warming himself at the fire. 55 The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, but they found none. 56 Many gave false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 Some took the stand and testified falsely against him, alleging, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands and within three days I will build another not made with hands.’” 59 Even so their testimony did not agree. 60 The high priest rose before the assembly and questioned Jesus, saying, “Have you no answer? What are these men testifying against you?” 61 But he was silent and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him and said to him, “Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?” 62 Then Jesus answered, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’” 63 At that the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further need have we of witnesses? 64 You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as deserving to die. 65 Some began to spit on him. They blindfolded him and struck him and said to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards greeted him with blows.

It was the custom and by the Torah to try an arrested on the same day. There was no provision for “pretrial detention.” Couple this with the desire to keep this away from the public eye (cf. 14.1) and the nighttime arrest in Gethsemane. The assembling of “the high priest, and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes” certainly points to a gathering of the Sanhedrin, the court of religious law in 1st century Israel. Jesus is led from Gethsemane directly to the house of the chief priest, Caiaphas. Again there seems to be an action that is designed to keep the proceedings out of the public’s view. The normal meeting place would have been in one of the market halls.

There may also be a simple expediency in play: (a) there is rabbinic precedent that Jesus should be tried and condemned immediately after his arrest. (b) If the Sanhedrin is indeed seeking the death penalty, then the case must be concluded in Jewish court, and then heard before Pilate and the “Roman court” – for only they had the authority to execute anyone. (c) Lastly, the execution must be held and concluded before sundown because of the approaching Sabbath. (See Note on 14:53 below).

The proceedings run into immediate difficulty. By Jewish law, capital cases require two witnesses who agree in all detail (v.59) – and that seems to have been a problem for the leaders (cf. vv.56-59). “Because the hearing of witnesses did not secure the desired result, Caiaphas, as the presiding justice, determined to interrogate Jesus himself. He arose and stepped into the middle of the assembly where the accused was seated. Jesus was required by law to answer the accusations brought against him, and his failure to do so frustrated the council. By his steadfast silence he deprived the court of exploiting, for its purposes, the evidence that had been given against him. This brought the proceedings to a deadlock, and prompted the high priest to seek a decision by direct means. Although disqualified as admissible evidence, the utterance about destroying the Temple and rebuilding another in its place was messianic in tone, because Judaism anticipated a renewal of the glory of the Temple when the Messiah should come.131 Perhaps for that reason Caiaphas asked Jesus pointedly if he claimed to be the Messiah.” [Lane 635]

The high priest rose before the assembly and questioned Jesus…“Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?” Judaism expected the Messiah to provide proof of his identity. At this point there is a bit of a conundrum. A Messiah imprisoned, abandoned by his followers, and delivered helpless into the hands of his foes represented a false messiah in the minds of the Sanhedrin. Anyone who, in such circumstances, proclaimed himself to be the Messiah could not fail to be a blasphemer who dared to make a mockery of the promises given by God to his people. Moreover, there is some rabbinic evidence that God alone had the right to announce and enthrone the Messiah, so that one who claimed the messianic dignity before God had crowned him could be regarded as having infringed the majesty of God. For these reasons, Caiaphas’ question is decisive, and demands a forthright “Yes” or “No.”

It is a good question. Then Jesus answered, “I am.” Jesus then offers the required proof of his claim to being the Messiah: ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven. (cf. Ps 110:1 and Dan 7:13). The meaning is clear to all. Jesus is offering that the day will come, when those who now judge him will see him with unmistakable clarity enthroned at God’s side, invested with power and majesty, and assigned the task of the eschatological Judge. By tearing his garments, Caiaphas expressed symbolically the fact that he regarded Jesus’ declaration as blasphemous (vv.63-64) – the penalty for blasphemy was death. All present agreed as to the charge and the punishment (v.64; cf. 10:33)

Notes

Mark 14:53 lead Jesus away to ….: “Serious objections, based on rabbinic legal prescriptions, have been urged against the credibility of Mark’s account of the proceedings before the Sanhedrin. These may be considered within the framework of the commentary, but two deserve particular mention. It has been argued that the condemnation of Jesus by the Sanhedrin on the night of the Passover is historically improbable because of the prohibition of capital trials on feast days (cf. M. Yom Tob V. 2; Tos. Yom Tob IV. 4; Philo, Migration of Abraham § 91). Pentateuchal law (Deut. 13:12; 17:13; 21:21), however, required that in the case of particularly serious offenses, the execution should serve as a deterrent so that “all Israel should hear it and fear” (Deut. 17:13). In early Tannaitic exegesis this was taken to mean that the offender should be punished on one of the pilgrimage feasts (Tos. Sanhedrin XI. 7). To carry out this provision in the case of Jesus it was necessary that he should be tried and condemned immediately after his arrest. The objection that if Jesus was sentenced to death by the Sanhedrin for blasphemy he would have been stoned, when in fact he was crucified by the Roman procurator, is based upon the assumption that the Sanhedrin possessed the competence to execute a capital sentence. The evidence, however, is overwhelming that the power of the sword was the most jealously guarded prerogative in Roman provincial administration, even in a center like Alexandria where there was no question of the disloyalty of the people to Rome. In Judea, where a spirit of revolt constantly simmered just beneath the surface, there can have been no concession on this sensitive point. De jure the competence of the Sanhedrin remained intact, but de facto the governor alone possessed the capital power. Jesus was sentenced by the Sanhedrin on the charge of blasphemy, but it was necessary to prepare a political charge ad hoc in order to secure the execution of the death sentence by the provincial praefect. The essential historicity of the Marcan account should be accepted” [Lane 529-30]

high priest, and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes: The Sanhedrin was composed of seventy members and the ruling high priest who presided over its deliberations (M. Sanhedrin I. 6; cf. Josephus, Antiquities IV. v. 4.; War II. xx. 5; Tos. Sukka IV. 6). According to Josephus, this description is the exact makeup of the Sanhedrin. The “elders” represented the most influential lay families in Jerusalem, and seem to have been primarily wealthy landowner

Sources

  • William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974) 529-35
  • Pheme Perkins, The Gospel of Mark, vol. 8 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN: Abington Press,1994) 8:713-4
  • The New American Bible available on-line at http://www.usccb.org/bible
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