Vol. 22 New Series April, 1960 No. 2
Would it be surprising if you were told that the Trial of the Lord by the Jews and Pilate was entirely illegal according to Jewish Law, and utterly lawless in every respect? Both the Hebrew Law and the Roman Law were shamefully broken. Neither the Jewish accusers nor Pilate could discover any real fault in Him, which would make Him worthy of death. In fact, the Trial, if we may call it thus, was the most corrupt in all history. For admitting that He was the. Son of God, this holy and sinless one was accused of blasphemy and put to death. Israel ought to have been the most God-fearing race, but "God's Own People" turned out to be the most wicked and hardened race. They had every opportunity to learn what their Scriptures meant and pointed to, but even the Wise Men from the East knew better than they. Except for a very few humble Israelites, when the Lord came to His own folk, they failed to recognize Him who was God in Human Form.

It was a double Trial that the Lord had to undergo. The Hebrew Law was older than the Roman Law, and it was very careful to see that no person was put to death until the most rigorous steps were taken to prove guilt. Before the Roman conquest of Israel, human life was reckoned by Jews to be very sacred, and they still possessed their executive power. When a prisoner was condemned to death, the chief form of execution was stoning, though occasionally it was drowning, beheading, or strangling. But such a death as crucifixion was never used.

The Hebrew Sanhedrim then consisted of seventy-one members, with an inner body or higher Committee of twenty three. Judea, though a Roman province, was allowed to govern its own theocracy. This Council acted on traditions which it had to respect, as these constituted the body of the Hebrew Law. To a great extent these traditions were man-made and not in line with Scripture.

It seemed that the Sanhedrim was determined to get rid of the Lord altogether. If they found Him guilty of death, He could not lodge an appeal. Therefore they got Him into their clutches through Judas. The majority were most inimical to the Lord, largely due to His fearless and wonderfully wise answers to their childish and silly questions. He had a way of answering questions that no other man ever had. He could silence their questions very quickly and aptly, in an utterly unexpected manner, which baffled them and made them feel very foolish, and also very bitter against Him.

At one point it seemed that the Lord might gain over many of the humbler people in Jerusalem. John 12:12-19 hints at this. The Pharisees even thought that the World had gone away after the Lord. So they had to get rid of Him somehow, or they would lose everything that was worth having.

Therefore they attempted to try the Lord under the Hebrew Law. But the witnesses failed miserably and only contradicted each other. Some of them were clearly liars. No two of them could agree. Thus there could be no capital charge, and Caiaphas and his tribunal were quite aware of this.

Caiaphas then began to question the Lord, and quite against Hebrew Law, he founded upon the answers of the accused One, and then himself formulated a charge which meant death. He had already stated that one man should die so that the whole nation might not perish (John 11:49-51). But now he defies the Law, and began an inquisition of the accused One, in spite of what that Law declared:

To put a question to the accused and base a condemnation on his answer was the last violation of formal Justice. But why not simply defy the Law? The majority is shouting for death. So Caiaphas asks his victim to tell whether He is the Christ, the Son of God. The Lord admits the fact. That was enough. This must be sheer blasphemy. What need have we still of witnesses? What do you think? Now you hear his blasphemy!

The witness of the so-called witnesses was worthless and worse. But the witness of the Lord was accepted—one Witness only. So the mob shouts at Him, "He is liable to death," and they spit into His face and hit Him.

Now note that the Hebrew Law prohibited a trial which took, place by night, and was followed by condemnation, without a postponement into the next day. Capital trials, according to the Mishna rules, must take place only, and finish, in the daytime. Even if there was a condemnation on the first day, the trial must be postponed till the next day.

Here we observe the hurry with which the angry mob rushed matters through. Thus this Hebrew Trial was really sheer lawlessness, pitiless murder, caused by religious fanatics, somehow or other in a great hurry to get the whole matter over. But let us remember that the people of Jerusalem could have mercurial tempers. Not long before the crowds had acclaimed the Lord and given Him a rousing welcome. Was there not a possibility that these crowds might turn upon the Council and rend them for their insane cruelty? So the Sanhedrim must move quickly, and by night or early morning.

The Lord was next led from Caiaphas to the pretorium, in the morning. But the Jews would not enter, in case they were defiled. Strange this is, that they were afraid of defile ment, but not afraid of committing murder.

Pilate now appears, and asks what charge was being brought against the Lord. A very weak and miserable answer was given: "We would not have delivered this man up to you had he been doing no evil." But if that was all the complaint, Pilate said they could take Him and judge Him according to their own Law. But the Jews replied that they were not allowed to kill anyone. Here Pilate was in a very difficult position. He had been unpopular as a Governor. He was inimical to Jewish institutions. Josephus had claimed that he had moved the army from Caesarea to Jerusalem in order to "abolish the Jewish laws." Images were not allowed in Jerusalem, yet he had introduced effigies of Caesar on the ensigns. This had outraged the people, and Pilate had to give way to them. At one time he had robbed the Treasury of the Temple so that a water supply to the City might be paid for. He was unscrupulous, and did not hesitate to shed blood. After he had been in office for ten years he was recalled to Rome, "to answer before the Emperor to the accusations of the Jews," according to Josephus.

Pilate could craftily read the mind of Caiaphas, and Caiaphas could cunningly read Pilate's mind. Pilate knew full well he must not become antagonistic to Caesar, or he would suffer. Caiaphas was aware of this fact, and was cunning enough to get the mob to claim that if Pilate released the Lord, he would not be a friend of the Caesar. Later on the chief priests shouted, "We have no King except Caesar!" This was quite enough to scare Pilate completely. Hitherto he had been inclined to release the Lord. The fact of Mrs. Pilate's warning might easily have disturbed him deeply, but it seems that any opposition to Caesar would have been even worse.

Undoubtedly Caiaphas was more clever than Pilate, and Pilate was the greater coward. But for fear of Caesar, he would very probably have acquitted the Lord. It was that great and haunting fear which totally unnerved and unbalanced him, and caused him to surrender to the mob's murderous desires.

That the mob considered him to be cowardly is proven by the Greek text at Luke 23:21, where we do not have the ordinary Active Voice, but the Middle Voice of the verb, spelt staurou, implying the meaning, "Crucify him for yourself," or "on your own account." The Active Voice form is staurOson, found in Mark and John, meaning simply "Crucify (him)."  This proves that some of the mob said one thing and some said the other thing. Those who cried the shorter Greek word implied that Pilate was a coward, and was not so willing to see the Lord crucified.

There is no doubt that Pilate had some honesty. He did try fairly to determine whether the Lord was innocent or not, and his verdict was clearly that He was quite innocent. It does say something for him that he suggested a man to man talk with the Lord in the privacy of the Palace. Yet it might have been this private talk that made the Jews suspicious of what was going on, and caused them to become more violent in pressing the need for Pilate not to offend the Emperor.

Pilate was clearly much more honest than the members of the Sanhedrim, the whole of whom sought for evidence against the Lord (Mark 14:55 and 15:1). Every member of that body must have been very dishonest and corrupt. Not one of them seemed to perceive that to assault or hurt the lonely prisoner during His trial was a most brutal and lawless thing to do. Then some commenced spitting at the Lord, a most filthy habit. Just picture to yourself what our courts would be like did they permit such lawlessness and cruelty. The entire trial was a complete farce, except that it showed up the extreme wickedness of the infuriated mob.

But there was one magnificent person present that night. He had no form or comeliness or personal beauty that He should be desired or admired. He had been despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Yet it was because of our transgressions that He was wounded, and bruised for our iniquities. Upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with His stripes we are healed. It was upon Him that Jehovah laid the iniquities of us all—yea, the iniquities of all mankind. Though oppressed and afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, He opened not His mouth.

Even Isaiah knew long before that the Lord would only have a mock trial. When the Lord Himself read Isaiah, He must have seen His own picture portrayed therein. So He knew what to expect. He came to know that He must die for mankind. No wonder that He set His face firmly to go up to Jerusalem when the time came near.

Sometimes I wonder whether Plato (born 427 B.C.) had access to the Hebrew Bible. It has been stated that he had a theory that there was one God, and that if that God was indeed good, there was one way wherein He could manifest that goodness to humanity. He must go down to the earth and be born as a human being, and live a life of righteousness and sinlessness, so that humanity would put Him to death because they were evil.

Manifestly, the accounts of the theophanies in the Old Testament must have spread to other nations, as these appearances of Deity were very extraordinary things, and produced great excitement.

Another man who knew that the Lord must die was Caiaphas (John 11:49-52). This had not been his own idea, but it was put into him, seeing that he was Chief Priest for that year. He told the Sanhedrim that "Ye know nothing! neither are reckoning that it is profitable for you that one man die in behalf of the people, and not the whole of the nation perish." Of course this must have fortified his hatred of the Lord, and the revelation of this fact to him, as Chief Priest, must have encouraged his followers and all the Sanhedrim to get rid of the Lord.

"What are we doing?—because this man is doing many signs! If perchance, we let him alone thus,—all will put faith in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation" (Rotherham).

So it was more expedient and profitable that one man should die! It was better to acknowledge Rome than to accept the Lord's teachings.

The Lord's death means as much for you as for anybody else. You cannot obtain the Life of the Ages without having faith in Him. The Life of the Ages is a special salvation which only certain people will obtain. When the Ages are finished, all humanity will live. But we want you to get the Life of the Ages, so that you may never have to stand before the Great White Throne and be judged for your wrongdoings. God is now beseeching all human beings to arrive at a certain standard That standard is most easy to attain to, because it only means that He wishes you to have faith in Him. If you believe God, and believe that Christ has saved you, God will declare you righteous, so that you can never come into condemnation. You will greatly honour God if you believe what He has said and done for you. You could not save yourself, so God sent His only Son to accomplish your salvation.

Just think of Abraham, who had a strong faith in God. He came to be known as "Friend of God." We too ought all to be God's Friends. He spoke to Jehovah face to face. We can do the same in spirit. If we can hear a radio message in our own homes from places very far away, so too surely can God hear all our prayers.

The Lord had a very strong faith in His Father, and we ought to imitate Him in this. Is it so difficult to believe God? Miracles can be wrought by earnest prayer. The Lord went to His death knowing full well that He would be raised up again. If and when we may die, we can have that same strong faith.

A.T. Last updated 9.11.2007