JESUS BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN
Matt 26:63b-68 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. 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. 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. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death. Then did they spit in His face, and buffeted Him; and others smote Him with the palms of their hands, saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee? (Also See Matt. 26:59-63a; Mark 14:55-65; Luke 22:63-71; John 18:19-24)
In the five verses proceeding the lesson text, as well as the first six verses in the corresponding account of Mark, we find recorded the false witnesses brought against Jesus as He appeared before the Sanhedrin. The accounts of Jesus' trial before this Jewish council given by Luke and John omit the false testimony of these accusers, but contain additional detail that will also be discussed in this study.
It was the high priest and elders, which rule over the Sanhedrin that conspired with Judas to identify Jesus to the council guards and Roman soldiers, whom they had sent to take Him. This identification enabled them to seize Jesus and bring Him before Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled (See Matt. 26:47-50; 57) - that is, the Sanhedrin. This body was the highest ruling court among the Jewish nation and was presided over by the high priest. Although capital punishment was denied by the Roman government, judicial authority had been given to the Sanhedrin to arbitrate, try, and settle other civil, criminal, and religious matters. It is believed that most of their rulings were allowed and upheld by Roman overseers in order to establish and maintain a good relationship between the Jews and their Roman rulers. The Sanhedrin, as the Jewish ruling body, was made up of the high priest plus seventy of the most influential, aristocratic Jews chosen out of their nation. These generally included members of both major sects of the Jews - the Sadducees and Pharisees, plus scribes, who were biblical scholars that probably represented both of these sects.
Although it is only recorded by John, it seems that, at first, the high priest questioned Jesus, asking Him to explain things about His disciples, and of His doctrine. Jesus answered by saying that He taught His doctrine openly in the synagogue, and in the temple where the Jewish people gathered. Since He taught nothing in secret, Jesus suggested to the high priest that those that heard His teaching should be witnesses and tell them about His followers and His doctrine, saying, behold, they know what I said (See John 18:19-21). Thinking this answer to the high priest was derisive and contemptible, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so? Jesus immediately replied, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou Me?
With this questioning statement, Jesus was recommending that witnesses be brought in to make accusations against the things that He taught in the temple, fully realizing that they would be presenting false testimony. With that, the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put Him to death. Seeking the death penalty, and since they were not allowed to carry it out, this body knew that they must gather enough evidence against Jesus that the Roman authorities would condemn Him to death. Therefore, they needed witnesses, and since they knew nothing Jesus had done to warrant death, they searched for witnesses that would fabricate lies and submit false testimony against Him. But it seems that each witness brought in said nothing that would allow the death penalty to be carried out - though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. Mark adds that their case against Jesus would not stand because their witness agreed not together (Mark 14:56b).
At the last came two false witnesses, and said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days. Although the council was seeking false testimony, this was part truthful and part false. Jesus did say to the Jews that were desecrating the temple with their merchandising, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. They took His statement to mean the physical temple building, but He spake of the temple of His body (See John 2:19-21). Presiding over the council, the high priest asked Jesus to confirm or deny the testimony of these two witnesses, but He did not answer, instead He held His peace. Then the high priest asked Jesus specifically, and in extremely strong terms, to witness against Himself with this demanding statement, I adjure Thee by the living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God. According to Matthew's record, Jesus insinuated He was the Christ, the Son of God by saying, 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. In Mark's writing (14:62), His answer was definite; Jesus said, I am.
After hearing Jesus' reply, and believing Him to be a mere Jewish man from Galilee, the high priest tore at his clothing, before the members of the Sanhedrin, to show his indignation and demonstrate his anger. Then, turning to these members, he vehemently made this accusation against Jesus: He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now ye have heard His blasphemy. It is true. Any human being that falsely claims to be the Son of God, falsely claims to be God's messenger, or falsely claims to be empowered with God's omniscient, omnipotent power, can rightfully be guilty of the sin of blasphemy. Very few, if any, men or women that falsely claim any form of deity, would continue to make such a claim in the face of the death sentence. Surely, to avoid being put to death, they would recant and deny such claims and admit their perjuring claim. However, being the Son of God, Jesus' statement claim was true; His claim was not blasphemous.
Regardless of the truthfulness of His reply was to the world, recorded in this scripture, the high priest and members of the Sanhedrin considered Jesus to be blasphemously claiming deity, that is, equality with God. When asked by the high priest for their pronouncement of blasphemy against Jesus, the formal decision of this Jewish council was, He is guilty of death. To affirm their sentence against Jesus, and to demonstrate their contempt for Him, they spit in His face, and buffeted Him; and others smote Him with the palms of their hands. Spitting on a person, hitting them with fists, or slapping them with the palms of one's hands, are all expressions of great contempt by a Jew against another person whom they consider to be an heathen enemy.
With great sarcasm, they called Jesus the Christ, although, by the things said and done, they completely denied Him to be the Messiah. Mark tells us that they even covered His face (Mark 14:65), that is, they blindfolded Him before asking derisively, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee? Here, "prophesy" does not mean for a person to foretell a future occurrence, but rather means to reveal something that is unknown to that person. Used here, they asked Jesus to name the person that smote Thee, even though, being blindfolded, He was unable to physically see them. In Luke's recording of this event, he concurs with the above renderings, but also adds, without giving further descriptions, many other things blasphemously spake they against Him (Luke 22:65).
Only Luke (22:66-71) mentions a second trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin that took place as soon as it was day. It seems that the previous hearing took place during the night immediately after Jesus was taken into custody by the Jewish guards and Roman soldiers and delivered to the high priest. According to Jewish law, trials that took place at night were mere hearings only, and any decisions arrived at were not binding until they were reviewed and agreed upon by the council during a daytime court session. Therefore, when it was day, the elders of the people and the chief priests and the scribes came together, andtheyhad Jesus brought before them once again for questioning. Since blasphemy was agreed upon by members of the Sanhedrin during the earlier hearing, there was no need to use the testimony of false witnesses. The council spokesman, the high priest, immediately asked Jesus, Art thou the Christ? In effect Jesus told them that if He affirmed Himself to be the Christ, they would not believe Him, and likewise, if He asked them if they believed Him to be the Christ, they would not answer Me, nor let Me go. This being the true conclusion, His only answer to them was, Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God. It seems that the conclusion of the entire body, at this time, was the same. So they asked Him again, Art Thou then the Son of God? And He said unto them, Ye say that I am, meaning "as you have said, I am." And they said, What need we any further witness, for we ourselves have heard of His own mouth. Being blinded by human wisdom that expected their Messiah to come with great authority, pomp, pride, and grandeur, they falsely condemned the Son of God of blasphemy and proceeded to seek His death through the Roman government overseers of the Jewish nation.