The Betrayal and Trial of Jesus
A. His Betrayal (Mt. 26:47-56)
One can only gasp at the thought that Jesus was weighed in the balance by Judas Iscariot and found to be worth only 30 pieces of silver! The irony is overwhelming. He whose “weightiness” and “worth” are beyond calculation is auctioned off for a mere pittance. The payment (Mt. 26:15) was probably given to Judas for information as to where Jesus could be arrested in a quiet setting with little chance for crowd unrest. It is possible that he first led this military and religious detachment to the upper room itself, thinking that Jesus and the disciples would still be there. Upon discovering that they had departed, Judas escorted the crowd to Gethsemane. We read in John 18:1-2 that it was a place to which Jesus and the disciples frequently went.
One statement is of great significance. Judas, is described as one of the twelve." Matthew, Mark, and Luke all refer to Judas in this way, most likely to heighten the enormity of his crime. It was not that Judas was "one of the crowd," or "one of the Pharisees," or "one of the arresting party." He was one of the twelve, i.e., one of those with whom Jesus was most intimately associated and to whom he had wholly entrusted himself. John puts it yet another way: "And Judas also who was betraying him, was standing with them," i.e., with the arresting party, not with the disciples.
Aside from the fact that it was customary for a disciple to greet a Rabbi with a kiss, they probably agreed on this sign for three reasons: (1) it was dark; (2) most of these would probably not have known what Jesus looked like; (3) they feared losing him in the turmoil that might transpire
"Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy" (Prov. 27:6).
The words translated in the NASB ("do what you have come for") may be taken in one of two ways. (1) If it is a command to Judas, then we see Jesus again manifesting that poise and confident sovereignty that was so conspicuous before Gethsemane (cf. John 13:27). Although it may seem to some that the events of this final week are careening out of control like a runaway car down a steep incline, Jesus is ever the sovereign one, in complete control, exercising supreme authority over every event. (2) There is also the possibility that this is a question ("why have you come?"). If so, it elicits no information but "administers a rebuke steeped in the irony of professed ignorance that knows very well why Judas has come" (Carson, 547).
It is probably here, in the middle of v. 50, i.e., at this point in the sequence of events, that we should place the events of John 18:4-9. So let’s take a brief look at that passage.
Note first the way Jesus identifies himself in John 18:6,8 - "I am He" (lit., "I am"). Was Jesus simply saying, "I am Jesus the Nazarene whom you seek"? Surely there is more involved, for it is ludicrous to think that an entire Roman cohort (600 men), along with officers from the chief priests and Pharisees wielding clubs and swords, are going to keel over backwards like so many bowling pins at the sound of two words uttered by one unarmed Galilean carpenter!
This declaration may well be like that in John 8:58 (cf. Ex. 3:14). Thus Jesus is identifying himself as the self-existent, uncreated, eternal Yahweh of Israel now incarnate in human flesh (cf. Dt. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10-13). On the other hand, would the Roman soldiers have understood this declaration (the religious leaders would have)? It seems that more than the simple declaration "I am" is needed to account for their reaction.
Perhaps something akin to the revelation of his glory on the Mt. of Transfiguration occurred. The arresting party had come prepared for many possibilities (compromise, fear, resistance, evasion, lies, etc.), but what they heard and saw was altogether a shock:
"It was as if He had pulled the curtain of the incarnate deity open for a moment, and the essential glory of God shone through, the light to which no man can approach. An overwhelming impression of His majesty gripped them, and they fell flat like reeds before the wind. The 'eyes as a flame of fire' were to much for them, for a little bit of the 'wrath of the Lamb' had smitten them" (S. L. Johnson).
In v. 8 he asks that they "let these go away." Again, Jesus' immediate and ultimate concern in the midst of his affliction is the safety and security of his people! The amazing thing is that he knows their departure is the last he will see of them until after the resurrection. In other words, he knows that they will not simply leave, they will abandon him. Yet he cares for them.
(We now return to v. 50 of Mt. 26 . . . )
The fact that they "seized him" is striking when seen in the light of earlier pronouncements concerning their utter inability to lay hands on him. See Luke 4:16-30 (esp. vv. 29-30); John 7:30; 10:39. The reason for this change is found in the statements of Jesus concerning his "hour". See John 2:4; 7:6,8,30; 8:20; and compare them with Mt. 26:45 and John 17:1. It wasn’t until the divinely appointed moment, in fulfillment of the purpose for his coming, that anyone was permitted to lay hands on him. There would be no premature death here!
vv. 51-56 . . .
B. His Trial (Mt. 26:57-68)
When the four gospels are combined and compared we discover that Jesus had two trials, one Jewish or religious, and one Roman or civil. The need for two trials is clear: the Sanhedrin wanted to dispose of Jesus, but blasphemy was insufficient grounds. Furthermore, they were not permitted to conduct executions. Thus they remanded Jesus to the custody of Pilate and portrayed him as a seditious and rebellious threat to the peace of the empire, hoping thereby that Jesus would be condemned to death.
These trials each had 3 stages or parts:
The Jewish trial consisted of (1) an informal examination before Annas (Jn. 18:12-23); (2) a hearing before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (Mt. 26:57-68); and (3) the formal trial and decision at dawn, at which time he was sent to Pilate (Mt. 27:1-2).
The Roman trial consisted of (1) an initial examination before Pilate (Mt. 27:11-14); (2) the interrogation by Herod (Lk. 23:6-12); and finally (3) the concluding appearance before Pilate (Mt. 27:15-31).
Caiaphas had succeeded his father-in-law, Annas, as high priest in 18 a.d. However, since Annas had been deposed by the secular authorities, he was still called high priest (inasmuch as tradition dictated that only death could remove one from office). This explains why in John 18 both are referred to as high priest. They were both hypocritical, cunning, and ruthless. Someone has said,
"For the absolutely sinless One to be subjected to a trial conducted by sinful men was in itself a deep humiliation. To be tried by such men, under such circumstances made it infinitely worse. Greedy, serpent-like, vindictive Annas; rude, sly, hypocritical Caiaphas; crafty, superstitious, self-seeking Pilate; and immoral, ambitious, superficial Herod Antipas; these were his judges!"
This verse was inserted to prepare for vv. 69-75 (Peter's denials). Here he follows at a distance, "midway between courage (v. 51) and cowardice (v. 70)" (Carson, 553).
The Sanhedrin was composed of 3 groups: priests, teachers of the law, and elders. There were 70 members plus the high priest; 23 constituted a quorum.
In capital cases, condemnation required the unanimous evidence of at least two witnesses (cf. Dt. 17:6; 19:15; Num. 35:30). Any discrepancy between their respective depositions and the evidence was ruled inadmissible. That these witnesses were immediately available implies that they had been previously alerted that Jesus would be arrested. Yet they were unable to agree with each other until two came forward contending that Jesus had threatened to destroy the temple. The incident to which they refer is recorded in John 2:19-22 (observe that they misquote Jesus; cf. Mk. 14:59).
The accusation was serious, for in the ancient world the destruction or desecration of a sacred place was regarded as a capital offense (see Jer. 26:1-19). The mere threat of violence against the temple was regarded by the Sanhedrin as a crime meriting the death penalty.
Obviously irritated and frustrated by the failure to secure competent testimony against Jesus, Caiaphas takes matters into his own hands and directly interrogates him. Although Jesus' answer is somewhat ambiguous on the surface, scholars are now agreed that the expression is affirmative. Certainly Caiaphas understood it that way!
Jesus' response consists of a combination of two OT texts that were unmistakably messianic: Ps. 110:1 and Dan. 7:13. Herein Jesus declares without equivocation that he is indeed the Son of God, the Messiah, the One who is to be exalted to the place of supreme authority and majesty and who will execute judgment on just such as these who dare stand before him this day.
The law defining "blasphemy" was ambiguous, but at minimum was the idea of dishonoring God by diminishing his glory or by depriving him of rights to which he alone as God is entitled. What exactly did Jesus say that constituted blasphemy?
(1) Some suggest it was his claim that he would be seated at God's right hand; his claim to be the Danielic Son of Man.
(2) Since Judaism expected the Messiah to provide miraculous proof of his identity, the idea that one so helpless and hapless should claim to be the anointed one could only be blasphemous, for it made a mockery of God's promises to his people.
(3) Finally, in Judaism it was believed that God alone had the right to announce and enthrone the Messiah. Anyone who claimed the office before God had crowned him as such would be regarded as having infringed upon the divine prerogative.
[Special Note on v. 64. This passage has been a problem for many to interpret, for in what sense can it be said that the high priest and those with him would “see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven”? Some would argue that Jesus didn’t actually mean the high priest himself or those then in attendance at his trial would see this event. Rather, it is something of a general declaration with no specific person(s) in mind. In other words, anyone who happens to be alive at the time of the Second Advent will see Jesus in this capacity. But the problem is non-existent once we realize that Jesus isn’t talking about his second coming at the end of history.
The “clouds of heaven” was often used when referring to the appearance or intervention of Yahweh on behalf of his people or in judgment. For example,
· the ‘pillar of cloud’ in the wilderness wanderings (e.g. Exod. 13:21-22; 14:19-20,24; 33:9; Ps. 78:14; 99:7);
· the cloud in which Yahweh descended or hovered over the tabernacle (Exod. 34:5; 40:34-38; Num. 9:15-22; Deut. 31:15);
· the cloud associated with the temple (1 Kings 8:10-11; Ezek. 10:3);
· the cloud in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek. 1:4,28);
· the clouds associated with eschatological theophanies (Isa. 4:5; Ezek. 30:3; Joel 2:2; Nahum 1:3; Zeph. 1:15).
See also Isa. 19:1; 2 Sam. 22:12; Job 22:14; Ps. 68:34; 104:3; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Rev. 1:7.
But what is meant by his “coming”? Is this an ascent of the Son of Man from earth to heaven or a descent from heaven to earth, or neither? Ferch (The Son of Man in Daniel 7) comments:
“The notion of descent seems to have been inspired by the NT picture of Christ’s parousia and the final judgment on earth. Since neither ascent to heaven nor descent to earth by the Danielic figure can be deduced from the Danielic text both notions should be set aside. Instead, the presence of the Ancient of Days, the throne which he occupies, and the myriads of attendants suggest a heavenly location for this scene and the coming of the manlike being to the Ancient of Days delineates movement in the heavenly sphere. Hence, the coming with the clouds and the sphere in which the approach takes place seem to point to the celestial nature of the Son of Man” (166-67).
Jesus earlier used the same language and appealed to the same text in Daniel when he delivered his so-called Olivet Discourse. I believe the "coming" of the Son of Man in 24:30 as well as 26:64 speaks not of a "coming to earth" from heaven but of a "coming to God" in heaven to receive vindication and authority. This "coming" refers to an event whereby the authority of Jesus is vindicated over the Jewish establishment which has rejected him.
As N. T. Wright points out,
“Jesus is not . . . suggesting that Caiaphas will witness the end of the space-time order. Nor will he look out of the window one day and observe a human figure flying downwards on a cloud. It is absurd to imagine either Jesus, or Mark [or Matthew], or anyone in between, supposing the words to mean that. Caiaphas will witness the strange events that follow Jesus’ crucifixion: the rise of a group of disciples claiming that he has been raised from the dead, and the events which accelerate towards the final clash with Rome, in which . . . Jesus will be vindicated as a true prophet. In and through it all, Caiaphas will witness events which show that Jesus was not, after all, mistaken in his claim, hitherto implicit, now at last explicit: he is the Messiah, the anointed one, the true representative of the people of Israel, the one in and through whom the covenant God is acting to set up his kingdom" (The Victory of the Son of God, 525).
In his discussion of the Olivet Discourse, R. T. France writes:
"Jesus is using Daniel 7:13 as a prediction of that authority which he exercised when in AD 70 the Jewish nation and its leaders, who had condemned him, were overthrown, and Jesus was vindicated as the recipient of all power from the Ancient of Days. . . . Jesus, exalted after his death and resurrection to receive his everlasting dominion, will display it within the generation . . . by an act of judgment on the nation and capital of the authorities who presumed to judge him. Then they will see . . . for themselves that their time of power is finished, and it is to him that God has given all power in heaven and earth” (Jesus and the Old Testament, 236).
Here, notes G. B. Caird, “as in the book of Daniel . . ., the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven was never conceived as a primitive form of space travel, but as a symbol for a mighty reversal of fortunes within history and at the national level” (Jesus and the Jewish Nation, 20-22). Wright summarizes:
“The days of Jerusalem’s destruction would be looked upon as days of cosmic catastrophe. The known world would go into convulsions: power struggles and coups d’etat would be the order of the day; the pax Romana [peace of Rome], the presupposition of ‘civilized’ life throughout the then Mediterranean world, would collapse into chaos. In the midst of that chaos Jerusalem would fall. The ‘son of man’ would thereby be vindicated. That would be the sign that the followers of this ‘son of man’ would now spread throughout the world: his ‘angels’, that is, messengers, would summon people from north, south, east and west to come and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of YHWH” (Victory, 362-63).
Those who would witness Jerusalem's destruction would see the sign of Jesus' enthronement when they saw Jerusalem's destruction (cf. Demar, 159). In other words, the "sign" of the Son of Man being enthroned and vindicated in "heaven" is the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple “on earth”. What does the sign signify? It signifies that the Son of Man is in heaven, exalted, vindicated, and enthroned at God’s right hand. That is what Jesus tells the Sanhedrin they will see.]
Since the death penalty could only be applied by the imperial authority of Rome, this kangaroo court ends with the decision to hand Jesus over to Pilate to secure his conviction.
Spitting on someone and the inflicting of blows were conventional gestures of rejection and humiliation (cf. Job 30:10; Num. 12:14; Dt. 25:9; Isa. 50:6). That Jesus was blindfolded, hit, and asked to identify his attacker was based on a Jewish test by which the Messiah was to be revealed (see Is. 11:2-4). Since it was believed that Messiah will use neither eyes nor ears, he must judge by the sense of smell. Thus this treatment of Jesus is but another taunt based on his claim to be the Messiah: "If you are truly who you claim to be, you should be able to identify your attacker without seeing him!"
One almost hesitates to comment at all on such an inconceivable and despicable act as spitting in the face of the Son of Man. Hendriksen explains:
"The face which these underlings -- with the wholehearted permission and co-operation of their utterly selfish, sadistic, and envious superiors -- now covered with their spittle was the one that had smiled upon large throngs of people whom he instructed to love even their enemies. It was the face which used to break into a smile at the approach of a child. It had been in the habit of beaming graciously upon publicans who became penitents. It could glow with righteous indignation when the Father's house was being desecrated, or when the widow's rights were violated, her needs ignored. In days gone by, it had become overspread with gladness when something good could be said about a friend. Above all, it was the face that mirrored the heart of the heavenly Father in all his holiness, displeasure with sin, and -- last but not least -- love and tenderness. It was into this face that these men were spitting! Surely, unless by the miracle of God's grace they should still repent, they would, on this day of the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy (26:64) of him who was now a prisoner, be saying to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb" (Rev. 6:16; Hendriksen).