It is just after midnight on the Passover of A.D. 31. An ominous gathering of people, wielding swords and clubs, has assembled in the midst of Jesus and His disciples on the Mount of Olives, their intent mostly unknown. A man named Judas steps forward from the multitude and greets Jesus with a kiss, saying, “Good evening, Master.”
Jesus responds, “My friend. Why are you here tonight?”
Immediately, several members of the large crowd move forward and seize Jesus, prompting one of His disciples to grab a sword and strike one of the attackers.
“Put down your sword,” Jesus exclaims. “It is of no value. Those who rely on swords will die with their swords in hand. They are of no use. If I wanted to, I could call upon My Father to send more than 70,000 angels to free Me. But if this were to happen, the Scriptures would not be fulfilled.”
Then Jesus says to the crowd, “Why have you seized Me tonight with swords and clubs, as if I were a criminal? Did you not see Me many times teaching in the temple? Why did you not lay hands upon Me then?”
At that very moment, Jesus’ disciples—His close friends, who have been with Him for the better part of three and a half years—flee. Every one of them forsook Him, as it is written,
“I will smite the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad” (Matt. 26:31).
Jesus is eventually taken to the palace of the high priest, whose name is Caiaphas. There, a sizeable group of scribes and Pharisees is anxiously assembled. For years, Jesus’ popularity among the common people of Judea has threatened their positions of authority. Now, they finally have a chance to try Jesus and convict Him of a crime, one punishable by death.
After reading the previous chapter, you are familiar with the rest of the story: Jesus is tried, convicted and put to death. But have you ever closely examined the court proceedings leading to Jesus’ crucifixion? Was His trial legal?
Many believe and try to prove that Jesus was legally put to death. For example, in his 1916 book The Prosecution of Jesus, Richard Wellington Husband, a lawyer, wrote, “The arrest was legal…The hearing by the Sanhedrin was legal…The course of trial in the Roman court was legal…The conviction was legal, and was justified.”
Here is how Husband supports his assertions: “The arrest was legal, for it was conducted by the proper officers, acting under instruction from the Sanhedrin. There was no illegality in the circumstances under which the arrest was affected. The hearing by the Sanhedrin was legal, for it was merely a preliminary hearing, and was not a formal trial. The course of trial in the Roman court was legal, for it harmonized with the procedure shown in the sources to be pursued by governors of provinces in hearing criminal cases.”
“The conviction was legal, and was justified provided the evidence was sufficient to substantiate the charges, and the records do not prove the contrary.”
As you can see, according to Husband, the entire process leading to the death of Jesus was legal. And, to him, the Bible does not provide sufficient evidence to indicate otherwise, as he states that other “records do not prove the contrary.”
Similarly, Max Radin, a former professor and author of the book The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth, believes the accounts in the Bible are not credible, since Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not physical eyewitnesses to the secretive proceedings. In his book, Radin claims there is “no clear statement of how the knowledge of the trial came to those who reported it.”
The author, however, does not take into account the possibility that Christ could have explained everything to His disciples when He was resurrected from the dead. Jesus was a personal eyewitness to the trial and could have accurately conveyed everything to His followers to record in the pages of the Bible. (Of course, the author also does not believe that Scripture is inspired.)
Later in the book, Radin provides insight into a common trial in Judea during Christ’s time: “We are, most of us, familiar with the procedure of criminal investigations. The accused person is arrested, arraigned before a committing magistrate, specifically accused and formally tried. He may, and he generally does, appeal to a higher court, if he is convicted. All these things take time, and there is almost necessarily an interval of weeks and months between the later stages of the procedure. But above all, the procedure is strictly regulated by law, and any serious deviation is not merely an irregularity but will probably prevent punishment from being inflicted.”
By the above description alone, Jesus’ trial was fraudulent. All of the above-mentioned events take time, and usually lots of it! Radin himself admits this. But the trial of Jesus was completed approximately nine hours after He was arrested. And due to the privacy of the proceedings, there were no witnesses to testify on behalf of Jesus—but there were many witnesses to testify against Him! How many court cases are you aware of that are similar to this? Almost certainly none.
Several pages later in the book, Radin attempts to reconcile his description of a lengthy criminal investigation with Jesus’ nine-hour process: “Mark’s version, even by his own testimony, cannot be more than a guess. Instead of a hurried night meeting, a harsh and brief interrogatory, a disregard of established rules of evidence and procedure, the trial may have been formally correct, and the judgment formally correct even from the point of view of an upright judge just though severe.”
As is the case with most scholars, Radin dismisses the Bible as a source of historically accurate information. He assumes that Mark guessed what “may have” happened and, as such, believes the investigation could have occurred some other way. Yet the accounts in the Bible are the only sources of information that cover the trial. One cannot justify his position based on another resource; he can merely render a guess or an assumption. When one believes what was written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—all very close to the proceedings—only one conclusion can be drawn: Christ’s trial was illegal, even by men’s standards.
Some might wonder: “Why did the Jews deliver Jesus to the Romans to be killed? Could they not have put Him to death themselves?”
A common view of these matters is that the Jews did not have the authority to execute criminals. Continuing in The Prosecution of Jesus, Husband states, “According to the common view, the right to try capital cases [cases involving the death penalty] and even the right to pronounce sentences, still rested with the Sanhedrin, but the actual penalty could not be inflicted until the governor had given his sanction.”
Those who believe Jesus’ adversaries had no legal basis to execute Him usually cite
Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death: John 18:31
where Pilate, the Roman governor, said to the Jews, “Take you Him, and judge Him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.”
Lifted from its context, this verse does appear to indicate that the Jews were unable to execute criminals. Yet the truth is that they did have the power to try, convict and execute people, except in cases that involved treason or sedition against the Roman government.
Consider the following: Stephen was accused of blasphemy and as a result was stoned to death by the Jewish authority, as described in the book of Acts
Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. Acts 6:11
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Acts 7:59
The Romans were not consulted in this execution and there is no indication they disapproved.
On several occasions, the scribes and Pharisees sought to kill Jesus
And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine. Mark 11:18
After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death. Mark 14:1
And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him Luke 19:47
And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him; for they feared the people. Luke 22:2
Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. John 10.31
If this were illegal, it is doubtful they would have even attempted to do so.
In one instance, elders of Judea brought before Jesus a woman who had been caught committing adultery, and challenged,
“Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what say you?” John 8:5
If the Jews did not have the authority to put this woman to death, Jesus might have replied, “Are you not aware of Roman law? You do not have the power to execute anyone.”
But He did not say this. He simply said,
“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” John 8:7
Jesus knew full well that the Jews were legally able to execute adulteresses and criminals. Also, if it were not legal for the Jews to perform executions, consider what might have happened if word of this event reached Roman authority? Surely, if such were the case, the Jews would not have been so public about it.
Finally, although he survived, the apostle Paul was stoned by a crowd in Asia, among whom were Jews.
Wherever the Jews settled during the time of Roman rule, they had the legal right to execute people under their law.
So then to what is the statement in
Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death: John 18:31
“From the earliest period the Roman governor took cognizance of all matters that had relation to the public security or the majesty of the Empire. Consequently there was not a time at which the Roman magistrate would not step in when a charge of treason was made, or a seditious movement began. The case against Jesus is one especially in point, for the charge against him [treason] could under no circumstances be tried by any tribunal except that of the governor” (The Prosecution of Jesus).
The Roman government would intervene in criminal affairs only when matters of treason, civil disobedience, incitement to revolution or attacks against Caesar were specifically involved. Otherwise, local administration was conducted by local officials and the regular courts of the conquered nations. Roman authorities were not involved in every criminal proceeding throughout the vast empire.
Jesus’ opponents accused Him of blasphemy, but since they did not want to execute Him themselves, they created charges of treason against Him. This way, the trial could be brought before Pontius Pilate, and, in their minds, he and the Romans would be responsible for Jesus’ death, not them.
Before identifying the precise reasons Jesus’ trial was illegal, it will be helpful to briefly examine events leading up to His crucifixion.
We begin again with Judas Iscariot striking a deal with the religious authorities. Here is the account:
“Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve [disciples]. And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him [Jesus] unto them. And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money. And he promised, and sought opportunity to betray Him unto them in the absence of the multitude” Luke 22:3-6
Soon after Judas entered into a pact with the religious leaders, Jesus and His faithful disciples ate their final meal together on Passover evening. Then, Judas arrived at the Mount of Olives with a large mob of various people, including Jesus’ future judges and jury, who stirred up the crowd to arrest Christ
And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat.
22:9: And they said unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare?
22:10: And he said unto them, Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in.
22:11: And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?
22:12: And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished: there make ready.
22:13: And they went, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover.
22:14: And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him.
22:15: And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer:
22:16: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
22:17: And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves:
22:18: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.
22:19: And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.
22:20: Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.
22:21: But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table.
22:22: And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed!
22:23: And they began to enquire among themselves, which of them it was that should do this thing.
22:24: And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.
22:25: And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.
22:26: But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
22:27: For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.
22:28: Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations.
22:29: And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me;
22:30: That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
22:31: And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
22:32: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
22:33: And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.
22:34: And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.
22:35: And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing.
22:36: Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.
22:37: For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end.
22:38: And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.
22:39: And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. Luke 22:8-39
After the arrest, a former high priest named Annas examined Jesus first
And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year. John 18:13
Next, the mob brought Jesus to the high priest’s palace, where Caiaphas (the high priest) and the Sanhedrin
And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.
26:58: But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest's palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end. Matt. 26:57-58
Here, numerous false witnesses came before the Sanhedrin to give testimony against Him. Eventually, Jesus was condemned to death, apparently on the charge of blasphemy
The next morning, the Sanhedrin formally condemned Jesus in an attempt to make the previous evening’s procedures legal. A multitude of people then led Jesus to Pilate
And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate. Luke 23:1
and pronounced different charges, saying,
“We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ a King” Luke 23:1
Notice that they did not accuse Christ of blasphemy in the presence of Pilate. Instead, they charged Him with treason against the Roman Empire.
Pilate initially desired to free Jesus
Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man. Luke 23:4
but the people continued to push for His death, saying,
“He stirs up [incites] the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place” Luke 23:4
Recall when Pilate heard that Jesus was from Galilee, he sent Him to Herod, since Galilee was under his jurisdiction
When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked whether the man were a Galilaean.
23:7: And as soon as he knew that he belonged unto Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time. Luke 23:6-7
Herod was happy to see Jesus, as he heard many things about Him. He desired to see Jesus perform some miracles
And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him. Luke 23:8
But Jesus neither performed any miracles nor answered his questions
Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing. Luke 23:9
Meanwhile, the chief priests and scribes stood by and accused Jesus
And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him. Luke 23:10
After being mocked, He was quickly sent back to Pilate
And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate. Luke 23:11
Pilate sought to release Jesus once again, as he found no reason to condemn Him to death:
“You have brought this Man unto me, as one that perverts the people: and, behold, I, having examined Him before you, have found no fault in this Man touching those things whereof you accuse Him: No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto Him. I will therefore chastise Him, and release Him” Luke 23:14-16
But the crowd cried out with a loud voice,
“Crucify Him, crucify Him” Luke 23:21
Pilate, a third time, responded to the multitude,
“Why, what evil has He done? I have found no cause of death in Him: I will therefore chastise Him, and let Him go” Luke 23:22
The people responded all the more loudly: “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”
Pilate finally gave in to the people’s demands, and delivered Jesus to be crucified.
Keep in mind again that this entire process lasted only about nine hours, from after midnight to around 9:00 in the morning. Jesus was seized, then tried, condemned and crucified—all within a matter of nine hours! At 3:00 in the afternoon, Jesus was speared in His side and killed
But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. John 19:34
In that short period of time, the world eliminated the Savior!
With this backdrop, we are now ready to examine 12 paramount—and clear—reasons the arrest, trial and conviction of Jesus Christ were illegal.
Recall that Judas was bribed to betray Jesus in the absence of the crowds who favored Him. The plan was to seize Jesus in the dark of night, sentence Him just before sunrise—to make everything appear legal—transport Him to Pilate, stir up a mob of people to condemn Him, and crucify Him in the morning before those who supported Him were aware.
Who constituted the crowd of people who arrested Jesus? The answer leads to the first maneuver contrary to law in Jesus’ arrest, trial and conviction: Jesus was arrested illegally.
Any trial may be dismissed as a mistrial, or illegal, if there is prejudice against the individual being tried on the part of those participating. The accused must be given full recourse of law to be able to sufficiently present his side.
Jesus, however, was both arrested and tried by those prejudiced against Him, and was not allowed opportunity to present His case. Further, His judges were the same individuals who bribed Judas! Surely one cannot say these people were impartial!
In addition, Jesus was arrested secretly at night and was not formally charged of any offense. Judas simply pointed out Jesus, and a crowd arrested Him. There was no legal basis for this.
In his book Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, Samuel Mendelsohn states, “The testimony of an accomplice [in this case, Judas] is not permissible by Rabbinic law…and no man’s life, nor his liberty, nor his reputation can be endangered by the malice of the one who has confessed himself a criminal.”
Since Judas accepted a bribe from a judge, certainly Judas would be considered a criminal. And since Jesus’ judges bribed Judas, they would be considered criminals as well. This alone should have led to a mistrial!
Jesus was examined by Annas in a secret night proceeding
Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him,
18:13: And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year.
18:14: Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people. John 18:12-14
And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals; for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself.
18:19: The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine.
18:20: Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.
18:21: Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.
18:22: And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?
18:23: Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me? John 18:18-23
According to the Talmud, the Sanhedrin is forbidden from convening between the time of the evening and morning sacrifice. In the book Jesus Before the Sanhedrin, M.M. Lemann states that “no session [including a preliminary examination] of the court could take place before the offering of the morning sacrifice.”
Going further, “An accused man was never subjected to private or secret examination,” as stated in Institutions de Moise, by J. Salvador.
The indictment against Jesus was false.
In the book Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim states that “the Sanhedrin did not, and could not, originate charges.”
But as we saw, the Sanhedrin did so in the case against Jesus.
Alexander Taylor Innes, in The Trial of Jesus Christ, reveals that “until they [the witnesses] spoke, and spoke in the public assembly, the prisoner was scarcely [never] an accused man. When they spoke, and the evidence of two agreed together, it formed a legal charge, libel or indictment, as well as the evidence for its truth.”
In a correctly conducted procedure, the evidence of the leading witnesses constituted the charge. But with Jesus, no witnesses—and therefore no charges—were presented at the outset of the proceedings. Those in opposition to Jesus, including those who would be in the court, simply arrested Him. They then needed to find witnesses—false ones!
The Sanhedrin court illegally held its trial before sunrise.
Annas’s preliminary examination of Jesus resulted in no evidence. But instead of dismissing the case, the Sanhedrin proceeded to hold an illegal court.
Mendelsohn reveals why it was illegal: “Criminal cases can be acted upon by the various courts during the day time only, and by the Lesser Sanhedrins from the close of the morning sacrifice till noon, and by the Great Sanhedrin till evening.”
The Jewish Mishna states, “Let a capital offense be tried during the day, but suspend at night.”
Moses Maimonides explains why trials are to be held during the daylight: “The reason why the trial of a capital offense could not be held at night is because…the examination of such a charge is like the diagnosing of a wound—in either case a more thorough and searching examination can be made by daylight.”
Convicting someone of a crime punishable by death was serious business. It required those deciding the fate of the accused to be at their best mental state, which is hardly true in the early hours of the morning.
The Sanhedrin illegally convened to try a capital offense on a day before an annual Sabbath.
The Mishna reveals why: “They shall not judge on the eve of the Sabbath, nor on any festival.”
In Martyrdom of Jesus, Isaac Wise, a Jewish Rabbi, provides decisive evidence: “No court of justice in Israel was permitted to hold sessions on the Sabbath or on any of the seven biblical Holy Days. In cases of capital crime, no trial could be commenced on Friday or the day previous to any Holy Day, because it was not lawful either to adjourn such cases longer than overnight, or to continue them on the Sabbath or Holy Day.”
Jesus, however, was arrested on Passover evening in A.D. 31, which is the day before the First Day of Unleavened Bread—an annual Holy Day!
The trial concluded in one day.
Again, reading from the Mishna, we learn, “A criminal case resulting in the acquittal of the accused may terminate the same day on which the trial began. But if a sentence of death is to be pronounced, it cannot be concluded before the following day.”
Forcing a trial to continue longer than one day allows time for witnesses in support of the accused to come forth. Of course, Jesus’ court did not want any such witnesses to manifest themselves, so they ended it quickly.
In addition to the indictment against Jesus being false, it was used illegally.
Jesus was indicted on the basis of 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—referring to His death and resurrection!
Jesus’ statement in
Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. John 2:19
was a response to those who asked Him to give a sign
Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? John 2:18
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, “Are You not 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
And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?
26:63: But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.
26:64: Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
26:65: Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.
26:66: What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death. 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 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” (The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth).
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
Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? Mark 14:63
Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. Matt 26:65
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; 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
And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people: but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the LORD hath kindled. 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! (See
Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment:Exodus 23:2
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.”
But there is other important explanation of process. 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 counselor; 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…” Luke 23:50-51
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 indicates 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
Then took they him, and led him, and brought him into the high priest's house. And Peter followed afar off. 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.
Earlier, 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 “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” Luke 23:2
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
And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar. 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
The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. John 19:7
An Innocent Man—Condemned!
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. Also imagine facing a trial you know is a sham. Next imagine being vehemently falsely accused. Then imagine being spitefully treated by thrill-seeking soldiers. Still further imagine enduring fierce scorn and ridicule from ignorant people. And finally 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.
Yet, His death was absolutely necessary…