THE THREE TRIALS OF CHRIST, PART 1
1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” 10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” 12 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.
19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” 24 Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
— John 18:1-14, 19-24, ESV
At this point in John’s Gospel we have completed the public teaching and miracle ministry of Jesus and captured his final, private moments with His disciples. In reality His greatest lessons and miracles will span the next three days; but, they will cost His greatest pain, suffering, and sacrifice.
So we proceed to the Lord’s arrest, trials, and crucifixion. The trials are numbered in various ways by the biblical writers and subsequent commentators. It seems to me John clearly highlights them in three phases: a religious trial, a political trial, and a public trial. This is to show that Jesus will never be accepted as Lord and Savior by people whose highest priorities are religious self-righteousness, political power, or personal popularity. Let’s look at the religious trial first, a story of keystone cops, three high priests, and a clash over control.
Chapter eighteen begins with the arrest of Jesus by deputized Temple police, a collection of Keystone Cops, a band of Barney Fifes, an incompetent and ill-prepared militia who stumbled upon Jesus just before sunrise. They were led by the treacherous Judas Iscariot, whose poisonous kiss was so sickening the Apostle John does not have the stomach to mention it in this text. The scene was a culmination of the conspiracy wrought between the false disciple and the pharisaical religious rulers, and would soon include an arrogant government and ignorant public.
Usually when police or military officers arrest a subject, they are in control, but not these boneheads. When Jesus identified Himself, they literally stumbled and fell. They also failed to notice that one of Christ’s accomplices, Simon Peter, was carrying a gladius, a small Roman dagger used by, you guessed it, gladiators, for the final kill. Right-handed gladiators would aim at the aorta, upward and leftward from the heart, or the left carotid artery, thereby insuring a sudden death. Peter missed by a mile, severing and man named Malchus’ right ear. The officers would have never attained an arrest if the suspect, the Lord Jesus Christ, had not willingly given Himself up to them.
The Lord Jesus Christ was in complete control of His own arrest, and subsequent trials, and death. He was determined to “drink the cup.” This is because He was, is, and always will be God. He identified Himself in two words, not the three found in English translations. He may have used the Greek “Ego Eimi,” or the Aramaic “Ena Na,” but I think He spoke in Hebrew and said the name out loud that would startle any Jew, “YHWH.” “I Am,” is who He said He is. “I Am” is who God told Moses He is. “I Am” was used by John seven times in the Gospel to declare the deity of Christ, and the grace He gives to those who believe in Him and receive Him as bread, light, door, shepherd, resurrection and life, way and truth and life, and true vine.
God got arrested. It sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? But it shows us how low the Most High will go to reach and redeem the people He loves. Let there be no doubt about it, God was in control. Now arrested, Jesus takes His first, intentional, and fateful step along the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering. He will walk it all the way to the cross.
Three High Priests
The first of the three trials of Christ takes place in the faces of three high priests. This constitutes the religious trial, with political and public trials to follow. Notice that the biggest enemy of Christ and His church is not governments nor cultures, but religion, religion that ignores or attacks the Lord Jesus Christ instead of embracing Him as Lord and Savior.
The religious establishment of Judea had turned against Jesus almost from the beginning of His ministry, three years earlier. They chose not to challenge Him on His home turf in Galilee, but always assailed Him when He ventured into Jerusalem, where the chief priests and Pharisees had power over the people. They hated Him for exposing their sin, greed, and hypocrisy. They waited for the right opportunity to wrongly trap Him. Jesus never gave them one, but His false, phony, disciple Judas betrayed Him into their hands. At the ensuing religious trial, three high priests presided.
Annas was actually a former high priest. He was out of office but not out of power. He ruled from behind the throne of his puppet, son-in-law Caiaphas, the current high priest. If you could see into the lower depths of Hell, surely you would find Annas there. He was a man so enamored with his own power and pleasure, so in love with himself and his money, that he would even try to kill God in order to keep it.
Caiaphas was a more calculating and cautious religious ruler, who according to Josephus enjoyed the longest tenure of any Roman appointed high priest, a tenure that spanned from AD 18 to 36. He had advised the other Jewish leaders before the Passover that it would be expedient to have Jesus killed, in order to convince their overlords they were committed to the Pax Romana, even if it meant murdering one of their own. Expediency, pragmatism, whatever works best for me, has always been the world’s largest religion. It values free will and self indulgence far above God’s will and God’s word. It will sell out its own mother, or its own God, to get what it wants. So high priests Annas, and Caiaphas, gave Jesus the thumbs down.
Who is the third high priest in the room? Read Hebrews 4:14-16. Yes, Jesus consented to His own arrest, and presided as the true High Priest at His own religious trial, a trial at which the religious authorities rejected the gospel and condemned the Lord. Yet the Lord was in control the whole time. The sovereignty of God overruled and actually used the religious rulers’ rejection of the Lord to ultimately fulfill the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A Clash Over Control
The arrest and religious trial of Christ was a clash over control. The arresting officers thought they had control over Jesus, but Jesus was in control. The high priests thought they had authority over Jesus, even slapping Him around a little bit, but Jesus is the ultimate authority over them. Religion is man’s attempt to control God, which is why God will not save religious people, only the repentant and the faithful who yield all control over to Him.
The Judaism most prevalent in Jesus’ day was a religion, and nothing more. It was a perversion of the Old Covenant poisoned by the liberal Sadducees and fundamentalist Pharisees. Instead of uniting people with God, it controlled people in the name of God, and even sought control over God, as evidenced in the first trial of Christ. They put Jesus on trial and rejected Him, but Christ is in control, and He will reject them on judgment day.
The Eastern religions that have sprung up before and after Christ are mere religions, and nothing more. The offer inner peace and personal nirvanas apart from faith in the one true and living God and atonement for sin. Instead of uniting people with God, they promise you can become your own God. They put Jesus on trial and reject Him, but Christ is in control, and He will reject them on judgment day.
The fastest growing religion in the world today, Islam, is a religion and nothing more. It promises pillars and principles by which one can work his way to heaven. Instead of uniting people with God, they deny the deity of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. They put Jesus on trial and reject Him as a mere prophet. But Christ is in control, and He will reject them on judgment day.
Pelagianism and the prosperity gospel, perversions of Christianity, are religions and nothing more. They promise people control over God by taking the first step of man-made faith or planting some seed of so-called faith. Then God is forced to act on their behalf and take the next step or grant them three wishes. Instead of uniting people with God, they judge Jesus and the Scriptures as insufficient. But Christ is in control, and He will reject them on judgment day.
The declining Christian denominations in the world today, wracked by liberalism, denying the deity, blood atonement, exclusivity, and literal resurrection and return of Jesus, are religions and nothing more. Instead of uniting people with God, they cast doubt and dispersion on God’s word, the Bible. They put Jesus on trial and reject most of what the Scriptures teach about Him. But Christ is in control, and He will reject them on judgment day.
True Christianity is more than a religion, but it is not less. It has its rituals, creeds, and commandments. But these are observed because God has saved you, not to force God’s hand to save you. God’s grace grants faith that gives salvation. Grace puts God in control.
So, give up control. Acknowledge it belongs only in the hands of God. Let Christ arrest you. Let the Lord judge you for your sins and then nail them to the cross. Call upon the Lord Jesus Christ. He will save you, but He will not accept second place. He demands to be in control, to be your undisputed Lord, in order to be your eternal Savior.