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Jesus's Trial, Part 5. The Laws of Practice that were Violated

“You shall not distort justice…Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”
(Deuteronomy 16:19a, 20)

This is the final of five articles discussing the events and circumstances of Jesus’s religious trial before the Jewish authorities. The purpose of these articles is to highlight the injustices done to Jesus during His religious trials.

This article focuses on fourteen areas of judicial practice and procedure that were detailed in the Torah and/or the Mishnah which Jesus’s judges either violated or loopholed in order to condemn Him.

  1. Bribery

Rule: No arrest or trial could be conducted if a bribe was involved. Religious authorities were forbidden to take or offer a bribe in legal matters. They were not to participate in any part of a legal prosecution that was influenced by a bribe.

Sources: The Law of Moses

“You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just.”
(Exodus 23:8)

The Mishnah

“This [Deuteronomy 16:19] indicates that it is prohibited for a judge to receive anything from the litigants, even if there is no concern at all that justice will be perverted.”
(Ketubot 105a:10)

“This includes bribery by means of money; however, even verbal bribery, assisting by means of speech, is also prohibited.”
(Ketubot 105b:8)

Violation:

“Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and
said, ‘What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?’ And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus.”
(Matthew 26:14-16)

The Sadducees’ acceptance of Judas’s offer and their payment of thirty pieces of silver for him to betray Jesus to them constituted a bribe and delegitimized Jesus’s trial.

Loophole: Later on, after Judas saw that Jesus had been condemned to death, he repented of his betrayal and tried to return the money. When the priests scoffed at him, he threw the silver on the temple sanctuary and ran away.

“The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.’ And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers.”
(Matthew 27:6-7)

The commandment to “not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just” (Exodus 23:8) was both violated and later loopholed. It was initially violated when the scribes bribed Judas. And it was later loopholed, after Judas returned the blood money. The priests meticulously kept it out of the temple treasury specifically because it was an illegal bribe. This loophole allowed the priests who condemned Jesus to claim that they never “took a bribe.” But they did pay one.

Ironically, the priests’ refusal and attempts to redirect the funds by means of this loophole were an act of admission of how they violated the Law of Moses and their own Mishnah, and how they subverted the cause of justice in Jesus’s trial.

2. Illegal Timing (multiple laws)

Four different laws were broken regarding the illegal timing of Jesus’s religious trials.

The First Law that was Broken Regarding the Illegal Timing of Jesus’s Religious Trials.

Rule: No part of a trial involving a capital offense could be conducted at night.

Source: The Mishnah

“In cases of capital law, the court judges during the daytime, and concludes the deliberations and issues the ruling only in the daytime.”
(Sanhedrin 4:1)

Violations: There were two major violations of this law and one way it was loopholed.

a. The first major violation of this law occurred when Jesus was brought to the house of Annas, father-in-law to the High Priest for a preliminary trial (John 18:12-13a; 18:19-23). The religious leaders had already determined to kill Jesus, so this was a trial involving a capital crime. And this trial took place sometime after midnight and a few hours before dawn. Therefore, it should never have occurred according to the Jewish judicial code. The timing of the trial made it illegal.

b. The second major violation of this law occurred when Jesus was transferred to the house of Caiaphas to be put on trial before the Sanhedrin (Matthew 26:57-66; John 18:24). This occurred shortly after His preliminary hearing in the home of Annas (John 18:24) and finished before it was day (Matthew 27:1). This nighttime trial condemned Jesus to death, so it was clearly a case of capital law and was therefore illegal.

Loophole: This law was loopholed by the religious leaders when the Sanhedrin hastily held a sunrise trial that quickly reached the identical verdict through similar methods (Matthew 27:1; Luke 22:66-71).

Apparently, Jesus’s enemies recognized the illegitimacy of the first two trials and held the third trial so they could minimize the scandal and avoid political blowback for their actions. But even if their tactic successfully loopholed the law requiring capital offense trials be held during daytime, Jesus’s sunrise trial before the Sanhedrin failed to meet the timing requirements of at least three other laws. And it did not erase the fact that they had already twice broken this law by conducting the first two trials.

The Second Law that was Broken Regarding the Illegal Timing of Jesus’s Religious Trials.

Rule: There were to be no trials until after the morning sacrifices had been performed.

Source: This rule seems to be derived by combining several sources.

The Law of Moses

“Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two one year old lambs each day, continuously. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight.”
(Exodus 29:38-39)

The Mishnah

“The court judges during the daytime.”
(Sanhedrin 4:1)

Also see the accounts of Tamid 1-4 as they describe the morning sacrifice.

Violations: There were three major infractions against this judicial law.

The first order of priestly business each day was the morning sacrifice. While only a handful of priests were needed in carrying out these sacred rituals, the other orders of daily business, such as trials, were to begin after these sacrifices were performed. This appears to be what is meant by “the court judges during the daytime” (Sanhedrin 4:1). The morning sacrifice was performed at the third hour of the day—9:00 a.m. by modern reckoning.

All three of Jesus’s religious trials were begun and concluded either before or around by sunrise—6:00 a.m.—and well before the morning sacrifice had been offered.

The first two infractions occurred during the night:

a. Jesus’s preliminary trial in the house of Annas was at night (John 18:12-13a; 18:19-23)—it began shortly after His arrest in Gethsemane.

b. Jesus’s trial in the home of Caiaphas, the High Priest was also at night (Matthew 26:57-66; John 18:24)

Both of these first two trials began and ended before the morning sacrifices were offered.

c. Jesus’s third trial also violated this law. As soon as it was day, Jesus was bound and taken to the “Chamber of Hewn Stones” to be officially tried and condemned by the Sanhedrin with Caiaphas presiding (Matthew 27:1; Luke 22:66). It too was wrapped up well before the morning sacrifices had been made. John seems to allude to this when he reports how “it was early” (John 18:28) when they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate. Even though Jesus’s sunrise trial was technically not a “night-time trial” by the barest of margins, it was still illegal because the morning sacrifices had not been offered yet.

Therefore, all three of Jesus’s religious trials were illegally timed, including His official trial before the Sanhedrin that technically began when it was daylight (Matthew 27:1; Luke 22:66).

Even Jesus’s civil trial before Pilate had been concluded before the morning sacrifice was offered. However, it was no divine accident that Jesus was nailed to the cross (at 9:00 a.m). during the hour of morning sacrifice (Mark 15:25), or that He gave up His spirit at the ninth hour (3:00 p.m.) as the twilight lamb was being sacrificed (Exodus 29:39, Mark 15:34). This divine timing powerfully demonstrated that Jesus is our true Passover Lamb (Hebrews 9:26-28).

The Third Law that was Broken Regarding the Illegal Timing of Jesus’s Religious Trials

Rule: Trials could not proceed on the eve of a Sabbath or on a Feast Day.

Source: The Mishnah

“Therefore, since capital cases might continue for two days, the court does not judge cases of capital law on certain days, neither on the eve of Shabbat [Sabbath] nor the eve of a Festival.”
(Sanhedrin 4:1)

Violations: All three of Jesus’s trials took place during the Festival of Unleavened Bread.

a. Jesus’s preliminary trial in the house of Annas (John 18:12-13a; 18:19-23)

b. Jesus’s trial in the home of Caiaphas, the High Priest (Matthew 26:57-66; John 18:24)

c. Jesus’s sunrise trial before the Sanhedrin at the Temple (Matthew 27:1; Luke 22:66)

The Feast of Unleavened Bread was a seven-day festival that began with the night of Passover. Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane hours after celebrating the Passover with His disciples. Before the next sundown Jesus would be in the grave. This means all three of Jesus’s religious trials had been illegally initiated and concluded on the eve of a feast day.

Had Jesus’s accusers followed this law, they would have had to wait a full nine-days before they could try Him because the seven-day feast of Unleavened Bread had just begun. And the day after its conclusion was the eve of a Sabbath. Therefore, they would have had to start His trial the day after the Sabbath. But this would have been a risky thing for them to do, because it could have exposed their conspiracy to kill the Man many regarded as the Messiah. Word could have gotten out that Jesus had been arrested and was awaiting trial. Since the Jewish leaders could not conceive the possibility that Jesus’s claims were true, they expected Him to spread His knowledge that the leaders had conspired with Judas to kill him (which is what they would have done).

As Caiaphas said to the Sanhedrin Council earlier, “it is expedient for you that [Jesus] die” (John 11:49-50). And for their sakes, He had to be killed quickly.

The Fourth Law that was Broken Regarding the Illegal Timing of Jesus’s Religious Trials

Rule: In cases involving capital punishment, an acquittal could be issued the day the trial began, but a guilty verdict could not be issued on the first day of the trial.

Source: The Mishnah

“In cases of capital law, the court may conclude the deliberations and issue the ruling even on that same day to acquit the accused, but must wait until the following day to find him liable.”
(Sanhedrin 4:1)

The purpose of this law seems to have been to give the judges a night to sleep on their verdict and allow more evidence to come to light that might acquit the accused before being sentenced to his death.

Violations: There were two violations of this law.

a. The first violation was at the conclusion of Jesus’s night-time trial in the house of Caiaphas. This trial lasted no more than a couple of hours. It concluded the same day with the Sanhedrin shouting: “He [Jesus] deserves death” (Matthew 26:66).

b. The second violation occurred at the conclusion of Jesus’s sunrise-trial before the Sanhedrin in the Chamber of Hewn Stones. This trial may have been as short as fifteen minutes. It too began and ended on the same day. This trial ended with the Sanhedrin declaring a death sentence (Matthew 27:1)

Jesus’s condemnations in these two trials were illegal because there was no waiting period between his trial and death sentence.

No verdict of death appears to have been reached during Jesus’s preliminary trial, which took place in the house of Annas (John 18:12-13a; 18:19-23). So, His first trial does not seem to violate this law. But His preliminary trial did violate at least three other timing laws regarding when trials were permitted.

  1. Illegal Location

Rule: The Sanhedrin was to minister trials in a public, pre-established location.

Source: The Law of Moses

“Come to the Levitical priest or the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall inquire of them and they will declare to you the verdict in the case. You shall do according to the terms of the verdict which they declare to you from that place which the Lord chooses.
(Deuteronomy 17:9-10a)

The Mishnah

“the Sanhedrin of seventy-one judges that is in the Chamber of Hewn Stone”
(Sanhedrin 11:2)

Violation: There was at least one and possibly two violations of this rule.

In the time of Jesus, the pre-established location for trials involving the Sanhedrin was in a building called, “The Chamber of Hewn Stones.” This chamber was located on the Temple grounds and was a public venue for righteous Jews. The third of Jesus’s three religious trials was located in this building, but not the first two trials.

a. The first possible violation may have been when Jesus was brought to the house of Annas for his preliminary trial (John 18:13, 19-23). The reason this may not have been a technical violation of this law was because it is unclear if a quorum of the Sanhedrin was present to try Jesus. John never indicates whether or not there were less than the twenty-three members required to hold a quorum. Although it seems that Caiaphas the high priest was not present, since they brought Jesus to Caiaphas’ house after He was tried at Annas’s home.

If Caiaphas was present with a quorum of the Sanhedrin in Annas’s house, then Jesus’s preliminary trial was a clear violation of this law. If there was less than a quorum then this trial may not have violated the letter of the law, but it certainly trampled upon the spirit of this rule, because it was held in the dead of night in the home of the Accused’s enemies and not in the public, legally-authorized location.

b. The second infraction violated both the spirit and the letter of this law. Jesus’s second trial was before the sitting High Priest Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin Council, but it took place in Caiaphas’s home (Matthew 26:57, 59; Luke 22:54; John 18:24). Because this trial was not in the proper location—The Chamber of Hewn Stones—this trial was illegitimate.

Loophole:  Jesus’s third religious trial was a way to patch up the violations and loophole the illegality of Jesus’s first two trials.

c. It is likely that one of the reasons the Sanhedrin reconvened in the Hall of Hewn Stones to try Jesus a short while later was because they recognized that the residence of the High Priest was not a legitimate location for a trial. So, they hastily repeated the trial in the rightful location as soon as the sun came up in an attempt to legitimize their injustice in the eyes of the people. But hastily replaying a trial with a predetermined outcome did not make their condemnation legitimate. Neither did it take away the fact that they violated this rule at least once in their prosecution of Jesus. And possibly twice.

 

  1. Lack of a Charge

Rule: Jewish law required trials to present a concrete charge against the accused that can be verified or falsified. The entire trial is based upon whether the defendant is guilty or acquitted of this charge. Without an explicit charge there can be no trial.

Source: The Law of Moses

“If there is found in your midst…a man or a woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, by transgressing His covenant…and if it is told you and you have heard of it, then you shall inquire thoroughly.”
(Deuteronomy 17:2-4)

Violation: There are multiple phases of this violation.

a. First, the Jews arrested Jesus without citing a charge.
(Matthew 26:47-56; John 18:2-12)

b. Next, Annas interrogated Him trying to find something with which to charge Him, but no one in His preliminary trial ever named a law He was accused of breaking.
(John 18:13, 19-24)

c. Then, in the house of Caiaphas (John 18:24; Matthew 26:57) they brought in false witnesses to manufacture a charge against Jesus, but they failed to find any (Mark 14:55-59).

d. Later on, Caiaphas illegally put Jesus under oath to compel Him to say something He could use to twist into a charge (known as Forced Self-Incrimination) (Matthew 26:63).

e. Finally, after Jesus answered him (Matthew 26:64), Caiaphas claimed that Jesus committed the religious crime of blasphemy (Matthew 26:65). Jesus was swiftly condemned without any deliberation as to whether this charge was true (Matthew 26:66; 27:1).

The order of operations was in the wrong sequence for this trial to be legitimate. Before there could be an arrest; before a trial could even begin; there had to be a charge citing which specific law(s) the accused is alleged to have broken. No charge was presented until the end of His second trial. Jesus’s arrest and subsequent trials in the home of Annas and later Caiaphas was a trial in search of a crime. Such a trial is the opposite of justice and the epitome of injustice.

Loophole: At best, Jesus’s third trial was a way to amend this grievous error through a loophole. But even then, it appears that the Sanhedrin violated this rule again when they began by illegally asking Jesus to incriminate Himself through the twisting of His words,

“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.’”
(Luke 22:66-67)

Once again, it appears that the Sanhedrin did not base the trial on a specific charge, but staged events to claim that Jesus committed a “crime” in their presence so they could condemn Him. The trial was a perversion of justice.

5. Lack of Defense

Rule: In cases involving capital crimes, the trial begins with a statement on behalf of the defendant.

Source: The Mishnah

“In cases of capital law, the court opens the deliberations with a claim to acquit the accused, but it does not open the deliberations with a claim to find him liable.”
(Sanhedrin 4:1)

“[Trials] open the deliberations with an appeal to anyone who can find a reason to acquit the accused.”
(Sanhedrin 5:4)

Violation: There were three specific violations of this law and an additional general violation. We will start with the specific violations.

a. Jesus’s preliminary trial in the house of Annas began with Annas interrogating Jesus “about His disciples and His teaching” (John 18:19). It did not begin with someone speaking on His behalf. John also indicates that the purpose of this trial was to put Jesus to death, by reminding his readers that Annas was Caiaphas’s father-in-law (John 18:13) and that “Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people” (John 18:14). Because this was a capital trial, it should have begun with someone speaking in defense of Jesus. It did not begin this way. (Indeed, it could not have begun this way, since there was no crime alleged.) Therefore, it was a violation of this law.

b. Jesus’s second trial in the home of Caiaphas was a trial that resulted in the Sanhedrin unanimously voting for His death (Matthew 26:66). This trial began with a search for false witnesses to accuse Jesus (Matthew 26:59). It did not begin with a claim to acquit the accused. Therefore, it was a violation of this law.

c. Jesus’s sunrise trial before the Sanhedrin in the Hall of Hewn Stones was a lightning fast repeat of the condemnation of Jesus which took place an hour or so before in the home of Caiaphas. It began by putting Jesus on the stand to force Him to testify against Himself, by asking a disingenuous question: “If you are the Christ tell us” (Luke 22:67). Moments later, the Sanhedrin voted for conviction (Matthew 27:1). Because this capital trial did not begin with someone speaking on behalf of Jesus, it was an illegitimate conviction.

d. The general violation of this law is that by beginning with a statement or argument on behalf of the accused’s defense, it presumes that the accused will at the very least have an opportunity to defend himself. (This presumption is reinforced by the law that forbids a unanimous guilty verdict). But in the Gospel accounts, there is no record that Jesus was afforded any opportunity to defend Himself in any of His trials. Neither is there any account of anyone speaking up on His behalf. In fact, Mark records that “all condemned Him to be deserving of death” (Mark 14:64). This means no one defended Jesus, as the law required. The entire procedure was only against Him at every stage of the process.

The defenselessness of Jesus before His accusers was in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah.

“By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation who considered
That He was cut off from the land of the living.”
(Isaiah 53:8a)

Isaiah’s phrase, “who considered,” can also be translated as, “who complained,” or “who spoke up [on His behalf].” No one complained or spoke up in Jesus’s defense when “He was cut off from the land of the living” as the law required someone to do for the trial to be legitimate. Therefore, their condemnation was a farce.

6. Lack of Evidence

Rule: Convictions were based on two or three witnesses whose testimonies were in agreement.

Source: The Law of Moses

“On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.”
(Deuteronomy 17:6)

“A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.”
(Deuteronomy 19:15)

The Mishnah

“At a time when the witnesses contradict one another, their testimony is void.”
(Sanhedrin 5:2)

“And afterward they bring in the second witness and examine him in the same manner. If their statements are found to be congruent the judges then discuss the matter.”
Sanhedrin 29a:2)

Violation: Just as there could be no trial without a charge, there could be no charge without strong evidence that a law had been broken. Strong evidence was essential to a legal trial. In Jewish law, strong evidence consisted of two or more witnesses whose testimonies were in agreement in the facts that demonstrated how the law was transgressed. Any trial that lacked this kind of evidence from two or more witnesses was baseless.

All three of Jesus’s trials lacked the support of this kind of evidence. Therefore, there were three violations of this essential judicial requirement.

a. The first violation of this essential judicial law was at Jesus’s preliminary trial in the house of Annas. This trial lacked witnesses of any kind (John 18:19-24).

It merely consisted of Annas interrogating Jesus rather than summoning witnesses. And as Annas improperly questioned Him, Jesus insisted upon His legal rights under Jewish law and respectfully pointed out how it was incumbent upon Annas and His judges to summon witnesses to speak against Him in order for the trial to be lawful.

“Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.”
(John 18:21)

Annas never produced any witnesses. Instead, one of His officers hit Jesus for observing what was lawful (John 18:22).

b. The second violation of this essential judicial law occurred during Jesus’s second trial in the house of Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57-66; Mark 14:53-63) who attempted to produce (false) witnesses who would testify against Him, but they disqualified themselves because their stories did not agree.

“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.”
(Mark 14:55-56)

Later in this second trial, two witnesses came forward against Jesus whose accounts were similar enough for the court to consider, but even these false witnesses failed to substantiate a violation of the law. Their testimonies centered on the crime of “Blaspheming the Temple.”

One claimed that he heard Jesus say: “I am able to destroy the temple…” (Matthew 26:61). The other claimed he heard Jesus say: “I will destroy the temple…” (Mark 14:58). It seems that the discrepancy between “I can” and “I will” cancelled their testimonies. For the record, Jesus never said either of these things. He said: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).

After these two witnesses disqualified themselves, Caiaphas intervened and illegally forced Jesus to testify against Himself with words that Caiaphas could twist into something with which he could condemn Him (Matthew 26:62-63). After Jesus replied, Caiaphas demonstrably acted as though a crime had just occurred and called on the Sanhedrin to abandon the rule of law.

“Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses?’”
(Matthew 26:65)

Remarkably, the High Priest was calling for the Sanhedrin to ignore the essential judiciary law that required multiple witnesses in capital cases (Deuteronomy 17:6).

In saying this, it appears as though the High Priest and the Sanhedrin were claiming that they themselves were the witnesses to this crime. But Jewish law forbid them from doing this. When Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin acted as witnesses against Jesus as they conducted His trial, they broke two additional laws.

The first additional law that they violated was “a witness cannot become a judge” (Mishnah. Bava Kamma 90b:9). Once they served as a witness they were no longer qualified to be Jesus’s judge. But they did anyway. And they would break this rule again at Jesus’s sunrise trial on the Temple grounds (Luke 22:71)

The second additional law the Sanhedrin violated was that they were disqualified from being Jesus’s witnesses because they had conspired against Him. The Mishnah says: “If one individual from the [original] set of witnesses is found to be a conspiring witness, the entire testimony…is nullified” (Bava Kamma 72b).

In this case, Caiaphas was the original witness (Matthew 26:65) and he had already plotted together with the Sanhedrin as to how he might seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him (Matthew 26:3-4). Because he was a conspirator against Jesus, his testimony against Jesus was null and void. The Sanhedrin would also break this law at Jesus’s sunrise trial because they too were involved in the conspiracy against Jesus (Matthew 26:3-4; Luke 22:71).

Moreover, if a witness is malicious and accused his brother falsely, “then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother” (Deuteronomy 19:16-19). In other words, according to the law, Caiaphas should have been the one put to death, not Jesus.

c. The third violation of this essential judicial law was at Jesus’s sunrise trial in the Chamber of Hewn Stones. This trial lacked witnesses of any kind (Matthew 27:1; Luke 22:66-71).

The sunrise trial was a hasty formality. It did not bother summoning witnesses. It simply attempted to re-stage Jesus’s “crime” of blasphemy and condemn Him to death. Once Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and Son of God, the Sanhedrin said “What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth” (Luke 22:71).

In saying this, the conspiratorial Sanhedrin broke three laws regarding witnesses.

“On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.”
(Deuteronomy 17:6)

“A witness cannot become a judge.”
(Mishnah. Bava Kamma 90b:9)

“If one individual from the [original] set of witnesses is found to be a conspiring witness, the entire testimony…is nullified.”
(Mishnah. Bava Kamma 72b)

Jesus never should have been condemned to death, because no valid evidence was ever brought against Him. By violating these laws, the High Priest and Sanhedrin’s issuing of a death sentence was a gross display of corruption and injustice.

  1. Abuse

Rule: Prisoners were to be treated fairly and humanely by those who judged them.

Source: The Law of Moses

“You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.”
(Leviticus 19:11)

“You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.”
(Leviticus 19:13-14)

“You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the Lord.”
(Leviticus 19:15-16)

“You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”
(Leviticus 19:17-18)

When it came to keeping God’s commandments, the Law of Moses held judges (Exodus 18:21) and priests (Leviticus 10:3; 22:9) to a higher standard. Among the commands regarding the treatment of others that Israel (and its judges) were commanded to follow included:

  • Not dealing falsely with other people (Leviticus (19:11)
  • Not oppressing your neighbor (Leviticus 19:13)
  • Not hurting the weak (which includes those in your custody) (Leviticus 19:14)
  • Not hating your fellow countryman in your heart (Leviticus 19:17)
  • Not taking vengeance upon the sons of your people (Leviticus 19:18a)
  • Not holding a grudge against the sons of your people (Leviticus 19:18b)
  • Not being unfair (Leviticus 19:35-36)

All these negative (“do not”) commands are summed up in the positive (“do”) command to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18c).

And any punishment that was to be issued out from the judges had to be in direct relation and proportion to the crime. Any additional punishment was considered to be excessive and was forbidden. This principle was derived from Moses’s command:

“If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him…There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the Lord your God.”
(Exodus 19:19-20, 22)

Violation: Jesus’s judges repeatedly abused Him both physically and psychologically while He was in their custody, and even on the cross (after He was out of their charge—Matthew 27:41-43). We will cite the various infractions of the priests and Pharisees’ cruel and inhumane treatment of Jesus during their religious prosecution of Him.

a. The first recorded instance of the priests and Pharisees’ abuse of Jesus was when He was struck for asking Annas to bring forth witnesses against Him as was lawfully required for a proper trial,

“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?’”
(John 18:22-23)

This first infraction took place in the house of Annas, during Jesus’s preliminary trial.

b. The second record of the priests and Pharisees’ abuse of Jesus appears to be a wave of infractions. This wave of abuse appears to have begun as soon as He was condemned in the house of Caiaphas. and continued as He was held in custody awaiting His sunrise trial before the Sanhedrin in the Chamber of Hewn Stones,

“Then they spat in His face and beat Him with their fists; and others slapped Him, and said, ‘Prophesy to us, You Christ; who is the one who hit You?’”
(Matthew 26:67-68)

“Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, ‘Prophesy!’”
(Mark 14:65-66a)

Notice how Matthew says Jesus was beaten with “fists” while “others slapped Him.” This indicates that Jesus was punched with fists which bruise and inflict longer lasting physical pain, and He was slapped with open palms, which sharply stings but is intended to be a sign of disrespect and insult. Matthew and Mark both comment on how He was spit on—including the face. This is an extreme sign of disrespect and is gross treatment of someone who is reviled. It is no way to treat a person made in God’s image and is a violation of the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39).

c. The third record of Jesus being abused during His religious prosecution was another wave of infractions. This wave of abuse was done by the officers who held Him in custody awaiting His sunrise trial before the Sanhedrin in the Chamber of Hewn Stones,

“And the officers received Him with slaps in the face.”
(Mark 14:66b)

“Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking Him and beating Him, and they blindfolded Him and were asking Him, saying, ‘Prophesy, who is the one who hit You?’ And they were saying many other things against Him, blaspheming.”
(Luke 22:63-65)

The Temple officers appear to have been following the inhumane example of the priests when Jesus was temporarily placed in their custody.

During this abuse, Jesus did not fight back. In obedience to God’s will for Him to die (John 18:11), rather than retaliate, Jesus submitted to God’s will and turned the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would suffer in silence:

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth.”
(Isaiah 53:7a)

Isaiah’s prophecies about the Messiah offer further insight into the way the religious authorities abused Jesus,

“The Lord God has opened My ear;
And I was not disobedient
Nor did I turn back.
I gave My back to those who strike Me,
And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard;
I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting.”
(Isaiah 50:5-6)

The Sadducees, Pharisees, and officers’ treatment of Jesus had nothing to do with justice. They abused Him in anger and for their own amusement. They acted out of hatred. And it was in direct violation of God’s commands for how people are to be treated (Leviticus 19:11-18). There is nothing in the Law of Moses (or anywhere else in scripture) which exempts judges and priests from obeying these commands when a sinner or condemned man is in their custody. Regardless of whether or not Jesus was guilty or justly condemned (He was innocent and unjustly condemned), the actions of these priests, elders, and officers were inadmissible and inexcusable. And they were in violation of God’s laws.

  1. False Witnesses

Rule: Witnesses were to only testify to what was true.

Source: The Law of Moses

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
(Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20)

“You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.”
(Exodus 23:1)

“If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days. The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.”
(Deuteronomy 19:16-19)

The Mishnah

“If one individual from the [original] set of witnesses is found to be a conspiring witness, the entire testimony…is nullified.”
(Bava Kamma 72b)

“Rabbi Meir holds that [false witnesses] are flogged with eighty lashes, one set of lashes due to violation of the prohibition: ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor’ (Exodus 20:13), and one set of lashes due to the verse: ‘And you shall do to him as he conspired’ (Deuteronomy 19:19).
(Makkot 4b:10)

Violation: “Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward.”
(Matthew 26:59-60)

“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.”
(Mark 14:55-57a)

It appears that the majority of, if not all, the violations of the laws pertaining to false testimony occurred during Jesus’s nighttime trial in the house of Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57-66; Mark 14:53-64). Three laws in this area seem to have been broken. These will be detailed shortly, but first a brief word about what it means to bear false witness and why bearing false witness was so harmful.

Bearing false witness consisted of speaking what you know to be untrue for the purpose of bringing about your neighbor’s harm. The ninth commandment forbids this act (Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20). To bear false witness was to break the Ten Commandments God gave to Moses.

Because Jewish trials required evidence on the basis of two witnesses, honest testimony was vital not only to the particular case, but to the rule of law, and therefore society at large. This is why severe penalties were put in place to deter the temptation of bearing false witness (Deuteronomy 19:16-19; Mishnah. Makkot 4b:10).

As a way to protect the sanctity of the trial and to ensure justice to the accused, the Mishnah cancelled the entire testimony against the accused if one individual from the original set of witnesses was found to be false (Mishnah. Bava Kamma 72b).

a. The first law that the priests violated during Jesus’s nighttime trial in the house of Caiaphas was “do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness” (Exodus 23:1b).

The Sanhedrin broke this law when they “kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus” (Matthew 26:59a). The reason they did this was “so that they might put Him to death” (Matthew 26:59b).

In a perversion of justice, when their trial began, they already had a predetermined verdict and sentence—to condemn Jesus to death. But they lacked a charge to bring against Him. And neither did they have any evidence that Jesus did anything with which to charge Him. Again, none of them expected or were prepared for the trial to occur the night of Passover. But they had to act swiftly once Judas told them that Jesus was aware of His betrayal which jeopardized their plot. If their conspiracy came to light it would be dangerous for them. Therefore, they manufactured evidence against Jesus by means of joining hands with false witnesses so they could put Him to death.

But the Gospels tell us that even though they broke this law, it did not yield the sinister result they sought because the false testimonies were inconsistent (Mark 14:56b).

b. The second law that they broke regarding false witnesses was bearing false witness against Jesus (Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20).

Not only did they try to partner with false witnesses, they themselves bore false witness. There were “many” violations of this law; because “many were giving false testimony against Him” (Mark 14:56a). One example of their false testimonies were the two witnesses who falsely claimed that Jesus said He could (Matthew 26:61) or would (Mark 14:58) destroy the temple. Jesus never said either of these things. He said He would raise the temple (John 2:19-21).

Mark points out that even though they were bearing false witness against Him and breaking the ninth commandment, their slanderous testimony was useless, because “not even in this respect was their testimony consistent” (Mark 14:59).

c. The third command they broke regarding false witnesses was not punishing the false witnesses and disregarding their lies as if they had done no wrong, “If the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother” (Deuteronomy 19:18b-19a).

Far from punishing these false witnesses, the Sanhedrin encouraged them to come forth. Had the Sanhedrin acted properly according to the law, they would have condemned many to death, because that was what the false witnesses were hoping would happen to Jesus as a result of their malicious lies. But as we have seen throughout this entire article evaluating the religious prosecution of Jesus, what was proper, legal, and just had nothing to do with these trials.

  1. Improper Prosecution (multiple laws)

In a general sense many, if not most, of the violation of laws that are described in this article should have stopped the religious prosecution of Jesus from happening. But here are two more laws that specifically violated how the prosecution was to conduct its affairs justly. They are:

  • A judge could not act as an advocate in a case he is deciding.
  • A judge could not act as a witness in a case he is deciding.

The First Law that was Broken Specifically Regarding the Prosecution of Jesus

This rule was previously mentioned as one example of how Jesus’s judges were not neutral or impartial to His case, but were prohibitively biased against Him.

 

Rule: A judge could not act as an advocate for or against the defendant.

Source: The Mishnah

 “Do not [as a judge] play the part of an advocate.”
(Pirkei Avot 1:8).

Violation: There were three violations of this law.

a. The first two violation occurred during Jesus’s nighttime trial in the house of Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57-66; Mark 14:53-64). The first violation was when Caiaphas, the presiding judge, intervened and advocated against Jesus,

“The high priest stood up and said to Him, ‘Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?’ But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, ‘I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.’”
(Matthew 26:62-63)

When Caiaphas addressed Jesus this way, he was acting as a prosecutor and not as a neutral judge.

b. But Caiaphas’s response to Jesus’s affirmation was an even worse violation of this law,

“Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?’”
(Matthew 26:65-66a)

The High Priest’s actions, statement, and questions were all prosecutorial. In doing and saying these things, Caiaphas was litigating against Jesus. A judge was not to initiate the charges. A judge was to decide if the charges were true.

By charging Jesus with Blasphemy, Caiaphas was not obeying the law by acting as an impartial judge. According to the Mishnah, Caiaphas’s hostile actions advocating against Jesus should have disqualified him from being His judge: “Do not [as a judge] play the part of an advocate” (Mishnah. Pirkei Avot 1:8).

c. The third violation occurred during Jesus’s sunrise trial in the Chamber of Hewn Stones (Luke 22:66-71) when the Sanhedrin, Jesus’s judges, repeated Caiaphas’s malpractice and advocated against Him,

“both chief priests and scribes…led Him away to their council chamber, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, tell us.’”
(Luke 22:66b-67a)

Likewise, when the Sanhedrin addressed Jesus in this manner, they were acting as prosecutors and not as impartial judges. According to the Mishnah, the Sanhedrin’s advocacy against Jesus should have disqualified them as being judges (Mishnah. Pirkei Avot 1:8).

By interrogating Jesus as a prosecutor, initiating the charges against Him, and calling for others to condemn Him, Jesus’s judges broke the law forbidding judges from advocating in the cases they heard. When Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin broke this rule, they rendered their ruling ineligible.

The Second Law that was Broken Specifically Regarding the Prosecution of Jesus

Just as the Mishnah forbid a judge from advocating for one side or the other, it also forbids a judge from even serving as a witness.

Rule: A judge could not act as a witness in a case he is deciding.

Source: The Mishnah

“a witness cannot become a judge.”
(Bava Kamma 90b:9).

Violation: There were three recorded violations of this law.

a. The first two recorded violations of this law was in the nighttime trial of Jesus in the house of Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57-66; Mark 14:53-64). The High priest broke this law when Caiaphas claimed to have witnessed Jesus committing a crime that he was about to condemn Him for committing,

“He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?”
(Matthew 26:65b-66a).

As a judge, Caiaphas could not initiate a charge, he could not advocate for a side, and he could not serve as a witness, but by making these two statements and raising these two questions the High Priest was acting as an accuser, witness, and judge.

b. The second violation of this law occurred when the Sanhedrin responded to Caiaphas’s persuasion, “They answered, ‘He deserves death!’” (Matthew 26:66b).

By responding as they did, they claimed to be witness to Jesus’s alleged act of blasphemy and then judged Him for it. The law allowed the Sanhedrin to do one or the other, but not both (witness and judge).

c. The third recorded violation of this law occurred in Jesus’s sunrise trial in the Chamber of Hewn Stones (Matthew 27:1; Luke 22:66-71). In their expediting of Jesus’s sentence the Sanhedrin again acted as both witness to Jesus’s “crime” and as His judge,

“Then they said, ‘What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.’”
(Luke 22:71)

“All the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus to put Him to death.”
(Matthew 27:1b)

d. It is possible that there were additional violations of this law that were not specifically recorded as the priests and elders brought forth false witnesses to testify against Jesus during the nighttime trial in the house of Caiaphas,

“Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death.”
(Matthew 26:59)

The Bible never specifically identifies these false witnesses as members of the Sanhedrin. But it is reasonable to speculate that they were. The plot to kill Jesus was a conspiracy, and the priests and elders would not be inclined to bring in outsiders to their ranks that could expose their wickedness. Also, the fact that Jesus’s trial was in the middle of the night and was urgently and unexpectedly called for after Jesus identified Judas as His betrayer, meant that the choice for witnesses was severely limited. Finally, when we add to these factors that no one seemed to have any qualms about repeatedly violating this law later in the trial, all suggests that there may have been additional violations of it as the false witnesses came forth.

Jesus’s prosecution was tainted. It specifically violated no less than two Mishnah laws forbidding judges from advocating against Jesus during His trials and from serving as witnesses in His trial. They repeatedly crossed these lines which made their condemnation of Him unjust and unlawful.

 

10. Forced Self-Incrimination

Rule: It was unlawful to use a defendant’s testimony about himself.

Source: The Mishnah

“…anyone who is related to him [the defendant] at the time of the trial [is not allowed to serve as a witness].
(Sanhedrin 3:4)

“A person is his own relative. Consequently, he may not testify about himself, just as the testimony of any relative is disqualified. And furthermore, a person does not make himself wicked. His testimony with regard to his own actions is inadmissible because he is his own relative.”
(Yevamot 25b:2)

Violation: There were no less than six violations of this law during Jesus’s religious trials.

This law is similar to the defendant’s right to remain silent in the court of law that is protected by the fifth amendment in the United States’ Constitution, only the Jewish law is stronger. The fifth amendment allows a defendant to go on record at his own peril, if he thinks it could be to his advantage. But the Mishnah rejects the very possibility of a defendant testifying about himself— whether for or against—in all cases.

a. The first violation of this law occurred at Jesus’s preliminary trial in the home of Annas, when the former high priest questioned Jesus about His disciples and His teaching (John 18:19).

Because Annas had nothing with which to charge Jesus and no evidence or witnesses on hand to accuse Him of anything, the ex-high priest interrogated Jesus in an attempt to get Him to say something that could be used to incriminate Him. This was not a legally available tactic. Jesus exercised His rights and did not answer Annas’s questions. He simply responded by saying that the law required His prosecutors to produce witnesses (John 18:20-21).

Annas’s malicious and inappropriate tactic failed. But even if Jesus did answer as Annas hoped He would, nothing in Jesus’s testimony about Himself would have been considered legally valid according to the Mishnah because “[a defendant’s] testimony with regard to his own actions is inadmissible because he is his own relative” (Yevamot 25b:2). Annas, the ex-high priest, broke the law when he tried to trick Jesus into incriminating Himself.

b. The second violation of this law occurred at Jesus’s nighttime trial in the home of Caiaphas, when the high priest bid Jesus to address the conflicting and therefore invalid accusations of the false witnesses,

“The high priest stood up and said to Him, ‘Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?’”
(Matthew 26:62; also see Mark 14:60)

Jesus again exercised His rights and remained silent (Matthew 26:63a; Mark 14:61).

Caiaphas’s harassing questions were just as out of line as Annas’s were. A judge was not to call upon a defendant to testify against himself. And even if a defendant did testify about himself, his testimony was inadmissible according to the Mishnah, “A person is his own relative. Consequently, he may not testify about himself” (Mishnah. Yevamot 25b:2).

c. The third violation of this law occurred at Jesus’s nighttime trial in the home of Caiaphas, when the high priest put Jesus under oath to testify whether He was the Christ and the Son of God,

“And the high priest said to Him, ‘I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.’”
(Matthew 26:63; also see Mark 14:61).

The phrase “I adjure You” (Matthew 26:63) is a way a plaintiff can put someone under oath. It legally enforced their cooperation in providing testimony. (See Mishnah. Shevout 4:13). Caiaphas had just forced Jesus to testify about Himself. In attempt to add weight to the oath Caiaphas was putting Jesus under, he invoked “the living God”—the highest being in the Universe. Ironically, Caiaphas was calling upon Jesus to speak according to His own name.

Adding an oath and invoking the name of God did not make Caiaphas’s interrogation any more legal. But it did lawfully compel Jesus to speak. Caiaphas’s demand was the second time he personally broke this law and the third time a high priest or former high priest of Israel had done so in their prosecution of Jesus.

d. The fourth violation of the law barring a witness from testifying about himself occurred just after Jesus answered Caiaphas’s question while He was under oath. Jesus clearly and emphatically affirmed that He was the Son of God and the Messiah,

“Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.’”
(Matthew 26:64; see also Mark 14:62)

Even though Jesus’s testimony was true, the priests did not investigate these claims and they promptly condemned Him to death,

“‘You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?’ And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.”
(Mark 14:64; see also Matthew 26:66)

It was illegal for them to use Jesus’s testimony against Him in the court of law, “A person does not make himself wicked” (Mishnah. Yevamot 25b:2). This legal line simply means that a person’s testimony cannot be used to prove his guilt. Yet this is the only thing that the Sanhedrin had to condemn Jesus. And they unlawfully used His testimony against Him. Caiaphas had illegally compelled Jesus to testify about Himself, and then he twisted His words into a crime. The Sanhedrin joined in the law breaking and unjustly condemned Jesus on account of His own testimony.

e. The fifth and sixth violations of this law forbidding a trial from considering a defendant’s testimony about himself happened during Jesus’s sunrise trial. They were almost an exact repeat of the third and fourth violations.

The Sanhedrin prosecutors illegally bid Jesus to testify in an attempt to recreate the “crime” of Blasphemy,

“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.’”
(Luke 22:66-67)

After Jesus answered, they illegally used His response to incriminate Himself.

“Then they said, ‘What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.’”
(Luke 22:71)

At no point during His religious prosecution should Jesus have been asked or compelled by oath to testify. Jewish law expressly forbade this. It also expressly said that His testimony about Himself was invalid in the court of law (Mishnah. Yevamot 25b:2). And yet this law was violated no less than six times during His three religious trials. And His lawfully ineligible testimony was the only shred of evidence that they used to condemn Him to death. Moreover, they never considered the validity of His words, and were only interested in maliciously using them against Him.

  1. Blasphemy

Rule: It was blasphemous for the High Priest to tear his holy garments.

Source: The Law of Moses

The High Priest’s robes were considered “holy.”
(Exodus 39)

“The priest who is the highest among his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil has been poured and who has been consecrated to wear the garments, shall not uncover his head nor tear his clothes.”
(Leviticus 21:10)

Violation:
“Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy.’”
(Matthew 26:65; also see Mark 14:63)

The tearing of garments was a sign of powerful emotions such as grief, mourning, and terrible lament. Relatives would tear the clothes they wore upon learning of a loved one’s death. But the high priests were forbidden to tear their robes (Leviticus 21:10b). The high priest’s robes were considered holy as the Temple was considered holy (Exodus 39:41).

For what it is worth, the Mishnah, however, seems to modify the Law of Moses; it allows the High Priest to rend “his garments from below when he is mourning” (Mishnah. Horayot 3:5). But the Bible does not seem to grant any allowance for the High Priest to tear his robes.

Caiaphas tore his clothes upon hearing Jesus’s response after the High Priest had put Him under oath: “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63).

Jesus replied: “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).

As such, the High Priest priest’s action was completely out of line and blasphemous.

The Law of Moses expressly forbids the High Priest from tearing his clothes, even when mourning the loss of a close relative. The instant Caiaphas tore his robes, he violated this commandment.

As the highest official, it was Caiaphas’s role to ensure that the trial maintained the prescribed manner of order and decorum and that its decisions were based upon rational and just deliberations. By tearing his robes, he was making a rash appeal of raw emotion.

The High Priest’s robes were holy as the Tabernacle/Temple was holy (Exodus 39:41). Caiaphas’s rending of these holy robes made him guilty of breaking a capital law no less sacred than the one with which he had been previously trying to condemn Jesus—blaspheming the Temple (Mark 14:57-58). There are layers of irony to this act. It is ironic that the judge is guilty of the crime he condemns. It is also ironic that in order to condemn Jesus of blasphemy, the High Priest committed an act of blasphemy to whip up the Sanhedrin to vote against Him.

Finally, because tearing one’s clothes or robes was a sign of overwhelming grief, Caiaphas was signaling how offended and distraught he was over Jesus’s supposed act of blasphemy. In reality, Caiaphas was most likely delighted that Jesus spoke as He did, because Caiaphas finally felt that he had something concrete that he could use to condemn Him to death. In other words, Caiaphas’s tearing of his robes was not likely a genuine act of grief. But rather, it was a theatrical display of fake outrage designed to condemn an innocent Man. If this was the case, the High Priest was the chief hypocrite.

  1. Ignoring the Evidence

Rule: Judges were to carefully consider the evidence of both sides before rendering a just decision.

Source: The Law of Moses

“Then I charged your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike.’”
Deuteronomy 1:16-17)

The Mishnah

“A Sanhedrin of twenty-three [judges] was arranged in the same layout as half of a circular threshing floor, in order that all the judges will see one another and the witnesses. And two judges’ scribes stand before the court, one on the right and one on the left and they write the statements of those who find the accused liable and the statements of those who acquit the accused.”
(Sanhedrin 4:3)

Violation: If we consider the stages of the conspiracy and Jesus’s arrest, there were many violations of this law, as the Pharisees and Sadducees in their hatred of Jesus chose to willfully disbelieve the authenticity and virtue of His miracles, rather than accept the undeniable wonders they and others witnessed. For our present purposes we will only consider the two primary violations of His religious trials.

Judges were to listen to and weigh all the evidence—both for and against—in the cases that were brought before their court. No one was above or beneath the dignity of the law. Everyone’s case and side was to be carefully considered and heard. According to the Mishnah, the judges of the Sanhedrin were to be seated so that they could both see and hear each side easily (Sanhedrin 4:3). Two scribes were to write down everything that was said for the prosecution and the defense. Fairness to each side was so prioritized that one scribe sat next to the prosecution to clearly hear their case, and one scribe sat near the defense to clearly hear their case (Mishnah. Sanhedrin 4:3). Again, all of these measures were put in place because all the evidence was to be considered in order for the verdict to be just.

During His trials, Jesus’s judges never seemed to take into account any evidence that Jesus might actually be the Messiah. They could have done this at any point in the trial, but two critical moments stand out.

a. The first moment that stands out when the priests ignored the evidence of Jesus’s claims and violated these laws of justice occurred just after Jesus answered Caiaphas’s charge: “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63).”

Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

As soon as Jesus answered the High Priest’s question, Caiaphas broke several laws, including neutrality, blasphemy, and calling upon the Sanhedrin to condemn by illegally using His words against Him,

“Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?’”
(Matthew 26:65-66a)

But notice how among the laws that Caiaphas violated in this instant, one is that he ignored any evidence that Jesus actually was who He claimed to be—the Messiah and Son of God.

What was the evidence to back up Jesus’s bold and potentially blasphemous claims?

It included:

  • His virtue in regard to the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:17)
  • His numerous signs and miracles (John 5:36)
  • His fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies (John 5:39)

It was anathema for Caiaphas or the Sanhedrin to consider this possibility. In their pride, they had blinded themselves to this truth. And God, in His wrath, may have given them over to their blindness because of the hardness of their hearts (Romans 1:18).

The Sanhedrin responded to Caiaphas’s accusation: “He deserves death!” (Matthew 26:66b).

Because of their hatred against Jesus and their haste to kill Him, they did not even consider His claims to be worth investigating before condemning Him to death.

b. The second moment that stands out when the priests ignored the evidence of Jesus’s claims and violated their laws demanding an evaluation of the evidence took place in the sunrise trial before the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71). This violation was strikingly similar to the first,

“And they all said, ‘Are You the Son of God, then? And He said to them, ‘Yes, I am.’ Then they said, ‘What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.’”
(Luke 22:70-71).

Once again, the Sanhedrin violated their laws of justice by completely disregarding the evidence because of their hatred of Jesus.

Caiaphas’s and the Sanhedrin’s malicious refusal to even acknowledge the possibility of evidence supporting Jesus’s claim is the definition of malpractice. Jesus’s judges only considered one side of the case—theirs. Therefore, His trials and condemnation were fraudulent and unjust.

13. Faulty Verdict

The verdicts rendered at Jesus’s trials were illegitimate because they violated numerous laws.

Many of these laws have already been detailed and we need only mention them here.

The previously mentioned laws that were violated that delegitimized the verdict at Jesus’s trials include:

  • The trial was based on a conspiracy. The whole prosecution was part of a secret plot to kill Jesus. Therefore, it was illegal from the very outset and whatever conclusions it drew were to be rejected.
  • None of Jesus’s judges were neutral. All of them held deep animosity against Jesus which disqualified them from overseeing His case. Moreover, His judges blatantly acted as His accusers and testified against Him, which violated the law. And they abused Him throughout the trial further demonstrating that they were unfit to be His judge. Thus, their verdict was unsound.
  • The trials were rigged from the start to achieve a predetermined outcome. The very purpose of the trial was murder. Many laws were violated to achieve their deadly goal. Because the rule of law was methodically set aside, truth was flagrantly ignored, and justice was deliberately discarded, the resulting verdict should be overruled as well.
  • The fact that the trials were based upon a bribe rendered the entire prosecution against Jesus as fraudulent and invalid.
  • The timing of Jesus’s trials—at night, before the morning sacrifice, during a festival, and the fact that the verdicts were rendered on the same day as the trials each nullified the legality of the Sanhedrin’s decision to condemn Him.
  • The location for Jesus’s first two trials were illegitimate.
  • His accusers lacked a charge with which to try Jesus when they began the trial.
  • Jesus had no one to defend Him as was required by the law.
  • His accusers lacked any evidence against Jesus when they began the trial.
  • The court maliciously sought false witnesses, who proved themselves to be false in the hearings; this should have automatically acquitted Jesus. The priests condemned Him anyway.
  • The courts illegally forced Jesus to testify about Himself and then illegally used His testimony as the sole basis to condemn Him.
  • Ignoring the evidence that Jesus might be who He said He was.
  • The High Priest blasphemed by tearing his garments, making the verdict based on emotion and not rational deliberation of the case.

To this list we add two more laws broken that specifically should have disqualified the verdict:

  • The verdict was to be taken one vote at a time, starting with the youngest member.
  • The verdict was unanimous which should have resulted in an automatic acquittal.

The First Law that was Broken during the Prosecution of Jesus Regarding the Verdict Itself

Rule: The verdict was to be taken one vote at a time, starting with the youngest member.

Source: The Mishnah

“In cases of capital law, the judges commence issuing their opinions from the side, where the least significant judges sit.”
(Sanhedrin 4:2)

Violation: It appears that there were two violations of this law.

a. The first violation of this law was during Jesus’s nighttime trial in the house of Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57-66; Mark 14:53-64).

As soon as Jesus confessed that He was the Son of God and Messiah, Caiaphas seized upon the emotion of the court. In an exterior show of outrage, the High Priest tore his robes, and said: “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?” (Matthew 26:65-66a).

With one voice the Sanhedrin made their reply: “He deserves death!” (Matthew 26:66b).

Their verdict was invalid because it was not properly taken. When Caiaphas asked for and received the Sanhedrin’s verdict in this manner, he broke the law which deliberately required a slow process of taking the vote one at a time, beginning “where the least significant judges sit” (Mishnah. Sanhedrin 4:2).

The reason for this was to carefully collect each vote for life or death, and to ensure that the least significant judges were not swayed in their voting by the prestige of the more significant judges. However, in this trial, Caiaphas, the most significant judge declared Jesus guilty first, and then asked the Sanhedrin to confirm it in a passionate shout. Jesus was not given a proper vote, therefore this decision against Him should not have stood.

b. The second violation of this law was during Jesus’s sunrise trial in the Chamber of Hewn Stones (Matthew 27:1; Luke 22:66-71).

Once again, after the Sanhedrin illegally forced Jesus to testify against Himself, they disregarded their laws and said: “What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth” (Luke 22:71).

Then they “all…conferred together against Jesus to put Him to death”
(Matthew 27:1).

Their conferring together, instead of taking each count individually, expedited Jesus’s trial—and the Sanhedrin was under great pressure to wrap things up quickly—but it was also an illegitimate way to take the vote in a capital case. The emotional, noisy, and hurried manner in which Jesus’s final verdict was taken violated the court’s legal protocol, undermined the rule of law, and invalidated its decision.

The Second Law that was Broken during the Prosecution of Jesus Regarding the Verdict Itself

Rule: A unanimous guilty verdict in capital trials results in an automatic acquittal.

Source: The Mishnah

“In cases of capital law, all those present at the trial may teach a reason to acquit the accused, but not all present may teach a reason to find him liable.”
(Sanhedrin 4:1)

Violation: It appears that there were two violations of this law.

a. The first violation was during Jesus’s nighttime trial in the house of Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57– 66; Mark 14:53–64).

“And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.”
(Mark 14:64b)

b. The second violation took place when the Sanhedrin condemned Jesus during the sunrise trial in the Chamber of Hewn Stones (Matthew 27:1; Luke 22:66-71).

“Now when morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus to put Him to death.”
(Matthew 27:1)

In both of the final two trials of Jesus’s prosecution, the verdicts were unanimous.

The “all” to whom Matthew and Mark are referring in their accounts is “all of the Sanhedrin members who were present,” and not the entire Sanhedrin. We know this because Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin Council (Luke 23:50) and we know he “had not consented to their plan and action” (Luke 23:51). Nicodemus, the Pharisee who first came to Jesus at night was also on the Sanhedrin (John 3:1; 7:50), and therefore was likely not present when “all” the Sanhedrin voted to condemn Him.

Unlike many Western courts of our modern day, a unanimous verdict was not required in Jewish criminal law. In cases where the penalty of death hung over the accused, a unanimous verdict was expressly forbidden by the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:1). The reason for this was because of the observation that Jewish scholars enjoy arguing; it was unthinkable for twenty-three or more members of the Sanhedrin to agree upon any issue unless there was a plot. In other words, a unanimous vote for guilty indicated a conspiracy, and therefore was invalid.

The verdict against Jesus in the house of Caiaphas was unanimous. Mark reports that “all” voted to condemn Him to death (Mark 14:64b). It was unanimous again at His sunrise trial on the Temple grounds. Matthew says “all the chief priests and elders of the people” conferred to His sentence (Matthew 27:1). Either of these outcomes should have resulted in Jesus’s automatic acquittal. Moreover, they were a tell-tale sign that a conspiracy was involved. Which they were (Matthew 26:3-4). The unanimous guilty verdicts against Jesus were untenable according to the Jews’ own legal standards. Yet these invalid verdicts were accepted in order to execute Jesus.

  1. Hasty Sentence

Rule: In capital trials, a death sentence was to be delivered the day after finding the defendant guilty.

Source: The Mishnah

“In cases of capital law, the court may conclude the deliberations and issue the ruling even on that same day to acquit the accused, but must wait until the following day to find him liable.”
(Sanhedrin 4:1)

“But if a majority does not find it fit to acquit him, they delay his verdict to the following day, and they then assign pairs of judges to discuss the matter with each other.”
(Sanhedrin 5:5)

Violation: “Now when morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus to put Him to death; and they bound Him, and led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate the governor [to be crucified].”
(Matthew 27:1-2)

There was to be a day’s delay in the conviction and passing of sentence in capital cases. This was to give the judges time to reconsider their decision before the irreversible execution.

In the prosecution of Jesus, it appears that no delay was suggested, much less granted as the law required. Haste was the necessity of the hour. The Sanhedrin desired to have Jesus killed as quickly as possible, lest news of their illegal and treacherous conspiracy reach the ears of the multitudes who were beginning to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. If that happened, the priests would become the scandal of Jerusalem and would be removed from power by either Rome or the people. Therefore, they were highly motivated to break this law. And break it, they did.

During Jesus’s nighttime trial in the house of Caiaphas, the verdict and sentence were condensed into a single cry: “He deserves death!” (Matthew 26:66). A few hours later, Jesus was officially condemned and handed over for execution without the necessary delay for justice (Matthew 27:1-2). Therefore, Jesus’s sentence was unjustly hurried.

CONCLUSION

The core occupation of a judge is to wisely use his authority to uphold the law and meticulously follow judicial protocols to ensure that justice is rendered. Failure to adhere to the rule of law thwarts justice and promotes injustice and chaos.

Deuteronomy 16:18a, 20 beautifully enshrines the sacred role of a judge as “You shall not distort justice…Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue.” It then goes on to explain the importance of judges pursing justice only, “That you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 16:20b).

Rabbi Gamaliel, who is described in the Bible as “teacher of the Law, respected by all the people” (Acts 5:34) affirms the sanctify of justice in the Mishnah when he “used to say: on three things does the world stand: On justice, on truth and on peace, as it is said: [in Zechariah 8:16] ‘execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates’” (Mishnah: Pirkei Avot 1:18).

What the Sanhedrin did to Jesus was the exact opposite of justice, truth, or peace. They hated Jesus and were solely interested in executing Him as quickly as possible, even though it meant violating many of God’s laws and their own laws repeatedly. Throughout their prosecution, they broke laws of purpose and laws of practice to achieve their corrupt goal. Their tribunals against Jesus were a farce and a wanton display of lawlessness, disorder, emotional outbursts, and animosity.

The sum of their actions reveal that their prosecution violated an additional commandment handed down through Moses and inscribed on the Ten Commandments:

“You shall not murder.”
(Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17)

The High Priests, the Sadducees, and the Pharisees all colluded to abuse their authority and the system of justice into a weapon with which to murder the Messiah.

Of all the laws Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin broke, this was perhaps the worst. They literally murdered God and their Messiah. And yet, out of this great evil, God has brought about our greatest good, for our salvation and righteousness was made possible by His unjust death (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 3:18).

For further reading about Jesus’s Trial:

The first article is: “A Simple List of Laws the Religious Authorities Broke during the Trial of Jesus.”  This first article is a simplified version of articles four and five. Instead of describing each law in detail and explaining how it was violated during the prosecution of Jesus, this article simply lists the various laws broken by the priests and Pharisees during Jesus’s trials.

The second article is: “The Law of Moses, the Mishnah, and the Political Actors who Condemned Jesus.” It explains the two sources of Jewish law in Jesus’s day as well as introducing the key figures groups who prosecuted Jesus. These groups and individuals are: The Pharisees; The Sadducees; Annas; Caiaphas; and the Sanhedrin.

The third article is: “The Five Stages of Jesus’s Religious Prosecution.” It sequentially describes the events of how Jesus came to be condemned to death by the religious authorities, beginning with the Conspiracy and His Arrest and ending with His three trials: the Preliminary Trial in the house of Annas; the Nighttime Trial in the house of Caiaphas; and the Sunrise Trial on the Temple grounds.

The fourth article is: “An Explanation of the Judicial Principles that were Violated in the Religious Prosecution of Jesus.” This article focuses on three general judicial laws and sacred principles found in the Torah and/or the Mishnah that Jesus’s judges either violated or loopholed in order to condemn Him.




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