Matthew 26:59
Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;
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(59) Sought false witness.—The tense of the Greek verb implies a continued process of seeking. The attempt to draw the materials for condemnation from the lips of the accused had failed. The law of Moses required at least two witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15), and these, it is natural to believe, were examined independently of each other. The haste which marked all the proceedings of the trial had probably prevented previous concert, and the judges could not, for very shame, convict in the face of a glaring discrepancy, probably as to time and place, between the witnesses who thus offered themselves.

Matthew 26:59-60. The chief priests, and all the council, sought false witness — “When the council found that Jesus declined answering the questions, whereby they would have drawn from him an acknowledgment of his being the Messiah, they examined many witnesses to prove his having assumed that character; for it appears, by what happened afterward, that they considered such a pretension as blasphemy in his mouth, who, being nothing but a man, as they supposed, could not, without affronting the majesty of God, take the title of God’s Son, which of right belonged to the Messiah. But, in examining the witnesses, they acted like interested and enraged persecutors, rather than impartial judges; for they formed their questions after such a manner as, if possible, to draw from them expressions which they might pervert into suspicions of guilt, whereupon they might condemn Jesus. But found none, though many false witnesses came — Notwithstanding they were at the utmost pains to procure such a proof as in the eye of the law would justify the sentence which they were resolved at all hazards to pass upon Jesus, they exerted themselves to no purpose. Because, though they suborned many witnesses, these, in giving their testimony, contradicted one another; a circumstance which the most illiterate person in the court could not but be sensible invalidated their evidence.” “As this was a great proof of Christ’s innocence, so it is a singular instance of the power of God over men’s minds, that, for all the rewards these great men could offer, no two consistent witnesses could be procured to charge him with any gross crime. Possibly, the exertion of his miraculous power, in striking to the ground those that were most forward to seize him, might intimidate the spirits of some who might otherwise have been prevailed upon.” At last came two false witnesses — Such they were, although part of what they said was true, because our Lord did not speak some of the words they mentioned at all; nor any of them in the sense in which they represented them as being spoken. See Macknight and Doddridge.

26:57-68 Jesus was hurried into Jerusalem. It looks ill, and bodes worse, when those who are willing to be Christ's disciples, are not willing to be known to be so. Here began Peter's denying him: for to follow Christ afar off, is to begin to go back from him. It is more our concern to prepare for the end, whatever it may be, than curiously to ask what the end will be. The event is God's, but the duty is ours. Now the Scriptures were fulfilled, which said, False witnesses are risen up against me. Christ was accused, that we might not be condemned; and if at any time we suffer thus, let us remember we cannot expect to fare better than our Master. When Christ was made sin for us, he was silent, and left it to his blood to speak. Hitherto Jesus had seldom professed expressly to be the Christ, the Son of God; the tenor of his doctrine spoke it, and his miracles proved it; but now he would not omit to make an open confession of it. It would have looked like declining his sufferings. He thus confessed, as an example and encouragement to his followers, to confess him before men, whatever hazard they ran. Disdain, cruel mocking, and abhorrence, are the sure portion of the disciple as they were of the Master, from such as would buffet and deride the Lord of glory. These things were exactly foretold in the fiftieth chapter of Isaiah. Let us confess Christ's name, and bear the reproach, and he will confess us before his Father's throne.False witness - That is, they sought for witnesses who would accuse him of crime of violation of the laws of the land or of God. We are not to suppose that "they wished" them to be "false" witnesses. They were indifferent, probably, whether they were true or false, if they could succeed in condemning him. "The evangelist" calls it false testimony. Before these witnesses were sought, we learn from John Joh 18:19-23 that the high priest asked Jesus of his disciples and his doctrine. Jesus replied that he had taught openly in the temple, and in secret had said nothing; that is, he had no "secret doctrines" which he had not been willing openly to teach, and he referred the high priest to those who had heard him. In a firm, dignified manner he put himself on trial, and insisted on his rights. "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?" John 18:23. This conversation took place, probably, before the council was assembled, and during this time the denials by Peter occurred. Luke informs us Luke 22:66 that the council came together as soon as it was day; that is, probably, near the morning, or not far from the break of day - after Peter had denied him and gone out. Mt 26:57-75. Jesus Arraigned before the Sanhedrim Condemned to Die, and Shamefully Entreated—The Denial of Peter. ( = Mr 14:53-72; Lu 22:54-71; Joh 18:13-18, 24-27).

For the exposition, see on [1366]Mr 14:53-72.

See Poole on "Matthew 26:60".

Now the chief priests and elders, and all the counsel,.... Or sanhedrim, which consisted, as the Jewish writers say (u), of priests, Levites, and Israelites, of both ecclesiastics and laics; the ecclesiastics were the priests and Levites, and the laics the Israelites, or elders of the people; for if priests and Levites could not be found, a sanhedrim might consist of those only; and so those words in Deuteronomy 21:2, "thy elders", are thus interpreted (w),

, this is the great sanhedrim; and though a king of Israel might not sit in the sanhedrim, yet an high priest might, if he was a man of wisdom (x), and it seems as if Caiaphas was now at the head of this council, by its being assembled at his palace; which though it was not the usual place where they met, yet might be chose at this time for greater secrecy. Now these thus assembled together,

sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; they first take him up, and then seek out for witnesses against him; being determined, right or wrong, to put him to death, if possible; and false witnesses too, even those whose business it was, to examine and detect false witnesses, and to inflict the same punishment upon them, which they by their false testimony intended to have brought on another, Deuteronomy 19:18. And besides, it was in the night, when it was forbid by their canons to begin the trial of capital causes, or to receive and admit of witnesses (y). Indeed the Syriac and Persic versions read, only witnesses, or witness, and leave out the word "false"; perhaps imagining, that men could never be so wicked, to seek out for false witnesses: but this need not be wondered at, when these men were bent upon the death of Christ at any rate; and were aware that nothing true could be objected to him, that would legally take away his life; and besides, their manner of procedure in judgment against a false prophet, a deceiver, and one that enticed to idolatry, and such an one they would have Jesus to be, was quite different from what they took with other persons: their canon runs thus (z):

"the judgment of a deceiver, is not as the rest of capital judgments; his witnesses are hid; and he has no need, or ought not to have any premonition, or warning, as the rest of those that are put to death; and if he goes out of the sanhedrim acquitted, and one says I can prove the charge against him, they turn him back; but if he goes out condemned, and one says I can prove him innocent the do not return him.

So in the Misna (a) it is said,

"of all that are condemned to death in the law, none have their witnesses hidden but this (the deceiver, or one that entices to idolatry)--and they hide his witnesses behind a wall, or hedge; and he (whom he endeavoured to seduce) says to him, say what thou hast said to me privately; and if he repeats it to him, he must say, how shall we leave our God that is in heaven, and go and serve stocks and stones! if he repents, it is well; but if he should say, so we are bound to do, and so it becomes us, they that stand behind the wall, or hedge, shall carry him to the sanhedrim and stone him.

In the Gemara it is thus expressed (b),

"they light up a lamp in the innermost house, and set the witnesses in the outermost house, so that they can see him and hear his voice, and he cannot see them.

And then follows what is said before, to which is added, "so they did to Ben Stada"; by whom they mean Jesus of Nazareth. Moreover, this need not seem strange, that they took such a course with Christ, when in the case of Stephen, they suborned and set up false witnesses against him. The sanhedrim cannot be thought to do this in person, but they sent out their officers to seek for such men, as could or would produce anything against him, and no doubt promised them an handsome reward,

(u) Maimon. Hilch. Sanhedrin, c. 2. sect. 1, 2. Abarbinel in Tora, fol. 366. 2.((w) T. Hieros. Sota, fol. 23. 3.((x) Maimon. ib. sect. 4. (y) Maimon. ib. c. 3. sect. 3, 4. (z) lb. c. 11. sect. 5. (a) Sanhedrin, c. 7. sect. 10. (b) T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 67. 1.

Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;
Matthew 26:59 f. Καὶ τὸ συνέδριον ὅλον] and the whole Sanhedrim generally. This is a legitimate enough use of the words, even although certain individual members (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea) did not concur in this proceeding.

ψευδομαρτυρίαν] so called from the historian’s own point of view. Euthymius Zigabenus well remarks: ὡς μὲν ἑκείνοις ἐδόκει, μαρτυρίαν, ὡς δὲ τῇ ἀληθείᾳ, ψευδομαρτυρίαν.

ὅπως θανατ. αὐτ.] with a view to putting Him to death, which could only be effected by their pronouncing in the first instance a capital sentence, and then having it ratified by the authority of the imperial procurator.

καὶ οὐχ εὗρον καὶ πολλῶν προσελθόντων ψευδομαρτύρων (see the critical remarks): and they found no means of doing so, even though many false witnesses had come forward. There were many who presented themselves to bear witness against Jesus; yet the Sanhedrim did not find what it wanted to find, doubtless because of the lack of that agreement between two of the witnesses at least which the law required (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15). See what immediately follows: ὕστερον δὲ προσελθ. δύο, and comp. Mark 14:56. Though there was a show of complying with the ordinary forms of judicial process, they were nevertheless shamefully violated (in opposition to Salvador, Saalschutz), in that exculpatory evidence (John 18:20 f.) was never called for.

Matthew 26:59-68. The trial.

59. sought false witness] See above (1): to seek witnesses at all was against the spirit of the law.

Matthew 26:59. Ἐζήτουν, sought) Upon this arose that host of false witnesses. No greater act of injustice was ever committed than that against our Lord: in respect of God, however, it was the highest exercise of justice.[1159]

[1159] Inasmuch as the holiness of God demanded such an awful sacrifice for the sins, such a precious ransom for the souls of men.—(I. B.) Romans 3:26.—ED.

Verse 59. - The chief priests, [and elders,] and all the council. The words in brackets are probably spurious; they are omitted by the best uncials and the Vulgate. The words cannot imply strictly that the whole Sanhedrin was present and consenting to the present proceedings; for we know that such members as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea did not consent to the infamous deeds of the rest (Luke 23:51; John 19:39). Sought (ἐζήτουν, were seeking) false witness. The Sanhedrists had decided on Christ's death; it only remained to find such a charge against him as would compel the Roman authorities to deal summarily with him. For their purpose the truth of the accusation was immaterial, so long as it was established, according to Law (Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15), by two or three witnesses examined apart. They knew well that Christ could be condemned on no true testimony, hence they scrupled not to seek false. If they had meant to deal fairly, they would have allowed some who knew him to speak in his favour; but this was the very last thing which they desired or would have sanctioned. Matthew 26:59
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