If your Bibles I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew, chapter 26, the 57th verse, as we continue our study through the gospel of Matthew. All along in our study of Matthew 26 we have said that this chapter is a prelude to the death of Christ. In our last study we saw the betrayal of Christ by Judas and the desertion of Christ by the other eleven disciples. And today we begin a series of trials that the Lord Jesus faced.
This was actually the second of six scenes of trials that Christ would face in the last hours of His life before the crucifixion. I want to remind you of those. There are actually two trials that Jesus underwent. A church trial or an ecclesiastical trial, and then there was a civil trial. The church trial, John tells us in John, chapter 18, actually began earlier before this passage when Jesus was taken to the house of Annas, the high priest. And He was questioned there. From that house He was taken to Caiaphas, perhaps right next door where the Sanhedrin was gathered to question Him further. In fact, they had already decided to convict Him, they just wanted to gather the evidence to do it. Then after being led to Pilate and Herod and back to Pilate again, the next morning He was taken to the Sanhedrin again where He was tried for a third time. We’ll see why that was done in just a few moments. So those are the three aspects of the civil trial and the three aspects of the ecclesiastical trial.
First, before the former high priest, Annas, then before Caiaphas and the whole Sanhedrin and then the before the Sanhedrin at daybreak. The three parts of the civil trial before Pilate, and then Pilate sends him to Herod, Herod questions Him, sends Him back to Pilate, and then finally Pilate makes a pronouncement which is confirmed by the people. So these are the six aspects of the trial of the Lord Jesus. We’re going to be looking at the second of those today as we hear God’s holy word. This is the word of God.
Our Lord and our God, in the midst of this season in which our thoughts are much on the incarnation, and we remember this great heavenly gift, and we remember the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. And we remember the joy which is dwelling in His mother’s heart as she meditates upon the things spoken to her by the angel. And when we think of the privilege of Joseph of rearing Him, and the nurture and admonition of the Lord, we pray that we would not forget that other testimony, that other great word of Your gospel that this baby came to die. We would not forget the humiliation which He willingly underwent for us. As we view the gospel we would not only be moved with joy at His coming, but that we would be moved with awe at what He came to do, and that we would embrace Him as Savior and Lord to the good of our souls and to His eternal glory. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.
After His betrayal by Judas, after the disciples had deserted Him, after His arrest, His apprehension by the temple guard, and the others whom Judas had brought to see Him in Gethsemane, Jesus faced a night and a morning of trials. First by the Sanhedrin, then by Pilate, then by Herod, then by Pilate again and finally again by the Sanhedrin. The gospel writers tell us this in detail so that we would see something of what our Lord underwent in that night. And also to show us that in the midst of this civilized society ruled by the Romans in which Jewish religious law still had a tremendous hand of effect. That even before the church court of Israel and before the civil court of Rome, surely the best courts which existed on the entire earth in the whole of the civilized world, that Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, received no justice. In fact, one of the things we’re going to see today just in a cursory review of the things that Matthew tells us, that there were no fewer than five violations of Jewish law even in the questioning He received at the hands of the Sanhedrin that night. The Lord wants you to see something of the injustice that Jesus faced, but more than that He wants you to see why He willingly faced that injustice. I’d like you to see two or three things in this passage.
I. Jesus’ silence in the trial is a witness to its immorality and to His submission to the will of God.
In verses 57 through 63 where we see the beginning of the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, I want you to see Jesus’ silent witness to His willingness. In verse 64, where Jesus responds to the high priest’s question, under oath, I want you to see Jesus’ bold witness to His position and power. And then in verses 65 through 68 where we see the response of the Sanhedrin to Jesus’ answer to the high priest’s question. I want you to see the wrong response to Jesus faithful and true witness. Let’s look then at this passage together.
First in verses 57 through 63 where we see the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin. Jesus is silent. This is emphasized by Matthew in verse 63. That’s important. It’s not only important because it’s a fulfillment of Scripture, but because it has a dual function as Matthew reveals to us the events of these last hours of Christ’s life before the crucifixion. Jesus’ silence at His trial is simultaneously a witness to the immorality of the trial: It’s unethical, it’s unjust, it’s not according to law. But it is also a witness to His personal submission to the will of God. He will do nothing to sidetrack the will of God. He will do nothing to obstruct the will of God, even if the trial is unjust. So He has submitted His will to God.
Jesus is taken to the Sanhedrin. They are already gathered at the house of Caiaphas. This lets you know that they were in on His apprehension. They were the ones in fact who had hatched this plot against the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew is telling you that so that you understand that the religious leaders of God’s people, Israel, were themselves the leading conspirators against the Messiah. This tells you on the one hand that this was not necessarily a popular uprising against Jesus. It was actually led by the religious leaders. It also tells you that just being a religious leader is no guarantee of knowing God. These men were those who were entrusted with the knowledge of the law to teach the Lord’s people and yet they did not know God, because they did not embrace the Messiah.
Before we look at the trial itself, I want you to see one thing. If you look at verse 58, Matthew tells you that Peter, perhaps along with one other disciple followed Jesus at a distance. And bravely he went into the courtyard of Caiaphas and mingled with the temple guards who were still on duty because of the meeting of the Sanhedrin and perhaps with the other servants if the high priest’s house. That would indeed have been a courageous thing to do. But Matthew knows that Peter is going to bring to pass exactly what Jesus said he would do. He’s going to deny Jesus three times before the cock crows. Before the sun rises, Peter will have denied his Lord verbally to strangers three times. This is a very touching thing because Matthew knows that that experience which was surely one of the worst experiences of Peter’s life is going to be something that Jesus deliberately uses to make Peter into the kind of shepherd that he needs to be for his people. Peter is never far from our Lord’s heart and thoughts during this trial, and we’re going to see that as we continue to study in this passage. Keep Peter in the back of your mind because we’ll take up his situation next week.
Now a judicial meeting is called here by the Sanhedrin. They are going to question and try the Lord Jesus. I might mention in passing that a judicial meeting of the Sanhedrin at night for the purposes of prosecuting a capital case was against the law. The Pharisees’ own law required that such a trial not only not be held at night, but that it not be held at a private residence, that it be held in the temple in the court made for that purpose. So it’s apparent, and Matthew lets you know it’s apparent, that the Sanhedrin has already decided to convict Jesus. They have already decided they want to put him to death. They are simply trying to get the excuse to do it legally. They are trying to find a witness, they are trying to find the evidence necessary so that they can do this legally. But, as Matthew tells you here, they were unable to scrounge up any witnesses who were competent who could corroborate their story and who could charge Jesus with an offense which would rise to the level of a capital offense.
Finally, Matthew tells us that two witnesses did step forward and accuse Jesus of saying that He was going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. It’s interesting that even though the high priest asked Jesus to defend Himself against that charge, that charge in and of itself was apparently not corroborated. Now, of course, we know just from hearing what was said that they had misconstrued and misinterpreted what Jesus had said, because we know from the gospels what Jesus said. He didn’t say He was going to destroy “the” temple. He said destroy “this” temple, and I will raise it again in three days. So we know that they misunderstood what Jesus was saying. But apparently they couldn’t even corroborate one another’s story because the high priest doesn’t just stop there with their testimony and charge Jesus.
He goes on to address Jesus directly. Now of course the charge that they made was a very serious charge. The desecration of holy places was a very serious charge in the ancient world, and especially in Israel. To speak against the temple was the highest sort of sacrilege. And even the Romans recognized the sacredness of temples and holy places, because generally in Roman occupation, they would not destroy the temple which had been made by the native people that they had conquered to other gods. So even the Romans respected the importance of the temple. But as we’ve said, these witnesses have utterly misconstrued the words that Jesus spoke about the temple.
The high priest turns to Jesus, and Matthew tells us in verse 62, asked Him to defend Himself against the charges that have been made. And Jesus remained silent. Then finally, frustrated, the high priest directly questions Jesus under oath. And he asks Him to confess whether He had claimed to be the Messiah. Now the high priest, when he asked Jesus this, probably has in mind that Jesus thinks that He’s some sort of messianic revolutionary come from God in some vague sense to liberate Israel from the captivity to the Romans. There were many of such claimed messiahs both before Jesus time and after. And apparently this is what the high priest is most worried about. You see, this high priest had not been appointed by the people of God. He had not been appointed by the king of Israel. There was no king of Israel. He had not been elected by the other priests. He had been appointed by the Roman governor as had his predecessor. So he had a vested interest in not shaking up the political situation of the Roman rule and occupancy. And he was apparently concerned that Jesus was going to do just that by leading some sort of an insurrection.
Now, just having given a brief recap of the trial to this point, I want you to see five things which were a violation of Jewish law. First of all, capital trials had to be held at daytime. This trial was being held at night. Secondly, the laws of the Pharisees themselves, the Rabbis themselves said that there had to be a day intervening between a conviction and the sentencing. This was violated. It was perhaps technically given some sort of respect by the fact that the Sanhedrin met the next day at daybreak so that they could technically say that the sentencing occurred on the next day. But it was a violation of the law. Furthermore, as we know from other places in the gospel there were to be no executions at feasts except of the most serious crimes. Fourthly, false witnesses in capital trials; and apparently there were many in this particular trial, false witnesses at capital trials, according to Deuteronomy, were to be given the death sentence. And fifth, Rabbinic law forbade forcing someone to incriminate themselves. And that is exactly what the high priest was attempting to do to the Lord Jesus as he put Him under oath. And so this trial is filled with injustice, and yet Jesus is silent.
Now there’s a reason for this friend. Jesus’ silence both shows His contempt for the kangaroo court before which He has been brought, and it also shows the injustice of what is being done. But more significantly, my friends, this shows, Jesus’ silence shows, His willingness to submit to God’s will and His willingness to die for you.
Imagine it if we had been Peter, or with Peter standing in the courtyard. Or if we had been another bystander that night, and we had heard false witness after false witness brought before Jesus making serious charges. Surely we would have at least been crying out inside, Lord Jesus, tell them it’s not so. You never did that. And if we had heard these final two men come and make the charge that Jesus had spoken against the temple, surely we would have been crying out at least inside, Lord, tell them that they have misunderstood You. We would have all along been wishing that the Lord Jesus would stand up for Himself and show them that this whole trial was a mockery, but Jesus opened His mouth not. And the reason He opens His mouth not is because He loves you, and He is willing to die for you. If you don’t understand that in Jesus’ silence, you don’t understand what Matthew is telling you here in verse 63. The Lord Jesus Christ is so in love with His people, that He will not stand in the way of an injustice done to His own person so that He can lay down His life on your behalf. He will not speak because He is committed, He is determined to die in your place. If you’ve never understood that about Jesus’ silence, you’ve never understood His silence. Throughout His trial it’s recorded not only in Matthew, but in Mark and Luke and in John, Jesus is silent before accusation. That silence is because of His willingness to die for you. The only time, the only time that Jesus will open His mouth, whether He is being tried by church authorities or whether He is being tried by civil authorities, is to make clearer the witness, the claims, the testimony of who He is. Never to defend Himself because He is committed to submitting to the will of God because He loves you and is ready to die for you. Jesus’ silence before His false accusers shows His willingness to die for your sins.
Do you not hear the words of Isaiah 53:7 ringing in your ears now? He was oppressed, and He was afflicted; yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, or like a sheep which is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. He’s not just fulfilling Scripture. He’s showing you His heart of love for you. He is not willing that He should be spared, but He will lay His life down for you.
II. Jesus’ answer under oath is a clear and unmistakable claim to Messiahship, Lordship, and Deity
And then there is another thing that we see in this glorious response from the Lord Jesus. In verse 64 this bold witness to His power and His position – you need to understand in the first place that His speaking is not a contradiction of His previous silence. He speaks here under oath from the high priest, not to defend Himself, but in fact to say something that is going to get Him in deeper trouble with the Sanhedrin. He speaks here not to defend Himself, not to forestall judgment, but He speaks in order to clarify the nature of His claim to being the Messiah. Jesus’ reply is crystal clear, and it is crystal clear because not only the disciples and not only the multitudes, but also the high priest and the Sanhedrin have a misunderstanding not only of who He claims to be as Messiah, but what the prophets say the Messiah will be like.
We know that the Lord Jesus didn’t use the term Messiah in public very often. He did not do this because of the misconception that the people of Israel had about the Messiah. So many of the people of God thought that the Messiah was going to be a political Savior. Only when His disciples testified that He was the Messiah, the Son of God, or when someone under the influence of God or in many cases under the influence of demons, testified that He was the Messiah, did He accept that particular name, that particular title. But He did not use it generally. And it is certain that the members of the Sanhedrin didn’t understand what He was claiming to be when He claimed to be the Messiah. They thought of Him as some sort of a revolutionary. They thought of Him as one of a stream of people who had come along in the time of the Roman occupation trying to liberate Israel from Rome. But Jesus, when the high priest puts Him under oath to the living God, responds to the his priest, and He very clearly tells him who He is, and then He confirms it with Scripture.
Now don’t miss this, my friends. Often times, we read our English translations of the gospels and Jesus’ responses both to the Sanhedrin and to the civil authorities, and we think maybe Jesus is giving an ambiguous answer here because He starts off by saying, “You have said it yourself.” Jesus is not giving an ambiguous answer. I want you to understand that. He’s not saying, “Well it all depends on what 'is' means.” Jesus is giving an answer that cannot be missed. He is saying first of all, “Yes, you have said it with your own lips.” That’s what Jesus is saying. And then He’s saying, “And let Me quote you some Scripture so you’ll understand it further.” Jesus is saying yes, “I am the Messiah. And let Me give you the Scriptures to show who I am claiming to be.” And He takes them right to Psalm 110, verse 1, and He takes them right to Daniel, chapter 7, verses 13 and 14, and He says, ‘Let me tell you that I am claiming to be something far beyond that which you have ever dreamt that I was claiming to be. I am not just some sort of petty revolutionary with messianic aspirations. I am the Ruler of the universe whom God has seated at His right hand, and I will come on clouds with glory to judge the world.’
You see what Jesus is saying to the chief priest. He’s saying, ‘You think you’re My judge, well let Me tell you something. I am your judge. In fact I am the judge of heaven and earth. I am the one seated by God at His right hand of power to judge the world, and You will see me coming hereafter coming on clouds with power and glory.’ He takes them right to Psalm 110, verse 1 which says “Sit at my right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” When the Lord Jesus quoted the high priest that “He was sitting at the right hand,” I think that He probably knew that the high priest would remember the second half of that verse as well, “until I make your enemies a footstool.” And then He quotes to them from Daniel 7:13 and 14: “I kept looking,” Daniel says, “in the night visions and behold with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming. And He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might worship Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”
Jesus is declaring to the Sanhedrin that He is, in fact, their Judge. No wonder the high priest tore his robes. You couldn’t find a more clear, a more bold testimony, a more unmistakable claim to Jesus Messiahship, His Lordship and His deity. His answer under oath is a bold witness to His position and power. Don’t forget that. You know, it’s so sad that there are liberal scholars abounding today in religious studies departments all over the United States who can’t quite seem to figure who Jesus thinks He is from their reading of the gospel. It’s so sad, because even the Sanhedrin was able to figure that out. They didn’t believe it, but they were at least able to figure that out. Jesus is making an unmistakable witness to His deity.
And I want to tell you, friends, that every human being must come to grips with that particular claim because there are only two possible responses. You either defy that claim or you submit to it. Those are the only possible responses. You either submit or you are conquered. You defy that claim or you embrace it. That’s before everyone of us today. Perhaps you came today skeptical of the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s not letting you off the hook. He’s claiming His Lordship over all of us. And all of us will confess that Lordship one of two ways: Either willingly or unwillingly. If you’re wise, you’ll kiss the Son and embrace Him.
III. The Sanhedrin got the message but they chose the wrong response.
One last thing we see in this passage. In verses 65 through 68, the response of the Sanhedrin to Jesus’ answer is pitiful. The Sanhedrin gets the message. They understand precisely what Jesus is claiming about Himself, but they choose the wrong response. Caiaphas accuses Jesus of blasphemy. Blasphemy, of course, is the sin of claiming to be God or equal with Him, or of attacking God’s authority and majesty in any way. And Caiaphas turns to the whole Sanhedrin, and he says, what do you think? And they all concur with him. And he says well, what should we do? And they say well, we ought to put Him to death. And then we’re told that that whole crowd begins to abuse and mock the Lord Jesus Christ. All that, too, was in accordance with Old Testament prophesy. Remember Isaiah 50, verse 6: “I gave my back to those who strike me, and my cheeks to those who pluck out the beard. I did not cover my face from humiliation or spitting.” When you see Christ being struck by the members of the Sanhedrin, you must remember this: By His stripes you are healed. That should have been the hand of God across our faces at the heavenly trial, and He willingly takes it for us from the hands of wicked men because He loves us. The Lord Jesus Christ, in all His glory, endures that humiliation so that we might never, ever experience that humiliation, and so that we might be with Him joint heirs of His heavenly Father.
If you’ve come this day with a hard heart for the Lord Jesus Christ, I want you to look at Him as He stands before this fickle, this unscrupulous crowd of religious leaders, and He keeps His voice silent to every opportunity of defense. And He only speaks when it is going to lead to His conviction. And He takes it all because He was willing to bear on His back the due penalty for your sin. Hallelujah, what a Savior. Let us worship and sing to Him. Let us pray.
Our Lord and our God, chasten us and move us to praise because of the glory of the stricken Savior. We ask it in His name, Amen.