Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Arrest and Trial of Jesus and how it Reveals the Hand of God

Each Gospel presents a slightly different perspective on Jesus’ arrest and trial. Consequently, to some, they seem to contradict one another in certain places. One atheist wrote:

  • These irreconcilable problems with the arrest and trial of Jesus show that the Gospel accounts cannot be trusted with the truth of the matter. With the mystique and misunderstanding surrounding Jesus' arrest, coupled with the legend and myth attached to the accounts at later times, the truth may never be fully known. (James Still)
While we can attempt to reconcile the “irreconcilable problems,” as many have ably done, I’d instead like to point out some amazing commonalities among the Gospel accounts – the obvious fact that the Jewish authorities so badly bungled this affair and, therefore, needed Jesus’ assistance in order to secure the “conviction.”

It is remarkable that my highly educated Jewish people had violated every one of their own legal principles in regards to Jesus’ arrest and trial. The arrest had resulted from a bribe (to Judas) – something forbidden by Jewish law. (I am deriving this information about Jewish legal procedure from a teaching given by Arnold Fruchtenbaum.) 

Perhaps because it was dark, the arresting party seemed to be confused about which one in the garden was Jesus. He therefore helped them by declaring “I am He” (John 18:5, 8). At some point, Judas kissed Him to identify that He was truly the one they sought.

In order to maintain neutrality, judges and members of the Sanhedrin were not allowed to participate in an arrest. However, in this case, they were clearly part of the arrest battalion:

  • Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour--when darkness reigns." (Luke 22:52-53)
Instead of making a defense for Himself, Jesus consistently provoked his accusers, inciting them to even greater anger.

Because public trials lesson the possibility of conspiracy, Jewish law forbade secret trials. Besides, they were not supposed to take place after sunset – something that might contribute to foul-play. However, at night He was brought before Annas who questioned Him (John 18:20-21).

The NIV Study Bible notes add:

  • “Not legal, since witnesses were supposed to be brought in first to establish guilt. The accused was not required to prove his innocence.”
In order to enable public viewing, the Sanhedrin trials could only be held in the hall of Judgment of the Temple. After Annas, they brought Jesus to a closed session of the high priest Caiaphas (John 18:24; Luke 22:54).

Everything had to be established by two or three witnesses (Deut. 19:15). The defendant had to have an advocate, and the defense had to precede the prosecution. However, none of these things happened. The Jewish authorities hastily attempted to produce witnesses – any witnesses, but they contradicted one another:

  • The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.' " (Matthew 26:59-61)
Finally agreement! However, this charge must have been laughable. Clearly, Jesus must have been talking figuratively. Certainly He couldn’t destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Besides, no one would even have allowed Him to remove one of its stones! Therefore, in exasperation and desperation, Caiaphas asked Jesus to testify against Himself:

  • Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "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." Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" "He is worthy of death," they answered. (Matthew 26:62-66)
The leadership was desperate, and so Jesus helped them to bring about His own conviction. He not only admitted that He was the Messiah, He also quoted two messianic verses (Dan., 7:13-14; Psalm 110:1-2), claiming that He would fulfill them!

For the leadership, this was enough! However, this wasn’t enough to satisfy Jewish legal procedure! For one thing, the accusation of “blasphemy” was valid only if the name of God was pronounced, and Jesus didn’t mention God’s name here.

For another thing, the accused might be suicidal or protecting another. Therefore, he couldn’t testify against himself. The defendant couldn’t be condemned on the basis of his words alone.

The High Priest had to be dispassionate and neutral. This meant that he was forbidden to rent his clothing and that the charges could not originate with him or the judges. They could only investigate charges brought to them. However, these guidelines were also violated.

In order to avoid the possibility of a hasty judgment, the verdict couldn’t be announced at night. In the case of capital punishment, in order too allow time for evidence to surface that might favor the accused, the trial and the guilty verdict could not occur at the same time, but had to be separated by at least 24 hours. All of these were disregarded in regards to Jesus.

The high priest then wanted to close the deal:

  • "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, "Prophesy!" And the guards took him and beat him. (Mark 14:64-65; )
However, to further protect the convicted, the sentence could only be announced after three days of the guilty verdict. A person condemned to death wasn’t to be beaten or scourged beforehand. Besides, no trials were allowed on the eve of the Sabbath or on a feast day. However, in the case of Jesus, all of these regulations were forgotten.

It seems that, most of the time, according to the four Gospels, Jesus remained silent. And when He spoke, it was never to defend Himself but to aid in His conviction. The four Gospels provide a consistent portrait of Jesus. He was a Man with a mission – to live sinlessly and to die a sinner for sinners!

However, the religious leadership is more perplexing. How is it that such highly educated and legalistic people could behave in such an illegal manner? Scripture is entirely consistent in this matter.

The leadership had definite plans for the arrest and trial of Jesus. However, this would have to take place after the Passover:

  • Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him. "But not during the Feast," they said, "or the people may riot." (Mark 14:1-2; Mat. 26:5; Luke 22:2)
Why then did they have Jesus crucified at the precise time that He had intended and not when they had intended? Jesus was in control!

  • Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. "What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. (John 13:26-28; Mat. 26:21-23; Luke 22:21; Mark 14:18).
Although the Apostles were blinded to the fact that Judas would betray Jesus, Judas now understood that his cover was blown. He could no longer return to his former brethren. He was therefore coerced by this exposure to go to the high priest and explain that if he was going to betray Jesus, it would have to be now!

Evidently, the leadership decided to go forward despite their plan to wait until Passover was over. Everything was transacted in haste. Consequently, the pre-arrest and the trial preparations could no longer be put in place. A proper arresting party could not be constituted, the witnesses wouldn’t be vetted – nothing would be conducted lawfully. However, they wanted their man and pressed forward.

What we see here is an amazing display of Divine providence. Jesus would soon become the Crucified – the Passover Lamb – according to a plan set in eternity:

  • So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there." (Mark 14:13-15; Mat. 26:17-30; Luke 22:7-23)
Jesus demonstrated that He was providentially in control of all the details. He timed His arrival and prayer in the garden of Gethsemane to coincide perfectly with the arrival of His captors.

The four Gospels don’t toot their horns about this, but they all show us that when Jesus was at His most vulnerable, broken and humiliated, He was also in His glory. Clearly, it was Jesus giving His life and not the nations taking it from Him. It was His moment of glory (John 7:39; 12:23; 13:31; 17:1-4), although it seemed to a life ending in dishonor. He was fulfilling all righteousness – the very climax of all history, bringing love and righteousness to kiss together. The moment of the greatest darkness and sin became the moment of the greatest expression of love and the greatest victory.

The contrasts were never so severe. As the religious leadership was driven by hate, sin and jealousy, Jesus was stirred by a vision that they could barely imagine. While the leadership broke all of their laws, Jesus kept every one of them, even to the end. The “victors” would ultimately go to their death and destruction and the Victimized would earn life for the world. Praise be His Name for ever and ever!