The 6 Trials of Jesus Christ
According to Amnesty International, the conviction of Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges after a deeply flawed and politically motivated trial is a travesty of justice. After his arrest in February 2015, he was denied access to a lawyer at the start of his trial, and even when he was allowed legal representation the lawyers were not given enough time to prepare his defence. Two of the three judges assigned to his case were the very ones who had acted as state witnesses against him during the investigation.
In the gospels we see that Jesus also suffered a travesty of justice when He was convicted of false accusations. Although He was innocent, Jesus was condemned to be executed. But because Jesus was executed, Barabbas (a terrorist) was freed from prison.
Jesus Christ was a Jew who lived in Palestine in the first century AD under the rule of the Roman Empire. The gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible are selective biographies of His life. They were compiled by eyewitnesses and their colleagues.
Because large crowds followed Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders were envious and jealous of his popularity. Furthermore, because they thought Jesus threatened their power and authority, the religious leaders planned to kill Him (Mt. 26:3-4). When Judas Iscariot offered to betray Jesus, they gave him a payment that was equivalent to five months wages (Mt. 26:14-15). Jesus was arrested by a detachment of Roman soldiers and Jewish officials when He was betrayed by Judas (Jn. 18:1-13).
Before He was executed in Jerusalem, Jesus was brought before the Jewish religious authorities and the Roman civil authorities in three religious trials and three civil trials. So He was given six trials in a period of about 16 hours. We will now look at these in turn, beginning with the religious trials.
First trial (Jn. 18:13, 19-24)
After His arrest on Thursday evening, Jesus was bound and taken to Annas, the previous high priest. Annas questioned Jesus about His disciples and His teaching as if these were a threat to the Mosaic Law and the Roman Government. Jesus replied by saying that Annas should have known what He taught because it was done in public and many Jews were present. And what He taught His disciples was consistent with His public messages. Then one of the Jewish officials slapped Him in the face. When Jesus asked the officials who were present to provide evidence of anything that He said which was wrong, they didn’t reply.
So Annas failed to prove any charges against Jesus! He appeared to be innocent. But because they wanted to kill Him, instead of releasing Jesus, Annas sent Him to Caiaphas, the high priest.
Second trial (Mt. 26:57-68; Mk. 14:53-65; Lk. 22:54-64; Jn. 18:24)
The Jewish Council (Sanhedrin) was at Caiaphas’ house on Thursday night (perhaps midnight). Their strategy was to use false evidence to put Jesus to death. But they couldn’t find any, even though many false witnesses came forward (because their evidence was contradictory).
When Caiaphas asked Jesus if He was the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus agreed with this statement and said He was the Son of Man. Consequently, Caiaphas accused Him of blaspheme (speaking evil against God). After the high priest pronounced that He was guilty, the Council agreed that He deserved to be put to death as under the Law of Moses, the punishment for blaspheme was death (Lev. 24:16). Jesus is then mocked and beaten and kept overnight to appear once again before the Council so they could make the verdict official on the following morning.
Third trial (Mt 27:1-2; Mk. 15:1a; Lk. 22:66-71)
The Jewish Council (Sanhedrin) met early Friday morning (perhaps 5-6am) and made plans to accuse Jesus of treason against the Roman Empire. When Jesus was brought before them they asked Him once again if He was the Jewish Messiah. After Jesus confirmed this, they thought this supported their accusation of treason, so they sent Him to Pontius Pilate the Roman governor over Judea (AD 26 to AD 36) because he was the only one who could impose the death penalty (Jn. 18:31). As Pilate wouldn’t be interested in the religious charge of blaspheme, they changed it into a political charge of treason.
This is the end of the Jewish religious trials and the beginning of the Roman civil ones.
Fourth trial (Mt 27:2, 11-14; Mk. 15:1b-5; Lk. 23:1-5; Jn. 18:28-38)
Early Friday morning (perhaps 6-7am) at the Praetorium, the Jewish leaders made three charges against Jesus: that he subverted the nation, opposed paying taxes to Caesar, and claimed to be a king. They told Pilate that these threatened the Roman Empire. But Jesus didn’t reply to these accusations because they were false. Although large crowds followed Jesus, He wasn’t misleading them or turning them against the Roman Empire. He said “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Lk. 20:25NIV). And although Jesus claimed to be the Jewish Messiah, He wasn’t a political or military king.
When Pilate asked Jesus if He was the king of the Jews, Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this world. Pilate concluded that Jesus was innocent (“I find no basis for a charge against this man” ). So Pilate wanted to set Jesus free. But the Jewish leaders wouldn’t accept this verdict.
When Pilate heard that Jesus was from Galilee, he realized that he could transfer the case to king Herod who ruled over Galilee and was Jewish. Herod was in Jerusalem at the time for the Passover Festival. So Pilate hoped that he wouldn’t need to be involved with this complicated case anymore.
Fifth trial (Lk. 23:6-12)
Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea. When Jesus was taken to Herod’s palace on Friday morning, Herod seems to be more interested in seeing a miracle than in investigating the charges against Jesus. When Jesus doesn’t answer his questions, he ridiculed and mocked Him and sent Him back to Pilate. So Pilate has to face this problem once again!
Herod found no basis for the charges that were made against Jesus (Lk. 23:14-15). He concluded that Jesus was innocent. Through their mocking of an innocent man on Good Friday, Herod and Pilate’s animosity turned in to friendship.
Sixth trial (Mt. 27:15-26; Mk. 15:6-15; Lk. 23:13-25; Jn. 18:39 – 19:16)
Jesus returns to the Praetorium later on Friday morning. Pilate said that as he and Herod agreed that Jesus was innocent, Jesus would be punished and released. But the Jewish religious leaders demanded that Jesus be put to death.
As it was the custom for a prisoner to be released for the Passover Festival, Pilate asked the crowd whether they wanted Jesus Barabbas (a terrorist who was imprisoned because of insurrection and murder) or Jesus Christ to be released for the Festival. Barabbas was probably a Jewish Zealot who rebelled against the Romans (Lk. 23:19; Jn. 18:40). Pilate was attempting to free Jesus (Jn. 19:12). He also did this because he knew that the Jewish leaders were protecting their interests by handing Jesus over to the civil authorities.
At this time, Pilate’s wife advised him that as Jesus was innocent, he should dismiss the case. Both Luke and John record that three times Pilate stated publicly that Jesus was innocent (Lk. 23:4, 14, 22; Jn. 18:38; 19:4, 6). But the Jewish leaders stirred up the crowd and they demanded that Jesus be crucified and Barabbas be released. While the Jewish leaders falsely accused Christ of treason against the Romans, they demanded the release Barabbas who was guilty of that crime!
When Pilate asked the crowd, “What crime has He committed?”, they kept shouting “Crucify Him!”. In a moment of weakness and because he wanted to please the people, Pilate let the crowd have their way. He changed his mind and said that Jesus was guilty. So he released the guilty Jesus Barabbas and condemned the innocent Jesus Christ to flogging and crucifixion.
What are the lessons for us today?
Each of these six instances were kangaroo courts and not fair trials. The trials were brief and didn’t follow proper legal procedure. The Jewish leaders persisted until they got the verdict they wanted. Consequently, the innocent One (Jesus) was condemned as guilty, and the guilty one (Barabbas) was released as innocent. An innocent man was executed so a terrorist could be released.
In March 2015, an Afgan woman named Farkhunda was beaten to death, burned and thrown in a river for allegedly burning a copy of the Koran. But she was innocent, being a 27-year old Muslim scholar. Apparently a group of policeman did nothing to stop the attack by an angry mob of men. Hundreds marched in Kabul demanding justice over the vicious killing. 26 men have been arrested in connection to the homicide. Both Farkhunda and Jesus Christ were killed for crimes they didn’t commit.
So who is guilty of having Jesus executed? Was it the Jews or the Romans (who were Gentiles)?
It was both – The Jews brought the charges, while the Romans performed the crucifixion. Although Pilate said “I am innocent of this man’s blood”, he gave the final verdict (Mt. 27:24-25). And the Jews responded, “His blood is on us and on our children!” (Mt. 27:25). Jesus told Pilate “the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin” (Jn. 19:11). So both sinned, but Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin were more guilty than Pilate. Soon afterwards, Peter told the Jews “you, with the help of wicked men (the Romans), put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross” (Acts 2:23). During the crucifixion Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). So if they confessed their sins, they could be forgiven. Likewise, if we confess our sins to God, we can be forgiven as well.
Did you know that we are like Barabbas? As Barabbas was guilty of rebellion against the Roman Empire, we are guilty of rebelling against God (sin). Because Jesus was executed, Barabbas was freed from prison. So Barabbas should have been thankful for Jesus giving up His life for him at Calvary. Likewise, because Jesus died and rose back to life, He paid the penalty for our sin and we can be seen as being innocent. If we accept this sacrifice and confess our sins, we are no longer condemned. Have we accepted Christ’s gift to us? Are we thankful for what He did for us at Calvary?
We have seen that Jesus suffered a travesty of justice when He was convicted of false accusations. Although He was innocent, Jesus was condemned to be executed. But because Jesus was executed, Barabbas was freed from prison and we can be freed from the penalty of our sin.
Written, April 2015