The Arrest and Trial of the Lord Jesus

Denis Clapham, Birmingham

1. Events Leading to the Arrest. Hostility to the Lord Jesus from Jewry, particularly from the rulers, see 1 Cor. 2. 8. They (a) persecuted Him and (b) tried to kill Him, because He had healed a man on the Sabbath day, and because He made Himself equal with God, John 5. 16, 18; 7. 1, 19, 25. They (c) sent officers to take Him, 7. 32, but no man laid hands on Him; for His hour was not yet come, 8. 20. They (d) took up stones to cast at Him, once, 8. 59; and again, 10. 31. After the raising of Lazarus, the chief priests and the Pharisees (e) gathered a council, 11. 47, (f) Caiaphas prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; 11.51. The part played by Judas Iscariot, one of the chosen twelve (though a devil), John 6. 70, 71, involved his being charged by the Lord Jesus to do his deed, 13. 27; his agreeing with the chief priests to the betrayal for thirty pieces of silver, Matt. 26. 14-16; his leading the mob to Gethsemane, 26. 47; and his giving the kiss as a pre-arranged sign, 26. 48-49. He then went to his end as a suicide, 27. 3-5.

2. Details of the Arrest,

(a) The place was over the winter torrent Cedron, in a garden called Gethsemane on the mount of Olives, John 18. 1; Matt. 26.36; Luke 22. 39.

(b)The party was made up of a Roman cohort under a military tribune, John 18. 3, 12; with officers from the Jews, the chief priests with their servants, and in all a great multitude, Matt. 26. 47.

(c) The precaution taken, for they knew not what to expect from either men or angels, was to approach with swords, clubs, lanterns and torches, as if to capture a brigand, Matt. 26. 55.

(d) The placing of the Unaccused under arrest, His being seized and bound and led away, to be tried by night and totally illegal, John 18. 12-13.

3. First Part of the Trial: Jewish (Religious), comprising three stages,
(i) Preliminary examination by Annas, John 18. 12-14; 19-23.
(ii) Informal trial by Caiaphas and the council, Matt. 26. 57, 59-68", Mark 14. 55-65.
(iii) Formal trial by the Sanhedrim in the morning, Mark 15. 1.

The Sanhedrim was the Jews' supreme council made up of chief priests, elders and scribes, the number of members being seventy-two. The Talmud, the vast literature of the Jews, consisted of forty folios of which the central twelve volumes, called the Mishna, was almost wholly law. In nothing was this more express than in dealing with capital charges. But, as events proved, instead of securing a fair trial, having already illegally been brought to trial, "in his humiliation his judgment was taken away", Acts 8. 33.

(a) According to the law of Moses, charges were to be laid by two or three witnesses, Deut. 17. 6. None being found, there was no case to answer, Matt. 26. 59-60. (b) But the examination proceeded by night, which was illegal (see Acts 4. 3), and so, "Why askest thou me?", John 18. 21. (c) The Unaccused was sent bound to Caiaphas who sought false witnesses, Mark 14. 60. Finding none whose testimony agreed, they ought to have freed the Lord Jesus. At last, thinking to have found two, Matt. 26. 60, the Sanhedrim should have sought witnesses for the defence, but none were brought, (d) In desperation, Caiaphas adjured the Prisoner, making Him swear witness against Himself, on the basis of which He was adjudged guilty, vv. 63-66. At dawn, this condemnation of blasphemy was hurriedly considered, and the verdict of guilty was formally ratified, (e) Having passed sentence of death on the unimpeachable One, the Sanhedrim found themselves unable to execute it.

4. Second Part of the Trial: Roman (Civil), also comprising three stages,
(i) First appearance before Pilate, Matt. 27. 2, 11-14; Mark 15. 1-5; Luke 23. 1-5; John 18. 28-38.
(ii) Appearance before Herod, Luke 23. 6-12.
(iii) Final appearance before Pilate, Matt. 27. 15-26; Mark 15. 6-15; Luke 23. 13-25; John 18. 39 to 19. 16.

All was rushed through from "early", John 18. 28, to "about the sixth hour", 19. 14; including the mockery by Herod's soldiers, Luke 23. 11, and the scourging by the Roman soldiers, John 19. 1. The scene alternated between the palace, 18. 28, and the pavement, 19. 13.

Before Pilate, the Roman procurator, there were the elements of a normal criminal trial:

  • The Indictment-Accusatio: "What accusation bring ye?", 18. 29.
  • The Examination-Interrogatio: "Art thou the King of the Jews?", 18 33.
  • The Defence-Excusatio: "My kingdom is not of this world", 18. 36.
  • The Acquital-Absolutio: "I find in him no fault (crime)", 18. 38. Thus the greatest world power, above all famed for its legal system, had declared the Lord Jesus innocent, Luke 23. 14-15; John 19. 4, 7; and Pilate therefore sought to release Him, Luke 23. 22; John 19. 12. Yet, allowing himself to be intimidated by an incited and infuriated mob, Pilate tried three ways of evading his responsibility: (a) by sending Him to Herod, Luke 23. 7; (b) by offering the release of the Lord Jesus, or of another notable prisoner, Barabbas, 23. 18; (c) by publicly washing his hands, Matt. 27. 24. Finding all to no avail, and against his better judgment and his wife's advice, Matt. 27. 19, he "delivered Jesus to their will", Luke 23. 25. Pilate was truly a man with "no power", John 19. 11.

5. The "Dramatis Personae". Apart from various groups, namely, the disciples, the Jewish council, Herod's soldiers, Pilate's court and guard, and the mob, the leading individuals were: the Lord Jesus, Peter, Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate, his wife, Herod and Barabbas. Only One knew the final outcome of the trial, as the fate of the Prisoner seemingly swayed backwards and forwards. He alone, meekly submitting to His Father's will, and fulfilling the prophetic Scriptures, understood that He was "being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God", Acts 2. 23, so that God might, in Christ, reconcile the world unto Himself, 2 Cor. 5. 19.