All the Way to Calvary: The Just Before the Unjust

They tie the hands of the one who has just healed Malchus, a miracle healing they witnessed with their own eyes. Just moments before, this group of soldiers, armed with swords and clubs, was struck to the ground by this unarmed man from Nazareth. Incredibly, what drove them to their faces was simply a word from His lips. As they lay in the dust, they had never felt so powerless. But now they proceed anyway to bind Jesus and lead Him away. They are following orders. Krummacher gives his classic summary of the incident: “Jesus bound! Can we trust our eyes? Omnipotence in fetters, the Creator bound by the creature; the Lord of the world, the captive of His mortal subjects! How much easier would it have been for Him to have burst those bonds than Manoah’s son of old! However, He rends them not; but yields Himself up to them as one who is powerless and overcome.”[1] Yet we know, as did those soldiers, that He was certainly not powerless nor overcome.

The first of many injustices is a failure to charge Jesus before binding Him. They leave this matter to the authorities who sent them.

Before the official religious trial of Jesus begins, he is sent to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the ruling high priest. Annas was high priest until his dismissal by the Romans in A.D. 15, but his influence on Caiaphas was still quite significant. Annas questions Jesus about His disciples, perhaps wondering how great a threat they pose and if they might retaliate in response to what the ruling authorities plan to do with Jesus. But Annas also asks about His teaching. In Christ’s response, He says nothing about His disciples, perhaps to protect them (see Joh 18:8). But He does refer to His teaching: “I have spoken publicly to the world. I always taught in the synagogues and in the temple courts, where all the Jewish people assemble together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said. They know what I said” (Joh 18:20-21).[2] Annas doesn’t like the answer. One of his officers strikes Jesus on the face, but no reason is given as to why (vv22-23). It is only the first of many unjust blows the innocent Christ will receive. Still bound, and without any official charges against Him, Jesus is led away to Caiaphas.

The Call for Witnesses

They have been waiting and deliberating. The whole Sanhedrin is present (Mat 26:59), and so Jesus is about to face the highest and most religious court in the world. The fact that they have gathered in the middle of the night rather than waiting until daybreak says much about their desire to rid themselves of this man from Nazareth. But to give the ordeal at least some appearance of legality and legitimacy, they will need to charge Him with something serious. And to charge Him, they need witnesses.

Matthew tells us that “many false witnesses came forward” (26:60), but their testimonies did not agree. Frustration begins to set in. Finally, two witnesses say something similar. One declares, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days’” (v61). Another witness states, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands and in three days build another not made with hands’” (Mar 14:58). Any threat against Israel’s temple is a serious matter. Mark adds, “Yet even on this point their testimony did not agree” (v59). Neither witness is accurate. What Jesus said was in reference to His own body as a temple (see Joh 2:19-22), and we marvel that Christ didn’t correct them. In three days, the meaning of His words will be evident to all. But the testimonies given by these two witnesses are close enough for Caiaphas to rise and address the accused: “Have you no answer? What is this that they are testifying against you?” (Mat 26:62).

Jesus is silent. He knows, as does the high priest, that these charges, though false, are still not enough to incriminate Him. In utter desperation, Caiaphas tries another tactic. He knows about Jesus’ claims (see Joh 10:30-33) and decides to put Him under oath: “I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Mat 26:63). They all know that Christ will have to give an answer. The answer He gives they will never forget.

The Claim to Sonship

Jesus says to him, “You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (v64). Luke makes it clear that Jesus not only claimed to be the prophesied Son of Man, but the Son of God (22:70).[3] In Christ’s statement, made under oath, He applies two messianic passages to Himself (Psa 110; Dan 7:13), and in so doing, predicts His own resurrection, ascension and return. When He returns, the situation will be reversed, and these unjust rulers will be tried by the Just One!

The Charge of Blasphemy

It is all too much for Caiaphas and company. He begins to tear his priestly robes. It is a dangerous act, one Moses addressed when speaking to Aaron and giving instruction about the priesthood: “Do not tear your garments, so that you do not die and so that wrath does not come on the whole congregation” (Lev 10:6). It is only a token of God’s grace that wrath doesn’t fall on Caiaphas and the council gathered to condemn God’s Son.

Apparently, the reason for tearing his robes would have been allowed as an exception to Moses’ regulations. But the torn robes were also a fitting symbol of the dissolution of the Jewish priesthood (as was the tearing of the temple’s veil in just a few days). A priesthood of a higher order was being inaugurated, and its High Priest would be the Man who just announced He would take His place at God’s right hand.

To answer Caiaphas’ question in the affirmative, claiming to be the Son of God, was considered blasphemous. And so, in addition to the tearing of his robes, Caiaphas announces the official charge against Jesus, a charge guilty of death (see Lev 24:16). “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? Now you have heard the blasphemy!” (Mat 26:65). They find Jesus guilty (v66) and sentence Him to death. Justice was never their aim in this mock trial – Christ’s death was (see v59). The real blasphemy was just beginning, but it was theirs, not that of Jesus.

The Challenge to Prophesy

Once the guilty verdict is rendered, it seems that all restraint is thrown aside in how they treat Jesus. They encircle Him. The spitting begins and the blows to His face are many. Since He has just played the role of Prophet, declaring His “coming on the clouds of heaven,” they ask Him to “play prophet” again. They blindfold Him, then take turns with blows to His face, demanding, “Prophesy for us, you Christ! Who hit you?” (v68). Luke adds, “And many other things blasphemously spake they against him” (22:65 KJV). They charge Him with blasphemy, but they themselves are the guilty ones.

Jesus refuses to play the game. He will not prophesy. He allows their abuse and suffers in silence.

Little does Caiaphas know that he himself will be on record as prophesying, although unconsciously. He has planned Jesus’ death for some time, being convinced that nothing short of His execution will save the nation of Israel from Roman destruction (see Joh 11:45-53). He declares to the Jewish leaders, “You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish” (v50). John adds, “Now he did not say this on his own, but … he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish nation, and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered” (vv51-52). God would use Caiaphas’ words as a prediction about the effect of Jesus’ death. And the effect would not be salvation from the wrath of the Romans, but salvation from the wrath of God.

Think of Jesus once again. Here He stands, the Just before the unjust. He has been arrested without charges, falsely accused, condemned to die for claiming to be someone He indeed is, the Son of God. Spit runs down his face, likely mingled with blood from the many blows He has endured. We are just beginning to see some of the dreadful consequences for the One who was committed to going all the way to Calvary.

“When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly” (1Pe 2:23).

[1] F.W. Krummacher, The Suffering Saviour (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1948), 143.

[2] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the NET unless otherwise noted.

[3] This should be sufficient to refute the charge often made today that Christ never claimed deity for Himself.