It was Thursday night before the Passover. At some time after midnight, Judas had led the temple guards and the Roman soldiers up the slopes of the Mount of Olives to where they found Jesus. There it was that the entire crowd fell down when this Rabbi called upon the name of God. There it was that one of His disciples charged into the crowd with a sword, severing a servant’s ear. There it was that Jesus healed the man’s ear and made His disciples leave (see here).
The soldiers bound Jesus and took Him back to the high priest’s palace in the city of Jerusalem. There, at the palace, were two of the most powerful men in Judea. Annas was the former high priest who had been deposed by the Romans. But Annas still directed the religious leadership in Jerusalem and he had placed in his own son-in-law, Caiaphas, in the position of high priest (see here).
Annas and Caiaphas had been trying for several months to capture Jesus and now they had Him! They had successfully hired one of Jesus’ own disciples to turn Him in. They desperately wanted to kill Him, and now all they needed to do was convene a trial so that He could be executed.
As Jesus was being brought into the palace, they hurriedly gathered the ruling council (the Sanhedrin) so that they could get a guilty verdict. It was imperative that they finish this trial and execution before morning. The crowds had shouted His praises when He entered Jerusalem (see here) and they may not like to see their prophet on trial. No one wanted a riot.
Everything about this trial was illegal. It was done hastily, without proper witnesses, without a defense, at night, and the only evidence they could find was a forced confession (see here).
Jesus’ eleven disciples had all scattered at His arrest. Two of these disciples, Peter and John, had apparently gathered enough courage to follow Jesus to the high priest’s palace. John knew the high priest, so he was able to gain entrance to the courtyard for both himself and Peter. There, from this courtyard, Peter could watch the events of Jesus’s trial unfold.
Jesus was first brought to Annas while Caiaphas gathered the Sanhedrin. Annas began to question Jesus, looking for an admission of guilt. Jesus simply answered that He had done nothing in secret. He was telling Annas that if he had charges against Him, he needed to bring forth witnesses. The priest’s attendant struck Jesus (literally, punched him in the face) for His response, but even that did not cause Jesus to react in anger. Annas could find nothing incriminating against Jesus, so he sent Him to Caiaphas.
Meanwhile, Peter was in the courtyard, looking for a place to warm himself in the cold night air. The guards and servants huddled around a small fire. Peter may have been reflecting on the night’s events. He had single-handedly attacked a Roman cohort of 600 men, failing miserably! Now his master was being arrested and tried by wicked men, and all he could do was watch!
Just then, the voice of a servant girl broke through to Peter’s thoughts. “You’re not one of them, are you?”, she asked. This was not the place to make a scene; it would accomplish nothing. Why couldn’t she just leave him alone?
We can only guess at what Peter was thinking, but we know his reaction. He quickly snapped to the servant girl, “I am not!”
Meanwhile, the trial of Jesus moved to the next stage. Annas could not find any charges against Him, and He was brought before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin had hastily gathered in the night so that they could form an indictment against this man. They needed two reliable witnesses to charge Him with a crime, but they could not even hire witnesses who would agree! The closest that they could come was when two witnesses claimed that Jesus had said that He would destroy their great temple. But even these witnesses were inconsistent and unreliable.
Jesus kept silent throughout this entire trial. There was no value to speaking in this mock trial, but Jesus also knew the prophecy:
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
Finally, Caiaphas spoke out in frustration. The morning was coming soon and they still did not have any charges against this man. Caiaphas demanded with an oath that Jesus answer them. “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?”
Jesus replied, “I am, and I will come back and judge you with the authority of God Himself!” Jesus had answered them very directly. He was the Messiah, the king of the Jews. But he also was God. He made it absolutely clear that the only charge against Him was blasphemy. They wanted to kill Him because He said that He was God!
The high priest tore his robes in the feigned horror. “What further witnesses do we need! You have heard it yourselves!” The council replied, “He deserves death!”
Then the members of the high council themselves descended on Jesus, beating Him, spitting on Him, and ridiculing Him. The ones who accused Him of blasphemy now blasphemed His holy name!
The Sanhedrin could not execute a man. They needed to bring Him to the Romans with their charges. But they had conducted this trial in the middle of the night, and they knew that the Romans would never agree to such a mockery of justice. They needed to wait until the morning light in order to give some legitimacy to their affairs before they could bring Him to the Romans.
Therefore, they put Jesus in holding (probably a dungeon or a cellar) until the first light of morning.
Meanwhile, Peter escaped the crowd from the courtyard and had moved to the entranceway of the high priest’s palace. He took little notice of the rooster crowing as he approached the entrance. Peter’s solitude was not to last long. Another servant girl identified him, “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?” Peter answered the crowd with an oath, “I swear I do not know the man!”
Peter made his way back to the courtyard. An hour passed before Peter was identified for a third time. This time, it was one of the relatives of the servant of the high priest, the very man whom Peter had removed from his ear earlier that night.
The accusations were much stronger and much more specific this time. The servant’s relative remembered him on the Mount of Olives. They all noticed his speech, that he spoke with a Galilean accent. Surely he must be one of Jesus’ disciples!
Peter responded in terror. The account says that he pronounced a curse on himself lest he lie, and swore (affirm with an oath) that he did not know the man!
At the same time that this is happening, dawn is just beginning to break. The Sanhedrin have sent to bring Jesus back from the dungeon so they can finish the trial. As they led Jesus through the courtyard, Peter was in the middle of his oaths, shouting that he did not know the man! Just then the rooster crows, announcing the dawn.
Jesus simply looked at Peter. Peter was crushed! Possibly for the first time that night, Peter realized how far he has fallen. The account simply says that Peter went out and wept bitterly.
Now that dawn is coming, the Sanhedrin brought Jesus back to ask Him again if He was the Messiah. He did not answer them until they asked if He is the Messiah and the Son of God. It is not enough for them to accuse Jesus of simply being the Messiah. He is not going to trial as a usurper, but it must be clear that they are charging Him as a blasphemer. He said that He was God, and that is why they want to kill Him!1
- The lesson from Peter – we often prepare for the big battles yet fall for the small things. We are ready to fight Roman soldiers but fall when questioned by a servant girl!
- Peter recognized his failure and repented. What makes a disciple is how we we repent when we fail!
- Jesus left us an example of how to respond when we suffer unjustly. Peter himself said later in his life:
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
1 Peter 2:19-24
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