Just Who Was on Trial?

Luke 22: 66-23:1

And then when day dawns, the people’s elders, the Chief Priests and the scribes, had him brought [from where he was remanded] to their council where they asked him:
“If you are indeed the Christ, then [have the courtesy to] tell us.”
And he said: “Even if I were to answer your question you would not believe me! Likewise, were I to put questions to you, you would refuse to answer me. But from here on the Son of Man will be sitting [taking his seat] at the right hand of God’s power”
And they together demanded:
“Are you the Son of God!”
And to this he answered:
“It is you who say that I am.”
And they said, “What further witness do we need? Have we not heard this from his own mouth?”
At this, the entire assembly rose as one and brought him to Pilate.

Luke’s account to Theophilus raises the possibility of a hastily convened meeting of the Sanhedrin council. It is now Friday morning after all and those pulling the strings do not want things to drag out. It is thus necessary that the Council convenes and transacts its business at the earliest possible hour.

But what is the charge? What are they going to enter into their books concerning the crime of the man? They are not the civil authority. What they will say to Pilate is well in hand. They can allege his rebellion against Caesar and with Herod in town they can tell of Jesus’ challenge to the tax farming with all the evidence that has come from Zacchaeus’ public commitment to a new way of collecting taxes. They can also say that he has called himself, or allowed himself to be called, a king. How can there be more than one king of Caesar’s realm? But fine, what of the specific offence that brings him before this religious court?

So those in charge of proceedings felt they had to cut to the chase:

Now Jesus, you don’t want this to drag on unnecessarily do you? After all, you’d like us to release your wouldn’t you, so you can go on to the Temple and continue your teaching. Tomorrow is the Sabbath and a good day’s teaching will prepare us all for the holy day. So please let’s not drag this out. let’s have it short and sweet. Tell us whether or not you are the Christ, the Anointed, Israel’s Messiah, God’s true son.

And again, when we compare what Luke says in comparison with the other Gospels, we are impressed by Luke’s brevity. The above prologue to the examination is purely my imagination, putting words into the mouth of the President of the Sanhedrin. But what Luke is emphasizing, is what I have there inferred from my reading of this, comparing and contrasting it with the other accounts. Luke is focusing upon the haste. Those engineering Jesus’ demise, want it done and dusted. It is Friday. Sunset means that no more activity can be contemplated until after the Sabbath. These are events orchestrated by schemers who are grasping their “window of opportunity”. They have to work fast. They have to form the event so that they can counter the sympathies of any crowd that gathers when Jesus is brought before Pilate.

Their colleagues in crime are obviously busy finding a convenient “rent a mob”. (These days would they not be using Twitter to cause maximum distraction and agitation to entrench their dodgy processes?).

Jesus’ reply, as here reported, suggests that he simply told them that he knew that they were primarily interested in getting the formalities of his execution over and done with. This was no opportunity for the Sanhedrin to engage the Galilean Rabbi in discussion about his teaching.

Were I to play your game and give you an answer to your question about who I am, and why I have been sent, do you really think I am going to believe that that you are serious and that you might even believe what I say? Of course you are not! You’ve already decided who I am and in your view I am the one for whom you paid cash, bug bucks, to get me here; I am the one you want to drag over to Pilate’s pavement to accuse me of sedition. I am the one you’ve decided will have to be crucified. And anyway, if I were to ask you questions about your actions, and what they are saying to the whole world, are you suggesting that you are going to allow yourselves to discuss your conduct with me?

This is our interpolation to confirm Luke’s effort to convey to Theophilus that Jesus continued to maintain a true and righteous stand. he has already conveyed to Theophilus that they have covenanted among themselves to have Jesus murdered (11:53-54; 19:47-48; 20:19; 22:1-6).

Interestingly Luke does not include the Pharisees among the plotters. The yeast of the Pharisees was being mixed with the yeast of Herod in the crowds that came to hear him in Galilee and Judaea, but the Pharisees, we are told (Luke 13:31), had got wind of Herod’s plot against Jesus and wanted Jesus to escape.

As much as we have seen already indications of Luke’s pastoral concern for Peter, we might also discern from this, an educative role for Paul’s edification, by recounting, again and again, Jesus’ attitude to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Was the persecution following Stephen’s definitive retelling of the story of God’s covenant, the moment when the Pharisees, led by a fanatical Paul, stiffened in their opposition to Jesus? Jesus’ words to Saul as he groped his way on the Damascus road, as Luke tell it, should seem to suggest that it was!

At this point in the Council’s deliberations, Luke tells us that Jesus referred them to the apocalyptic account of Daniel (Daniel 7:9-13) concerning the final judgement, the opening of the books, and the handing over of power to the Son of Man. It was Jesus’ reminded to them that their court was under heaven’s jurisdiction.

This also indicates to Theophilus that Jesus had taken his position before the Sanhedrin by appeal to what David had prophesied concerning the seating of the priest of the order of Melchizedek at God’s right hand. To plumb the depths of Jesus retort to his fellow Israelites, these murderous Jewish religious leaders, Theophilus will need to immerse himself in the teaching of the Old Testament.

If Luke is signalling here the need for a new New Testament scroll to be written, we have that with the Letter to the Hebrews.

As a Gentile believer, Theophilus is being made aware of his need for his fellow Jewish believers to help him understand what is being referred to in the confrontation.

And so Luke concludes the interrogation of the Council by reference to an ambiguous, final exchange:

Are you the Son of God then?

The question comes from the Council as a body. Jesus’ reply is to confront head-on the ambiguous hypocrisy that is implicit in the question.

It is you who are saying that I am.

I guess that Theophilus, like ourselves, appreciate that Luke’s account is but a sketch by an outsider to another outsider and he is trying to convey the main drift of this orchestrated interrogation (that sought to use Jesus’ words to confirm their plot) and Jesus’ reply:

It is you who say that I am i.e. the Son of God.

Are we meant to read and hear this as Jesus’ commentary, his summing up, of what the action of the Sanhedrin (including this question) is saying? By reference to Daniel 7 and Psalm 110 it would seem that Jesus is well aware of communication ambiguity and breakdown when evil distorts the exchange. So could this be read as Jesus’ invitation to the Sanhedrin to make the kind of confession that Peter had made earlier in Jesus’ ministry in answer to a question of Jesus that is somewhat similar to that he now puts to the Sanhedrin:

But who do you say that I am? (Luke 9:20)

Except, however, as Luke tells it, Jesus seems to be telling the Sanhedrin that they are putting themselves in a position where they are conceding that he is agreeing with the words that they are wishing to pin on him.

This was also the profession made by demons, right at the outset of his ministry after the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law.

And demons came out of many with the cry: “You are the son of God!” And rebuking them, he would not allow them to speak, because they knew him to by the Christ (Luke 4:41).

This then stands as background to Luke’s account – the accusation that he was casting out demons by an alliance with Beelzebul (Luke 11:15). And that accusation had presumably arisen from the yeast of the Pharisees and scribes when it was mixed with that of Herod (Luke 12).

We note here that Luke says that Jesus’ reply was sufficient for their purposes. We do not actually have to grasp the logic of what they concluded. It simply followed from an authoritative judgement that Jesus’ reply was sufficient. Rather than go further and explore what Jesus may have meant they push on in their haste; they have already decided that they will not take his statement seriously and in fact Jesus had already pointed that out to them.

But what does it mean to consider Jesus’ answer: “You say that I am!”? Might it not be an invitation to finding out what he meant? Might it not mean actually listening to his exposition of Daniel and the Psalms? Might it not mean listening to his teaching?
It seems to imply the following:

You brought me here even as I was fully aware that at some point I would have to confront you. So if I am Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, I will only be so in a righteous way according to the law and the prophets. That means it is your confession that is invited here!

That, I am suggesting, is why they could say:

What further witness do we need here? Have we not now heard the words out of his mouth?

Luke has already told us that Jesus has said that he knows they are not interested in a genuine conversation about his calling. Given what Luke has repeatedly told Theophilus of Jesus’ teaching about the sufferings of the Lord’s anointed, that from “Jesus side” of this exchange we can infer that the co-opted Sanhedrin is confirming their deepest fears.

You say that I am.

So, we imagine some silent member of the Council, asking himself:

Could it be so? Could we, as Council, be involved in fulfilling the apocalyptic disclosures of Daniel and David? Is it possible?

And the pencilled judgement that is just waiting to be inked in is handed down:

What further evidence do we need? No more witnesses are needed! Have we not just heard these words which confirm our accusations from his own mouth?

And before he can think further about this, the presiding High Priest says:

Times up. No more time for discussion. It’s Friday remember. We have what we need – the words of his own mouth are enough for our purposes to condemn him. We’ve wasted enough time.

Due process. Due process. Due process. Transparency! Transparency! And we need to avoid any more delays. We’ve got to get him to Pilate so we can now get his tax evasion scheme nailed as well as his seditious claims to be King.

And with that, Luke tells us, the hastily convened Sanhedrin council was just as hastily dissolved and as one body they hauled him off to Pilate.


BCW 15.2.2017


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