We move closer and closer to the cross, and in this study, we'll take a closer look at the trial that Jesus went through on the way to the cross. Mark 14:53 picks up right after Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested.
(A) Trial before the Council: a picture of sin (14:53-65)
Immediately after Jesus was arrested, he was led to the high priests, "and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together" too (v.53). What's so unusual? This happens soon after they arrest him but they managed to gather all the chief priests, and elders and scribes, i.e. the full Sanhedrin) at such short notice. The speed at which this happens indicates that preparation was made before for this. This was definitely unfair, since Jesus obviously had a short notice to now what the hearing is about and did not have adequate time to prepare.
Next, in verse 55, we also learn the intention of the priests and council. They were "seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death". Clearly there was no impartiality in the proceedings, and they were not interested in ensuring that the trial is fair. They were seeking to push their own agenda right from the start, with the verdict established even before the trial began. The trial was just to lend "legitimacy" to the outcome. We also read that the testimonies of the witnesses did not agree (v.56, 59). The law requires that the evidence of two or more witnesses (c.f. Deut 17:6, 19:15) is required for a charge. However, here, there's just a series of individuals whose testimonies do not agree. They claimed that Jesus declared that He will destroy the temple and build it up again in 3 days. This was mentioned right at the start of his ministry three years ago. It does appear that they were grasping at straws and tried their best to find a way to accuse Jesus of something and anything. Yet, "even about this their testimony did not agree" (v.59). How did Jesus respond to the false testimonies? He "remained silent and made no answer" (v.60).
When the false testimonies failed, they tried to pin Jesus down on blasphemy. The high priest proceeded to ask Jesus if He is indeed the Christ, the Son of the Blessed (v.61). The High Priest even tries adjuring Jesus "by the living God", in a bid to get Him to respond (c.f. Matt 26:63). To this, Jesus answers yes, even though He knows that His answer would be used to accuse Him. Jesus actually follows the law to a stricter degree than the council. He knew that the law required him to answer. The ironic thing is that this Council is supposed to be the stewards of the law, yet they are the ones breaking the law again and again to achieve their own ends. Everything about this trial was designed to accuse Jesus and to have Jesus convicted, but Jesus was a perfect and obedient Son through the entire process, upholding the law and fulfilling all of Scripture.
Let's take a closer look at Jesus' claim and the implications of that state. Jesus confesses to being “the Christ, the Son of the Blessed”. Jews, when they named God, generally added, blessed for ever. Jesus, the Christ, is equal to God. Not only that, Jesus also tells them that they “will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven". Someday, roles will reverse and He would be the Judge over them. Jesus was making bold claims, and upon hearing this, the high priest tore his garments, in a contrived display of grief at this apparent "blasphemy" and misuse of God's name. However, it never crossed the minds of the high priest and priests present that what Jesus said was true. They were happy that they finally obtained the evidence they need to convict Jesus (v.63). They proceeded to ridicule him. They spat on him, covered his face, strike, told him to ‘prophesy’ (v.65). They mocked him and believed that they had the upper hand when ironically, they failed to see that he was fulfilling the prophesy at right this exact moment.
What do we see from these verses? This passage shows us how the law which was meant to govern and help us to live rightly, was abused. Even priests, given by God to mediate on behalf of the people, were abusing their power. Sin blinds us. The religious leaders, who studied Scripture and were so acquainted with it did not even recognise the Saviour when He was right in front of them. It clearly shows our sin and outright rebellion against God. Our need for a Saviour screams out from this passage.
(B) Trial Before Pilate: a picture of substitution (Mark 15:1-15)
After the trial with the religious leaders, we learn that "as soon as it was morning”, they had a quick discussion and brought Him to Pilate. Once more, they moved quickly to prosecute Jesus. Pilate asks if Jesus is the "King of the Jews". This must mean that the council must have accused Jesus of treason. Notice again the effort the High Priest goes to try to accuse Jesus, for they needed a charge under Roman laws to put Jesus to death. Pilate would not be interested in the charge of blasphemy, but would be more interested if told that Jesus claimed to be another King, because it threatened the Roman rule. Faced with this charge, Jesus did not entirely deny it ("You have said so."). This charge is not entirely untrue, for He admitted to being the messiah earlier.
The irony, of course, is that Jesus is, indeed, the messiah and King of the Jews. In fact, Mark presents the crucifixion of Jesus almost as though it were an enthronement. He had first been hailed by the crowds as He entered Jerusalem (11:1-10), was anointed by a woman (14:3-9), then later 'identified' by the high priest (14:61), before being proclaimed to the people by Pilate (15:9, 12). He will eventually be 'enthroned' on the cross, with an inscription telling the world who he is, and with two thieves occupying the places of honour at his right and his left. But, why were they so eager to pin Jesus down? Jews believed the messiah will be a king like David and liberate them. Jesus was nothing like the messiah they had in mind.
Amnesty is usually guaranteed at the Passover (v.6). Pilate assumed that the crowds would ask for Jesus, their "king", to be released (v.9). Pilate was perceptive enough to recognise that the chief priests had delivered Him up out of envy and was willing to release Jesus (b.10). Yet, at the instigation of the christ priests, the crowds demanded for the release of Barabbas instead (b.11). Barabbas was in prison for committing murder in the insurrection. In some sense, Barabbas was similar to Jesus -- they both tried to liberate the people from Roman rule. Yet Barabbas was the real political opponent of the Roman Empire, who committed a crime in the process. Jesus, was truly innocent. The people called for the release of an insurrectionist and murderer.
Pilate knew that Jesus committed no crime. He has no desire to punish Jesus (v.13), but at the same time, he feels little obligation to protect a person who is not a Roman citizen against his own people. He understood that the chief priests were acting "out of jealousy" (v. 10), but also wished "to satisfy the crowd" (v. 15). He might have been sympathetic to Jesus, but in the end, business is business. His justice is a self-seeking one.
We move closer and closer to the cross in this part of Mark. The account of His trial is a familiar one to many of us, and is sometimes overshadowed by what is to come next. We tend to gloss over this portion, and head directly to the trial. However, Mark paid attention to the details of His trial, first by the religious leaders, then by Pilate, to show us some things. The trial gives us a picture of the extent of our sins. So often we are like the council members, blinded by our own sins and ideas of what the Saviour and Messiah should be like, we fail to see Jesus for who He is. We could be quick to reject what He says, because we have already decided to reject Him without considering His claims. Like Pilate, we are inclined to pursue justice on our terms, to seek to preserve our own interests above everything else. We see ourselves in the crowd too, quick to exchange Jesus for Barabbas -- our own ideas of what salvation is like, and what our Saviour should do. We want to choose salvation our way. We'd rather trade Barabbas for Jesus, because Jesus is so unlike a king in so many ways it confuses us.
What hope is there for us? At the end of his life, Jesus, the innocent and perfect Son of God, was substituted for a guilty Barabbas. It is a clear and lovely picture of the substitutionary work of our Saviour on behalf of sinners. We are all like Barabbas, guilty of so many sins, chief of which is a rebellion against the Ruler of all. We deserved the judgment and penalty for our sins, but Jesus took our place. Today, the question Pilate posed to the crowds is the same question that confronts us -- what shall we do with this King? May the words of this hymn be our daily response:
Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood
Sealed my pardon with His blood
Hallelujah what a Saviour!