Monday, November 07, 2011

Matthew 26:57–68

Matthew 26:57–68 (ESV): Jesus Before Caiaphas and the Council

Synopsis

In this chapter the crowd that has seized Jesus brings him to the Jewish leaders, including Caiaphas, the high priest. (Peter is also following—at a distance—and goes as far as the outside courtyard where he sits with the guards “to see the end” (verse 58 (ESV)).)

The religious leaders begin a trial of Jesus, “seeking false testimony” about him so that they can put him to death (verse 59 (ESV)). Strangely, they can’t find any, even though “many false witnesses” are coming forward (verse 60 (ESV)), until finally two people come forward and claim that Jesus said he could destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.

This, to me, sounds… patently absurd. If I claim that I can destroy any building and then rebuild it again in three days, it’s just nonsense. (It also brings up the question about why Jesus would desire to destroy any building just to rebuild it again.) However, Caiaphas doesn’t really seem to have anything else to work with, at this point, so he confronts Jesus with this accusation:

And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” (verse 62 (ESV))
Jesus, however, doesn’t respond. So Caiaphas goes at it the direct way, demanding, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (verse 63 (ESV)), to which Jesus gives probably the clearest statement he gives as to his divinity:

Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (verse 64 (ESV))
The “you have said so” part, according to the ESV Study Bible notes, is a “Greek expression that deflects responsibility back upon the one asking a question.” This is enough for Caiaphas, who tears his robes because he says this is blasphemy. He asks the other leaders for their judgement, and they answer that Jesus deserves death.

They then start spitting in Jesus’ face, and striking and slapping him, and mockingly telling him to prophesy and tell them who’s hitting him. (Essentially they’re saying, “if you’re such a prophet, tell us where that slap came from.”)

Thoughts

The Jews had some ability to self-regulate under the legal system in Rome but there were some things they couldn’t do, and one of them was to sentence a person to death as a punishment for their crimes. For that they’d have to hand the person over to the Roman authorities. However, Jewish law demands the death penalty for blasphemy, which is what the Jewish leaders are accusing Jesus of—or trying to accuse him of, anyway.

It’s interesting, though, that as soon as they get Jesus in front of them, they immediately start looking for “false testimony”—it seems they already know, before even starting, that they’re not going to find real evidence against Jesus. And yet they’re determined to have him sentenced to death for blasphemy, regardless of any real proof they have. I’ve mentioned before that I sometimes have some sympathy for the Jewish leaders, who in part probably really believe that Jesus is blaspheming and/or worthy of death and leading his followers astray, but this is an obvious case where I can’t have sympathy for them. If they were really trying to uphold Jewish law, and not just railroad Jesus into the death penalty, then they’d be having a real trial, and looking for real evidence. If they do care about the Jewish law, and about the wellbeing of their people, it’s of much less concern to them than getting rid of a rival. (And to be clear, as Chapter 23 makes obvious, even aside from getting rid of Jesus the religious leaders’ concern for their people was never foremost in their minds, even if it was sometimes a secondary concern.)

I’m not sure what else to say about this “trial” of Jesus. It’s only the first—as mentioned, the Jews will now have to bring Jesus to the Romans if they want to have him put to death—and it’s obviously a sham trial, to get Jesus out of the way regardless of any evidence. Which means that this trial—and (to a lesser extent) the one to come—is not fair, which is an important thing to note: God is a God of justice, and a God who punishes the unjust and rewards the just, but there is one huge, glaring, obvious exception, which is when He punished Jesus instead of His children, and let Jesus take what we deserved. The trials of Jesus weren’t just, Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t just, and Jesus being punished for my sins wasn’t just. It was gracious.
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