THE UNJUST TRIAL BEFORE CAIAPHAS PROVIDES JESUS THE OPPORTUNITY TO CLEARLY AFFIRM HIS MESSIANIC IDENTITY
Daniel Doriani: The Jewish leaders sought Jesus’ death, nothing less. To reach this goal, they needed to convict him of a capital offense. More to the point, since the Roman governor reserved the right of execution to himself, at least in Judea, they had to find Jesus guilty of a capital crime in both Jewish and Roman law. But what was Jesus’ offense against Jewish law? And since he paid taxes and lived peacefully, how could the Romans condemn him? But the authorities did have Jesus in custody, so “those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled” (26:57). Peter, meanwhile, “followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest” and “sat down with the guards” (26:58).
William Barclay: The process of the trial of Jesus is not altogether easy to follow. It seems to have fallen into three parts.
- The first part took place after the arrest in the Garden, during the night and in the high priest’s house, and is described in this section.
- The second part took place first thing in the morning, and is briefly described in Matthew 27:1–2.
- The third part took place before Pilate, and is described in Matthew 27:11–26.
The salient question is this – was the meeting during the night an official meeting of the Sanhedrin, hastily summoned, or was it merely a preliminary examination, in order to formulate a charge, and was the meeting in the morning the official meeting of the Sanhedrin? However that question is answered, in the trial of Jesus, the Jews violated their own laws; but if the meeting in the night was a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the violation was even more extreme. On the whole, it seems that Matthew took the night meeting to be a meeting of the Sanhedrin, for in verse 59 he says that the whole Sanhedrin sought for false witness to put Jesus to death.
Craig Blomberg: There are numerous apparent illegalities in the officials’ procedures. For example, Jews were not to hold trials at night or during festivals. No capital verdict could be reached in one day, and the accused should have been permitted counsel for the defense. The testimony against Jesus was too flimsy to hold up, and the procedure for calling witnesses made a shambles of the law (see esp. the Mishnaic tractate Sanhedrin).
Leon Morris: When the Romans conquered a country they normally allowed much of the local administration to continue. It obviously made things easier all around if people could continue to a large extent with the judicial institutions with which they were familiar. But the Romans had to exercise a certain caution lest their supporters in the conquered nation be removed by a judicious use of the local courts on the part of those opposed to Rome. So, while the Romans allowed the conquered peoples a good deal of latitude, the conquerors kept the death penalty in their own hands and reserved the right to take over any case at any stage they chose.
In the case of Jesus the situation was complicated by the fact that the Jews saw him as guilty of a religious crime (claiming to be the Messiah, the Son of God, and thus being a blasphemer), but the Romans, who alone had the power to impose the death sentence, would not recognize this as a crime. They could be induced to execute Jesus only by a demonstration that he had committed what they recognized as a serious offense — for example, setting himself up as a King in opposition to Caesar. In what follows Matthew shows us how the Jewish authorities came to condemn Jesus according to their own law and then how they brought a charge before the Roman governor that was not their real grievance but that would induce Pilate to crucify Jesus.
I. (:57-58) PREDETERMINED OUTCOME
A. (:57) Jesus Led to Caiaphas the High Priest Who Had Sanctioned His Seizure
“And those who had seized Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas, the high priest,
where the scribes and the elders were gathered together.”
Craig Blomberg: Jesus returns with his captors to Caiaphas’s house. John adds that the group first paid a courtesy call to the ex-high priest Annas (John 18:13).
Warren Wiersbe: According to Old Testament law, the high priest was to serve until death. But when the Romans took over the nation of Israel, they made the high priesthood an appointed office. This way they could be certain of having a religious leader who would cooperate with their policies. Annas served as high priest form AD 6-15, and five of his sons, as well as Caiaphas his on-in-law, succeeded him. Caiaphas was high priest from AD 18-36, but Annas was still a power behind the throne.
Grant Osborne: It is clear that Caiaphas and leaders in the Sanhedrin had sent out the temple guards and police to arrest Jesus. When he was in custody, they delivered him directly to Caiaphas
B. (:58) Peter Observing in the Courtyard of the High Priest to See the Outcome
“But Peter also was following Him at a distance as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and entered in, and sat down with the officers to see the outcome.”
II. (:59-63a) PREJUDICIAL INQUIRY
A. (:59-60a) Failed Attempts to Find Incriminating Evidence
- (:59) Dogged Pursuit of Their Wicked Agenda
“Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, in order that they might put Him to death;”
Grant Osborne: Of the seventy members of the Sanhedrin, twenty-three were required present for a capital trial (m. Sanh. 7:1). There may have been two, an unofficial interrogation here, and an official verdict later at dawn (27:1, with the two conflated in Luke 22:66–71).
D. A. Carson: Matthew says the Sanhedrin was looking “for false evidence” (pseudomartyria, v.59, GK 6019) and obtained it from “false witnesses” (pseudomartyres, v.60). It is unlikely this means that the Sanhedrin sought liars only; if so, why not simply fabricate the evidence? Rather, the Sanhedrin, already convinced of Jesus’ guilt, went through the motions of securing evidence against him. When people hate, they readily accept false witness; and the Sanhedrin eventually heard and believed just about what it wanted. Matthew knew that Jesus was not guilty and could not be, so he describes the evidence as “false.”
- (:60a) Denied Their Goal of Finding Anything of Substance
“and they did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward.”
B. (:60b-63) Final Fabricated Misquoted Testimony
- (:60b-61) Confusion Over Jesus Referring to the Temple Structure of His Body
“But later on two came forward, and said, ‘This man stated,
I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’”
Here’s what He really said:
John 2:19-21 AV Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? 21 But he spake of the temple of his body.
- (:62) Call for Jesus to Respond to This Fabricated Testimony
“And the high priest stood up and said to Him, ‘Do You make no answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?’”
- (:63) Calm Silence of Jesus
“But Jesus kept silent.”
III. (:63b-64) PROCLAMATION OF MESSIANIC IDENTITY
A. (:63b) Accusing Question Leveled by the High Priest
“And the high priest said to Him, ‘I adjure You by the living God,
that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.’”
Daniel Doriani: The question is not “Are you the Messiah?” The Messiah is the deliverer of Israel, but most thought the Messiah would be a talented but ordinary man—a charismatic or military leader—who would liberate Israel from Rome. To claim to be the Messiah is bold, but not blasphemous. The question is, “Do you claim to be the unique Son of God, partaking in the Lord’s deity?”
David Turner: This question and Jesus’s answer raise the key Matthean motif of Jesus’s divine sonship (Matt. 1:1, 23; 2:15; 3:17; 4:3, 6; 17:5; 28:19). Jesus first ambiguously affirms the high priest’s words (“You said it”; cf. 26:25). He continues with an unambiguous biblical citation that combines Ps. 110:1 and Dan. 7:13 to the effect that he is indeed the glorious Son of Man who will come from the right hand of Power (cf. Matt. 19:28; 24:30; 25:31; John 1:51; 1 En. 62.5). “Power” is an attribute uniquely associated with God, and it stands for God by metonymy. Blomberg (1992a: 403) points out that Matt. 26:64 is “the Christological climax of the Gospel thus far.”
B. (:64) Affirmation of His Messianic Identity by Jesus
“Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you,
hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power,
and coming on the clouds of heaven.’”
Grant Osborne: There is an imminent and yet inaugurated (speaking of what will continue in the future) thrust, as it means Jesus will take his seat with God immediately at his death and resurrection, and in his resurrection his vindication will be immediately visible to all; yet at the same time he will be in the seat of “power” from his resurrection to the parousia and beyond (so Gundry, Brown, Hagner). Senior summarizes it well: “Jesus’ messianic identity which is recognized now (although only implicitly in the wording of his question) by the high priest will become awesomely transparent in the future.” . . .
Yet how will the leaders “see” (ὄψεσθε) all this? They will not see the parousia, but it is proleptically present in the resurrection. . . Brown makes three observations.
(1) There is both a present and a future eschatology in Jesus and the NT on this issue (often called “inaugurated eschatology”); both his glory and his judgment are an already/not yet in force.
(2) Jesus does not say he will glorify himself but that God will vindicate him over the leaders; they will see the beginning of this.
(3) There is a supreme irony in their condemnation of Jesus; everything they accuse him of doing and being is actually true, and the Sanhedrin will see one thing and not realize they are seeing another. On these things Matthew is even more vivid and intense than is Mark.
Van Parunak: The Lord may mean his words not to describe what the high priest will personally recognize, but a statement about how anybody must view him from this point on. It will no longer be possible to view him as an insignificant Galilean pretender. Luz: “the only perspective remaining is the future of the judgment of the world.” Carson: “From then on they would not see him as he now stands before them but only in his capacity as undisputed King Messiah and sovereign Judge.”
Craig Blomberg: Jesus owns none of the nationalistic, anti-Roman associations which the Sanhedrin no doubt still links with “Messiah.” So he qualifies his affirmative with a strong adversative (plen) “but” and goes on to quote Dan 7:13 and Ps 110:1. He is the Christ, the Son of God, when those titles are rightly interpreted. But correct interpretation must allow for him also to be the heavenly Son of Man who occupied the most honored position in the universe, next to the very throne of God, second only to his Heavenly Father, and who will return to earth as judge of the cosmos. Jesus then will judge those who now judge him. Obviously, this kind of Messiah is far more than a human revolutionary.
Leon Morris: It was a difficult question to answer because his understanding of Messiah and that of the high priest were so different. To say either “Yes” or “No” could be misleading. So he says in effect, “That is your word, not mine” (Melinsky, “Yes, but not in the way you mean”). But the effect is, “I would not have put it that way, but since you do I cannot deny it” (cf. Rieu, “The words are yours. This much I add to them …”).
Stu Weber: Jesus affirmed his identity with authority—both in the boldness with which he spoke and with the authority of the Scriptures to back up his claim.
Richard Gardner: Jesus goes on then to make his own statement about his relationship to his accusers (v. 64b), a statement resembling other Son of Man sayings in the Gospel (cf. 16:27-28; 19:28; 24:29-31) drawing on imagery from Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13-14. A paraphrase of Jesus’ words might read: The one you are judging now will meet you later as your exalted judge from heaven! It is this claim that evokes the outburst described in verses 65-66, in which Jesus is charged with the capital offense of blasphemy (cf. Lev. 24:16). This the high priest certifies by the symbolic gesture of tearing his robes (cf. Sanh. 7:5). Following is a scene of mockery (vv. 67-68), a counterpart to the later mocking of Jesus by Roman soldiers (27:27-31). A final decision on Jesus’ fate is not yet reached, however. It is suspended while the spotlight shifts to another scene to one side of the center stage.
Donald Hagner: Jesus’ affirmation of being the Messiah, the Son of God (the background for the two combined titles may have been Ps 2; see Lövestam), may not yet in itself have been sufficient grounds for the high priest to regard him as blaspheming. But when Jesus adds to his answer the quoted material from Dan 7:13 and the allusion to Ps 110:2, identifying himself as that triumphant figure—and thus more than the Messiah as a merely human agent—as the one who is “given dominion and glory and kingship” whom all will serve and whose kingdom will see no end (Dan 7:13–14), the one who sits at the right hand of God (Ps 110:1), the high priest reacts to what he regards as horrifying blasphemy (cf. v. 65).
Bob Deffinbaugh: This is an incredibly powerful statement. Jesus affirms His identity. He is the Messiah. He is the Son of God. He is also the Son of Man, which means that He will return to the earth in power, to deal with His enemies and to establish justice.
These words, if believed, should have struck terror into the hearts of the Jewish religious leaders. Instead, they were taken as blasphemy, a capital offense by Jewish law (see Leviticus 24:10-16; Numbers 15:30). No one in that group paused to reflect on the implications of Jesus’ claim. No one gave serious thought as to whether this claim might be true. In their minds, this was all they needed to condemn Jesus to death. And so the high priest musters all the righteous indignation he can produce, and calls for the death of Jesus.
IV. (:65-68) PERVERSION OF JUSTICE
A. (:65-66a) Vehement Charge of Blasphemy by the High Priest
“Then the high priest tore his robes, saying, ‘He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?’”
B. (:66b) Verdict of Death by the Sanhedrin
“They answered and said, ‘He is deserving of death!’”
C. (:67-68) Verbal and Physical Abuse of Jesus by His Captors
- (:67) Mistreatment
“Then they spat in His face and beat Him with their fists;”
- (:68) Mocking
“and others slapped Him,
and said, ‘Prophesy to us, You Christ; who is the one who hit You?’”
Mark and Luke recorded that they blindfolded Jesus (Mark 14:65; Luke 22:64).
Grant Osborne: You can almost hear the dripping sarcasm as they contemptuously utter, “Messiah” (χριστέ). In the blindfolding (assumed by Matthew) and the call to “prophesy,” they may have been playing a cruel version of a “blind man’s bluff”-type child’s game. Three types have been noted:
- a game of tag where one shuts his eyes and the others cry “prophesy” as he gropes for them;
- a game where a player covers the eyes and then others slap as he guesses where they are;
- and one in which a blindfolded player is hit with papyrus fragments and tries to find the others.
The first and third are close to the one here.
D. A. Carson: “Prophesy” (v.68) does not here imply foretelling the future but revealing hidden knowledge (cf. 11:13): Messiah should be able to tell who hit him, even when blindfolded.
William Barclay: Even the externals of justice were forgotten, and the hostility of the Jewish authorities broke through. That meeting in the night began as a court of justice and ended in a frenzied display of hatred, in which there was no attempt to maintain even the superficialities of impartial justice.
Cf. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (a sermon written by British Colonial Christian theologian Jonathan Edwards, preached to his own congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts, to unknown effect, and again on July 8, 1741 in Enfield, Connecticut.) – here you have “God in the Hands of Angry Sinners”
Forbearance of Jesus (in not immediately striking sinners down in judgment) should lead people to repentance – but also can increase their sense of false security and their arrogance and manifestation of hatred and violence.
Donald Hagner: The mistreatment and mocking of Jesus reflect the hateful animosity of the Jewish leaders toward him. Spitting upon and striking a person (cf. the parallel 27:30 for the same deeds from the Romans) involve insult and pain. The early church soon found this treatment of Jesus to be the fulfillment of scripture (e.g., esp. the servant of Isa 50:6; 53:3, 5; cf. too Mic 5:1). The mocking includes the blindfolding of Jesus (assumed but not mentioned by Matthew; cf. Mark 14:65) and the request for him to “prophesy” (προφήτευσον), i.e., tell supernaturally, who was striking him. The address “Messiah” or “Christ,” which perhaps alludes to the confession in the trial, is, of course, used mockingly. The Messiah would be able to identify his mockers. But not for a minute did they suppose he could be what he claimed. He was for them at that moment a charlatan who deserved no respect.