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 Vol. 6, No. 11 

November 2004


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The Arrest and Trial of Jesus

By Robert Rushmore

Image The Arrest

"Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him" (John 18:12). The arrest took place in the Garden of Gathsemane at night. Matthew 26:36 names the garden where Jesus was praying. In verse forty-seven of that same chapter, Judas came with the multitude to take Jesus. John 18:3 illustrates that it was night by using the phrase "with lanterns and torches and weapons." There would be no need for lanterns and torches if it were daylight. "They evidently thought that they might have to search for Jesus among the orchards of the Garden of Gathsemane where Judas told them He would probably be found at that time, in prayer to His Heavenly Father" (Wingo 49).

The custom of the day was for two or three representatives to make an arrest (Wingo 49). Matthew 26:47 records the contrary for the arrest of Jesus, "And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people." According to Wingo, "the great multitude consists not only of a large group of Roman soldiers, with their drawn swords and staves, but several hundred members of the Levitical police, as well as members of the Great Sanhedrin..." (49).

"Before Saul could arrest those early Christians, that they might be bound and brought to Jerusalem, for persecution, he had to first obtain 'authority and commission' from the high priest" (Wingo 50). Acts 9:1-2 records that Saul had authority from the high priest to bind and take Christians to Jerusalem. Another passage records Paul's own words saying, "...I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests" (Acts 26:12). Scripture indicates that the multitude arresting Jesus had the same authority because they came "from the chief priests and elders of the people" (Matthew 26:47).

The problem was that the land was under Roman rule. Therefore, the warrant for arrest had to come from Pilate, the Roman governor (Stalker 16). The Bible does not give us any indication of such a warrant. Instead, we have the words of Pilate, "Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me" (John 18:35). There is no indication of a Roman warrant, making the arrest illegal according to Roman law (Barnes' Notes).

During the arrest, Jesus went willingly. He made no attempt to resist the mob of people that came to make the arrest. Jesus asked the multitude "whom seek ye" twice. They answered that they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth. Both times he responded, "I am he" (John 18:4-8). Peter was rebuked for drawing his sword and attacking Malchus, the servant of the high priest. Jesus even healed Malchus's ear when Peter cut it off (John 18:10-11). Jesus was calm and content when confronted by the angry mob and willingly went with them while his disciples "forsook him, and fled" (Mark 14:50).

Although he went willingly, Jesus had the power to resist the mob. When Jesus told the mob that he was Jesus of Nazareth, they fell to the ground (John 18:6). Notice from the text that they first went backward and then fell. This indicates that they did not fall forward as in reverence but backward as in fear. The event shows the power Jesus had while on earth. It declared Christ to be more than a man. It declared that he was Deity (Barnes' Notes).

Jewish Trial Part 1: Questioning Before Annas

"Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him, And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year" (John 18:12-13). The questioning of Jesus by Annas was illegal because Hebrew law prohibited private hearings. Jewish law states, "An accused man shall never be subjected to private or secret examination, lest in his perplexity, he furnish testimony against himself" (Wingo 53). The lowest form of Hebrew court was the Court of Three. In this court, three Judges sat as a group over the hearings (Wingo 53-54). Jesus was a Hebrew and had the right to a fair trial according to Hebrew law.

At least two other Hebrew laws were broken during these questionings. First of all, it was conducted at night. The law states, "Let a capital offense be tried during the day, but suspended at night" (Wingo 57). Second, Jesus was struck by an officer of Annas (John 18:22). Hebrew law also prohibited this act (Wingo 54).

Jewish Trial Part 2: Questioning
Before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin

"And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled" (Matthew 26:57). The term "elders" is in reference to the Jewish Sanhedrin. We learn from verse fifty-nine of the same chapter that the purpose of the questioning was to obtain false testimony against Jesus so that they could kill him. This questioning was illegal for three reasons. As mentioned above, it was illegal under Hebrew law to hold capital offense hearings at night. Further more, the questioning took place on the day before the Sabbath, which made it during a festival. Hebrew law states, "They shall not judge on the eve of the Sabbath (Friday), nor on that of any festival" (Wingo 57). Also, false testimony was sought (Matthew 26:59). The Sanhedrin had no intention of finding the truth. Their only agenda was killing Jesus. Clearly, this questioning was illegal.

Jewish Trial Part 3: Daytime
Questioning Before the Sanhedrin

"When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death" (Matthew 27:1). This marked the third phase of the Jewish questioning of Jesus. Since the Sanhedrin had met at night, it was illegal. By holding the hearing again, they made it "more legal." They met for the purpose of holding a "hearing" during the daylight hours. They simply formalized the decision previously made during the overnight questioning. However, the questioning was still illegal in that false testimony was used once again.

Roman Trial Part 1: Questioning Before Pilate

"And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor" (Matthew 27:2). When Pilate inquired why Jesus was brought before him, Caiaphas responded that Jesus was a malefactor or criminal (John 18:29-30). Caiaphas was attempting to get a quick approval from the governor, not an additional trial. Pilate responded for them to judge him by the Jewish laws. Under Roman law, however, the Jews were not permitted to pass a judgment of death. Pilate, therefore, began questioning Jesus. After a few questions, Pilate concluded that there was no fault in Jesus and declared him innocent (John 18:33-38).

Roman Trial Part 2: Questioning Before Herod Antipas

"When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked whether the man were a Galilaean. And as soon as he knew that he belonged unto Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time" (Luke 23:6-7). Even though Pilate found Jesus innocent, he sent Jesus to Herod for questioning because of the persistence of the people (Luke 23:5). Herod questioned Jesus at length, mocked him with the aid of his soldiers, and sent Jesus back to Pilate. Before sending him back, they dressed him in a kingly robe (Luke 23:9-11). Herod questioned Jesus for utter amusement. The only reason he even saw Jesus was to seek a miracle (Luke 23:8). This event made Pilate and Herod friends, where as they were enemies before (Luke 23:12).

Roman Trial Part 3: Appearing Before Pilate

"And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate" (Luke 23:11). Jesus stood before Pilate once again. Remember that Pilate had already found him innocent. Pilate reminded the people of this fact and declared that Herod had found no fault in him either. To appease the people, Pilate proposed that he simply punish Jesus and set him free (Luke 23:13-16). He could do this because the custom of the Governor was to release a prisoner during the Passover (Mark 15:6). The angry mob had such distaste for Jesus that they requested Barabbas be released (Matthew 27:21). Luke 23:19 shows the character of Barabbas, "Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison" (Luke 23:19). The mob envied Christ so much that they freed a murderer.

The Sentence

"Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away" (John 19:16). Pilate tried several times to convince the people to allow the release of Jesus (John 19:12). The people insisted on the crucifixion of Jesus every time. Out of fear (John 19:8), Pilate finally conceded. Pilate washed his hands, declared himself innocent of the shed blood of Jesus, released Barabbas and delivered Jesus into the hands of the mob to be crucified (Matthew 27:24-26).Image

Works Cited

Barnes' Notes.  CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft.

Stalker, James. The Trial and Death of Jesus. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1929.

Wingo, Earle. The Illegal Trial of Jesus. Hattiesburg: Earle L. Wingo Publications, 1954.

Works Consulted

Thomas, Robert L. and Stanley N. Gundry. A Harmony of the Gospels. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1978.

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