Jesus on Trial

Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death” (v. 59).  

- Matthew 26:57–63a

In some ways Jesus can be seen as the victim of what is taking place during Passover week, yet we also get the sense that He is in control of all that is happening. For example, He has remained cool, calm, and collected during His stay in Jerusalem, teaching openly in the temple courts, unafraid of those who hate Him (Matt. 21:23–23:39). His enemies, however, behave as if they might suddenly lose their grip on events. They meet secretly to plot Jesus’ death because they do not want to incite a riot (26:1–5), and they are similarly motivated to arrest Him in the dark (vv. 20, 47). This reveals their cowardice, not our Lord’s guilt, which is the point of Matthew 26:55. If Jesus were guilty, the Sanhedrin would have no qualms about taking Him prisoner in broad daylight; His innocence and their fear of the people makes it necessary to seize Him at night.

Our Savior’s trial is the greatest miscarriage of justice ever committed. Matthew makes this plain, stating that the council seeks “false testimony” (v. 59). Whatever they feel about their actions — and they likely believe themselves to be doing God’s will — Caiaphas and his cohorts only want evidence against Jesus. They could care less about the truth and are probably frustrated in their inability to build a case against Him (vv. 59–60a). Even as this chaos surrounds Him, our Lord remains in control, refusing to answer the false charges (vv. 62–63a). This, John Calvin writes, fulfills His purposes. Christ is silent “not only because the objection [is] frivolous, but because, having been appointed to be a sacrifice, he [has] thrown aside all anxiety about defending himself.”

Finally, the Sanhedrin charges Him based on His claim to be able to destroy the temple and rebuild it (v. 61). Even this testimony perverts our Lord’s words; He said the temple of His body would be restored (that is, resurrected) should others crush Him (John 2:18–22), not that He is about to destroy the temple building. Still, falsely placing this threat on Jesus’ lips serves the Sanhedrin’s intent. Desecrating sacred places in their day can be a capital crime, and Rome would want to avoid the public upheaval that would occur were Christ to carry out a threat that, unbeknownst to the Empire, He never made to begin with.

Coram Deo

Zephaniah 3:5 assures us that the Lord is perfectly righteous and therefore incapable of any injustice. We must therefore, unlike the Sanhedrin in Jesus’ day, learn to hate injustice and to do whatever we can to make sure that justice is done in our culture. Some of the ways this can be done is to refuse to give false testimony or listen to gossip, and to choose righteous leaders who will promote justice both in our churches and in our cultural institutions.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 5:20
Proverbs 16:8; 22:8
John 18:12–14, 19–24
Acts 8:33

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