The Easter Story: The Trial of Jesus
I needed to do one more post & it was toss up between Easter bunnies & something more sober so I had a glass of wine, gave the matter some thought and ‘more sober’ won the toss. On the sober side, there’s not much about Easter that’s more sober than the trial of Jesus because, without that trial, there wouldn’t have been any Easter to begin with; it starts on the first Palm Sunday when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and it continues throughout the week, ending with the crucifixion.
I’ll start with the two judges who gave the crucifixion order in the first place: the Jewish high priest Caiaphas and the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate because it’s as a good a place to start as any; little did they know that the trial of Jesus would change the course of history! For those of you who don’t know the story, Caiaphas was a high priest from 18 to 37 AD which probably means that he got on well with the Romans who simply got rid of everyone they didn’t like without taking anyone into consideration, least of all subjects in a minor province. Since he had to deal with Pontius Pilate’s for ten years, I can only imagine that he had a pretty decent relationship with him too. Too decent, perhaps. Caiaphas was loathed by the apostles and Matthew, John and Luke all refer to him in their gospels as the man who was responsible for the arrest and subsequent trial of Jesus Christ before the Sanhedrin but I often wonder if it’s fair to blame the one and not the other as well. If you read John 18 v 13 you’ll notice that Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas whose family was in charge of the high priesthood at the time; their tombs were found by archaeologists in 1990 in the part of Jerusalem where the upper classes lived at the time of Jesus; since their graves were inspected by a number of experts, including Jonathan Reed
who wrote The Visual Guide to the New Testament, I accept that he really lived, that he was the man who dealt with the Romans on behalf of the Jews & that he was who the Bible says he was. Caiaphas ran the Temple in Jerusalem & he was the liaison person between the Jews and the Romans (as confirmed by Josephus) & the kind of co-operation he had with the Romans would probably have given them enough leverage to insist that he arrest revolutionaries or anyone deemed to be a threat to the Roman Empire. Not so? By the time of the Trial, Jesus had already been preaching for around three years, during which time he often told the Jews that their allegiance should be to God and not to Caesar. I can’t imagine that the Romans would have been mightily thrilled with someone telling their subjects to challenge Caesar’s authority. It would have amounted to treason in Rome and blasphemy in Jerusalem but only the Romans could have condemned a man to death and only the Romans could have given the order to crucify a traitor which is why Caiaphas had to turn Jesus over to Pilate after the Trial. Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea which was a minor sub province of Syria at the time and he was a man of little consequence. He was a petty, corrupt and cruel man and disliked by historians and the Roman government alike. Josephus, a Jewish historian tells us that he was as corrupt as they come, often clashed with Jews and executed people without a trial at a whim. However, at the time of Jesus’s trial, he was forced to change his ways because he was facing a full scale revolt which would have looked
terrible on his administrative record. In The Last Week by Borg & Crossan, they discuss how Caiaphas and Pilate felt about the threat Jesus was posing to their societies & they make an interesting point about the procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday because it probably took place at the same time as a military parade that accompanied Pilate from Caesarea to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Talk about terrible timing. Why, exactly, Caiaphas decided to arrest Jesus at that specific time, nobody knows exactly but there are some possibilities:
- In John 18:14 Caiaphas said it’s preferable for the Romans to kill one man than many Jews.
- There are speculations that Caiaphas saw Jesus as a political threat as much as a religious threat & thus a danger to his future.
- Caiaphas buckled under pressure from the Sanhedrin.
- Pontius Pilate was miffed because Jesus stole his thunder when He received a better reception that Pilate and put pressure on Caiaphas to arrest him.
Of course, Caiaphas and Pilate may have had a standing agreement regarding the prompt disposal of anyone they found to be subversive and Jesus, at that point, was a threat. Make no mistake. So why didn’t they send Him to Herod Antipas for sentencing? After all, Jesus was a Galilean & that was a legal option. Why wasn’t he flogged or was he considered to be so dangerous that he had to be crucified? Only the Romans could condemn a man to crucifixion & that particularly nasty form of dying was reserved only for traitors; in the eyes of Rome Jesus was a traitor but in the eyes of the Jews he was a blasphemer and no matter which way you look at it, Jesus died a traitor’s death. So who was actually behind it all? I don’t really know and I can’t find anyone who does so, in my book, nobody really knows. I know that the Bible says Pontius Pilate didn’t want to condemn Jesus and only did so on the insistence of the Jews but quite frankly, I don’t buy that because he was fired 7 years later for doing much worse. Why would Caiaphas & the Sanhedrin suddenly have this lust for blood when Jesus had been preaching for three years anyway? Couldn’t it wait until after Passover? There wouldn’t have been a revolt during Passover because it was a quiet time for all Jews, those who followed Jesus included. I often wonder if too much emphasis hasn’t been placed on the role of the Jews as the aggressors in this execution whilst ignoring the role played by the Romans. In 37 AD, a short while after the duo got rid of Jesus, they were both ‘fired’ by Vitellius, the governor of Syria, for abuse of power; Caiaphas faded out of the picture and Pilate was exiled to France where he committed suicide a year later.
I thought you may find this short excerpt from Josephus’s book, the Antiquities of the Jews interesting.
About the same time there lived Jesus, a wise man for he was a performer of marvelous feats and a teacher of such men who received the truth with pleasure. He attracted many Jews and many Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate sentenced him to die on the cross, having been urged to do so by the noblest of our citizens; but those who loved him at the first did not give up their affection for him. And the tribe of the Christians, who are named after him, have not disappeared to this day.