The head priest got to the meat of it: Did Jesus consider himself their king?
Mark 14.60-64 • Matthew 26.62-66 • Luke 22.67-71
Messiah means king.
Christians forget this, because to us, Messiah means Jesus. So when the ancient Judeans wanted to know if Jesus was Messiah, to our minds their question was, “Are you the guy the Prophets said was coming to save the world and take us to heaven?” and there are so many things wrong with that statement. One of ’em being that’s not what anybody in the first century meant.
If you know your American (or British) history, you’ll remember a
- Tory: You’re a traitor. ’Cause the Romans and Judean senate are in charge, and you’re here to overthrow ’em, and we can’t have that.
- Whig: You’re a revolutionary. (So… whom do you want us to kill?
This is why Jesus, though he totally admitted he’s Messiah, didn’t just stupidly walk around Israel telling everybody he was their king. Instead he told ’em what his kingdom looks like. Tories may still hate and fear it, and whigs may (and do) entirely disagree with Jesus about the sort of fixes to make on society. But if they really listen to Jesus’s teachings about the kingdom, they’ll know what Jesus means by “Messiah”—as opposed to what popular culture, including Christian popular culture, claims.
To Joseph Caiaphas, the tory head priest who ran the Judean senate in the year 33, it didn’t matter what Jesus taught about his kingdom. Caiaphas’s whole deal was if Jesus in any way claimed to be king, that was treason. Only the Romans could appoint a king—and in the absence of a king, the title functionally fell to Rome’s emperor, Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti filius Augustus.
So after a couple hours of a shambles of a prosecution, Caiaphas put a stop to all that and got to brass tacks.
Stopping the questions for one of his own.
In the Talmud, the Pharisees claimed the head priest wasn’t the naší/“president” of the Senate. Instead the most respected Pharisee teacher would be elected president, and run the meetings while the head priest sat there and occasionally spoke up where appropriate. Now, if you know your New Testament, you know that’s not at all what the apostles describe: The head priests always seemed to be running the show! But some commentators figure the Talmud might know something we don’t, so they try to explain how the head priests somehow weren’t really in charge, or briefly seized control of various meetings for the sake of hassling Christians.
Reality is, the priests were in charge. When the Talmud was written centuries later, the president was the most respected Pharisee—but this was after Jerusalem, the temple, and the Levite priesthood had been destroyed by the Romans in the year 70. Before that catastrophe, the head priest was president. He ran the Senate, same as the Roman emperor ran his Senate. Years later, when the Pharisees wrote their history, they did as they’d usually done and rewrote it—writing themselves backwards into history, inserting great Pharisee teachers like Hillel, Shammai, and Gamaliel as former Senate presidents. If these guys were even respected in their day (’cause you know how people are), at most they’d have been leaders in the Pharisee delegation. But they certainly weren’t presidents.
Though Caiaphas was in charge, the Senate still had its rules and customs. He couldn’t merely declare on his own authority, “Okay, enough with the contradictory testimonies; you guys are ridiculous.” Not that he really had to; their ridiculousness spoke for itself. But he had to wrap up the part of the trial with the accusations and rebuttals, so he turned to Jesus one last time for rebuttal, in case our Lord had anything to say. Spoiler: He didn’t.
Mark 14.60-61 KWL
- 60 Rising in the middle, the head priest questioned Jesus,
- saying, “Don’t you challenge anything these people witnessed against you?”
AJesus was silent, and challenged nothing. Matthew 26.62-63 KWL
- 62 Rising in the middle, the head priest told Jesus,
- “Do you challenge anything these people witnessed against you?”
AJesus was silent.
Maybe Jesus shook his head, or motioned no. Either way words didn’t come out of his mouth at this point. ’Cause there was no point. His perjurous accusers hadn’t really given the Senate anything. The most was, “He said he’d knock the temple over and rebuild it within three days.” That’s neither treason, nor a realistic construction schedule.
But Caiaphas didn’t push on that issue; he ignored it entirely. He had his own question, one which’d decisively end the trial right there if Jesus answered the way he expected.
Mark 14.61 KWL
BAgain, the head priest questioned him, telling him, “You’re Messiah, the ‘son of the Blessed’?” Matthew 26.63 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’?”
Luke 22.67 KWL
AThey were saying, “If you’re Messiah, tell us.”
Because Jesus had kept his mouth shut thus far, Matthew includes Caiaphas invoking a response from Jesus—Exorkídzo se/“I put you under oath” (
Sometimes preachers will claim Caiaphas threw in “son of the Blessed”
Jesus could’ve still kept his mouth shut. But no answer was a “no” answer, and he wasn’t there to lie. And if you’re wondering where the later blasphemy charge came from, that’s because his answer had a bit more content to it than a mere “yes.”
Testifying to a much greater lordship than they meant.
Like I said at the beginning, Messiah means king. To Judeans, that only meant their king: The king of the province of Judea, and the ethnic king of the people of Israel. The guy who’d drive out the Romans and establish Israel as a great nation.
But some of the crazier interpreters had this idea Messiah wouldn’t just drive out the Romans and set up Israel. They believed he’d conquer the world. That he’d drive out the evildoers from every dark corner they hide in; that every knee would bow and every tongue confess him as Lord of All. That Messiah wasn’t a mere political leader, but a cosmic master.
Wouldn’t you know it?—the crazier guys were right.
Mark 14.62 KWL
- 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.”
Matthew 26.64 KWL
- 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.”
Luke 22.67-70 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.”
Jesus didn’t just say he’s Messiah; he said he’s the Son of Man, that guy in
Daniel 7.13-14 KWL
- 13 I dreamt a prophetic vision that night: Look, someone like a Son of Man!
- Coming in the heavens’ clouds, approaching the Ancient of Days, coming near to him.
- 14 The Ancient gave the Son authority, honor, and the kingdom,
- and every people, nation, and language, who’ll bow to his authority.
- His authority is permanent: It never passes away.
- His kingdom can never be destroyed.
This figure isn’t a mere human, like a king. He’s a divine figure. He approached God’s throne. To the Judeans’ minds, humans don’t get to do that!
…Okay, we totally do.
To their minds, Jesus did more than accept the title “son of God” as another thing Messiah got called. This Son of Man stuff, where he sat at the right of God’s power, where he came with the clouds: It sounds as if he was God. And that’s where the Senate’s blasphemy charge came in.
’Cause it might take ’em a few more hours to figure out how to debunk Jesus’s claim of being Messiah—then hand him over to the Romans, then go home and get ready for Sabbath. But Jesus claiming to be the Son of Man made it so the blasphemy undid any legitimacy he might have, and that was that.
Mark 14.63-64 KWL
- 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 26.65-66 KWL
- 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 22.71 KWL
- They said, “Why do we still need to have witnesses?—
- We heard it ourselves from Jesus’s lips.”
And off to Pilate from there.
Had Jesus merely given a “yes” answer (or “As you say,”
And yet he told the truth.
Hey, you can do everything right, and the justice system might just fail you anyway. That’s life in this fallen world. Something which Jesus is gonna eventually put right. In the meanwhile, he used the defective system to knowingly get himself sentenced and executed—a rough thing for anyone to have to do to themself, but that’s just another bit of the suffering Jesus underwent that day.