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March 21, 2015 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

What went on during the night of Passover between Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane and his crucifixion at nine o’clock Passover morning?  It was not a trial.  Jesus was never tried either by the Temple authorities or by Pilate.

Jewish trial law is carefully laid out in the Talmud.  These precepts go back to the first century, although they may record what a trial should be rather than what always took place.  Nevertheless, they set the standard.

First, trials cannot be held at night.  They must begin in the morning.  Second, a trial cannot be held on Shabbat, or on a feast day.  Third, A guilty verdict can only be pronounced a day following the trial, so as to give time for careful consideration.  Forth, a trial had to be held at the Temple in the Chamber of Hewn Stone, which was the regular meeting place of the Sanhedrin.  Fifth, a quorum of at least twenty-three of the Sanhedrin was necessary for a trial to be held.

Jesus was first taken to the home of Annas (John 18:13ff).  Annas was not High Priest at the time.  He had served during the years of 6 – 7 AD.  However, he was the power behind the throne.  Five sons, a son-in-law and one grandson followed him.  Jesus was taken from there to Caiaphas’ house. Here he was questioned further.  These homes were located on what is now referred to as Mount Zion.  It is a high hill south-west of the Temple Mount.  It was in the first century enclosed within the city walls.  It is now outside the walls of the Old City.

Caiaphas was High Priest at the time and the son-in-law of Annas.  Here Jesus is questioned concerning his teaching about the Temple.  He is finally required under oath to answer whether he is the Messiah.  To this Jesus answered in the affirmative.

The purpose of all these questions seems to be the formulation of a charge this group of high Temple officials could bring before Pilate that would allow him to condemn Jesus to death.  Even if these people could hold a legal trial they could not have exacted the death penalty.  That was reserved for the Roman authorities.  Jews did not normally hold Roman citizenship and therefore had no recourse to a formal trial.  Pilate could send Jesus to be crucified if he could be convinced that His teaching was a threat to the authority of Rome.

One phrase in the Gospel of John captures the motivation of these Temple elite.  It appears following the story of the raising of Lazarus in John 11.  “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

This was a comparatively small group of power elite.  They got Pilate out of bed to bring their charge.  Everything was calculated to avoid the crowded city discovering what was going on until it was done.  Between the time Jesus was taken at the Garden of Gethsemane sometime around midnight and nine in the morning was only nine hours.  The crucifixion of Jesus was more like a lynching than any regular judicial process.

A familiar phrase relieves the sadness of the Passion.  “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs