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Trial of Jesus
TRIAL OF JESUS. The tumultuous proceedings before the Jewish and Roman authorities resulting in the crucifixion of Jesus. All four Gospels record at least part of the twofold trial (
Since the Romans had deprived the Sanhedrin of the power of capital punishment, it was necessary to secure a confirmatory death sentence from the Roman governor, who found it expedient to be in Jerusalem during the Passover season. Accordingly, “the whole assembly” (
With the return of Jesus, Pilate realized that he must handle the trial. Summoning the chief priests “and the people,” he reviewed the case to prove the innocence of Jesus, but weakly proposed a compromise by offering to scourge Jesus before releasing him (
According to John’s Gospel, as a last resort to avoid crucifying Jesus, Pilate had him scourged, allowed the soldiers to stage a mock coronation, and then brought out the pathetic figure before the people, hoping that the punishment would satisfy them. It only intensified their shouts for his crucifixion (
Bibliography: J. Stalker, The Trial and Death of, 1894; J. Blinzler, The , 1959; P. Winter, On the Trial of Jesus, 1961; G. S. Sloyan, Jesus on Trial, 1973.——DEH
TRIAL OF JESUS. Two of the greatest champions of human rights, Jewish and Roman law, met in a most tragic injustice—the mistrial of . Jewish leaders were blinded by their determination to be rid of Jesus, and the Rom. governor yielded to fear of reprisals. Together they represent both the religious and the secular worlds, which, too often, have been plunged by selfish interests into rejection of their Lord.
The Jewish trial.
The purpose of the Jewish leaders was to “arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (
While the Sanhedrin gathered, Jesus was held at the house of Annas, former high priest and sharer of the dignity and power of the office with his sonin-law Caiaphas. As no part of a regular trial, Jesus was interrogated concerning His disciples and doctrine (
The night trial.
Haste was important, though illegal. Jesus must be condemned before His friends could rally. The Temple gates were closed for the night. The high priest’s quadrangle served as informal emergency quarters. Off the open center court was a large room isolated only by pillars. Here they assembled, just across the courtyard from the apartment of Annas. As the Sanhedrin were assembling, the chief priests worked frantically to find and train witnesses. Though carefully instructed and solemnly sworn in, the perjured witnesses could not agree (
In a move of desperation, the high priest put Jesus under oath (
The morning session.
The Friday trial at daybreak was to give semblance of legality to the decision of the night trial and to prepare to present the matter to Pilate. The high priest began the trial again, eliminating parts that had been unfruitful. Jesus was questioned directly by the court, and again He testified that He was the Son of God. All claimed to witness the blasphemy. All arose and led Him to Pilate (
The Roman trial.
Jesus was still condemned but not sentenced. As a jury, they brought the verdict of guilty, but Rome alone could legally give the sentence of death.
The Jews hinted strongly that Pilate should yield to them the right of trial and exercise only his right of execution. This was sometimes done by Rom. governors either through indolence or as a favor, esp. in matters of religion. Pilate was in no mood to yield, and said in effect, “Give me both the power to try and to execute or be satisfied with the penalties you are allowed to inflict on the condemned” (
If Jesus was to be tried and sentenced by Rome, a new case must be made. Rome was not interested in blasphemy. Forced against their will and expectation to formulate a charge, the Jews began to pour forth vehement accusations. There were three main counts: perverting the nation, preventing the paying of tribute to Caesar, and saying that He is a king (
Examination and acquittal.
Pilate returned to the Praetorium to examine Jesus. Jesus admitted that He was a king, but explained to Pilate that He was not the kind of king that would seek to overthrow the government. His authority was in the realm of truth (
Referral to Herod.
When the Jews shouted all the more accusations, Pilate feared a hopeless impasse. Finally, the word Galilee gave him a thought. Herod Antipas was in the city. Why not give him the honor and danger of passing on the case? The gesture was appreciated by Herod, but he was too astute to allow himself to be involved in a treason trial. He treated Jesus as a cheap entertainer and heaped ridicule upon Him when He did not cater to the desires of the court. No legal purpose was served.
Jesus or Barabbas.
Evasion did not solve Pilate’s problem. Jesus came back from Herod. Pilate tried twice more to gain consent for the release of Jesus (
“Behold the Man!”
In a final appeal to their humanity, Pilate brought Jesus out with bleeding back from the scourging, with the crown of thorns on His head, and with the purple robes of mockery. The Jews were all the more insistent that Jesus be crucified (
Compromise became impossible. Pilate had to release Jesus at all costs or crucify Him at all costs. Finally, fear of Jewish blackmail became greater than his sense of justice. Pilate was unwilling to face his record before Caesar. To appease the Jews, Pilate crucified Jesus (
S. Andrews, The Life of our Lord Upon the Earth (1891), 505-544; J. Stalker, The Trial and Death of Jesus Christ (1894), 15-113; W. Chandler, The(1908) 2 vols.; P. Vollmer, The Modern Student’s Life of Christ (1912), 240-257; J. Blinzler, The Trial of Jesus (1959), 81-245; P. Winter, On the Trial of Jesus (1961), 20-135.