Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered.Matthew 26:57 RSV
Christ was tried six times, three times before the Romans and three times before the Jewish tribunals:
- Before Annas
- Before Caiaphas
- Before the Sanhedrin
- Before Pontius Pilate
- Before Herod Antipas
- Before Pilate again
THE FIRST TRIAL
Matthew omitted the first trial and arraignment before Annas, the ancient head of the high priestly conclave who was doubtless the prime mover of the cabal against Jesus.
Annas lived into his nineties and appears in history as a venomous and zealous bigot, deformed in mind and body.
He covered his deformed hands with silken gloves, but there was no covering for the mind of this man who was described by the infidel Reman as “a fit architect indeed to fashion the death of Christ.”
In spite of his deposition, however, Annas for more than half a century retained the power of the office, and was accorded the title by the Jews; but the LEGAL title and office rotated among the sons and sons-in-law of Annas. It was significant that Christ was first arraigned before Annas.
THE SECOND TRIAL
This was conducted before Caiaphas who also later presided over the convention of the Sanhedrin at daybreak (Luke 22:66).
Luke’s arrangement of the details is more chronological. Matthew’s topical summary naturally includes portions of the narrative out of chronological sequence.
Presumably, during this long travesty on judicial procedure, Caiaphas and his aides were trying to formulate some pattern of the charges they would prosecute before the whole Sanhedrin at daybreak.
But Peter followed him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end.Matthew 26:58 RSV
The court and the house of the high priest were the same. Peter’s following the Lord “afar off” in this instances has been cited as one of the reasons that he faltered and denied Jesus.
Had he been with Jesus as was that “other disciple,” presumably John, he might have endured without denying his Lord (John 18:13).
Other preconditions that led to Peter’s fall are seen in that he:
(1) Contradicted Jesus’ word.
(2) Relied on his own strength.
(3) Turned to carnal weapons.
(4) Sustained the Lord’s rebuke.
(5) Followed afar off.
(6) Accepted a place in the company of Christ’s enemies.
(7) Warmed himself at their fire.
but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forwardMatthew 26:60 RSV
If such a tale as these words of the false witnesses was all they had to report, one must be amazed at the plight of the evil men who had relied on it.
This was nothing more than a garbled version of what Christ had said, not of the temple but of himself, who is the greater Temple (John 2:19).
After searching all night that was all they had, and no one knew any better than Caiaphas that it was not enough for their purpose.
It was hardly enough to justify convening the entire Sanhedrin, as Caiaphas’ subsequent actions proved.
THE THIRD TRIAL
This trial was the formal arraignment and prosecution before the whole Sanhedrin and immediately following the all-night circus in the house of Caiaphas, where it may be assumed that Christ made limited answers if any at all.
He well knew the preliminary trial was only a fishing expedition and that the issue would be decided before the whole council after daybreak.
The night runners had fanned out over the dark city, and the emergency meeting of the most sacred court of the Hebrews got under way very early, perhaps by four o’clock in the morning, as the first rays of morning light brightened the summit of the Mount of Olives.
Much to the discomfiture of Caiaphas, Jesus did not even reply.
It was not necessary.
Nothing stated even by the suborned and lying witnesses could be made the grounds for demanding of Pilate the death penalty for Christ.
Caiaphas stood up. The judicial bench had suddenly become a very hot seat for him.
The whole wretched business was badly out of hand, and they were at their wits’ end to know how to get out of it.
Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he made no answer.Matthew 27:11-12 RSV
THE FOURTH TRIAL OF JESUS
Those infamous hypocrites were still up to their old game of trying to get Jesus crucified for sedition and had obviously represented Christ to Pilate as a political aspirant to the non-existent throne of the Hebrews.
Christ answered Pilate’s fair question just as fairly; but it was plain as daylight to Pilate that Christ’s “kingdom” was not such as to be of any concern to Caesar!
The Sanhedrin was most unwilling to give Pilate their true reason for demanding the death penalty, namely that Christ had claimed to be the divine Messiah; so the first part of this fourth trial was used by them to allege all kinds of crimes against the Christ in the hope of getting him crucified on any charge except the true one.
Jesus used the same strategy here as in the long trials before the Sanhedrin, maintaining silence in the face of fraudulent and unprovable charges.
Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge; so that the governor wondered greatly.Matthew 27:13-14 RSV
Of course, they were talking a bold case against Christ, but they had no proof; and Pilate perfectly understood the unreliability of all the wild charges they alleged against him.
Christ’s silence in the face of all the vicious allegations of the chief priests and elders doubtless struck Pilate as a very daring and courageous evidence of confidence.
Certainly the record is clear that at that point Pilate was determined to release Christ and subsequently made a number of clever and determined maneuvers to acquit him.
THE FIFTH TRIAL OF CHRIST
Pilate’s First Effort to Release Christ
The fifth trial of Christ came about from Pilate’s seizure upon the priests’ mention of “Galilee” as an excuse to send Christ to Herod. Matthew did not record any of the “many things” they witnessed against Christ, but Luke recorded their charge of having “stirred up the people, BEGINNING FROM GALILEE” (Luke 23:5).
Herod, like all Roman deputies, was in Jerusalem for the Passover, and Pilate did a politically clever thing by sending Christ to Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee.
The Lord was mocked; and Herod, after allowing his guard to make sport of Christ, sent him back to Pilate.
The Jewish leaders attended the trial before Herod and prosecuted Jesus with their usual vehemence (Luke 23:10); but in spite of their accusations, Herod found no cause of death in Christ and refused to condemn him.
THE SIXTH TRIAL OF CHRIST
Pilate’s Second Effort to Release Christ
This second effort of the procurator to release Christ was not recorded by Matthew but is outlined in Luke 23:13-15.
It came in the form of a confrontation in which Pilate summoned them and bluntly announced that both he and Herod had found “no fault” in Christ.
“Behold, nothing worthy of death hath been done by him (Luke 23:15ff).
Pilate’s hesitation at that critical moment allowed the initiative to pass once more to the Pharisees, and thus the second maneuver failed.
The Third Effort of Pilate to Release Jesus
This was an offer to impose the milder punishment of chastisement instead of the death penalty.
“I will, therefore, chastise him, and release him” (Luke 23:16). Of course, there was nothing mild about the horrible Roman flagellation.
This proposal to subject a man he had just declared to be innocent to the shocking and bloody chastisement practiced in those days showed plainly enough that Pilate actually had no moral scruples against crucifixion, and that proposal was probably the first indication to the Jewish leaders that they would be able to have their way with Pilate in regard to Christ.
True, Pilate would not yield without further struggles to extricate himself from a distasteful involvement in the terrible business; but the end had already begun with this third effort to spare Christ’s life.
Summarizing the efforts of Pilate to release Jesus, it is observed that:
- Pilate sent him to Herod Antipas.
- He gave a verdict of innocence.
- He offered to substitute a lighter punishment.
- He proposed a choice between Christ and Barabbas.
- He insisted on Jesus’ innocence: “Why, what evil hath he done?”
- He suggested that they take him and mob him.
- He still sought to release him.