The trial of Jesus Christ stands as history’s most stunning legal catastrophe. Those who were commissioned to uphold and preserve the law became its most blatant violators.
At Easter, thousands of messages are preached on Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. But few give attention to the trial that led up to those events, which was a most terrible miscarriage of justice. If the ACLU is truly interested in justice, it could call for a retrial of Jesus Christ, for never in all history was so much done so wrong by so many so swiftly.
Over the years, innuendo and controversy have centered on the handling of Jesus Christ by the Jewish authorities. Some time ago, the suggestion was made that the trial of Jesus Christ be reopened. This would be a fascinating exercise. Interestingly, this appeal came from those who have long held that Jesus was not the Jewish Messiah. Some Jewish authorities have suggested that a re-trial may be desirable, if not to settle the controversy over whether Jesus Christ was the Messiah, then at least to clear the air, to establish the legal truth and to give Him a fair trial.
Jesus Christ’s trial ended abruptly with a unanimous decision of guilt on the charge of blasphemy, which in this instance was that Jesus had presented Himself with the attributes of Jehovah God. Jesus admitted in open court that He was God in human flesh and that one day He would appear as King of Israel and of all the universe, coming in great glory in the clouds.
In answer to Pilate’s question, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “It is as you say.” (Mark 15:2) Before the Jewish ruling body, the high priest Caiaphas said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus said, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:63, 64) This was blasphemy to the court. It was a clear statement of Christ’s deity and His future reign and return. He, being only a man in their sight, had made Himself God.
And that is the real issue! Was Jesus really the Messiah as announced in the Old Testament? If so, the evidence would have borne this out. If not, the Jewish leaders were bound by the Scriptures to impose death, for a man who elevated Himself to deity could deserve no less. So, either the trial of Jesus Christ was a complete farce and the verdict arose out of considerations outside the best interests of truth, or Jesus Christ was the biggest liar in all history, and His trial was well deserved and its sentence properly executed.
The issue is more than mere historical research. It is one of intense personal consequence. If it is established that Jesus was indeed who He said He was—that Christ was indeed the Messiah, God come in the flesh—then, as the hymn writer said, “Let every kindred, every tribe on this terrestrial ball, to Him all majesty ascribe and crown Him Lord of all.” On the other hand, if Jesus of Nazareth received a fair trial and He was found to be a blasphemous impostor, then His fate was well deserved; His body still lies in a tomb, Christianity is a farce and multitudes of believers are heading for eternal hell.
Was Christ’s claim valid? The court said, “No,” and shattered numerous laws in establishing their devious conclusion. The Jews had a precise system of civil justice—we call them civil rights today. This was grounded in their Scriptures, upon which every decent and just system of jurisprudence has been based ever since. We still refer to a “Judeo-Christian ethic.”
Walter M. Chandler, a Christian and New York attorney, wrote a thrilling and exhaustive two-volume work, The Trial of Jesus from a Lawyer’s Standpoint. First published in 1908, it continues to be a significant resource, having been reprinted several times over the years. With the typical methodical precision of the lawyer’s mind, Chandler assembled a stunning indictment against the Jewish Supreme Court.
First, Christ’s arrest was illegal. No arrests could be made at night. Jesus was arrested at night. Then, no arrests could be made on charges of an accomplice. Jesus was arrested on the word of Judas, technically an accomplice of Christ, having traveled with him for over three years. Further, simple bench warrants were illegal; a man could only be arrested by the full mandate of the court.
The interrogation process was also illegal. Interrogations could not be done at night, which is when Jesus was questioned. Private interrogations were also unlawful; preliminary questioning of Jesus was done by Annas (who was also the high priest Caiaphas’ father–in-law). Additionally, it was an outrage to strike a defendant. Jesus was slapped in court. Accusers could not be witnesses, and this point of Jewish law was also violated.
Moving to the indictment, there are also multiple illegalities. There was no clear charge, and so Jesus was again deprived of His rights. Courts could only hear charges, not institute them—another disregard for the law.
Any and all proceedings of the court were illegal at night, and none could be performed before the morning sacrifice. Trials could not be conducted on days preceding any Sabbath. No criminal could be tried and convicted the same day. Uncorroborated testimony was insufficient to convict. Thus, we see violation upon violation.
And now, we come to a fascinating detail of Jewish law. No accused man could be convicted on a unanimous vote. A unanimous vote to convict automatically cleared the defendant. This strange quirk of Jewish law was a safeguard against railroading a defendant. Jesus was condemned on a unanimous vote, and thus, should have been cleared!
Nicodemus, whose nighttime conversation with Jesus gave us the great verses, “You must be born again” (John 3:7) and “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16), sat on the Jewish Supreme Court and would have been involved in Jesus’ trial. Some have questioned how Nicodemus could have voted for Jesus’ conviction if he really thought He was the Christ.
Jesus called Nicodemus “the teacher” or master, perhaps the most prominent rabbi of the day (John 3:10). As such, Nicodemus would have known the finer details of Jewish law. In a final effort to release Christ, he would have had to vote for a unanimous conviction, which should have released Jesus. Regardless of whether that is what took place, another point of Jewish law was sacrificed on the altar of hatred, pride, self-will and spiritual darkness.
There were further violations. Chandler also stated that, for various reasons, most of the jurors in this case were disqualified. The court was also meeting in the wrong place to hear the case. Further, the priest was not to tear his garments, which Caiaphas did. He lost his temper and was in no fit condition to decide anything. In addition, a man was not to testify against himself. Also, there was almost no defense at all, meaning that the court had decided the guilt of Christ long before the trial ever began.
Apparently, some 30 points of Jewish civil rights were violated in the trial of Jesus Christ.. How could these men—the most learned and supposedly the most committed to legal precision and civil rights—blunder so badly? How could they have suppressed the facts, the overwhelming evidence? How could they call for crucifying an innocent man and stomping on their legal system? The answer is quite simple. Sin blinds the mind, distorts the truth and perverts judgment. The case in point is probably the greatest example in all history. To refuse God’s revealed truth is to pull the shades on one’s intellect. Sin darkens the mind.
We have heard much about the unpardonable sin. In Matthew 12:24-30, Jesus spoke against the Pharisees’ claim that He was casting out demons with the power of Satan—a deliberate intellectual repudiation of the obvious truth. It is in that context that Christ spoke of the unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:31, 32). He said that speaking against the Holy Spirit is so grave a sin that it cannot ever be forgiven!
This was committed by some who sat on the “kangaroo court” that convicted Jesus. He was perceived by the Jewish leaders a threat to their authority and power, and they were so intent on getting rid of Him that they rejected God’s revealed truth. Clear evidence had been given that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the very eternal Son of God. In a previous encounter, Christ had said as much.
In Matthew 21:33-46, Christ told the story of a wealthy man who went away into a far country and sent representatives back to check up on his vineyards. Beating, stoning, and murder was perpetrated twice on the representatives. Finally, the land owner sent his own son figuring that the workers would respect him. The workers recognized him as the heir and erroneously supposed that if they slew him, the lands and vineyards would be theirs and they could ignore the owner completely.
The chief priests and Pharisees understood that Christ had spoken of them (vs. 45). They knew the son was the rightful heir.
Persistent rejection of Jesus Christ may indeed lead to the complete rejection of God’s truth. This sin of all sin darkens the mind and perverts judgment. In the climactic event of the face-to-face trial of Jesus Christ, many who apparently had committed this unpardonable sin had no sense of justice and fairness, and they rode roughshod over nearly every point of Jewish civil justice.
In Acts chapter 7, some of the same people who took part in the trial still had no inclination to accept the truth of Jesus Christ despite the obvious evidences of the Spirit of God including healing, miracles and overwhelming preaching. Permanent darkness had settled in upon them.
The wider dimension of this catastrophe is seen in Romans 1:21 & 22 where Paul says of those who suppress the truth, “…although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were they thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.” (emphasis added)
Yes, indeed, reopen the trial of Jesus Christ. Any fair trial would reveal Him to be the promised Messiah, born in Bethlehem of a virgin as the Scripture says, grown to manhood and performing miracles, and then dying and rising again to intercede at the Father’s right hand and someday return for His saints. Let Christ’s love and deity and compassion be heralded! Let the people know that He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
In a re-trial, Jesus is really not on trial—we are! It is we who are sinners and stand shameful in the light of His sinless purity. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) We are the ones who deserve the punishment.
Christ willingly suffered the injustice of an illegal trial. The end result was His crucifixion, which provided our salvation. Through Christ’s death, God provided all that is needed for a verdict of “not guilty.” “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son (Jesus Christ), that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Anyone who prays to God directly and admits his sinful condition and receives Christ into his life is saved. He is forgiven, cleansed, becomes a child of God and is certain of Heaven. “For whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13) “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.” (II Corinthians 5:17)
Pray, “God, I know I am a sinner. I believe Jesus Christ is who He said He was and that He died for me. Come into my life. Forgive my sins and begin living Your life in me.”
In enduring the abuse of His trial and guilty verdict, Christ also gave believers a model of submission to authority “leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” Even with the legal abuses, “when He was reviled (verbally abused), [He] did not revile in return. ” (I Peter 2:21 & 23)
Jesus is standing on trial still;
You can be false to Him if you will;
You can be faithful through good or ill;
What will you do with Jesus?
What will you do with Jesus?
Neutral you cannot be.
Someday your heart will be asking,
“What will He do with me?”
By acknowledging Jesus Christ’s deity, purity and even His death and resurrection, we can be acquitted of our crimes and set free forever!