I do realize that today, April 5, 2020, is Palm Sunday, which honors the moment when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on a donkey, prior to being betrayed by His disciple, Judas Iscariot. I do not want to diminish the importance of this event, but I would like to move forward in the narrative, and draw attention to the Seven Trials the Savior would have to endure, just a few days later, after his triumphal entry into the Holy City. “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Rom. 6:1).
According to Matthew’s gospel, after Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was brought before Caiaphas the High Priest of Israel, where the scribes and the elders were already assembled.
The scribes and elders were assembled, because they knew Jesus was being brought to them, from the home of Annas, a former High Priest of Israel.
It was to Annas that Christ had first been taken by the soldiers, and officers of the Jews, following the midnight arrest in the Garden of Prayer.
Annas had been appointed to his position by the Roman governor of Syria, in the year 6 AD. Nine years later, Annas had been deposed by the Roman prefect of Judah, Valerius Gratus ( c. 15 AD).
Though he was no longer high priest, Annas remained the ruling spirit of the Sanhedrin.
The Sanhedrin was the highest Jewish legal body of legislators allowed by Rome.
People looked to Annas for important leadership decisions, especially in ecclesiastical cases, with political repercussions.
Annas was the man that important matters were cleared with before being implemented, and so Jesus was first brought before Annas in the middle of the night.
Ancient historians tell us that Annas was a very proud man. He was exceedingly ambitious, and fabulously wealthy. His whole family was notorious for greed. One main source of the wealth of Annas, was a share of the proceeds from the selling of sacrificial animals.
These animals were sold in the Court of the Gentiles to those devout people who traveled long distances to worship. It was not always practice to bring a sacrificial animal along, and so some were purchased in Jerusalem upon arrival. By Annas, the house of God had been turned into a den of thieves through exploitation. Even the Talmud protested the practices of this High Priest, by saying:
“Woe to the family of Annas!”
“Woe to the serpent-like hisses.”
This was a reference, no doubt, to the whisperings of Annas, and the members of his family seeking to bribe, and influence judges, and suggesting what prices should be charged for sacrificial lambs.
Annas never forgot that one day, Jesus had gone into the Temple area, white hot with holy rage, and overthrew the tables of his moneychangers.
The Lord of Righteousness had taken a whip and, by force, driven the merchants of greed out of His Father’s house, and into the dirty streets where they belonged.
Ultimately, this cleansing of the Temple was an indictment against Annas, and he never forgot. Most people never forget, or forgive, public humiliation. Righteousness had judged sin, and now sin had a chance to retaliate in the eternal contest for the souls of men.
Like his father the Devil, this son of Satan, named Annas, would seek to kill the Saviour, and thus silence the voice of conviction.
Before Annas, Jesus now stood.
Because Annas had no spiritual eyes to see the Saviour, because Annas had only a heart of stone, because he was consumed with his own self-importance, and self-interests, Annas was committed to one grand objective, and that was killing Christ. But, before that could happen Annas had to find a pretext for condemnation, and so he asked Jesus of two matters, according to John 18:19, “The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine.”
First, Annas asked the Lord of his disciples. That was important. Annas wanted to know how large a following Jesus had. How popular had Christ become?
Annas had seen the multitude of people Jesus could attract, illustrated by the events of Palm Sunday.
What he really wanted to know, was how important had Jesus become among the aristocracy, that included such important individuals as Nicodemus.
Second, Annas asked Jesus of His doctrine. What was Jesus teaching? To this inquiry the Lord responded by saying,
“I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in the Temple area, where the Jews habitually congregate, or assemble. I have spoken nothing in secret. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me, what I have said to them. They know what I said” (John 19:20, 21 AMP). When Jesus had said these words, an officer struck Him with the palm of his hand.
The first slap on the precious face of the Son of God, as the Son of Man, had been delivered. Of this unworthy blow, Jesus only said, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why do you strike me?” (John 18:23).
Though he could find no fault with Christ, Annas still decided to send Jesus to his son-in-law, Caiaphas, with specific instructions.
Caiaphas was to find witnesses against Christ, with charges serious enough that a death sentence could be extracted from a civil court of Roman law.
On this note, the first trial of Jesus ended as He was led from the presence of Annas, to the home of Caiaphas, who had already been meeting with select members of the Sanhedrin.
The Sanhedrin was the supreme court of the Jews. It was composed of Scribes, Sadducees, Pharisees and Elders of the people. It would be good to pause for just a moment and remember who these representative groups of people were.
The Scribes were highly educated individuals in the Scriptures. Their formal training began about the age of thirteen.
Not only did they copy the Scriptures, but they learned what the text meant.
In time the scribes obtained a high place of honor in society because people respected them.
They were looked to for Scriptural understanding and clarification. They were lawyers.
The scribes grew to enjoy their social prominence. Jesus noted how they loved their salutations in the market place.
Many scribes wore long robes with a broad blue fringe to call attention to themselves. In a social gathering the scribes were given the best places at feasts. They sat in the chief seats in synagogues.
It was not wrong for the Scribes to be honored. However, it was wrong for the scribes to expect to be honored.
It was wrong for the Scribes to demand special treatment. It was especially egregious for the Scribes to misuse their office, and knowledge of the Law of Moses, to hurt someone, as they would hurt Christ.
Like the Scribes, the Sadducees were also well versed in the Law of Moses, with this distinction.
The Sadducees insisted that only the written Law of Moses was binding on the nation of Israel, which means they opposed oral traditions.
Tracing their origin back to the days of Solomon as the sons of Zadok, the Sadducees emerged in time to belong to the aristocrats of the land.
They were, for the most part, judges and individuals of the official and governing class. The Sadducees were also theological liberals, in critical areas. They denied the existence of angels, and they denied the bodily resurrection of the dead. The mindset of the Sadducees would have immediately been predisposed against Christ because Jesus taught the resurrection of the dead.
Jesus said, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29).
The Sadducees were not impartial judges on the night Jesus was brought before them. However, they were not about to recluse themselves from passing judgment on Christ, nor would the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were just as bad as the Sadducees, if not worse. Despite the pretense of the Pharisees of being religious conservatives, and wanting to keep the 613 codices of the Mosaic Law, they were hypocrites. During His public ministry, Jesus severely denounced the Pharisees for corrupting the people with minute precepts and distinctions in Scripture where none existed. The Pharisees burdened people with rules, and regulations, that were grievous. They demanded that others do things their way. The Pharisees who sat to judge Christ hated Him in their heart because Jesus had opposed their legalistic understanding of Scripture, and because the Lord had exposed their spirit, and their evil hearts.
Jesus had also spoken against the Elder of Israel. The Elders traced their origin to the days of Moses. They were respected leaders of the tribes of Israel, and honored men of influence in society as they sat in the Sanhedrin.
The Sanhedrin numbered 71 members, and was presided over by the High Priest. For a trial involving the death penalty, at least 23 members were required to be present. Officially, the Sanhedrin had to abide by certain guidelines.
First, all criminal cases were to be tried during the daytime, and completed during the daytime.
Second, during Passover season, no criminal cases could be transacted.
Third, if a verdict was guilty, a night had to elapse prior to the pronouncement of judgment in order for feelings of mercy to arise.
Fourth, no decision of the Sanhedrin was valid unless it met in its own meeting place, the Hall of Hewn Stone, in the Temple precincts.
Fifth, all evidence had to be guaranteed by two witnesses, separately examined, and having no contact with each other.
Sixth, any false witness could be punished by death.
Seventh, the normal trial process began by laying out the evidence for the innocence of the accused, before the evidence for guilt was presented.
These were some of the guidelines that conscientious Jews had established over the years, and sought to abide by.
Normally, these guidelines were respected and honored.
But not this night.
On this night, with or without a quorum, those who had gathered in the home of Caiaphas were determined that some sort of a trial would begin, though every Jewish principle of fairness would be violated.
In an effort to hurt Jesus, the Sanhedrin was willing to assault its own integrity.
Men had gathered to formulate charges against Jesus without legal cause.
But what would the charges be?
Many false witnesses came forward to make terrible accusations against Jesus, but no two of them agreed independently.
Caiaphas realized this, and grew desperate.
It was apparent the only possible way to get a conviction against Christ was to take His words, and deliberately twist them, to give new meaning.
This would be possible to do because, Jesus had openly said He would destroy the Temple, and rebuild it in three days.
In context, the Lord had been speaking of the temple of His body, and everyone knew that.
But now, in the darkness of the night, His words, in the mouth of desperate, deceitful men, were presented as if He had been talking about destroying the Temple of Jerusalem.
It was a capital crime to talk about defacing the Holy Temple.
For those in the Sanhedrin who did not know better, it sounded as if Jesus had been willing to tear down the most precious religious symbol of the Jews.
To this malicious misrepresentation, and misreporting of the truth that He taught, Jesus was silent, for the Law was on His side. Normally, in the Jewish courtroom, questions and answers against self-incrimination were not allowed unless the High Priest asked a direct question. Those questions had to be answered.
So it was that the High Priest moved the procedure from the Sanhedrin’s control to his own personal control to ask Jesus a question, which He could not keep silent on. “Was He, or was He not the Christ?” (Matthew 26:63)
“Are you the Messiah?”
“Do you claim to be the Son of God?”
Here was the crucial moment in the trial.
If Jesus said
the proceedings should be over.
There would be no serious charge against Him. Christ only had to say,
and it was possible that He could walk out a free man, before the Sanhedrin could think of another way to entrap Him.
But if Jesus said
He would sign His own death warrant.
Perhaps Jesus paused for a moment to weigh the significance of the response.
In that moment, Jesus remembered.
He remembered the night of His birth, when the angels sang.
He remembered the visit to the Temple at age 12, when He told His parents He must be about His Father’s business.
He remembered the day of His baptism, when the heaven’s opened, and a dove came upon Him.
He remembered His wilderness temptation, the calling of His disciples, and the many miracles performed.
He had turned water into wine.
He had healed the heart of a woman at a well.
He had made the blind to see, and the deaf to hear.
He remembered Nicodemus, Zacchaeus, and Mary of Magdalene.
“Are You the Son of God?”
The Sanhedrin grew silent to hear the answer, and the answer was,
“Yes! I am the Messiah!
“I am the Son of God!”
But then Jesus went farther, as He quoted Daniel 7:13, with its vivid account of the ultimate triumph of God’s chosen one.
“I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.”
By His answer, Jesus knew what He was doing.
Jesus knew His response would infuriate the Sanhedrin, and that is what happened.
Hearing the Lord’s answer, men went absolutely mad. A scream of,
pierced the night.
Garments were torn in hysteria, and Jesus was condemned to death.
With that, members of the Sanhedrin began to punch Christ, spit on Him, and slap His holy face, while mocking His gift of prophecy.
All the externals of human justice, and common decency were abandoned in a frenzy display of raw hatred.
In this way, the second trial, before the Sanhedrin in general, and the third trial before Caiaphas in particular, ended.
The ecclesiastical or religious trials were over, but the fourth trial would soon begin in the civil courts before the governor of Palestine, Pontius Pilate (Matthew 27:2, 11-26).
Pilate was the fifth Roman governor of the Southern half of Palestine.
In ruling over this imperial province, Pilate was directly responsible to the emperor Tiberius because he had vast powers. Basically, Pilate’s word was final, for he was endowed with civil, criminal, and military jurisdiction.
From the gospel narrative, it is not difficult to look inside the soul of this man, and conclude the following.
First, Pilate was a proud man. When Jesus was silent in his presence, Pilate said unto Him, “Speakest thou not unto me? Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?” (John 19:10). Pilate proudly thought he had ultimate power over the life of Christ. He did not know that Jesus could have called 10,000 angels to destroy the world, and set Him free.
Second, Pilate was a cruel man, as reflected in such passages as Luke 13:1. “There were present at that season some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” In time, the cruelty of Pilate would ultimately lead to his removal as governor of the Jews.
Third, Pilate was a superstitious man. “When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him” (Matthew 27:19). “When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid” (John 19:8).
Above all, Pilate was a self-seeking man. Pilate wished to win the approval of his emperor, Tiberius Caesar. It was this desire to please Rome that produced the plight of Pilate. “How could he kill Jesus and uphold the principles of Roman justice?” Pilate knew word would return to Rome of what was done with Christ. “How could Pilate execute a just man he knew was innocent, but of whom he was afraid?”
Also, “How could Pilate prevent the Jewish leaders from pressuring him into doing things he did not want to do?” The Sanhedrin was setting a bad precedent in pressuring him.
Moreover, Pilate knew that it was “for envy” the Jewish rulers had delivered Jesus to him (Matthew 27:18).
Pilate saw through the political ploys of the Sanhedrin. But what could he do?
Looking for a way out of his plight, Pilate was happy to discover that Jesus was from Galilee.
Galilee! Herod was the ruler of Galilee. Jesus could be sent to Herod Antipas, and according to Luke 23:7, that is what happened.
As soon as Pilate knew that Jesus belonged unto Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time.
With that decision made, the fourth trial of Jesus ended, and His fifth trial began in the presence of Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas had been assigned Galilee and Perea, over which he reigned as Tetrarch (lit. ruler of a fourth part, subdivided into three) from 4 BC – 39 AD. As a person, Antipas was immoral, ambitious, and superficial.
When Herod first saw Jesus, he was glad. He hoped the Lord would perform some great miracle, much like a celestial magician. But Jesus would not manifest His Divine power before this son of Belial. Because the Lord refused to perform any wondrous work, Herod decided to question Him. Maybe this Messiah would be intellectually challenging. But Jesus answered him nothing.
The Lord’s silence outraged Herod to the point that he began to provoke Jesus, and then, with his military men, Herod Antipas mocked Christ. Someone draped a gorgeous purple robe around the shoulders of Jesus, and the laughter grew louder. In this sad state of shame, Jesus was sent back to Pilate for a sixth trial.
Once more the plight of Pilate was present. Pontius knew Jesus was innocent. He knew that the Lord should not have to die. Pilate wanted to absolve himself of any responsibility leading to Christ’s death.
There was only one final way out of his dilemma, and Pilate decided to try it. According to the custom of the day, a political prisoner was released during the Passover. Perhaps the people would agree that Jesus be set free, especially when their other option was the man called Barabbas. Barabbas was a notorious thief and murderer. He had been terrorizing the citizens of Palestine.
All the country was happy when the news came that Barabbas had been captured, and placed in a secure Roman jail. The state would be doing everyone a great favor when it executed Barabbas, for he was worthy of death.
Pilate thought that if he threatened to release Barabbas, the people would immediately demand that Jesus be released instead. Bringing Christ and Barabbas before the citizens of Israel, Pilate gave them a choice. “Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?” No one was more surprised than Pilate when the collective shout of the people cried out, “Barabbas! Give us back Barabbas!”
In utter consternation Pilate said unto them, “What shall I do then with Jesus, which is called Christ?” And the answer came back, “Let the Christ be crucified!”
Pilate could not believe what he was hearing. Did the people really prefer a notorious criminal to the Christ? Had they all gone mad?
One last time Pilate would try to distance himself from this murderous mob. Calling for a large basin of water, Pilate sat down in public to wash his hands as he told the people, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person, see ye to it.” And again the people amazed him as they cried out, “Let his blood be upon our heads and the heads of our children!”
With that public transfer of personal responsibility, Pilate conceded to the will of the nation.
The order was given for Barabbas to be released, while Jesus was scourged, and delivered to be crucified.
In later years, when the Church reconsidered the actions of Pilate, and his reluctance to kill Christ, legends grew up that Pontius Pilate became a Christian.
In the fourth century there was a Christian bit of pseudepigraph that was written called The Acts of Pilate.
This narrative was composed to assign the sole responsibility to the Jews for the death of Christ. Christian legend was also sympathetic to his wife, who it is said was a Jewish proselyte, and was called Claudia Procula, and then became a Christian.
To this day the Coptic [Egyptian] Church honors both Pilate and his wife as saints. However, it is highly unlikely that Pilate ever became a Christian. As Annas was greedy, serpent like, vindictive, as Caiaphas was rude, sly, and hypocritical, as Herod Antipas was immoral, ambitious and superficial, Pilate was cruel, crafty, superstitious, and self-seeking. There is nothing in history that confirms he came to Christ. More likely, like Judas, this ruler of Palestine went to his own place.
The story is told of Pilate, in the lost world, stooping down to wash his hands in a running stream. He keeps on, it would seem, almost for ages, if time were measured as it is in this world. Someone touches him and says, “Pilate, what are you doing?” Lifting his hands, which become red like crimson as soon as they leave the water, he cries out with a shriek, which echoes and re-echoes throughout the world of the lost, “Will they never be clean? Will they never be clean?” (Letters from Hell, George MacDonald, Scotch preacher).
No Pilate, they will never be clean, for the blood of the Son of God is on them forever and ever.
Pilate began to wash his hands when he said to the angry mob: “Take ye Him, and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.” And Pilate is still washing his hands today, but all in vain.
But Pilate is not the only one who needs to wash hands that have been stained with the blood of Christ, reflected in a memorable picture by Rembrandt (“The Descent from the Cross”, 1633). In his art, Rembrandt has included, among those at the foot of the cross, what is at first sight a strange figure. With those who are busy helping to kill Jesus, there appears a Flemish aristocrat. On closer inspection, we see that it is none other than Rembrandt himself. Rembrandt knew that Jesus was crucified by the sins of the world, and that, in relation to the events of the cross, we are all guilty. In response to the haunting question of the southern spiritual, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” we must say, “I was there.”
We were there at the seventh trial of the Saviour, for it was at Calvary that Jesus endured the Divine judgment of God the Father. Therefore, know this. The blood of Jesus Christ either cleanses us from all sin, or it condemns us forever and forever. The commandment comes to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Receive Him as Lord and Saviour.
The seventh trial of the Saviour was for all that will call upon His name and will be saved. Those who call upon the Lord will shout “HOSANNA!” as they did so long ago on Palm Sunday.
The word “Hosanna” is a term of exaltation, and adoration. But this word was also an ancient term associated with palm branches. The idea was that a palm branch was used to signify a great victory. As a means of celebrating a great victory, the people would wave a “hosanna,” a palm branch, accompanied by a shout of acclamation, or a shout of victory. The palm branch signified victory.
Why is that important?
Because Jesus was going to the Cross. He was not going to a defeat, but to His victory over sin, Satan, and death itself. Without realizing it, the people in the crowd on that Palm Sunday were celebrating the victory the King of kings would win. May God the Holy Spirit cause you to understand, and shout “HOSANNA!”