And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King. — Luke 23:1-2
Eight generations up in my family tree is the name of Mary Towne Easty, who was convicted of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts during the Salem witch trials of 1692. According to our family information, Mary was a kind and godly woman. She was married to Isaac Easty, a well-to-do farmer, and they had seven living children at the time she was accused.
The charges against her shocked the village. Mary was not a social outcast or an outspoken woman who might have offended the townspeople. Perhaps the accusation was inspired by envy — the Eastys owned a valuable farm near Salem — or she may have become a target after the conviction of her sister, Rebecca Nurse. Another sister, Sarah Cloyce, was also among those accused of being in collusion with the devil. None of the three were given an opportunity to defend themselves against the false charges, nor were they allowed any legal counsel to speak on their behalf.
The young women who were Mary’s accusers insisted that her specter-like form had appeared by their bedsides and attempted to strangle them, and that their “mouths were stopt [stopped]” and they could not move unless she allowed it. Mary was calm and respectful during her trial, but the mass hysteria sweeping the region prevailed. On September 9, Mary Easty was condemned of witchcraft despite her plea: “I am clear of this sin.”
Before her execution, Mary wrote a letter to the judges saying, “I petition your honors not for my own life, for I know I must die, and my appointed time is set . . . but if it be possible, [see] that no more blood be shed.” Her letter raised sympathy and caused doubt regarding her sentence, but it did not prevent her execution. Records show that she went peacefully to her death on September 22, 1692, with composure no doubt based on the fact that she was innocent and right with God. (In 1711, her false conviction was overturned and her descendants were given twenty pounds in compensation.)
We do not know why God permitted the false accusations and injustice to prevail in the trial of Mary Easty, but we do know why God permitted the false accusations and injustice to prevail in the trial of Jesus Christ. The most infamous legal proceeding in history, recorded in today’s text, occurred so that God’s plan for the salvation of mankind could be fulfilled. The Innocent One was declared guilty not only in one court, but three: before the leaders of Jewish religious law (the Sanhedrin), in the court of Jewish secular law represented by Herod, and finally, in appearances before the Roman ruler, Pilate. In each case, the charges brought against Jesus were false. And in each case, He was condemned in spite of His innocence.
Reading of the wrongful accusations and cruel treatment that our Savior was subjected to brings grief to our hearts, but how grateful we are that He willingly endured it all for our salvation. What a price He paid that we might spend eternity with Him! And what a debt of gratitude we owe to Him!
Today’s text gives the account of Jesus’ trial, which took place in three locations.
Luke 22:66-71 describes Jesus being brought before the Sanhedrin. The term Sanhedrin is from a Greek word meaning “assembly” or “council.” During the time of Christ, the Sanhedrin was comprised of seventy men, plus the high priest, who served as its president. The members were drawn from among the chief priests, scribes, and elders of the tribes. The Sanhedrin only had authority over the province of Judea, but it had its own police force and could arrest and try people on both criminal and civil charges. In Jesus’ trial, the examination of Jesus began with an appearance before Annas, a former high priest who seemingly still had a great deal of power (see John 18:13-24). This was followed by an examination before Caiaphas, the ruling high priest (Matthew 26:57-68), and then by a formal session before the entire Sanhedrin (described in this portion of our text). There the decision was made to turn Jesus over to the Roman authorities.
Luke 23:1-5 gives the account of Jesus’ first appearance before Pilate, who was the Roman prefect (or governor) of Judea from A.D. 26–36, and was in Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Jesus had been accused of blasphemy before the Sanhedrin, but that was not a crime under Roman law. For that reason, new charges were invented to present before the Roman authority: that Jesus was guilty of inciting revolution against Rome, urging the people not to pay taxes, and claiming to be king of the Jews. (Although the third accusation was true, the implication was of treasonous rebellion.) Pilate could find no evidence that proved Jesus was a threat to Roman jurisdiction. However, as the Roman ruler knew, he could lose his position if the Jewish people revolted; that may have been why he decided to shift the responsibility of a decision regarding Jesus to Herod.
Verses 6-12 describe Jesus being brought before Herod. Herod Antipas (son of the Herod who ordered all the male babies killed at the time of Jesus’ birth) ruled over Galilee and Perea; his title was tetrarch which means “ruler of a quarter.” Historically, he is known for the construction of Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Although a wicked and contemptible man (he was the king responsible for the death of John the Baptist), Herod was curious about Jesus. However, Jesus made no response to Herod’s questioning, so Herod sent Him back to Pilate. Verse 12 may indicate that Pilate’s deference to Herod in sending Jesus to him resulted in the mending of a breach that had existed between the two rulers.
The conclusion of today’s text, verses 13-25, details Jesus’ second and final appearance before Pilate. Once again, Pilate could find no fault in Jesus. In verse 15, he referenced that Herod had failed to condemn Him, perhaps as a support for his own reluctance to condemn one who had done nothing worthy of death. In a final attempt to appease the people (they threatened to report him to Caesar, according to John 19:12), Pilate offered to release Jesus in accordance with the custom of freeing one prisoner annually at Passover. However, the crowd clamored for the release of Barabbas — a man guilty of murder and insurrection — and insisted upon the crucifixion of Jesus. At last Pilate succumbed to the demands of the mob, and sentenced Jesus to death.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
VII. The passion of the Son of Man
D. The arrest and trial of the Son of Man
4. The trials of the Son of Man (22:66 — 23:25)
a. Before the Sanhedrin (22:66-71)
(1) The question and reply (22:66-69)
(2) The charge (22:70-71)
b. Before the Romans (23:1-25)
(1) Before Pilate (23:1-7)
(2) Before Herod (23:8-12)
(3) Before Pilate (23:13-25)
The false accusations and unjust trial of Jesus were all part of God’s amazing plan of salvation, which existed before the foundation of the world. How grateful we are that Christ was willing to submit to being condemned for our sins that we might be saved.