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
It has come to my attention that the “three religious trials”, were examinations, not trials. The purpose of the examinations was to gather evidence for the civil trials. After they obtained the religious charge of “blaspheme” (Mk. 14:62-63), the religious leaders changed it into a political charge of treason (Mk. 15:1; Lk. 23:2).
How to develop your sense of good and evil
The conscience is like a monitor or an alarm that God uses to remind us when something is wrong. Everybody has a conscience, but when it comes to registering what is right and wrong, different consciences may come up with different readings. Sometimes the alarm does not ring when it should; at other times there is a false alarm.
God made us with a conscience, an inborn sense of right and wrong. Remember, Adam and Eve felt guilty and hid from God after they sinned. The conscience is like a law written in the human heart, an inner voice that accuses us if it thinks we are wrong; or defends us if it thinks we are right (Rom. 2:15). If we heed these promptings we have a clear conscience; if we disregard them we should have a guilty conscience (1 Tim. 1:5; Heb. 10:22).
However, the conscience is linked with the mind. What is fed into the mind concerning right and wrong will eventually influence how the conscience works. It is like a computer in that it only comes up with the right answers if it is fed the right information. If our conscience is working right we will be aware of our sinfulness as Adam and Eve were.
Since the conscience can fail to operate when it should and can give a false alarm, it is not a perfect guide of right and wrong. We need to allow for the fact that our conscience can be wrong and we need to recognize that God is the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong (1 Cor. 4:4). The Bible refers to three kinds of conscience: guilty, corrupt and clear.
A Guilty Conscience
Since we have all sinned and fall short of God’s standard, we all should experience a guilty conscience from time to time (Rom. 3:23). Consider these three examples from the Bible. First, when Jesus asked the accusers of the woman caught in adultery if any of them was “without sin” (Jn. 8:7), He exposed their guilt and they departed.
Second, after Peter denied knowing Jesus for the third time, he broke down and cried because he remembered Jesus’ words: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown Me three times” (Mk. 14:72 NIV). Convicted of his failure, he confessed, was restored and then was used mightily by God in the early Church.
Third, after Judas betrayed Jesus, he was seized with guilt, returned the money he had been paid, and then committed suicide. (Mt. 27:3-5). In each of these cases the alarm sounded when it should, showing us that people can respond to a guilty conscience in a positive or negative way. They either deal correctly with the alarm or try to escape it.
A Corrupt Conscience
If we set our alarm at night but ignore it in the morning, the time will come when we will sleep right through it. In the same way, if we keep ignoring our conscience, it will become ineffective. Because of this, many people have little sense of sin. Their consciences are described as being either “seared as with a hot iron” or “corrupted” (1 Tim. 4:2; Ti. 1:15). These two illustrations involve being burned and injured, or polluted and contaminated. These consciences are insensitive to sin; they do not work properly. This is one reason why evangelism of adults can be difficult.
A Clear Conscience
The Bible says that Christ’s death can change a guilty conscience to a clear one (Heb. 9:14). This kind of conscience is also called a good or clean conscience. In this case, the alarm is set and ready to sound at the right time, and we respond to it. The first step to a clear conscience is to become a Christian.
The Holy Spirit can use our consciences to make us feel guilty of sin (Jn. 16:8). The truth of the gospel enlightens our conscience and brings about conviction of sin, which is the first stage of repentance. For example, when Peter spoke at Pentecost, the people “were cut to the heart” and asked, “What shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent … for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:37-38). Believers are cleansed from a guilty conscience in order to serve the living God (Heb. 9:14; 10:22).
Salvation sets us free from condemnation (Rom. 8:1). But if we do not keep our conscience clear, this will show in our daily life by affecting our fellowship with God and our prayer life. We won’t enjoy God’s presence if we have a guilty conscience – just like we do not feel comfortable around our parents when we have a guilty conscience. A guilty conscience will also affect our faith and love. As a good conscience is linked with strong faith, a guilty conscience leads to weak faith (1 Tim. 1:5,19). As love is an outcome of a good conscience, it is diminished by a guilty conscience. A guilty conscience affects our desire to read the Bible. As a troubled conscience can decrease our appetite for natural food, it can also decrease our appetite for spiritual food.
Caring For Our Conscience
Just as alarms need power, maintenance and correct settings to operate properly, we need to care for our conscience to keep it operating correctly. One thing we must do to keep our conscience empowered and calibrated is confess sin: “If we confess our sins He … will forgive us” (1 Jn. 1:9). He promised through Christ’s death to “cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death” (Heb. 9:14). But it’s not enough just to confess; we must also change our behavior (Jas. 1:22). We must also stop doing what we shouldn’t do. This is called repentance. We must begin to live by our convictions (Rom. 14:5,14,23).
We must train our conscience to be strong. This takes time just like it takes time to train children for adulthood. Those who are mature have trained their senses “to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14). A conscience marred by a sinful nature needs to be transformed (Rom. 12:2).
Paul said, “I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and mankind” (Acts 24:16). Confessing to and praying for each other are effective ways to keep a clear conscience between each other (Jas. 5:16). Maintaining a clear conscience in our marriage, family and local church, and with neighbors, friends and business associates is important.
As we grasp more and more truth about God’s will, our conscience becomes more enlightened. This does not necessarily mean we should feel guilty about more and more things, because sometimes we feel guilty when we should not. Remember the false alarm. Paul referred to believers who felt guilty for no good reason as having a “weak” conscience (1 Cor. 8:7,8). He referred to those free from this false guilt as having a “strong” conscience. They were more mature, like deacons who “must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim. 3:9). How important it is to be filled “with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col. 1:9). We have the Bible and the Holy Spirit to guide us towards this maturity (Jn. 16:13).
How do we act toward other believers when their behavior doesn’t meet our standard? What do we do when we see a believer engaging in what we consider a questionable activity? How do we react when people try to force us to follow their convictions?
The Bible distinguishes between essentials and non-essentials in the Christian faith. The essentials or fundamentals are things which all believers should agree on. They are the tests the Bible sets forth for recognizing false teachers and false ideas about such things as: the person and work of Christ; the good news of salvation “by grace … through faith … not by works” (Eph. 2:8-9); and the inspiration and authority of the Bible as God’s revelation to us.
Apart from such foundational truths, there are many other things in the Bible that are not as clear, and not as easily understood. In these matters we must allow for differing opinions. This includes “disputable (debateable) matters” (Rom. 14:1), where the Bible allows for differences of opinion. This is illustrated in Romans 14 by two examples.
The first concerns eating meat: “One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables” (Rom. 14:2). When the book of Romans was written, the situation among Gentile believers (those with no Jewish ancestry) was an interesting one. Most had participated in pagan worship which included animal sacrifices to pagan gods, or idolatry. The animals that were sacrificed were usually sold as meat on the open market.
So for those who had been saved out of this lifestyle the question became whether they should eat the meat sacrificed to these idols. By eating that meat, were they participating in the idolatry of pagans? This was a hard question for many. And desiring not to participate in idolatrous practices, many of these Gentile Christians became vegetarians. Only in that way could they assure themselves that they were not eating meat sacrificed to idols.
Paul said that the weak believer ate only vegetables, whereas the strong believer’s faith allowed him to eat this meat because he understood that the idols to which the meat had been offered were not gods at all – only pieces of wood, stone or metal. Therefore, if they ate the meat with that understanding, they were not participating in idolatry.
The second example has to do with observing special days as holy days: “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike” (Rom. 14:5). Those who had been saved out of the Jewish tradition of Sabbath days and festivals were apt to make a great deal out of those observances. However, others not coming from that background felt that every day was the Lord’s day, and none were more special than others. This created problems in the early church. How were believers to live together who did not agree in every detail? How are we, today, to deal with other believers whose opinions differ from ours?
Instructions For Living Together
Those scriptural principles which instruct us to live together in harmony and love with other believers often involve the conscience. It is clear that they are important because of the numerous references to them in the New Testament.
One such principle is that we accept one another: “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable (debatable) matters” (Rom. 14:1). The Christian is to accept other believers without passing judgment on every opinion they hold. We are to allow for differing opinions, because they do not necessarily mean a differing faith, but a faith that is weak.
Another principle is that we respect another’s conscience – regardless of whether it is more strict and scrupulous or more tolerant and easy-going than ours (Rom. 14:3). In other words, we are to allow for the differing conclusions of honest believers who are seeking the mind of Christ. And further, we are to allow for them without criticism, contempt, and judgment (Rom. 14:10). We should not put others down (Rom. 14:13). We should respond with love rather than criticism. Remember, God has accepted them and so should we. He is judge in these matters, not us.
A third principle is that we don’t allow another’s conscience to override ours (Rom. 14:16), and that we don’t force our conscience on others (Rom. 14:22). We can share our opinion, but it is important to give others space to grow and to allow for the possibility that we may be wrong.
A final principle is that we be careful that our behavior does not stumble others and cause them to sin by not following their conscience (Rom. 14:20-21; 1 Cor. 8:13). Don’t let debatable matters destroy the work of God. Paul stated, “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the Church of God – even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:32-33).
Repairing The Alarm
Let’s be like Paul and always strive to keep our conscience clear before God and one another, so that it sounds an alarm at the right time and is silent at the right time. If our conscience is guilty, let’s respond to the alarm like Peter who confessed his sin and was restored to God. If it is corrupt, let’s get our alarm repaired so it can recognize our sin.
Also, let’s endeavor to become more mature by training our conscience to be strong. Those with legalistic viewpoints have consciences that are stricter than the Bible; those with liberal viewpoints have consciences that are more lax than the Bible. Both are weak. Are we allowing the Holy Spirit to constantly use the Bible to develop, exercise and strengthen our conscience so we can readily distinguish good from evil — and live accordingly?