The Trials and the Denials (22:54-71)

After Jesus' arrest, Luke narrates three events that occur in quick succession: the denials by Peter (vv. 54-62), the mocking of Jesus (vv. 63-65) and the trial of Jesus (vv. 66-71). It seems likely that Jesus is examined at the high priest's home during the evening and then is reexamined by the Sanhedrin in the early morning (vv. 54, 66). When all the Gospel accounts are considered, it appears that there is one quick inquiry before Annas, at which nothing is decided (Jn 18:13), followed by two trials—one in the evening (Mt 26:57-68; Mk 14:53-65) and another, more official meeting in the morning (Lk 22:66-71). The evening and morning trials are very similar because the morning trial simply confirms what had taken place the previous evening. Three more examinations follow these first three meetings, since encounters with Pilate, Herod and then the entire pilgrim crowd follow in Luke 23:1-25.

As interesting as the historical sequence is, more significant is the way Luke narrates these events. The various responses to Jesus are highlighted. Events are swirling around Jesus rapidly, but he is still in control. He utters the words that send him to his death, leaving no need for outside witnesses. Though all his close disciples abandon him, including the formerly confident Peter, he stills walks the path of God's will. Though the soldiers insult and taunt him, he still goes to the cross for them. Jesus is mocked as a prophet who does not know what is happening, but he is quite aware of what he is doing and why. The scene drips with the tragic irony of humankind's hostility to God's plan and the tenacity of God's Son to rectify what is awry with us all.

Seized under official arrest, Jesus is led to the high priest's house. Syllambano in verse 54 is the Greek technical term for arrest (compare Jn 18:12; Acts 12:3; 23:27; 26:21). Since Matthew 26:57 names Caiaphas's house here and John 18:13 mentions Annas's residence, there is a question whether the same locale or a different locale is intended (see note on 22:54-71). If two locales are in view, then the first meeting leads very quickly into a second.

It is during this time that Peter has his public oral exam on his faithfulness and relationship to Jesus, just as Jesus had predicted (22:31-34). Having failed, Peter learns that resisting peer pressure can be tougher than he had imagined. It is easy to fall when one is surrounded by hostility and fails to look to the Lord for strength.

The test itself takes over an hour (v. 59). Peter has followed at a distance. John 18:15-16 mentions that "another disciple," probably John, is also present in the courtyard. In the chill of the late evening air, a fire is kindled to keep the gathering warm. The courtyard (aule) where the servants are gathered could be a yard or an area around an open hallway. When Peter's face becomes visible, a servant girl stares at him, recognizing him as one of the disciples. She announces the surprising guest to the crowd with the simple words "This man was with him."

Probably aware that Jesus' fate is in doubt and that guilt by association is a genuine risk, Peter denies any knowledge of Jesus. The astute observation has been made that Peter in this way does not deny Jesus as much as deny knowing him (Stanley 1980:195; Stein 1992:565). His lie is like the "end around" maneuver in American football; Peter takes an indirect route to avoid the question. He does not attack Jesus, but neither does he assert his association with him. In baseball terms, Peter has taken strike one.

Afterward another person takes up the accusation. Luke identifies the second challenger as a man, while Mark 14:69 and Matthew 26:71 mention a woman. It is likely that the woman's initial effort received wide attention. Emphatically comes the charge: "You also are one of them." The second-person pronoun you (su) is spoken with ex auton, "from among them," so Peter's association with Jesus is emphasized. The charge is "You are one of them!" Once again, Peter tries to parry the thrust: "Man, I am not!" Peter has taken strike two. Or as cricketers say, he is in danger of being run out.

A third person identifies Peter. Luke leaves him nameless, but John 18:26 says he is a relative of the priest's servant Malcus, who had his ear severed and healed earlier. John notes that this questioner is positive that Peter's face is familiar, since he saw him in the garden. Since he had been at the scene, his testimony is significant. Luke simply narrates his confidence: "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean." Like American Southerners or people from the north of Scotland, Galileans had a distinctive accent (Mt 26:73).

Peter again denies the connection: "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!" Luke is kind to Peter, for he does not refer to the cursing and swearing that accompany this denial. The mighty, confident Peter has struck out; he has given up his wicket.

But the rooster's crowing and Jesus' glance rock Peter's memory. Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him. Luke's wording reminds us of Jesus' prophetic awareness of what is taking place—that even his closest allies will leave him to face his death alone.

Peter's failure prompts his departure and painful tears. It is easy to claim Jesus in the solitude of one's living room among like-minded friends, but it can be hard to do so in public. Peter will learn the lesson and return to be a courageous voice for Jesus in Acts 2. But here he is a total disappointment. He has failed to pray and rest in the Lord's provision (Lk 12:11-12; 22:40, 46). His nerve has failed, and the failure has stabbed his heart. He knows he has let Jesus down.

But Jesus knows his heart and will soon restore him (Jn 21:1-14), a restoration he had prepared him for earlier (Lk 22:32). Failure, though painful, can be a means of growth; by God's grace we can learn from our mistakes.

After his friend's withdrawal, Jesus is mocked by enemies. Things are going from bad to worse. Luke strains to relate this account, calling the action of those who hold Jesus in custody blasphemous (v. 65). They mock him and beat him, as others had reviled a prophet earlier (1 Kings 22:24). Here the soldiers play an ancient version of blindman's buff (Stahlin 1972:264-65; Is 53:3-5). They think Jesus should name his tormenters. If he is the prophet the public claims, this should be an easy task (Lk 7:16; 9:7-9; 24:19). The opponents' reviling of Jesus is full of scorn and insult. When the world turns from indifference to hostility against Jesus, this is how their reaction to him looks. It is easy to mock what is not appreciated.

From injury and insult, Luke turns to inquiry. What will the officials of Judaism do with Jesus? Luke does not mention at all the effort to charge Jesus with claiming to destroy and raise up the temple. Luke's trial scene stays focused on one issue, Christology. Who is Jesus? That is the key question for this Gospel.

Much historical information is available on trials of the time, especially in the Mishnaic tractate Sanhedrin. Made up of seventy-one members, with the high priest serving as its leader, this council sat in a semicircle when investigating matters of importance (m. Sanhedrin 1:6; 4:3). It seems likely that such a procedure took place here. The council consisted of Sadducees, Pharisees and leading middle-class laymen, known as the elders (Josephus Antiquities 12.3.3 142). So priests, scribes and the wealthy dominated this ruling group, which had authority over internal Jewish matters except where the death penalty was involved (Josephus Antiquities 20.9.1 197-203 on the illegal slaying of James the brother of Jesus; t. Sabbat 15a).

Though Luke clearly makes the leadership responsible for Jesus' death both here and in Luke 23:13-25, there is no reason to call him anti-Semitic. His appeal is for Jews to complete their salvation by coming to their Messiah. Their refusal to do so is seen as blindness and ignorance (Acts 2:22-24; 3:17-26; 26:12-23). But he continually pleads for them to enter into God's promise and blessing.

Luke moves right into the questioning. The Sanhedrin requests, "If you are the Christ . . . tell us." In an echo of his earlier discussion with them about himself and John the Baptist (20:1-8), Jesus replies that if he answers positively they will not believe, and if he asks them they will not answer.

But Jesus does not stop there. What he says next is the key to his claims and his guilty verdict at this trial: "But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God." The Greek refers to the "right hand of the power of God." Both the translation and the Greek emphasize God's sovereign might. The claim here is extensive. It was not a crime in ancient Judaism to claim to be Messiah, as the Bar Kochba revolt in A.D. 132 showed. But Jesus is saying more than this. He is claiming to be able to go directly into God's presence and rule at the divinity's side from heaven. This is worse than claiming that he could march into the Holy of Holies in the temple and reside there (Bock 1994c:186-91). The Jews fought the Maccabean War over the holiness of the temple's inner sanctum; but they held the holiness of heaven itself in an even higher regard. Jesus' statement offends their sense of God's holiness.

In addition, it implies an even more significant claim. The Sanhedrin has Jesus on trial. Its members are his judges. His fate is in their hands. But if Jesus is to rule from God's side in heaven, then they cannot judge him, since he is their judge. The use of Son of Man recalls the picture of authority given from God to "one like a son of man" in Daniel 7. The implication does not slip by the theologians in the crowd. The scene's irony in terms of who holds God's power cannot be greater. Jesus argues that from now on whatever happens at the trial is irrelevant. His rule from God's side will follow. People may think they have the right to make a judgment about Jesus, but the judgment that counts is the one made by the resurrected Son of God.

In sum, Jesus makes himself and his authority the issue. The leaders are astute enough to see the claim. So they ask, "Are you then the Son of God?" They sense the depth of what Jesus is claiming—that Jesus uniquely shares God's rule and power.

Jesus' answer is both a positive reply and a type of circumlocution; in effect, he says, "I will not deny it, but I would mean it a little differently from the way you mean it." So Jesus says, "You say that I am" (Blass and Debrunner 1961:par. 441.3; Catchpole 1970:226; Stein 1992:571). The NIV gives the force of this indirect reply: "You are right in saying I am."

So the judgment is rendered against Jesus. "Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips." The judgment's irony is that Jesus will be crucified for being who he is. The trial pictures the world's rejection of him and his claims. His own have received him not. Sin's blindness leads to Jesus' dying for being who he is. Confirmation of this understanding of the trial as picturing humanity's rejection will come when the people add their voices to call for Jesus' death, opting to free a murderer in the place of this innocent one (23:13-25; Acts 4:24-31). Jesus utters his own death sentence by speaking what Luke would regard as the truth.

So this account is really the story of two courtrooms. One is run by the Sanhedrin, the other by Jesus at the Father's side. One utters blasphemy against the Son, because they have taken his words as blasphemous. The other will receive the Son as an equal. The division of opinion could not be greater. No relativism can bring the two views together. Either Jesus is right or the Jewish court is right. Jesus' claim is either blasphemy or deadly serious truth. For if he sits at God's side, then he does exercise divine authority. There is no appeal higher than the Supreme Court of heaven.

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