The religious rulers had decided the outcome of Jesus’ trial long before the night of His arrest. They had to make sure that it ended with His death. He was far too dangerous. When they learned that Jesus and His disciples spent their nights in the Garden of Gethsemane, they acted quickly. They arrested Him secretly when all was dark and took Him to the house of Caiaphus, the high priest. Accusation after accusation was brought against Him in order to provoke Him into making a mistake. Yet the accusations themselves contradicted each other, and so their efforts were falling to the ground.
And then…of His own choice…in the face of His accusers, Jesus made a declaration. He proclaimed that He was the Son of Man that would one day come on the clouds in glory and take a seat at the right hand of God the Father. He was either insane or He was telling the absolute truth, but either way, it gave these religious leaders the information they needed. As soon as He said it, they descended on Him…beating Him and spitting on Him with the frenzy of an angry mob.
The only problem was, the secret bullying of Christ in the home of Caiaphus was illegal. Their decision had no binding power, for it was held in the dark of night. According to God’s Law, they had to stage a full-scale trial in the light of day with the whole Sanhedrin present. But daylight would also bring the Passover crowds onto the streets of Jerusalem. Jesus was extremely popular, and news of His arrest would travel fast. The priests knew there could be a serious uprising among the people if they learned He was on trial. So early in the morning, before the crowds woke up, they moved the proceedings from the home of the high priest to their normal council chamber.
The chief priests and elders assembled to discuss the death of Jesus. Then they brought the Lord before them and asked, “‘If you are the Christ, tell us.’”
Jesus responded, “‘If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask a question, you will not answer.’” He knew there was no true reason to talk with these men. So He gave them the information they were looking for to justify their murderous ambitions…and perhaps offer them a warning and an opportunity to repent:
“‘But from now on the Son of Man will be seated
at the right hand of the power of God.’”
Wow. Once again, Jesus declared that He was not only divine, but that He would reign in power over the earth from the throne of God. Did any of them tremble when He said it? Did any of them worry that it might be true?
“‘What further need do we have of testimony?’” they declared spitefully. “‘We have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.’”
Now, Judas was still skulking around, waiting to see what would happen. As the trial intensified, he realized that it was heading quickly towards the death of his former Master. Suddenly, he was filled with remorse. He never imagined it would go this far! He went to the chief priests with the thirty pieces of silver they paid him to betray the Lord. “‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” he cried out.
The rulers looked at Judas with contempt. In a fair trial, such a dramatic change in a testimony would have been considered vitally important. This was no ordinary witness, this was the very man who had turned Jesus over to them. Surely his words should have carried tremendous weight, especially as a member of Jesus’ inner circle! The traitor had come declaring the innocence of the accused! But the religious leaders weren’t interested in any information that got in the way of their plan to kill Jesus. “‘What is that to us? See to that yourself!’” they sneered.
Judas flung the silver coins into the sanctuary of the Temple and fled. In his misery and despair, he went off to a field and hung himself by the neck. The horrors of the day were spreading.
The leaders knew they could not put the coins into the Temple treasury. It was blood money. It was tainted. They somehow ignored the fact that they were far more tainted for using money to buy treachery than the money used to purchase it.
These priests didn’t belong in God’s Temple any more than those coins. All true righteousness had been utterly forsaken, but they were going to hold up the pretense, even to themselves. They used the silver coins of Judas to buy the Potter’s Field, a place where strangers to the nation could be buried. In the months and years to follow, it became known as “Hakeldama,” or the Field of Blood.
And so the Word of God was fulfilled. It happened just as the prophet Jeremiah said it would:
“‘And they took thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one who had been set by the sons of Israel; and they gave them for the Potter’s Field.’”
As the day of Jesus’ trial went on, the Lord’s true followers were scattered. Where were Philip and James and Thomas? What horrors did they imagine? What shame did they bear? When did Mary learn that her Son had been arrested?
The Sanhedrin pronounced the condemnation of their God and had Him bound up. Now that their own verdict was officially decided, they had to bring Jesus before the Roman governor. For you see, the power of the Sanhedrin was very limited. They didn’t actually rule their land. The Roman Empire gave them some free range, but in the real issues of authority, they were irrelevant.
They could dominate the Jewish people who were respectful of them as God’s representatives. They could intimidate using their positions of status. But in truth, everything they did had to fall in line with the commands of Rome. They had no power to pronounce the death penalty on anyone. If they wanted Jesus to die, they had to convince the Roman governor.
The name of the man that the Roman Emperor had put in charge of Judea was Pontius Pilate. He was known to be ruthless, and he held the Jewish people in utter contempt. They seemed to him to a common, unsophisticated people who warred against each other in petty quibbles. Next to the splendor of Rome and it’s glorious buildings, the vast power displayed in their magnificent armies, the incredible societal order and peace established throughout the Empire, and the grandeur of their political system, Israel seemed like a scrappy, backward hole in the earth.
Pilate was probably not happy to be assigned to rule over what He likely saw as such a dusty little side street of a nation, so far from the affairs and delights of the vast metropolitan cities like Thessalonica or Ephesus. It was an insult. But it was not his place to argue with the powerful men who put him there. If he served them well, perhaps they would promote him to a more agreeable station, one of real power and prestige. In the meantime, it was his job to keep the peace in his corner of the world so that rulers of Rome would stay happy with him. On the day of Jesus’ trial, when the entire Sanhedrin thronged like an angry flock to the Roman Praetorium, Pilate took notice. Where in the world was this going to lead?