In Part One of this series, we examined six of the twelve reasons Jesus’ trial was illegal:
(1) Jesus was arrested illegally; (2) He was examined by Annas in a secret night proceeding; (3) the indictment against Him was false; (4) the Sanhedrin court illegally held its trial before sunrise; (5) the Sanhedrin illegally convened to try a capital offense on a day before an annual Sabbath; and (6) the trial concluded in one day.
We will now continue with the remaining six conclusive reasons.
In addition to the indictment against Jesus being false, it was used illegally.
Jesus was indicted based on one statement with no supporting evidence. Here is what transpired:
Two false witnesses testified that Jesus said, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands” (Mark 14:58). This was used as the indictment against Jesus. However, it was false. Jesus never said this! Rather, He stated, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).
Notice Jesus did not say, “I will destroy this temple…” He said, “Destroy this temple…” Second, He did not say “…that is made with hands…” or “…build another made without hands.” These subtle differences completely change the meaning of His statement—and the false witnesses knew this. They portrayed Jesus as planning to destroy the physical Temple in Jerusalem. But this was far from the meaning of His words!
Jesus’ statement in John 2:19 was a response to those who asked Him to give a sign (vs. 18). He was not referring to the physical Temple being destroyed; rather, He was talking about His body—that three days after He would be put to death He would rise from the grave. By cunningly rephrasing His statement, the false witnesses were able to bring an indictment against Jesus.
Next, the high priest arose, and said to Jesus, “Aren’t You going to answer? Do You have anything to say about these charges?”
Jesus said nothing.
Then the high priest exclaimed, “I command You in the name of the living God: Tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God!”
Jesus answered, “You have said correctly. Nevertheless, you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
Immediately, the high priest tore his clothes, and shouted, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need have we of witnesses? You are witnesses to His blasphemy. What do all of you think?”
“He is deserving of death!” everyone shouted in unison (Matt. 26:62-66).
Notice that the high priest’s question was completely unrelated to the indictment brought by the false witnesses. Instead of condemning Jesus on the charge of supposedly threatening to destroy the Temple and rebuild it three days later, the court condemned Him on a separate charge—that He claimed to be the Messiah. Jesus was indicted on one charge, tried on a separate charge, and condemned on His own testimony.
Jewish scholar Maimonides has this to say: “We have it as fundamental principle of our jurisprudence, that no one can bring an accusation against himself. Should a man make confession of guilt before a legally constituted tribunal, such confession is not to be used against him unless properly attested by two other witnesses” (Sanhedrin, IV, 2).
Yet, Jesus was condemned on account of His personal testimony, which was supposedly blasphemous. Furthermore, the court failed to examine Him to see whether His reference to being the Son of God could be considered blasphemy!
Max Radin, a former professor and author of the book The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth, reveals why Jesus’ testimony was not blasphemous: “The blasphemy which the Pentateuch [first five books of the Old Testament] mentions is a literal cursing of God or a direct defiance of him. The only pentateuchal reference makes this clear. It is in Leviticus, chapter 24, and the incident which gave rise to the statute indicates the character of the offense of blasphemy in Jewish law. The half-Egyptian had cursed God…as under the circumstances of the quarrel there described, he would have been likely enough to do. No such thing could have been charged against Jesus by his most inveterate enemies.”
Notice another violation of law: “No attempt is ever made to lead a man on to self-incrimination. Moreover, a voluntary confession on his [the defendant’s] part is not admitted in evidence, and therefore not competent to convict him, unless a legal number of witnesses minutely corroborate his self-accusation” (Mendelssohn, Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews).
Yet again, in Jesus’ case, the court violated its own law! The Sanhedrin illegally used Jesus’ own assertion that He is the Son of God as evidence against Him.
The condemnation of Jesus was illegal because the merits of the defense were not considered.
Immediately after hearing Jesus declare that He was the Son of God, the high priest shouted, “He has spoken blasphemy.” That was it—there was no diligent inquiry to follow. This despite what is stated in the Mishna: “The judges shall weigh the matter in the sincerity of their conscience.”
It should be apparent that this did not occur in the case of Jesus. The high priest and all present immediately formed an opinion. There was no further investigation to see if He did in fact blaspheme.
In addition, the high priest tore his clothes during the trial (Mark 14:63; Matt. 26:65). But in Leviticus 21:10, we find that he is forbidden to do so: “And he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes.” (Also read Leviticus 10:6.)
The high priest tore his clothes to incite fury and prejudice in those present. He should have remained calm to avoid hampering the ability of others to render a sound judgment.
Put simply: A mob spirit condemned Jesus!
Here is what Mendelssohn states concerning this type of procedure: “A simultaneous and unanimous verdict of guilt rendered on the day of the trial has the effect of an acquittal.”
The Mishna indicates that the proper method of voting was for “the judges each in his turn to absolve or condemn.”
“The members of the Sanhedrin were seated in the form of a semicircle at the extremity of which a secretary was placed, whose business it was to record the votes. One of these secretaries recorded the votes in favor of the accused, the other against him.”
In Criminal Code of the Jews, Philip Benny wrote, “In ordinary cases the judges voted according to seniority, the oldest commencing; in a capital case, the reverse order was followed. That the younger members of the Sanhedrin should not be influenced by the views or the arguments of their more mature, more experienced colleagues, the junior judge was in these cases always the first to pronounce for or against conviction.”
Clearly, none of this occurred in Jesus’ trial.
Jesus being condemned by only part of the Sanhedrin was illegal because those who would have voted against the guilty verdict were not present.
We know that at least one member of the Sanhedrin during Jesus’ trial was not present: Joseph of Arimathaea. In Luke 23, we learn the following: “And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews…” (vs. 50-51).
Most Greek scholars agree that the word counselor refers to a member of the Sanhedrin. Interestingly, however, Joseph was not present during Jesus’ trial. All who were there unanimously condemned Him, but Luke states that Joseph “had not consented to the counsel and deed of them.” This means he was absent from the proceedings—which was illegal! In setting up a secret night meeting to try Jesus, those who wanted to put Him to death ensured that His supporters would not be present to sidetrack their wicked intentions.
Also consider that “if none of the judges defend the culprit, i.e., all pronounce him guilty, having not defender in the court, the verdict guilty was invalid and sentence of death could not be executed” (Martyrdom of Jesus).
Jesus’ sentence was illegally pronounced in a place forbidden by law.
After being seized by a mob, Jesus was eventually brought to the high priest’s house to be tried (Luke 22:54). Yet Jewish law expressly forbids an individual from being tried anywhere but in the court. Notice what the Talmud states: “After leaving the hall Gazith [the court] no sentence of death can be passed upon anyone soever.”
Maimonides adds, “A sentence of death can be pronounced only so long as the Sanhedrin holds its sessions in the appointed place” (Sanhedrin, XIV).
Most members of the Sanhedrin were disqualified from legally trying Jesus.
Consider what Mendelssohn wrote in Hebrew Maxims and Rules: “The robe of the unfairly elected judge is to be respected not more than the blanket of the [donkey].”
In the Bible and the works of Jewish historian Josephus, we find the names of many of those who served on the Sanhedrin during Jesus’ time. According to Josephus, these men—Caiaphas, Mathias, Ishmael, Simon, John, Alexander, Ananias, among others—received bribes, bought their offices and were appointed by those who should not have been on the court themselves. These things alone disqualified them!
Also, there were 12 former high priests serving on the Sanhedrin. The Bible, however, clearly requires that a man serve in this office throughout his entire lifetime. Only death would end his term. Contrary to the biblical pattern, Roman law permitted high priests to be voted into office each year.
Another reason the judges were disqualified is due to their status as enemies of the accused: “Nor must there be on the judicial bench either a relation, or a particular friend, or an enemy of either the accused or the accuser” (Hebrew Maxims and Rules).
This is corroborated by Philip Benny: “Nor under any circumstances was a man to be at enmity with the accused person permitted to occupy a position among his judges” (Criminal Code of the Jews).
Yet those on the court were bitter enemies of Jesus—and even bribed someone to betray Him!
The initial charge of blasphemy was illegally switched to sedition.
In Part One, we saw that, though they had legal authority to execute Him, the Sanhedrin decided to bring Jesus before Pontius Pilate on the charge of sedition. Initially, Jesus’ opponents accused Him of blasphemy. But since they were afraid of their fellow Jews and did not want to execute Him themselves, they needed to switch the charge to treason against the Roman government, as we saw in Luke 23: “And they began to accuse Him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ a King” (vs. 2).
If the Sanhedrin had come to Pilate with the charge of blasphemy against Jesus, the governor would have told them to deal with Him according to their law. The case would have been dismissed. But since the Sanhedrin changed the charge to treason against the Roman government, Pilate was forced to listen to the case.
In the end, after several attempts to let Jesus go, and being threatened with possibly losing his position (John 19:12), Pilate reluctantly gave in to the mob’s demands. Interestingly, however, he did not render a formal decision. Notice Pilate’s final words in the trial: “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person: see you to it” (Matt. 27:24).
No judgment against Jesus was rendered. Pilate ended the trial by turning Jesus over to His soldiers to carry out the true motive of the Jewish leaders—to have Jesus put to death on account of supposed blasphemy, not sedition (John 19:7).
Clearly, the entire trial of Jesus was a debacle—conducted illegally from start to finish. The facts are most plain.
Put yourself in Jesus’ place for a moment: Imagine being betrayed by someone you were close to. Imagine facing a trial you know is a sham. Imagine being vehemently falsely accused. Imagine being spitefully treated by thrill-seeking soldiers. Imagine enduring fierce scorn and ridicule from ignorant people. Then imagine facing one of the worst forms of execution mankind has ever devised!
All this despite being completely innocent!
A Man who had never sinned was unjustly sentenced to death for crimes He did not commit. He was condemned by a mob as a criminal—ironically by those who could themselves be considered criminals!
Consider—and never forget—that Jesus voluntarily endured this severe injustice to pay the penalty of your sins!