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The Most Corrupt Trial in Human History

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 26:57, 59–68; Mark 14:53, 55–65; Luke 22:63–65

Those who seek to stand in judgment of Jesus Christ concerning His deity, His teaching, and His works bring themselves under the judgment of God and His holy Word. This is the terrifying truth Jesus communicates to the high priest Caiaphas and his colleagues.


Nothing turns my stomach any more than the exposure of a crooked judge—a judge who condemned an innocent person. I suppose the only thing that bothers me more than that is when the corrupt official is a religious leader.

Well, we are about to watch as Jesus is condemned by both crooked judges and corrupt religious leaders. And this particular series of illegal trials represents the hinge of history because the verdict will impact the whole world and all of human history.

Having been questioned by the former high priest Annas, Jesus now stands before Caiaphas, the current high priest. Caiaphas is joined by members of the Sanhedrin, and they have all made up their minds already. Evidence does not matter. They are just looking for some kind of legal justification to cover their unjust actions. But in the process, they are going to violate six different legal principles that governed the courts of the nation of Israel.

Legal principle number 1 is this: Trials were not allowed to be held secretly at night. In Matthew 26:57, the Bible records, “Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered.” Remember “scribes and elders” refers to Israel’s supreme court. So, imagine the members of the Sanhedrin arriving by torchlight in the middle of the night to the estate of the high priest. This is going to be an illegal trial, held at night because they do not want the public to be aware of what they are doing; and they just cannot wait any longer to condemn Jesus.

The second legal principle they violate here is this: At least two witnesses must come forward and agree in their testimony. I am sure you have heard about those high school students who decided to skip school for the morning; when they finally showed up after lunch, they told the principal they had had a flat tire. He immediately separated them, handed each of them a piece of paper and told them to write down which tire it was.

That is the problem here. Witnesses appear, but they cannot get their stories straight. Now under normal procedures, the witnesses would present their testimony and then be questioned separately to confirm their accusation. You need to know that there were no prosecutors in a Hebrew court. The witnesses served as the prosecution, and the Sanhedrin served as the defense.

If witnesses gave false testimony, the court would make them pay the penalty the accused would have received. That certainly discouraged perjury!

But here is how corrupt this trial is:

The chief priests and the whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none. (verses 59-60)

They are actively looking for liars! But the liars cannot get their lies in order until—more than likely after some private coaching—verse 60 says, “At last two [witnesses] came forward and said, ‘This man said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.”’” They are accusing Jesus of planning to destroy the temple!

Now at this point, legal principle number 3 is violated—here it is: The accused was never required to respond to a witness. However, the high priest demands here in verse 62, “Have you no answer to make?” Verse 63 tells us, “But Jesus remained silent.” This is the silence of innocence, the silence of integrity; and on a deeper level, this is silence based on trust in the sovereign plans of His heavenly Father. Remember, this was part of the cup He was willing to drink.

Let me ask you this: What is the greatest insult you have experienced in life? Maybe today you are at the mercy of someone in power who is corrupt or prejudiced against you. Let me encourage you to look at Jesus here. He is right, but He is being wronged. But the record of history is going to prove He was right, and they were wrong. For now, He will continue trusting His heavenly Father.

Legal principle number 4 is now violated—here it is: The accused was never required to testify against himself. But Caiaphas says to Jesus in verse 63, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” He is basically placing Jesus under oath and demanding that Jesus incriminate Himself!

Jesus still has every right to refuse to answer, but at this point, He speaks. And here is why: just as Jesus helped those soldiers arrest Him in the garden, He is going to help the Sanhedrin condemn Him—verse 64:

Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

This is what they had hoped to hear. Jesus is claiming to be deity, none other than the divine Messiah.

And in case they missed it, Jesus even adds this prophecy—again verse 64—“You will see the Son of Man … coming on the clouds of heaven.” This is a picture of the final, divine judgment, and Jesus claims to be that divine Judge.

He is effectively saying, “You are judging Me now, but I will judge you one day. You want to condemn Me today, but if you do not believe in Me, you will be condemned one day.” Jesus is not the one on trial here—these men are.

Now here is a fifth legal principle that is violated by the Sanhedrin: A death sentence was passed only after a day of fasting. Jewish records reveal that none of the seventy-one members of the Sanhedrin were to eat or drink anything for an entire day before issuing a death penalty. They were to spend the day considering the gravity of such a verdict.  

But this verdict is brought immediately. Caiaphas calls for an immediate vote: “Then the high priest … said … ‘What is your judgment?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death’” (verses 65-66).

No day of fasting here, just an immediate, unanimous vote for death. And with that, the supreme court of Israel violated yet another legal principle—here it is: A unanimous vote for the death penalty allowed the accused to go free.

A unanimous vote in our world would be required for the death penalty, but here in ancient Israel, they believed that a unanimous vote implied something was wrong, that there was a lack of critical thinking, a prejudiced jury, or a lack of mercy. So, a unanimous vote of the council immediately allowed the prisoner to go free.

But instead of releasing Jesus, the Sanhedrin now physically attack Him. Picture this scene:

Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” (verses 67-68)

Can you imagine the supreme court delivering a guilty verdict and a death sentence and then descending from their bench to come and spit in the face of the defendant and slap him around?

This is horrifying and cruel and wicked. Indeed, it is the very height of corruption. Here is the supreme court of Israel turning into a vicious mob—spitting, hitting, cursing, and mocking Jesus.

He took it all, on your behalf, beloved—and mine. This innocent, gracious, loving Lord Jesus was tried before Israel’s high court so you will never have to be tried before the court of heaven. Jesus was condemned to die on earth, so that you can live forever with Him in heaven.  

Let me ask you this today: Are you rejecting Him, as they did; or will you worship Him—this pure, righteous, merciful Messiah, the Son of God?

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