Scripture: Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. 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. 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 and said, “This man said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.'” 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.” 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.” 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. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 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?” Matthew 26:57-68 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, Judas reveals to the temple guards his rabbi’s identity by greeting Jesus with a kiss. Surprisingly, Jesus submits to his captors and even calls them friends. But Peter impetuously lobs off the ear of the temple guard, Malcus (see John 18:10). So Jesus tells Peter to put away his sword and admonishes him for thinking violence is the answer. Moreover, Jesus explains he could call on the Father’s protection, and angels would rescue him. But more to the point, this moment is ordained to fulfill Zechariah’s messianic prophecy of the pierced shepherd. Jesus then turns his attention to the mob and exposes the hypocrisy of their religious leaders, who backed down on arresting him in the temple for fear of inciting unrest among Jesus’ growing number of followers. So Jesus repeats what he told Peter: God has sanctioned their aggression to fulfill Scripture. Thus, at this point, when it is evident that Jesus will not invoke supernatural intervention, his disciples flee for their lives.
Today’s reading continues the narrative of Jesus’ last hours before his crucifixion—focusing on his trial. Taken under arrest to the palace of the high priest Caiaphas, an audience of scribes and elders eagerly waits to interrogate Jesus and find grounds for capital punishment. Meanwhile, Peter slinks in the distance, settling in the high priest’s courtyard to eavesdrop on what will transpire.
After a series of false testimonies that failed the test for a guilty charge, two witnesses corroborated that Jesus declared he could destroy and rebuild the temple in three days. So Caiphas asks Jesus to respond to their accusation, but after Jesus remains silent, Caiphas demands an answer. In his formulaic response to earlier accusations, Jesus begins with, “You have said so.” But now is the moment to fully self-disclose. So Jesus boldly states he is Daniel and Ezekiel’s Son of Man, who soon will take his seat of authority next to the All-Powerful One. At this point, Caiaphas is so enraged that he tears his robes and accuses Jesus of utter blasphemy by his incriminating response.
Hurriedly pressing on with his illegal night-time hearing of this kangaroo court, Caiaphas asks the elders for their judgment and gains the resounding answer he sought: “He deserves death.” They then show their extraordinary contempt for Jesus by slapping him, spitting on his face, and mocking him as the heretic who supposes himself to be the Christ.
Takeaway: A consensus of biblical scholars view the synoptic Gospels’ account of the mocking and torture of Jesus as skewed by an agenda of antisemitism that had already tainted the early church under persecution from synagogue leaders. Contrastly, John’s account provides a more balanced perspective of the Roman government and military’s participation and eventual lead (for Pilate acted according to what was expedient to maintain his control and authority). Still, no matter the varied opinions and speculations, it is safe to say Jesus joyfully suffered the pain and humiliation of his cross for us (Hebrews 12:2). Moreover, he acted according to his Father’s will. Indeed, as Paul reminds us, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Hence, we will explore Jesus’ responses, rather than the religious leaders’ actions, and consider how they impact us today.
First, Jesus remained silent (v.63). In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus warns his disciples that when they are dragged into courts to trust the Holy Spirit to give them the words to say (Luke 12:11-12). The implication? Be slow to speak and quick to listen, for even when falsely accused, our angry responses will not serve us well (see James 1:19-20).
Second, Jesus waited until the appointed time to fully disclose the truth of his identity (v.64). Timing is everything! As a pastoral counselor and spiritual director, while I may gain insights that would be helpful for the counselee, if I speak too soon in the name of “truth,” they may feel violated and end our time together. But if I wait too long, they may make decisions that will cause harm to them or others. This dynamic applies to all relationships, whether in a professional or personal setting. So if our hearts are for the other person, we will stay attuned to the Holy Spirit, discerning the right time to speak with a humble attitude that will communicate genuine concern. And even if we get it wrong, our Father will redeem the fallout in due time.
Lastly, Jesus resisted fighting back. But this was Jesus’ calling and likely not ours. So while we should never submit to others’ abuses unless led by the Holy Spirit toward martyrism, responding with aggression and violence is almost always out of line. Undoubtedly, we should take action to hold others accountable where there are injustices, but how we respond is critical. And when possible, we should work through our civil and criminal justice systems, submitting to and praying for our governmental authorities. Indeed, Paul (Romans 13:1-5) and Peter (1 Peter 2:13-17) speak to this end.
In sum, Jesus provides a roadmap to addressing kingdom conflict where we first listen, discern the appropriate time to speak, and submit to our governmental leaders while pursuing justice.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who demonstrated a godly approach to conflict throughout his ministry. In particular, we are most grateful for how he responded to the injustices of those who sought his demise, thereby staying on course with his mission to rescue us from our otherwise hopeless condition of sin. So please hear our confession that we, not any one ethnic group, hastened your Son’s crucifixion so that he might become his righteousness. Lastly, would you please help to follow his road map to addressing kingdom conflict where we might conduct ourselves in a manner becoming of our glorious Savior and Lord? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling