Mk. 14:53, Mk. 14:55-65
They took Jesus away to the High Priest, and all the chief priests and experts in the law and elders assembled with him…. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were trying to find some evidence against Jesus, in order to put him to death, and they could not find any, for there were many who bore false witness against him, but their evidence did not agree. Some stood up and bore false witness against him. “We heard him saying,” they said, “`I will destroy this Temple made with hands and in three days’ time I will build another not made with hands’.” But not even so did their evidence agree. So the High Priest stood up in the midst and questioned Jesus. “Do you give no answer?” he said. “What is the evidence that these men are alleging against you?” Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the High Priest questioned him, and said to him, “Are you God’s Anointed One, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated on the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” The High Priest rent his garments. “What need,” he said, “have we of witnesses? You have listened to blasphemy. How does it seem to you?” And they all adjudged him to be liable to death. And some began to spit upon him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say to him, “Prophesy!” And the servants received him with blows.
Things were moving quickly to their inevitable end.
At this time the powers of the Sanhedrin were limited because the Romans were the rulers of the country. The Sanhedrin had full power over religious matters. It seems also to have had a certain amount of police court power. But it had no power to inflict the death penalty. If what Mark describes was a meeting of the Sanhedrin it must be compared to a Grand Jury. Its function was not to condemn, but to prepare a charge on which the criminal could be tried before the Roman governor.
There is no doubt that in the trial of Jesus the Sanhedrin broke all its own laws. The regulations for the procedure of the Sanhedrin are in one of the tractates of the Mishnah. Naturally enough some of these regulations are rather ideals than actual practices but, even allowing for that, the whole procedure of this night was a series of flagrant injustices.
The Sanhedrin was the supreme court of the Jews and was composed of seventy-one members. Within its membership there were Sadducees–the priestly classes were all Sadducees–Pharisees and Scribes, who were experts in the law, and respected men who were elders. It appears that any vacancies in the court were filled by co-option. The High Priest presided over the court. The court sat in a semi-circle in such a way that any member could see any other member. Facing it sat the students of the Rabbis. They were allowed to speak on behalf of the person on trial but not against him. The official meeting place of the Sanhedrin was the Hall of Hewn Stone which was within the Temple precincts, and the decisions of the Sanhedrin were not valid unless reached at a meeting held in that place. The court could not meet at night, nor could it meet at any of the great feasts. When evidence was taken, witnesses were examined separately and their evidence to be valid must agree in every detail. Each individual member of the Sanhedrin must give his verdict separately, beginning from the youngest and going on to the eldest. If the verdict was a verdict of death, a night must elapse before it was carried out, so that the court might have a chance to change its mind and its decision towards mercy.
It can be seen that on point after point the Sanhedrin broke its own rules. It was not meeting in its own building. It was meeting at night. There is no word of individually given verdicts. A night was not allowed to elapse before the penalty of death was inflicted. In their eagerness to eliminate Jesus, the Jewish authorities did not hesitate to break their own laws.
At first the court could not get even false witnesses to agree. The false witnesses accused Jesus of having said that he would destroy the Temple. It may well be that someone had overheard him speaking as he did in Mk. 13:2, and had maliciously twisted the saying into a threat to destroy the Temple. There is an old legend which tells how the Sanhedrin could get plenty of the kind of evidence they did not want, for man after man came forward saying, “I was a leper and he cleansed me. I was blind and he made me able to see. I was deaf and he made me able to hear. I was lame and he made me able to walk. I was paralysed and he gave me back my strength.”
At last the High Priest took the matter into his own hands. When he did, he asked the very kind of question that the law completely forbade. He asked a leading question. It was forbidden to ask questions by answering which the person on trial might incriminate himself. No man could be asked to condemn himself, but that was the very question the High Priest asked. Bluntly he asked Jesus if he was the Messiah. Clearly Jesus felt that it was time that the whole wretched business was ended. Without hesitation he answered that he was. Here was a charge of blasphemy, insult against God. The Sanhedrin had what it wanted, a charge which merited the death penalty, and they were savagely content.
Once again we see the two great characteristics of Jesus emerge.
(i) We see his courage. He knew that to make that answer was to die, and yet unhesitatingly he made it. Had he denied the charges they would have been powerless to touch him.
(ii) We see his confidence. Even with the Cross now a certainty, he still continued to speak with complete confidence of his ultimate triumph.
Surely it is the most terrible of tragedies to see him who came to offer men love denied even bare justice, and humiliated by the crude and cruel horse-play of the Sanhedrin servants and guards.
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