Matthew 26:57 – Then those who had seized Jesus let him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered.
We have discussed the fact that the high priesthood still held on to some of their former judicial authority. They could force any Jew to be brought before them for trial but they no longer had the authority to carry out capital punishment. They were forced to pass judgment, and request that the ruling authorities administer the sentence.
We have also discussed the fact that at this time the office of the high priest was no longer passed from father to son. It was now a position that was appointed by the Roman rulers. Once a man held the office, he retained the title until he died.
Matthew tells us that Jesus was taken before Caiaphas, the current high priest. However, John’s gospel reveals that before seeing Caiaphas, Jesus was taken before Annas, the former high priest (John 18:13). So Jesus stood before both of the living high priests of his day.
Why did the gospel writers bother to include this bit of information in their narratives?
Leviticus 17:5 – To the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices, which they offer in the open field, even that they may bring them unto the LORD, unto the door of the tabernacle of meeting, unto the priest, and offer them for peace offerings unto the LORD.
According to the Old Testament Law, all sacrifices had to be presented to the priest before being killed. This is exactly what was done to Jesus just before he was sacrificed for our sin. He was presented to both men who had claim to the title of high priest. Can there be any doubt that this was divinely mandated? Can there be any doubt that Jesus is perfectly fulfilling his role as the Lamb of God?
Psalm 22:16 – For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
Jesus’ appearance before the council is a fulfillment of Psalms 22:16. As we already noted in our study, ‘dogs’ was a term frequently used by the Jews to refer to Gentiles. As Jesus was arrested by the Romans, he was surrounded by Gentiles.
Further, the assembly of the Jewish leadership can certainly be described as an assembly of the wicked. They had already met at this very same location for the purpose of plotting the death of Jesus (Matthew 26:3). Now they eagerly meet again in the dead of night in order to carry out their evil plans. Truth and justice are nowhere to be found; these leaders had already determined to kill and destroy the one who threatened their positions in Jewish society and religion.
Matthew 26:58 – And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end.
In this verse we see Peter’s desire to be near Jesus and to be a witness of what would happen to him. He still had a degree of love and concern for Jesus but it was a mere spark, not a blazing light in the darkness.
The scripture tells us that Peter followed Jesus at a distance. Why? What caused that? Actually, it was a combination of factors.
First, he allowed himself to have a high degree of self confidence and even pride. He was in the ‘inner circle’ of the apostles. He was frequently the leader of the group. Peter probably thought that when Jesus came into his kingdom, he would receive a place of honor, perhaps even the highest office in the kingdom.
This self confidence and pride led him to trust in his flesh. For example, Peter made an extremely bold commitment to be faithful to Jesus. But since he was trusting in his flesh, he was unable to keep the promises that he made.
To make matters worse, Peter was guilty of spiritual indolence or laziness. Jesus told him to ‘watch and pray’, or to stay in constant communication and fellowship with God. But Peter spent his time sleeping. Thus, he was unprepared when the time of testing came.
Because he was spiritually unprepared, Peter’s resolve/commitment to stay faithful to Jesus began to crumble with the threat of persecution. This resulted in fear. Peter feared shame, contempt, persecution and bodily harm.
Because of his fear, Peter no longer wanted to publicly identify with Christ. That is why we find Peter ‘following at a distance’. It is also why we find him sitting in the courtyard with the servants and soldiers, instead of going into the court and standing with his Master during the trial. In fact, fear will shortly cause Peter to deny even knowing Jesus.
He did not yet understand that spiritual warfare can only be fought in the spiritual realm, not in the fleshly realm. He did not yet have access to baptism in the Holy Spirit which is the true source of spiritual power.
So, the decision to ‘follow at a distance’ is actually a combination of choices that Peter made.
What about you? Are you following Jesus at a distance?
Do you have a high degree of religious self confidence or pride? When someone asks you if you are ‘religious’, how do you respond? Do you offer church attendance and good works as evidence of salvation? Do you feel that Christianity mainly entails following a list of rules and regulations about what you can and cannot do?
If so, you will tend to trust in your fleshly ability to keep those rules when the day of trouble comes. But your fleshly resolve and commitment will crumble when faced with persecution. Because you are spiritually unprepared, your resolve will be replaced by fear.
Then, like Peter, you will find yourself no longer wanting to publicly identify with Christ. You will follow at a distance, hanging out with worldly people, instead of facing trials with Jesus. You may even find yourself denying his name!
It is spiritually dangerous to follow Jesus at a distance. True safety lies in being as close to Christ as possible. Don’t be a lazy Christian! Maintain an intimate relationship with him every day through prayer, praise and studying the word. Put on the sword of the Spirit. Practice using your shield of faith. Never go into battle alone – always trust in the Holy Spirit to go with you and direct the battle. He will give you the victory and the courage to stand in every situation.
Then your love and commitment to Jesus will cease to be just a spark and turn into a torch that blazes in a world of spiritual darkness, pointing others to Christ.
Matthew 26:59-60 – Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward…
The court calls forth witnesses as if they were honestly seeking the truth, but it is merely a charade. They have already condemned Jesus and they will do anything within their power to convict him. If the testimony/evidence has to be fabricated, then so be it.
The main charges they wished to pin on Jesus were false doctrine and blasphemy.
They wanted to prove his doctrine as false because it was directly opposed to their own. If people believed the teachings of Jesus, they would soon abandon the authority of the Scribes and Pharisees. Thus, these wicked men would lose the power and earthly glory which they had tirelessly labored to obtain.
They also wanted to prove evidence of blasphemy, because this charge carried the death penalty with it. (Also, if blasphemy could be proved, they would automatically use that as grounds to discard his doctrine). If they could make a case for blasphemy, then they could petition the Romans to kill Christ. And in their tiny minds, if Christ were to be crucified then eventually everyone would forget about him, and life would return to ‘normal’.
Many liars were willing to come forth in an effort to give false evidence. The bible does not say whether the Jewish rulers offered them money or privileges to do so, but I suspect that this was the case. If there was no benefit for them, why would they lie?
At any rate, their stories did not hold up. They could not piece together any kind of a case that was believable or consistent. The stories of the witnesses did not fit together or agree. This was a problem because the Law required two witnesses to establish a case (Deuteronomy 19:15).
Of course, we know that there was no proof of guilt because Jesus was innocent!
Matthew 26:61 – …and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’”
Finally, two false witnesses come forward using the tactic that Satan has used since the original temptation of mankind – the half truth. How often does the enemy twist and pervert the words of God for his own foul purposes! Woe to us if we don’t know the difference!
Back in the Garden of Eden, the serpent twisted the words of God to entice Eve into sin, and he was successful. He now uses the same tactic here. Mark records it this way:
Mark 14:56-58 – For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’”
The witnesses twisted or misrepresented the words that Jesus had spoken. When phrased this way, you can see how the Jews could charge Jesus with using Satanic powers to create a physical temple in just three days – a project that had taken man 46 years to restore/rebuild. But this is what Jesus actually said that day:
John 2:19-21 – Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
Of course, Jesus was speaking about his body. After his resurrection, God would no longer live in a temple made with hands, but in the heart of mankind.
2 Corinthians 6:16 – …For you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
When was the last time you took a minute to really consider this verse? God Almighty, the creator of the universe and ruler of all things, wants to live with you, in your very heart! He wants to be your constant companion and guide. He desires your fellowship. Hallelujah!
Matthew 26:62-63 – And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
It seems as if the high priest was expecting Jesus to offer some long, elaborate, drawn out defense. But Jesus disappoints that expectation with his silence. Indeed, this was the most effective and appropriate reply that he could have offered. The accusations against him were false and frivolous. His works and his teachings, which were all done publicly, were a sufficient defense. No verbal reply could have been so effective.
Besides that, nothing Jesus said would have changed the intentions of the religious leaders. They had already made up their minds to condemn him; a war of words would serve no purpose.
His silence, however, did have a purpose. It was a fulfillment of prophesy:
Isaiah 53:7 – He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not is mouth.
Caiaphas is puzzled and angry at the silence of Jesus. In his fury, he adjures or puts Jesus under an oath, to give a response to his question:
Are you or are you not the Messiah, the Son of God?
The answer to this question will put an end to the trial and give Caiaphas grounds for decisive action. Caiaphas had no doubt heard Jesus refer to God as his Father. So based on his answer to this question, Caiaphas will either declare him an imposter or a blasphemer.
Even though he was wicked and did not understand what he was doing, Caiaphas clearly and concisely asks the most important question ever placed before mankind throughout history.
Is Jesus Christ the Messiah, the Son of God, or not?
This is a question that each and every human being must ask themselves. The answer to this question will give us grounds for decisive action.
If Jesus IS NOT the Messiah and Son of God, then he can (and should) be ignored, ridiculed, hated and despised. His word should be cast aside and banned for it provides a false hope to those in desperate need.
However, if Jesus IS the Messiah/Christ, then he is able to save. He is the way, the truth and the life. He is our high priest, forever. He is the mediator of the New Covenant. He has a right to call us to himself and expect us to loyally follow and honor him.
If Jesus IS the Son of God, then he is divine and possesses divine power, wisdom and authority. Therefore, he can be completely and utterly trusted in all circumstances. He cannot fail. He is always faithful. He is always victorious. He is worthy to be loved with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.
How will you answer this very important question? Is Jesus Christ the Messiah and Son of God? How does your answer influence the way you live your life?
Matthew 26:64 – Jesus 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.”
Jesus did not bother to respond to the ridiculous accusations brought against him earlier. However, when asked point blank to acknowledge that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, he speaks boldly and clearly – Yes, I am!
Not only does he acknowledge that he is the Messiah, he draws a contrast between his first and second comings. When Jesus uttered these words, he was standing before the high priest, in bonds. He was soaked with sweat and tears from the events in the garden of Gethsemane. His feet were dusty and dirty from walking. He carried the weight of our sin with him. Humbly he appeared in court as a criminal, already judged to be guilty. The religious leaders scorned and despised him based on his appearance and on their own misguided rage. They refused to acknowledge him as the Author of Salvation.
But hereafter, they would have the all the proof of his divinity that they needed. Almost immediately they would know that he had risen from the dead. They would hear and know that he had ascended into heaven in the clouds. He would baptize his followers in the Holy Spirit and birth his church. They would witness the spread of the gospel to all nations. But that was not all!
They will also see him return to earth in the clouds, adorned with his royal power. They will witness his magnificent splendor. They will behold him sitting at the right hand of Almighty God (Power).
They will discover that Jesus is more than just the Son of God, he is also the Son of Man – the righteous judge will execute judgment on the wicked (Daniel 7:13-14) and establish his everlasting kingdom.
The religious leaders missed their chance to accept Jesus as Messiah and Lord, but if you are reading this right now, it is not too late for you! Make things right between you and Jesus immediately. Make sure that when Jesus returns clothed in his divine majesty and authority, you are one of his loyal subjects. Do not wait!
Matthew 26:65 – Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.”
The statement of Jesus was exactly what Caiaphas was looking for. He now has reason to act. According to the high priest, Jesus had incriminated himself by claiming under oath to be the true Messiah, the Son of God.
Of course, it would not be a problem for the REAL Messiah to make such a claim, but the religious leaders would never, ever admit that Jesus was the Christ.
So, based on Jesus’ claim, Caiaphas declares Jesus to be guilty of the sin of blasphemy, and he tears his clothing as a sign against it.
Because the alleged statement of blasphemy was made in front of the whole gathering, no further witnesses were needed to pronounce sentence, as long as everyone agreed on the charge.
Sadly, we see how justice and fairness were perverted by the highest court in the Jewish culture. As high priest, Caiaphas should have consulted the Old Testament scriptures to see what they had to say about the Messiah. Then, he should have compared the words and actions of Jesus to the law/prophesies. Once this was done, each member of the council should have had a chance to express an opinion, beginning with the most junior member and ending with Caiaphas, who would render the final decision.
Instead, in the midst of bitter hatred and jealousy, Caiaphas takes on the role of accuser, judge and now jury. He denounces Jesus a blasphemer in front of all the other members of the council, then pretends to ask their opinion, as if he had not yet made up his mind.
In reality, he knew full well that his power and authority would sway the other members to side with him. So he pronounces his judgment first, presuming that the outer council members will agree with him – and they did.
By the way, what was the significance of Caiaphas tearing his clothes?
It was customary among the Jews to tear their clothing as a sign of violent grief (Genesis 37:34). It was also a sign used to express horror at anything deemed blasphemous or impious (2 Kings 18:37).
As high priest, Caiaphas had two different sets of clothing. He had very unique and beautiful ceremonial clothing that was to be worn in the temple as he fulfilled his role as the high priest. These clothes could never be intentionally torn (Leviticus 21:10).
He also had ordinary garments which were worn when he was not serving in the temple; this would have been the garment torn during this mock trial.
Matthew 26:66 – “What is your judgment? They answered, “He deserves death.”
The other members concur with the judgment – Jesus is guilty; according to the Law he deserves to die.
Certainly, not all of the official ruling body agreed with this decision. Joseph of Arimathea certainly would not have, neither would Nicodemus. However, it is unclear whether these men were present at this meeting, for it was held illegally. Specifically, it was held at the house of the high priest (instead of the temple), during the night (it was illegal to meet at night), without the full council being present (we assume).
The charge of blasphemy and the sentence of death made Jesus an automatic outlaw among the people. The council may have hoped that the people would engage in a mob mentality and stone Jesus (as they did to Stephen). If not, they would take him before the Roman governor and request death.
Matthew 26:67-68 – Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”
Because they did not have the power to put Jesus to death, and because they could not be sure that the Romans would agree to be their executioner, they would abuse Jesus as much as possible while they had him in their power.
Between the time that this meeting ended and the one at daybreak began, Jesus was subject to cruel torture by the Jews, the Roman guards and the servants of the court.
Condemned prisoners are normally taken under special protection of the law and treated with compassion; their impending death is sufficient punishment. But in this case, the Jews not only acted as though Jesus deserved death, they also denied him the compassion shown to the worst criminals in society.
They made a demonic sport of torturing Jesus, just as the Philistines had done to Sampson.
Isaiah 50:6 – I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked out the beard: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.
Spitting in someone’s face is an expression of the greatest contempt and insult possible. The face of our dear Savior was abused in the most filthy way by the cruelest and most vile of men.
As if that were not despicable enough, according to the gospel of Mark (14:65), they blindfolded Jesus, and then began to slap and punch him in the mouth. As they did so, they mocked him by asking him to divinely reveal who had hit him! This depraved and degenerate mob freely abused Jesus; no one came to his aid.
Thus, our Lord and Savior was placed into the hands of his own wicked creatures, falsely accused by the witnesses, unjustly condemned by his judges and barbarously insulted by all! Yet, he patiently submitted to this treatment without saying a single word.
Matthew 26:69-70 – Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all saying, “I do not know what you mean.”
Remember Peter? Remember how confidently he declared that he would never forsake Jesus, no matter what happened? Here is the record of how that turned out.
Here was a chance for Peter to prove that he could do as he claimed. Here was a chance to stand up for his Master. Here was a chance for him to point out the injustice of what was being done to Jesus. But as we would expect, his flesh fails him. He does not have the courage to stand up for the truth.
Notice that Peter is sitting in the courtyard, outside the hall. He is not facing the high priest or the Sanhedrin. He is not facing a band of armed soldiers. He is not facing death or even arrest. In fact, he is terrified into denying Jesus by the voice of an insignificant servant girl, who carries no power or authority.
This shows us how little confidence we should have in our flesh. If our confidence and strength are not in God, if we do not have the indwelling Holy Spirit to provide strength and boldness to us, we too will fall in the slightest trial of our faith.
Matthew 26:71-72 – And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.”
Scholars point to this passage of scripture (Matthew 26:69-75) as an indirect proof that the Bible is true. If the gospel were the invention of man, we would not see one of Jesus’ disciples portrayed in such a weak and vile manner.
This passage also shows that Peter reaped exactly what he had sown.
- He sowed self confidence – He depended on himself rather than God.
- He sowed indolence (he was apathetic/lazy) – Jesus told him to watch and pray, but he slept.
- He planted seeds of compromise – He followed Jesus ‘far off’ rather than closely.
- He planted himself in wicked company – Instead of being with Jesus, he was with the unbelieving crowd outside the court.
Based on what he planted, how can he be surprised when he reaps a fall from grace?
What are you planting in your spiritual life right now? Self confidence, apathy, compromise? Or are you planting prayer, the word and hearing the call of the Spirit of God?
Today is the day to prepare for the storms of tomorrow. Sow into the kingdom. Invest in your relationship to God. Then, when the day of trouble comes, you will be able to stand.
Matthew 26:73-74 – After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed.
Although Peter has denied it, those around him are convinced that he is one of the followers of Jesus. He has been spotted by eye witnesses. Peter has a Galilean accent, and it was well known that some of the apostles were Galilean.
But even in the face of this evidence, Peter does not want to confess it. He further slides into sin by cursing himself and possibly even Jesus.
Here is a lesson for us: A bold and open confession of Christ edifies all the godly, and puts unbelievers to shame. On the other hand, if we deny Christ before the weak, they are shaken by our example and fall away. Isn’t it true that we bear at least part if not most of the responsibility for the damage done to the faith of others by our actions?
Secondly, the church and the world are sometimes shocked by the sudden fall or misconduct of a renowned Christian. As we noted, their fall will certainly cause other Christians to fall. Their fall will cause the wicked to rejoice.
If we could go back and find the root cause of their fall, it would surely be a private departure from God. Men drift away from God and fall in private long before they fall in public.
Matthew 26:75 – And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
I willingly admit that I love happy endings. I hate reading a good book, only to find that the main character dies or winds up unsatisfied at the end of the story.
This narrative seems to have a very sad ending for Peter, but in reality, the opposite is true. It is a happy ending because God does not abandon Peter to his sin. Instead, God calls him back to himself.
God can and will use anything to get our attention. In this case, the crowing of the rooster meant nothing to anyone else who heard it, but to Peter it was a call to repentance. The crowing of that rooster brought to mind something that Peter had forgotten or ignored – the words of Jesus. Even though Peter had been overpowered by temptation and fallen into sin, God did not forsake him. In fact, he wanted him back.
Peter saw only his failure at that moment, but God saw the miracle that Peter would become – a strong, vibrant, Spirit filled apostle of Christ, who would help to establish the church.
Let me offer you some relief and encouragement:
God saw Peter’s failure at that moment in the courtyard of the high priest. But he also saw what Peter would become in the future, after he had repented and allowed the Holy Spirit to empower him for service. God saw that Peter would write books of the bible, help establish the church and its doctrine, and that he would be the first Jew to take the gospel to the Gentiles!
Maybe your recent walk with Christ has not been all that great. Maybe you have not yet fulfilled the task that God as set before you. The good news is that today is not the end! You too can be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. So talk to Jesus TODAY. See what God will do through you tomorrow!
Let me offer you some strength:
Sometimes, evil looks overwhelming. It looks like good never triumphs. But that is just an illusion. You may not see everything that God is doing behind the scenes of your life (and the world), but I assure you he is working! He is making all things work together for your good. So be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might (Ephesians 6:10)! Arm yourself for spiritual battle and watch as the Lord fights darkness through you!