“So Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they requested” (Luke 23:24, NKJV, all scriptures from the NASV).
by Jeff Mezera
Studies and meditations on the Memorial generally focus on the events of the Memorial supper, Jesus’ betrayal, and his crucifixion. But there are things that happened between these events — dramatic scenes packed with suspense — that show how things were stacked against our Lord. In six hours there were six trials, three of them religious and three of them civil, and all six were illegal. In less than twelve hours from the time of his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was crucified.
There are many reasons why the trials of Jesus were illegal. We will highlight just a few, some based on scripture and some based on the Jewish and Roman laws of the time. Note these six trials, all completed in one night.
Trial One — Religious Trial, Phase 1
12:30 AM: Before Annas the former high priest.
Accusation: Pre-trial. Trumped up charges
Legal Status: There was no provision for a one-man court. Annas was no longer the high priest and had no legal authority. Jesus was not charged with anything.
Before Annas. John 18:12,13,19-24: “So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, and led Him to Annas first; for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year … The high priest then questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching. Jesus answered him, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. [Note: no charge is given.] Why do you question me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.’ When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, ‘Is that the way you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike me?’ So
Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.”
Although this was more of a pretrial hearing before Jesus was sent to Caiaphas, it was an effort to find false witnesses against Christ. Why was it illegal to take Jesus to Annas? Because Annas was the former high priest. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the real high priest, and therefore had no legal authority in this matter. Jesus asked Annas why he was being questioned as he knew that Annas had no lawful authority
Trial Two — Religious Trial, Phase 2
1:00-2:00 AM: Before Caiaphas, the current high priest. Accusation: Blasphemy, claimed to be the Son of God
● This was an illegal trial for the Sanhedrin
was never to meet before daylight.
● It was against the law to bear false witness, and the chief priests, scribes, and elders lied about Jesus’ teaching (ninth Commandment, Exodus 20:16, Leviticus 19:16-18).
● Lying against someone is something God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19).
● The law states that a person could not be condemned based on self-incrimination. This is why the Lord requires two or more witnesses if someone was to be judged to death.
● Regarding this principle, a Middle Ages scholar on the law stated “we have it as a fundamental principle of our jurisprudence that no one can bring an accusation against himself” (Maimonides, Sanhedrin, 4:2 — Mishna, in “Pirke Aboth” 4:8).
Before Sanhedrin in the house of Caiaphas. Mark 14:53-65: “They led Jesus away to the high priest, and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes gathered together. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the officers and warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put him to death, and they were not finding any. For many were giving false testimony against him, but their testimony was not consistent. Some stood up and began to give false testimony against him, saying, ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.”’
“Not even in this respect was their testimony consistent. The high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, ‘Do you not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against you?’ But he kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning him, and saying to him, ‘Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed One?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am; and you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.’ Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, ‘What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?’ And they ALL condemned him to be deserving of death. Some began to spit at him, and to blindfold him, and to beat him with their fists, and to say to him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the officers received him with slaps in the face.”
This second Jewish trial was also illegal, based on the following: (1) The Sanhedrin was never to meet before daylight. “No session of the court could take place before the offering of the morning sacrifice” (Jesus before the Sanhedrin, M.M. Lemann, page 109). The reason for this regulation was to assure that the one acting as a judge was first seeking guidance from God. Since this trial took place between the hours of 1:00 am and 2:00 am, the morning sacrifices were still hours away. Those who met were doing so in secret when not all members were present.
(2) The Law forbids false witness and the Council lied about what Jesus was teaching (Exodus 20:16, Leviticus 19:16-18). God
hates lying and bearing false witness (Proverbs 6:16-19). He provided in the law that only by the mouth of two or three witnesses should a matter be confirmed (Deuteronomy 19:15). The members of the Sanhedrin that were present were only those that would vote with the leadership of the Council. Ironically, those witnesses brought before the group could not even agree on what they heard.
(3) Jewish law forbids self-incrimination. “We have it as a fundamental principle of our jurisprudence that no one can bring an accusation against himself” (Maimonides, Sanhedrin, 4:2, Mishna, in “Pirke Aboth” 4:8).
Trial Three — Religious Trial, Phase 3
4:30 AM: Before the Sanhedrin. Accusation: Blasphemy. Claimed to be the Son of God. Rome not interested in blasphemy
● It was against the law for the Sanhedrin to conduct a trial on a feast day. The feast of Passover was upon them. “They shall not judge on the eve of the Sabbath, nor on that of any festival” (The Mishna, Sanhedrin, 4:1).
● The law stated that the Council was to act as a jury. This did not happen. The law in the Mishna says, “The judges shall weigh the matter in sincerity of their conscience” (Sanhedrin 4:5, see Deuteronomy 13:14).
● The law commanded that the accused should have a defense lawyer. This did not happen.
● The law stated that 24 hours should go by before a sentence of execution. The Mishna says, “If a sentence of death is to be pronounced, it [a criminal charge] cannot be concluded before
the following day” (Mishna, Sanhedrin, 4:1).
● “The morning sacrifice is offered at the dawn of day. The Sanhedrin is not to assemble until the hour after that time” (The Mishna in “Talmud, of the Perpetual Sacrifice,” Chapter 3).
Before Sanhedrin at Daybreak. Luke 22:66-71: “When it was day, the Council of elders of the people assembled, both chief priests and scribes, and they led Him away to their council chamber, saying, ‘If you are the Christ, tell us.’ But He said to them, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe; [He does not say “I am” here] and if I ask a question, you will not answer. “But from now on the SON OF MAN WILL BE SEATED AT THE RIGHT HAND of the POWER OF GOD.’ Then said they all, ‘Art thou then the son of God?’ And he said unto them, ‘Ye say that I am.’ [Diaglott, “You say; I am.”] Then they said, ‘What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.’”
Mark 15:1: “Early in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes and the whole Council, immediately held a consultation; and binding Jesus, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate.”
This third religious trial was also illegal, based on the following:
(1) The Law forbid a trial on a feast day. This was the time of the Passover feast. “They shall not judge on the eve of the Sabbath, nor on that of any festival” (The Mishna, Sanhedrin, 4:1).
(2) As stated previously, the Council was not to assemble until after the morning sacrifices. “The morning sacrifice is offered at the dawn of day. The Sanhedrin is not to assemble until the hour after that time” (The Mishna in “Talmud, of the Perpetual Sacrifice,” Chapter 3). The cock crowed three times after Jesus’ the second religious trial before Caiaphas, which took place during the night (Matthew 26:75).
(3) The law stated that the council was to act as a jury, not a prosecutor. “The judges shall weigh the matter in sincerity of their conscience” (Sanhedrin, 4:5, see Deuteronomy 13:14).
(4) The accused was to have a defense advocate. Jesus did not have one.
(5) The Mishna (Jewish Oral Tradition) stated that 24 hours must pass after a trial before a sentence of execution could be issued. “If a sentence of death is to be pronounced, it [a criminal charge] cannot be concluded before the following day” (Mishna, Sanhedrin, 4:1). Jesus was crucified on the same day. They were in a hurry to kill him before the Passover.
(6) Jesus was falsely charged with blasphemy because he made himself equal with God. In reality, he had claimed God as his father. The three illegal religious trials were followed by three civil trials. Were they also illegal?
Trial Four — Civil Trial, Phase 1
5:00 AM: Before Pilate, Hall of Judgment. Accusation: Treason. Rome punished by capital punishment.
● “A sentence of death can be pronounced only so long as the Sanhedrin holds its sessions in the appointed place” (Maimonides in Sanhedrin, 14). The charge was changed from blasphemy to treason. Their charge was:
● Treason — Luke 23:2, “And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King” (KJV).
● Perverting the nation — Forbidding others to give tribute (taxes) to Caesar. Making Himself out to the King (Schurer 181-183). For the date, see Schürer 352-353, number 42. Pilate knew little about and cared less about religious law. Pilate knew Jesus was innocent yet put him in prison anyway.
Before Pilate — Hall of Judgment. John 18:28-38: “Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover. [How hypocritical for them to kill the son of God; but they could not have their shoe leather touch the porch stones.] Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this Man?’ They answered and said to him, ‘If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.’ [No charge, an evildoer must break the law and be charged for that.] So Pilate said to them, ‘Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.’ The Jews said to him,‘We are not permitted to put anyone to death,’ to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die. Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ [Pilate knew Jesus had been hailed King five days earlier in Jerusalem.] Jesus answered, ‘Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about me?’ [This is Pilate’s charge, not the Jews.] Pilate answered, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered you to me; what have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, my kingdom is not of this realm.’ Therefore Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this, I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.’ [Second truth stating he was a King.] Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’ And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, ‘I find no guilt in Him.’”
This fourth trial, although civil, was also conducted illegally.
(1) All trials were to be held in an appointed place. The Jewish authorities did not enter the Praetorium because they were afraid of defiling themselves before partaking of the Passover. “A sentence of death can be pronounced only so long as the Sanhedrin holds its sessions in the appointed place” (Maimonides in Sanhedrin, 14). “After leaving the hall … no sentence of death can be passed upon anyone whatsoever”
(Talmud, Idolatry, Chapter 1, Volume 8).
This trial was illegal on the basis of both the Jewish and Roman law. Pilate knew nothing about and cared little about religious law, but it was the custom for the Romans to also apply the laws of those they ruled. “Roman procurators and propretors could adjudicate upon the issue by applying either the Jewish or the Roman law, and also the procedure of either jurisdiction, as the case and the practice might require. Greenidge, in his Legal Procedure in Cicero’s Time, and other authorities, so hold” (1914, Charles Edmund Deland, The MisTrials of Jesus, page 172).
This trial was illegal under Roman law for many reasons as well. No witnesses were called. Paul questioned this Roman law when he himself was accused in Acts 25:16. Also, Jesus was put to death on the same day rather than the three days that Roman law demanded. “The indictment had to be in writing and was published on three market days in the Forum. The prosecution came to an end on the third day” (Walter Marion Chandler, The Trial of Jesus from a Lawyer’s Standpoint, Volume 2, pages 37,38, Colquhoon, Summary of the Roman Civil Law, Volume 3, Section 2451).
Roman law also required that on the third day the accused could present their defense “by mounting the rostra with his patron and presenting evidence in his own behalf. The prosecutor then announced that on a certain day he would ask the people to render judgment by their votes.” (Id., pages 37,38, Colquhoon, Summary of the Roman Civil Law, Volume 3,
(2) The charge was changed from blasphemy to treason “And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King” (Luke 23:2).
One of the reasons that the charge was changed was to force Pilate’s hand. He did not care about Jewish religious law, but by
changing the charge Pilate could then apply the law of Rome rather than Jewish law, because treason was a crime against Rome. Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, yet he put him in prison anyway.
Trial Five — Civil Trial, Phase 2
5:30 AM: Before Herod Antipas. Accusation: None. Mob violence incited.
Jesus remained silent. Herod had no jurisdiction because Pilate was in Jerusalem.
Before Herod. Luke 23:6-12: “When Pilate heard it, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who himself also was in Jerusalem at that time. Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time because he had been hearing about Him and
was hoping to see some sign performed by Him. And he questioned Him at some length; but He answered him nothing. And the chief priests and the scribes were standing there, accusing Him vehemently. And Herod with his soldiers, after treating Him with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate.”
Jesus said nothing. There was no defense at all. He used his right to remain silent. Isaiah 53:7 — “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth”
This second civil trial, recorded only by Luke, was illegal because Herod Antipas was a Regent of Galilee and had no jurisdiction because Pilate was present in Jerusalem. “It is only between judges of the same judicial hierarchy that a dispute as to territorial competency can arise. Between magistrates of different states, there can only exist a contrast of power and jurisdiction” (Rosadi, The Trial of Jesus, pages 244, 245, quoted in The Mis-Trials of Jesus, page 225, Charles Edmund DeLand, 1914).
So Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate. Neither Herod nor Pilate had pronounced Jesus guilty of anything, yet the Jewish leaders took counsel to put him to death. “The kings of the earth … and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed” (Psalms 2:2, The Time is At Hand, page 263).
Trial Six — Civil Trial, Phase 3
6 AM: Before Pilate again. Accusation: Treason. Bargain for Barabbas
The sixth hour, sixth illegal trial, Pilate says six times that Jesus is innocent. Pilate knowingly let an innocent man be killed.
Before Pilate (who says six times Jesus is innocent). John 18:39-40: “‘But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?’ So they cried out again, saying, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas.’ Now Barabbas was a robber.”
John 19:1-16: “Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; and they began to come up to Him and say, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and to give Him slaps in the face. Pilate came out again and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.’ Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold, the Man!’ So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, ‘Crucify, crucify!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and by that law, He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.’ [Charge] Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’
But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to Him, ‘You do not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you, and I have authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over me unless it had been given you from above; for this reason, he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.’ [Jesus takes Pilate off the hook.] As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, ‘If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.’
… When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold, your King!’ So they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified.”
This sixth and final trial occurred at about 6 AM. Pilate had repeatedly stated that Jesus was innocent, yet under pressure he let an innocent man be killed to avoid confrontation.
There were six trials in six hours — three were before Jewish leaders, and three before Gentile rulers. Jesus was on the cross for six hours and his death redeemed both of these classes, Jew and Gentile.
An interesting observation for six trials is that six represents imperfection. Mankind is not perfect. Mankind’s redeemer, Jesus, was perfect, and it required this perfect man to provide redemption for sin.
The prophet Isaiah observes, “By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?” (Isaiah 53:8). Isaiah supplies the prophecy of this trial and death of Jesus. He would be cut off from the land of the living, he would be killed. His blood would provide atonement for all. As we partake of the emblems of Memorial, let us reflect upon these last hours when our Redeemer endured indignity, false accusations, illegal trials, and execution. Let us especially remember his admonition, “Do this in remembrance of me.”