FROM GETHSEMANI, Jesus’ captors brought Him back to Jerusalem and led Him through the dark streets of the city to the home of Annas, the former high priest. He had been deposed fifteen years before, but was still consulted occasionally in an unofficial capacity. He had apparently taken some interest in the plot against Jesus and now interrogated Him briefly in the hope of proving the case against Him before any official proceedings were begun.
Annas first questioned Jesus about His disciples and His teachings. Jesus replied:
“I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the temple, where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why dost thou question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; behold, these know what I have said.”
Hoping, perhaps, to win favor with his master, one of Annas’ attendants now struck a blow at Jesus, and said, “Is that the way Thou dost answer the high priest?” But Jesus said, calmly and with dignity:
“If I have spoken ill, bear witness to the evil; but if well, why dost thou strike Me?”
Achieving no success in his inquisition of the prisoner, Annas returned Jesus to the guards and sent Him off under their escort to the house of Caiphas, his son-in-law, who had been appointed high priest by the procurator Valerius Gratus twelve years before.
The chief priests and leaders of the Jews had been gathered for some time at the house of Caiphas. They had waited long for this opportunity and were determined not to lose it. However, the occasion could hardly have been less propitious; Rabbinical precept opposed a night trial; the trial was to begin with testimony of witnesses favorable to the accused (which the Sanhedrin, naturally, was not interested in hearing); and, even if a guilty verdict were secured, a death sentence could not be carried out for some days: the Law forbade executions before the day after the trial, but in this instance the day following was the Sabbath, which was also a day on which a death penalty could not be executed.
Nevertheless, the members of the Sanhedrin felt that their position was strong enough for them to violate these niceties of the Rabbinical code, and they began marshalling their evidence against Jesus. To their surprise, however, they found a real difficulty in producing satisfactory witnesses. For months their spies had been following Jesus about, listening to His preaching, and collecting statements which might be used as evidence against Him. But at this critical moment, when they were brought forth to testify, they obviously contradicted each other; their testimony was worse than useless.
Two witnesses (the absolute minimum permitted by the Law of Moses) were found who testified that Jesus had blasphemed against the temple, though they were actually misrepresenting the meaning of Jesus’ words. Two years before, while in Jerusalem for the Passover, He had said to some Jews who were asking for some sign of His authority:
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
He was referring to His death and resurrection, but His hearers had taken His words literally and had argued that He could not possibly erect in three days a temple like that of Jerusalem, which had been in the course of construction for forty-six years. Evidently, the witnesses who now came forward had been present that day, but they had found His words significant from a quite different point of view. For they testified as follows: “We ourselves have heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple built by hands, and after three days I will build another, not built by hands.'”
The judges themselves were dissatisfied with this testimony, but they called on Jesus to reply, saying, “Dost Thou make no answer to the things that these men prefer against Thee?” When He remained silent, the high priest asked a direct question which he was sure would lead to the destruction of the prisoner. In the most solemn tones he could command, he said, “I adjure Thee by the living God that Thou tell us whether Thou art the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus answered:
“Thou hast said it. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming upon the clouds of heaven.”
The features of the high priest registered horror and utter dismay. Rending his garments, he exclaimed, “He has blasphemed; what further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” And the Sanhedrin, moved by the high priest’s histrionics, condemned Jesus, saying, “He is liable to death.”
They were aware, certainly, that their decision had nothing of the character of a legal verdict: besides all the other irregularities of their procedure, they had just violated the injunction of Scripture that an accused person is to be judged on the testimony of other witnesses (not on his own testimony). They regarded their decision in this preliminary session as a kind of temporary indictment, a charge on which a definitive judgment could be made when they convened formally later that morning.
When the guards in charge of Jesus learned that the Sanhedrin had declared against Him, they began to buffet Him and to spit in His face. Then they blindfolded Him and struck Him in the face with the flat of their hands, saying, “Prophesy to us, O Christ, who is it that struck Thee?” And they continued to insult and revile Him until dawn.
Meditation: Christ Who could have immediately stopped the whole procedure against Himself, Who could have escaped from or struck dead His accusers, allowed the evil-plotting Annas and Caiphas to carry out their plans. He was not only willing to die for us, He was willing to allow these devious characters to plot and to scheme against Him. Divine though He was, He submitted to the crude devices of unscrupulous men. At the slightest imagined injustice to ourselves, we, unlike Christ, protest indignantly.
Information from The Life of Christ “Our Lord’s Life with Lesson in His Own Words for Our Life Today” The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 251-254. © 1954 edited by Reverend John P. O’Connell, MASTD and Jex Martin, following mainly A Chronological Harmony of the Gospels by Stephen J Hartdegen OFM NIHIL OBSTAT John A McMahon; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago August 1, 1953. Print. Drawing by Albert H Winkler.