IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 2, Number 18, May 1 to May 7, 2000


by Dr. Knox Chamblin

JESUS ON TRIAL, part 1. 26:57-75.


The evidence of all four Gospels, taken together, reveals the following sequence:

1. Jesus before Annas, father-in-law of Caiaphas and himself a former high priest. Jn 18:13-14, 19-24.

2. Jesus before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. Mt 26:57-68; 27:1-2; Mk 14:53-65; 15:1; Lk 22:54, 63-23:1; Jn 18:24, 28.

3. Jesus' first appearance before Pilate. Mt 27:11-14; Mk 15:1-5; Lk 23:1-5; Jn 18:28-38.

4. Jesus before Herod Antipas. Lk 23:6-12.

5. Jesus' second appearance before Pilate. Mt 27:15-26; Mk 15:6-15; Lk 23:13-25; Jn 18:39-19:16.

On the relationships of the four accounts, see Carson, 551-52, and the larger commentaries. We shall concentrate on Mt and refer to other Gospels strictly for the purpose of elucidating Mt's account.


A. The Intention. 26:59.

"The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death."

1. The bias. In these proceedings, witnesses for the defense shall be conspicuous by their absence. The prejudice expressed in v. 59 is quite predictable. For the men who are now to judge Jesus' case, are the very ones who earlier plotted to have him killed (v. 4), and who planned his arrest (v. 57)!

2. The illegality. Much has been written about the illegalities of Jesus' Jewish trial; see the summary in James S. Stewart, The Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ, 159-60. Some caution is needed in this area. As Carson observes, "The problem of illegalities in Jesus' trial is more complex than is customarily recognized" (p. 550). Cf. his intelligent discussion, pp. 549-51, concluding with a statement from David R. Catchpole, The Trial of Jesus, 268-69, "The debate about illegalities should be regarded as a dead end, and at most able to make only a minor contribution." Taking account of the evidence of Mt 26, we may agree with William Lane: "The one reproach to which the court was open, according to Mark's record [and its Matthean parallel], was that they assembled together, not with the intention of reaching a just verdict, but with a firm resolve to convict Jesus of a capital crime (Ch. 14:1, 55 [par. Mt 26:4, 59]" (Mark, 533). In pursuit of this goal, the religious leaders violate the Ninth Commandment, "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor" (Ex 20:16; cf. Mt 15:19; 19:18). On the question of the illegality of this meeting's time (the middle of the night) and place (the high priest's palace), see Hill, Matthew, 345, and Carson, 549-51.

B. The Witnesses.

1. The first ones. The search for the desired false evidence at first proves futile, v. 60. The reason, explains Mk 14:56, is that "their statements did not agree." "In capital cases condemnation required the unanimous evidence of at least two witnesses (M. Sanhedrin IV. 1), a provision firmly rooted in pentateuchal law (Deut 17:6; 19:15).... If [the witnesses'] respective depositions differed one from the other even in trivial details, they were inadmissible as evidence" (Lane, 533).

2. The final ones. "Finally, two came forward and declared, 'This fellow said, "I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days"'" (26:60b-61). Cf. Mk 14:58, "I will destroy...."

a. The threat. The statement here ascribed to Jesus recalls Jn 2:19. There Jesus spoke of "the temple of his body" (v. 21). Yet he stood in the Jerusalem temple as he spoke; and quite understandably his listeners took him to mean that temple (v. 20). The present witnesses have drawn the same conclusion. "The accusation was utterly serious, for throughout the Graeco- Roman world the destruction or desecration of places of worship was regarded as a capital offense" (Lane, 534). And none honored and safeguarded the sanctity of their holy place more zealously than did the Jews. "The mere threat of violence against the Temple might well seem to the Sanhedrin a crime meriting the death penalty" (ibid.; cf. Jer 26:1-19; Acts 6:12-14; and the Talmudic references cited by Lane).

b. The quotation. The statement here ascribed to Jesus is significantly different from Jn 2:19. For in Jn Jesus declares neither his ability nor his resolve to destroy the temple. Rather he calls upon the Jews to do the destructive work: "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." Perhaps there were others who correctly quoted him, while still (of course) misunderstanding his meaning (Jn 2:21); Mk 14:57 suggests that there may have been more than two witnesses (Mt 26:60b) in this second group. In any case, says Mk 14:59, even the testimonies of this latter group "did not agree." (It may be that the question of Mt 26:62, is the high priest's attempt to clarify which one of the variant testimonies, represented what Jesus actually said.) So, despite the explosive character of the charge of Mt 26:61, further evidence was needed if Jesus was to be convicted (cf. the comments under 1. above).

C. The High Priest's Question. 26:63b.

1. The meaning. On the lips of the high priest, "the Son of God" is an expression of messiahship, a way of identifying a human being anointed to be God's vicegerent, appointed to be his earthly representative, as in Ps 2:7; cf. Jn 1:49, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; [i.e.] you are the King of Israel." The Jews did not expect Messiah to be divine. Cf. Carson, 554; Lane, Mark, 535; and my comments on 16:16.

2. The purpose. As the chosen witnesses have failed to produce testimony sufficient to convict Jesus, this question is intended to settle the issue before the court. "If Jesus refuses to answer [as in v. 63a], he breaks a legally imposed oath. If he denies he is the Messiah, the crisis is over - but so is his influence. If he affirms it, then, given the commitments of the court, Jesus must be false. After all, how could the true Messiah allow himself to be imprisoned and put in jeopardy? The Gospels' evidence suggests that the Sanhedrin was prepared to see Jesus' unequivocal claim to messiahship as meriting the death penalty, and their unbelief precluded them from allowing any other possibility" (Carson, 554). "Judaism expected the Messiah to provide proof of his identity. A Messiah imprisoned, abandoned by his followers [v. 56], and delivered helpless into the hands of his foes represented an impossible conception. Anyone who, in such circumstances, proclaimed himself to be the Messiah could not fail to be a blasphemer who dared to make a mockery of the promises of God to his people" (Lane, 536). Cf. Peter's words in 16:22, following Jesus' first prediction of his Passion.

D. Jesus' Response. 26:64.

"You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven" (RSV).

1. "You have said so [Su eipas]." In the words of David Catchpole, these words are "affirmative in content, and reluctant or circumlocutory in formulation" ("The Answer of Jesus to Caiaphas [Matt. xxvi.64]," NTS 17 [Jan 1971]: 226; see 213-26 for arguments in support). Caiaphas' response (v. 65) shows that he understood Jesus' words to be "affirmative in content." That Jesus should use words "reluctant or circumlocutory in formulation," is understandable in view of Caiaphas' faulty understanding of Messiahship. For him "the Son of God" designates God's human appointee; for Jesus - and for Matthew - the title affirms deity (cf. comments on 16:16).

2. "But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power." As elsewhere, Jesus draws the title "the Son of Man" from Dan 7, where the term denotes a regal heavenly figure, one identified in the closest way with God and worthy to receive the worship due God alone (7:13-14). This title, like "the Son of God," ascribes deity to Jesus. On "Son of Man" as expressive of the divine self-consciousness of Jesus, and on the reasons for his choice of this title over others, see I. H. Marshall, "The Synoptic Son of Man Sayings in Recent Discussion," NTS 12 (July 1966): 327-51, especially 350-51; ibid., The Origins of New Testament Christology, 63-82. In answering Caiaphas, Jesus speaks especially of the exaltation of the Son of Man to God's right hand. He thus affirms two things: (i) The verdict of condemnation about to be issued by this earthly court, is going to be reversed by the judgment of God the Father - who will vindicate his Son and Servant by exalting him to the position of singular honor (cf. Acts 7:54-56, for a variation on this theme). Jesus refers to Ps 110:1 (as in 22:44). "Power" is a reverential substitute for God's name. (ii) Thus exalted, the Son of Man is himself given authority to judge (cf. Dan 7:14; Jn 5:27; Mt 28:18). Among those who will stand under his judgment are those who now judge him (both "you's" in 26:64b are plural).

3. "and coming on the clouds of heaven." Drawing on Dan 7:13b, Jesus speaks not of his ascent to God's heavenly throne, but of his descent from God's throne to the earth at his Second Advent. The very order - sitting, then coming - favors this view. Cf. Gundry, 545-46, who argues that Dan 7:13 likewise describes an earthly scene. Upon his Return, Jesus will execute the Judgment for which the Father has appointed him (16:27; 19:28; 25:31, in each of which Jesus is called "the Son of Man").

E. The Charge of Blasphemy.

"Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, 'He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy" (v. 65). Viewing this statement in light of the preceding discussion, I conclude that the blasphemia of which Caiaphas speaks, is twofold, namely (i) Jesus' acceptance of the title Messiah, and (ii) his claim to deity. To suggest that the term "blasphemy" refers to i. alone (thus Lane, Mark, 538) or to ii. alone (thus Gundry, 546), is to my mind one-sided. It is quite true that the claim to Messiahship alone, would have been enough to convict Jesus of a capital offense (C. 2.). But Jesus does more than answer Caiaphas' question; his response is not limited to the words "You have said so." The remainder of v. 64 tells Caiaphas a good deal more than he expected to hear. Once Caiaphas does hear the words about the Son of Man, he rightly interprets them as a claim to deity - and is thus shocked beyond his expectation. The case against Jesus is far stronger than Caiaphas could have anticipated.

F. The Decision.

"'What do you think?' 'He is worthy of death,' they answered" (v. 66). There is now no need for further witnesses (cf. v. 65). This is the Sanhedrin's decisive action, soon to be confirmed (27:1). The indignities to which Jesus is now subjected, 26:67-68, (i) prove to the assailants that he is a pretender (a true Messiah would not tolerate such treatment, and could identify his tormentors even while blindfolded, cf. Lk 22:64), and (ii) reveal yet again that Jesus is the Suffering Servant (Isa 50:6; 53:7) and the Exemplar of his own teaching (5:39).


A. The Placement.

The placement of this episode between Jesus' appearances before the Sanhedrin and Pilate respectively, informs us of the time of the denials, but more importantly, discloses that during Jesus' severest trial, even his disciple - even the very disciple who earlier confessed him (16:16) - witnesses against him!

B. The Fulfillment.

By denying Jesus three times (each time more vehemently than before) before the crowing of the cock, Peter exactly fulfills Jesus' prophecy (v. 34; cf. v. 41; Gundry, 549, 550).

C. The Repentance.

Reminded of the prophecy, Peter "went outside and wept bitterly" (v. 75) - a response only superficially like Judas' (27:3). Judas' suicide testifies to his utter despair. That Peter is remorseful without taking his life, suggests that he has not lost all hope. "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death" (2 Cor 7:10). See also James 4:6-10.