Note: Bibliography of the entire paper is at the end.
To the modern reader the entire trial seems openly unjust, and blame seems to rest upon Pilate for being weak in light of the mounting pressure, as he clearly condemned an innocent man. But the story is much deeper, and one must again return, rightly so, to Mark 14, where the first trial took place. It is here that the Jewish leaders openly condemn Christ to death, because of blasphemy, and Pilate is only their puppet to see their desires through (Klinghoffer 72-74). Mark 14:55 clearly settles this: “Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none” (Italics mine). The hard part for them was convincing the Roman government to sentence him. Bock sums this up by stating that “the examination that was held was always an attempt to gather charges, so that a case could be made before Rome and Pilate” (194).
The Sanhedrin did not condemn Jesus for claiming to be the Messiah, or for stating He would destroy the temple, or for His spiritual powers. As for Jesus being the Messiah, Jews prayed every day for the Messiah to come (Klinghoffer 63), they were expectantly waiting for Him and Jesus seemed to fit the requirements to many. As for Jesus’ threat to destroy the temple, it was largely laughed at, and was not of major importance. Lastly, Jesus’ spiritual powers could not be denied, even by the Sanhedrin, but they attributed it to Satan (Mark 3:22). No, none of these explain truly why the Jewish leaders had to kill Jesus. Of course, ultimately, Jesus had come to die, so their having to kill Jesus was only fulfilling prophecy and accomplishing His intended plan (Mark 10:45).
The claims of Jesus that got Him killed were truly blasphemy, if coming from the mouth of a human. Man has no authority unless it is given to him, and pride is always a sin for him, for he owns nothing. But Jesus claimed to be God, and boldly declared Himself to have equal rights with God, the Sanhedrin was left in shock and anger: He had pronounced blasphemy, making himself equal to God (John 5:18). Such had almost had Him stoned earlier in His ministry (John 11:30-1). While some argue that Jesus would never have had the idea to claim Himself as deity (Klinghoffer 67), it is a central teaching of the entire New Testament, and clearly the Sanhedrin saw this as well. The trial answer in Mark 14:61-4 brings this to light:
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death.
When asked if He was the Messiah, the Christ, He answers “I am.” At this answer the high priest would have again brought out false witnesses to disprove this claim, but Jesus does not leave this option open. He continues instead “and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” This statement released the furious anger of the high priest and ultimately condemned Christ by His own declaration. But what is so spectacularly blasphemous about this claim?
Psalm 110:1 was quoted by Jesus when He connected Himself, the Son of Man, to “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Italics mine). It is clear that David is not the one at the right hand of God, but instead, it is David’s Lord, as Christ had earlier interpreted (Mark 12:36-7). This is a conversation between God the Father and God the Son, as Christ declares, and in this He stated that He was this second Person, an equal to God (Bock 12). Here, this man before them was authoritatively declaring before them, that He was deity incarnate! This point became and still is the main dividing line between Christianity and Judaism, as Klinghoffer acknowledges (27-8).
The second part of Psalm 110, where David declares the role of judge to “my lord”, is used by Christ in His answer to allude next to Daniel 7:13-4. It prophecies,
[B]ehold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Italics mine)
Jesus, by connecting these Messianic promises, interprets Himself as being God incarnate, both as the judge of the world, and king of the world. In essence, this Man from Nazareth was standing before the rulers of Israel, condemning their trial as unjust and insignificant. “In fact, the claim to come on the clouds is a significant claim, not only alluding to Daniel 7:13, but also using imagery that claims a right that only deity possesses” (Bock 201). The Ruler of the world stood before them, as God in flesh (Isaiah 9:6), declaring that He would vindicate this injustice and punish them if they declared Him guilty. And so, in context, this claim was enormous in magnitude and heavy with glory. Yet the Sanhedrin condemned Him, rejecting His claims and handing Him over to be killed.
The stage was set, this homeless wanderer from Nazareth, with His untrained mob of followers: who was He? The evidence was overwhelming, yet underwhelming at the same time, in perhaps the greatest paradox of all time. Could this simple Man possibly be God? It is hard to blame the Sanhedrin for utterly rejecting Jesus and declaring Him a blasphemer and a lunatic. And yet, He had proven Himself to be the Messiah (Mark 2:7), and God had declared His Son to be God incarnate (Matthew 3:17). Could not God have worked differently in His Son, so that He would not have been so utterly rejected by the rulers of Israel? Did they falter from God’s plan by rejecting the Messiah? No, absolutely not (Luke 24:25-7).
Christ had rejected them (Matthew 21:33-45), knowing they would reject Him (John 1:10-1), having come with the intent of “[bearing] our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25). The Jewish leaders had not done their job, but were irresponsible shepherds (John 10:12) and blind guides (Matthew 23:24).In contrast, “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
It becomes, at this point, easy to criminalize the leaders of Israel for rejecting the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. After Christ was resurrected from the dead, as prophesied (Psalm 16:10), things became much clearer, and the homeless Man has become seen more and more as the God of glory, who came to dwell among us (John 1:14). But men today still reject Jesus, and deny Him as being wrong. The court case lies before each one today: who is this Jesus? If He truly is God, and truly resurrected from the dead, and truly will come to judge the world for rejecting or accepting Him, what then? With limited knowledge the Sanhedrin opposed and rejected Jesus as a fraud, but how many reject Him today, seeing Him as wrong, or unnecessary, or as simply a great teacher.
Jesus was rejected, as has been shown, for a combination of reasons. First of all, for imposing His authority on the rabbis of Israel, by laying to waste the false authority of the oral Torah. Secondly, and most importantly, for claiming Himself to be One and the same with God, thus having the authority to judge the world. Yet His trial, as it were, did not end there, for it is up to all men to decide if Christ was ultimately right or wrong. If the Galilean really is God, then there are serious ramifications to be dealt with, for those who reject Christ reject God, meaning eternal separation from God (Matthew 10:33; Luke 16:19-31). But Christ countered this, by calling all to believe His words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-6).
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