Trial at Night: Matthew 26:57-68

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As we continue looking at Matthew’s gospel, we also continue looking at what happened when He was arrested and placed on trial. This passage also continues the theme that we have been looking at over the past couple of episodes that emphasized Jesus choosing the cross.

While Jesus was already arrested, and while the religious leaders had already judged Jesus as worthy of death in their minds, they still lacked a piece of concrete evidence that would justify Jesus being executed.

Because they needed this piece of evidence and a public judgment making Jesus worthy of death, the religious leaders hold a trial.

However, far from being a fair trial, they hold this trial in the middle of the night, and with a hastily gathered group of questionable individuals to bring Jesus to justice. We know this was all put together at the last minute because the religious leaders had previously decided to wait until after the festival to look for a way to arrest Jesus, and after Judas Iscariot came to them with an opportunity, they were waiting for Judas Iscariot to present them with the time for the arrest. While there could have been some preplanning the religious leaders could have done, they were rushed on the timing because they wanted this over with before pausing to celebrate Passover.

However, in this rushed, last-minute trial, when everything is about to fall apart, Someone steps in to help keep things progressing smoothly. Let’s read and discover what happened.

Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 26, and we will read it from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 57, Matthew tells us that:

57 Those people who arrested Jesus led him to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders were gathered. 58 Peter followed far behind to the courtyard of the high priest’s house, and he sat down with the guards to see what would happen to Jesus.

59 The leading priests and the whole Jewish council tried to find something false against Jesus so they could kill him. 60 Many people came and told lies about him, but the council could find no real reason to kill him. Then two people came and said, 61 “This man said, ‘I can destroy the Temple of God and build it again in three days.’”

62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Aren’t you going to answer? Don’t you have something to say about their charges against you?” 63 But Jesus said nothing.

­­­­Let’s pause reading for a moment because at this point in this trial, things are beginning to fall apart. All the false witnesses were contradicting one another, and none of the lies added up to anything worthy of death – or anything that would even be remotely valid in a court setting.

While Jesus said nothing, the trial descended into chaos.

In an interesting parallel, when people reject God in their hearts, societies descend into chaos. Also, when people reject God, we shouldn’t be surprised if God chooses to stay silent.

However, divine providence determined for this to be the time Jesus would die, so in a desperate attempt to find something worthy of judgment, the high priest then turns his attention towards Jesus. Jumping back into the passage at this point, let’s look at what happened. Backtracking briefly and rereading from verse 62:

62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Aren’t you going to answer? Don’t you have something to say about their charges against you?” 63 But Jesus said nothing.

Again the high priest said to Jesus, “I command you by the power of the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

64 Jesus answered, “Those are your words. But I tell you, in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God, the Powerful One, and coming on clouds in the sky.”

Let’s pause briefly again, because what Jesus has said is too significant and easy to miss. The high priest knows that this fake trial to judge Jesus as guilty is falling apart. The case these leaders have against Jesus is falling apart. Nothing in this trial is turning up anything that would judge Jesus as worthy of death.

So the high priest commands Jesus by God’s power to answer one question: Is Jesus the Christ, or in other words God’s Messiah and God’s Son?

The religious leaders had already rejected Jesus, and while I think about the possible responses Jesus could have given, if Jesus had simply said yes to this question, there still would not have been a case against Him. Instead, a simple yes would simply implicate Jesus as being against Rome and the religious leaders would have had a political case against Him. With the religious leaders’ rejection of Jesus, they had firmly allied themselves with Rome and they tried to play both sides of this issue. By rejecting Jesus, they ultimately reject God in favor of Rome, while they subtly opposed Roman opposition wanting a Messiah to free them from Roman rule.

Jesus wasn’t against Rome any more than He was against Greece or any of the earlier empires. Instead, Jesus focused on the individual and on helping those who were hurting and those who needed to feel God’s love. A simple yes answer would have brought with it all the baggage and preconceived ideas these religious leaders had placed on the role of the Messiah.

If Jesus had stopped with the response, “Those are your words. [Period]” then the trial against Him would have fallen apart completely.

Instead, Jesus follows up with a response that says in essence, “I am God’s Son, but I am not the Messiah you think I came to be.”

How do the religious leaders respond?

Continuing in verse 65, Matthew tells us that:

65 When the high priest heard this, he tore his clothes and said, “This man has said things that are against God! We don’t need any more witnesses; you all heard him say these things against God. 66 What do you think?”

The people answered, “He should die.”

67 Then the people there spat in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. Others slapped him. 68 They said, “Prove to us that you are a prophet, you Christ! Tell us who hit you!”

In this trial, we discover that it would have fallen apart if Jesus hadn’t given these leaders something to clearly accuse Him of. And when we look at the details of what happened, nothing in Jesus’ testimony is worthy of death. In Jesus’ testimony, He shares that He is the One who had been prophesied about, and only those who were already closed-minded towards God missed seeing this huge truth. If God were to send His Son into the world, would we expect anyone less than Jesus?

Jesus came to show us God’s love, and while there are those who believe God is unloving or unlovable, Jesus came to challenge their belief by living out how much God loves us. Jesus chose the cross to show us God’s love, and through Jesus we can come to know the God who loves us so much that He gives Himself up to redeem us from the consequences of breaking His law!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and place your faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus. Understand that Jesus chose the cross for you and for me not only to redeem us from sin and the penalty of death, but to show us how much God loves each of us. If death for our sins was Jesus’ only goal, there was no need to go to the cross. Jesus could have jumped off a boat in a storm or let the mob throw Him off a cliff like they wanted to at the beginning of His ministry. Instead, Jesus chose the cross to show us God’s love for us and how far God was willing to go to redeem us.

Also, as I always challenge you to do, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God each and every day. Through the pages of the Bible, discover a God who loves you with all of His heart, and a God who wants to redeem you. While other people can tell you this, God’s truth only becomes personal when you personally learn it for yourself!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or give up on where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 46: After Jesus is arrested, discover how the last-minute trial the religious leaders set up to condemn Jesus almost falls apart, if it weren’t for someone who steps up and into a key role to keep it proceeding smoothly.

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