By J.R. Miller
We speak of the trial of Jesus--but really it was not a trial. There was no intention of giving Him a fair and just hearing. The Sanhedrin had firmly made up its mind to condemn Jesus, and they went through the form of a trial, not to discover the truth about Him--but to endeavor to get some pretext for what they had determined to do. When we think who Jesus was, looking at Him in the light of our belief in Him as the Son of God, the scenes of His trial reveal His enemies in strange character indeed. Think of men arresting the Son of God, binding His hands, and putting Him on trial in their courts!
Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, just after the close of His anguish there. The effect of His arrest on the disciples, was to cause them to scatter and leave Him. While they all fled, John seems to have returned very soon, and we think of him as following close behind his Master on the way to the palace of the high priest. Peter also followed--but "afar off." This was the beginning of his denial.
The rulers had no difficulty in getting men to testify against Jesus. There always are men who can be bribed to do anything. "The chief priests and elders and the council sought false witness against Jesus," that they might put Him to death. Their intention was not to bring out the truth about Him--but to get such testimony as would seem to justify their determination to kill Him! It was false witness they sought--no other kind of witness against Him could be found, for there were none. In all the land there was not a man, woman or child--who could truthfully say a word against Jesus. His was the one life in all the world's history--in which there was no flaw, no blemish. No wonder the question was asked by Pilate, when the Jews clamored for the condemnation of Jesus, "Why, what evil has He done?" The rulers could have found thousands of witnesses to tell of the good things He had done--but they could not find even one to testify of any evil against Him. Hence they deliberately sought false witness.
But even this testimony was not of any use, for one witness swept away what another had said. They found it not, "though many false witnesses came." There are many in these days, too, who are willing and eager to witness against the Bible and against Christianity--but there is no agreement among them. One man, for example, goes about with his hammer, breaking off bits of rock and studying ancient fossils, saying that his deductions demolish the statements of the Bible. But another man, also hostile to Christianity, follows, with his little hammer, and reports others deductions which sweep away the theories and conclusions of the first. So it is with all opposition to Christianity. One witness antagonized another. Amid enmities and assaults, the New Testament stands really unassailable, an impregnable rock, and Christ Himself abides the same yesterday, and today, yes, and forever.
At length, however, two men were found who seemed to agree in their testimony, saying the same thing. Probably they had been drilled and taught just what to say. "At the last came two false witnesses, and said... This man said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days." Really, Jesus never said this. What He did say was, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up," referring to the temple of His body. The Jews taught that any word spoken against the temple, was blasphemy. Jesus had not said, however, that He would destroy the temple--but that if they destroyed it--meaning His body--He would restore it, foretelling His own resurrection. The witnesses perverted His words, however, so as to give the impression that Jesus had actually spoken blasphemy against the temple. There always are those who insist upon garbling and misrepresenting what Jesus said--in order to bolster up their own peculiar opinions.
"But Jesus remained silent" before all that the false witnesses said. There was no reason why He should speak, for there were no charges to answer. His calmness angered the high priest, and he stood up and fiercely demanded, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" Still He answered nothing. There is a time to keep silence. When others say false or bitter things of us or to us--it is usually better not to answer back. Answering does no good--when enemies are in such mood. It only irritates them the more--it does not convince them or soften their hearts.
There is something very majestic in our Lord's silence at this time. There He stood, pale and suffering--yet meek, patient, undisturbed, showing no bitterness, no resentment, and no anxiety concerning the outcome of His trial. "Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (Peter 2:23). The lesson is for us, and we should not fail to get it--when we are wronged or hurt, when others say false things of us--or bitter things to us--we should keep love in our hearts, and say no unloving word and cherish no unloving thought, committing all the wrong, all the injustice--into the hands of our Father, who judges righteously.
But as there is a time to keep silence, there is also a time to speak. Despairing of getting any real ground of charge from the false witnesses, the high priest determined to make Jesus convict Himself. He demanded of Him whether He were indeed the Christ. "I adjure You by the living God--tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God." Instantly the silence was broken. Not to have spoken now--would have been to deny His own Messiahship. To answer would cost Him His life--but He paused not a moment to think of the cost. There come times in everyone's experience, when silence would be disloyalty to Christ. We should have courage then to speak the truth, regardless of consequences.
Not only did Jesus answer the high priest's question--but He went farther and gave him and his fellow-judges a glimpse of the glory of His power. "Yes, it is as you say! But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." Recall this scene before the council--the pale, meek One, standing there as a prisoner, bound, mocked, spit upon, smitten. Then go forward and think of the other scene which His own words bring up, when this same Holy One shall sit on the throne of His glory, wearing the crown of universal power, and when the priests, scribes and elders of that ancient court shall stand before Him, and recognize Him as the very prisoner of whom they looked with such contempt that night of His trial. Who can conceive of the shame, the remorse, the anguish, of that moment? The rulers supposed that Jesus was on trial before them; but really, they were on trial before Him!
There are many who are now, treating Christ with contempt, rejecting His mercy, despising His love, refusing to believe His words. There are those who flippantly deny the deity of Christ and laugh at the claims made by His followers for Him. These, too, will be compelled to see Him when He comes in glory to judge the earth. "Every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him" (Rev.1:17). How are we treating Jesus Christ? Are we looking on Him in love, believing on Him as our personal Savior, following Him as our Master, cleaving to Him as our Friend? Or are we spurning Him from our doors, insulting Him, mocking Him? We must read ourselves and our own relation to Christ into the scene before us.
The last item in the passage, is the formal vote of the Sanhedrin on the question of Christ's guilt. When Jesus had answered, the high priest rent his garments, saying, "He has spoken blasphemy! What further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now you have heard his blasphemy. What do you think?" Instantly came the answer, "He is guilty (or worthy) of death." Thus the vote of the court condemned Jesus as a blasphemer, condemned Him to death because He claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God. This was the signal for the beginning of mocking and insult. They spit on His face and buffeted Him. They blindfolded Him and smote Him and bade Him prophesy who it was that struck Him.