Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 10, 1958
NUMBER 10, PAGE 4-5a

The Trial Of Jesus -- (II.)

Roy E. Cogdill

The Arrest

Clear evidence that Jesus Christ was the victim of illegal procedures in every phase of his arrest and trial is abundantly found in the writings of the men who have recorded for us the story of that trial. To begin with his arrest was in violation of Jewish law. Their law prohibited all proceedings at night. On a religious charge, especially, their law provided that a man could not be deprived of his liberty, and could not be taken from his home and loved ones, at any hour between sunset and sunrise. But Jesus was arrested, as best we can determine, sometime after midnight; and was actually put on trial between two and three o'clock in the morning.

A second provision of Jewish law so clearly violated in these proceedings was their specific prohibition of a man's turning "state's evidence." In our law any man who is an accomplice of the accused, or who has been guilty in the perpetration of a crime, may decide to testify for the state, and may turn against his colleague or partner. But the Jewish law permitted nothing of the kind. It clearly forbade such. No accused man could have any accomplice or co-worker appear against him either in the charge in the court as a witness, not yet for the purpose of identifying him at the arrest. Neither by word nor by deed or act was such a man permitted to accuse his former associate. Any man who had taken part in a crime was barred from the Jewish courts as a witness against anybody else involved in the same crime.

Yet the Jewish court itself, the Sanhedrin, made arrangements with Judas, who had been a partaker in all that Jesus and his disciples had done for the last three and a half years, to betray Jesus into their hands, and to identify Mm by a kiss on the cheek. They wanted to make no Mistake as to the identity of the prisoner. Jesus had delivered himself upon so many different occasions that they were carefully guarding against any false move this time. So the bargain was made with Judas, and the price of thirty pieces of silver was paid; the signal was agreed upon, a kiss apparently of love and friendship. This arrangement was entered into by the Sanhedrin on the one side and Judas on the other — Judas, an accomplice and a co-worker in every single thing they were going to charge against Jesus. Yet their own law clearly said that no man's life, nor his liberty, nor his reputation should ever be endangered by the malice of one who had confessed himself to be a criminal.

A third violation of their own law in the arrest of Jesus was in the fact that they arrested him without a proper warrant. Their law provided, as does ours, that no arrest can be made without proper court authorization. Yet in this case there was no warrant, no authorization issued by any court at all. It was simply an understanding on the part of the Jewish mob who went out after him that the Sanhedrin desired his arrest. They seized him, deprived him of his liberty, and rushed him to trial without any kind of court authority at all.

A fourth violation was the fact that no duly authorized officer of the court was present to effect the arrest. Christ was not arrested by a soldier or any officer sent out by the court; rather, he was seized by a mob, a motley gang who came out with sticks and stones and clubs for the purpose of taking him in charge and bringing him to trial. So instead of an orderly and legal procedure according to their own law, the arrest of Jesus Christ was illegal, unlawful, and disorderly from every point of view. We would describe it in our day as mob violence, pure and simple.

The Indictment

But the gospel writers record for us facts that not only show the illegality of the arrest, but equally reveal the illegality of the indictment. Indeed, the examining trial that preceded the indictment was itself illegal.

The very lowest court among the Jews was a three judge court. They did not, in those days, have a jury system such as we have today; and in order to insure that justice would be administered, they provided that no man should be tried before less than three judges. Instead of twelve jurors, as is our custom, they had three judges. Even the smallest crime or misdemeanor must be tried not before one judge, but before three. They made no exceptions to this.

Yet, looking at the record of Jesus' trials, we see that he was actually examined privately. In fact, Jesus appeared in five different stages of his trial before a court of a single judge; before Annas he appeared privately. Before Caiaphas he was privately examined. Before Pilate there was a private hearing. Before Herod he was tried by a single judge; and finally before Pilate again he appeared before one judge. Five of the six stages of his trial, therefore, were in violation of this fundamental provision of Jewish law.

Not only was the court procedure illegal, but the indictment itself was illegal. The Sanhedrin did not, and, by Jewish law, could not, originate charges. This Council existed only for the purpose of investigating charges made by others — not for the purpose of making charges itself. Yet the very charges on which Jesus was tried, both in his Jewish trial and in his Roman trial, were charges that originated with the judges of the Jewish court. They were the ones who had charged him with sedition under the Jewish law, with attempting to destroy, and with promising and prophesying the destruction of the seat of Jewish government. They said that when Jesus taught that all of these things would be destroyed, and that when he had said, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up', he was actually seeking to overthrow the Jewish court and its authority, and desired the destruction of the Jewish nation. Thus he was guilty of sedition. They charged him likewise with blasphemy. They charged him with saying that he was God; that he was Christ, the Messiah. In such a claim as that he is a blasphemer. Of course, they did not believe that he was the Messiah, and they rejected all the evidence that substantiated that claim. But the charges of sedition and blasphemy originated with the judges themselves; they came right out of the Sanhedrin Council.

When they took him before Pilate, they charged him with treason against Rome. They accused him of desiring to be a king himself, and of raising an armed rebellion against Caesar; therefore, being guilty of treason, he ought to be put to death. This charge came from the Jewish judges. They had witnesses to try to substantiate the charges; but the charges were made, and the accusation came, from the judges themselves — a clear violation not only of Jewish law, but of all recognized procedures in every civilized nation on earth.

There is further violation of legal procedure in that the accusation brought against Jesus was vague, duplicitous, and uncertain. One of the requirements of Jewish law was that a charge must be certain, specific, particular. Nothing uncertain, vague, or indefinite would be considered. Yet when they brought Jesus before the Sanhedrin, they had the most uncertain, indefinite, and generalized charges that could be imagined.

Today if a man should be charged with half a dozen different crimes, he would be indicted upon only one count at a time. Each separate violation must be considered independently of all others. But in the case of Jesus they did not so separate the matter. They just lumped it all together in every vague accusation they could think about — that he claimed to be the Christ, that he was the bread come down from heaven; that he claimed existence before Abraham; that he said he was divine, was God; that if they should destroy the temple, in three days he would raise it up; and that all these things are to be destroyed, meaning Jerusalem and the whole Jewish nation. They did not specify; they gave no clear and definite accusation.

No court today would accept such an indictment. It was so clearly in violation of all accepted principles of legal procedure that a motion to quash would be immediately granted; Jewish law clearly provided that no such vague, uncertain accusation could be the basis for any kind of trial. And even in this instance, the major charge was dropped right in the middle of the trial and another was substituted in its place. But we will consider that in the next article.