The Rush to Judgment

10 Apr

In 2006, I was introduced to John Grisham’s non-fiction book, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town. I have to admit being angry and disappointed in our justice system with how the case was handled.

While the book certainly describes a miscarriage of justice, it is nothing compared to the one that took place in Jerusalem during the first century. In the space of a few short hours, Jesus Christ endured six trials—3 religious trials and 3 civil trials.

  • Before Annas, father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest (John 18:13-24).
  • Before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:53-65; Matthew 26:57-68; Luke 22:54).
  • Before the Sanhedrin a second time after dawn (Luke 22:66‑71).
  • Before Pilate (Mark 15:1-5; Matthew 27:11-14; Luke 23:1-5; John 18:28-38).
  • Before Herod Antipas (Luke 23:6-12).
  • Before Pilate a second time (Mark 15:6-15; Matthew 27:15-26; Luke 23:13-25; John 18:33-19:16).

Based on Jewish legal principles, the trials were illegal since the religious leaders disregarded nearly all of their own principles.

  • The Jewish supreme court, the Great Sanhedrin (71 members, including high priest) met daily in the temple, except on the Sabbath and other holy days.
  • A public trial was held during daylight hours.
  • The accused had adequate opportunity to make a defense.
  • Any or all charges must be supported by the testimony of at least two witnesses.
  • Perjury, or false witness, was taken very seriously.
  • If a person was falsely accused of a crime, the penalty was enacted against the accuser.
  • If the death penalty was enacted, the people who testified had to inflict the first blows of execution.
  • In capital cases, a full day must pass between the announcement of the guilty verdict and the carrying out of the death sentence. During the waiting period, the members of the court were required to fast, taking time to reflect soberly on the verdict.
  • Trials were not conducted on the day before a feast, when fasting was not permitted.

Caiaphas, the high priest, presided over the religious trials (Mark 14:53-65). He was the son-in-law of Annas, the former high priest. One writer said that Annas led the equivalent of a first-century mafia family. At one point, five of Annas’ sons served as high priest, along with his son-in-law. Annas oversaw the marketplace in the temple, affectionately dubbed, “The Bazaar of Annas.”

Caiaphas was an exceptionally powerful high priest. While most served an average of four years, Caiaphas served for 19 years. His name meant “Inquisitor,” and he led a first-century inquisition during the trial of Jesus.

The religious leaders arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and put him on trial (53). Peter recovered some of his courage and tried to stay close, following at a distance (54).

Rather than seeking the truth, the religious leaders were seeking ways to accuse Jesus (55-56). While it appeared to be an informal gathering, it was actually a formal trial since the whole council was present and the verdict was already determined. They were only looking for evidence to reinforce their conclusions. Their problem was that the best witnesses that money could buy could not agree on their stories.

A few witnesses said that Jesus had claimed he would destroy the temple, but they couldn’t even agree on that story. At the beginning of his ministry (John 2:18-22), Jesus had made that statement, but he was referring to the temple of his body, not the Jerusalem temple.

Seeing the trial was going nowhere, Caiaphas stepped in and interrogated Jesus (60-62). The high priest asked two questions. The first one, “You are going to answer your accusers, aren’t you?” expected a positive response. The second one, “What is the meaning of the charges these witnesses are making against you?” demanded an explanation.

Since no explanation was needed, Jesus remained silent. He fulfilled the Scriptures that said the Messiah would endure his suffering in silence (Psalm 38:13-14; Isaiah 53:7).

Caiaphas changed his tactic by putting Jesus under a solemn oath (Matthew 26:63). He asked Jesus directly, “Are you the Messiah?” Jesus responded with an equally direct answer, “Yes, I am the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus applied Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13 to himself by saying in essence, “You are judging me, but I will judge you in the future.”

Incensed, Caiaphas tore his garments (63-64). He declared that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy, claiming to be God. He demanded not only a guilty verdict, but also a death sentence.

Some who were present blindfolded Jesus, beat him, and demanded he identify the perpetrators (65). It was a perversion of Isaiah 11:2-4, that the Messiah can judge without the benefit of sight.

In his statement in 1 Peter 2:21-24, Peter says that we should not only appreciate what Jesus did for us, but we should also follow his example. Rather than responding in kind to those who persecute us or sinning verbally, we should endure, knowing that God is a just judge. We are to die to sin and live to righteousness.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 10, 2016. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


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