Study in John’s Gospel. Presentation 87. Jesus In The Dock Chap 18v19-24. Presentation 87. Introduction.
Previously, we pointed out that the trial of Jesus was a rushed affair. Where in Jerusalem during the middle of the night were the religious leaders to find witnesses to Jesus' alleged crimes? They would have to be rounded up quickly. Perhaps some of the elders, priests, and scribes thought that Jesus,
being shocked by his arrest,
might turn out to be his
But any hope along this line
was quickly dashed.
Annas, conducting what we would call a preliminary hearing, asked Jesus about his disciples and his doctrine. Jesus refused to answer. He knew Jewish law - that accusations must come from witnesses and not from the accused. Jesus’ response in v20-21 is not an evasive answer, though it may sound so to us. It was a demand to be tried properly; “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why
question me? Ask those who heard me.
Surely they know what I said.”
And although Jesus had spoken correctly
and according to his right under law, one
of the court officers immediately turned
and struck him for what he considered to
be Christ's impudence. This was never
going to be a just trial.
Having met with an obstinate refusal by Jesus to testify against himself, and recognising that Jesus both knew the law and would obviously not be terrified into a foolish mistake by silly court brutality, Annas assumed that there was nothing more that he could do and
so sent the prisoner to Caiaphas.
At this point, although John
does not record it, the serious
part of the trial began and it is
recorded in detail in the other
gospels, Matt. 26:57-68;
Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:54:
There were many illegalities in Jesus’ trial, but we can also see a formal adherence to certain points of law. Witnesses were called but their testimony was inadequate and contradictory and perhaps too frivolous for securing the death penalty, or else it was impossible to establish them judicially. Clearly, valuable time was wasted in these fruitless accusations.
There were three categories of testimony in Jewish jurisprudence:
a vain testimony,
a standing testimony,
and adequate testimony.
The first of these, a vain testimony, referred to
accusations that were obviously worthless and
were therefore eliminated at once.
The second class of testimony, is testimony with
substance and relevance. It is permitted to stand
until confirmed or disproved.
The last category refers to evidence in which the witnesses agree together. This alone is "adequate" to convict. It is clear that the first accusations of the "false witnesses" were vain testimony and so not even admitted provisionally. But testimony appeared which, from Jesus enemies’ point of view, put the trial on a new and promising footing. Matthew says,
‘Finally two came forward and declared, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.” Matt.26.61.
This accusation was obviously of great importance.
The fact that there were two witnesses who testified to substantially the same thing is one indication of its truthfulness. Indeed, John describes Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the temple and saying, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” to which John then adds, “But the temple he had spoken of was his body”. Jn. 2v19ff
The second reason why this particular accusation was important in the eyes of the priests is that, if substantiated, it could result in the death penalty. It might be classed as sorcery, for no one could tear the temple down and then rebuild it in three days. Again, it could also be classed as sacrilege, for the temple was the holiest place in Israel. The penalty for both of these crimes was death.
However, is has been argued that a man as shrewd as Caiaphas understood precisely what Jesus was claiming, in effect, "You will kill me, but I will prove my divine nature and authority by rising from the dead on the
This understanding is reflected in their later concern to
have the tomb guarded; “the chief priests and Pharisees
went to Pilate. "Sir," they said, "we remember that while
he was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I
will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be
made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his
disciples may come and steal the body and tell the
people that he has been raised from the dead. This
last deception will be worse than the first.”
So the essence of the accusation of the two witnesses was that Jesus had claimed to be God and that he was able to prove this by his own resurrection. It was a damaging accusation, a fatal one. And yet - and here is a striking fact - this testimony was legally overthrown. We’re not told why. In spite of its essential accuracy the testimony did not stand. Infuriating Caiaphas!
Caiaphas was in a difficult position. He had rushed through the arrest and trial. For things to founder at this stage would be a disaster. Word of the trial would leak out, Christ's prestige and authority would rise, while the prestige and authority of the Jewish court would tumble.
Besides all this, Caiaphas really did have a case.
Jesus had claimed to be God's Son in a unique
way, thus making himself liable to the penalty
of death for blasphemy. Yet - this was the
real frustration - Caiaphas could not procure
a legal condemnation. He was close.
He was right. Yet the situation was
slipping from his grasp.
At this critical point Caiaphas did something that was illegal - he interrogated the prisoner himself, demanding Jesus to take the most solemn form of oath known to Israel, the famous Oath of the Testimony, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." Matt. 26v63.
Why from Caiaphas’s point of view was this such a masterstroke? Although Jesus was not obliged to give evidence against himself, no pious Jew could refuse such a solemn challenge. And so Jesus replied,
"Yes, it is as you say,"... "But I say to all of you:
In the future you will see the Son of Man
sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One
and coming on the clouds of heaven."
To affirm that he was a Divine Messiah
meant that Jesus was immediately convicted
of blasphemy and sentenced to death.
What practical application does all this have? First this close encounter with Caiaphas reminds us of the true nature of man’s heart. People view their natures as being essentially good. But God’s word disputes that, and this incident serves to illustrate what we read in Jer. 17v9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”
Caiaphas would undoubtedly justify his behaviour as he
lay down to sleep at night, “It was for the good of the
nation, for the good of the church. Letting Jesus live
would have resulted in conflict with Rome”.
Do you recognise here the deceitful heart?
This doesn’t mean that we’re all as evil as we possibly could be. But given enough time and opportunity we could all be much worse. It is sobering to realise that the roots of even the most heinous crimes ever perpetrated in the history of the world are within us and that, being
placed in a situation similar to that of others,
who did these things, without the restraints
of God’s grace, we have nothing within
to hinder us from doing likewise.
We need to reassess the down-drag of fallen human nature. This was the disturbing discovery that C. S. Lewis made when taking stock of his life. He writes:
“For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose and there I found what appalled me, a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears a haven of fondled hatreds. My name was legion”.
You see, given the right conditions, each of us has the capacity to do exactly as Caiaphas did and attempt to rid ourselves of Jesus. Only God’s grace can prevent us from being Caiaphas and putting Jesus in the dock while wholly determined to find him guilty.
The deceitful heart seeks to justify its rejection of Jesus and clothe its rejection with fine sounding arguments.
As we ponder Caiaphas’ behaviour, we must resist the self-righteous response that says in an heir of sanctimonious superiority, “Look at how that terrible man treated Jesus!”
Rather, we must learn to say, “There, but for the
grace of God, go I.”
The trial of Jesus also reminds us of Jesus’ claims and promises.
He had made three of them.
1. He had claimed to be God.
2. He said he would rise from the dead after three days.
3. He had claimed that he would return again in judgment.
Are these claims true? The Resurrection was true.
The risen Jesus was seen by over 500 witnesses at
various times and in various places. If the resurrection
was true, then Jesus was also obviously who he claimed
to be. God the Father would not have vindicated his claim
to be the unique Son of God if this was a blasphemy.
Indeed, the final judgment is proved by the Resurrection. Paul speaking to the scholars in Athens said, “God... has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." Acts 17:30-31.
So the question is not whether the claims of Jesus are true but rather how we ourselves will respond to them. How will we greet Jesus when he comes? Will it be as those who have sought to banish his presence from our lives? Or will we greet him as those who have placed our trust in him as Lord and Saviour? On that day we will discover that it is not Jesus but we who are in the dock.