The Trial and The Cross
© 2023 C. O. Bishop
Matthew 26:57-27:50; Mark 14:51-15:38; Luke 22:54-23:47; John 18:12-19:37
The Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus Christ could be seen as both the saddest and the most triumphant story in History.
It is the saddest, if all we see is that the only truly Righteous person who has ever lived was falsely charged, given a mock trial, and executed as a criminal, along with real criminals.
It is the “most triumphant” if we see two things:
- Jesus was the promised “Seed of the Woman” of Genesis 3:15, who would “crush the Serpent’s Head,” and, in the process, be wounded Himself. His victory was in the Cross, even though from a temporal view, it seemed to be His defeat, and Satan’s Victory.
- He laid down His life of His Own accord…to take it up again, three days and three nights later. He completed His work of providing salvation for the Human Race, right there on the Cross. The phrase “It is Finished” is translated from the Greek “tetelestai.”It is not a gasp of defeat, but a cry of triumph! It means “paid in full!” It means, “it is completed!”
Full Context Needed
Without the full context of the scripture: we tend to only see the mock trial, the rush to judgment, the gore, the torture, and the cold-blooded cruelty of His enemies, beating him on the head with a papyrus reed, punching Him with their fists, scourging Him with whips, ramming a crown of heavy, sharp thorns into His scalp, plucking out His beard, and parading Him before the jeering crowd, before stripping Him naked, and spiking Him to a wooden cross, to hang there, dying in agony. We are fearful at our own implied guilt, as well, if we see that it was for our sins He died.
But, rather than emphasizing either the gory physical details, or the emotional impact of the crucifixion, let’s just look at the given facts, and try to learn What really happened, and Why.
So, What Happened?
Beginning at the arrest:
Did you notice that Jesus directed his own arrest? He was the one acting in authority, and not they! But Peter drew his sword, but attacked the servant of the high priest, not a soldier, slicing off an ear. (“Peter; that really isn’t helping….”) It was late at night: maybe Peter couldn’t see clearly: that might explain why Judas identified Jesus up close, by kissing him. But Jesus healed the man’s ear. It even gives his name: “Malchus,” meaning “counsellor.”
All his disciples abandoned him, though some followed from a distance, and some even went inside the house where the mock trial was happening. It is difficult to discern where all the things happened: Only in John 18:13, 24 do we see that Jesus was first sent to Annas, and that Annas had sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas. The others simply say he was “sent to the High Priest.”
So, Jesus arrived at the house (“palace,” John 18:15) of the High Priest. Peter followed at some distance, with John. John went inside, as he knew some of the palace staff, but Peter waited outside. Then John came back and spoke for Peter, so that he also came in, but the woman at the door said Peter was a follower of Jesus, but Peter denied it.
The Trial in the High Priest’s House
Caiaphas questioned Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine. Jesus said, in effect, “Why ask me? You have thousands of witnesses.” Everything he did was in public. A temple officer stepped in, and slapped Jesus, saying “Do you speak to the high priest that way?” Jesus’ only answer was, “If I said evil, tell us what it was—if I spoke well, then why are you striking me?”
In Matthew 26:59-65 the priests sought witnesses to testify against him so they could condemn him, but they found none with any accusation of a crime. They finally found two who agreed that “He said he could destroy the temple (meaning the one built by Herod), and rebuild it in three days.” That was a misquote, and would not even be a crime, ordinarily: rather just a symptom of being mentally unbalanced. But Jesus had not specified the temple of Herod. He had said “this temple”, in reference to His own body. Also, nothing about his destroying even that temple: He said if they did, he would raise it up in three days. (John 2:19-22).
Jesus Answered to the Name of God
Jesus did not answer further questions, until the High Priest commanded Jesus “by the Name of the Living God”, to tell whether He was the Christ, the Son of God. Then Jesus replied, “I AM, and you shall hereafter see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62)
That was what they had been waiting for! They said, “Blasphemy! We have no further need of witnesses! We have all heard him!” Jewish law forbade the abuse of prisoners, but they spent the rest of the night physically and verbally abusing Jesus (Matthew 26:67, 68.) In the morning, they took him to Pilate to get official condemnation.
Meanwhile, twice more, servants accused Peter of being with Jesus, and he violently denied it, cursing, and swearing that he did not know Jesus…and then the rooster crowed. Matthew says Peter remembered Jesus’ words, and he went out, and wept bitterly. But the priests bound Jesus again, and took him away to Pilate.
Matthew 27:11, ff (In Pilate’s Court)
Pilate asked Jesus, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus answered “Thou sayest;” similar to “You said it!” in our own culture. But, in John 18:34, Jesus also asked a counter-question: “Are you asking this on your own, or did someone tell you this about me?” (Jesus invited personal inquiry.) But, Pilate refused, and said “Am I a Jew? Your own people and chief priests have brought you to me: what have you done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews, but now is my kingdom not from hence.” Pilate said, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered “Thou sayest that I am a king (again, an affirmation). To this cause I was born and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth heareth my voice.”
Pilate Knew Jesus was Innocent
Pilate did not ask how one would be “of the truth”—he cynically answered, “What is truth?” Possibly it was a philosophical question, but he immediately walked out. He was not expecting or desiring an answer… he just revealed his belief that there was no real truth. Either way, Pilate then walked out and told the Jews, saying “I find no fault in him.” Pilate had a sense of legal protocol, or perhaps even justice: he declared that as far as he could tell, Jesus was innocent.
Pilate represented Rome, not Israel. It was Roman law he sought to enforce, and uphold. (He cared nothing for the feelings of Jews, but he was afraid of causing a riot!) He offered, as the Passover festival was at hand, to release Jesus, in keeping with their tradition of releasing a prisoner at Passover. They shouted, “No! Not him! Barabbas!” (Mark 15:7 saysBarabbas was a robber; a bandit, who had led a rebellion, and committed murder in the process. He was in prison, and slated to die.) (Interestingly, “Barabbas” means “son of his father”. Who did Jesus say was the father of sinners at large? John 8:44)
Herod Got Involved
In Luke 23 Pilate tried to “pass the buck”, as it were: Since Jesus was from Galilee, he sent Jesus to Herod for judgment. Herod was glad to see Jesus: he had hoped to see a miracle. He asked Him many questions, but Jesus gave no answer. Then Herod and his soldiers put the scarlet robe on him (that we read about in Matthew.) They mocked him and finally sent him back to Pilate.
In Matthew 27:15-25 Pilate saw that it was sheer envy that motivated the Jews. He again offered to turn Jesus loose, but the priests had persuaded the people to shout for Barabbas to be released, so that they see Jesus destroyed (v. 20). The governor asked the people again, “Which one do you want me to release? Jesus or Barabbas?” They answered, “Barabbas!”
Pilate asked, “What then shall I do with Jesus, who is called Christ?” (What an eternally appropriate question!) And they all said “Let him be crucified!” Pilate asked “Why? What evil has he done?” But the people cried out more and more, saying “Let him be crucified!” Pilate saw that a riot was about to start, so, he called for a bowl of water, and ceremonially washed his hands, saying “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: you see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be upon us and our children!”
This curse they claimed for themselves will continue to plague them until the return of Christ, when they will finally recognize him whom they have pierced, and mourn for him in Zechariah 12:10. Some Christians today still hold this against the Jews, because “they killed Christ!” This is wrong, as Paul points out in Romans 9-11: they are precious to God, and should be precious to all believers.
Passage to the Cross
Pilate delivered Jesus to be scourged, and the Roman soldiers (accustomed to violence and cruelty as a part of their job as soldiers) began to further abuse Jesus after scourging him: spitting on him, jamming a crown of thorns down on his head, dressing him in the scarlet robe, again, and giving him a papyrus reed for a scepter, bowing down before him, saying “Hail, king of the Jews!” Then taking the reed from him, they beat him over the head with it. (Papyrus reeds are not strong, compared to wood, but they are thick, and could do real damage.)
Finally, they stripped the robe off of him, temporarily gave his own clothes back, and led him off to Golgotha. He bore his cross himself, to begin with, but all three synoptic gospels say that a man named Simon was taken from the crowd and forced by the soldiers to carry Jesus’ cross for him. (Matthew 27:31, 32; Mark15:20, 21; Luke 23:25, 26)
None of the Gospels say why Simon was made to carry the cross. Tradition holds that Jesus was weakened by the loss of blood and the constant abuse, and could not carry it himself. John says Jesus was carrying it (John 19:16, 17), so probably tradition is correct: Jesus could not carry it very far, and the soldiers forced someone from the crowd to carry it.
Where was Golgotha?
The scripture (Hebrews 13:10-13) points out that Jesus died outside the city, so, if that were all I knew, I would say that the shrine inside modern Jerusalem, identified as Golgotha, is not correct. There is another location, outside the city, (called “Gordon’s Calvary,” after the man who suggested it) that has also been claimed. All we know is that he died outside the city.
But! History shows that the present day “Old City Wall” was actually built by the Turks in the 17th century! The real “Old City Wall” excluded both the traditional place and “Gordon’s Calvary.” Originally, both places were “outside the city wall.” Possibly the traditional location is really correct. I’m not sure it matters. Nothing more is said about it in scripture, and we are not supposed to be making “shrines” of these historic spots, anyway.
God does not give many details of the crucifixion. Psalm 22:16 says that his hands and feet were pierced. The gospels tell us nails made the holes. Jesus offered his hands to Thomas, saying, “…put your finger in the holes!” The traditional view of a big spike through each palm and one through the two feet is probably correct. Some say that “a hand would tear, so it had to be the wrist.” But people have been hung up by a pierced hand or even just a finger, so that argument is false. Also, the hand of a working carpenter, of that time, would be exceptionally tough; Jesus’s hands were not likely to tear! So the tradition is probably correct on that count as well.
Pilate wrote a sign: “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS” in three languages, Hebrew, Greek and Latin. The Jews were offended, and demanded that the sign be changed to read, “He said he was King of the Jews.” Pilate just said, “What I have written, I have written.”
The Cross, the Crucifiers, and the Annointed One
The style of the cross is not told. Given the figure we saw in the original Passover (the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts) it seems the traditional view is correct on this as well: It fits the Old Testament figure. John 19:23, 24 does say that they took his garments—all of them—and divided them between the four soldiers who carried out the crucifixion. The fifth garment was in one piece, and they elected not to tear it, but cast lots for it (fulfilling Psalm 22:18.) Finally, they sat down to watch Him die. These were Roman soldiers…it was “just a day’s work,” to them.
While Jesus hung naked on that Cross, the crowd mocked him. People passing by mocked him. The thieves (both of them) mocked him, too. This is the usual response of the Lost World. One of the thieves repented, and defended him against the other thief. Then He turned to Jesus and asked to be included in His Kingdom. Jesus told him “Today you will be with me in Paradise!”
Final Prophecies Fulfilled
Mark 15:25, 33, 34 After three hours on the Cross, darkness came over the land for the next three hours (From noon until three PM.) Then Jesus called out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani?” (“My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”) That fulfills Psalm 22:1. This was the very thing Jesus had dreaded…that He and the Father would be separated from fellowship, as God the Father judged God the Son for the Sins of all of humanity for all time. It was temporary, in Jesus’s case, but with permanent results: He perfected forever those who believe.
Jesus knew that all the things he had come to do had been completed, and he called out “I thirst.” Someone ran and got a sponge full of vinegar (a cheap, sour wine the poor people drank) and offered it to him on a spear (fulfilling Psalm 69:21). After that, everything really was done: He cried out, in Greek, “Tetelestai!” (It is finished!—all done!) And gave up the ghost, saying “Into thy hands I commend my spirit!” (Luke 24:46, fulfilling Psalm 31:5)
Immediate Result of the Death of Christ
The veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. There was a great earthquake: Rocks split, graves opened, and many believers who had died, revived and walked into the city, where they were seen by many. The centurion and those that were with him changed their mind about who they had crucified. They said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” The centurion himself glorified God, and said “Certainly this was a righteous man!” And the rest of the spectators, shocked by what they had seen, smote their breasts and returned to their homes. (Luke 23:47, 48)
Why Did it All Happen?
To Fulfill Prophecy
All the things in Jesus’s birth, life, teachings, death and resurrection were to fulfill prophecies given hundreds and in most cases, thousands of years before His birth. His own prophecy (in John 12:32, 33) was that if He was lifted up above the earth (crucified) He would draw all men unto Himself. He also said He had come to give His life a Ransom for many. He was to be lifted up in same manner as the bronze serpent from the account in Numbers 21:5-9 had been lifted up, that “Whosever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:14, 15)
The details of the crucifixion including the scourgings, the beatings, the outpouring of His blood, the plucking of His beard, and the piercing of His hands and feet, were all laid out in the Old Testament, and all had to be fulfilled to the letter. (Such prophecies were frequently joined with prophecies of the resurrection, the second coming and His eternal reign as King of Kings, so it was a very confusing mix for a person to try to “sort out,” and to believe, since they could not know how it would all be fulfilled.)
To Provide Redemption
From the earliest scripture (Job 19:25-27) the Redeemer was predicted, and His second coming along with the fact that He was the Redeemer. But His work as the Redeemer was carried out at the Cross. The resurrection of the righteous dead (Job included) would not be complete until His return as the King (including both the Rapture of the Church and the Return of the King.)
The Redeemer had to be closely related to the one(s) being redeemed. He had to be free Himself, He had to have the price of redemption, and He had to be willing to pay that price to provide that redemption. These are the rules we are given for the Kinsman-Redeemer, and are demonstrated in the Book of Ruth, where Boaz showed all four aspects of the “goel:” the “kinsman-redeemer.”
Having seen that the prophecies were all fulfilled in Christ, and that He is the One Redeemer, we are left to receive Him by Faith, and rejoice in the Eternal Life He gives. We join Him in His work of reaching the lost World with that same offer of Life.
Lord Jesus, fill us with the Joy of Your Person and Work, and lead us to walk in Your footsteps.