Before a Kangaroo Court
“When [Jesus] had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?’ ” (vv. 22–23).- John 18:19–24
According to Merriam-Webster, a kangaroo court is “a mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted” and is “characterized by irresponsible, unauthorized, or irregular status or procedures.” Kangaroo courts are not concerned with the truth, but they arrive at a predetermined verdict regarding the accused. When we consider Jesus’ trial before the Jewish religious authorities, we can conclude only that it occurred before a kangaroo court.
First-century Jewish regulations held that a defendant could not be put on trial at night, but that is when Jesus’ trial took place (John 18:3). Furthermore, there is good evidence that the high priest was not supposed to question the defendant but only the witnesses. However, in His first appearance before the Jewish authorities, Jesus was interrogated by Annas, whom the Jews regarded as the high priest even though the Romans had previously deposed him (vv. 19, 24). Finally, Deuteronomy 17:6 declares that a person cannot be put to death except when two or more witnesses provide consistent evidence of guilt. But we know that the Jewish leaders recommended capital punishment for Jesus even though the witnesses against Him provided contradictory testimony (Mark 14:55–64). This testimony would have been given at the second interrogation that John mentions when Jesus was taken to Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest recognized by the Romans (John 18:24; see Matt. 26:57–68).
As we would expect, Jesus saw through these illegalities. When Annas asked our Lord about His teaching, Jesus responded that he should ask those who had heard it (John 18:19–21). In other words, Jesus was calling Annas to speak to witnesses, not to Him, for that was the proper procedure. Later in the interrogation, Jesus told Annas to bear witness to the truth or falsehood of His testimony (v. 23). Christ was asking for witnesses to testify against Him as established in the law of Moses, revealing the corruption of the proceedings and showing that He was speaking only the truth.
Jesus also emphasized the reliability of His word in His testimony to Annas when He said that He spoke openly to the world and said nothing in secret. This does not mean He never taught His disciples behind closed doors, for all four Gospels testify that He did so at times. Christ meant that His teaching was consistent—He did not teach His disciples anything that contradicted His public instruction.
When brought before an unjust tribunal, Christ remained concerned only for justice. That is instructive for us. In all of our dealings, we should be concerned to see justice done, and we should not form our opinions of others based on insufficient evidence.
Passages for Further Study