Like a Lamb to the Slaughter

53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows. Mark 14:53-65 ESV

While the sheep scattered, the Good Shepherd was “was led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7 NLT). Bound and surrounded by armed guards, Jesus was led to the residence of the high priest. We know from John’s account that Jesus was first brought before Annas, the former high priest of Israel, who was also the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the current high priest. Eventually, Jesus found Himself facing the entire Sanhedrin, the religious high council of the Jews. They were the ones who had made the bargain with Judas, paying him 30 pieces of silver to lead them to Jesus under the cover of darkness. Because Judas was one of Jesus’ disciples, he was intimately familiar with his Master’s patterns of behavior and knew that Jesus planned to be in the garden that night. By arresting Jesus in the middle of the night, the Sanhedrin avoided a possible confrontation with the crowds that usually surrounded Jesus. These men knew that Jesus was highly popular and had seen the raucous reception He had received just a few days earlier when He had arrived in their city. So, with the help of Judas, they were able to bring in this dangerous heretic without incident.

But Jesus was not entirely alone that evening. While the rest of the disciples had fled into the darkness, John and Peter had chosen to hide in the shadows, following the mob as they led Jesus to the residence of the high priest. In his gospel account, John reveals that he managed to get access into the courtyard for Peter and himself. And while Jesus was taken before the council, these two men stood just outside the door, warming themselves by a fire. And as will become evident, there would be two trials taking place that night. One involved the interrogation of Jesus by the Sanhedrin. The other would have Peter facing the probing questions of his companions in the courtyard.

Mark makes it clear that the high priest and his fellow council members had only one motive: To put Jesus to death. This was an inquisition and not a trial. Uninterested in discovering the truth, these men were seeking evidence to use against Jesus so they could demand His execution by the Romans authorities. It was against Roman law for the Jews to practice capital punishment. So, if they were going to have any hope of eliminating Jesus, they would have to come up with accusations that would warrant the death penalty. But, as Mark reveals, they were not having much luck.

Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. – Mark 14:55 ESV

They had prearranged to have witnesses present who could testify against Jesus, but they were having difficulty finding two witnesses with corroborating testimonies. It’s likely that these witnesses had been paid for their services, but their information was proving to be useless because, according to Jewish law, the Sanhedrin would need at least two witnesses whose testimonies aligned, before they could legally charge Jesus with a crime worthy of death.

On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. – Deuteronomy 17:6 ESV

But because only one witness could testify at a time, these men kept contradicting one another’s stories.

For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. – Mark 14;56 ESV

There were some who told similarly worded stories concerning Jesus’ statement about the destruction of the temple. Evidently, they had overheard what Jesus had said to His disciples a few years earlier when He had come to Jerusalem for another Passover. After having cleansed the temple of the moneychangers and vendors selling their goods in the temple courtyard, Jesus had said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 ESV). And the crowd, having taken His words literally, responded, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20 ESV). But John revealed that Jesus was “speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21 ESV). 

Yet the rumor had spread that Jesus had claimed that He was going to destroy the temple and rebuilt it in three days. And that is exactly what some of these “expert witnesses” shared.

“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” – Mark 14:58 ESV

But even their versions of what Jesus had said proved to be inconsistent and contradictory. And while all of this was going on, Jesus stood before the high priest in absolute silence.

he remained silent and made no answer. – Mark 14:61 ESV

This was in keeping with the prophecy of Isaiah.

…like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. – Isaiah 53:7 ESV

Jesus had no interest in defending Himself. He was not hoping for an acquittal. The only thing on His mind was the fulfillment of His Father’s will. So, in anger and desperation, the high priest accosted Jesus, asking, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” (Mark 14:60 ESV). He couldn’t understand why Jesus said nothing to defend Himself. Most men would have been pleading for their lives. But to Caiaphas, the calm and composed demeanor of Jesus was disconcerting and frustrating. This man seemed completely oblivious to the danger He faced.

Then finally, the high priest cut to the chase, demanding that Jesus publicly declare Himself to be the Son of God.

“Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” – Mark 14:61 ESV

Each of the gospel authors has a slightly different version of this question. Matthew reports that Caiaphas said, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63 ESV). Luke records the encounter this way: “If you are the Christ, tell us” (Luke 22:67 ESV). But the bottom line was that Caiaphas wanted him to commit blasphemy by declaring Himself to be the Son of God. If Jesus would just make that admission out loud and before witnesses, they would have all the evidence they needed. And Jesus did not disappoint him.

“I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” – Mark 14:62 ESV

That was all Caiaphas needed to hear. Jesus had just claimed to be a co-equal with God Almighty. And as a demonstration of his disgust and outrage with Jesus’ words, the high priest tore his own garments. Then he pronounced, “What further witnesses do we need?” (Mark 14:63 ESV).

Interestingly enough, in his pompous display of feigned outrage, the high priest had violated the law of God. He had been so excited about the prospect of finding Jesus guilty, that he failed to realize that he, too, had just committed a crime. The Mosaic law strictly forbade the high priest from tearing his clothes.

“The priest who is chief among his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil is poured and who has been consecrated to wear the garments, shall not let the hair of his head hang loose nor tear his clothes. – Leviticus 21:10 ESV

But unaware of his own guilt, the high priest declared that Jesus was a blasphemer and worthy of death. And Mark records that the members of the Sanhedrin “all condemned him as deserving death” (Mark 14:64 ESV). With His public confession of His deity, Jesus sealed His own death warrant. His admission of His identity as the Son of God would be the cause of His death at the hands of men. And the harsh and hateful reaction of these so-called religious leaders speaks volumes.

And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows. – Mark 14:65 ESV

They dared to treat the Son of God with contempt and derision. They spat in the face of the God of the universe, the very one who had created them. They mocked their maker. They lashed out in hatred, striking the face of the one who had given them life. And little did they realize that their demand for Jesus to prophesy was all in fulfillment of the prophecies of God. As Jesus stood silently suffering their abuse and disrespect, He was living out the prophecy recorded by Isaiah hundreds of years earlier.

He was treated harshly and afflicted,
but he did not even open his mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block,
like a sheep silent before her shearers,
he did not even open his mouth.
He was led away after an unjust trial—
but who even cared?
Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living;
because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded. – Isaiah 53:7-8 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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