sermon: Jesus Christ's Trial (Part Two)
Illegalities of Christ Trial
Martin G. Collins
Given 09-Mar-13; Sermon #1146; 73 minutes
The arrest, trials, and crucifixion of Jesus were unlawful: (1) The arrest was conducted on the basis of testimony from a traitor who had taken a bribe. (2) The trial was conducted at night. By Jewish law, no capital trial should have ever been conducted at night. (3) The judge Caiaphas, by himself, attained a charge of blasphemy by extracting testimony under oath, whereas, by Jewish law, Caiaphas, as the High Priest, should have remained quiet. (4) The unanimous vote of the Sanhedrin amounted to mob rule, totally against Jewish law. (5) Jesus had no defense counsel, only the hatred of multiple prosecutors. Attainable evidence substantiating the Messiahship of Jesus included: (1) His birth in Bethlehem, (2) His birth through a virgin, (3) His lineage through the House of David, (4) His announcement through the forerunner, John the Baptist, (5) His performing many miraculous works, (6) His public entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey, (7) His betrayal by a close friend, and (8) His common appearance and acquaintance with sorrows. To counter Caiaphas's charges of blasphemy, we only have to look at the multiple prophecies of the incarnation of the Son of God in human flesh. John recorded Peter's weakness as a lesson to us that we are also vulnerable and are culpable in His crucifixion; we have also denied Him and consequently need Christ's strengthening. If Peter (perhaps the boldest and most loyal disciple Jesus ever had) can fail, all of us can fail. Sin is easy to commit, and becomes easier to commit once we have started to sin. We can learn from Peter's mistakes by committing ourselves to pray more fervently, following Christ more closely, and by maintaining our distance from the world's influences.
No trial has so challenged the western world or so charged our emotions as the trial of Jesus Christ by the Jewish and Roman authorities in Palestine. Other trials were passive and routine compared with the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. No person has been hated more than the totally innocent Jesus.
In my last sermon I gave a general overview of the events in which the trial(s) took place. These trials had four main features: 1) The arrest, which we briefly covered. A mob guided by Judas and led by the chief priests and captains of the Temple came out with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus. This took place very late at night on Passover 31 AD. 2) The Jewish trial. 3) The Roman trial, and this was necessary because, although the Jewish court could convict, it could not execute and therefore had to seek Roman concurrence in its verdict. 4) The crucifixion and execution of the sentence of the two trials.
Last time we looked at the way the Jewish leaders tried to make the Jewish trial appear as legal as possible. Today I want to look at how truly illegal the arrest and the Jewish trial were, the messianic prophecies in defense of Christ, and the essential lessons we can learn from Peter's reaction and response to the events of that night.
Now let us start with the illegalities of Christ's arrest and trial. We touched on a few of these in my last sermon.
John 18:12-13 Then the detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him. And they led Him away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year.
Now you remember that they were both high priests of sorts; Annas being the Roman choice and Caiaphas being the Jewish high priest. The laws governing the trial of Jesus were broken so many times that it is difficult to see how the arrest and trial could have been more illegally run, or the laws of Israel more thoroughly ignored and broken.
The first area of illegality in the arrest and trial of Jesus is the arrest. Here are three separate errors or illegalities that were committed: 1) The arrest was by night, which was illegal, 2) The arrest was achieved through the agency of a traitor and informer, 3) The arrest was without the necessary basis of a specific and formal accusation of wrong doing later to be presented to the court. They arrested Him without a charge. These related errors should have resulted in an immediate acquittal of Jesus even if no further errors had been made.
The situation was similar to the way a case would be thrown out of an American court. If, for example, the arresting officer had neglected to inform the suspect of his rights, a confession coerced, or evidence was gathered by illegal entry or seizure, or some other illegal act was done, then the arrest would be thrown out of court, there would be no indictment, and the man would be let free.
Now the first error was the trial by night, because it was an established and inflexible rule that the proceedings in capital cases could not be conducted at night. Also this restriction did not apply merely to the trial itself, but also to the events leading up to it, particularly the arrest.
We know the arrest of Jesus was after dark and in addition to the time elements of that night, which we carefully considered in my last sermon, there is the simple fact that the arresting party arrived in the Garden of Gethsemane with torches, lanterns, and weapons.
The second error of the arrest was regarding the law bearing upon the role of Judas in the arrest. This is derived from Leviticus 19.
Leviticus 19:16 You shall not go about asa talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I amthe Lord.
So they were against Old Testament law. This meant that a witness had to be of good character and in addition could not bear witness against a close companion, friend, or relative. He was of course also forbidden to take a bribe. Now he could not be an accessory or accomplice. Judas was all of these so it was illegal for him to have been used in this way in the arrest.
There is a contrast here with modern law because in most western law the use of an accomplice's testimony is allowed, though viewed with distrust. In England, conviction for a crime may rest on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice after the jury had been warned that such testimony is to be closely scrutinized. In the United States, the testimony of an accomplice is also admissible, but it must be corroborated at some points by other testimony if it is to remain standing.
From the point of view of securing a conviction, it is clear that the use of an accomplice's testimony is very valuable as the frequent practice of granting immunity to force the testimony of an accomplice indicates. Yet in spite of the value of such testimony, Hebrew law forbade it. It was not allowed in any way.
The arrest of Jesus was ordered upon the supposition that He was a criminal, and this same supposition would have made Judas—who had aided, encouraged, and supported Jesus in the propagation of his spiritual teachings—an accomplice. And if Judas was not an accomplice, Jesus was innocent, and His arrest was an outrage and therefore illegal. No matter which way you look at it, whether he was allowed to be an accomplice or not, Jesus was not guilty.
The third error of the arrest was the lack of a formal accusation on the basis of which the latter trial was to be conducted. Legally Judas should have made that accusation to the authorities in advance of the arrest and then have appeared in court to sustain it. This was not done. Instead the opening part of the trial was a nearly unsuccessful attempt to find precisely this accusation.
Now the second area of illegality in the trial of Jesus was the private appearance before Annas.
John 18:19-24 The high priest (Annas) then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine.Jesus answered him, “I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing.Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said.”And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, “Do You answer the high priest like that?”Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?”Then Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
From the nature of the arrest, we can understand very easily why this examination took place. There was no real case against Jesus and this was an attempt to secure one from the prisoner's own testimony, but this was illegal for several reasons: 1) it was by night, 2) it was by a single judge. The Pirke Aboth, a part of the Mishnah, says, “Be not a sole judge, for there is no sole judge but One.” So it was illegal by their own laws. And 3) the accuser was never to be compelled to testify. Jesus was entirely within His rights when He refused to answer the interrogations.
Now notice the charge: the Sanhedrin knew that Jesus was claiming to be the unique son of God. If this were not true, as they believed it was not, it was a form of blasphemy punishable by death. On the other hand, whether the charge was true or not, the difficulties growing out of the late hour and the conflicting testimony of the witnesses provoked the court into flagrantly illegal proceedings.
Legally there was no formal indictment against Jesus which should have been the basis for the arrest. It should have been presented at the start of the trial by the two or more witnesses needed to establish guilt in the Jewish legal proceedings. There was no charge and instead a great deal of valuable time was wasted in trying to find one. The first accusations were thrown out of court as being irrelevant, unsupported, or silly.
The more serious charge that Jesus had claimed to be able to destroy the Temple and build it up again in three days was also likewise disallowed. It was only after these attempts had failed that a condemnation was secured on the basis of Jesus' direct reply to a question placed to Him under oath by Caiaphas.
Now it was not Caiaphas' place to do this; in fact anything of this nature was expressly forbidden. The high priest was not allowed to express an opinion or interrogate either the witnesses or the accused. But rather he was to keep perfectly silent, and when the ballot was taken, he was to vote last because his prestige was considered to be so great that any opinion expressed by him might be imagined to sway the other members of the Sanhedrin. Caiaphas violated all these restrictions when he intruded into the proceedings by asking Jesus, “I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the son of God?”
The Jewish trial itself was illegal on numerous grounds. Here is a list of five: 1) It was conducted at night. 2) It was conducted on the day before the Sabbath. 3) It was completed in one 24 hour period. 4) It secured a conviction on a basis of the defendant’s own confession. 5) It concluded with a unanimous and therefore invalid verdict.
The basic rule for trial by daylight rather than at night is from “Tractate Sanhedrin” that is the title from the Mishnah: “Let a capital offense be tried during the day, but suspended at night.” This is found in Sanhedrin 4:1
This was not done, as we have seen, and although there had been no plans to arrest and try Jesus at this particular Passover, this had been altered by the report of Judas that Jesus would be in the garden until a late hour and would be in a peaceful and restful mood.
Now there would have been a great deal of excitement among Caiaphas and Annas and the other priests at this news from Judas but how could they arrest Jesus, conduct a trial, and have Him condemned within the legal time frame? Since it could not be done legally, they decided that they could squeeze the necessary procedures in if they held the trial at night and simply confirmed the verdict formally at dawn to make it appear legal as if it had taken place during the day.
This determination to arrest and try Jesus at night in violation of law became the catalyst for nearly every legal outrage that was committed against Him. The selection of the midnight hour for such a purpose resulted not merely in a technical infraction of law but rendered it impossible to do justice either formally or substantially under rules of Hebrew criminal procedure. (A thought just popped into my mind here, you know in the occult, the midnight hour is called the witching hour, and it is a favorite time of Satan where he possesses people and that type of thing), so it is interesting that this also took place at the midnight hour.
The third area of illegality in the arrest and trial of Jesus was another requirement of the Jewish law, particularly in capital cases, that no court could lawfully meet on a Sabbath or annual feast day or on a preparation day preceding a Sabbath or feast day. In western law a trial may be suspended, but a trial could not be suspended in Jewish law except for the one night that was to intervene between the first and second of the required hearings in a capital case. Therefore a trial was not to be started if it could not finish before the preparation day for the Sabbath.
Here in the United States, they can start a trial on Saturday, suspend it, and then pick it up again on Monday, but this was not allowed by Hebrew law. It had to be continuous except for the night between the day trials. The trial was also illegal because it was concluded within the space of one day and remember, according to Jewish law, there were actually to be two trials: the Jewish and the Roman. On the first day the entire case was to be heard and the first of two votes taken.
Now if the accused was found innocent, the trial ended at that point. But if he was found guilty, the trial was suspended for the night until judges considered the evidence and tried to find some way by which the accused—and now a condemned—man, might be exonerated. So the judges were to mull it over overnight to try to find any way that this man may not be guilty.
According to the gospel records, there were two trials, and thus an appearance of legality. One at night and one in the early morning but they were not on separate days. In fact, they were within a few hours of each other. Remember sunset to sunset, so they had one trial that night and then the other in the morning of that same day.
Equally important, the reason for the day’s delay was to allow the judges to have time to retire to their homes for discussion, prayer, and mediation. It became frustrated and they did not carefully retry the case in the short space of time fixed by the morning hours.
Now the fourth area of illegality was that it secured a condemnation of Jesus on the basis of His own confession produced under oath. Annas had met with a resolute refusal by Jesus to testify against Himself.
Jesus had claimed to be God's Son in a unique way thus making Him liable to the penalty of death for blasphemy. Jesus was seemingly guilty when judged on the presuppositions of the Jewish court. Later, caliphs could not procure legal condemnation and the opportunity was slipping from his grasp. Now seeing that the case was dissolving before his eyes, he abruptly turned to interrogate the prisoner himself demanding of Him on the basis of the most solemn form of oath known to Israel, the famous, “oath of the testimony” which I mentioned in my last sermon.
Although Jesus was not compelled to give evidence against Himself, being a sincere Jew, He would not refuse such a solemn demand. If Caiaphas had merely asked Jesus if He was the “Christ” or “Messiah”, He could have answered yes without jeopardy because it was not a capital offense to make such a claim.
Time would eventually prove if the claim was either true or false. Or again if Caiaphas had merely asked Jesus if he was the “Son of God,” Jesus could have answered yes without danger, because as He indicated on another occasion, all Jews had a right to be called sons of God.
However by combining the two, Caiaphas interpreted the one term by the other thereby asking in affect, not whether Jesus was a mere human messiah or else a Son of God in a general Jewish sense, but rather if He was the divine Messiah. And when Jesus knowingly answered yes to that accusation He was immediately convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death by the Jews. But that was not enough. They still needed the approval of the Roman court.
The fifth area of illegality was that the vote of the Sanhedrin was unanimous to condemn Jesus to death which was illegal because by Hebrew law it should have resulted in an acquittal. Mark 14:64 tells us that they all condemned Him as worthy of death.
Mark 14:64 You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.
This of course is an odd part of Jewish law especially to those in the English speaking world who are accustomed to precisely the opposite; that is, the requirement for a unanimous vote to convict under trial by jury.
Now why did it work this way? There were no lawyers or advocates in the modern sense among the ancient Hebrews. The judges were His defenders and now in the verdict was a unanimous vote in favor of condemnation. It was evident that the prisoner had no friend or defender in court. To the Jewish mind this was almost equivalent to mob violence. To argue conspiracy, at the very least, in the element of mercy which was required to enter into every Hebrew verdict was absent in such a case. Whether wise or unwise, this was the law of Israel and it was completely violated on this occasion.
Now the sixth and last area of illegality was that there was no defense of the prisoner, no one to stand up for Him. He had 12 apostles but they had high-tailed it out of there. That there should be a defense is such an obvious part of legal proceedings. It is a right under most civilized systems of justice.
That it is absent in this case immediately calls the entire activity of the court into question and exposes it as the manifestation of the hate by the authorities against Jesus. Therefore, it was not a fair trial. Realistically there is no need to think that the priest would necessarily have been persuaded by any evidence in support of Jesus but regardless of this, the refusal to consider a defense was nothing less than a criminal act of and by itself.
What the priest, scribes, and elders did on the occasion of Christ's trial is not so different from what men and women are even doing today. Christ is proclaimed as the unique son of God but millions reject this while refusing to hear His defense.
The standards that human beings have developed for the administration of justice have varied widely in the history of human race and from place to place. However there is one standard without which no sane person would attempt to establish justice. It is the right of the accused to a defense and this is observed both formally and informally in virtually every system of law and justice known.
If the defense is omitted, the judicial proceedings are not actually a trial but rather a vigilante action no matter what legal formalities may or may not be included. Even a mother, before she spanks her child, asks what the child's defense is. So we ask, what was the defense of Jesus Christ in His trial by the Jewish Sanhedrin in Judea nearly 2000 years ago? The answer is that there was no defense at all. This basic right of the accused was disallowed.
If the proper requirements of Jewish law would have been followed, as they should have been, there would have been no need for a defense for the simple reason that the trial would have never proceeded this far. His arrest was illegal, as we well know. He was convicted in the end only because He voluntarily answered a question put to Him by the high priest in which He proclaimed to be the divine son of God and the Messiah.
But what if everything had been legal up to this point? Also assuming the arrest had been properly executed upon proper warrant, that charges had been properly filed and established under cross examination, that these charges had related to Christ's claim to be God's unique Son—the Messiah—what was the next legal step under Hebrew law? The answer is that they should have begun to inquire diligently into all matters pertaining to the truth or falsity of His claim. In other words, the greatest illegality of the trial of Jesus was the questions that were not asked.
Having heard Christ's statement that He was indeed the Christ, the Son of God, the high priest should have asked, “What sign do you have then that we may see and believe you?” The absence of this question reveals the trial to be a judicial murder rather than a fair inquiry into Christ's innocence or guilt. And even if they had heard a defense, the judges of Israel would not have been pleased to accept it. They might have ruled it inadequate or false but they are to blame. Not because of the verdict itself, except that they reached it before the trial even began, but because they denied Jesus any kind of defense whatsoever.
What defense could be given? You would think that the very nature of Christ's claims would put them beyond the realm either of classification or verification, but this is not the case. Remember the accusation is two-fold. It was said that Jesus had falsely claimed to be 1) the Messiah and 2) the unique Son of God. These are religious claims made against the background of the revealed law of Israel—the Old Testament—which both Jesus and His accusers recognized to be determinative. Did Jesus' claims fit in with what the Old Testament taught? On that matter the judges of Israel were not only competent, but were obliged to make judgment accordingly to Old Testament law.
So how should this trial have gone if this proper line of defense had been followed? Clearly there should have been a defense of Christ’s claims to be the Messiah followed by His defense of His claim to be the unique son of God. Now here are 8 things in His defense to consider:
According to the Old Testament scriptures, the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem which Jesus was.
Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”
Now the proof of Jesus having been born in Bethlehem could have been established even in this very late hour by numerous witnesses including His mother who was in Jerusalem at the time. It was also in the official Roman records, because the trip to Bethlehem was made at the demand of Rome in order to provide a census and Jesus would have been registered at that time. Luke was to tell about it later:
Luke 2:1-7 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now that was the first defense: that He was indeed born in Bethlehem as the Messiah was predicted to be.
2) The Messiah was to be born of a virgin and Jesus was. Isaiah recorded this prophecy:
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
No doubt the reality of a virgin birth would be a hard point to convince these leaders of, just as it is hard to convince many of it today, but Mary, even if no one else, would have testified to it had she been called as a witness. Presumably she had at least told Luke because Luke, and Matthew also, included it in his account of the days preceding the birth in Bethlehem.
The Messiah was to be born of the house of David and Jesus was. All Jews understood this to be the nature of the promise made to David himself.
II Samuel 7:12, 16 “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. [which is speaking of David] . . . . And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.”
However just in case there was any doubt that it was indeed the Messiah who was in view in this prophesy, the later prophets made it very clear.
Isaiah 11:1-2 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
Now let us jump over to Jeremiah 23.
Jeremiah 23:5-6 “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: The Lord our Righteousness.
A careful inquiry would have shown that Jesus was of the house of David by being a descendant of David through His natural mother Mary, by whom He had legal claim to the throne. He was also descended from David by virtue of His adopted father Joseph who was in a different but royal line of descent. So Jesus was indeed qualified to take that throne by both His mother's and father's lines. In other words, Jesus was descended from David by both His natural mother and adopted father thereby exhausting both lines so that if He is not the Messiah, there is no other. All this could have been investigated by the Sanhedrin just as Matthew did later and gives Jesus' genealogy, and also by Luke, who gives the genealogy of Mary.
The appearance of the Messiah was to be preceded by a forerunner who was to be like Elijah, not Elijah himself, but like him.
Malachi 3:1 “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.
John the Baptist was this forerunner and Jesus himself identified him as Matthew records:
Matthew 17:12-13 But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.
The Messiah was to do many great works and miracles and Jesus did. He had performed the prophesied miracles and more.
Isaiah 61:1-2 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.
Jesus referred to these texts Himself in regard to His own ministry and clearly regarded them as sufficient proof of His messianic claims.
Luke 4:16-21 So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. [obviously this is Jesus Christ] And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. [Remember we just read from Isaiah 61.] And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Now let us turn to John 11. We know that the leaders of the Sanhedrin accepted the factualness of these miracles because, although they had attempted to deny them at first, it was actually their fear that everyone would follow Jesus because of His miracles that caused them to arrest, try, and condemn Him. He performed all those miracles and it was obvious to everyone, including His accusers.
John 11:47-50 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all,nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.”
The Messiah would make a public entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey and Jesus did. No one could deny this fact, it had happened in full view of the residents of Jerusalem just three days before. Now the prophesy in the Old Testament says:
Zechariah 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He isjust and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The Messiah would be betrayed by a close friend for 30 pieces of silver.
Psalm 41:9 Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.
Zechariah 11:13 And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter.
In an ironical twist, the leaders of the Sanhedrin were in the process of fulfilling this prophecy themselves that very night by using Judas as an informant and paying him 30 pieces of silver.
The Messiah was to be a man of common appearance and of suffering in His first arrival and was to be despised or rejected by the leaders of Israel and Jesus was. Isaiah had foretold it.
Isaiah 53:2-3 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
So the Sanhedrin was fulfilling this prophesy even at the moment of the trial. They were despising Christ and rejecting Him yet they were so far from any impartial presentation of the evidence or any desire to hear His defense that this strange irony escaped them.
There was another part of the accusation on the basis of which Jesus was executed and this is His claim to be the unique son of God. How could this be defended? Now remember in what context Jesus used the phrase. He was not using the word “Son of God” in some general sense in which everyone or at least all believers might share. He was using it in an exclusive way meaning that He was the same essence as God, whom He termed Father, and that He therefore possessed the same attributes and exercised the same type of authority.
This was a very shocking claim to those steeped in the Judaism of Christ's day. It ran against everything they believed concerning the unity and power of God and it seemed blasphemous and abhorrent to the Jewish leaders. But His claim, distasteful as it may have seemed to them, was not so inconceivable that they could not have asked, in all fairness, whether anything of this nature could possibly be suggested by the Scriptures of Israel. They just would not believe God's truth. This does not mean that they would necessarily had accepted Christ's claims even if the Old Testament suggested the possibility, but it does mean that He should not have been condemned out of hand without the benefit of His own defense and inquiry.
Now in defense of this claim consider the following three points. There are references in the Old Testament to precisely the unique Son of God that Jesus claimed to be. There is a clear reference in Isaiah 9 where: 1) Who was to be born into the human family is called the Mighty God.
Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Psalm 2:7, which is a messianic prophesy, declares the coming Messiah. It says:
Psalm 2:7 “I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.
What could possibly be clearer than the statement of the psalm that the Messiah was to be a person uniquely begotten of God the Father? What could more clearly suggest a human being who was at the same time God than Isaiah's prophesy that the coming Messiah was to be called the Mighty God? Granted this is hard for an unconverted mind to understand, but how can an individual be both God and man at the same time? The point here is not whether or not we understand it but whether the Scriptures which the Jewish leaders and Christ both fully accepted, teach it. If they do, then Jesus' claim to be God's unique Son cannot be rejected outright. They totally ignored their own prophecies.
The old testament also speaks of an incarnation that is God becoming flesh. This is what Isaiah speaks of in the verse cited earlier.
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
Immanuel means- God with us, so the prophecy is that a member of the God Family will become man by the means of a virgin birth. Again this is something an unconverted mind cannot truly comprehend but the point is that whether we believe it or not, this is at least what the Old Testament teaches and is what Jesus rightly claimed which the Sanhedrin would have been required to accept.
There are significant passages in the Old Testament in which the Eternal is portrayed as having appeared on earth among us. One example is the appearance of an individual called the “Angel of the Lord” to Hagar.
Genesis 16:10 Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” [meaning they would be too large to be counted]
Genesis 16:13 Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?”
So we should not infer that the phrase “Angel of the Lord” always refers to the Eternal Himself, but that is certainly the meaning here because the one who appeared to Hagar as a messenger spoke as the Eternal and Hagar addressed Him in this way saying: “ you are the God who sees.” Also there are appearances of a similar figure(s) to Abraham, the father of Israel.
Genesis 18:1-3 Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground,and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant.
The language of this story indicates that Abraham firmly believed that the Eternal had appeared to him and become a guest in his tent. The point of these passages is that the Old Testament contains references to the appearances of the Eternal on earth in the appearance of a human, and that the appearance of the Son of God was prophesied, and that Jesus abundantly met every reasonable test that might be raised to determine whether or not He was the one.
Now this defense would not have convinced the Hebrew rulers of Christ's innocence even if it had been presented because, being unconverted, they still had an enmity against God. They were heavily influenced by Satan and hated God's way of life unless it could be used to their benefit and profit. But it was a reasonable and adequate defense, reasonable in that it was based on the clear teaching on the Old Testament scriptures and adequate in that it was sufficient to create reasonable doubt of Christ's guilt. In fact there was plenty of evidence that He was indeed who He declared himself to be.
Let us go back to John 18. In the notation and record of Christ's trials, John saw fit to insert here what happened to Peter or rather what Peter did. So let us shift gears at this point and notice what John inserts about Peter denying Jesus.
John 18:15-18 And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door outside. Then the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to her who kept the door, and brought Peter in. Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves. And Peter stood with them and warmed himself.
John 18:25-27 Now Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. Therefore they said to him, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not!” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed.
There are two passages that come to mind that are unrelated technically regarding Peter's denial of Jesus Christ, yet they are related because they indicate, in advance, the two most important lessons to be learned from Peter's temptation. One is from Psalm 1:1. It is the verse that describes the folly of the man who walks in the council of the ungodly and stands in the way of sinners and sits in the seat of mockers. This relevantly describes Peter on the night of Jesus' arrest and trial. The psalm describes him as well when he goes on in verse 4 to add that the man who lives like this is, “like the chaff that the wind blows away.”
Peter, like chaff, was certainly blown away by the temptation that came to him while he warmed himself at the fire in a high priest's house.
Peter was on dangerous ground and when Jesus was being assaulted, he was trying to make himself comfortable and while the high priest's servants warmed themselves, Peter stood with them and warmed himself. He was a man who could not afford to be in bad company because he was so impulsive and so easily provoked to these reactions. On the other hand, we remember the prophecy of Christ concerning Satan wanting Peter which is recorded in Luke's gospel.
Luke 22:31-32 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! [this is Simon Peter as you know] Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. [That is like chaff sifted out.] But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”[This seems to indicate after this incident that Peter went through with the cock crowing three times.]
This teaches us that although Peter, like the ungodly men of Psalm 1, would be blown about like chaff at threshing time. Nevertheless Jesus had prayed for Peter with the result that Peter would come out of it stronger from the experience. That is the chaff in Peter would be blown away but Peter, whom God had recreated by means of the new birth, would be strengthened.
So we can learn from Peter's mistakes, that we should be strengthened too. Everyone in God's church needs to learn this because John has undoubtedly intertwined the story of Peter's failure with the story of the Jewish and Roman trials of Jesus to show that even the followers of Christ are not free from guilt in the relationship to Him.
Now we do not hate Him like Caiaphas, we are not indifferent to Him like Pilate, yet we deny Him as Peter did. Thankfully we are forgiven and after Peter denied Christ three times within hours Christ died and his sins were forgiven, those included. Why do we deny Him—Christ—as Peter did? No doubt because we are too fond of the world and too infatuated with its company. Those who are warmly familiar socially with evildoers grow cold and distant towards good people and good things.
In order to understand fully the importance of Peter's failure for ourselves, we need to see that it was Peter, the leader of the disciples, and not just any other person who denied Christ. If this had been Nicodemus we would not be surprised. He was the one who came to Jesus by night, no doubt for fear of what others might think or do to him.
There is no indication in Scripture that Nicodemus ever entirely came out for Jesus Christ. Likewise we would not have been surprised had this been the rich young ruler—he loved riches more than he loved Jesus and thus went away sorrowful. We might also have expected a denial from those who watched Jesus from a distance, as many did, who never confessed to believe Him. A denial from any of these would have been no surprise at all. Yet this was not Nicodemus, the rich young ruler, or the others, it was Peter. The bold, the courageous, the one who had told Jesus he would stand by Him no matter what. Have we not said that ourselves?
Matthew 26:33 Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”
The point is that if Peter failed then anyone can fail! The strongest as well as the weakest, in fact it may even be the strongest that are in the greatest danger. Now let us look at the specifics in the case of Peter. What can be said in Peter's defense? One commendable characteristic that can be said about Peter is that he at least followed Jesus when all others, except possibly John, had abandoned Him.
In the garden, at the moment of the arrest they had all scattered into the enclosing darkness but most of them undoubtedly continued their flight on up the Mount of Olives and down the other side to Bethany where they had been staying each of the previous nights and where they imagined themselves to be safe. Peter, on the other hand quickly stopped his flight, then joining forces with the unnamed disciple mentioned in Luke 18:15, followed the arresting party back to Jerusalem and eventually made his way into the high priest's house. This was not the decision of a coward.
A second commendable characteristic follows from this: mainly that Peter loved Christ and it was for this reason that he followed Him. It was this motivation that drew Peter to Jerusalem when all common sense dictated the safety of a nighttime flight to Bethany. Why else did Peter follow the arresting party, why else did he seek entry into the high priest's home? Because he loved Jesus and he was deeply concerned for Him. And thus he placed himself in a situation where the potential for failure was greater than if he had not loved Jesus so much.
A third commendable characteristic is that Peter had tried to defend Jesus. In the garden he had drawn a sword and attacked Malchus, the head of the arresting column and had cut off his ear. This was an act of the flesh of course, it was contrary to the spirit and will of Christ and was in fact rebuked by Him, but it was a strong act nevertheless, done out of a passion, though misguided, for concern for his master.
Now as a fourth commendable character it goes back even farther into the history of Peter's experience. Remember on an earlier occasion it was Peter who acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God when the other disciples were silent.
John 6:66-69 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. [that was denying Christ] But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
That Passover night of Jesus' arrest, it was a young woman who asked the first question; furthermore she even begins her remarks with a negative. This is quite apparent in the Greek and emphasized as if to say “surely you are not one of His disciples, are you?” It was not a formal accusation, it was not even a strenuous challenge, yet Peter was overcome by the uncertainty and terror of the moment and so replies, “I am not.”
Now from this point on, having denied Jesus once, he finds it easy to do so again. Once to an unspecific group and a third time to the kinsman whose ear he had cut off. Sin is always easier to commit once the initial sin has been committed. That is a principal that holds true in every area of life, in every type and kind of sin.
Now turn please to Mark 14. Why did Peter fail? If Peter was as strong as we say and yet failed, it is important to know the steps of his failure so that we may avoid them. Let me give you 4 steps of his failure:
1) Peter was overconfident. Earlier Jesus had warned His disciples that they were going to abandon Him.
Mark 14:29-31 Peter said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.” Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” But he spoke more vehemently, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all said likewise.
What happened to the other 10? They all high-tailed it out of there as fast as they could. So Peter, a very strong individual, leader of the disciples failed, so certainly we can too. We have God's Holy Spirit and that is a great help but we should never take it for granted.
We can hardly miss the conclusion that if we declare our own spiritual fortitude with such overconfidence and think that we are not vulnerable because we are mentally strong, and if we advertise our obvious talents and wisdom, then we are well on our way to failing.
Paul warns us in I Corinthians 10:12:
I Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
And more importantly John 15 records Jesus as saying:
John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
2) Peter failed to pray. But Jesus did not fail to pray. This seems a strange reversal. If we were to pick someone in our opinion who did not need to pray it would obviously be Jesus Christ and if we were to pick someone who needed to pray it would be Peter. Peter was sleeping in the garden while Jesus was pouring out His heart before His heavenly Father. Peter had been admonished to watch and pray and sadly many Christians are asleep today with no less warning. It is often the case that we do not pray because we do not think it is necessary.
Peter followed at a distance. Luke mentions this in Luke 22:54. Peter had at least followed when the others had apparently fled but although Peter followed them to the high priest's house, he followed at a great distance and that was not entirely commendable. It is obviously true of many of us today, many people follow Christ at a distance because they do not want to seem too fanatical or lose touch with the world that entices and surrounds them. Also they think they are safe at a distance though actually they are in greater danger.
When Jesus calls a person to follow Him, He calls him to follow in His footsteps, which means right behind Him. The reality is that although their exposure is greater, the danger is less because Christ is the victor. He has guaranteed victory to those who follow Him and the place to be really safe in the midst of the battle is behind or with Him, hand in hand with Jesus Christ, knowing that God the Father is overseeing it all and nothing can happen to His children.
Peter made the mistake of not knowing the difference between being in the world but not of the world. It is found in the contrast between a phrase in John 18, verse 18 and a phrase in verse 26.
John 18:18 Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves. And Peter stood with them and warmed himself.
John 18:26 One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?”
Peter who had been with Him—Jesus—is now in the courtyard of the high priest with those that are Christ’s enemies. Is this true of us? Are we more with those of the world’s culture of which we live than with Jesus? Now this does not mean that we are to go out of the world physically. We are not called to totally remove ourselves from the world, however we must come out of its culture, human reasoning, and attitude. We are physically in the world; we must live and work in it, but not be part of it, thinking as the world does.
This is the point: we are not to be physiologically or morally of it, we are to be with Christ in the midst of the world, not with them whose culture it is, and we are not at liberty to assume the world’s values and adopt the world’s philosophies. We are God's children, we have no choice. We should be characterized by holiness and must stand with Him in His truth. All we do should be characterized by love and according to His will, not our own.
There is a call in John 18 to commitment. So much of our discipleship today is halfhearted and we say we follow Jesus but we actually follow from afar as Peter did and this is not the kind of discipleship that Jesus Christ lays before us.
Isaiah 6:5 tells us that Isaiah saw the Lord in His Glory. He saw Christ in His holiness and after that he was stunned by the realization of his own sin. He said:
Isaiah 6:5 “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
But what happened? God sent an angel with a call from off the altar to purge away the sin and after that, Isaiah, the man who was conscience of his sin, answered the Eternal's call.
Isaiah 6:8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
This is the same as saying that I am going to do God's will; I will live God's way of life and be a true witness for Him. It does not mean that everyone has to be a preacher or go out and start speaking on a street corner. It means that we have to have a true witness of His way of life.
Peter heard that question and responded in the same way because when Jesus came to him after His resurrection and asked, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” Peter answered, “Yes Lord you know that I love you,” and the Lord said “Feed My lambs.” and this is the same as saying do the will of My Father.
So it has been with all who have ever served Jesus Christ faithfully. Those who serve are those who are true witnesses of God's way of life, who are a blessing to other people, who keep on in the midst of difficulty.
These are not those who have never denied Christ, they have and we have, but we have found the grace of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ even in the midst of our denials and have been purged from our sin as we repent. And then with a sense of our own weakness and an even greater awareness of Christ’s strength, we have gone on to live in Him, for Him, and with Him. May we all be worthy to be able to partake of the Passover.