The time in the garden has ended. Jesus’ petitions to the Father are complete. Betrayed by a kiss from one of His own, the violent crowd seizes Him and takes Him to the high priest. How crazy is all of this? Conflicted with thoughts and overwhelming emotions, the disciples fled the scene. Christ is taken to the first of two trials that He will face. The first is before the religious leaders; the second is before the political authorities. That is where we begin our study today as Christ is taken to stand before the high priest.
53 “They led Jesus away to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes *gathered together. 54 And Peter had followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the [a]officers and warming himself at the [b]fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the entire [c] Council were trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and they were not finding any. 56 For many people were giving false testimony against Him, and so their testimonies were not consistent. 57 And then some stood up and began giving false testimony against Him, saying, 58 “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this [d]temple that was made by hands, and in three days I will build another, made without hands.'” 59 And not even in this respect was their testimony consistent.”
FOCUS ONE: THE ACCUSERS
I want to zoom in on the two groups present at this mock trial: the high priest and all the chief priests, elders, and scribes (The religious authorities) and the false witnesses they brought to testify against Him.
The Council against Him gathers, which appears to have included the seventy-one members of the Sanhedrin. The religious trial, as well as the civil one, involved three stages. The religious trial we are discussing now began with the preliminary hearing before Annas (only reported in John 18:12-14, 19,23); the trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin; and the trial before the same group just before daybreak (Mark 15:1).
Their sole purpose in holding this hasty trial was to obtain false testimony against Jesus to kill Him (v.55). The unexpected problem they faced was that the false witness’s testimonies were inconsistent (v. 56). That created a serious issue for these leaders. “*According to the law (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15), it was necessary in cases that required the death penalty to have two witnesses.” But these witnesses were inconsistent and thereby frustrated their malicious intent.
Eventually, a misunderstood claim of Jesus relating to “this temple” and “building another in three days without hands,” surfaced, and from this came a formal charge against Him. But in that particular instance, Jesus was not referring to the physical temple but to His body (John 2:19-23). That statement that the disciples remembered after He was raised from the dead caused them to believe Him! But, so disjointed were these testimonies that even they were not consistent! This leads the high priest to question Jesus directly.
60 And then the high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, “Do You not offer any answer for what these men are testifying against You?” 61 But He kept silent and did not offer any answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and *said to Him, “Are You the [e]Christ, the Son of [f]the Blessed One?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 Tearing his clothes, the high priest *said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? 64 You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” And they all condemned Him as deserving of death. 65 And some began to spit on Him, and [g]to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists and say to Him, “Prophesy!” Then the officers took custody of Him [h]and slapped Him in the face.”
Based on the verses above, the situation had become very intense. When it became evident to Caiaphas that the false testimony of the witnesses failed to bring about any useful charges against Jesus, He interjected himself into the hearing. “Do you not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against you?” What was Jesus’ response to this? “But He kept silent and did not answer” (v. 61).
What an unusual response, at least to us. You and I would feel pressure to say anything to vindicate ourselves. We might argue our innocence or scream accusations back at those accusing us. But our Lord did not respond that way. He gave no reply!
We might be able to say that He “pled the fifth!” that means that a person exercises his 5th Amendment right by refusing to answer a question, especially in a criminal trial, because you might incriminate yourself. I know this is America and not Jerusalem, but it does appear to me that this was His reasoning at the time. “*Caiaphas apparently wanted Jesus to respond to the charge made against Him in the hope of provoking an incriminating answer.”
“How do you respond when you are wrongly accused? We all have the identical natural response. We become extremely defensive; we seek to justify ourselves; we might lash back and attack our attackers; we marshal all the evidence that could possibly support our claims. But Jesus responded differently. He endured more intense injustice than we could ever imagine. But He never lost His poise. And He never lost His compassion” (Paul Apple).
There were several illegalities involved in these trials from the perspective of Jewish law:
No trial was to be held during feast time.
Each court member was to vote individually to convict or acquit, but Jesus was convicted by acclamation.
If the death penalty was given, a night must pass before the sentence was carried out; however, only a few hours passed before Jesus was placed on the Cross.
The Jews had no authority to execute anyone.
No trial was to be held at night, but this trial was held before dawn.
The accused was to be given counsel or representation, but Jesus had none.
The accused was not to be asked self-incriminating questions, but Jesus was asked if He was the Christ.
With no response from Jesus, the high priest again engages Him with another question (v. 61). 1 “‘The Blessed’ is a reverential circumlocution to avoid the pronunciation of the name of God and stands in opposition to the title ‘Christ’ or ‘Messiah.’ ‘Son of God’ was understood by the Jews of Jesus’ time solely in a messianic sense; and since the Messiah in Jewish expectations was to be a man, the question of the high priest was about Jesus’ claim to messiahship and had nothing to do with deity.”
The high priest may have thought that since no useful accusation has come out against Jesus through the false witnesses, perhaps His testimony would condemn Him! This time Jesus answers the high priest, “I am.” With that short but direct reply, Jesus brings together Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1, Old Testament scriptures that speak of the Messiah and His “eschatological coming!”
This question from the high priest proved to be “a stroke of genius.” Christ’s answer leads the high priest to tear his clothes, and quite possibly out of relief that they finally have evidence (supposed) against Him, He asks, “what further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?
The gathered crowd responded by “condemning Him to death” (v. 64). And with that, it appears that they let out all their pent-up frustrations and hatred on Jesus (v. 65).
66 “And while Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the slave women of the high priest *came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and *said, “You were with Jesus the Nazarene as well.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are talking about.” And he went out onto the [a]porch.[b] 69 The slave woman saw him, and began once more to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them!” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders were again saying to Peter, “You really are one of them, for you are a Galilean as well.” 71 But he began to [c]curse himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak!” 72 And immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And [d]he hurried on and began to weep.”
FOCUS TWO: PETER’S DENIAL
We read back in verse fifty-four that Peter follows the crowd at a distance right into the high priest’s courtyard (v. 54). That is either very courageous or very stupid of Peter. Remember that he just used his sword against the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear (v. 47)! But here he is, “warming himself by the fire with the officers.”
“And he was sitting with the officers and warming himself at the fire – Jerusalem is elevated about 2500 feet above sea level and it can become cold at night in the spring. Sitting with the officers was a daring ploy in a dangerous place as he would soon discover. These officers would not have been Roman soldiers but were the “Temple police” under Jewish jurisdiction. At the fire is literally “toward the light” (fire is the word phos = light) or facing the fire. This small detail means that even though it was dark, his face would be well illuminated which would lead to discovery of his identity described in Mark 14:67. Not smart Peter! But Jesus had given the prophecy and God took care of the details.”
“As Peter was below in the courtyard” signifies that the apartments around it were higher than the courtyard. As he stands there, a servant-girl recognizes him. So much for stealth! Some think that she might have been the same gatekeeper (John 18:15,16) who admitted Peter and was suspicious of him and so followed him to get a closer look.
What begins to unfold now is the very thing Jesus predicted would happen with Peter-he would deny Him. We see in these scriptures just how that unfolds:
Peter was questioned by servant-girl /1st denial (vv.66-68).
Peter questioned again on “porch”/2nd denial (v.69).
Peter was accused by bystanders/3rd denial (vv. 70-71).
The rooster crows a second time! (V. 72).
As bad as all this is, Peter’s response to what he had just done should stand out to us among all the horror of the events taking place.
- 1. He remembered how Jesus told him that he would deny Him three times.
- 2. He began to weep
In contrast to Judas Iscariot, who only felt “remorse” for what he had done and ultimately hung himself, Peter was deeply sorrowful over what he had just done and immediately evidenced a repentant heart!
Is there any application for us regarding Peter’s denial?
“*The importance and relevance of Peter’s denial for the church to which Mark writes is obvious. To a church under severe pressure of persecution it provided a warning. If denial of Jesus Christ was possible for an apostle, and one of the leaders of the apostles at that, then they must be constantly on guard lest they too deny Jesus.”
But it also assures us.
“If anyone did fail Jesus under duress of persecution, there was always a way open for repentance, forgiveness, and restoration” (Mark 16:7; John 21:15-19).
*The expositor’s Bible Commentary
1 William L. Lane, the gospel according to Mark