15.03.07 Mk. 14:55-60; Mt. 26:63; Mk. 62b-66
SECOND JEWISH TRIAL: BEFORE CAIAPHAS
Mk. 55 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but they could find none. 56 For many were giving false testimony against Him, but the testimonies did not agree. 57 Some stood up and were giving false testimony against Him, stating, 58 “We heard Him say, ‘I will demolish this sanctuary made by human hands, and in three days I will build another not made by hands.’” 59 Yet their testimony did not agree even on this. 60 Then the high priest stood up before them all and questioned Jesus, “Don’t You have an answer to what these men are testifying against You?”
Mt. 63 But Jesus kept silent. Then the high priest said to Him, “By the living God I place You under oath: tell us if You are the Messiah, the Son of God!”
Mk. 62b Again the high priest questioned Him, “Are You the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
62 “I am,” said Jesus, “and all of you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
63 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses?
64 You have heard the blasphemy! What is your decision?”
And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.
Jesus no longer remained silent as to His identity. He spoke of Himself as the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Almighty One, an allusion to Psalm 110:1. He also spoke of returning one day on the clouds, an allusion to Daniel 7:13. These were no idle words, but they underscored His claim of divinity. While Jesus was enduring the second illegal trial, Peter was experiencing great stress and turmoil that would lead him to deny Jesus three times.
“The whole Sanhedrin.” This judicial system was organized during the Babylonian exile, but its biblical foundation is based upon Numbers 11:16, where Moses gathered seventy men to help him rule Israel. If only twenty-three members were present, the Court was known as the Small Sanhedrin. The term “whole Sanhedrin” is problematic if applied only to the counsel of seventy-one members, because it was known that some of its members believed Jesus to be the Messiah (i.e. Nicodemus). However, the term was also applied to the Small Sanhedrin. When this group assembled, the high priest personally selected a group of Sadducees, elders, and scribes, and this entire (or “whole”) group determined that Jesus would die. The Small Sanhedrin was considered the quorum of the larger body and met regularly on the second and fifth days of the week. Hence, Caiaphas was able to quickly assemble twenty-three selected men who would conspire with him to perform illegal trials and have Jesus executed.
“Many were giving false testimony against Him.” To maintain some resemblance of legality, at least two or three witnesses had to be called to testify against the accused (Deut. 17:6; 19:15-18). It is interesting to note that there was not a single “witness” of those who were healed or raised from the dead. Lazarus, who lived hardly a half-hour’s walk from the court, was not asked to appear. In fact, these same leaders contemplated his death (Jn. 12:10). There was a deliberate attempt to leave out those who would testify on behalf of Jesus, not only in the form of witnesses of those who were healed, but also the Sanhedrin members who were sympathetic to Jesus (i.e. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea).
On an important side note, another member of the Sanhedrin who evidently was not under the control and manipulation of the House of Annas and Caiaphias, was a staunch Pharisee named Gamaliel. In Acts 5:33-34 Gamaliel expressed concern that Peter and John might be of God. Clearly he would not have approved of the trial of Jesus.
The phrase, “Many testified falsely against him,” is a powerful indictment against the religious establishment. It was obvious that there was a Jewish conspiracy against Jesus, for if there wasn’t, then He and all of His disciples would have been arrested and tried by the Romans, not the Sadducees. The irony is that the Jews had extremely harsh punishments for those who gave false testimony. Yet it was the only kind that the Sadducees were able to generate in their mock trial. Their own laws provide an awesome sentence against them.
According to the Jewish method of scourging, those who were found guilty of a crime deemed worthy of scourging, such as giving a false testimony, were tied to a pillar with chest and back bare. They were whipped no more than forty times (Deut. 25:1-3) with a third of the floggings upon the chest and two-thirds upon the back. This is the same kind the Apostle Paul endured five times. However, those who were false witnesses received eighty scourges. While this form of punishment was harsh, the Jews went to great lengths to write rules and regulations for its use. For example, a false witnesse who was responsible for anyone else receiving a scourging was subject to eighty stripes.
We testify that such-a-one is liable to suffer the forty stripes’, and they are found (to be) false witnesses, they must suffer eighty stripes by virtue of the law “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16) and also by virtue of the law, “Then do to him as he intended to do to his brother” (Deut. 19:19).
Mishnah, Makkoth 1.3
Furthermore, a false witness who was instrumental in causing a death would receive punishment of death, not eighty stripes. According to the Oral Law instituted by both the Pharisees and Sadducees, the punishment would be as follows:
If others came and proved false the evidence of these others, and yet others came and proved their evidence false, even if (there came) a hundred (pairs of witnesses to prove false the evidence of them that went before), they must all be put to death. Rabbi Judah says: This would be a conspiracy: but the first pair alone is put to death.
Mishnah, Makkoth 1.5
It can be safely assumed that those who testified against Jesus never received any punishment. The Jewish scourging was far less cruel than the Roman method. Whereas a scourging was simply a whip with a number of leather strips, sometimes with knots, a Roman flagellum had pieces of iron or bone in the leather strip to increase the torture.
“I will demolish this sanctuary made by human hands.” The false witnesses could not agree with each other, nor did they quote Jesus accurately (Jn. 2:19). This statement was repeated when Stephen was martyred (Acts 6:14). Jesus never said that He would destroy the temple but said that if they would destroy the temple, after three days He would raise it. Of course, He was referring to the temple of His own body. Regardless of how the phrase was understood, either as a metaphor of His body or the physical building (which it wasn’t), clearly Jesus indicated He had superhuman power. However, such a statement always had a powerful impact as seen with the prophet Jeremiah. When he predicted the destruction of the temple he was threatened with death (Jer. 26:1-9).
As previously stated, it was the policy of the Sanhedrin that once a trial began, new charges were not permitted. In addition, no person could be condemned by his confession alone. His accusers and false witnesses had become entangled in a web of lies that would have left them guilty of perjury in any other court. Jesus listened quietly as one false witness hopelessly confronted and contradicted the testimony of another. The overriding goal of the Court was not justice or protection of the sacred Scripture, but to condemn Jesus to death. In the hysteria of the moment, they broke whatever laws, codes, and traditions necessary in order to achieve their end. To use the modern idiom, they believed that “the end justifies the means.”
“Don’t You have an answer to what these men are testifying against You?” This phrase in the original language is not only a demanding question, but also reminds Jesus that He is under oath.
“But Jesus kept silent.” Silence was an incredible response – one they never expected. What did His silence mean? Was it a confession of guilt? Yet the mockery of the trial and the conflicting testimonies against Him were all worthless. Furthermore, His miracles and skill in verbal debates were well known and now, suddenly there were no miracles and no debates that could save His life. Certainly some who were present must have questioned, why. Only later would they realize that they witnessed responses that were the fulfillment of prophetic plans.
“By the living God.” This is an amazing statement by Caiaphas, who accused Jesus of blasphemy. The reason is that simply to say the Divine Name was considered blasphemy; therefore, what Caiaphas accused Jesus of doing, he did himself. There are several Jewish references to the prohibition of speaking the name of “God,” such as,
The blasphemer is not culpable (guilty) unless he pronounces the Name itself.
Mishnah, Sanhedrin 7.5
Another example of the Jewish custom to avoid using the name of God is to substitute the word “glory” for “God.” This custom continues among some Jewish sects today, while others spell the name as “G-d.” Josephus gave a brief but concise consequence that falls upon those who violate the name of God.
He that blasphemeth God, let him be stoned, and let him hang upon a tree all that day, and then let him be buried in an ignominious and obscure manner.
Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.6 (202)
In bold language the historian said that one who does not speak the name of God in a sacred manner will suffer three consequences.
- He will be stoned to death.
- His body will be hung on a tree because that is an enternal curse (Deut. 21:22-23).
- He will not be buried in a family tomb, but will be disconnected from his family forever.
Obviously the accusation of blasphemy was quite serious.
“I place You under oath.” In modern American courts a witness has the opportunity to not “swear under oath,” but rather, to “affirm,” that his statements are true. In the Jewish Court this option did not exist. In a Jewish court an oath was upon the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whereas in a Roman or other Gentile court an oath was upon the name of a pagan deity. An example of the latter would have been when Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem and Joseph had to take a Roman oath concerning his family in the census count. Now Caiaphas placed the oath upon Jesus, and therefore, anything Jesus said was under oath. The purpose was to have Jesus testify against Himself, another violation of Jewish jurisprudence.
“Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” To this, Jesus responded by turning the statement to Caiaphas, making him responsible for the violation of due process. Matthew’s account (26:63) of this statement reads, “By the living God I place You under oath: tell us if You are the Messiah, the Son of God!” This question is significant in that not only did Jesus give an affirmative answer, but He did so under oath. Clearly this gives credibility that oaths can be made in judicial situations. Even though He previously stated (Mt. 5:33-37) that, in general conversation, oaths should not be made at all.
As to the next subject, the idea that the temple would be rebuilt was revolting. It meant that the existing temple would be destroyed, and to add tension to the tense discussion, everyone knew that the existing structure did not resemble Ezekiel’s temple. That opened the opportunity to examine the words of the prophet Zechariah who said that the temple would be rebuilt (6:12-15). In the first century there were two opposing opinions as to who would rebuild the temple:
- God Himself would rebuild the temple, and
- The Messiah would rebuild it.
Therefore, Caiaphas probably reflected upon the words of Zechariah and the discussions among the rabbis when he asked Jesus, “Are you the Messiah?” There are three points to be considered in this matter:
- Caiaphas knew that many believed Jesus to be the m/Messiah
- Caiaphas knew that Jesus did not decline the name, but rather, in a number of conversations Jesus justified the use of it.
- Caiaphas knew that thousands saluted Jesus as the m/Messiah when He rode into Jerusalem in a symbolic manner representing a king.
Therefore, Jesus began with a sophisticated answer that would lead to another question: “If I ask you, will you not answer?” From now on the Son of Man will be seated on the right hand of the “Power.” That leads Caiaphas to ask, “Are you the Son of God?” Jesus very carefully went from a political issue to a theological one with Old Testament reflections, namely, Genesis 14 (Abraham and Melchizedek) and Psalm 110, “The Lord said to My Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” This was connected with the words of judgment in Daniel 7, “The Son of Man.” Isaiah also referred to this when he said, “He will be seated at the right hand of the Power” (Isa.10:33; Lk. 22:69). This is called a hypostatic term. The “son of man” figure is found in some Jewish writings as one who had authority in the final judgment (1 Enoch 37-71), so the language was not new to the Sanhedrin court.
“The Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power… clouds of heaven.” In this statement, Jesus did not refer to Himself as the “Son of God,” nor did He refer to the “right hand of God” – both statements would have been considered blasphemy according to the Oral Law and as later recorded in the Mishnah, chapter titled Sanhedrin, section 7.5 (see above). Yet Jesus did clearly speak of His divine nature. He alluded to the opening of Psalm 110, which was divine in character. Furthermore, Isaiah 9:5 hints at a human child as being a “wonderful counselor, mighty God.” When Jesus used the term “Power,” He clearly reflected upon the term “mighty God” in Isaiah 9:5. This is theologically known as the “hypostatic union,” the union of Christ’s humanity and divinity in a single individual existence.
Now Jesus was before judges who were about to take His earthly life. By this statement, He warned them there would be a time when they would be before Him. This was a clear statement of His divinity and His claim to have power over their eternal destiny. In the book of Enoch, there are numerous references to the Son of Man as one who is from heaven and comes to earth. In fact, the terms Son of Man and Son of David  became synonyms for Messiah by the first century. The expectations were that this “Son” would excel David’s triumphs. Furthermore, the phrase clouds of heaven is a direct quotation from Daniel 7:13. This statement not only announced that Jesus was the Messiah, but that He was also equal to God. The term Power was another term used to refer to God, similar to today’s use of the term the Almighty.
The response was predictable – the Sadducees were enraged to the point of hysteria. “The high priest tore his robes.” It was the custom for people to tear a small section of their clothing to show deep sorrow and mourning. However, according to the Mosaic Law, it was strictly forbidden, under punishment of death, for a high priest to do likewise. According to the Oral Law, it was symbolic of a guilty verdict. For this action, the high priest who should have been condemned to die, instead announced the death sentence on the One who gave life. The right to exercise capital punishment was removed from the Jews, with the exception of any Gentile who would enter the most sacred place of the temple. But in general, all executions were controlled by the Romans. To Caiaphas, the crucifixion of Jesus would solve a political problem, so it had to be done. To God, the crucifixion of Jesus would solve a sin problem, so it had to be done.
“Why do we still need witnesses?” The fact is that there were no other witnesses. The testimonies of the disciples were not desired (they were absent) and those whom Jesus healed and taught were unaware of this miscarriage of justice. Therefore, Caiaphas used the words of Jesus against Him. Caiaphas functioned as chief accuser, chief witness, prosecutor, and judge. He would also have been the chief executioner, if the Romans permitted him. Everyone present was intimidated by his control and with the threat of excommunication, loss of wealth, or even death (Jn. 12:10; Acts 9:2).
“You have heard the blasphemy.” The English word blasphemy or blaspheme is from the Greek term blasphemia, meaning to insult. But it also suggests that the one who blasphemes has placed himself in the place of God and thereby, degrades Him. That includes insulting Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit as well. Hence, it is a profoundly serious charge. It is truly difficult for modern students to comprehend the powerful condemnation that was associated with blasphemy in the biblical era. The first time the gospels record the Pharisees insulting God was when they accused Jesus of casting out demons with the demonic power of Beelzebub (Satan). That was true blasphemy and a turning point in the ministry of Jesus.
15.03.07.A. THE BURIAL OSSUARY OF CAIAPHAS. In 1990 construction workers accidentally uncovered the family tomb of Josephus bar Caiaphas south of Jerusalem’s Old City. Inside was the most elaborate ossuary or “bone box” ever found in Israel that contained the skeletal remains of a sixty year old man. There is complete certainty that these are the remains of the high priest Caiaphas, as his full name was recorded on the ossuary in the same manner it was recorded by the historian Josephus. See also the ossuary of Miriam (04.03.01.A).
Because of the writings of Josephus, archaeologists in 1990 were able to identify the ossuary of the renowned high priest. The historian recorded the full name of the High Priest “Josephus Caiaphas,” or more properly stated, “Joseph who was called Caiaphas of the high priest-hood.” The name “Caiaphas,” as used in Scripture strongly appears to have been a popular nickname, whereas the formal name on the ossuary is “Joseph bar Caiaphas.” The discovery of his ossuary and family tomb are unique for several reasons.
- While the tomb had the appearance of an attempted break-in, the would-be grave robbers were never successful. Therefore, the tomb of the most aristocratic religious family of the time of Christ remained secured.
- The floral and geometric patterns on the ossuary are typical of the Greek cultural influence upon Judaea that was acceptable to the Jews. The custom originated with the Greeks, but the reason is unknown. Nonetheless, the Romans appreciated the custom and continued the practice. Beautifully carved stone ossuaries, such as the one shown above, could be afforded only by the affluent and were used for about a century.
- There were sixty-three individual skeletons placed in a dozen ossuaries and laid to rest in this family tomb. Some scholars believe this is a high number of ossuaries for a single tomb, but then, this was a very wealthy family.
Of particular interest is the ossuary of a woman who was a member of the Caiaphas household, and her bone box reveals how Hellenistic the Sadducees really were. Among the House of Caiaphas ossuaries were the remains of a woman identified as “Yehochana, daughter of Yehochanan, son of Thophlos, the high priest.” When her bones were examined, a bronze coin, dating from King Agrippa (A.D. 42-43) was found in her skull. This incredible discovery attests to the idolatrous practices and beliefs of this high priestly family. According to Greek mythology, when someone died, he or she would have to cross the River Styx to enter paradise. However, the river flowed into hell (literally, the hell of fire), and could not be crossed without help. That person was a ferryman named Charon to whom the deceased had to pay a fee to take him or her across the river to enter paradise and avoid an eternity in hell. When this woman died, a coin was placed in her mouth, so her soul could make payment to Charon.
The coin found in Yehochana’s skull reveals two significant insights of the Sadducees.
- It illustrates how deeply Hellenism had become entrenched in the Sadducean community.
- The Sadducees had always prided themselves in not believing in an afterlife, but apparently some did not want to take any chances in case they were wrong.
The high priest Caiaphas and his family were to represent themselves and the Jewish people before their Creator. Ironically, the house of Caiaphas instead was the most vile and pagan imaginable. Evidently this practice was common among the Gentiles as well as the Hellenized Jews. Another first century (A.D.) tomb was discovered in Jericho which contained a skull with a coin. The coin date is the sixth year of Herod Agrippa’s reign. This was only a couple of decades after Jesus who paid the price for eternal salvation.
Among Christians today there is another mythical story. Some have said that the act of entering the Holy of Holies was so sacred that the high priest had a rope tied to his ankle in case God would kill him if there was sin in his life. The rope would have permitted other priests to pull the body out of the sacred sanctuary. However, rabbinic writings, which describe the details of temple worship services, fail to mention this rope. Rabbis in Jerusalem today, who have reconstructed many second temple vessels, likewise do not recognize the rope story. Furthermore, if the story was true, then God failed miserably to place His judgment of death on Annas and Caiaphas because they were possibly the two most corrupt high priests in Jewish history.
. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:1; Tompson, “Sandedrin.” 3:1390-91.
. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.1.
. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.1.
. One Jewish scholar informed this writer that the Talmud says that Joseph of Aramathea was the younger brother of Heli, the grandfather of Jesus. It is this writer’s opinion that this is doubtful, but the subject could be an interesting research for another student.
. See also 2 Cor. 11:24 and Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.21, 23; See also 14.01.04.Q2 “What was the difference between Jewish and Roman scourges?”
. Greenberg, “Scourging.” 4:245-46; See also 14.01.04.Q2 “What was the difference between Jewish and Roman scourges?”
. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 463.
. Bock, “Blasphemy and the Jewish Examination of Jesus.” 610-11; Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 373-74.
. See also Philo, Moses 2.203-6.
. For example, in the Mishnah, Yoma 6.2 is the statement, “Blessed be the name of the glory of his kingdom forever and ever!” Obviously the term “glory” was substituted for the name “God.” Another substituted term is “Blessed One,” is found in 1 Enoch 77:2 and in the Mishnah, Berakoth 7.3.
. Link and Tuente. “Swear, Oath.” 3:737-43.
. Grudem, Systematic Theology. 558. A hypostatic term is one that is associated with the hypostatic union. The “union” refers to Christ as being totally diVine, while also being totally human.
. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 374.
. Flusser, “At the Right Hand of the Power.” 42-43, 45.
. The messianic title “Son of David” appears in the following three groups of passages in the gospels where it is always reflective of the Davidic Covenant: 1) In various healings by Jesus – Mt. 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; Mk. 10:47-48; Lk. 18:38-39. 2) In connection of the harassment the religious leaders gave Jesus – Mt. 22:42-43, 45; Mk. 12:35, 37; Lk. 20:41, 44, and 3) The praise the crowds gave Jesus at His entry into Jerusalem – Mt. 21:9, 15; Mk. 11:10. See Rogers, “The Davidic Covenant in the Gospels,” Bibliotheca Sacra. Part 1 of 2. 158-78.
. Richardson, “David.” 59-60.
. Psalm of Solomon 17; ben Sirach 47:11; 1 Macc. 2:57.
. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 374 n81.
. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 7:5.
. Farrar, Life of Christ. 406-08.
. Barclay, A New Testament Wordbook. 51.
. See 09.01.03.Q1.
. Reich, “Caiaphas Name Inscribed on Bone Boxes.” 38-44.
. Josephus, Antiquities 18.2.2 and 18.4.3.
. Reich, “Caiaphas Name Inscribed on Bone Boxes.” 41.
. Josephus, Antiquities 18.2.2; Shanks, In the Temple of Solomon and the Tomb of Caiaphas. 36; Crossan and Reed, Excavating Jesus. 2, 240-44; Greenhut, “Burial Cave.” 31-33.
. Josephus, Antiquities 18.4.3.
. Hachlili, Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period. 205-10.
. Crossan and Reed, Excavating Jesus. 238-45.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:40.
. Crossan and Reed, Excavating Jesus. 244; Greenhut, “Burial Cave.” 35-36.
. Gathercole. “The Gospel of Thomas: Jesus said What?” 56.
. The Temple Institute, a Jewish organization in Jerusalem, has reproduced most of the vessels of the Second Temple Period. Many of these can be seen at the Temple Treasures Institute (across from the Western Wall), 24 Misgav Ladakh Street, Jerusalem. According to information given to this writer personally in November, 1999, these items were made with extreme care for the sole purpose that when the messiah comes, they will be available for His use in the new Temple (cf. Ezek. 40-48).