At daybreak all the elders of the people assembled, including the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. Jesus was led before this high council, and they said, “Tell us, are You the Messiah?” But He replied, “If I tell you, you won’t believe Me. And if I ask you a question, you won’t answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated in the place of power at God’s right hand. ” They all shouted, “So, are You claiming to be the Son of God?” And He replied, “You say that I am.” “Why do we need other witnesses?” they said. “We ourselves heard Him say it.”Luke 22:66-71
Let’s return to the questions I posed in the last Gem:
Are we dealing with the same event but viewed through different eyes or are there indeed two distinct trials separated by a night’s sleep?
In my opinion, a strong “No.” There are too many little touches about the story that infer we are dealing with different events. Oh, yes, there is a similar strand running through it. One could be forgiven for thinking the topic is the same, some of the words are the same, therefore it must be the same event, seen through different eyes. But Matthew and Mark clearly set the scene of the second trial at night, with the fire burning and the events seen from the light of the fire. Luke on the other hand, describes the same action by the firelight but reserves his comments on the trial for the next morning – at day break. I believe there are clearly two different phases of the trial of Jesus being described here. Why then do we have “more of the same”? Simply because that is what happened. That is what each trial – night and early morning was focused on.
Matthew and Mark give prominence to the night trial and only cursorily cover the events of Peter’s betrayal. Luke, on the other hand, spends much time focusing on the details of Peter’s betrayal. I have already pointed out that Luke continues the theme of Peter’s betrayal over a large portion of his gospel. Luke focuses more on the informal nature of what took place at night and summarizes especially the illegal action of what went on. He is not so focused on the informal trial taking place inside the low walls of the courtyard. When it comes to the versions of the disciples as to what happened, Matthew and Mark spend a great deal of time describing the night trial. Luke largely ignores the night trial and focuses more on the trial at dawn.
It is clear from the three accounts of the synoptic gospel writers that the trial transcripts were an account of similar events and similar trial content. Why? Note that both stages appear to be rushed. Luke seems to treat the night trial as an aberration and something that was fleeting. Matthew and Mark treat the dawn trial the same way. What is going on here? The full details of the trials (or the on-going trial) of Jesus are hard to piece together. No one gospel gives us all the detail. But between them all we can piece together the chronology and the details. Theories abound as to how these fit together. Some even suggest that there is a primary portion of Mark which is a foundational element, to which has been added extra material to explain “the elevation of the quick meeting of the Sanhedrin in the early morning” to the status of Luke’s full trial.
Daybreak is indeed a strange time to open the courthouse; so too is a late night court trial by firelight. Both seem rather clandestine. Remember too that we have been told from the beginning of this chapter in Luke (although it seems hard to believe it is still the same chapter) that the leaders plotted to kill Jesus but they were afraid of the reaction of the people. Hence, they plotted as to what the best way to do it was. (Luke 22:1-4). This is all taking place at the time of the Passover when Jerusalem is flooded with people from all over Israel. The Sanhedrin can’t afford to alienate the masses. Hence they try to keep this action as quiet as possible. As a result these are not featured trials in the middle of the day for all to see. They are held at times suitable to reduce the numbers of people who might be aware of what is happening. The leaders seek to keep the proceedings as quiet as possible.
It is important for me to add the following pieces of information. No session of the Sanhedrin was considered valid if it was held during the night. It is clear that the night trial was held quickly in order to expedite this matter. Any trial held at night would have to be considered as a preliminary hearing after which the Council would have to meet again the next day to retry and discuss again the outcome of the night before. Not only that, but there was also a regulation that if a man were pronounced guilty of something requiring the death penalty, he was not to be condemned to death on one day. There had to be a subsequent trial on the following day to seal his fate. Ah, given these two snippets of information we can understand what was happening here.
This is why the “transcript of the trial” is repetitive. They are going over the same material again. It is likely that Matthew and Mark don’t include both phases and Luke doesn’t include both phases but between them we have a full account. In this second phase described by Luke, we can see the same elements present as were there in the first phase (Matthew and Mark). The focus is the response of Jesus to the High Priest’s question “Are You the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said,”I AM. . . . ”
“And [furthermore – my addition] you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right handand coming on the clouds of heaven.”Luke 22;69
Therein lies the crux of the case. Jesus response is to claim deity with His use of the “I AM” saying. No Jew would take this name on their lips. Jesus has done it in the night trial and now done it again in the Dawn trial. They are careful to test the soundness of their evidence. They don’t want a mistrial. It is clear the outcome of the night trial has been repeated again in the dawn trial. In their minds this One before them is “cannon fodder”. He has convicted Himself twice. Night and morning. They wish to repeat the questions from the night before so that Jesus traps Himself again. Hence the repetitive nature of the two transcripts. On His second responses they feel their case is watertight. They can now take Him before the Roman authority. The Sanhedrin had no authority to commit anyone to death. They had to refer the case upward to the Roman courts to seal the death penalty. All this has been rushed through in order to secure the outcome they want. But notice how subtle Jesus has been in His answer to them. They ask Him again if He is the Messiah. His first response is playing with them.
“If I tell you, you won’t believe Me.” Not only will they not believe He is Messiah but they will also dispute the kind of Messiah He is. We have been through this before.
“If I ask you a question, you won’t answer.” If He asks them a question, either concerning the fact of His Messiahship which they have refused to acknowledge, or questioning them as to the kind of Messiah they are waiting for, they will refuse to answer again.
Notice now what happens. More word games. They have asked “Are you the Messiah?”. Basically, do you consider yourself to be the Messiah? [Because we certainly don’t believe you are the Messiah]
Jesus’ answer is to switch the terminology and He says, “From now on the Son of Man will be seated in the place of power at God’s right hand.” To which they ALL shout, “So, are You claiming to be the Son of God?” To which He replied, “You say that I am.” They chorus out, “Why do we need other witnesses? We ourselves heard Him say it. [Twice]”.
The witnesses from the night trial testified to the hearsay that He claimed to be the Messiah. The High Priest asked Him the night before and Jesus responded with the strong “I AM”. Now they have conducted the second trial the next day (early, so there is still time to do away with Him before the Sabbath) and according to them He has confessed to it again.
But has He? Note the subtlety of Jesus answer. I will leave it with you until the next Gem. Also in the next Gem I will deal with the subtlety of language that is being used here and also the saying, “From now on the Son of Man will be seated in the place of power at God’s right hand.” Note the parallel to the statement made the night before at the night trial— “I AM. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” It was this statement the night before which made the High Priest tear his robes. Now it’s effectively repeated again in the dawn trial.
This gem has already grown too long so I won’t expound it now. I suggest you take time to ponder Jesus answers before we analyse it. Imagine yourself to be a member of the Sanhedrin and how you would react. Imagine if you were one of those listening to the trial. How would you react in that case?
See you back in court. For whose trial? Yours of course.
Obedience is a permanent obligation, not a temporary option!Anon
Every [person] dies. Not every [person] really lives.William Wallace
A sinner can no more repent and believe without the Holy Spirit’s aid than he can create a world.C H Spurgeon
Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.T. S. Eliot