What Jesus was actually convicted of.
Mark 14.61-64 • Matthew 26.63-66 • Luke 22.67-71
I’m discussing the three synoptic gospels because if you read John, the way it’s worded makes it sorta look like Jesus didn’t even have a trial before the Judean Senate. First Jesus went to the former head priest Annas’s house,
Anyway, back to the synoptics. My previous piece was about Jesus testifying about himself. Today it’s what Jesus was guilty of, and why they sentenced him to death.
Mark 14.61-64 KWL
BAgain, the head priest questioned him, telling him, “You’re Messiah, the ‘son of the Blessed’?”
- 62 Jesus said, “I am. You’ll see the Son of Man—
- seating himself at the right of God’s power, coming with heaven’s clouds.”
- 63 Tearing his tunic, the head priest said, “Who still needs to have witnesses?
- 64 You heard the slander. How’s it look to you?”
- Everyone sentenced Jesus guilty, and to be put to death.
Matthew 26.63-66 KWL
BThe head priest told him, “I put you under oath to the living God so you’d tell us:
- Are you Messiah, the ‘son of God’?”
- 64 Jesus said, “As you say, but I tell you: From this moment you’ll see the Son of Man—
- seating himself at the right of God’s power, coming with heaven’s clouds.”
- 65 Then the head priest ripped his robe, saying, “Jesus slandered God.”
- Who still needs to have witnesses? Now look! You heard the slander. 66 What do you think?”
- In reply they said, “Jesus is guilty and deserves death.”
Luke 22.67-71 KWL
BThey were saying, “If you’re Messiah, tell us.”
- Jesus told them, “When I told you, you wouldn’t believe.
- 68 When I questioned you, you wouldn’t answer.
- 69 From now on, the Son of Man will be seating himself at the right of God’s power.”
- 70 Everyone said, “So you’re the ‘son of God’?” Jesus declared, “I’m as you say.”
- 71 They said, “Why do we still need to have witnesses?—
- We heard it ourselves from Jesus’s lips.”
As Mark and Matthew make obvious, Caiaphas was absolutely sure the whole room just heard Jesus commit slander.
Problem is, whenever I tell this story to Christians, the idea of what Jesus might’ve done wrong goes right over their heads. They figure, as we do, that Jesus never did anything wrong. Never sinned.
But other times it’s because Christians believe the Judean Senate was the old dispensation, and Jesus is the new dispensation, so they were trying him by an out-of-date Law. As dispensationalists they believe Jesus broke the Law all the time. On Sabbath, fr’instance. But thanks to the new dispensation, these acts of willful defiance towards God’s Law no longer counted. Freedom in Christ, baby!—Jesus could’ve straight-up murdered and robbed people had he chose (although they’ve got various explanations why the Ten Commandments, despite being the very heart of the old covenant, still apply somehow). The Senate weren’t aware God was no longer saving them under the old rules anymore, and executed Jesus anyway.
Fact is, Jesus’s trial was perfectly legal under existing law. They got him on slander. Had it been any other person in the universe who said what Jesus did, it totally would be slander. Had the Senate believed Jesus is as he says, they’d have correctly set him free. They didn’t, so they didn’t. So it was a miscarriage of justice. Wrong verdict.
The term we tend to use is “blasphemy,” which comes from the Greek vlasfimía/“injurious speech.” We mean by it any kind of harmful, insulting, slanderous speech towards God or sacred things. Sometimes sacred people: If you rip on one of God’s prophets, some Christians consider that blasphemy. Other Christians don’t wanna call it that, ’cause they’re uncomfortable using “blasphemy” on anyone or anything other than God, lest it slide into some kind of idolatry.
Now in the United States, we have freedom of speech. Not that there aren’t social consequences for saying stupid things, but unless it’s actual treason, our governments can’t jail or kill you for it. Hence Christians can get away with blaspheming other religions’ gods all we want. It’d get us killed in other countries—and even in this country, it could get us punched in the mouth if we’re jerks enough to go into their temples and denounce ’em. (Which is only fair. We’re not gonna win people to Christ that way anyway.) Likewise people of other religions, or none, can denounce Jesus or the L
But it was only 225 years ago there was no such thing. If you publicly, even privately, denounced the L
The first instance of blasphemy in the bible went like so.
Leviticus 24.10-23 KWL
- 10 The son of an Israeli woman and Egyptian man went out in the middle of the Israeli descendants.
- The Israeli woman’s son fought with an Israeli descendant in the camp,
- 11 and the Israeli woman’s son injured and cursed the L
- They brought him to Moses. His mother’s name was Šelomít bat Divní, tribe of Dan.
- 12 They put him under guard till the L
ORD’s will was made clear to them.
- 13 The L
ORDspoke to Moses, saying, 14 “Bring the curser outside the camp.
- Everybody who heard: Rest your hands on his head. The whole assembly: Stone him.
- 15 Speak to the Israeli descendants, saying, ‘People, people:
- Cursing God lifts up your sin. 16 Injuring the L
ORD’s name means you die, die.
- The whole assembly: Stone, stone them.
- Whether stranger or native, every injurer’s soul has to die, die.
- 17 A person who smites any human soul must die, die.
- 18 A person who smites an animal soul must make restitution; soul for soul.
- 19 Anyone who injures one’s neighbor: As you did, so it’s done to you:
- 20 Break for break, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.
- Whatever injury was given to a human, so give to them.
- 21 Make restitution if you smite an animal. Death if you smite a human.
- There’s one ruling for this, whether stranger or native, for I’m your L
- 23 Moses spoke to the Israeli descendants.
- They took the injurer outside the camp and stoned him with stones.
- The Israeli descendants did as the L
We don’t know precisely how Šelomít’s son “injured the L
They just weren’t sure what the penalty was till the L
Of course you know how we humans are: We’ll take this idea, and rather than reserve it only for the most extreme cases, only for unrepentant last resorts, we’ll inflict it on anybody who talks about God in a way we simply don’t care for. We’ll abuse it. ’Cause we can.
So did Jesus say anything which was injurious to his Father on that level? Something which’d destroy faith? Drive people away from worshiping or trusting or obeying the L
Not even close. All he said was something the Judean senators didn’t really like, and since they were the ones who had the power to declare what slandered God and what didn’t, they gracelessly abused that power and declared Jesus a slanderer. Which meant death penalty.
Refusing to believe in the Son of Man.
To Sadducees like the head priest, Daniel’s vision of a Son of Man wasn’t bible.
Sadducees were cessationist: They believed God turned off the miracles after the Exodus. They believed the Prophets were clever guys and good poets, but no more inspired than William Shakespeare or Emily Dickinson. They believed angels were human messengers, not spirits. They believed when you died, you ceased to exist; there was no afterlife, no resurrection. They believed Messiah was a myth invented by super-patriots, and the Son of Man was a pipe dream invented by delusional visionaries. And not how God worked anyway.
The other main group in the Senate, the Pharisees, did believe in the Son of Man, but were pretty sure he wasn’t human. Even if they did ponder the idea Jesus was Messiah, most of ’em considered Messiah a different guy than the Son of Man altogether. Messiah was a great earthly king, but the Son of Man was a cosmic supernatural being, like an angel but more important. The Qumran sect, and some Pharisees, realized the two were somehow connected, if not the same guy. But they were the minority, and the Pharisees in the Senate certainly objected to the idea Jesus was either guy.
Like I said, had it been anybody other than Jesus who said such a thing, he would be guilty of slandering God. If Moses had claimed it; if King David, or John the baptist, or Jesus’s mom. What human can claim to be a great cosmic figure whom God puts in charge of his kingdom? David could claim to be a Messiah, a God-anointed king, same as Saul before him and Solomon after him; but hardly the Messiah, the king who was meant to rule forever. Other than Jesus, anyone who makes such a claim is either a nut or a beast.
So the Senate erred on the side of caution and figured Jesus was a
So the death of Jesus totally made sense from their short-sighted, limited point of view. And they’d made sure to kill him legally. True, they couldn’t stone him to death Moses-style, but the Romans could kill him for them. Just as good.
Jesus wasn’t naïve to the political necessities of his day. He was fully aware they weren’t ready for him to take his rightful place as their king. He knew they didn’t believe in him. He came to his own people, as John put it, and they didn’t accept him.
So, he’ll have to wait till his second coming.