April 12 – The Unjust Condemnation

“ ‘Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?’ They answered and said, ‘He is deserving of death!’ ”

Matthew 26:65–66

✧✧✧

Like many through the centuries, members of the Sanhedrin rejected Jesus Christ without fairly judging all the evidence.

Lynching is an activity we don’t hear much about today. But during earlier generations, the heinous crime occurred quite regularly. Innocent people, or those merely presumed guilty (prior to any trial), were tortured and killed, usually by angry, hateful mobs. Often the person lynched was a victim of racial or political prejudice or some other irrational fear held by the perpetrators.

The members of the Sanhedrin certainly held blind prejudices against Jesus. No amount of evidence would open their eyes to the truth of who He was. Those unbelieving leaders of Israel discounted Jesus’ claims to deity long before they placed Him on trial. He had even pleaded with them, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father” (John 10:37–38).

In today’s passage the high priest Caiaphas reacts forcefully to Jesus’ agreement that He is God’s Son and the Messiah (see Matt. 26:64). Caiaphas’s mind was made up; he was convinced that Jesus had blasphemed, and he was determined to rush forward with this “evidence” to condemn Jesus to death. Caiaphas and the Council could barely wait to render a verdict. The high priest asked for their opinion on Jesus’ guilt, and immediately the Council members asserted, “He is deserving of death!”

The irony of the Jewish leaders’ condemnation of Jesus was their blind insistence that He was a blasphemer when in reality they were the blasphemers for their rejection of the Lord and His message. Even more sobering is that every person who has ever finally rejected Christ is also guilty of blasphemy and will suffer the same fate as the chief priests and elders: “He who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer: Pray for someone you know who has been closed to the gospel. Ask God to open his or her heart and grant him or her repentance.

For Further Study: Read Hebrews 3–4. What spiritual attitude do these chapters warn of? What Old Testament parallel does the writer make?[1]


The Illegal and Unjust Condemnation of Jesus

Then the high priest tore his robes, saying, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death!” (26:65–66)

Upon that unambiguous confession by Jesus, the high priest tore his robes in horror, saying, “He has blasphemed!” The unbelieving members of the Sanhedrin had long ago discounted Jesus’ claims of deity. He had pleaded with them, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father” (John 10:37–38). In other words, even if they could not believe the divine source of His teaching, how could they argue against the divine power behind His countless public miracles?

They had closed their minds to the truth, and no amount of evidence would open their eyes to it. Like many people throughout the ages who have rejected Christ, it was not that they had carefully examined the evidence about Him and found it to be untrue or unconvincing but that they refused to consider the evidence at all. Even God’s own Holy Spirit cannot penetrate such a willful barrier to His truth and grace. Miracles do not convince the hard-hearted.

When the high priest ceremoniously tore his robes, he did so not out of grief and indignation over the presumed dishonor of God’s name but rather out of joy and relief that, at last, Jesus had placed Himself into their hands, condemning Himself out of His own mouth. Although Leviticus 21:10 strictly forbade the high priest’s tearing his garments, the Talmud held that judges who witnessed blasphemy had a right to tear their robes if they later sewed them up. By his traditional and theatrical display, Caiaphas dramatically gave the appearance of defending God’s name, but inwardly he gloated over the illegal, unjust, and devilish victory he imagined he had just won.

“What further need do you have of witnesses?” he asked the Council rhetorically And with that he asked for an immediate verdict: “Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?” He did not bother to have the members polled individually and the results tabulated by scribes, as judicial protocol required, but simply called for verbal support of the predetermined conclusion of guilt.

With one voice they answered and said, “He is deserving of death!” The decision was unanimous as “they all condemned Him to be deserving of death” (Mark 14:64). The unanimous vote to convict should have given Jesus His freedom automatically, because the necessary element of mercy was lacking. But by this time the Sanhedrin had relinquished even the semblance of legality and justice. Because we know that Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Council but did not consent to Jesus ’ condemnation (Luke 23:50–51), he obviously had left the proceedings before this final judicial farce transpired.

The verdict of guilty and the sentence of death were not based on careful consideration of full and impartial evidence and testimony. It was a senseless mob reaction, much like the one which, a few hours later, these same leaders would instigate and orchestrate regarding the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus (Matt. 27:20–21).[2]


65–66 Rending garments (v. 65) was prescribed for blasphemy (m. Sanh. 7:5) but can also express indignation or grief (cf. 2 Ki 18:37; Jdt 14:19; 1 Macc 11:71; Ac 14:14). It appears that the definition of “blasphemy” varied over the years (see Overview, 26:57–68; cf. Jn 5:18; 10:33; see the careful evaluation provided by Bock, Blasphemy and Exaltation). Whether the Sanhedrin thought Jesus was blaspheming because he claimed to be Messiah, because he put himself on the Mighty One’s right hand, or because God had not especially attested who Jesus was (a requirement in certain rabbinic traditions) is uncertain. The decision of the assembled members of the Sanhedrin appears to have been by acclamation. “Worthy” (enochos, v. 66, GK 1944) is the same word used in 5:21. Jesus is “liable” to the death penalty, mandated for blasphemy (Lev 24:16).[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 26:62–65). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 622). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s