Jesus on Trial

Matthew 26:57-27:10

MatthewThose who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin
were looking for false evidence against Jesus
so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.'"

Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."

"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?"

"He is worthy of death," they answered. Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, "Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?"

Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. "You also were with Jesus of Galilee," she said. But he denied it before them all. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, "This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth." He denied it again, with an oath: "I don't know the man!" After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, "Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away." Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!" Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. "I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood."

"What is that to us?" they replied. "That's your responsibility." So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, "It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money." So they decided to use the money to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."
Commentary by Donald Senior, C.P.

The mob leads its prisoner to Caiaphas the high priest and the assembled scribes and elders. Matthew portrays this as a formal hearing in which the leaders listen to testimony against Jesus, interrogate him and finally condemn him.

The gospel's dramatic sense is evident. The whole scene of Jesus on trial, fearlessly facing his captors, is framed by the story of Peter's denial. While the other disciples had fled in headlong panic, Peter had trailed the mob at a distance and followed his captive master into the courtyard of the high priest. But here his ebbing courage would fail him. Some of the maidservants recognize him as a companion of Jesus the Galilean; under this scrutiny Peter denies his discipleship, swearing with an oath that "I do not know the man!". Jesus had warned his disciples to avoid oaths and to tell the plain truth (5:33-37); now Peter compounds his failures. At that moment the cock crows and the broken disciple remembers Jesus' warning at the supper. The enormity of his failure crashing in on him, Peter leaves the courtyard and weeps bitterly.

Jesus meanwhile stands before the high priest and the Sanhedrin. The parade of witnesses against Jesus is not impressive so finally the high priest must confront his silent captive: "Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?" (26:63). The reader who has followed Jesus through the gospel knows the answer to this question: Jesus, born in the Spirit; Jesus the revealer of God's truth and bearer of God's healing power--this man is, indeed, the longed for messiah and God's unique Son.

The high priest's own question states the truth he cannot recognize. Jesus goes on to prophesy that he will be exalted as the triumphant Son of Man enthroned at God's right hand and coming at the end of time on the clouds of heaven (26:64). But for now such triumph is apparent only to the eye of faith; for the leaders this man is no messiah but an impostor and blasphemer worthy of death. Their hostility spills over into violence and mockery as they spit on Jesus and strike him, taunting his claims to messianic power (26:67). At dawn the assembly reconvenes and they formally condemn Jesus to death and lead him away to the Pilate, the Roman governor.

Before Matthew concludes this scene he picks up the thread of Judas' story (27:3-10). The betrayer is overwhelmed with regret and attempts to return the thirty pieces of silver to the religious leaders, confessing that he had betrayed innocent blood. But they rebuff him and in despair he casts the coins into the temple and takes his own life. Even though the leaders had refused the blood money it still comes back to haunt them. They collect the coins and use them to purchase a burial plot for strangers.

This tragic story strangely echoes for Matthew the foreboding story of Jeremiah 19, where the prophet breaks a potter's flask in a field as a sign of judgment on Jerusalem, a field that would be used to bury strangers. Once again for Matthew's Gospel even the most abject moments of human existence do not fall outside of God's encompassing purpose.

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