And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.…
The tribunal before which Jesus was arraigned was composed of "all the chief priests," with the high priest at their head, and all the "elders and scribes." It was the Sanhedrin, by the Jews claimed to have originated in the time of Moses, and by learned critics acknowledged to have been at least as ancient as the time of Jonathan Maccabaeus. Once a venerable judicial assembly, it had now degenerated into a cabal.
I. ITS COUNCILORS ARE MURDERERS.
1. They had beforehand plotted the death of Jesus.
(1) The faithfulness of his preaching had mortified their pride. The spirit of murder was in the hatred and resentment which they cherished toward him.
(2) After the raising of Lazarus, they consulted together what they must do to the Miracle worker, and Caiaphas gave forth his memorable decision. In advising assassination, be prophesied under an inspiration which he did not understand. His accomplices understood him only as he intended. "So from that day forth they took counsel that they might put Jesus to death" (see John 12:45-53). "Man proposeth; God disposeth."
(3) Fear from the popularity of Jesus alone prevented them from procuring his assassination without even the semblance of a trial (see Luke 20:19; Luke 22:2). How questionable is the virtue that is fostered by fear!
(4) Judas knew his market. He knew where "blood money" could be procured (see Matthew 27:3-8). Satan, in the councillors, was "glad" to "commune" with "Satan" in the traitor (see Luke 22:3-6).
2. They assembled to carry their plot into effect.
(1) They first resolve to ruin Jesus, then seek out the means to do it. So notorious was this that it is recorded as an historic fact (cf. ver. 59; Acts 6:11-13).
(2) There is murder in their haste. The Jewish canons enjoin that "Capital causes should be tried in the day, and punished in the day. But with indecent haste, in the same night that their treachery succeeded in seizing Jesus, the court is gathered. They were evidently waiting for the summons. And he is condemned in the night. It was the hour" as well as "the power of darkness."
(3) Note: That gate of the city looking toward Gethsemane was called "the sheep gate," because the animals appointed for sacrifice were led that way. Admire the providence which ordained that through this gate also the very Lamb of God should be led to the slaughter. The Law prescribed that the victims for sacrifice should be led to the priest (see Leviticus 18:5). Herein also is a prophecy. One evangelist records that Jesus was first led to Annas (see John 18:13). This was to honour Annas, and to gain time for the assembling of the council. God makes the subtlety of the devil in men to praise him.
II. THE WITNESSES ARE LIARS.
1. They cannot give a consistent testimony.
(1) No man could be legally condemned upon the testimony of a single witness (see Deuteronomy 17:6). The witnesses must also agree in their testimony. They must speak with "one mouth." The unsupported testimony of a single witness is stronger than the conflicting testimony of many.
(2) The number of the witnesses against Jesus was sufficient. The retainers of the priests knew that "they sought false witness against Jesus, that they might put him to death," and "many false witnesses" accordingly "came" (cf. vers. 59, 60; Psalm 27:12; Psalm 35:11; Mark 14:56).
(3) But their testimony was conflicting. Suborned men are bound to say something for their hire. But "the legs of the lame are not equal." This would be evident under cross-examination from Joseph of Arimathaea; and possibly Nicodemus also was found to be a protestant (see Luke 23:50, 51; John 19:39).
2. They fail to prove an offence against the Law.
(1) Blasphemy was an offence against the Law, punishable with death (see Leviticus 24:16). But what is blasphemy? To speak evil of God, or maliciously to rail against or deny his work.
(2) The Jews had a traditional disposition to account it blasphemy to predict the destruction of the temple (cf. Jeremiah 26:11, 12; Acts 6:13, 14). The Pharisees also confounded their traditions with the Law.
(3) By means of this tradition, then, they sought to fasten the crime of blasphemy upon Jesus. Two witnesses deposed, "This Man said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days." Here note:
(a) They were in a strait when they had to go back to what had passed three years before (see Mark 14:58; John 2:19).
(b) This allegation was, in effect, a falsity; for it suppressed some words of Christ, with the action which explained them, and added words he had not spoken. False testimony lays hold on some basis of truth. Half-truths are often the most vicious lies.
(c) In perverting the meaning of the words of Jesus, his enemies unconsciously bring about their fulfilment.
3. The judges themselves became lying witnesses.
(1) Jesus had maintained a dignified silence while the other witnesses gave their evidence. It was too manifestly frivolous and malicious to require explanation or refutation. "There is a time to speak, and a time to keep silence."
(2) Caiaphas then sought to make Jesus a witness against himself (see ver. 62). Still he held his peace (see Psalm 38:12-14; Isaiah 53:7). The personal Word, like the written Word, declines to answer questions that are idle and insincere.
(3) Unable to make the testimony matter for the charge of blasphemy, Caiaphas had to shift his ground. He now had recourse to adjuration. This was the refuge of rage at the rebuke of that silence which stung him to the quick. What a temper in which to make an appeal to the living God!,
(4) Jesus now at length responded. For
(a) had he refused to answer when adjured, they would have accused him of contempt for the Name of God. Note: Persecutors take advantage of the consciences of good men.
(b) He responded for an example to others of reverence for such a solemn form.
(c) He answered because now it was no longer a question of admitting or denying a false accusation, but of admitting or denying a great truth - to confess whether he were the Christ or not (ver. 64). The "nevertheless" should rather be "moreover: Not only do I confess myself the Christ, but you yourselves will have to confess it when he who now appears before you as in weakness will be revealed in power" (see Revelation 1:7).
(5) Then came the climax of rage when he was adjudged worthy of death for speaking blasphemy" (see vers. 65, 66).
III. THE JUDGMENT IS INIQUITOUS.
1. It ignored the reasons of the claims of Jesus.
(1) The Jews expected their Messiah to be the Son of God. In so expecting they were justified by prophecy (see Psalm 2:7, 12). The terms of the adjuration acknowledged this. And they understood the title to express Divinity. To call himself the Son of God was, in their estimation, to make himself equal with God (see John 10:33).
(2) Therefore, unless Jesus were Divine, he could not have been the Christ. Otherwise his claim to be "the Christ, the Son of God," would indeed have been a blasphemy. But he had vindicated his claim by infallible proofs. He verified in himself the prophecies concerning Messiah, and wrought many miracles, as his judges very well knew (see John 11:47).
(3) Before proceeding to condemn him, it was their duty to answer the argument from prophecy and miracle. But this they never attempted. Rage and violence were their substitutes for justice and truth.
(4) And they aggravated their crime by delivering the Blessed One to the insolence of their myrmidons, who blindfolded him and smote him, and asked him to prophesy as to whose fist was lifted against him (cf. ver. 67; Isaiah 50:5, 6; Luke 22:64). He well knew; but he refuses to prophesy when men close their ears against the truth. The wretches also spat in his face, which was a mark of the most profound contempt (see Numbers 12:4; Job 16:10; Job 30:10; Isaiah 1.6; Micah 5:1).
2. It will be reviewed at another tribunal.
(1) "What contrasts are here! The Deliverer in bonds! The Judge of all attainted! The Prince of glory scorned! The Holy One condemned for sin! The Son of God accused of blasphemy! The Resurrection and the Life sentenced to die! The High Priest forever condemned by the high priest for a year!" (Steir).
(2) To the eternal confusion of the unrighteous council, God ordered it that our Lord should be condemned on the very evidence of his own innocence, purity, and truth. In accusing him of blasphemy they were the blasphemers.
(3) They will yet have to answer before him for their injustice and cruelty. He will one day come with the clouds of heaven, as the Prophet Daniel has described him (cf. Daniel 7:13, 14). The terrors of that judgment day will be a sensible conviction to the most obstinate infidel. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.