66 When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, 67 “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, 68 and if I ask you, you will not answer. 69 But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” 70 So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” 71 Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.” – Luke 22:66-71 ESV
While Peter had been busy denying any knowledge of Jesus, his friend and mentor had been undergoing intense interrogation by the high priests and their associates. John provides a much more detailed description of the evening’s proceedings in his gospel by cleverly juxtaposing the “trial” of Peter with that of Jesus. In his narrative, the scene repeatedly switches from the exterior courtyard to the inner recesses of Caiaphas’ palace. Outside, Peter was being forced to answer some simple, yet potentially damning questions. Inside, Jesus was being bombarded with questions designed to produce evidence that would justify His death. He was even having to face the false accusations of witnesses who had been paid to condemn Him, but their testimonies ended up being contradictory and worthless.
Peter faced accusations of being a follower of Jesus. He was recognized as a Galilean and of having been in the garden with Jesus when He was arrested. But Peter denied any and all charges leveled against him – even though they were all true.
John indicates that Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, was the first to question Jesus. He demanded to know what Jesus had been teaching His followers. But Jesus simply replied, “Everyone knows what I teach. I have preached regularly in the synagogues and the Temple, where the people gather. I have not spoken in secret. Why are you asking me this question? Ask those who heard me. They know what I said” (John 18:20-21 NLT).
Jesus’ response earned Him a slap in the face from one of the temple guards, along with a reprimand for disrespecting the former high priest. But, once again, Jesus replied calmly, “If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?” (John 18:23 NLT). Refusing to answer the question, Annas had Jesus taken to his son-in-law, Caiaphas, the official high priest of Israel.
Mark picks up the story at this point. A host of so-called witnesses had been paraded before the high priest and his fellow members of the council, each leveling their own fabricated charges against Jesus. Some had even accused Jesus of planning to destroy the temple in Jerusalem.
“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this Temple made with human hands, and in three days I will build another, made without human hands.’” – Mark 14:58 NLT
While none of the witnesses could corroborate their stories, that appears to have been a moot point to the high priest. He was not interested in the truth. He simply wanted to get Jesus to perjure or incriminate Himself. The purpose of the witnesses was to force Jesus to defend Himself and say something they could use against Him. But Jesus remained silent. Frustrated by Jesus’ lack of cooperation with their sham trial, Caiaphas stood before the council and addressed Jesus with a question of his own.
“Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” – Mark 14:60 NLT
It seems that what Caiaphas wanted from Jesus was a clear declaration of His claim to be the Messiah. If he could get Jesus to admit that He was the long-awaited Messiah or king of Israel, he could accuse Jesus of being an insurrectionist and a potential threat to the Romans. But when Jesus refused to say anything, Caiaphas finally blurted out, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mark 14:61 NLT).
At this point, Jesus spoke up, and what He said left Caiaphas and his cronies in a state of anger and astonishment. According to Luke’s account, Jesus calmly stated, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me. And if I ask you a question, you won’t answer” (Luke 22:67-68 NLT). But Matthew, Mark, and Luke all reveal that Jesus eventually answered the high priest’s question.
“I am. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” – Mark 14:62 NLT
With this answer, Caiaphas knew he had hit the jackpot. Jesus had just claimed to be the king of Israel. But not only that, with His declaration, “I am,” Jesus had just claimed to be God. He had just put Himself on equal footing with Yahweh. As experts in the Old Testament Scriptures, these men fully understood the significance of Jesus’ words. They were highly familiar with the book of Exodus and recognized that Jesus was echoing the words that God had spoken when Moses had asked, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13 ESV). And God had responded, “I am who I am.” Then He went on to say, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14 ESV).
Jesus had just claimed to be God. According to the law, He had committed blasphemy. And just to ensure that they had heard Jesus right, Caiaphas asked, “So, are you claiming to be the Son of God?,” and Jesus responded, “You say that I am” (Luke 22:70 NLT). Jesus cleverly accused the high priest of Israel of validating His divinity.
But in a display of over-the-top theatrics, Caiaphas tore his garment as a sign of horror and mourning over this blatant disregard for the holiness of God’s name. Then he shouted to his associates, “Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” (Mark 14:63-64 NLT). And everyone in the room shouted, “Guilty!…He deserves to die!” (Mark 14:64 NLT).
They had what they wanted. Jesus had just condemned Himself to death. By claiming to be the king of Israel, He had declared Himself to be an enemy of Rome. Always fearful of insurrection, the Romans had a zero-tolerance policy regarding any kind of threat to their authority and they would deal swiftly and harshly with anyone claiming to be the rightful heir to the throne of David.
But for Caiaphas, the real win was that Jesus had committed blasphemy. This upstart Rabbi from Nazareth had repeatedly claimed to be the Son of God and had led the people to believe that He was on an equal footing with Yahweh. For Caiaphas, that was not only impossible, but it was also unacceptable and intolerable. This man had to die. In fact, Caiaphas had come to that conclusion a long time ago. He had already declared his assessment of the situation when he told his fellow members of the Sanhedrin:
“…it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” – John 11:50 ESV
And John went on to explain that Caiaphas’ words were actually prophetic. The high priest didn’t realize it when he said them, but his words were actually echoing the preordained will of God.
He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. – John 11:51-52 ESV
Jesus really did have to die. Not for blasphemy but so that the will of God might be fulfilled. Just hours earlier, in the garden, Jesus had prayed to His Heavenly Father:
“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” – John 17:1-5 ESV
Jesus would die. But He would do so, not for blasphemy but so that sinful man might be restored to a right relationship with God. He would die as God, not for claiming to be God. He would be executed for being holy and righteous, not sinful and blasphemous. He would be lifted up on the cross, not as an example of insurrection, but as God’s means of salvation and future resurrection. Caiaphas and his companions believed they were one step closer to ridding themselves of Jesus, but they were accomplishing the will of God. They were unwillingly, yet perfectly, playing their part in the divine plan for the redemption of the world.
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.