We saw in my previous article how, even though Yeshua went about doing good and proclaiming the love of G‑d and His coming Kingdom, he managed to stir up the anger of some people, and the active opposition of others. Many Jews followed Yeshua either because they were inspired by his teachings and actions, or because he met some need. Some, however, rejected him because he asked more than they were willing to give. Some disputed his interpretations of Torah practices and beliefs.
Then there were those who saw him as a threat that must be stopped. They were the ones who had the most to lose if Yeshua should gather enough of a following to displace them from their positions of power, authority, privilege, or wealth. They were the influential Pharisees and Sadducees in the Sanhedrin, leaders of the synagogues and academies, and the ruling family of Herod and their supporters. These seem to be the same people to whom the Gospel of John refers as “the Jews”—not all Jews, but the ones who saw Yeshua as a threat. This fits Paul’s description as well:
RSV Acts 13:27 Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him.
Note that “the Jews” condemned Yeshua, but we did not execute him. This was done by the Romans—yes, instigated by the Jewish authorities. The Romans forcefully resisted any threat to their rule. They were quick to put down even the slightest hint of a rebellion. Yeshua, whose followers saw him as the Messiah and wanted to make him King, certainly qualified for the Roman “treatment”.
Yeshua knew that when he came to Jerusalem, he would be arrested. On the way to Jerusalem for his final Pesach, he warned his disciples:
Matt 20:18 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, 19 and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
Yeshua completely expected to have problems with the authorities—the chief priests in the Temple and the scribes, who are probably members of the Sanhedrin, who had the authority to condemn him. He knew they cannot kill him, but they would bring him to the Roman authorities for execution.
In the previous article we saw how Yeshua’s dramatic entry into Jerusalem, his activities in the Temple, and his teachings against the corrupt leaders got him into trouble. They wanted to arrest him, but this would be a problem during the festival because of his popularity.
Mark 14:1 And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth, and kill him; 2 for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be a tumult of the people.”
Here again we see that the chief priests and scribes—the Temple officials and the Sanhedrin—are the ones who took the lead in trying to silence Yeshua. John’s gospel tells of an attempt to arrest Yeshua during an earlier Sukkot festival. They had sent out officers to arrest him, who came back empty-handed.
John 7:45 The officers then went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this man!” 47 The Pharisees answered them, “Are you led astray, you also? 48 Have any of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd, who do not know the law, are accursed.”
Can you feel their frustration?
They considered the people ignorant of the Torah, but the people were following Yeshua, and the authorities feared a bad response if they tried to arrest him. Nicodemus was a wealthy and respected man in Jerusalem, whom we know from the Talmud (Gittin 56a). He appears to have been a member of the Sanhedrin, and a discreet follower of Yeshua. He tried to invoke proper judicial procedure from the Torah in Yeshua’s defense. There should be a thorough and fair trial to determine the facts before judgment is passed, he argued. But the court quickly dismissed his argument:
John 7:50 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 51 ”Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” 52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and you will see that no prophet is to rise from Galilee.”
Returning to the events of that Passover week, we find the chief priests, Pharisees and Sanhedrin again grappling with the problem. Besides their own concerns about Torah violations and blasphemy, we see another concern. If they let this movement get out of hand, the Romans would step in and take over, and the Jews would lose everything—the Temple, Jerusalem, and the whole country. This was a very real fear.
John 11:47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Sanhedrin, and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”
Caiaphas, the high priest, thought he was giving shrewd political advice by suggesting that they kill Yeshua to avoid the destruction of the whole nation. John sees it a different way—as a prophecy that Yeshua’s death would accomplish G‑d’s purpose for Israel and the world.
49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all; 50 you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Yeshua should die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of G‑d who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they took counsel how to put him to death.
As the schemes and fears of the religious and political leaders played out, the crowds in Jerusalem for the festival prevented them from taking action … until they got some help from one of Yeshua’s own disciples, Judas.
Matt 26:14 Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.
What could Judas’ motive have been?
Was he disappointed in the progress of Yeshua’s movement? Was he trying to force Yeshua into a conflict that would bring in the Kingdom of Heaven? Or was he trying to end Yeshua’s work by betraying him? We don’t know. But Judas was indeed the key they sought to carry out their plans as discreetly as possible. Late that night, after the Passover seder, Yeshua took his disciples across town to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. Judas knew the place, and led the authorities to him.
John 18:3 So Judas, procuring a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.
They arrested him and took him back across the city to the house of Caiaphas on Mount Zion, near where they ate the last supper. The Sanhedrin was waiting for them.
Matt 26:57 Then those who had seized Yeshua led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered.
A most odd and illegal development for the night of a holy day, but they were determined to dispose of Yeshua quickly and quietly.
Trial and Execution
Now the Sanhedrin had rules governing trials of capital cases, cases that could result in a death sentence. A person could not be convicted by a unanimous vote. Cases could be tried only during the day, and a conviction could only be decided on the following day. Here are the relevant rules:
Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:1 … in capital cases, all can rule for acquittal but all cannot rule for conviction … capital cases are tried in the day and must finish in the day … capital cases finish on the same day for acquittal and the next day for conviction, therefore there cannot be trials on Friday evening or the evening before a holiday.
As we shall see, these rules were not followed in Yeshua’s trial. He was brought before the Sanhedrin during the night:
John 18:19 The high priest questioned Yeshua about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Yeshua answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple … 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Yeshua on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Yeshua answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
Yeshua was clever with his answers not to incriminate himself
So they looked for witnesses … even false witnesses, which is a violation of the ninth commandment, because they wanted to convict him. Matt 26:59 Now the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false testimony against Yeshua so that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of G‑d and to build it in three days.’” 62 The high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?”
Two witnesses, whose testimonies agree, are required to convict someone. But false witnesses who conspire to invent testimony to convict someone are themselves condemned by the Torah (Deut. 19:15-20). Yeshua saw what they were doing to him, and did not cooperate, until the high priest invoked an oath, requiring him to answer:
63 But Yeshua was silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I put you under oath before the living G‑d, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of G‑d.” 64 Yeshua said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your verdict?” They answered, “He deserves death.”
By saying “You have said so,” Yeshua apparently was not denying the charge. He then referred to the vision of the Son of Man (Dan. 7:13). The high priest understood that Yeshua was claiming to be that heavenly person, and Yeshua did not deny it. So they levelled a charge of blasphemy against him, and the Sanhedrin unanimously and on the same night (which are both illegal) passed the death sentence.
Israel under Roman rule, however, was no longer sovereign, and could not execute someone. They needed help from the Romans, so they brought Yeshua to Pontius Pilate, the governor.
John 18:28 Then they took Yeshua from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning … 29 So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” 31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.”
The accusations they brought against Yeshua were:
Luke 23:2 “We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Messiah a king.”
“Perverting our nation” is a violation of Deuteronomy 13:13 that warns against someone who leads Israelites astray to follow other gods. Yeshua did not lead anyone to follow another god, but they thought he was teaching a strange torah, a false religion. This is not a charge that would concern the Romans.
“Forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar” is something that the Romans would take seriously. However, when Yeshua was asked if Jews should pay taxes to Caesar, his answer was “Yes”, give to Caesar what belongs to him.
“Declaring oneself to be Messiah or king”, or any kind of insurrection against the Roman rule, would certainly aggravate the Romans, and this they would put down swiftly and harshly.
When Pilate discovered that Yeshua was from Galilee, he sent him to Herod Antipas, who happened to be in Jerusalem (Luke 23:7-12). Herod’s interrogation was inconclusive. He let his soldiers mock and abuse Yeshua, then sent him back to Pilate.
Luke 23:14 Pilate said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”
You have to love Roman justice. You get abused and flogged just for being brought to trial, even when they find no truth to the charges against you. Pilate returned to Yeshua to address the charge of declaring himself a king, but in the end he found no evidence to convict him.
John 18:33 Pilate entered the praetorium again and called Yeshua, and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Yeshua answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?”
Pilate concluded, “I find no crime in him” (18:38). The Jewish authorities insisted that Yeshua must be executed. Their charge is still blasphemy.
John 19:7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of G‑d.”
The title “Son of G‑d” does apply to the king of Israel, the son of David, and so the charge still concerns the Romans. Pilate tried once more to examine Yeshua, but he remained silent.
John 19:12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against Caesar.”
Pilate finally gave in to the demand of the Jewish authorities to condemn and crucify Yeshua. They played the political game well, insisting, “We have no king but Caesar!” So Pilate turned Yeshua over to the soldiers, who took him, mocked and humiliated him.
Matt 27:27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Yeshua into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him …
They took him out to be crucified
Mark15:26 The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”
Once again we see the crime for which the Romans crucified him—that he claimed to be king of the Jews, which means insurrection or rebellion against Rome.
The Talmud does mention the trial and execution of Yeshua (they called him “Yeshu”, an acronym meaning “may his name and memory be blotted out”).
Sanhedrin 43a: And it was taught: On the eve of Passover they hung Yeshu (sic) after the announcement went out forty days earlier: “Yeshu is about to be stoned for sorcery and for leading Israel astray. Anyone having information to acquit him, let him come and testify.” But no evidence for acquittal was found, and so they hung him on the eve of Passover.
The charges against him were sorcery, and leading Israel astray, the same accusations made against him in the Gospels. The court announced a 40 day moratorium on his verdict in case someone might come with evidence to acquit him. When no evidence was brought, they hung (crucified) him on Pesach eve. The Talmud’s account conceals the illegal aspects of Yeshua’s trial—that he was arrested and tried at night, on the festival, and convicted unanimously the same night.
We have seen how Yeshua was widely received in Galilee and throughout Israel, but he was opposed and rejected by some—mainly the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. It was the chief priests, officers of the Temple, scribes and Pharisees who were connected with the Sanhedrin, and secular Jews who supported the Herodian dynasty of puppet rulers appointed by Rome, who orchestrated his arrest and trial, who convicted him of religious crimes punishable by death, and who turned him over to the Romans. He was tried by Pontius Pilate the governor and by Herod Antipas, who ruled over Galilee. His death sentence was reluctantly issued by Pilate, and then he was executed.
This was not, however, the end of the story. After the resurrection, the message of Yeshua continued to spread. Acts 2 records that “there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation” who heard the sermon of Peter on the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), and about 3,000 of them believed the good news and were baptized. Acts 6:7 adds, “a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.” Later on James proudly reports to Paul that “many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; they are all zealous for the Torah” (Acts 21:20). So the good news of Yeshua was embraced by large numbers of Torah-observant Jews, along with many priests.
It is true that most Jewish authorities have convinced the people to reject Yeshua, but certainly not all. There have always been some Jews who believed, including Rabbis. The time will come, and may it be soon, that G‑d will reveal Yeshua to the whole nation of Israel. Amen.