Chapter 37.1 Conspiracy
Early Friday of Passion Week after 12 am to end of Passover Sabbath
at 6 pm (Saturday night), Jerusalem A.D. 30
Christ before the High Priest (Annas), detail of original oil painting by Gerrit van Honthorst, 1590-1656, size 107 x 72 inches, circa 1617
Christ before the High Priest (Annas), detail of original oil painting
by Gerrit van Honthorst, 1590-1656, size 107 x 72 inches, circa 1617
(CLICK on the image above for a LARGER version)


God’s plan for redemption of humankind was accomplished through the sacrifice of his Son. It took exact timing in history and a certain set of circumstances with willing participants to carry out the intricate plot to put an innocent man to death—while at the same time fulfilling all prophecy of Scripture.

The conspiracy consisted of all these factors:

1. Roman Empire’s control of Palestine so that the Jews were not allowed to put a man to death; Pilate, a weak governor who would give in to the Jewish leaders and use the Roman method of crucifixion.

2. Israel’s need of a Messiah to kick out the Romans and reestablish the Kingdom of Israel; corrupt leaders of the Sanhedrin who rejected their Messiah; Annas, former high priest and Caiaphas, son-in-law current high priest who invented a charge that would cause Pilate to impose the death sentence; Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great and ruler of Galilee who agreed with the charge.

3. A betrayer, Judas Iscariot one of the Twelve Apostles, who could set up a way for the Sanhedrin to arrest the Lamb of God privately on a particular night, place, and time during Passover Feast, and that would prevent the people from stopping them.

With all these factors in place, events went like clockwork: Jesus was betrayed and arrested; forsaken by his disciples; tried by the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and Herod Antipas; beaten and mocked by Roman soldiers; rejected by his own people; then convicted and sentenced to death—all before 9 am Friday morning. God knew their hearts and did not interfere with their free wills, but used their actions for the glory of God and the redemption of the world. All we can do is forgive the conspirators as Christ did on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Christ Taken to Annas’ Palace

The Roman soldiers who had arrested Jesus had orders to bring him to the palace of Annas, the former high priest, and then return to quarters upon delivering their prisoner. From Gethsemane, they led the bound Christ through the same Jerusalem gate by which he had gone out with his disciples after the Paschal supper. There was no one in the street at that late hour; and the mob of Roman soldiers and Temple police went up the city street, past the home of Mark, to Annas’ palace on the slope between the Upper City and the Tyropoeon valley, near the old Maccabean (Hasmonean) palace currently used by Herod Antipas.

John, familiar with the priestly family, knew where Jesus was taken. He led Peter up the street, past the house of Caiaphas, and on to Annas’ palace. When they arrived, lamps and torches all around the compound lit up the interior and courtyard where Temple guards were stationed. The two disciples hid in a garden outside the wall, but close enough to hear, and waited while the former high priest questioned Jesus.

Initial Examination by Annas

In the darkness of very early Friday, the intricate plot unfolded. The Lord’s illegal, immoral, and unethical Jewish trial consisted of three stages: initial examination by Annas; informal trial and condemnation by the priestly council (Lesser Sanhedrin); and informal trial and condemnation by the full Sanhedrin. No legal formal sentence of death could be pronounced, but that did not hinder them from carrying out their evil deed.

Annas was still the most influential figure in the priestly hierarchy; and to make sure everything went as planned, Christ was brought there first. Annas had held the high priesthood himself for about seven years, but afterward several of his sons, as well as his son-in-law Caiaphas, succeeded him. The arrangement was most congruous, and the two worked together to control the Sanhedrin.

There had been no pretence on Caiaphas’ part of religious motives or zeal for God; he had cynically put it in a way to override the scruples of those old Sanhedrists by raising their fears. What was the use of discussing forms of Law about that Man? In any case this one Man must die for the people, and observers of the Law must regard his death as the lesser of two evils. It must appear to be legal to the Sanhedrin and Pilate, but together Annas and Caiaphas would secretly do whatever illegal actions it took to bring about his death. The trial and condemnation of Jesus in the Palace of Caiaphas outraged every principle of Jewish criminal law and procedure.

The Sanhedrin was in a difficult position. They did not have authority to put their Messiah to death. They might unofficially condemn him with a charge, but the death sentence had to be ratified by the Roman governor and carried out by Rome. Pilate would only crucify murderers, brigands, pirates, rebels, and conspirators. With murder and robbery ruled out, Annas’ and Caiaphas’ only hope lay in persuading the governor that their prisoner was a rebel and conspirator—a political offense. That was the strategy they would use on Pilate.

But first, they needed a different strategy for persuading the full Sanhedrin to condemn Christ in order to bring him to the governor for sentencing. Blasphemy—a religious offence—would be the charge they would use for the Sanhedrin.

Inside, Annas wasted no time and began his first tactic of a religious charge the Sanhedrin would accept. The questions were on two points: the disciples of Jesus and his teaching—the former to incriminate Christ’s followers, the latter to incriminate the Master. He asked Jesus about his followers and what he had been teaching them, trying to trap him into making answers which could be used as evidence of blasphemy. But the Son of God was not to be intimidated. Throughout all the weary hours of the trials that followed one upon another he was steady and serene, refusing to yield to their demands.

This initial examination was unjust; he knew it and so did the men who were sitting in judgment. By Jewish law it was illegal to question the prisoner himself. It was the law that witnesses to the prisoner’s guilt should come before the court and the questions should be asked of them. Looking around, Jesus saw no witnesses and knew that Annas had no right to question him; and he did not answer.

However, at this phase of the trial he did not remain silent. Injustice always roused his anger, “I have spoken openly for the world to hear; I have always taught in the synagogues or in the Temple where Jews congregate. I have said nothing in secret. Why are you questioning me? Ask those who heard me; they know what I said.”

One of the Temple guards standing there struck Christ on the face, demanding, “Is that the way to answer the high priest?”

It was not the law either that prisoners should be struck while the trial was going on, and the Savior protested against this also, “If I said anything wrong, you must give evidence to prove it. If I spoke the truth, why strike me?”

Annas continued the interrogation, but at last realized it was futile. There was need for the most desperate haste, for at six o’clock on the evening of that day would be the Sabbath of Paschal week, and everything must be over by then. There could be no sleep or rest now for anyone until the Messiah was dead. The former high priest quickly bound Jesus, surrounded him with a detachment of Temple guards, and sent him down the street to Caiaphas, the official high priest. Annas had already alerted him, and now some of the members of the Sanhedrin were gathering there in secret. Annas followed close behind with his entourage so the prisoner was always in view.

Informal Trial by Caiaphas and Priestly Council

When Jesus was safely taken to the inner court of Caiaphas’ palace, Annas entered and led them to the upper meeting room. The two apostles, who had been following, stopped at the gate. John was acquainted with the high priest and spoke to the woman watching there. She recognized him as the man who brought Lake Galilee’s bounty to the high priest, and John was allowed to enter the courtyard while Peter stood outside. He told her the other fisherman was with him, and she let him in.

While the beloved disciple hurried to follow Christ as close as possible, Peter cautiously went into the middle of the court and sat with the guards, where a fire was glowing in the chilly spring night.

In the large council chamber, Caiaphas, Annas, and several of the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees were seated in a semicircle, with the high priest in the middle. Caiaphas had been careful not to invite Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea to the meeting of the priestly council (Lesser Sanhedrin). He wanted only those who were sympathetic to his cause. Although members of the high court were present, Caiaphas’ palace was not a legal meeting place of the Sanhedrin. No formal charges could be brought. Their only purpose here was to give a semblance of legitimacy to whatever illegal actions had already been decided, so that there would be no trouble when they brought Jesus before the meeting of the full Sanhedrin for final condemnation.

The Lord was now brought before them and left standing alone in the center of his accusers. For this preliminary hearing, Caiaphas had prepared carefully. A number of witnesses had been brought in and coached to swear they had heard Jesus speak blasphemy, but they began to stumble in their carefully rehearsed stories and contradicted each other so that no testimony could be used. Finally two witnesses, which the Mosaic Law required, were found who declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God made with human hands, and rebuild it in three days made without human hands.’” But even the perjured men’s stories couldn’t agree with each other.

Caiaphas stood up and asked Jesus, “Aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?”

But he remained silent and would not reply to a misinterpretation of his words.

The Lord’s majesty brought the high priest to his feet in rage. Only one thing remained. The Savior knew it well, and so did Caiaphas. It was to ask the question which Christ could not refuse to answer; and when answered, must lead either to his acknowledgment or to his condemnation. In a loud voice, he shouted the oath of testimony, “Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?”

No pious Jew could refuse to answer this oath. Jesus replied, “I AM; in the future you will see the Son of Man seated at God’s right hand in the place of power and coming back on the clouds of heaven.” In one sentence he had spoken the great name of Yahweh, identifying himself with God.

“Blasphemy!” Caiaphas exclaimed triumphantly, and tore his robe in the conventional gesture of indignation. “Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy! What is your verdict?”

Like puppets, the council gave the prepared answer. “Guilty!” they shouted. “He must die!” The object was attained. They had all heard it; what use was there of witnesses.

Christ would not explain, modify, or retract his claims, since he really was the Messiah. He showed no visible reaction to the verdict, but continued to stand before his accusers, observing them with a look of compassion on his face. He pitied them for their part in this outrageous travesty of an unjust trial.

Another unofficial meeting, this time with the support of the full Sanhedrin was needed to pronounce him guilty. Word immediately was sent out to the remaining selected members that it would take place at dawn.

Peter’s Three Denials

While the Lord was being tried and condemned, Peter was in the courtyard below, denying his Master. The tall fishermen covered himself with his cloak, trying to hide his face as he attempted to warm himself by the fire. He was shaking more from fear than from the cold.

Glow of the charcoal, around which occasionally a blue flame played, threw a peculiar sheen on the bearded faces of the men as they crowded around it and talked of the events of that night. As is the manner of such Eastern serving men and officials, they exchanged opinions and exaggerated denunciations concerning him who had been captured in the garden with such unexpected ease, and was now the high priest’s safe prisoner.

Peter could hardly contain himself as he listed to those lies and wanted to cry out in defense of his Savior, but the overwhelming fear of being immediately arrested to suffer the same fate kept him silent.

One of the servant girls who worked for the high priest noticed the apostle warming himself. She looked closely and identified him, “You were one of those with Jesus, the Nazarene.”

Peter denied it. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said, and went into the shadows of the porch where his size would not make him so conspicuous. While he stood there, a rooster crowed above him. It was not yet the cock-crowing of dawn, but that time between two and three in the morning that is the false dawn. Among men, too, if they are awake at this time, there is a feeling of silence and strange fear.

He asked himself if he was right in following Jesus there at all. But if he had stayed in the upper room, it would have been a worse and more cowardly denial than that of which he was actually guilty. He made up his mind he would see the end, whatever it might be.

A while later, the taunting of Peter began again. Some other bystanders came over to him and said, “This man must be one of them; we can tell by his Galilean accent.”

Again he denied it, this time with an oath, “I don’t even know the man.”

But one of the household servants of the high priest, a relative of Malchus, whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Didn’t I see you out there in the olive grove with Jesus?”

Peter exclaimed, “I swear by God, I do not know the man!” As soon as he spoke, the loud and shrill second cock-crowing was heard. Startled, he looked up. Its harsh sound wakened his memory. He now recalled the words of warning prediction which the Lord had spoken.

At that moment Jesus was brought along the balcony on the way to his prison cell, and heard what he said. With great sorrow, the Savior turned and looked at him, the apostle on whom the church would be founded.

Peter saw the Lord turning around and looking upon him. Christ’s eyes spoke much more than any words; they searched down to the innermost depths of the big man’s heart and broke it open. They pierced through all self delusion and fear; reaching the man, disciple, and lover of God.

Waters of conviction burst forth true shame, sorrow, and agony of self condemnation. No longer could Peter bear to look on the glorious face of the One he had just denied. Bitterly weeping, he rushed out from that accursed place of betrayal by Israel, its high priest—and even himself. Guards’ hands reached out to seize him, but he pushed them off with his great strength.

John was in misery too deep for tears. Knowing what had happened upstairs, he saw Jesus taken through the door that led to a prison below. After the beloved disciple went back downstairs into the courtyard, he heard the heavy cell door clang shut on his Master, and sorrowfully went out the gate.

Once outside, he found Peter distraught and sobbing on the ground. The tall fisherman hardly realized what was happening when his fellow apostle lifted him up and led him away toward Mark’s home. Stumbling, sometimes falling upon the stone pavement but always getting up to move on, John helped him climb the outside stairway to the same upper room where Jesus had washed the feet of the disciples only a few hours before. Once they were inside and the door closed, Peter threw himself to the floor. He asked, “Am I no different from Judas?”

Condemnation by Full Sanhedrin

It was first light of dawn when Annas, Caiaphas, Pharisees, Sadducees, and other leaders once more assembled in the Palace of Caiaphas. Condemnation by the full Sanhedrin must be passed upon Jesus to use against Pilate. For this purpose something resembling a meeting of the whole court had to be held, even though illegally. Usually consisting of seventy-one members including the high priest, but sometimes less, Caiaphas had little difficulty in summoning mainly those who would be sure to vote as he wished. Again Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were not included.

Jesus once again came before the Sanhedrin. In front of him in the center of the room, orange and red firelight glowed and flickered, throwing his accusers’ long shadows along the floor and up the walls.

Caiaphas quickly took charge of this final Jewish trial so that nothing would be introduced to prevent the carrying out of his plot for destroying Jesus. “Tell us if you are the Messiah,” he demanded contemptuously.

The look in Christ’s eyes was still one of compassion for these men who, in order to destroy him, were profaning the function of the most noble court in all of Israel. Again he repeated the words that would convict him, “If I tell you, you will not believe me. If I ask you a question, you will not answer me or let me go. But the time is soon coming when I, the Son of Man, will be sitting at God’s right hand in the place of power.”

They all asked, “Then you are the Son of God?”

He affirmed it, “You are right in saying that I am.”

“What need do we have for other witnesses?” they shouted. “We ourselves heard him say it.”

The high priest was pleased with their response. Taking the vote was a pretense of “formality,” and it was instantly done. “You know the Law,” he spoke victoriously, “the Sanhedrin has found him guilty and now the Roman procurator can pass sentence of death. We only need a plan to convince Pilate to carry it out.”

Caiaphas now revealed their political strategy: to “bind” Jesus and hand him over as a malefactor to the governor, with the resolve not to frame any definite charge; but if it became necessary, to lay all the emphasis on the purely political, not the religious, claims of Christ. The Sanhedrin’s approval of condemnation was an effort to make the action legal. But no endorsement of a wrong can make it right. The hate of the leaders for their Messiah made them violate all their own rules of legal procedure.

On that night when enmity of humankind and power of Hades were unchained, blind leaders of the blind would not see the True and Eternal Light. The Son of Man, alone so calm and majestic among those impassioned false judges and witnesses, so regal in his silence and superb in his speech, so unmoved by threats to speak and undaunted by threats when he spoke, saw it all—from beginning to end. With the consciousness of willing self surrender, he was slowly drinking the cup which his Father had given him. Yet, he willingly gave himself up as the ultimate sacrifice for all people.

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