Jesus went through six trials before His execution. There were six parts to Jesus’ trial, three stages in a religious court and three stages before a Roman court. On the night of His arrest, Jesus was brought before Annas, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin, a group of religious leaders. In these trials He was charged with blasphemy, claiming to be the Son of God. He was imprisoned at Caiaphas’ palace. The Jewish High Priest and the Jewish High Court, the Sanhedrin, effectively asked Jesus two questions:
To both of these, Jesus answered, ‘I AM’. This was enough to condemn Jesus for blaspheming God by claiming to be God.
Jesus was first taken before the powerful Annas, the ex-high priest and the power behind the current one, these verses remind us of the important prophecy made by the current high priest, John 11:49-51, which he had said without realising the truth behind his statement. Perhaps he’s also underlining the fact that with two such scoundrels involved, Jesus had no hope of a fair trial.
In John 18:15-18 we read that Peter and it appears John follow the group including the Lord to the house of the high priest, it’s most likely that Annas and Caiaphas lived at the same address. John is known at the gate and allowed into the courtyard and seeks permission for Peter to come in also.
When we compare this with Matthew 26:57-58 and with John 18:13 / John 18:15 / John 18:24, it suggests that the same court or courtyard is in view in each case. It’s probable that Annas lived in a part of the official palace of his son in law. The sending of Jesus to Caiaphas would be merely sending him across the courtyard.
As Peter is denying the Lord, the Lord is making his first defence, He’s being questioned by the high priest, either Annas or Caiaphas, about His teaching and His apostles. It may have been that the authorities wanted the apostles as well to make sure that this sect was completely crushed, this would further explain Peter’s denials.
His wasn’t a judicial trial, but rather a preliminary investigation, it would be in character for Annas to try to pin something on Jesus. Jesus is questioned ‘about His disciples and His teaching’, surely the questioner was well informed about both!
Here we see Jesus’ answer shows that the high priest’s questions were evilly motivated. What Jesus means is that He didn’t have two kinds of teaching, a harmless one for the general public and a very different one for the secret revolutionaries. The essence of His teaching was public property.
Jesus defends Himself by explaining the openness of all His actions, never did He hide behind someone or conspire in a closed room, His entire statement had been in the open, for all to hear. Because of this answer, one of the officials struck Jesus, who then seeks the reason why He was struck. Annas was acting illegally because Jewish law required that evidence be heard from witnesses and that their testimony is shown to be in agreement, then a prisoner might be cross-examined.
The official who slapped Jesus was a member of the temple guard and so Jesus says in John 18:23, ‘testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?’
In other words, Jesus is saying, ‘if I have said anything wrong, let it be revealed by proper legal procedures. If not, why hit me?’
And so, Jesus was bound, Jewish custom was for a prisoner’s hands to be tied behind His back, after being bound Jesus is sent by Annas to Caiaphas as, the official high priest. Evidently, the preliminary hearing before Annas has allowed the Sanhedrin time to assemble.
This was for the official ‘trial’ narrated by the Gospels, Matthew 26:57-67 / Mark 14:53-65. If Annas and Caiaphas lived in the same palace, and the Sanhedrin met there for this ‘trial’, then John 18:24 would merely involve Jesus being led across a courtyard. Jesus is sent to Caiaphas’s quarters where the entire council of the Sanhedrin had gathered to seek cause to have Jesus put to death.
Though it was very late at night, Jesus was brought before the Jewish supreme court and tried. They bribed false witnesses who told contradictory stories about Him. For a time, it appeared that the court would be unable to find consistent testimony by which to convict Jesus. Their testimony was untruthful.
Jesus actually said, ‘You’ destroy this temple, referring to His body, and in three days I will raise it up, that is, rise from the dead, John 2:19. In context, Jesus’ words were a prediction that the religious leaders would take His life and that He would rise from the dead three days later. There was no suggestion whatever of such a thing as the false witnesses alleged.
Even such a misrepresentative and malicious garbling of Jesus’ words, however, was useless to the chief priests, because there was no coherent account of such an alleged statement. One said one thing; another declared something else.
All night long, the preliminary investigation had gone forward, and nothing had come of it. In desperation, Caiaphas, who was beginning to find the judge’s bench a very uncomfortable place, forsook the judicial status, usurped the role of a prosecutor, placed Jesus under oath, and demanded an answer; but he would ask a question first.
Finally, the high priest asked Him if He were the Christ. When Jesus said, ‘I AM,’ they used this statement as evidence of blasphemy and convicted Him. Christ’s, ‘I AM’ claim here speaks of His Deity. Sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven refers to the final judgment when all men shall stand before the throne of God for sentencing.
It was astounding that Christ would here transfer the thought from that prejudiced and corrupted court to the Great Judgement Day where all shall receive justice and they that are Christ’s shall receive mercy. Then they spat on Him, mocked Him and beat Him.
Of all the activities that transpired during these last few hours of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Mark records the least of all the inspired writers. He records the trial before the high priest and council, Mark 14:64-65. He records the confirmation of the elders, scribes and the Sanhedrin early in the morning after the arrest, Mark 15:1.
And finally, he records the time when Jesus is handed over to Pilate for sanction by this Roman official to have Him crucified, Mark 15:1ff.
This was the second of Jesus’ six trials, the first having been the arraignment before Annas, perhaps in the same palace where apartments for both Annas and Caiaphas were located around the courtyard. The meeting of the Sanhedrin was probably not at full strength, its more noble members, such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, having already withdrawn. It may well be doubted that even a quorum was present, but, on the other hand, it may be assumed that every effort was made to attain one.
There were six mockeries of Jesus in all, all of which were designed to totally humiliate Christ. We would expect this kind of behaviour from the Romans but since this took place in the court of the high priests of Israel, this tells us just how far from God they had come. The religious leaders allowed this to happen right in front of their very eyes.
The whole assembly, that is all of the accusers who came to the garden, they were men with evil on their hearts, men with false accusations with one thing on their mind, to get rid of Jesus once and for all, Matthew 17:27 / Mark 12:17.
Since Jesus was sinless, the only option they had was to make up a bunch of lies about Him to get Him charged. It was no longer the Israel of God, but their nation. Pilate was honest enough to declare that he found no basis to charge Jesus, this was in accordance with Roman law, Matthew 27:11 / 1 Timothy 8:13.
Jesus’ teaching did stir up the people, but the people who were stirred up weren’t the common people, it was the religious leaders, Mark 7:1-9 and it was because of Jesus speaking out against their traditions and practices they wanted Him killed. Pilate sends Jesus off to Herod.
Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee and Perea, which was where most of Jesus’ ministry took place. This is where we know that earlier the Pharisees did lie about Herod wanting to kill Jesus, Luke 13:31, because here we see that Herod had an opportunity to do so, but didn’t, because he will send Jesus back to Pilate.
Herod only wanted to see Jesus because he’s heard of the many miracles that Jesus had performed, it’s clear he thought of Jesus as some showman or magician who was here to entertain the masses, Acts 4:26-27. Jesus didn’t answer Herod because He didn’t accept his authority, Herod had no place of authority.
We also see the tremendous self-control of Jesus, He knew exactly what was happening and what would eventually happen, John 10:17-18. Notice that Pilate and Herod became friends. The hatred may have started between Pilate and Herod when Pilate had previously put down a probable insurrection in Galilee that was under Herod’s jurisdiction, Luke 13:1-2. Whatever the reason was for their hatred of each other seems to be laid to rest at this point.
Please read Matthew 27:1-2 / Matthew 23:11-26 / Luke 22:66-71 / Luke 23:1-25. Although the Jewish leaders had tried Jesus and convicted Him of blasphemy, they led Him to the Roman governor Pilate for yet another trial. The Jews didn’t have the authority to carry out sentences of capital punishment that were determined by their own courts; capital crimes had to be tried by Roman officials.
Thus, very early the next morning they brought Jesus to Pilate, hoping that he would concur with their decision. They accused Jesus of many things, but He remained silent. Pilate was amazed that He didn’t try to defend Himself. The governor perceived that this was not really a question of criminal action, but that the Jews were jealous of Jesus.
From this account, by Mark, we learn that Barabbas was a terrorist against the Roman government. He was possibly a member of the Zealot group of Jews whose ambition was to free Palestine from Roman occupation. On this occasion and others, it seems that Pilate was trying to find some reason to release Jesus. It was a custom of the Roman governor to release someone during the Passover feast.
This was done in order to appease the most radical Jews of the Roman Empire who were in Jerusalem at this time. The nationalistic emotions of the multitudes, therefore, were running high. As governor of the region, Pilate had to make compromises with the intense Jewish multitudes in order to prevent riots in the city.
Therefore, he made several attempts to release Him. He was eager to appease the Jews, just like many politicians do today, however, he was unable to persuade them that Jesus should be released. Though he didn’t believe Jesus was guilty, he ended up sentencing Him to death because he feared the start of a riot. Roman soldiers scourged Jesus, mocked Him, and led Him out to be crucified.
Jesus suffered intensely in His last few hours. After being up all night, subjected to the stress of six different trials, if we compare the accounts in Matthew, Luke and John, also, He was scourged.
Scourging was accomplished by tying bits of bone, metal and glass to a whip and then striking the victim’s back. This procedure produced excruciating pain, much loss of blood and sometimes even death. The victim’s back became a bloody mass. Remember the Jews practised scourging, which consisted of 39 lashes, but here The Romans had no restrictions on how many lashes they delivered on the victim, they would carry on until the one doing the lashing would tire.
Here we read about the final trial of Jesus and we get a little knowledge of Pilate’s character and his unpopularity with the Jews helps us to understand his behaviour on this occasion. ‘Flogging,’ Luke 23:16, was the governor’s attempt to convince the Jews that Jesus had suffered enough and should be released.
Once again, all four Gospels mention the flogging but say absolutely nothing about it, there is no attempt to play upon the reader’s emotions. Also, at that age, people were perfectly familiar with it and needed no explanations.
Flogging was usually administered to one who was about to be crucified, Antiochus Epiphanies used it to force Jews to eat swine’s flesh, 2 Maccabees 6:30 / 2 Maccabees 7:1. The flagellum was similar to the ‘cat o’ nine tails’, a handle with leather thongs, tipped with bone or metal. The prisoner was stripped to the waist and then bound in a stooping position to post. The blows were applied to the back and loins, sometimes even, to the face and the bowels. So, hideous was the punishment that the victim usually fainted and not rarely died under it.
Eusebius describes the death of Christian martyrs at Smyrna about 155 A.D., ‘so torn with scourges that their veins were laid bare, and the inner muscles and sinews, and even the bowels, were exposed’. Josephus tells of a man who was ‘flogged to the bone’ before a Roman governor.
It was often a prelude to crucifixion, but in this case, it wasn’t as Pilate later tries to have Jesus released and this flogging was an attempt to satisfy the Jews without killing Jesus. The soldiers went further than just flogging and placed a crown of thorns upon His head. This was a mock Coronation for the one claiming to be the king of the Jews and it was followed by mock worshipping of Him.
There are two thoughts concerning, ‘a crown of thorns.’
1. That it was an instrument of torture, long sharp spikes turned inward, or
2. That it was a radiant crown, with the spikes turned outward, similar in appearance to a crown worn by an emperor.
There is a shrub in Palestine called ‘spina Christi’ or ‘palimus shrub’ which has long, sharp spikes, and leaves similar to the ivy used for emperors or general’s crowns, this is the traditional source of the crown of thorns.
John records ‘a purple robe’ whilst Mathew records a ‘scarlet’ robe, Matthew 27:28. Purple, with the ancients, was a vague term for bright, rich colour, and would be used of crimson as well as violet. It was probably the cloak of a Roman soldier, i.e., an officer. The ‘robe’, ‘himatismos’, is used generally of costly or stately raiment, the apparel of kings, of officials etc., Luke 7:25 / Matthew 27:28+31.
Matthew tells that they ‘put a reed in his hand’, Matthew 27:29 and note the tense, ‘they kept coming up to Him, kept striking Him,’ John 19:3, it was repeated action, Matthew 27:27-30 tells us ‘the whole battalion’ was involved. The picture is of a soldier after soldier coming up to Jesus, kneeling before Him, slapping Him, spitting on Him and shouting,
‘Hail king of the Jews!’ In John 19:4 we see Pilate for the second time telling the people that he can find no charge with which to charge Jesus. He ought to have released Jesus at this point, if the prisoner’s guilt or innocence had been the sole consideration, Jesus would have been set free before this, but he is afraid of possible political repercussions.
When Jesus comes out, Pilate shows Him to the crowd, ‘here is your man!’, this was an attempt to gain sympathy for Jesus as if to say, ‘look at this poor fellow!’ How could they accuse such a pitiable object of treason? It’s a weak attempt to free Jesus. The governor is almost begging the Jews to show pity for the prisoner.
No doubt he shows them the wounds that have been inflicted in the hope that they would now be satisfied, but alas the appearance of Jesus only makes the mob rowdier and bloodthirsty. You never get rid of a pack of wolves by showing them blood!
It ought to be noted that the call ‘crucify, crucify’ came not from the mob, but specifically from the religious authorities. The response of the chief priests and officers is simply, ‘crucify! Crucify!’ The word ‘him’ isn’t in the text. This has been called ‘an ominous chant, a monotonous refrain, ‘Crucify! Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!’ manipulated by their rulers, the mob shouted the same demand, Matthew 27:20-23.
In John 19:6-16 we see Pilate’s final decision. For the third-time Pilate pronounces Jesus innocent, ‘I find no crime in him’, the Gospels stress the same point, Matthew 27:23-24 / Mark 15:14 / Luke 23:4 / Luke 23:13-15 / Luke 23:22.
The governor taunts the Jews with the words, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him.’ Pilate would rather they should do their dirty work themselves than he should be forced into a decision contrary to his conscience. They couldn’t have Jesus killed without Pilate’s official permission, also, if they had that and executed Him according to the Law of Moses, it would be by stoning.
They didn’t ever practice crucifixion, but they wanted Jesus crucified, so, Pilate must condemn Jesus and the Romans must carry out the sentence of death. Pilate knows that the Jews aren’t allowed to crucify someone and the offer to them here isn’t genuine, but an attempt to get the crowd to move away. He is afraid of them and wants this problem to go away as soon as possible.
The Jews again refer to the Law, specifically Leviticus 24:16, and declare the need for the disposal of the ‘guilty one’. Pilate knows that it’s the policy of Rome to allow the natives religious freedom, as long as they worship the Caesar claiming deity as well. The Jews are aware of this policy and hope to use it to persuade the reluctant Pilate.
They have tried to have Jesus condemned for sedition, Luke 23:2, now, here in John 19:7 they are forced to reveal the real charge against him, ‘he ought to die because he made himself the Son of God’.
The charge was blasphemy, and their ‘Law’ of Moses called for the death penalty, Leviticus 24:16. It was on this charge that the Sanhedrin had condemned Jesus to death, Mark 14:61-64 / Matthew 27:23-66, but they don’t reveal this until they are forced to do so. If Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God was false, then the Sanhedrin was right in condemning Him to death for blasphemy.
John 19:8 tells us that the governor was already a frightened man, two things would have made him afraid,
1. His wife’s message, Matthew 27:19 and
2. The words and demeanour of Jesus.
And so, Pilate takes Jesus into the Praetorium, and asked, ‘where are you from?’, ‘to what world do you belong?’
He seems to get into a rage and he can’t fathom what Jesus is all about. He arrogantly brags about his power, trying to get a response out of Jesus, even offering his freedom for the correct answers.
Notice that Jesus didn’t answer, perhaps because worldly Pilate had already been told, and could not grasp the answer, John 18:37-38. Perhaps also because a man who would scourge a prisoner, he had declared innocent did not deserve a reply.
To the governor, a kingdom based entirely on ‘Truth’ was incomprehensible, for Jesus to have said that He was the Son of God who had come from heaven would have been more so. Refusing to answer could be regarded as ‘contempt of court’, Pilate, as Tiberius’ representative, had the power of life and death over a prisoner. He says, ‘do you not know that I have power ‘exousia’ to release you, and power ‘exousia’ to crucify you?’ The governor’s ‘exousia’ was delegated authority, derived from Caesar.
Calmly Jesus tells Pilate of the origin of His power, His authority is ‘given from above’, from God, Romans 13:1. God had trusted Him with the power He has, and He is answerable to God for the way He uses that power. Jesus reassures Pilate that he is not totally to blame for putting the Son of God to death as he does so out of ignorance of the truth.
Caiaphas, acting officially for the Sanhedrin, had delivered Jesus to Pilate, he had ‘the greater sin’. The deeper guilt lies with the man who ‘handed me over to you’. This is Jesus’ final statement to Pilate and in it, He affirms God’s supremacy, He is in control of human affairs and also man’s accountability, the Jewish rulers and the Roman governors are answerable to God.
John tells us that Pilate knew that Jesus was no leader of the sedition against Rome, he was also frightened, so he ‘sought’, notice again the tense, ‘kept on seeking’, to free Him. John doesn’t say how he did so, but he records that the governor finally gave up the efforts because of fear. The chief priests however had the Law, they ought to have recognised the Messiah, but instead, they are about to force His execution.
This short speech of Jesus impresses Pilate, who recognises some characteristics that he doesn’t quite understand so, he tries again to persuade the Jews to allow him to allow Jesus to go free. The Jews shouted, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friends’, this was political blackmail and it ended the efforts to release Jesus. The Jews were saying, ‘free this man and we will accuse you to the Emperor. The charge against you will be high treason, that you released a man who claimed to be King of the Jews’.
Tiberius was a very suspicious ruler, even a hint of disloyalty would be disastrous for a Roman official. Pilate knew that a charge of high treason could cost him position, liberty and life and so, this frightened him and then he decided to put personal safety before justice, to condemn an innocent man to death.
The Jew’s new weapon against Jesus is all-powerful against Pilate, Jesus claims to be the king thus, He opposes Caesar who is the king of all the vast Roman domains. This was the ultimate hypocrisy as all present knew that the Jews didn’t consider Caesar their king and held no allegiance to him. This very good argument must have again caused a troubled Pilate to slip into a rage, but they now had him in a corner.
Pilate makes one last attempt to change the mob’s mind, they will not hear of it, they want Jesus dead. Verse thirteen could imply that Pilate had Jesus sit on the judgement seat, the Greek could have either meaning. The Jew’s threat has decided Pilate and at once he prepares to pass sentence, he ‘brought Jesus out’, that is out of the Praetorium and ‘sat down on the judgment seat’, Acts 18:12+16+17, this was a raised platform on which roman judge sat to pronounce sentence.
‘The pavement’, ‘luthostratos’, was stone-paved, Josephus states that Temple Mount was covered with a mosaic pavement. Hebrew ‘Gabbatha’, means raised place, elevation. John 19:14 seems to make this quite possible, Pilate showing the Jews a weak, blood-covered man not able even to stand and needing the seat more than Pilate.
The Day of Preparation was the day before Passover, which began at the next sunset. John mentions it was ‘about the sixth hour’, scholars and commentators are divided about whether John here uses Jewish or Roman time. Jewish time is 12 noon, but Roman time is 6 a.m.
John is in Asia Minor, writing toward the end of the first century when Jerusalem has been destroyed and the Jewish state ceased to exist. It would be natural for him to give the time according to Roman reckoning. In Mark 15:25, Mark would use Jewish reckoning, at 6 a.m. the trial was in progress, at 9 a.m. Jesus was crucified.
When Pilate says, ‘Behold your King!’, this was a joke in bad taste at the expense of the Jews. ‘They yelled, ‘off with him! Off with him! Crucify Him!’ Pilate replied, ‘the King of you shall I crucify?’ The chief priests who were the religious leaders and teachers of the nation replied, ‘we have no king but Caesar.’ In fact, they claimed that as Israel was God’s special nation, God was their only King and they hated Caesar and bitterly resented the Roman occupation.
With the use of the argument by the mob, in favour of Caesar, Pilate knows that he has lost, to satisfy them, he hands Jesus over to be crucified. This declaration was ‘the crowning apostasy of Judaism’ and ‘the utterance of a nation turned traitor to its noblest traditions’. Notice that John doesn’t record Pilate’s ‘hand washing’, Matthew 27:24-26.
Imagine striking the very One who created the universe! Imagine striking the very One who created them! Colossians 1:16.
After scourging Him, they took thorns, wove them into a crown, put it on Jesus’ head, and began to beat on it, causing intense pain. They put a scarlet robe on Him, Matthew 27:28, Mark’s account calls it purple, only to later rip it off, undoubtedly tearing open the blood-dried wounds on His back in the process. Then came the crucifixion.
The trials before the Roman authorities started with Pilate, John 18:23, after Jesus was beaten. The charges brought against Him were very different from the charges in His religious trials. He was charged with inciting people to riot, forbidding the people to pay their taxes, and claiming to be King.
Pilate found no reason to kill Jesus, so he sent Him to Herod, Luke 23:7. Herod had Jesus ridiculed, but wanting to avoid the political liability, sent Jesus back to Pilate, Luke 23:11-12.
This was the last trial as Pilate tried to appease the animosity of the Jews by having Jesus scourged. The Roman scourge is a terrible whipping of 39 lashes. In a final effort to have Jesus released, Pilate offered the prisoner Barabbas to be crucified and Jesus released, but to no avail. The crowds called for Barabbas to be released and Jesus to be crucified. Pilate granted their demand and surrendered Jesus to their will, Luke 23:25.
The trials of Jesus represent the ultimate mockery of justice. Jesus, the most innocent man in the history of the world, was found guilty of crimes and sentenced to death by crucifixion. The whole trial of Jesus was illegal.
1. No formal change had been made against Him.
2. The arrest was made by the men who would be His judges. The High Priests and the Sanhedrin were also the ones who accused Him which violating the Law which said that the Council was not permitted to lay charges.
3. The trial was held, at night. Forbidden by the Law, because it was believed that the darkness might bind the mind of the accused a cause him to testify against himself.
4. His questioning by the High Priest was alone forbidden by the Law. The Judges were not allowed to question the accused, because he might be led into providing evidence against himself.
5. The law required the High Priest to ‘search, enquire and ask diligently’, if the charge against the accused was true, Deuteronomy 13:14.
6. A trial could not be held before sunrise. So that potential witnesses for the defence could be present.
7. A guilty verdict could not be pronounced on the same day as the trial. A night must intervene between trial and sentence so that the Judges could meditate on the verdict.
8. After the verdict, a period of nine hours must be allowed for potential objections to be made to the verdict.
9. The verdict must be pronounced in the Chamber of Stones, the room in the Temple, where the Sanhedrin held its Meetings, before being made public.
10. The death sentence was invalid because it was not the unanimous verdict of the full Council. Joseph of Arimathea was not present.
11. The testimony of the witnesses, procured by the Priests, on which the ‘Guilty’ verdict was based, was false. They claimed that Jesus said, ‘I will destroy this Temple’.
12. The Law forbade the holding of a Trial on a Friday. The trial was illegal because it was held on a day that was followed by an Annual Sabbath, the Passover.