Matthew 26:57-68 Jesus before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin

Mattias Stom, Christ before Caiaphas, early 1630s

Matthew 26: 57-68

Parallel Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:54-55, 63-71

57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'” 62 The high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 63 But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah,the Son of God.” 64 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.”

65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your verdict?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah!Who is it that struck you?”

Jesus now stands alone surrounded by the religious leaders who seek his life. Peter remains at a distance with the servants[1] and the remaining disciples have disappeared into the night. The shepherd has been handed over and the flock has scattered. In contrast the scribes and the elders have gathered together around Caiaphas the high priest[2] for this moment. There is no presumption of innocence in this scene, the entire ordeal in the household of Caiaphas is orchestrated as a movement towards the humiliation and execution of Jesus as a dangerous and blasphemous threat to the people.

In our post-modern and pluralistic world, blasphemy is no longer considered a major offence, but in Jesus’ world to be called a blasphemer would be worse than being called a traitor. Throughout scripture the greatest danger is idolatry and in a worldview where one’s safety and security is tied to one’s obedience to the God of Israel, blasphemy which lead people away from their God is an offence against the community. In our more secular world capital offenses are offenses against the state: a traitor or a murder may be sentenced to death but not a person who violates the religious norms of the community. This shifted in the enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, in the aftermath of the thirty years war which was the bloodiest conflict in Europe until the World Wars of the twentieth century. The accusation of Jesus as one who is dangerous to the beliefs of the people of Jerusalem is a serious one in this context and it will also be linked to his identity as a potential king who could challenge the claims of Rome.

In modern society we expect a semblance of respect for due process and legal adherence to the law in a court scene. Although Israel was to have a fair judgment for people regardless of circumstances what we see in this scene is a gathering to declare as a group an expected verdict. The gathering, as Matthew reports it, is not seeking truth but intentionally seeking false witnesses[3] that will corroborate the charges against Jesus. According to Deuteronomy 19:15-21 a person cannot be sentenced based on a single witness’ accusation, and that is why there is the struggle to find witnesses who can give the same story of Jesus’ supposed threat to the belief and security of the people. Ironically, this is also the passage in Deuteronomy that deals how the priests and the judges are to discern false witnesses when settling a dispute before the Lord the God of Israel. Instead, it is the priests and elders intentionally seeking false witnesses against the chosen one of God. Those who are responsible for the temple bring forward false witnesses which accuse Jesus of threatening to destroy and rebuild the temple. Although this language is used in John’s gospel by Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus only points to the temple’s impending destruction. (24:2) Jesus’ only answer to the false witnesses and their accusations is silence.

The proceedings reach their climax when the high priest puts Jesus under oath before God to answer if he is the Messiah, the Son of God. This is an echo of Peter’s confession in 16:16 of Jesus’ identity, but Jesus only answers “You say (so)” which he uses throughout the passion narrative and then changes from the Messiah, Son of God title used by the high priest to the Son of Man title. As mentioned previously, the Son of Man is a title which is linked to the visions of Daniel, and Matthew allows us to hear Jesus quoting Daniel 7:13. To claim that Jesus is the messiah (king) and Son of God (also a kingly title, although Matthew uses it to point to something larger) places him as a political threat, but Jesus’ claim to identify with the Son of Man who comes to execute the judgment of the Lord of Israel on the nations is an even stronger claim to be linked with God’s will and power.

The high priest and later the entire Sanhedrin (council) declare Jesus has blasphemed. The irony in this passage is strong because they, in the view of the passage, are the ones who have failed to seek truth and have instead sought false witnesses. The high priest ironically asks Jesus to confess that he is who Peter confesses Jesus to be. The heavenly Father revealed this identity to Peter, but the high priest remains unenlightened and unable to see who the Son of Man is. Yet, the identification of Jesus as the Son of Man helps us to see that Matthew does not see Jesus’ upcoming crucifixion as a rejection of the Jewish people. Although the temple will be destroyed and the high priesthood will be lost, the Son of Man is a figure for regathering the elect (presumably both from Israel and the nations) from the four winds. (24:31)

Matthew may also be hearing Jesus in connection with the suffering servant of Isaiah. There is a resonance in the actions of the members of the Sanhedrin after the verdict and Isaiah 50:6:

I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard, I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.

Matthew never explicitly links Jesus to this figure of the suffering servant, but this figure may also be one of the many scriptural allusions that Matthew uses to attempt to explain who Jesus is and why Jesus’ death resonates with the scriptures. Regardless of whether Matthew makes this additional allusion, we have several of Jesus’ titles used throughout the gospel (Messiah, Son of God, and Son of Man) being viewed as blasphemy by the religious leaders assembled at the household of Caiaphas. Just as these religious leaders ironically sought false witness, they also ironically speak the truth as they accuse and insult Jesus. Yet, those reading Matthew’s gospel are coming from a different understanding of blasphemy than the accusers of Jesus. For these religious leaders Jesus’ words and actions are a threat to the holiness of their society, but Jesus views these leaders as those who have been unfaithful sons, tenants, and unwilling guests of the wedding banquet. (21:28-22:14)

[1] The Greek hupereton is servants and not guards, the term can mean helper or assistant and can have religious or political implications, like an assistant in the synagogue or court, but not the implication of a guards whose presence is threatening in a physical sense.

[2] Although the gathering does occur physically in the household of Caiaphas, the Greek text does not have “in the house.” The NRSV adds this, and it does make the text a little easier to read, but the focus is on Caiaphas’ role rather than the location.

[3] False witness and testimony throughout this passage are the Greek psuedomarturos. Pseudo is still used in English (Pseudoscience) to denote something that is fake or lacking veracity. Martauros is where our English word ‘martyr’ comes from.

2 thoughts on “Matthew 26:57-68 Jesus before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin

  1. Pingback: Matthew 27: 32-55 The Crucifixion of Jesus | Sign of the Rose

  2. Pingback: Gospel of Matthew | Sign of the Rose

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