To arrest, try and sentence Jesus to death the Great Sanhedrin had to break all their own rules of justice and fairness. Here's how.
The Trial of Jesus
Jesus trial took place before an official legal body called the “Great Sanhedrin” which acted as a sort of supreme court of the land. Across the country there was a Sanhedrin in every local district of at least 120 male heads of household. It was composed of 23 men (odd number so there would be no tie). Their purpose was to judge local cases. The judgments of the lesser local courts could be appealed… the final court of appeals was the Great Sanhedrin of Jerusalem.
This Great Sanhedrin was composed of 70 members plus the high priest. There were 24 chief priests, 24 elders, 23 scribes. It sat atop a legal system that was proud of its principles of fairness, equity, justice and respect for life. It was a system built on the principles of the OT. Deut 16:18-20
The accused who came before these courts were guaranteed certain rights of proper procedure.
Right to a Public Trial – so the public could witness and “keep an eye on” what was going on in the courts. There were even to be impartial auditors present to ensure oversight. This also meant the trial was to be conducted in a public place during the day
Right to Self Defense – could defend himself of could have a representative speak on his behalf.
Right to confront the witnesses and hear the testimony presented against him – whatever prosecution need to be based on at least 2 witnesses.
bearing of false witness was considered a high crime and was swiftly punished with the penalty the accused was to have received if condemned. Deut 19:16-19
Note: no person could testify against himself and by that testimony be found guilty.
Prescribed execution - In cases of capital punishment there was to be a three day period:
the remainder of the day the judgment was made
an intervening day during which the judges were to fast an consider the justness of their verdict
a third day upon which the court would reconvene and either affirm or revoke their verdict.
The purpose was to allow every possible opportunity for further evidence that might come forth to prove the innocence of the accused. If the original verdict of death was confirmed the condemned was to swiftly executed that very day with the accusing witness(es) to cast the first stone Deut 17:7. However, in that day the Roman overlords held the power of execution for themselves.
Basic Court Procedure
The accused would be brought before the court and told of the charges. Next the witnesses were brought in and warned of their blood guiltiness before God for false testimony (like our hand on the bible). Then the testimony against the accused would be heard.
The judges would then discuss for and against. After this the public auditor would be allowed to speak in defense of the accused (but not if he were condemning). The accused was then allowed to speak in his defense.
The court would be cleared so the judges cold further discuss and render a verdict. If acquitted the accused was discharged immediately. If condemned then the 3 day waiting period mentioned above began.
Sounds like a reasonably fair, just, equitable system with plenty of safeguards protecting the rights of the accused from falling prey to an angry emotional mob… but what about the trial of Jesus. How was it that the Great Sanhedrin of Jerusalem could condemn and put to death Jesus Christ the only truly innocent person who ever lived?
They Did It by Breaking Da Rules
No criminal case was supposed to be conducted in the dead of night… but Jesus’ was
Judges were to observe an interval of fasting before any execution… but they killed Jesus Christ that same day
Multiple corroborating witnesses were required… but not in this case
Right of Self Defense… nope
Review Of The Actual Trial… Three Phases of Jesus’ Trial
Jesus was arrested by the temple and Roman police and taken before Ananias
Ananias sent Jesus to Caiaphas (the official High Priest)
From Caiaphas Jesus was taken before the Great Sanhedrin
John 18:12-16 John 18:12-16  Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him,
 And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year.
 Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.
 And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known to the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest.
 But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known to the high priest, and spoke to her that kept the door, and brought in Peter.
American King James Version×– right away we see events that are shady, irregular an illegal
Jesus was taken to a private home for questioning, not a public place, not a place that was part of the legal system. We can see that it was not publicly accessible since the two disciples could only get in because they knew one of the servant girls.
Who was this guy Annas? He was not the High Priest… he had been the High Priest 20 years earlier but he was not any longer. His son-in-law Caiaphas was the High Priest. Annas was the father in law of the High Priest. 20 years earlier Annas had been removed from the office by the Romans because he was getting too powerful.
So What Sort of Power Might the High Priest Have?
Discuss the buying and selling of sacrificial animals in the temple
Donations and payment could only be made with temple coins (they made money on the exchange)
Jesus criticized and turned over their tables… Jesus was bad for business
Annas was obviously a big deal, perhaps the godfather, the brains behind the operation… maintaining control from behind the scenes by getting a succession of family members and in-laws chosen as High Priest while he remained the power behind the curtain. Whatever was really going on Annas was the first one Jesus was taken before. Even though he does not appear to have any official or legal status bearing on the supposed trial of Jesus Christ.
At this point there was no official charge of any crime… a person brought to trial is supposed to be charged with having committed a crime and told what he was accused of… so he could defend himself.
Verse 19 – Annas is fishing, seeing if he could find anything to accuse Jesus of… Annas, Caiaphas and the rest had already decided on the sentence they wanted… (verse 14) now all they need was a crime to match. IF they had actually had a case, a crime, all they would need to do was present the witnesses and proceed with the case. But they did not.
Verse 20-21 what crime are you accusing me of? What witnesses do you have?
Verse 22 right away Jesus calls them on the illegalities taking place… they get mad (whack him on the head)
Verse 23 Jesus does not retaliate… curse or strike back, instead He again refers them back to the legal violations taking place that violate the most basic precept of justice and fairness.
Verse 24 Annas attempt to find anything to accuse Jesus of is fruitless and frustrated. So, he sent him on the official High Priest Caiaphas.
Jesus Sent to Caiaphas’ House
John does not record the rest of the trial before the Sanhedrin but Matthew does.
Matthew 26:57-59 Matthew 26:57-59  And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.
 But Peter followed him afar off to the high priest's palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end.
 Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;
American King James Version×The main players in the Great Sanhedrin are gathered together trying to get their story straight before the official trial which would take place at the break of dawn in the actual court rather than in the private residences of Annas and Caiaphas in the dead of night. They would still attempt to present at least a façade of legality and justice in a process that was grossly unfair and unjust.
Their role was to judge the case, listen to evidence, hear the testimony of the witnesses to consider the charges brought against the accused. But instead they have taken on the role of prosecutors… desperately trying to find a crime, desperately looking for a credible witness… and what worthless men they could find were obviously false witnesses.
Matthew 26:59 Matthew 26:59Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;
American King James Version×-62 / see also Mark 14:56-60 Mark 14:56-60  For many bore false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together.  And there arose certain, and bore false witness against him, saying,  We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.  But neither so did their witness agree together.  And the high priest stood up in the middle, and asked Jesus, saying, Answer you nothing? what is it which these witness against you?
American King James Version×(what He actually said was you destroy this temple and I’ll raise it up John 2:19 John 2:19Jesus answered and said to them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
American King James Version×)
But Jesus remains silent… He has no need to say anything, nothing yet to defend himself of. There is still no charge, no crime, if the worthless witnesses had brought forth a charge they would have had their case against Him. But they didn’t so they moved on…
Like so many in this life they had already made up their minds what they wanted to believe… they are not looking for truth. They’re looking for proof, or arguments or anything they can find to support what they have already decided.
They are not interested in carefully investigating and weighing the truth about God. Other factors like pride, position, hurt feelings, love of money, sensual pleasure have led them to declare a verdict without considering the alternative… what if… “He really is who He says He is”… that would mean…
No, No! I can’t allow myself to believe that! I won’t accept it… I don’t want to hear any more. I don’t want anyone to SAVE me, I don’t want a Messiah… I will accept no judgment… I am the judge.
The Great Sanhedrin had already decided their verdict… they just needed some shred of evidence they could use to get Him convicted and sentenced. Dawn was approaching so they could have their trial in “daytime” yet before the people awoke and they might lose the opportunity because of his popularity with the crowds. Also, they wanted to leave enough time so they could wash His blood off their hands… before they would celebrate the holy day.
Matthew 26:62 Matthew 26:62And the high priest arose, and said to him, Answer you nothing? what is it which these witness against you?
American King James Version×They were waiting on Him to say something they could pounce on… but he said nothing, There were no charges, no crime.
Verse 63 calls forth a sacred oath before the living God and ask Jesus point blank to admit He was the Messiah and the Living God in the flesh. His thinking was that getting Jesus to speak these words would catch Him on a charge of blasphemy…punishable by death (Leviticus 24:16 Leviticus 24:16And he that blasphemes the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemes the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.
American King James Version×).
Jesus had spoken plainly on multiple occasions that He was indeed the prophesied Messiah. He never denied it (Luke 4:21 Luke 4:21And he began to say to them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
American King James Version×, John 4:25-26 John 4:25-26  The woman said to him, I know that Messias comes, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.  Jesus said to her, I that speak to you am he.
American King James Version×, Matthew 21:9 Matthew 21:9And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.
American King James Version×)… But He also didn’t walk into towns waving His hands in the air saying “I’m the Messiah” … in fact He asked the disciples not to talk about it with anyone (Matthew 16:20 Matthew 16:20Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.
American King James Version×). Likewise, He had openly presented Himself as One with the Father and the Son of Man (John 10:30 John 10:30I and my Father are one.
American King James Version×, Matt 16).
Verse 64 Jesus takes the oath and affirms… Yes, I am just as you have said. Then He does something very interesting. He quotes Daniel 7:13-14 Daniel 7:13-14  I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
American King James Version×… “you’ll see me again, and you will recognize that I am the judge”. I do not consider Jesus words to Caiaphas as a threat of vengeance. Why? Because I know that with God there is no shadow of turning, no special treatment for good or for evil. With God, even Caiaphas will get a judgment that is fair, just and compassionate… it will be based on truth, not wishes. And in God’s love, it will be the best possible verdict for either an eternal future or an eternal non-future.
Verse 65-66 in the eyes and ears of the Great Sanhedrin Jesus condemned Himself by his own words. If you remember the principles of the court mentioned above this testimony would not be admissible to condemn Jesus. The accused could not incriminate Himself. Yes, they themselves were witness to His words but could the court really be an impartial judge, accuser, and witnesses simultaneously?
They called it blasphemy and sentenced Him to death. But they actually ended up killing Him because He told the truth.
Do you ever ask yourself… why am I here? This room, These people, this day?
I’m not here because you are the warmest friendliest people I could know, I’m not here for the social activities, I didn’t begin worshipping together with you all to meet girls, or find a wife. I’m not here to be part of a world-class organization, listen to uplifting music, be entertained, for wit, or charm… I’m here for the truth. John 6:67-68 John 6:67-68  Then said Jesus to the twelve, Will you also go away?
 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? you have the words of eternal life.
American King James Version×
Jesus’ judges didn’t want to consider the truth. They knew He had performed miracles, they knew He had raised Lazarus (in fact that was event that made them decide He must die), they knew 1,000 armed men had fallen to the ground at the power of His voice when He was arrested, they knew He had compassionately reattached Malchus’s ear, they knew they could find no credible witness against Him of any sin. But they wanted Him gone and out of their lives… and they rejected truth.
People turn away from God every day because they do not want to face the truth. They don’t want to honestly examine and evaluate what God has presented them with, His word and way of living life, His creation, the testimony and witness of the patriarchs, the prophets, the eyewitnesses of Jesus life and teachings. I don’t want to hear it cuz my parents spanked me too often, I don’t like our minister, my good looking biology teacher is an atheist, I don’t want to be teased…
We don’t really want to examine our own lives or be subject to examination of their lives. I mean truthful examination. Not the self-congratulating foolishness that passes for self-awareness these days. The truth may change our lives, turn lifestyles upside down, expose me for what I really am. Yup, as they saying goes… the truth hurts.
The men of the great Sanhedrin certainly didn’t want that… they would rather choose death and stay blind… then face the truth.
Matthew 27:1-2 Matthew 27:1-2  When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death:
 And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor.
American King James Version×