Jesus is No Myth

Dedicated to promoting the idea that the Biblical Jesus Christ was a historical character.

The Sanhedrin

Betrayal and Arrest

Mark says in his Gospel that the Jewish authorities arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Olive, and fig trees grew there, and some pomegranate. It lay across the valley of Kidron, most likely at the foot of the Mount of Olivet, about a half mile to the northwest from the wall of Jerusalem. There among the trees one could find shade in the daytime, coolness and rest from toil. Oftimes Jesus went there to rest and refresh himself. This time He went to pray about his imminent suffering, and to await his betrayer. He tried to awaken his disciples, but their eyes were heavy with sleep. [1]

Mark 14:43 And immediately while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, came up, accompanied by a multitude with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44 Now he who was betraying Him had given them a signal, saying, ‘Whomever I shall kiss, He is the one; seize Him, and lead Him away under guard.’ 45 And after coming, he immediately went up to Him, saying, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed Him. 46 And they laid hands on Him, and seized Him.

Mark 14:53 And they led Jesus away to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes gathered together.

When the authorities came to arrest Jesus the Paschal Moon would have been setting, and the shadow of an adjoining mountain would have shrouded the garden. Deeper darkness shrouded the hearts of the men of Jerusalem. At that late hour, probably after midnight according to the historians, in the early hours of Friday the 14th of Nisan, they arrested Jesus and led Him away. [2]

They led Jesus first to Annas, a Sadducee who had been appointed High Priest in the year AD 7 by Quirinius the imperial governor of Syria. At the beginning of the reign of Tiberius in AD 14, the Roman procurator, Valerius Gratus, replaced Annas with Ismael, the son of Phabi. Next, Gratus appointed Eleazar high priest, followed by Simon. Then in AD 25, he made Joseph Caiaphas [3] high priest. Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas.[4] [5] [6]

The high priest, Annas, questioned Jesus about his teaching, and about his disciples. Jesus answered him,

John 18:20 ... “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. 21 Why do you question Me? Question those who heard what I spoke to them; behold, these know what I said.” 22 And when He had said this, one of the officers standing by gave Jesus a blow, saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?” 24 Annas therefore sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

The authorities in Jerusalem, both Jewish and Roman, tried Jesus six times in twelve hours. He stood before Annas, Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod, and finally before Pilate again after which the Roman Governor surrendered to the will of the mob. [7]  

Review

1. Jesus was arrested in the ________________ _____ ________________.

2. The place of the arrest of Jesus was near the city of _______________.

3. The name of the man who betrayed Jesus was __________ __________.

4. Jesus was arrested on the day before the _________________.

5. The arresting party brought Jesus first before ____________, and then before ___________________.

Trial before the Sanhedrin

On the night of his trial Jesus stood before a hastily convened meeting of the supreme council of the Jewish people, in the Talmud called the Great Sanhedrin. From the few incidental notices in the New Testament we gather that it consisted of chief priests, or the heads of the twenty-four classes into which the priests were divided; elders—men of age and experience; scribes, lawyers, or those learned in the Jewish Law. Seventy one members is the number usually given. At least twenty-three members were required to form a quorum. The Sanhedrin usually met in a private locale attached to the “Bazaars,” places where money changers sat, and people sold doves. On occasion, they met in the palace of the high priest. The night of the betrayal it is likely that the Sanhedrists met in the Palace of Caiaphas where they accused Jesus, and extracted His confession.[8] [9]

(Edersheim says that forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem the Sanhedrin transferred its meeting-place from the Lishkath haGazith, the Hall of Hewn Stones that lay partly within the Temple Sanctuary, to the “Bazaars,” then to the City.)[10]

In the midst of this deliberative body, at that late hour, Jesus of Nazareth stands accused. The Law of Moses demanded that witnesses be called to testify. In the Jewish tradition the witnesses brought accusation. There was no other legal form of prosecution in a criminal trial. They led Jesus, therefore, before the high tribunal of Israel, and true to the hypocrisy that prevailed in their observance of the Law of Moses, they suborned witnesses, and attempted to convict him on the basis of false testimony. Mark says,

Mark 14:56 For many were giving false testimony against Him, and yet their testimony was not consistent.

Matthew recorded it as follows,

Matthew 26:59 Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, in order that they might put Him to death;

Under Jewish law there were three classes of testimony. These are described in detail in the Mishnah. Essentially, the classes are as follows:

A vain testimony: this was testimony obviously irrelevant or worthless, and immediately recognized by the judges as such.

A standing testimony: this was evidence of a more serious kind to be accepted with the provision that it be proved true or false.  

An adequate testimony: this was evidence in which the witnesses “agreed together,” or as the New Testament says, “were consistent.”  

A distinguished writer by the name of Salvador said that the least disagreement between the evidence presented by the witnesses was held to destroy the value of the testimony. [11]

Matthew wrote,

Matthew 26:60 … But later on two came forward, 61 and said, “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’”

Mark records the same incident in this way,

Mark 14:58 “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’” And not even in this respect was their testimony consistent.

John reported that the actual words of Jesus were,

John 2:19 … “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews therefore said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and You will raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body.

From this it is clear that whatever might have been the accusations of the preliminary witnesses to whom Mark and Matthew referred, the testimony they presented did not get beyond the second classification. The testimony either contradicted the knowledge and experience of the court, or inconsistency, and falsehood invalidated the testimony.

It would be a mistake to assume that everything the Jewish authorities did that night was illegal. They at least followed the form of the Jewish trial. Nevertheless, they did follow procedures which violated Jewish law. For example, a capital case, that is, a case in which a person is on trial for his life, could not be tried by night. Only trials which involved money could be tried after sunset. Further, the judges could not cross-examine the accused after the testimony of the accusers had been thrown out. Jesus should have been acquitted. If the testimony against him had been proved false, the witnesses should have been stoned to death.

By both the letter and the spirit of the elaborate Jewish Law the judicial code sought to protect the life of the citizen. The witnesses bore the power of accusation in a Hebrew trial for life. They arrested the accused and brought him before the court; but the law charged the court to protect the interests of the accused in every way, while trying to arrive at a just and impartial verdict on the evidence submitted.

But the testimony of the witnesses was rejected as false. The conspirators could find no others who would come forward accusing Jesus. After all these elaborate proceedings it appeared that the attempt to convict Jesus of the double offense of sorcery and sacrilege would break down on a vital point of Jewish Law. Had the testimony of the witnesses convicted him, the sentence for sorcery would have been death, for the crime of sacrilege, stoning and exposure of the body.

Grievous false charges. Late at night. Hastily obtained witnesses. A guard of soldiers. Men with swords and clubs. All this against a man who was gentle in all his ways, who had healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, raised the dead. Who had preached “blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are they that mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are the merciful, and love your enemies.” Matt 8:14-17; John 9; John 11; Matt 5.

Why had these Jews come out against him? Why were they so determined to convict him? Whatever their motive was, it appeared that the scheme was about to fail. At this moment, Caiaphas, the high priest, cast aside legality, and applied to Jesus the most solemn oath known to the Hebrew Constitution—the famous Oath of the Testimony. It says in the Mishnah that if one shall say,

“I adjure you by the Almighty, by Sabaoth, by the Gracious and Merciful, by the Long-Suffering, by the Compassionate, or by any of the divine titles, behold they are bound to answer.” [12]

Caiaphas said to Jesus,

Matthew 26:63 “I adjure you by the Living God, that you tell us whether you are the Christ, the Son of God?” (Matt 26:63 ff.)

By this question, Caiaphas placed Jesus under oath.

Jesus answered,  

I am.  Mark 14:62.   

You have said it yourself.   Matt 26:64.   

Yes. I am.  Luke 22:70.

The testimony agrees that the answer was affirmative.

Review

1. The supreme ruling council in Jerusalem before which Jesus stood trial was called the ________________ ____________________.

2. Those who served on the supreme Jewish council were ____________ ____________, _______________, or  __________________.

3. Under the Law of Moses the one who brought accusation at a trial was a ________________.

4. The Jewish authorities attempted to convict Jesus on the basis of ___________ testimony.

5. The three classes of testimony as described in the Mishnah are ________________, __________________, and ___________________.

 Questions

1. Was the testimony against Jesus enough to cause a conviction on the charges?

2. Did the Jewish authorities violate the law in the trial of Jesus?

3. Was the Oath of the Testimony proper for the trial? Why?

4. Did Jesus confess Himself to the Great Sanhedrin?

The Sanhedrin Verdict

Matthew goes on to tell what Jesus said to the Sanhedrin,

Matthew 26:64 … Nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. 65 Then the high priest tore his robes, saying, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; 66 what do you think?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death!”

A lawyer would say, it was an error for Caiaphas, acting as judge, to cause Jesus to answer in a way that would use his own words to convict him of the charges against him. The witnesses should have proved the case by their testimony. The Oath of the Testimony had caused Jesus to testify against himself.

The Motives for the Jewish Rejection of Jesus

Why did this happen? Why was Jesus—who advocated peace, who healed the sick, who concerned himself with the poor, and who neither defied nor advised defiance of the authorities—in such a dangerous and threatening situation? What charges could be brought against him? Why would the authorities choose such a moment—it was the middle of the night, during one of the most solemn of Jewish festivals?

After Jesus had raised Lazarus of Bethany from the dead, many of the people who saw Lazarus alive again were compelled by the evidence to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. The fact of the raising of Lazarus could not be denied. It was similar in many ways to what Quadratus wrote,

The works of our Savior were always conspicuous, for they were real; both they that were healed, and they that were raised from the dead; who were seen not only when they were healed or raised, but for a long time afterward; not only while he dwelled on this Earth, but also after his departure, and for a good while after it, insomuch that some of them have come down to our own time.[13]

No one could deny that Jesus performed signs and miracles, not even the authorities in Jerusalem. The rejection of Jesus by the authorities rested on two opinions. As John says,

John 11:47 Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. 48 If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

Fear, envy and pride laid the foundation for the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. They feared the loss of influence: “...all men will believe in Him.” Nationalistic fervor had swept through Israel. Thoughts of a general uprising against the idolatrous Gentiles motivated many. These “revolutionaries” looked for a Messiah in the mold of David who would restore Israel to grandeur, and throw off the yolk of Roman bondage. In this spirit the grip of the Sadducees had weakened. The Jews who ruled in Judea feared the Romans. They feared the loss of position, and the loss of national identity. [14]

Why did the Jewish authorities go to such lengths to rid themselves of the influence of a man who had done so much good, and who seemed so harmless? The answer is that to them he was not harmless. His coming heralded a change both in the political power structure of Israel, and in the way the Jewish people practiced their worship of God.

The ranking Pharisees and Sadducees who opposed Jesus saw the threat mainly as political. (Although a few of the Pharisees believed in Jesus, notably Nicodemus [15] and Joseph, these ranking believers remained a minority.)  The authorities maintained a narrow opinion of what would be the consequences of the coming of the Messiah. To them it meant first, a clash with the Romans in which the tenuous fabric of Jewish rule in Palestine would be ended. Israel would become a complete vassal state of Rome. Second, the loss of the nation would also mean a loss of power and prestige for them. No uprising, even one based on a popular belief in a prophet could overcome Rome, at least not in their estimation. That left only one alternative. Jesus must die.

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas; and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth, and kill Him. Matthew 26:3-4, John 11:53.

Why did they arrest Him and bring Him to trial at night and in such evident haste? First, Jesus’ influence had increased until the Pharisees and Sadducees felt threatened. He had made a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, mounted upon a donkey in the manner reserved for future kings. Jesus had raised Lazarus of Bethany from the dead, a miracle so astonishing and so stunning that it had shaken the very foundations of Judaism. He had called the Pharisees and Sadducees to repentance, a change they were unwilling to make. Add to these reasons the betrayal of Judas Iscariot, coming as it did on the eve of the Day of Preparation for the Passover, and the willingness of Jesus to allow Himself to be arrested.

Luke says,

Luke 22:3 And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve. 4 And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them. 5 And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. 6 And he consented, and began seeking a good opportunity to betray Him to them apart from the multitude.     7 Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.

Matthew says,

Matthew 26:5 But they were saying, “Not during the festival, lest a riot occur among the people.”

So the rulers and chief priests had Jesus arrested and brought to trial. They tried him illegally, in a court that attempted to maintain the forms, while turning the substance of justice to betrayal and perfidy. In a last act of desperation, Caiaphas had applied to Jesus the Oath of the Testimony, to which a refusal of answer was itself an unforgivable offense. The Oath succeeded, probably beyond even the hopes of the High Priest, for in that fearless reply—“I AM”—there formed the basis of the deadliest of all charges.

 The Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate, might ignore a prophet and a preacher, a teacher who advocated gentleness and forgiveness, but he could not ignore a man who claimed the throne. Under Roman law a person who claimed that someone else, besides Caesar, was king was guilty of the crime of maiestas, which was treason by act or word. The penalty for maiestas was death. [16]    

Conclusion

That year when Israel kept the Passover they offered as their lamb the Lamb of God. His offering came at the command of the Sanhedrin, the highest tribunal of the nation. His condemnation resulted from his claim that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, the long prophesied King of the Jews.

Review 

Questions

1. What are the two reasons given by the council of priests and Pharisees for arresting Jesus?

2. Jesus was brought to trial before the governing body of Israel. What was this body called?

3. Of what character were the witnesses who were brought against Jesus?

4. Did the witnesses convict Jesus of a crime?

5. By what means did the Jewish High Priest convict Jesus?

6. Of what offense did the Jewish authorities believe they had convicted Jesus when He answered Caiaphas’ adjuration?

7. Who did Jesus tell the Sanhedrin He was?

8. Did Jesus admit that He was the Messiah?

________________________________________________________________

[1] J. W. McGarvey and A. B. Pendleton, The Fourfold Gospel, p. 689.

[2] Matt 26:36, Mark 14:32, Luke 22:39.  

[3] In November, 1990 archaeologists found the bones of Joseph Bar Caiaphas in a magnificently carved ossuary in the Peace Forest in Jerusalem. He was the high priest who indicted Jesus before Pontius Pilate. Ibid. James Ossuary, by Paul Maier. Excavator, Zvi Greenhut, Israeli Antiquities Auth. Location, Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

[4] John 18:13.

[5] William Smith, A Dictionary of the Bible.

[6] Ibid., Whiston, Josephus, pp. 377-378.

[7] David K. Breed, The Trial of Christ, pp. 4,5.

[8] Matthew 21:12-13.

[9] Ibid., Smith, “Sanhedrin.”

[10] Ibid., Edersheim, The Life and Times, pp. ii. 553,554, i. p 371.

[11] Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?, p. 18.

[12] Ibid., Morison, Who Moved the Stone, p. 26.

[13] Paley, William, A View to the Evidences of Christianity, p 91.

[14] Ibid., Edersheim, Life and Times, pp. 237-242.

[15]  Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, pp 96, 237, 255. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and one of the principal scribes on the Great Sanhedrin, along with Shemaiah, R. Gamaliel I, and Simeon.

[16 Durant, W., Caesar and Christ, pp. 398, 591.