THE TRIALS OF MESSIAH
When considering the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, we find that although he was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God”, he was also taken, and by “wicked hands” crucified and slain (Acts 2:23). Those wicked hands subjected our Master to suffering even before he was nailed to the cross, as he endured “the contra iction of sinners against himself” (Heb. 12:3). This contradiction of sinners becomes evident from the trials that he was required to stand before—six in all, with three trials before the Jewish authorities, and three before the Roman. In this short study, we shall consider each of his trials in turn:
The first of Messiah’s trials took place before Annas, as we are informed:
“the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus and bound him, and led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year” (Jno. 18:12-13).
During the course of this trial, our Master was smitten in response to his statement that he had ever taught openly: “in secret have I said nothing”, and his appeal to his hearers as to what he had taught:
“And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand …” (Jno. 18:22).
The AV marginal rendering for “with the palm of his hand” has the alternative “with a rod”. If this can be sustained from the Greek, it would be in harmony with the testimony of the prophets: Micah, for instance, speaks of how “they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek” (Mic. 5:1). Again, Exodus chapter 17 recounts the typical smiting of the Rock, in order to provide water to sustain the people in the desert. He was told to take his rod, and go: “Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel” (Exo. 17:5-6). And speaking of this, the Apostle informs us: “ that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). Through his being smitten, the water of life proceeds forth to nourish those who would come to him in faith, that they might thirst no more.
What is particularly notable is the example of Christ before his accusers, throughout all of his trials. The Apostle Peter alluded to his example in describing how his brethren ought to behave:
“… Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously …” (1 Pet. 2:21-23).
How contrary this is to the self justifying spirit of human nature! Rather than to plead his own cause, or defend himself against those who reviled him, Messiah committed himself to the Only One who will judge righteously. The example of such humility ought to make us consider our own position of trying to justify ourselves before men—even when we are in the right side of the situation.
Bringing him before Caiaphas, Annas’ son in law, who was also a high priest (Luke 3:2), the chief priests sought to discredit our Master, by finding witnesses to testify against him. However, they could find none—and they couldn’t even find witnesses to lie consistently against him: “For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together.” (Mark 14:56). Eventually, “there arose certain, and bare false witness against him, saying, We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands”. But even these witnesses couldn’t agree together (Mark. 14:57-59). They misquoted and misrepresented what Jesus had taught. What he actually said was: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”. They would destroy the temple, not he—and in any case, he was not speaking of the temple made of stones, “but he spake of the temple of his body” (Jno. 2:19-21).
Again, our Lord did not rail against his accusers, “but he held his peace, and answered nothing” (Mark 14:61). What a wonderful example of self control and humility!
In response to the direct question of Caiaphas “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus answered: “I am, and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven”. But the High Priest’s response to this declaration was most remarkable: “Then the High Priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses” (Mark 14:63). This rending of his clothes was in direct contravention to the Law of Moses, which plainly stated: “he that is the high priest among his brethren … shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes …” (Lev. 21:10). This demonstrates the underlying motive of Caiaphas, which was not to try Jesus under the principles of the Mosaic Law, but to condemn him at all costs. Making use of the theatrical rending of his clothes, he sought to express horror that someone could make such claims as this man did, so openly. And so, “they all condemned him to be guilty of death” (Mark 14:64).
Just as in his first Trial, when he was smitten with a rod, even so our Master’s accusers mistreated him again: “some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands” (Mark. 14:65). So was fulfilled the spirit of Christ in the prophet, uttered so many years before: “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For Adonai Yahweh will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed” (Isa. 50:6-7).
BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN
Messiah’s appearance before the Sanhedrin was his third and final trial before the Jews. “As soon as it was day, the elders of the people and the chief priests and the scribes came together, and led him into their council (Sanhedrin), saying, Art thou the Christ?” (Lu. 22:66-67). Again, they asked him “Art thou then the Son of God. And he said unto them, Ye say that I am. And they said, What need we any further witness? For we ourselves have heard of his own mouth” (Lu. 22:70-71). Here, Jesus’ confession of his divine sonship was used to condemn him, as Jews and Gentiles came together to mock and deride him (cp. Acts 4:27). But in the future, the decree shall go forth to the kings and judges of the earth: “serve Yahweh with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.” (Psa. 2:11-12). Being brought to recognise who he really is, the rulers of the world shall be compelled to humble themselves before the despised Nazarene, and serve Yahweh with fear before him.
Paul, the Lord’s chosen Apostle spoke of “… Christ Jesus, who before Pontus Pilate witnessed a good confession …” (1 Tim. 6:13). We would do well therefore, to scrutinise what he said, that we might follow his example towards those who would examine us. John chapter 18 describes the trial of Christ before Pilate; when as one writer expressed it, the rulers of two worlds faced each other. The main emphasis of Christ’s “confession” was the things concerning the coming Kingdom:
“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king …” (Jno. 18:36-37).
Jesus’ kingdom “is not of this world”. “All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” (1 Jno. 2:16-17). All that pertains to this world is transient, temporary, and shall pass away. But Christ’s kingdom is not of this nature: as the prophet described, it “shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Dan. 2:44). Here is the emphasis that we can emulate before those who would ask us concerning our position: we seek a kingdom to come, a kingdom that is not of this world, hence we will not fight, or otherwise show allegiance to the kingdoms of men which shall shortly be destroyed. That was our Master’s position, and by God’s Grace it may also be ours.
Luke chapter 23 recounts how that Herod had desired to see Jesus for some time:
“And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him” (Lu. 23:8).
Having heard of the signs and miracles that Jesus performed, Herod wanted to see them for himself. But the Master was no showman seeking to please his critics by doing great works, or speaking great words. Herod must have been greatly disappointed, for he saw no miracle, and heard no words: “he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing” (Lu. 23:9). The Master’s adversaries, however, became very vocal in their accusations: “the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him” (Lu. 23:10). Here was Jesus’ response: to remain silent. Again, it was written in the prophets:
“he was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7).
Here is the wise approach to slander, and again we see the spirit of Christ in the Psalmist:
“They also that seek after my life lay snares for me: and they that seek my hurt speak mischievous things, and imagine deceits all the day long. But I, as a deaf man, heard not; and I was as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth. Thus I was as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs” (Psa. 38:13-15)
The natural instinct when dealing with issues of slander is to defend oneself, to disprove the allegations made—yet that is not the way of Christ. Jesus’ own example was to revile not again, to remain silent, and to commit himself to the Righteous Judge.
Receiving no response from the Messiah, “Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate” (Lu. 23:11).
BACK BEFORE PILATE
Matthew chapter 27 describes the sixth and final trial of Jesus (verses 13-24), where Pilate listened to the people who asked for Barabbas, and to destroy Jesus (vs 20). His actions are interesting to consider:
“When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it” (Mat. 27:24).
Notice that Pilate recognised that Jesus was a “just person”. Previously he had referred to him as having “no fault at all” – and in fact, he said this 5 times during the trials (see Lu. 23:4, 14; Jno. 18:38; 19:4). But he thought that he could absolve himself from any responsibility for having our Master be scourged, and then put to death, by a ceremonial washing of his hands. The allusion (whether conscious or otherwise) is to Psalm 26:
“I have hated the congregation of evil doers; and will not sit with the wicked. I will wash my hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar, O Yahweh; that I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works.” (Psa. 26:5-7).
The emboldened words comprise the allusion back to this Psalm, but the context is of being separate from the evil doers, and speaking of all the wondrous works of Yahweh—which Pilate plainly did not do! The only one who had clean hands was Messiah himself: “he that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully …” (Psa. 24:4). Here was the irony: Pilate was guilty of scourging and crucifying the Son of the Most High, assuming that by a ritual hand-washing ceremony, he would be considered innocent. But Messiah himself had a pure heart, and was the only real innocent man at the trial.
We know the events that followed: how that the soldiers stripped the Christ, and put on him a scarlet robe. They placed a crown of thorns upon his head, and mocked him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews”, before crucifying him between two malefactors. Even before a verdict had been passed upon our Master, he was smitten and despitefully treated by some means or another in all his trials. But the crown of thorns was necessary, to be substituted for a crown of glory. The humiliation came before exaltation. When we consider the trials of Messiah, we have powerful examples of how we must behave when brought before men, and in our relationships between each other. May his example move us to greater humility and thankfulness for the freedom that we have, that when he comes as king to crown his brethren with the stephanos of victory, we might find a place in his kingdom.