Jesus' Night-Time Trial
Jan 03, 2015
Jesus was arrested by the temple guard, so they brought him first to the house of the high priest for trial. Luke 22:54 says,
54 And having arrested Him, they led Him away, and brought Him to the house of the high priest; but Peter was following at a distance.
Roman soldiers would have brought Jesus to Pilate. But Matt. 26:57 says they brought Him to “Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were gathered together.” Mark 14:53 includes “all the chief priests” in this gathering. John 18:13 tells us that Jesus appeared first before Annas, the high priest emeritus, and some preliminary conversation took place before Annas sent him to Caiaphas (John 18:24), the legally appointed high priest. John 18:13, 19, 24 says,
13 and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year….
19 The high priest [Annas] therefore questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching….
24 Annas therefore sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
Joseph Caiaphas had been legally appointed as the high priest by Vitellius, the Roman Prefect, in 18 A.D. Vitellius was Pontius Pilate’s predecessor. In those days the Romans decided who should be high priest, replacing the previous biblical system of succession from father to son. Annas, had been deposed in 15 A.D. and his son Eleazar ruled in his place for two years (16-17 A.D.) before he too lost his position and was replaced by Caiaphas in 18 A.D.
The official high priests were changed often in those days, but most of the people themselves continued to consider Annas (or Ananus) to be the legitimate high priest. Being of the same family, however, it appears that Annas and Caiaphas lived in the same mansion in Jerusalem. The temple guard led Jesus to the high priest’s house, where he met Annas first, as John says, followed by Caiaphas. It appears that Annas questioned Jesus (John 18:19) but did not hold a trial. John 18:20-24 tells us about this interview,
20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. 21 Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; behold, these know what I said.” 22 And when He had said this, one of the officers standing by gave Jesus a blow, saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?” 24 Annas therefore sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
This seems to have been the extent of the interview with Annas. It might be classified as a preliminary hearing, but there is no indication that it was a trial. In fact, because night-time trials were illegal, Annas may have been reluctant to hold one that night.
Caiaphas, however, did not consider the illegality of night-time trials to be a hindrance. He conducted a makeshift trial with some Council members that night, and then—to make it seem legal—the whole Council was convened at daybreak (Mark 15:1). The second meeting was necessary to make the earlier conviction legal and to convey Jesus to Pilate for sentencing on sedition charges.
The irony of this charge was that the Sanhedrin (Council) was dominated by the Shammaites, whose “evil fig” beliefs were seditious. In terms of the sacrifice which they were about to offer, they laid hands on Jesus and imputed to Him all of their own sins of sedition
Peter Gains Admission
Luke tells us nothing of the night trial, focusing instead on the events happening on the sideline of the courtyard of the high priest’s mansion. Luke 22:54, 55 says,
54 … but Peter was following at a distance. 55 And after they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter was sitting among them.
Luke does not tell us whose courtyard this was. Annas and Caiaphas probably lived in the same mansion, but we are not told if they lived separately or if their houses were close together.
After Jesus’ arrest, all the disciples fled, except for Peter, who had the courage to follow the temple guard to see where they might bring Jesus. John is the only one to inform us that Jesus was first brought to Annas before he sent Him to Caiaphas. The other gospel writers omit that detail and go directly to the courtyard of Caiaphas, where the actual trial was held. When they arrived at Annas’ mansion, Peter stood at the door outside and could not enter the courtyard. John 18:15 says,
15 And Simon Peter was following Jesus, and so was another disciple…
The wording implies that Peter and the other disciple were not walking together, but separately. Otherwise, Luke probably would have worded this: “And Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus.” The anonymous disciple could be no other than John himself, for he writes as one having firsthand knowledge. It seems that John arrived first, having come with those who had arrested Jesus. Peter followed at a safe distance. John 18:15 continues,
15 … Now that disciple was known to the high priest and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest.
So John was already inside the courtyard when Peter arrived at the gate. John 18:16 says,
16 but Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought in Peter.
If John had to go “out,” then it is clear that he was already “in” the courtyard. John 18:17 continues,
17 The slave-girl therefore who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.”
No doubt the servant-girl (“doorkeeper”) knew John by sight. John saw Peter standing at the gate and “went out” to speak to her to gain admission for Peter. However, in looking at Peter, she recognized him as being one of Jesus’ disciples.
This recognition could have proved disastrous, because not only did it put Peter in danger, but it also might have implicated John, who had just recommended Peter for admittance. This seems to have been Peter’s first motive for denying any knowledge of Jesus.
John’s connection to the High Priestly Family
John obviously knew his own genealogical connection to the high priest’s family. Even though he tried to remain anonymous in his gospel (as did Luke himself), it is plain that only he and his brother James could have written about this connection with firsthand knowledge. But his brother, James, wrote no books or letters. He was the one killed by Herod in Acts 12:2. The New Testament letter of James was written by the brother of Jesus, who became the first bishop of Jerusalem shortly after the death of John’s brother James.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee seem to be related to Caiaphas through their mother. The editors of Eusebius’ book, Ecclesiastical History, say in an Appendix:
“The Passion Narrative in the fourth Gospel seems to suggest that John was known to the high priest (John xviii. 15), even though John was a Galilean fisherman, the son of Zebedee. Polycrates tells us that he wore the petalon (like James the Lord’s brother, q.v.), which perhaps suggests that he belonged to one of the priestly families.” [Who’s Who in Eusebius, an addendum from Penguin Books edition]
Eusebius himself quoted Polycrates in his book, saying,
“Again there is John, who leant back on the Lord’s breast, and who became a priest wearing a mitre [petalon], a martyr and a teacher; he too sleeps in Ephesus.” [Ecclesiastical History, III, 31]
So, they say, this anonymous disciple, who was “known” to the high priest, was John himself. How he was known is not recorded, but toward the end of the second century Polycrates records that John “became a priest wearing a mitre.” He could hardly have spoken literally, for it is not possible that John became a high priest in Jerusalem. It is likely that he was considered to be like a Christian High Priest from the church in Ephesus, and an elder who outlived all the other original apostles.
Keep in mind also that when Jesus was crucified, John remained at the foot of the cross with the three Marys (John 19:25, 26). How is it that John would dare to identify with Jesus, when all of the other disciples had fled? No doubt it was because John had some kind of relationship with the high priest’s household? Who was John’s father, Zebedee? Did he marry a woman of the family of the high priest?
If one of John’s parents was kin to the high priest, it would explain why they thought that their sons, James and John, should be placed in positions of honor in the Kingdom. Matthew 20:20, 21 says,
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Him with her sons, bowing down, and making a request of Him. 21 And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left.
It is likely that she is the one who was part of the family of the high priest, for this was her personal request.
Peter’s first denial came at the gate of the courtyard. It appears that when John asked the doorkeeper to allow Peter to enter the courtyard, the servant-girl recognized him. He denied knowing Jesus, however, and so the girl allowed him to enter.
No doubt the courtyard of Annas and Caiaphas was crowded with soldiers, religious leaders, and servants. Peter “sat down with the officers to see the outcome” (Matt. 26:58). The trial itself was probably on the porch of the house or on a second-floor balcony, and Peter was able to watch the proceedings and hear what they had to say.
When they lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard to provide warmth and light, Peter drew near to warm himself (John 18:25). Luke 22:56, 57 says,
56 And a certain servant-girl, seeing him as he sat in the firelight, and looking intently at him, said, “This man was with Him too.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.”
This had to be the same servant-girl who was the doorkeeper. She is called “a certain servant-girl,” not just any girl. Perhaps she got a closer look at Peter this time and was sure that she had seen him with Jesus. Peter again denied knowing Jesus. These two occasions where the woman confronted Peter are taken as a single denial, because Peter was speaking to the same woman. Otherwise we would have to say that Peter denied Jesus four times.
The next two denials were when men recognized Peter. Luke 22:58 then tells us of Peter’s second denial:
58 And a little later, another saw him and said, “You are one of them too!” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!”
An hour later came the third denial. Luke 22:59, 60 says,
59 And after about an hour had passed, another man began to insist, saying, “Certainly this man also was with Him, for he is a Galilean too.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, a cock crowed.
We do not know when the first “cock” crowed, but Mark 14:72 says that after Jesus’ third denial, “immediately a cock crowed a second time.” By this time Jesus had been brought to Caiaphas’ house, where the night-time trial was to be held. This took about three hours, long enough to hear the bugle of the night watchmen blow twice—perhaps at 3:00 a.m. and again at 6:00 a.m. at the end of the third and fourth watches of the night.
No doubt Luke (and Paul) later heard Peter tell the story. This was how all would have known the details of this story, and it was recorded by all four gospel writers. Luke 22:61, 62 continues,
61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a cock crows today, you will deny Me three times. 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.
When Jesus heard the bugle, He knew that Peter had just denied Him. Perhaps Peter had denied Him loudly enough for Jesus to hear. Whatever the case, Peter saw Jesus look at Him at a distance, and he remembered the prophecy.
Peter had been confident that he would not deny Christ or betray Him as Judas had done. But in the end, Peter did so. More than this, he also “began to curse and swear” (Mark 14:71), which means that he said something like this: “If I know Him, then let me be cursed!” Peter laid a curse upon himself, which also prophesied of times yet to come in the history of the Church. The Roman Church, which claims Peter as its founder, also inherited the curse which Peter laid upon himself. It is doubtful if any Pope or Bishop of Rome has ever thought to repent and to remove that curse, which has prevented so many from really knowing Jesus.
Matthew and Mark record first the trial, followed by Peter’s denial. They recorded the events one after the other, but this should not be taken to indicate a precise order of events. John indicates that the denials took place during the trial, not afterward.
During the trial, false witnesses were called, but they contradicted each other. Matt. 26:59, 60 says,
59 Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, in order that they might put Him to death; 60 and they did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward.
Then someone testified how Jesus had said that the temple would be destroyed, and then raised up in three days. He obviously did not comprehend that Jesus was talking about the temple of His own body (John 2:21). Jesus could not explain this without showing them how He had already prophesied of His death and resurrection, so He remained silent. At that point the high priest appealed to the law of public adjuration. Matt. 26:63 says,
63 But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.”
This law is found in Lev. 5:1, where witnesses, when adjured, are required to testify what they have seen or heard:
1 Now if a persons sins, after he hears a public adjuration to testify, when he is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise known, if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt.
In other words, if a “public adjuration to testify” is sent out to call forth all witnesses to testify what they have seen or heard, and if witnesses refuse to testify in such cases, those witnesses are guilty of sin. The high priest had the right to adjure anyone to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. No witness had the right to withhold testimony, as we see in America’s “Fifth Amendment rights.”
This was the point where Jesus spoke, for He had no choice in the matter. Matt. 26:64 says,
64 Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Never before had Jesus revealed Himself so completely, not even to His own disciples. Peter himself had experienced a great revelation earlier just before Jesus’ transfiguration. In Matt. 16:15, 16 we read,
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
But Peter may not have remembered this earlier revelation as he sat near the fire, listening to the proceedings. Events were moving too fast to ponder the past. Matt. 26:65, 66 gives the high priest’s response:
65 Then the high priest tore his robes, saying, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy! 66 What do you think?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death!”
The high priest’s horror and indignation was over the fact that Jesus had applied Dan. 7:13, 14 to Himself:
13 I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. 14 And to Him was given dominion, glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.
Daniel had seen the Son of Man being presented to the Ancient of Days in order to receive for Himself a kingdom. This prophesied of Christ’s ascension, which, among things, was to gain the support of heaven in His claim as King.
This was the subject of Jesus’ parable in Luke 19:12, as we discussed in Book 7. His coming with “the clouds of heaven” speaks both of His ascension and His return “in like manner” (Acts 1:11 KJV).
The high priest was horrified that any man but the Messiah would make such a claim. But his adjuration had forced Jesus to speak the whole truth. That is what made this trial a success in the eyes of Caiaphas. The truth, however, was taken as blasphemy, and so Jesus was convicted on that charge.
Yet inherent in this conviction was the fact that Jesus had claimed to be the Messiah who was the rightful Heir to the throne and King over all the nations of the earth. That was sufficient to accuse Him before Pilate on a charge of sedition. Confident that they had won their case, the trial ended, and Jesus was turned over to the temple guard, who then mocked Him, beat Him, and blasphemed Him (Luke 22:63-65).
The second bugle, which sounded immediately after Peter’s third denial, was blown at daybreak, ending the fourth watch of the night. Jesus was then led from Caiaphas’ house to the Praetorium to get Pilate’s approval for the death sentence upon Jesus (John 18:28). Thus ended the illegal night-time trial, which had set the stage for the legal trial before Pilate.
This is the 130th part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones