Summary: We examine the account of the witnesses who accused Jesus of blasphemy during his ecclesiastical trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin.
Three years I began what I planned to be a seven-year series of messages. It is based on the book by James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken that is titled, Jesus on Trial. My goal is to teach on seven important aspects of the trial of Jesus Christ: the diabolical conspiracy to kill him (which I covered three years ago); his night-time arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane (which I covered two years ago); the short resistance that the disciples mounted in his defense (which I covered last year); the witnesses who accused him of blasphemy during his ecclesiastical trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin (which I plan to cover this evening); the verdict reached in his civil trial by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate; the sentence of death that his enemies demanded; and his execution by crucifixion.
Let us read Mark 14:55-64:
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 (Mark 14:55-64)
A witness is defined as follows: “In general, one who, being present, personally sees or perceives a thing; a beholder; a spectator, or eyewitness. One who testifies to what he has seen, heard, or otherwise observed.”
If you had been privy to what was going on behind the scenes regarding the trial of Jesus, you would have been aware that it all began with a conspiracy. The religious leaders and the political leaders had conspired together to get rid of Jesus. But they were having great difficulty doing so because of Jesus’ immense popularity with the people. However, a stunning development took place when one of Jesus’ own inner circle of friends stepped forward to betray him to the authorities. Judas Iscariot volunteered to betray Jesus for some unknown reason.
Then, on the evening of 14 Nissan, 30 AD Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. A large band of soldiers had managed to arrest Jesus without too much trouble.
The brief resistance from Jesus’ disciples did not amount to much. Jesus was quickly taken into custody, and a hasty trial was convened. Actually, there were several trials on the night of Jesus’ arrest. The religious leaders tried to find a way to accuse Jesus of some offense of which he would be guilty, for as Mark said, “Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death” (Mark 14:55).
Tonight, I would like to examine the account of the witnesses who accused Jesus of blasphemy during his ecclesiastical trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin.
I. The Accusations by the Witnesses (14:55-59)
First, notice the accusations by the witnesses.
In their book, Jesus on Trial, Boice and Ryken note that according to the compendium of Jewish law known as the Mishnah, there were three categories of testimony: 1) a vain testimony, 2) a standing testimony, and 3) an adequate testimony.
Vain testimony referred to accusations that were irrelevant or worthless and could therefore be eliminated at once. It corresponded to words that in our courts would be “stricken from the record,” or which the jury would be instructed to “disregard.”
Standing testimony was testimony that had some relevance to the case and was permitted to stand until it was either confirmed or disproved.
Adequate testimony was relevant testimony on which two or more witnesses agreed. Only testimony in this third category was sufficient to convict.
Most of the testimony that was presented at that trial was vain testimony. Mark said in verse 56, “For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree.”
I am sure it must have been very frustrating for the Jewish Sanhedrin. They were having a tough time finding two witnesses to agree on any testimony. Eventually, some promising witnesses stepped forward. Mark recorded their testimony, “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’” (14:58).