Lesson 26: “To This End Was I Born”
The events between Christ’s betrayal and his crucifixion are covered in a standard way in both this year’s manual; his trials are covered in greater detail in the 1935 seminary text, by Obert C. Tanner, The New Testament Speaks. Salt Lake City: Church Department of Education, 1935. The earlier manual provides more historical background that I like to use in setting the context of the story when I teach (even adults like to be told stories, and it doesn’t hurt at all to couch some of our teaching in story format rather than just data transfer).
THE TRIAL OF JESUS BEFORE THE JEWISH AUTHORITIES
The Story: John 18:13-14, 19-23.
(They “led him away to Annas first”: Annas was not then the high priest, but wielded great power in Jerusalem. The office of high priest under the Roman system had become a political tool, and was filled by the appointment of the Roman governor of Syria. Annas had received the appointment in the year 7, and held it for seven years. By political intrigue, he succeeded in keeping the office of high priest in his family for nearly half a century. Thus, he continued the real power in Jewish priestly circles. During that period, five of his sons, and one son-in-law, Caiaphas, held the office of high priest. The use of the temple courts for banking, and traffic in animals and doves, was one of the chief sources of his revenue. Jesus, in “cleansing the temple,” had directly clashed with the House of Annas. It is generally recognized that annas was responsible for the plan to take Jesus, and force the responsibility for his death upon the Romans.
Caiaphas, his son-in-law, holding the title of high priest ast the time of the trial of Jesus, was of mediocre intellect, and actually wielded little power. Thus, it was natural for Jesus to be taken before annas first, as John alone records, in order to receive instructions as to how to proceed against him. We know little of what happened in the hearing before annas; none of the disciples of Jesus seem to have been present.
The Denials of Peter at the House of Caiaphas: Luke 22:54-65.
“Then took they him, and led him, and brought him into the high priest’s house”: that is, the house of Caiaphas. This was not the court where the “Council” met, but the private residence of the high priest. Jesus was probably held prisoner here until an early hour of the morning, when he was taken to the “Council Chamber.” “And Peter followed afar off.’
“And when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the hall”: the large house or palace of Caiaphas contained an enclosed court or hall, common at that day in the houses of the rich. “peter sat down among them.”
As Peter and the servants of the high priest warmed themselves at the flickering fire that had been kindled, he was asked again and again if he was not a disciple of Jesus. The speech of Peter betrayed him as a Galilean, and perhaps his clothing made him a suspicious figure among the Judean servants. there must have been also among them, some of those servants of the high priest, who had entered the garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus and witnessed the drawing of Peter’s sword. Malchus, who, according to John, was wounded on the ear by Peter, was a servant of the high priest into whose house Peter had boldly entered. “While he yet spake, the cock crew.” Luke has tempered the words of Peter, and omits Mark’s statement that Peter in his denials “began to curse and to swear.”
“And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter”: The look revealed to Peter his weakness and lack of understanding. It was not mere courage that Peter lacked. His presence in the court of the high priest attested his fearlessness. His action in the garden against overwhelming odds, as a test of bravery, must not be overlooked. Peter would have willingly died for Jesus with a sword in his hand. But he had not yet reached the state of mind necessary to die willingly and without a struggle for an ideal. the glance of Jesus was not one of condemnation, but one of hope – hope that the truth would at last have penetrated Peter’s mind, that the ideals of the Kingdom are worth dying for. And this hope of Jesus was realized. A new and greater Peter took root that night, a disciple who could throw away his sword and finally, like the Master, die for the Kingdom. the bitter tears of peter must have brought joy to Jesus, for in Peter Jesus witnessed the first fruits of the impending cross.
The Formal Condemnation before the Sanhedrin: Luke 22:66-71.
“And as soon as it was day”: In other words, as soon as it was legal, for the law forbade the council of the Sanhedrin to convene at night. The words, “whole council,” used in the Gospel of Mark (15:1), indicate a general meeting of the Great Sanhedrin, which would be a senate of seventy-one elders residing in Jerusalem. This tribunal formed the supreme Jewish ruling body of the province of Judea. Below this tribunal in authority were two lesser bodies, the Minor Sanhedrin composed of twenty-three judges, and a still lower tribunal of three judges. These judicial tribunals were composed of both priests and laymen. There were strict requirements for election to them. Good birth, a physical appearance inspiring reverence, marriage and children, an age of over thirty years but not too old, were the necessary requirements. Blind and maimed men, gamblers, or those who traded in merchandise during the Sabbatic year, were not eligible. Hence the dignity of the council.
Read from the Bible Mark 14:55-64; 15;1.
Certainly Nicodemus, the friend of Jesus, and Gamaliel, the greater defender of justice, were not present; or, if present, their dissenting voices were not noticed by the gospel writers. It had been determined beforehand that Jesus was to die. The only question was as to how that could best be assured. As Judea was subject to Rome, the rights of the Jewish tribunal, or Sanhedrin, were greatly curtailed. Not only was the right to pass the death sentence and execute it taken from that body, but also the right to try an individual on a charge where conviction would result in a death penalty. Therefore, the Sanhedrin had overstepped its authority in arresting Jesus, and holding preliminary hearings on his case. But they did not venture so far as to formally try Jesus and pass sentence upon him. The council was held to decide upon a charge to be presented before Pilate, not to render a verdict for Pilate’s confirmation. Had the case of Jesus come before Pilate in the lawful and usual manner, Jesus would undoubtedly have been freed, or perhaps not have been arrested at all. But the arrest and accusation of Jesus by the highest Jewish tribunal, even though illegally brought about, carried with it a menace which Pilate was afraid to ignore.
The search for witnesses was not an easy task, nor is it at all surprising that the witnesses could not agree. Only one charge would guarantee his death by the Romans, the charge of sedition. all their efforts were directed to substantiate that charge. The ‘Messiah” popularly looked for by the Jewish would overthrow the roman yoke. True, jesus had consistently denied that that was his role, and his rejection by his people was evidence of it. but he had, in the closing days of his ministry, allowed people to call him the ‘Messiah.” If the Sanhedrin could present to Pilate the popular conception of the “Messiah,”coupled cleverly with proof of Jesus’ admission of that title, a case for sedition would be clear. Any threatened acts of violence would tend to complete the picture. The introduction of the witnesses who testified that Jesus had said,”I will destroy this temple,” was for that purpose. There is no record that Jesus ever made such a statement.
Because no two witnesses were in perfect agreement, the authorities were in desperate straits, for two witnesses in perfect agreement were necessary to establish any indictment sufficient t justify a trial. had this been a trial, Jesus must now have been released, for no indictment had been properly made against him. As it was not a trial, the high priest felt free to compel the prisoner to testify against himself. Modern police often attempt similar methods before trial.
The Remorse of Judas:
“Then Judas … represented himself”: that is, after the mock trial before the Jewish authorities, and the fate of Jesus seemed certain, Judas probably approached the chief priests as they were leaving the place of Caiaphas to take Jesus before Pilate. He may have conceived the idea that even at that late hour he could cancel the bargain that he had made with the “chief priests,” by returning the blood money. The quick change of heart on the part of Judas is an unusual testimony of the influence of the Master. Jesus had awakened his conscience, and made it so tender that his remorse over his evil act was overpowering. whether this change of heart was true repentance or not, it probably was the beginning, and may have resulted in repentance, had Judas cast himself at the feet of Jesus, instead of letting despair destroy him. But this he did not do.
“I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood … and he went away and hanged himself.” Tradition still points to a jagged, wind-swept tree which is called “the tree of Judas.” Luke records that the death of Judas was currently known in Jerusalem. (Acts 1:18-19)
A Minute for Meditation:
A poet lived in Galilee
Whose mother dearly knew him –
And his beauty like a cooling tree
Drew many people to him.
He loved the speech of simple men
And little children’s laughter;
He came, they always came again,
He went – they followed after.
He had sweet-hearted things to say,
And he was solemn only
When people were unkind … that day;
He’d stand there straight and lonely.
And tell them what they ought to do;
“Love other folk,” he pleaded,
“As you love me and I love you!”
But almost no one heeded.
A poet died in Galilee;
They stared at him and slew him.
What would they do to you and me
If we should say we knew him?
Questions for the Chapter Review:
1. Why did the rulers take Jesus before Annas first? What position in the religious affairs of Jerusalem did Annas hold at this time?
2. What happened in the hearing before Annas?
3. Tell the story of Peter’s thrice=-denial of his Lord. Where did this take place? Why did Peter fail to understand, when Jesus permitted himself to be taken prisoner with certain death ahead? What conclusions do you reach concerning Peter’s denial of his Lord?
4. When did the Sanhedrin meet? What powers did it have?
5. Why did the Sanhedrin seek witnesses against Jesus? What success did they have?
6. What happened to Judas after his betrayal?
THE TRIAL OF JESUS BEFORE PILATE
The First Appearance of Jesus before Pilate: Luke 23-1-5.
Lucius Pontius Pilate was of Spanish origin, having been born in Seville, one of the Spanish cities which enjoyed the right of Roman citizenship. he had served in the Roman Legion under Germanicus in the German campaigns. At the close of that war, he had led a dissolute life of pleasure at Rome. A royal marriage with Claudia, foster daughter of Tiberius, secured for him the position of procurator of Judea, 25 or 26 A.D. Philo, a contemporary at Alexandria, refers to Pilate as a man of “stubborn and harsh quality,” and further tells us “that he could not bring himself to do anything that might cause pleasure to the Jews.” This attitude throws great light upon the trial of Jesus.
The official residence of Pilate was at Caesarea on the shore of the Mediterranean, where a gorgeous palace was maintained. A lesser palace, however, was kept in Jerusalem, and fortunately for the enemies of Jesus, Pilate was residing there during the Feast of the Passover in order to prevent any popular uprising. the gospel of John says that the scrupulous high priests would not enter the heathen palace where Pilate lived. Pilate yielded to their prejudices, and so held court on the “pavement” in front of his palace in the early morning. it is significant of the spiritual blindness of the priests that, dealing with the terrible business of a crucifixion, they could yet be so concerned over one of the smallest items in their religious ceremonial law, which forbade entrance into a heathen’s house during the Passover. Truly, as Jesus had said, they ‘strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.”
“And they began to accuse him, saying, we found this man … forbidding to give tribute to Caesar.” The charge was a clear perversion of facts as Jesus had expressly taught to render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s. (Matt. 22:21) The charge was designed to arouse the suspicions of Pilate, whose duty it was to see that taxes were paid. The last charge was the chief one and seems to be the only one Pilate considered: “saying that he himself is Christ a king.” Pilate was duty-bound to consider such a serious charge. Further, it was a charge which, if proved, would demand the death of the accused.
“And Pilate asked him, saying, art thou the king of the Jews?” It was the equivalent to the request of a judge in a modern court for the prisoner’s plea of “guilty” or “not guilty.” Had Jesus answered “no,” he must certainly have been released, as the chief priests lacked adequate proof of their charge. But he could not do so and remain true to his convictions. Not even to save his life, would he depart from the standard of truth which he had set up. To have answered “yes,” without a qualification, would have been just as misleading. To interpret his answer, “Thou sayest it,” as equivalent to an affirmative, does Jesus an injustice, and has often led to the false assumption that he wanted to die.
What Jesus meant by his answer is best understood in the light of the fuller conversation between Jesus and Pilate, recorded in John 18;34-38. (See following section.) It was as if Jesus had said: “You tell me, after you have heard the facts, if you consider me a king.” And after Pilate had considered the title of king, as understood by Jesus, he said “to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man.” Pilate evidently regarded the case as closed. But he found that he had to deal with all the ingenious cunning of a priestcraft, bent upon destroying an innocent man. “And they were the more fierce”: The usually dignified members of the Sanhedrin now abandoned their dignity, and began to reinforce their arguments with violent accusations. “He stirreth up the people, teaching, throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place.”
Read from the Bible, John 18:31, 33-38.
The question of Pilate, “Art thou the king of the Jews?’ is the same as in the above section, but the answer is here given in detail.
our Master may have been willing to admit that he was a king, but he made clear to Pilate that his Kingdom is not a political one. Jesus was aware of his legal rights, but he would not ave is life if doing so meant to change in any way his conception of his mission.
“What is truth?” Pilate was unable to comprehend Jesus. His statement was not a request for knowledge; it was a dismissal of a subject which did not interest him. He had no time for such abstractions. yet, although he abruptly closed the interview, he had been moved to a realization of the innocence of the man, which led him to announce: “I find in him no fault at all.”
Jesus is Sent before Herod Antipas, and Tetrach of Galilee: Luke 23:6-12.
the object of the high priests was plainly to place upon Pilate the responsibility for the death of Jesus. They could then proclaim to the Jewish people, the majority of whom were friendly to Jesus, that the Roman rulers had also found the Galilean a seditious criminal, worthy of death. Pilate perceived their purpose and would have freed Jesus, if for no other purpose than to thwart their designs; but the intense obstinacy of the priests presented a problem, and he cast about for a political expedient. Hearing the word “Galilee,” he thought he saw a way to rid himself of a dangerous responsibility.
The Second Appearance of Jesus before Pilate: Luke 23-13-16.
Neither Pilate nor Herod had found any fault with Jesus. He could then have been released. But Pilate was afraid to arouse the priests further, so he attempted a compromise.
“I will therefore chastise him, and release him”: It was a political expediency having no legal basis. A condemned prisoner might be scourged after sentence, but certainly not one who had, by the judge’s own lips, been declared innocent. but Pilate would not hesitate to scourge an innocent man, if to do so would placate the dangerous enmity of the Jewish leaders, and yet satisfy his sense of right by saving Jesus’ life. But still another solution offered itself, and this was to be tried before the scourging was resorted to.
Read from the Bible, Matt. 27:15-26.
“Now at that feast, the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.”
It appears that Pilate had made a custom of granting one such request at each annual Passover feast. It must be borne in mind that the initiative rested with the people as prosecutor. Pilate could release only he ‘whom they would.” All other prisoners must be tried, and either acquitted or sentenced.
Mark explains that “Barabbas, … lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection.”
Pilate probably thought that Jesus would have a popular following in the crowd. If so, he might, by a clever use of a judicial right, play them against the demands of the high priests and thwart their designs, by passing the responsibility onto the people. He therefore mentioned only two prisoners, “Barabbas, or Jesus,” thinking perhaps that there could be but one choice, especially since he knew that Jesus was innocent, and “that for envy they had delivered him.” The touching message from his wife at this time may have strengthened this hope.
“But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask barabbas, and destroy Jesus”: Swayed by the high priests who mingled among them, disappointed perhaps by the apparent helplessness of Jesus, and the absence of a miracle to save him, even those who might have once been friendly, now turned against Jesus and joined in the cry for his destruction.
“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” Pilate here departed from his legal right. He who should have been the judge, was asking for the judgment of the people. In his desire to be free of the dilemma, he was ready to cast aside all the laws of justice. In this question the high priests recognized his surrender to their demands, and they urged the people to shout: “Let him be crucified.”
“Why, what evil hath he done?” Fear seems to have overcome the haughty roman. Sensing their victory, the high priests further urged the people, filling the court with the cry: “Let him be crucified … If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend.” this threat was in the background of the entire trial. It was the weapon Caiaphas and the high priests had prepared to force the haughty Roman to do their bidding. an embassy that would charge that Pilate was protecting an arch conspirator and was leaguing himself to him, would mean Pilate’s utter ruin. If he could have dared show his real feelings, he would have driven them from his court with the lash.
Pilate realized his defeat, but still sought to soothe his conscience by a miserable attempt to escape from his duty as judge. “He took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it”: the washing of hands was purely a Jewish custom. Some authorities suggest that Pilate adopted this symbol to attest his innocence, because in the uproar he could not make himself heard. Moreover, many languages were spoken by the multitude, as is shown by the inscription in three languages, which Pilate ordered to be placed on the cross of Jesus. The whole multitude would be familiar with the Jewish symbol, which Pilate now used.
“His blood be on us, and on our children”: Many authorities believe these words to have been inserted at a later date. Certainly it expressed a thought contrary to the wishes of the Sanhedrin, who were careful to see that Pilate was to assume responsibility.
“And when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified”: Scouring always preceded death by crucifixion, and took place immediately after sentence had been pronounced. It was often called the “intermediate death.” The victim was tied to the whipping post or stake, and stripped to the waist. Forty stripes or lashes with the “flagellum” were usually given. The whip (flagellum) consisted of sharp pieces of bone or metal interwoven in rawhide thongs and weighted with lead. So savage was this form of punishment, that the victim’s flesh was often laid open to the bone, and many died before reaching the cross. Jesus was so weakened by scourging that he fainted under the weight of the cross. Scourging was also used as a form of punishment apart from crucifixion. It was suggested by Pilate as a substitute for other punishment.
The Roman Soldiers Mock Jesus: Matt. 27:27-30.
“They … put on him a scarlet robe”: this was probably some officer’s coat. It was meant for mockery, as purple was the sign of royalty.
This scene of mockery was typical of the cases of the condemned. “The opportunity broke so agreeably the coarse monotony of the soldier’s life that they summoned all of the cohort who were disengaged to witness their brutal sport. In sight of these bearded ruffians they went through the whole heartless ceremony of a mock coronation, a mock investiture, a mock homage. Around the brows of Jesus, in wanton mimicry of the Emperor’s laurel, they twisted a wreath of thorny leaves; in his tired and trembling hands they placed a reed for a sceptre; from his torn and bleeding sh9oulders they stripped the white robe with which Herod had mocked him – which must now have been soaked with blood – and flung on him an old scarlet paludament, some cast-off war cloak, with its purple laticlave, from the Praetorium wardrobe … Each kept passing before him with their mock salutations of ‘Hail, King of the Jews.’” [Farrar, The Life of Christ, p. 487.]
Read from the Bible John 19:4-16. the Gospel of John is the only one to give the account of this closing scene. “Pilate therefore went forth again”: It was the last attempt to change the minds of the people. Although Jesus had been delivered to be scourged, no formal sentence had been passed by Pilate.
“Behold the man!” There is something of involuntary homage in those words of the haughty Roman, and millions have been thrilled by them. with the marks of blows upon his countenance; with his blood, crimson, like the faded soldier’s cloak flung round his shoulders and dripping from his many wounds; with the mocking crown of thorns still upon his head; haggard with his many hours of sleeplessness and abuse; Jesus stood forth so calm and collected that the hardened Roman was involuntarily touched.
Not so, however, with the Jewish priests. “Crucify him, crucify him.” It was a howling refrain, a “liturgy of death.” There is something of disgust, of bitter helplessness in Pilate’s cry: “Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him.” It was a horrible admission of cowardice from a Roman judge.
But Jesus had strongly impressed Pilate. The dream of his wife had stirred him with forebodings. The new cry, “Son of God,” aroused his superstitions. once more he took Jesus back into the Praetorium. he felt insecure in his position.
“Whence art thou?” The question is tinged with superstitious fear. The silence of Jesus exasperated Pilate because it condemned him. “Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?” It was an idle boast from a moral coward who had surrendered justice and conscience, to fear. And Jesus pitied the hopeless tragedy of the man, whose guilt had lowered him to the position of a slave.
The conversation with Jesus had kindled a tiny flame of conscience in the hardened Roman, but when he came again before the priests. it flickered and died under the weight of their taunts. Cleverly, the priests aroused his fears, and compelled him to balance the life of the Galilean against his own political existence. “Speaketh against Caesar”: The Emperor Tiberius, Pilate knew, was tiring of him and would probably like an excuse to be rid of him. Caiaphas had cleverly touched a vulnerable spot, and he yielded to the pressure.
Pilate “sat down in the judgment seat”: that is, in the official seat for the pronouncing of judgment, “in a place that is called the Pavement”: the outdoor court before the palace.
‘Behold your King!” It is difficult to tell whether the words were intended as a tribute to Jesus, or as mockery of the Jews. At any rate, it had the latter effect. The fanatical Jews felt the title a mockery of their religion, and there were secretive threatenings mingled with their cries.
“Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” to Pilate’s repeated mockery, “the chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.” The priests being Sadducees, who entertained little or no hope of a second David to free them from Rome, and growing rich over the existing state of affairs, could well make such a statement. “Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified.”
A Minute for Meditation:
“‘Twas but a painted picture of earth’s one perfect Man. Crowds of young men students were drifting slowly past, impressed but dumb. Some dared not even scan the canvassed Face. Silent a moment, on they went until the last of all who stopped, entranced before that wondrous One, and then was heard to murmur in a heart-felt tone,
‘O Man of Galilee!
Whatever field I go into, if I can be
Of any help in your work count on me.’”
Questions for the Chapter Review:
1. Give some characteristics of Pilate as an individual. As a ruler.
2. Why did Pilate hold the trial of Jesus on the pavement in front of his palace?
3. What charges against Jesus did the rulers bring before Pilate? Which one did Pilate consider? Why?
4. What decision did Pilate make after hearing the case against Jesus? Give his words. How did the Jews receive this decision?
5. Did Jesus answer Pilate’s question: “What is truth?” Is there an answer to this question? Explain.
6. Why did Pilate send Jesus before Herod?
7. Why was Jesus not released after neither Pilate nor Herod could find him guilty?
8. Explain the controversy over the question of releasing Barabbas of Jesus. What decision was reached? Why?
9. Describe the scene of the Roman soldiers mocking Jesus.
10. What significance do you attach to the words of Pilate, “Behold the man”?
11. What was the sin of Pilate, as he cried, “Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him?”
12. What was the sin of the Jesus rulers in demanding of Pilate, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him”?