Trial Before Caiaphas: A Chronological Harmony

Trial Before Caiaphas

Abuse while awaiting trial (Matthew 26:57; Luke 22:63-65)

            From Annas’ home Jesus was lead to where Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin council gathered for a trial. While awaiting the council to convene, the men holding Jesus began to mock him and strike him. Putting a blindfold on him, they hit him in the face, and mocked him to prophesy and say who just hit him along with other blasphemous things. It is remarkable that though they later falsely charge Jesus with blasphemy, it was actually the guards of the court who were guilty of this charge.

            Recall that Jesus had yet to be charged with any crime. His appearance before Annas was not an official trial and that event did not produce any charges. Yet he was abused and mocked by his captures, never given a moment of peace.

False witnesses (Matthew 26:59-62; Mark 14:55-60; Luke 22:66)

            As soon as it was fully day, the Sanhedrin council convened to consider the case of Jesus. They sought out anyone to bring a charge against Jesus, but were unable to produce proper witnesses. The Law required that two or more witnesses had to give consistent testimony before a fact could be admitted as evidence in a court (Deuteronomy 19:15; 17:6). But they were not able to find two people to give the same evidence.

            Finally they found two people who stated that Jesus said that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. It was almost what Jesus said, but Jesus wasn’t speaking of the physical temple, but of his body (John 2:19-22). Even in this the testimony of the witnesses didn’t fully agree (Mark 14:59). Matthew gives us one testimony (Matthew 26:61) and Mark records the other (Mark 14:58) and we can see for ourselves how different the statements are from each other. It is not surprising since the statement was made over three years prior. They could not even get a brief statement right.

            The high priest challenged Jesus to defend himself against this charge, but Jesus said nothing (Isaiah 53:7). There was no need. The charge was obviously a false one and would not be held against him. Jesus’ very silence was a condemnation of the proceedings.

Seeking self-incrimination (Matthew 26:63-66; Mark 14:61-64; Luke 22:67-70)

            Knowing he had nothing to charge Jesus with, the High Priest commanded Jesus to speak under oath and answer whether he was the Christ, the Son of God. Caiaphas’ very action violates a common principle of law which forbids a court to press a defendant to incriminate himself. Realize that Jesus had not been accused of any crime. The High Priest was attempting to force Jesus to commit what he thought would be a crime in his own courtroom. Caiaphas’ action was at best unethical. What is more strange is that the Jews were expecting the Messiah to be the Son of God (Psalm 2:7; John 1:49). Thus Caiaphas is making admittance of being the Messiah a crime.

            By putting the demand in an oath, Caiaphas sought to trap Jesus because it was a crime to hear an oath and not witness to it (Leviticus 5:1). Jesus could not remain silent without breaking the law.

            Jesus points out that if he said it himself they would not believe him. If he questioned their reasoning, they would not change their minds. Jesus then turns the statement around and told Caiaphas that he spoke the truth. Thus the defendant gave judgment on the words of the judge.  In evidence of the truth, Jesus stated that they would see him sitting at the right hand of God’s throne, coming on the clouds – that is, coming in judgment against them. It would not matter what he said. They would see the truth for themselves. His statement matches what the Old Testament declared would be true about the Messiah (Psalm 110:1).

            Jesus’ statement enrages Caiaphas. He tears his clothes and charges Jesus with blasphemy. Again we see a violation of law; the High Priest was not allowed to tear his clothes (Leviticus 21:10). Since all the judges heard Jesus’ statement, they had no need for additional witnesses, which is an admission that they had no other evidence. Turning to the other judges he asks for their opinion and they respond that Jesus is deserving of death. Thus again we see judges who have already decided the outcome before they even deliberate the case. They held him guilty of Leviticus 24:16. There is no questioning of whether Jesus had the right to make his claim. They simply assume that he had no right to claim divinity.

            And all present condemned him. We learn later that not all members of the Sanhedrin agreed (Luke 23:50-51), so we must assume that the dissenters were not present or that their voice was drowned out by the vast majority.

Abuse while awaiting judgment (Matthew 26:67-68; Mark 14:65)

            While the court decided on the formal sentence, Jesus was again abused by the guards. They spat in his face. Spitting was an act of extreme contempt (Numbers 12:14; Deuteronomy 25:9). They blindfolded him again, slapped him, and challenged him to prophesy as to who hit him (Isaiah 50:6).

Verdict (Matthew 27:1-2; Mark 15:1; Luke 23:1)

            The final decision was not surprising. They voted to have Jesus sentenced to death. But since this wasn’t allowed under Roman law, they sent Jesus to the Roman governor to have his consent. Part of the decision was likely to come up with a charge that the Roman governor would agree deserved death (Psalm 2:2). Blasphemy was not a charge the Romans considered as wrong and if they brought only that one, Pilate would throw the case out.

Judas’ suicide (Matthew 27:3-10)

            Judas appears shocked at the result of his betrayal. He regretted bringing Jesus to the Jews. It is likely that Judas had expected Jesus to walk away from those trying to harm him as he had done so many times in the past. Such an expectation would have suited Judas’ personality. Here would have been the perfect ploy. He could betray Jesus and get back at him for the perceived insults he took from him and get paid for it at the same time! Jesus would be handed over to the Jews so he could claim that he did exactly as he had agreed. And when Jesus slipped away, he could say he had nothing to do with their losing Jesus. Best of all, no one would have been directly hurt and he would be richer. Who knows, he might even hoped to do it again a few times.

            But it didn’t go as planned. Jesus didn’t slip away. Instead, he was condemned to death – something Judas did not want to happen to Jesus, despite his willingness to betray him.

            Unable to live with himself, he brought the money back to the priests, declaring he had betrayed an innocent man. Some note that Jewish law required that if new evidence is brought concerning a case it was to be retried. Perhaps Judas hoped to undo the wrong he had started. But his plea was ignored, the priests didn’t care if Judas thought he had betrayed an innocent man. From the priest’s viewpoint Jesus was condemned on his own words, Judas’ testimony would not have changed their minds concerning the matter.

            The money was no solace to Judas. It didn’t soothe his knowledge that he had sent an innocent man to death. Throwing the money to the floor of the temple, Judas left and hanged himself. Acts 1:18 mentions that he fell and disemboweled himself. Likely Judas wasn’t careful in his grief. He did hang himself, probably on a branch over a drop off, but either the rope or the branch broke and he fell headlong to his doom.

            The priest were concerned about what to do with the money. Funds used for sinful purposes could not be put into the treasury (Deuteronomy 23:18). Thus, strangely enough, they admitted that their payment of Judas to betray Jesus was sinful. They were too exacting to take blood money into the temple, but it didn’t bother them that they condemned an innocent man to death in court session that violated many laws. So they used the money to purchase a field that was used to mine clay for pottery. The purchased lot would be used to bury foreigners who died in the area. By strange coincidence it was the very same field where Judas killed himself. Thus in a sense, Judas purchase the place of his death (Acts 1:18).

            The field became known as the Field of Blood because it was purchased with blood money. And in the purchase the priest fulfilled a prophesy recorded in Zechariah 11:12-13. The words recorded in Matthew are attributed to Jeremiah. They are not the same words that Zechariah recorded, but we can assume that Jeremiah had also made a prophesy similar to what Zechariah made, but that particular prophecy was not written in Jeremiah’s books.