We continue this morning our look at the last hours of Jesus. He’s prayed in Gethsemane, been betrayed and arrested by the mob, and will now be dragged back and forth for hours from hearing to hearing.
All four gospels inform us on these happenings. These passages especially help us this morning:
Jesus Faces Annas
First, they take Jesus to Annas. Annas was the head of the priestly family. He had been the high priest; now advanced in age, he is determined to take down Jesus and he’s not sure Caiaphas has what it takes. The current high priest is Caiaphas. After his interview with Annas, Jesus is taken to be tried by the Sanhedrin. As Jesus is being interrogated during the night, John and Peter listen in and Peter denies Jesus.
The gospel of John especially tells us about the interview with Annas. They needed to secure Jesus’ guilt in the eyes of the Jews, so that would be a religious charge, and they needed to secure Jesus’ guilt in the eyes of the Romans, because that was the only way they could have Him executed. This was careful business.
John 18:19-23 gives most of our information about the interview. Annas asks Jesus about the disciples and His teaching. Jesus’ response is that He has taught openly, even in the temple, and that He has not taught in secret. Jesus tells Annas to ask witnesses what Jesus taught.
Someone might think Jesus is violating Romans 13, where we are told we are to obey the authorities. But remember what is up. They are trying to murder an innocent; Jesus is innocent of any wrongdoing. There will be a parade of false witnesses who--strangely--will be almost completely unable to agree on their claims about Jesus’ teaching. Also, Jesus is the true King, not Annas and not Caiaphas, so whom has real authority over whom?
The leaders are nervous. In The Desire of Ages, Ellen White tells us:
Not a few among the priests and rulers had been convicted by Christ’s teaching, and only fear of excommunication prevented them from confessing Him.(DA 699)
Annas knew there were supporters of Jesus and that the situation was precarious. Fear was his weapon of resort. Many normally upstanding people are manipulable through fear. Jesus called their work the hour of the power of darkness.(Luke 22:53) Fear is one of the powers of darkness.
This statement in The Great Controversy is worthy of our continued reflection:
God never forces the will or the conscience; but Satan’s constant resort—to gain control of those whom he cannot otherwise seduce—is compulsion by cruelty. Through fear or force he endeavors to rule the conscience and to secure homage to himself.(GC 591)
So several even of the Sadducees are under conviction from the teachings of Jesus, and it is naked fear of being cast out only that prevents many from supporting Jesus. Annas and Caiaphas are extremely aware of this and extremely concerned about it. Religious compulsion is holding people in check.
Fear is always associated with leverage. One thing is weighed against another, a legitimate desire against an illegitimate one. We have set our affections on one thing and on another thing, and our conscience directs us one desire is more rally right than the other. But life runs in ruts, in tire tracks, in convenience and old familiarities. We become deadened, calloused toward the sins we have chosen, and the tug of conscience grows imperceptibly dimmer across time. We do not weigh aright God’s things versus our human things. And Satan uses fear in us like buttons pressed, to work the moral machine toward his goals. Satan’s constant resort is the use of fear or force. When he rules the conscience, he is receiving our worship. Therefore, all coercion needs to be revisited, because all coercion has the effect of corrupting conscience. Fear is constant in totalitarian societies, for, like Satan, fear and force are their constant resort also.
Jesus was fearless because He never forgot who He was, and because there was nothing in him Satan could use as a lever.
Annas questioned Jesus. In The Desire of Ages we read that Annas
thought to draw out some statement to prove that He was seeking to establish a secret society, with the purpose of setting up a new kingdom. Then the priests could deliver Him to the Romans as a disturber of the peace and a creator of insurrection.(DA 699)
Jesus gave him nothing in this line. His teaching had been public, if often veiled in parable and metaphor. Annas’ questioning was fruitless, and the cruel treatment, the beatings and bludgeonings began.
John 18:22 says that Jesus’ suggestion that Annas bring witnesses led to His being beaten. “one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm f his hand, saying, “Do You answer the high priest like that?” Imagine it. Jesus is the ultimate high priest; in comparison, Annas is a lost, self-serving pretender. But all through the night Jesus will be physically abused.
In a moment Jesus’ divine power could lay all His persecutors low, blink them out of existence. But He endured.
Christ suffered keenly under abuse and insult. At the hands of the beings whom He had created, and for whom He was making an infinite sacrifice, He received every indignity. And He suffered in proportion to the perfection of His holiness and His hatred of sin. His trial by men who acted as fiends was to Him a perpetual sacrifice. To be surrounded by human beings under the control of Satan was revolting to Him. And He knew that in a moment, by the flashing forth of His divine power, He could lay His cruel tormentors in the dust. This made the trial the harder to bear.
The Jews were looking for a Messiah to be revealed in outward show. They expected Him, by one flash of overmastering will, to change the current of men’s thoughts, and force from them an acknowledgment of His supremacy. Thus, they believed, He was to secure His own exaltation, and gratify their ambitious hopes. Thus when Christ was treated with contempt, there came to Him a strong temptation to manifest His divine character. By a word, by a look, He could compel His persecutors to confess that He was Lord above kings and rulers, priests and temple. But it was His difficult task to keep to the position He had chosen as one with humanity.
How widely what they expected differed from the truth! They thought of God as a being who with one flash of overmastering will would change the current of men’s thoughts, would “force from them an acknowledgment of His supremacy.” Nothing could be further from His heart and plan. They were thinking of a form of satanic control. Jesus’ answer was goodness. John 19:23: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?”
Rebellion was not to be overcome by force. Compelling power is found only under Satan’s government. The Lord’s principles are not of this order. His authority rests upon goodness, mercy, and love; and the presentation of these principles is the means to be used. God’s government is moral, and truth and love are to be the prevailing power.(DA 759)
Were these things a matter of force, God already would have won. Goodness, mercy, and love are entirely different principles. Immoral governments rely on force. God’s government is moral. Truth and love are its baseline. Annas gained nothing by His examination of Jesus. So he sent Him on to Caiaphas.
Jesus Faces Caiaphas
To see what happens with Caiaphas, we turn especially to Matthew’s account, Matthew 26:57-67. Caiaphas is the current high priest of the Sanhedrin. The council is assembled and Jesus is dragged to this midnight hearing. This was a hearing of corruption for so many reasons we might offer, but let’s stick with some of the clearest facts from the text. Matthew 26:59 tells us the meeting was corrupt. “Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death.”
The idea of an orderly hearing is to protect rights, clarify facts, and to be sure that judgment is carried out with justice, the rights of accused, accuser, and the community a being upheld. But this is a travesty. Those present are all united in their purpose. They are seeking not true but false testimony against Jesus and their goal is to kill Him. By definition, if you take someone’s life based on false testimony, you are enacting murder and you are participating in injustice. The council is not gathered for justice but for injustice.
Nor were false witnesses lacking. On by one they came, but no two seemed to agree on the quaint charges they brought. Jesus stood there, silent as they lied and twisted and misrepresented Him. The Spirit of god was at work to confound their lies. The hours dragged on but Jesus stood quietly as they spewed untruths that didn’t, that couldn’t, match.
The meeting seemed to be futile. Caiaphas grew ever more nervous. And with good reason. “His accusers were entangled, confused, and maddened. The trial was making no headway. . . Caiaphas was desperate.”(DA 706) And well might he be.
They [the high priests] knew the regard in which Jesus was held by the people, and feared that if the arrest were noised abroad, a rescue would be attempted. Again, if the trial and execution were not brought about at once, there would be a week’s delay on account of the celebration of the Passover. This might defeat their plans. In securing the condemnation of Jesus they depended largely upon the clamor of the mob, many of them the rabble of Jerusalem. Should there be a week’s delay, the excitement would abate, and a reaction would be likely to set in. The better part of the people would be aroused in Christ’s favor; many would come forward with testimony in His vindication, bringing to light the mighty works He had done. This would excite popular indignation against the Sanhedrin. Their proceedings would be condemned, and Jesus would be set free, to receive new homage from the multitudes. The priests and rulers therefore determined that before their purpose could become known, Jesus should be delivered into the hands of the Romans.(DA 703)
So, you see, having taken the plunge, they must at all costs speed His processing and murder. The clock was against them. They feared and trembled, not for their conscious murderous intent, but because they felt their control over the people was in great jeopardy.
Caiaphas now shifts gears. He casts aside their efforts in the hours and hours of false testimony. Now He asks Jesus the one thing upon which Jesus cannot remain silent. Matthew 26:63:
I put You under oath by the Living God: tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God?
Do you remember what Jesus taught His disciples?
Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.(Matthew 10:32-33)
Jesus was consistent with His own principles, and here is a fact He must sustain, although to do it means His certain death.
“It is as you say.” Jesus’ response is clear. He is not hiding anything. But now He adds more.
Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.(Matthew 26:64)
Here was Jesus, standing before a corrupt tribunal, an innocent trapped in a room filled with corrupted men, men seeking to take a life, comrades in crime. Witnesses had been bribed, they were meeting in contravention to their on rules, at night, some members had been left out of the proceeding, and this abuse of authority, this sham, would supposedly be justice.
Jesus told their future. Now they would condemn Him, and use the sword of Rome for His execution, but then He would come in glory, then their roles would be reversed. He would be in authority, they would be arraigned before His tribunal. There would be no bribed witnesses or contrived stories. All would appear as in the moment of enactment, all human decisions would be seen in their context, in their self-serving reality.
Jesus came to give life; these men came to this meeting to remove it. Jesus came to serve others; theses men came to serve themselves, to maintain their power such as it is. Jesus came to give goodness undeserved; these men came to hand out punishment undeserved. Jesus came to teach truth; these men came to traffic in lies.
Under no circumstances were the priests to tear their clothes. Do you remember where that rule comes from? In Leviticus 10 Nadab and Abihu offer profane fire before the Lord and God causes them to be burned to death. In response to that Moses warns Aaron and his two remaining sons, among other things, they are not to tear their clothes. That is wear the command comes from. Because they are priests in service to god and to His people and because they are set apart to be holy, they are not to rend what God has designed to strengthen His people, to educate His people. All the ways the priests dressed were significant.
Now, Caiaphas goes into full theatrical mode. He rages and rends his garments. He is using drama to underline Christ’s badness for, never forget it, stating the truth. His is using God’s things to secure the condemnation of Jesus. He is showing by acts that He is out of harmony with God’s purposes. He has his own purposes.
Matthew 26:65-68 tells what happens next:
Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! “What do you think?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.” Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands, saying, “Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?”
They have given themselves wholly over to devils. Now demons are running their minds. If Satan could tear God from His throne an cast Him down and maim Him, he would. He can’t, but he would. But here is Jesus having taken pierceable, tortureable flesh, and the devils do their utmost to exercise cruelty toward Jesus. Nor is the infliction of suffering and pain anywhere near complete. This is just its beginning. And, we may be sure, all the time the devils are whispering in Jesus’ ear, “Strike out; take your divine power; kill these ungratefuls; execute justice against them; abandon Your human example; these pale bags of flesh are unworthy of Your goodness; crater this place now!”
Jesus refuses all those siren appeals. The case was already decided at Gethsemane. But the suffering is none the less cruel. Under the cover of darkness the tortures and mocking continues against One who ever did any other being wrong in all time and eternity.
Peter had this to say: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” The physical tortures were awful yet nothing compared to the mental and emotional. Here was a just person on trial and the whole tribunal unjust judges, cartoons, men denying their own convictions. The whole event was a lie, a suppression of truth. Jesus was the Truth, and these men if they could would bury the truth. And they did bury the truth.
But He rose again.
You can question Jesus all through the night. But He is God, He did live a just life, He never sinned, the Father accepted His sacrifice for you and I, and He will rise again, personally innocent and pure. The Father received Him back into heaven as part of an extraordinary project to receive you and I there too. Will we accept regeneration? Will we receive forgiveness? Will we consent to, will we desire, holiness? Or do we prefer darkness, night, the absence of light?
2021-10-02 Fremont MI SD church
2021-10-02 Muskegon MI SDA church