There are several interpretations relating to the Trial of Jesus. The key here is to sift through the information available and try to figure what actually happened.
Late one Thursday night as Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the silence of the night was disturbed by the sound of marching soldiers. When Jesus opened his eyes he could see soldiers of the high priest Joseph Caiaphas approach him. Leading the soldiers was one of Jesus’ apostles Judas Iscariot.
Location Of The Garden Of Gethsemane
Most people agree about the general location of the Garden of Gethsemane. However its exact location cannot be established with certainty. All the same Garden of Gethsemane is said to be located near the present day Greek and Roman churches situated on the lower slope of the Mount of Olives, more or less opposite to the St. Stephen’s Gate on the eastern side of the city. (1)
The Mount of Olives which lies across the Kidron Valley is made up of a row of three hills whose average height is about 2,700 feet. The drop to the Dead Sea from the Mount of Olives some twenty-five miles to the east, is about 4,200 feet. As a consequence of this great difference in altitudes, the Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab that lie beyond are clearly observable from the Mount of Olives.
The three hills that comprise the Mount of Olives are, from the north, Mount Scopus on which were located the houses of priests during the time of Saul, Mount Olivet and the Mount of Offense, or the Mount of Scandal where it is said that King Solomon built houses for his pagan wives.
The central portion of the Mount of Olives was the desired resting-place for Galileans who came to Jerusalem for the feasts. It was for this reason that this section of the hill was called “The Men of Galilee.” It is said that this is where Jesus and His disciples often came to rest and to meditate and discuss the events relating to his ministry that were unfolding. (Luke 21:37; John 8:1; Luke 22:39). (2)
Judas walked up to Jesus and kissed him. That was the signal that was agreed between him and the soldiers of the high priest for identifying Jesus.
“You betray me with a kiss?” Jesus asked without any trace of surprise.
Judas Iscariot just hung his head in silence, probably feeling guilty already.
The Soldiers Of The High Priest Took Custody Of Jesus
The soldiers of the high priest took custody of Jesus and began to lead him away. Just then one of the disciples drew a sword and cut off the ear of the soldier nearest to him. Jesus told the disciples to remain calm and is said to have healed the soldier whose ear had just been severed.
In an instant the courage of the disciples gave way to fear and they all fled with the exception of one: Jesus’ disciple Peter. Quickly the soldiers of the Jews led Jesus to Annas who was the father-in-law of Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest.
The narratives in the Gospels about the execution of Jesus are consistent with what is known about the crucifixion. Not only this, the whole judicial procedure, from the very confrontation between Jesus and the ruling priests and other spiritual authorities of the temple (Mark 11:15–12:44), his capture (14:43–50), interrogation (14:53–65), his finally being handed over to the Roman governor (15:1–5), and the calls for his death (15:13–14) are all consistent with the tradition of that time. (3)
Jesus is taken to Annas
In spite of the fact that Annas was not the high priest, it was evident that he wielded a lot of power. Not only was he the high priest from 6 to 15 C.E (till he was removed from that position by Valerius Gratus), he was also the head of the family from which most of the high priests of the first century C.E. were selected. It is quite probable that Annas every now and then sat by the side of his son-in-law Joseph Caiaphas in the Sanhedrin to help him to resolve intricate trials like the trial of Jesus. And in all likelihood Annas did this at the request of Joseph Caiaphas. It is quite probable that it was he who really exercised the powers of the high priest.
According to some accounts of the Trial of Jesus, since the bazaars of Annas were situated on the Mount of Olives it is quite probable that his house was also situated there and that it was in his house that the Sanhedrin met.
When Jesus was first taken to Annas, he questioned Jesus for almost an hour. Information of this questioning is mentioned in the Bible. John 18:19-24.
Annas Questions The Teachings Of Jesus
Annas questioned Jesus about his teachings and his followers. But Jesus was uncooperative and refused to answer Annas’ questions. Instead all that Jesus said was that there was nothing secretive about his teachings and that he always taught in public places. He asked Annas to check with witnesses if there was anything objectionable in what he taught.
“I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together; I have said nothing secretly. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me, what I said to them; they know what I said.” Jesus is supposed to have answered.
During this questioning John writes that an official who stood near Jesus struck him, probably for his apparent insolence. John also states that when this happened Jesus turned to this man and said “If I have done something wrong, say so. But if not, why did you hit me?” (John 18:23). (4)
Trial of Jesus by Annas was a mere sham. He knew he did not have the authority to take any formal action against Jesus. He probably conducted this charade of a trial to give his son-in-law Caiaphas time to convene the Sanhedrin. According to John when Jesus did not respond to the questioning of Annas, he sent Jesus to Caiaphas. However it is quite likely that this was one of the instances when Annas sat at the side of Caiaphas as this was a matter that has significant bearing on the future of high priesthood.
Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered.
According to gospel accounts, Jesus was brought before the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, presided over by high priest Joseph Caiaphas.
The word Sanhedrin is derived from the Greek that literally translates to “sitting together”. The term was used to refer to the Jewish council. The Sanhedrin is the Jewish judicial as well as an administrative body. The Sanhedrin was made up of local big-wigs that included members of the high-priestly family, religious authorities, and lay elders. It is quite likely that it functioned under some sort of Roman supervision – especially Sanhedrin functions such as taxing, law enforcement, and general administrative work. (8)
It was generally understood that the Sanhedrin was dominated primarily by Sadducees drawn from the ruling elites. (9)
Trial By The Sanhedrin
During the trial by the Sanhedrin, the high priest is supposed to have said to Jesus “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
Jesus replied to him saying “You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Then according to Mark 14:63-64 “Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, ‘What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?’ And they all condemned him to be deserving of death.” (10)
Another reason that the Temple priests sought the death penalty was because of Jesus’ claim that he could forgive sins. This according to the priests was the prerogative of God and that Jesus was trying to usurp the powers of God and in other words claiming to be God himself. Jesus is also supposed to have said that often sinners would be given a place in heaven even before the righteous. This was unthinkable to the Jews and amounted to blasphemy. (11)
Trial of Jesus was blatantly political. If the Temple priests were to retain their prestigious positions they had to safeguard the cordial relations with the Romans. Jesus’ claim of being able to destroy the Temple, reinterpreting Jewish religious laws and his claim to be the king of the Jews were all considered be to acts of heresy by the Temple priests. (12)
The Greek language is such that the word “Christ” could be interpreted to simply mean an anointed person and a son of God or it could mean Christ the son of God. The two interpretations are totally different and with completely dissimilar implications. The former interpretation is almost inconsequential in that it simply means that Jesus was an anointed person and a religious leader. Such persons are commonly referred to as sons of God – meaning that they were very religious. Since Jesus was anointed at Bethany because a woman poured expensive perfumed oil on him. However this is not the interpretation that the Sanhedrin wanted as this was an innocuous understanding. They wanted the far more serious interpretation – that Jesus was claiming to be the son of God – as this would amount to blasphemy.
The Son of Man would be seen sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.
According to Synoptic Gospels Jesus’ claim is that the Son of Man would “be seen sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Christians interpret this as meaning the second coming of Jesus in accordance with Daniel’s prophecy regarding the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13). The Gnostics however interpret it as the enlightenment that everyone will attain and as the son of man would “spiritually escape the earthly realm and rejoin the world of the monad (mighty one).” (13)
The Synoptic Gospels say that these responses of Jesus were enough for the Sanhedrin to conclude that he was guilty of blasphemy. (14)
The Trial Of Jesus Was Both A Farce And Illegal
The trial of Jesus was both a farce and illegal. It was a farce because his punishment was determined even before the trial. The mood of the Sanhedrin is reflected in the statement “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” John 11:48. Caiaphas’ response to this was “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (15)
According to Mark and Matthew the trial of Jesus conducted at night was illegal since the Mishnah Sanhedrin 4.1 prohibited trials involving capital punishment at night. (16)
Both the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John state that early in the morning the Sanhedrin reached its conclusion, and Jesus was bound and taken to the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. (17)
Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the praetorium. It was early. They themselves did not enter the praetorium, for fear of being defiled, but instead they just wanted to eat the Passover.
According to the Gospel of John Jesus was handed over to Pilate by the Sanhedrin. When Pilate objected telling the members of the Sanhedrin to try Jesus according to Jewish laws and hand him a punishment in accordance to those laws. But the Sanhedrin members told Pilate that they were not empowered to sentence anyone to death. This is however incorrect as the Sanhedrin had the requisite powers to impose the death penalty. According to the Mishnah that was in force until about 200 CE the Sanhedrin had the powers to impose death penalty under certain circumstances. The Mishnah is “The Jewish commentary on the Torah with all of the interpretations of the various laws for different situations. It is comprised of the oral commentary on the Torah that was in effect from a few hundred years before Christ until it was written down in 200 AD.” (18)
For instance the Mishnah Sanhedrin 6.1 to 6.4 stipulates the procedures for stoning. Although the oral commentaries on the Torah were written in 200 CE there is no proof that they were not applicable in 30 CE. Besides at most times the Romans preferred to keep out of tricky situations and preferred to leave it to the Jewish authorities to deal with religious crimes. (19)
(1) Jerusalem – location profile. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.ancientsandals.com/overviews/temple.htm
(2) Jerusalem – location profile. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.ancientsandals.com/overviews/temple.htm
(3) Evans, Craig A. (n.d.). Jewish Burial Traditions and the Resurrection of Jesus. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.craigaevans.com/Burial_Traditions.pdf
(4) Jesus Is Questioned by the High Priest. (2006). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.dailybible.com/cev/09/cev0917t.htm
(8) The Sanhedrin. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011 from http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/jesus/sanhedrin.html
(9) A place to discuss the works of Peter F Hamilton. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.theunisphere.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=483&start=150
(10) Schwager, Don. (2002). Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/matt2657.htm
(11) Aiuto, Russell. (n.d.). The Trial of Jesus Christ and The Last Supper. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/classics/jesus_trial/4.html
(12) Aiuto, Russell. (n.d.). The Trial of Jesus Christ and The Last Supper . Retrieved 2011, from http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/classics/jesus_trial/4.html
(13) Sanhedrin trial of Jesus. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.enotes.com/topic/Sanhedrin_trial_of_Jesus
(14) Sanhedrin trial of Jesus. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.enotes.com/topic/Sanhedrin_trial_of_Jesus
(15) Who Killed Jesus? (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.hearnow.org/wkj.html
(16) The Sanhedrin. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/jesus/sanhedrin.html
(17) Sanhedrin trial of Jesus. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.enotes.com/topic/Sanhedrin_trial_of_Jesus
(18) Tverberg, Lois. (n.d.). Glossary of Hebraic & Jewish Terminology. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.egrc.net/pages/glossary.html
(19) The Sanhedrin. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/jesus/sanhedrin.html
1) Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane
2) Mount of Olives where the garden of Gethsemane is said to be located
3) Jesus is betrayed by Judas https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gustave_Dor%C3%A9_-_The_Holy_Bible_-_Plate_CXLI,_The_Judas_Kiss.jpg
4) Jesus is taken into custody by the soldiers of the high priest https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrest_of_Jesus#/media/File:Caravaggio_-_Taking_of_Christ_-_Dublin_-_2.jpg
5) Trial of Jesus – Jesus is questioned by the high priest https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanhedrin_trial_of_Jesus#/media/File:Mattias_Stom,_Christ_before_Caiaphas.jpg