Mark 14:53-59… Then they led Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders, and scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him from a distance, up to the courtyard of the high priest. He was sitting with the guards and warming himself by the fire. 55 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find anything. 56 Many gave false testimony against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 Some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands and in three days build another not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even on this point their testimony did not agree.
After Judas was excused from the Passover feast (John 13:27) he went out to betray Jesus to the chief priests. The Passover meal likely began at 8:00 p.m., and by the time the disciples had eaten, listened to Jesus teach (John 13-16), walked to Gethsemane, fallen asleep three times, and scattered after his arrest, it was late. During that time Judas, satanically driven, had gathered the Jewish high court together to await Jesus’ arrival. The court was gathered for one reason: to find evidence against Jesus whereby they would be justified in having him executed (v. 55).
The Jewish chief priests broke their own laws by holding a trial for life at night, doing so during Passover, and continuing after the testimony of the witnesses broke down. They were far more concerned with killing Jesus than upholding their own laws. Now they knew that anything Jesus did against their own laws would not hold water with the Romans, so in order to get the Romans to condemn Jesus to death, they had to come up with a political charge against him that threatened Rome. This is why the chief priests assembled witnesses who testified that Jesus said he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. The temple itself was both a religious and a political entity, and certainly a plan to tear it down would have to be dealt with, for it was Pilate’s responsibility to keep the peace in Judea. In other words, if it could be proven that Jesus had a scheme to destroy the temple, then he was a threat to Rome. The Jews knew this, so they questioned Jesus, in v. 58, about his supposed plan to tear down the temple and rebuild it again.
John 2:19 quotes Jesus as saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then John explains in 2:21, “But he spoke of the temple of his body.” In other words, Jesus did say that he would destroy the temple, but the temple he referred to was the temple of his body, and that temple was raised three days later at his resurrection. Obviously his words were twisted by his enemies, and it’s interesting to note that the testimonies of the witnesses the chief priests gathered against Jesus were at odds. The priests were lawful in bringing at least two witnesses against Jesus because accusations were valid only on the testimony of at least two witnesses (Deut. 19:15). But when witnesses did not agree with one another, and were found to be false witnesses as in the case against Jesus, they were to be stoned to death (Deut. 19:16-21).
Food for Thought
Jesus was hated by his accusers because he testified that their deeds were evil (John 7:7). That same Jesus has been kicked out of most churches today and replaced with a comfortable Jesus because the real one still testifies that our deeds are evil. A.W. Tozer said, “The God of Abraham has withdrawn His conscious Presence from us, and another god whom our fathers knew not is making himself at home among us. This god we have made and because we have made him we can understand him; because we have created him he can never surprise us, never overwhelm us, nor astonish us, nor transcend us.” And why not? Because the Jesus of the Bible testifies that our deeds are evil. And we can’t have that! It offends our sensibilities.
Mark 14:60-65… Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is this that they are testifying against you?” 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest questioned him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 “I am,” said Jesus, “and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard the blasphemy! What is your verdict?” They all condemned him as deserving death. 65 Then some began to spit on him, and to blindfold him, and strike him with their fists, saying, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him and beat him.
As the trial progressed the witnesses’ testimonies broke down. So Caiaphas, the high priest, stood up to cross examine Jesus himself – a forbidden action in the Jewish Mishnah (a commentary on the Law). He asked Jesus what the witnesses meant by their accusations that he would destroy the temple then rebuild it in three days. But Jesus said nothing. He had no reason to say anything after the testimony of the witnesses failed. Jesus should have been set free, but Caiaphas had an agenda… to kill Jesus who “was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter… so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
Caiaphas’ illegal cross-examination addressed one issue when he pointed his finger at Jesus in v. 61: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus simply answered, “I am.” Upon hearing this Caiaphas tore his robe in grief over hearing what he considered blasphemy. Claiming to be the Messiah was considered taking the Lord’s name in vain (Ex. 20:7), and this was punishable by death (Lev. 24:16). Now tearing the priestly garment was forbidden for the high priest (Lev. 10:6; 21:10), but apparently, because of the blasphemy Caiaphas perceived, he felt it right to do so. It is strange, in light of all that Jesus did – his miracles and healings – that the high priest immediately accused Jesus of blasphemy. Under those guidelines the Messiah would never have been able to present himself in Israel! No wonder he was rejected.
Caiaphas’ question, “Why do we need witnesses” is ironic because they didn’t need them in the first place! The Sanhedrin was going to condemn Jesus one way or the other, and the fact that they handed down the death sentence upon hearing his claim to be the Messiah attests to their motive. They weren’t acting as a grand jury so as to indict – their motive as to convict. In doing so they willingly broke their own laws in having a trial for life at night and on the Passover. And they were supposed to fast for a day before handing down a death verdict. Then they began to beat him – a mere prelude to what the Romans would complete later that day.
Now Jesus condemned himself in affirming that he was the Messiah, but he also added the a caveat from Psalm 110:1 which speaks of one sitting at God’s right hand and also from Daniel 7:13 which speaks of the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. Both passages were Messianic prophecies that Jesus said he would fulfill. Obviously Caiaphas would not see Jesus at God’s right hand in his lifetime, but he will at the future resurrection of the dead.
Food for Thought
Jealousy is a powerful vice, and the Jewish leaders were jealous of Jesus. The office of high priest had become so corrupted in Jesus’ day that it went to the highest bidder. If Jesus was the Messiah then those in power would have had to step down. Surely being in positions of high authority is as dangerous as being wealthy. Both puff up, cause us to lose sight of our ultimate goal, and give us no perceived need of letting Jesus rule our lives. This is the same reason folks reject Jesus today. May he humble us, however, thwart our selfish gain, and convict us of sin.
Mark 14:66-72… Now while Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the high priest’s slave girls came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked directly at him and said, “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it: “I neither know nor understand what you are saying…” and a rooster crowed. 69 When the slave girl saw him again said to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 Again he denied it. A short time later the bystanders again said to Peter, “You must be one of them, because you are also a Galilean.” 71 Then he began to curse, and he swore with an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about!” 72 Immediately the rooster crowed a second time. Then Peter remembered what Jesus said to him: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
In Mark 14:54 Peter is said to have followed Jesus from a distance all the way into the courtyard of the high priest’s house where they were questioning Jesus. He came incognito up to the courtyard and warmed himself by the fire. Seemingly brave on the surface for risking his own arrest, however, Peter was about to deny his association with Jesus three times.
Though it was late the high priest’s (Caiaphas) courtyard was full of people. One of those people was the gatekeeper. She was sure that she’d seen Peter with Jesus on a previous occasion, and she blurted out in a condescending tone, “You also were with that Nazarene!” The insertion of “also” is likely inclusive of the other unnamed disciple who had gained entry for himself and Peter into the courtyard because he knew the high priest (cf. John 18:15). This one had likely also been previously identified by this gatekeeper as a follower of Jesus. Her sarcastic tone toward Peter likely drew attention to him causing him to deny her claim saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are saying.” As he left her presence Mark says that a rooster crowed.
Later on the same girl scurried over to where Peter was standing and once again made him uncomfortable. This time she made a scene by telling the bystanders around Peter that he was one of Jesus’ disciples. Once again, Peter denied it (Matt. 26:72 says he did so under oath). Then a short time later, the ones who had become privy to Peter’s association with Jesus, confronted him as one of his followers based on the fact that he was a Galilean (Galileans had accents that gave them away much like northerners who don’t pronounce “r” and southerners who say “ya’ll”). On this third occasion Peter was clearly frightened over being associated with Jesus, and in order to save himself he denied knowing Jesus under a curse and an oath. His oath signifies that he put himself under a curse if he was lying and those present if they kept insisting that he was Jesus’ disciple. Now immediately after pronouncing this curse the rooster crowed a second time bringing Peter’s mind back to Jesus’ prophecy that he would deny him three times before the rooster crowed twice (cf. Mark 14:30). Luke’s Gospel says that upon denying Jesus the third time Peter turned and saw his Lord through the window who was staring right back at him, in the midst of his own trial, then he remembered the prophecy (Luke 22:61). It was at that point that Peter broke down and wept. His overconfidence had turned to humiliation.
Food for Thought
Part of what Jesus suffered for on our behalf was our fickle nature – our willingness to deny him when faced with persecution. But even in our darkest and weakest moments, just like he was with Peter, Jesus is near us. Though his eyes met with Peter’s following his denials, it doesn’t take that to bring us to the same humiliation as Peter when we sin. But Jesus is always there to meet us with loving eyes and an embrace. His Word is filled with encouragement regarding his willingness to forgive us and to restore us even when we curse and deny his name.
- Modern judicial system based upon Jewish one (read Deut. 16:18-20)
- Governing principle: “The Sanhedrin is to save life, not destroy it.”
- Local Sanhedrin was 23 members; Jewish Supreme was 71 – chosen b/c of character
- The accused had right of public trial, defense, conviction of two witnesses,
- Trials were to be held in the Temple for the public to witness
- To deter against perjury, false witnesses were stoned (Deut. 19:16-19)
- Witnesses had to identify the precise month, day, hour, and location of crime.
- The accusing witnesses were to carry out the execution (Deut. 17:7; cf. John 8:7)
- Execution not be carried out until the 3rd day (fasting in between so not on feast week).
- Self-incrimination was not sufficient for execution.
- No criminal trial could be held at night or into the night
- A council could not initiate charges – only outside parties
- Voting was done from youngest to oldest to ensure young weren’t influenced by the old
- If unanimous vote in favor of execution the prisoner was set free for lack of mercy.
- If guilty, conviction took place three days later with a herald going before them.
- Three days later guilt to innocence could occur, but not vice versa
- Before stoning a stupefying drink was offered to dull the pain
- The property of executed criminal went to family and heirs
- The system was not only fair but extremely merciful
- Jesus not charged, no defense, tried at night, executed same day, cross-examined by HP.
Abnormal Hatred for Jesus (53-59)
U From skeptics who hate to preachers who dumb down to make Jesus nicer (cf. John 7:7)
U Why did they hate Jesus?
o Healed, forgave, spoke with authority, fed, gave sight, cast out demons, etc.
o Spoke out against leaders, broke Sabbath, called God “father.” They were jealous.
o He testified that their deeds were evil (John 7:7)
U Application: What do you have against Jesus? Like Judas who thought he knew better?
U Challenge: to accept Jesus for who He is in all matters where He’s revealed himself.
Angry About Jesus (60-65)
U Misconstrued statements (suffer, hate parents, bigoted, etc.) about destroying temple
U Challenge: to give Jesus’ words benefit of doubt before you illegally try him.
U Challenge: to be as bold as Jesus was when confronted
U V. 65 alludes to Isaiah 11:2-4
U The Trilemma…
Ashamed of Jesus (66-72)
1. Peter was overconfident, contradictory, prayerless, compromising (look at results!)
U Question: Have you ever said or done something to God or someone you regret?
U Challenge: to stop talking behind the backs of others. Be as bold there as when away
U We deny Jesus when we disregard his Words; Peter’s brokenness is where God wants us
U Challenge: Ashamed of Jesus? Why? Willing to lose your job, friends, family, etc.?
U God’s Forgives and Restores: (Ex. 34:6-7; Micah 7:18; 1 John 1:7, 9)