Jesus Formally Condemned by the Sanhedrin
in the Royal Stoa

Matthew 27:1; Mark 15:1a; Luke 22:66-71

About 4:30 am Friday morning, the fifteenth of Nisan

DIG: What is ironic about the Temple choir singing Psalm 93 on this particular day? How is the concern of the elders and priests in Luke 22:67-70 different from the concern that they bring to Pilate in Luke 23:2? How many laws of the Great Sanhedrin were violated when Jesus was condemned in the Royal Stoa?

REFLECT: What is the most disturbing aspect of this illegal trial to you? Have you ever personally been unable to prevent an injustice? How does that make you feel? Have you ever had a group of people plot to do you harm? How did it make you feel?

The Great Sanhedrin (see Lg – The Great Sanhedrin) had previously met in the Hall of Polished Stones, which was located in the southwestern corner of the Temple. But in 30 AD their location changed to the eastern end of the Royal Stoa [Overview of the Second Temple and Fortress Antonia]. The place where the Sanhedrin met was adjacent to where the ancient serpent had, some three-and-a-half years before, attempted to murder the Holy One by tempting Him to jump from its height (see Bj – Jesus is Tempted in the Wilderness). The dizzying vantage point from the southeast corner of the Temple Mount was said by Josephus to drop some 450 feet to the valley below. And according to early tradition, James, the brother of Yeshua and the head of the Yerushalayim congregation, would later be martyred by being thrown from there because he would not renounce his faith. It was an ominous place.

Singing at the Temple: From the Talmund Tractate thamid we know exactly which Psalm would have been sung on which day of the week in connection with the daily burnt offering in the Temple. It is stunning how closely each of the Psalms coincides with the singing of these daily readings. It was Pesach. On this day the Temple choir sang Psalm 93. It deals with ADONAI’s royal rule on His throne with majesty and strength. Messiah referred to this throne before the Sanhedrin in the Royal Stoa, when He said: the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of HaG’vurah, the mighty God (Luke 22:69). The trial against the Prince of Life was simply a mockery in which the result had already been determined right from the start. Through this, the holiness of ADONAI was trampled on. How solemn it was as the choir sang at the daily burnt offering on this day:

ADONAI is King, robed in majesty. ADONAI is robed, girded with strength. The world is well established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; You have existed forever. ADONAI, the seas have raising up, the seas have raising up its voice, the seas have raised up its crashing waves. More than then the sound of rushing waters or the mighty breakers of the sea, ADONAI on high is mighty. Your instructions are very sure; holiness adorns Your house, ADONAI, for all time to come (Psalm 93:1-5 CJB).

Very early in the morning, probably around 4:30 am, all the Sadducees (at least a quorum of the Great Sanhedrin) and the Torah-teachers made their plans how to have the Son of God executed (Matthew 27:1; Mark 15:1a). Those plans violated rule 8 that held all could argue in favor of acquittal, but all could not argue in favor of conviction, and also rule 15 that said the verdict could not be announced at night, only in the daytime (see Lh – The Laws of the Great Sanhedrin Regarding Trials).

No longer bound, Jesus was led inside before them and held, standing between the facing rows. His Father was being worshiped without ceasing in the Sanctuary. Many Jews who believed in Him walked on Solomon’s porch by the candlelight, the sun not yet risen. Most likely some were wondering if Yeshua would come to the Temple that day to teach and heal. But to the Sanhedrin, standing in their midst, He was a dangerous creature that needed to be exterminated quickly and quietly to make the Land safe for Ha’Shem.

When Jesus saw the members of the Jewish Supreme Court file in, slowly and solemnly, glancing fleetingly at Him, and then edge into their seats, the Son of God straightened up and looked directly at them. When all had been seated Caiaphas made his entrance and began pressing the prisoner with the most important charge of blasphemy. If you are the Messiah, he said: tell us (Luke 22:66-67). Once again, this violated rule number 10, there was to be no allowance for the accused to testify against himself. The stated reason for Christ being put on trial was blasphemy; but the real reason was His refusal to follow the Oral Law (see Ei – The Oral Law). There were 21 rules of the Great Sanhedrin regarding trails and in their zeal to kill Jesus they broke every one of them on the fifteenth of Nisan.

Jesus answered: If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. Talking to them was useless. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God (Luke 22:68-69). The Son of Man was about to end His earthly ministry and suffer death, but He was about to enter into His glory (Luke 24:26; Acts 3:13). The present imagery combines Psalm 110:1 (right hand) and Daniel 7:13 (Son of Man). He plainly told the Sanhedrin that He was the Son of God. Stephen saw the fulfillment of this prophecy in Acts 7:54.1528

They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied: You say that I AM. Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips” (Luke 22:70-71). Those actions violated rule 18 that said a unanimous decision for guilt showed innocence since it was impossible for 71 men to agree without plotting, and rule 19 which held the sentence could only be pronounced three days after the guilty verdict (see Lh – The Laws of the Great Sanhedrin Regarding Trials).

Now they needed to vote, individually and formally, to certify the sentence. Ordinarily, Caiaphas said with some earnestness, it would be fitting to deliberate for another day, but one could not deliberate on the Sabbath, which would be upon them in a matter of hours. He reminded them that the prisoner was a chronic desecrator of the Sabbath, having been witnessed healing the sick, curing alleged blind people, and raising people from a stupor giving the appearance of death, all on the Sabbath. What a finer sense of justice than to kill the blasphemer just before the setting sun ushered in a particularly holy Sabbath?1529

After about an hour of interrogation and debate they voted one by one. Rule 17 said voting for the death penalty had to be done by individual count beginning with the youngest so that the elders would not influence the young (see Lh – The Laws of the Great Sanhedrin Regarding Trials). Joseph of Arimathea was not present, since we know he had not consented to their decision and action (Luke 23:50-51). Nicodemus was apparently absent, probably not having been invited because of previous sympathy with Jesus. All the rest voted for His death. We cannot be certain that the roll call began with the oldest members first, but the Sanhedrin had broken every other rule regarding trials. Why stop now? This wasn’t about justice, this was about getting rid of the thorn that had been in their sides for years. They couldn’t kill Him fast enough. Rules? What rules?

Then the written name of the accused, the charge, the finding of guilt and the sentence, along with the prisoner, would be taken to the Roman Procurator for conformation of the sentence. The Sadducees came out of the meeting room first onto the second floor of the Royal Stoa. Then came the Temple guards with Jesus in their midst. They had changed their clothes so that no one could identify them as men who worked in the Temple.

Judas stood inside the Royal Stoa [The Interior of the Royal Stoa] and saw the excitement. He was afraid to ask what the Sanhedrin had decided. But then again, he was afraid not to. The messengers ran off, and in minuets they were back again. The members of the Sanhedrin whispered among themselves and rudely brushed aside any questions of passing pilgrims. The betrayer stood beside one of the giant pillars in the shadows. Several times he started to ask about the verdict, but each time he lost his nerve. Finally, mustering up enough courage, he determined that he had to ask. He had to know. He wished he had remained at home in K’roit where life was uncomplicated. Judas wished with all his heart that he had not volunteered to become a talmid, for his mind worried ever since and there seemed to be no end to it.

He would just have to make Caiaphas somehow understand that he and the rest of the Sanhedrin were mistaken. Yeshua had committed no crime. He had done nothing wrong. He was as innocent of evil as the lamb they would sacrifice at the 9:00 am Chagigah offering. If he could just make the high priest understand this, Judas was sure that everything would be all right because Caiaphas was a just and honorable man, a lawgiver.

Becoming increasingly nervous, his skin felt uncomfortable. People began to notice his unusual movements. He looked wide-eyed and scary. He tugged at his chest, thighs and the back of his neck. Some looked at him with caution. Judas stared sullenly at the faces around him. Some of them seem to resemble the Master. He feared that he was losing his mind. The little man pressed his palms against his temples and ran through the crowd. He almost collided with a messenger, and paused, breathlessly, to ask what the Sanhedrin had decided. The messenger said he not time for such questions. Judas begged, saying he must know what had happened to the prophet from Galilee. “Oh, that one,” said the messenger. “He will be crucified on the tree this morning” (Acts 5:30, 10:39, 13:29; First Peter 2:24).1530

The next step was to take Jesus to Pontius Pilate. The Procurator had little patience with the Jews and didn’t think they were loyal to Rome. During any of the three major festivals that he merely endured, he walked a fine line. If the Jews revolted, which they were inclined to do when they were emboldened by such large numbers, he would take the blame. But if he cracked down too hard, he could be recalled from Rome for disobeying emperor Tiberius’ decree that they be treated as a “sacred trust.”

Pilate had been procurator of Judea for three years. On the surface, his job was merely mediating between local disputes and keeping the peace, but that was easier said than done. The Jewish philosopher Philo would write that Pilate is “a man of inflexible, stubborn and cruel disposition,” and yet the Jews had already managed to outsmart him and at the same time damage his career.

Only two years previous, Caiaphas had had a test of strength with Pilate when he brought his army from Caesarea and moved it to winter quarters in Jerusalem. He took a bold step in subversion of the Jewish practices, by introducing into the city the busts of the emperor that were attached to the military standards. The Torah forbids the making of images. It was for this reason that the previous procurators, when they entered the city, used standards that had no such ornaments. Pilate was the first to bring the images into Jerusalem and set them up, doing it without the knowledge of the people, for he entered at night. But when the people discovered it, they went in a throng to Caesarea and for many days entreated him to take away the images. He refused to yield, since to do so would be an outrage to the emperor; however, since they did not cease entreating him, on the sixth day he secretly armed and placed his troops in position, while he himself came to the speaker's stand. This had been constructed in the stadium, which provided concealment for the army that lay in wait. When the Jews began to pray for God’s help, at a pre-arranged signal he surrounded them with his soldiers and threatened to kill them if they did not put an end to their uproar and return to their own places. But they, casting themselves prostrate and baring their throats, declared that they would rather die than to violate the Torah. Pilate, astonished at the strength of their devotion to the laws, immediately removed the images from Jerusalem and brought them back to Caesarea.1531

Not only that, but Caiaphas also wrote a letter to emperor Tiberias detailing Pilate’s blunder. Tiberius was just livid. As the historian Philo wrote, “Immediately, without even waiting for the next day, he wrote to Pilate, criticizing and scolding him a thousand times for his new-fangled audacity.”

You would think he would have gotten the point, but things only got worse. He had the bright idea of building a new aqueduct to bring water to Jerusalem. Good idea, but he couldn’t get out of his own way. Even though he thought he was doing a good thing, he sabotaged his own effort by forcing the Temple treasury to pay for it. Understandably, the Jews were outraged about the use of “sacred funds,” and during the next festival, a small army of Jews rose up and demanded that he stop its construction. They cursed at Pilate in the streets of Jerusalem.

Adding to his reputation for cruelty, Pilate anticipated the protest and disguised hundreds of his soldiers in the clothes of Jewish pilgrims who hid their weapons in their clothes. When the crowd marched on the palace, the disguised soldiers surrounded the mob and attacked them. They beat and stabbed unarmed pilgrims. “There were a great number of them killed by this means,” the Jewish historian Josephus would later write, “and others of them ran away wounded. An end was put to the attempted overthrow of the sedition.”

The Jewish people viewed Pilate as a thug. And for good reason. Once again Josephus helps us to understand their feelings. They thought him, “spiteful and angry” and spoke of “his venality, his violence, his thefts, his assaults, his abusive behavior, his frequent executions of untried prisoners, and his endless savage cruelty.”

Yet Caiaphas was just as guilty.

The fact was that Pontius Pilate could not rule the Jewish people without the help of Joseph Caiaphas, the acting high priest and leader of the Jewish Supreme Court known as the Great Sanhedrin.

Caiaphas was a master politician and was fully aware that emperor Tiberius not only believed it important to uphold the Jewish traditions, but that he held the hotheaded Pilate on a very short leash. Yes, Pilate may have been in charge of Judea, but it was Caiaphas who oversaw the day-to-day running of Jerusalem, masking his own cruel agenda in religiosity and piety. Few Jews living in Jerusalem would have guessed that the same man who lead the rituals for the atonement for their sins, who appeared in the Temple courts during Passover and Yom Kipper wearing the most stunning ceremonial robes was a dear friend of Rome and of the immoral emperor Tiberius.

So the same man who stands in the presence of God and sees that sins are forgiven is also the high priest who does not object when Pilate loots the Temple funds. Caiaphas was also silent when Jews were massacred in the streets of Yerushalayim. He didn’t complain when Pilate forced him to return those jewel-covered ceremonial robes at the end of each festival. The procurator preferred to keep them in his custody as a reminder of who was in charge, returning them seven days prior to each festival so that they could be purified.

Prior to Joseph Caiaphas, the high priests were puppets of Rome, easily replaced for acts of disobedience. But Caiaphas, a Sadducee, had fashioned a simple yet brilliant formula for staying in power: stay out of Rome’s business.

Caiaphas helped Pilate keep his job, and in turn, Pilate helped to increase his power.

Both men understand their relationship of convenience. So while Caiaphas’ four predecessors served just one year as high priest before being removed, he had been in office twelve years – and showed no signs of slowing down. And with each passing year in power, the bond between Rome and the Temple grew stronger, even as the gap between the high priest and the working-class Jews grew even more spacious. What a pair.

It helped that Pilate and Caiaphas were more alike than they were different. Pilate was born into the wealthy equestrian class of Romans, and Caiaphas was born into a centuries-long line of wealthy Temple priests. Both men were middle-aged and married. Each likely enjoyed a glass of imported wine at the end of a long day. When Pilate left Caesarea and traveled down to Jerusalem, the two of them live a mere hundred yards apart in the well-to-do Upper City, in palaces staffed with slaves. And they both fancied themselves religious men, although they worshiped far different deities.

The last thing Pilate or Caiaphas needed was a renegade Rabbi to upset the careful balance of power – which was exactly why Caiaphas and the members of the Great Sanhedrin planned to arrest Jesus and convict Him by any means necessary.

The Pharisees had completed their second stage of interrogation and had reported back to the Great Sanhedrin. The vote had had been taken and Jesus had been found guilty. And sentenced to death. The next step is to send the criminal to Pontius Pilate to see if he would order Yeshua’s execution. This would be no small task.1532

It was about 5:30 am and the Son of God was led out through “the Gate of Rejection” in the in order to be executed with Roman sanction outside the Holy City of David (Mark 15:1).1533 It was no accident that “the Gate of Rejection” was at the western wall to the back of the Most Holy Place. Isra’el rejected Christ, but His greatest pain would to take place later that same day during the last three hours on the cross. There, for the first and only time in all eternity, God the Father had to turn His back on the Second Person of the Trinity when Jesus became sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB and 1 Peter 2:24).

Today, in the area of the former Gate of Rejection, is the Wailing Wall. It is the remnant of the outer supporting wall of the Temple. The first archway after the former Gate of Rejection is Wilson’s Arch [Wilson’s Arch]. Men pray there as well as in the open area towards the south, up to the barrier of the women’s section. Is it not ironic that it was exactly there, where about 2,000 years ago the Meshiach was thrown out of the Temple by the Jewish leadership, and where the Jewish people lament the lack of peace and the oppression of hostile nations of the world today?1534

Caiaphas and his small group of Sadducees were clever men, and they knew their best chance in convincing Pilate to confirm the death penalty on the Nazarene lay in minimizing him as a religious factor. They had to make him appear to be a small, cheap religious fraud from Galilee. If Pilate guessed that this man had a huge following then all was lost, because the procurator would begin at once to play one set of Jews against another. If he could split the Jews he would soon have them at each other’s throats, and this, from the standpoint of the oppressor, would be ideal.

Thus, it worried Caiaphas to think that any schism in this matter might end up pitting the people against the Temple. In such a fight, more and more people would turn to the faker because he could perform works of wonder and the priests could not. In time, the holy Temple would become like the pyramids of Egypt – a huge tomb. No, this had to be done!

They had to get Jesus out of the Temple Mount unnoticed. There were already about thirty thousand people on the outer court in anticipation of the Chagigah offering at 9:00 am, and if they realized that the Nazarene was being taken to Pilate’s headquarters then there could have been a riot. So they led the convict to the west end of the Royal Stoa, down Tyropoean Valley behind the western wall of the Temple Mount to the Praetorium. To get there they would have pass by Herod Antipas’ Palace in the Upper City and people were still streaming to the Temple Mount for the celebration. What if He were recognized?

They took no chances. One of the Sadducees suggested that it would help if they brought along a crowd to shout against Jesus in the presence of Pilate. The little group of men were amazed at the simplicity of this idea. Whom could they get? Someone suggested to enlist the services of the Temple guards. Those who earned their living at the Temple should work for its preservation. It didn’t matter what they believed, or even if they believed that lie about Lazarus being raised from the dead – they would do as they were told.

Therefore is was decided to take along a large number of temple guard, who would change into their civilian clothes, and to have them shepherded by several Levites. On the march to Pilate’s headquarters on the outside of the western wall they would press closely around the prisoner so that his followers in Jerusalem could not get close to him, or even see who the prisoner was. Then, at the praetorium, the disguised Temple guard would take their cues from the priests who would lead the shouting from the entrance of the double arches.

They led the convict to Pilate’s headquarters in the middle of the road. At all times, the supposed blasphemer had many people ahead of him and on both sides and behind him. No one casually walking these roads in the gray of the morning could tell whether a prisoner was being led somewhere, or whether a group of worshipers were going around to Solomon’s Porch to enter the Temple Mount to celebrate the Chagigah offering later that morning.

With a head start directly out of the Robinson’s Arch [The Robinson’s Arch Side View], Caiaphas arrived at the praetorium first. As earlier that morning, the high priest stood under the twin arches and sent a Gentile messenger in with the news that the Great Sanhedrin, in all its wisdom, had found guilty of blasphemy, one Jesus of Nazareth, who deceived the people by pretending to be king of the Jews. This man had been arrested, tried under the Torah, and condemned to death. If it pleased the procurator of his imperial majesty, Tiberius, the Great Sanhedrin asked that he, Pontius Pilate, endorse the sentence and see that it was executed this day before sunset, the coming of their Shabbat. The messenger disappeared across the courtyard pavement, up the cascading stone steps leading to the praetorium apartments, and into the presence of the procurator. It was read without comment and the messenger was told to ask the high priest to wait.

This was a rude opening move, but Caiaphas had expected it. He stood under the arches with other Sadducees and Pharisees and watched the despised Roman sentries pace their posts. He thought to himself that someday, with the help of ADONAI, the Holy City would be rid of all these defilers. The high priest sighed. If only Meshiach would come. He would drive them out! One of the Sadducees, standing outside the arches, said that the contingent was coming up the street with the Messiah in tow. At almost the same moment, Pilate came out on the balcony with a staff of officers barely behind him.1535 It was just about 6:00 am.

 

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