We have here Christ’s arraignment, trial, conviction, and condemnation, in the ecclesiastical court, before the great sanhedrim, of which the high priest was president, or judge of the court; the same Caiaphas that had lately adjudged it expedient he should be put to death, guilty or not guilty (John 11:50), and who therefore might justly be excepted against as partial.
I. Christ is hurried away to his house, his palace it is called, such state did he live in. And there, though, in the dead of the night, all the chief priests, and elders, and scribes, that were in the secret, were assembled, ready to receive the prey; so sure were they of it.
II. Peter followed at a distance, such a degree of cowardice was his late courage dwindled into, Mark 14:54. But when he came to the high priest’s palace, he sneakingly went, and sat with the servants, that he might not be suspected to belong to Christ. The high priest’s fire side was no proper place, nor his servants proper company, for Peter, but it was his entrance into a temptation.
III. Great diligence was used to procure, for love or money, false witnesses against Christ. They had seized him as a malefactor, and now they had him they had no indictment to prefer against him, no crime to lay to his charge, but they sought for witnesses against him; pumped some with ensnaring questions, offered bribes to others, if they would accuse him, and endeavored to frighten others, if they would not, Mark 14:55, 56. The chief priests and elders were by the law entrusted with the prosecuting and punishing of false witnesses (Deut. 19:16, 17); yet those were now ringleaders in a crime that tends to overthrow of all justice. It is time to cry, Help, Lord, when the physicians of a land are its troublers, and those that should be the conservators of peace and equity, are the corrupters of both.
IV. He was at length charged with words spoken some years ago, which, as they were represented, seemed to threaten the temple, which they had made no better than an idol of (Mark 14:57, 58); but the witnesses to this matter did not agree (Mark 14:59), for one swore that he said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days (so it is in Matthew); the other swore that he said, I will destroy this temple, that is made with hands, and within three days, I will build not it, but another made without hands; now these two differ much from each other; oude ise en he martyria—their testimony was not sufficient, nor equal to the charge of a capital crime; so Dr. Hammond: they did not accuse him of that upon which a sentence of death might be founded, no not by the utmost stretch of their law.
V. He was urged to be his own accuser (Mark 14:60); The high priest stood up in a heat, and said, Answerest thou nothing? This he said under pretence of justice and fair dealing, but really with a design to ensnare him, that they might accuse him, Luke 11:53, 54; 20:20. We may well imagine with what an air of haughtiness and disdain this proud high priest brought our Lord Jesus to this question; “Come you, the prisoner at the bar, you hear what is sworn against you; what have you now to say for yourself?” Pleased to think that he seemed silent, who had so often silenced those that picked quarrels with him. Still Christ answered nothing, that he might set us an example, 1. Of patience under calumnies and false accusations; when we are reviled, let us not revile again, 1 Pet. 2:23. And, 2. Of prudence, when a man shall be made an offender for a word (Isa. 29:21), and our defence made our offence; it is an evil time indeed when the prudent shall keep silence (lest they make bad worse), and commit their cause to him that judgeth righteously. But,
VI. When he was asked whether he was the Christ, he confessed, and denied not, that he was, Mark 14:61, 62. He asked, Art thou the Son of the Blessed? that is the Son of God? for, as Dr. Hammond observes, the Jews, when they named God, generally added, blessed for ever; and thence the Blessed is the title of God, a peculiar title, and applied to Christ, Rom. 9:5. And for the proof of his being the Son of God, he binds them over to his second coming; “Ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power; that Son of man that now appears so mean and despicable, whom ye see and trample upon (Isa. 53:2, 3), you shall shortly see and tremble before.” Now, one would think that such a word as this which our Lord Jesus seems to have spoken with a grandeur and majesty not agreeable to his present appearance (for through the thickest cloud of his humiliation some rays of glory were still darted forth), should have startled the court, and at least, in the opinion of some of them, should have amounted to a demurrer, or arrest of judgment, and that they should have stayed process till they had considered further of it; when Paul at the bar reasoned of the judgment to come, the judge trembled, and adjourned the trial, Acts 24:25. But these chief priests were so miserably blinded with malice and rage, that, like the horse rushing into the battle, they mocked at fear, and were not affrighted, neither believed they that it was the sound of the trumpet, Job 39:22, 24. And see Job 15:25, 26.
VII. The high priest, upon this confession of his, convicted him as a blasphemer (Mark 14:63); He rent his clothes—chitonas autou. Some think the word signifies his pontifical vestments, which, for the greater state, he had put on, though in the night, upon this occasion. As before, in his enmity to Christ, he said he knew not what (John 11:51, 52), so now he did he knew not what. If Saul’s rending Samuel’s mantle was made to signify the rending of the kingdom from him (1 Sam. 15:27, 28), much more did Caiaphas’s rending his own clothes signify the rending of the priesthood from him, as the rending of the veil, at Christ’s death, signified the throwing of all open. Christ’s clothes, even when he was crucified, were kept entire, and not rent: for when the Levitical priesthood was rent in pieces and done away, This Man, because he continues ever, has an unchangeable priesthood.
VIII. They agreed that he was a blasphemer, and, as such, was guilty of a capital crime, Mark 14:64. The question seemed to be put fairly, What think ye? But it was really prejudged, for the high priest had said, Ye have heard the blasphemy; he gave judgment first, who, as president of the court, ought to have voted last. So they all condemned him to be guilty of death; what friends he had in the great sanhedrim, did not appear, it is probable that they had not notice.
IX. They set themselves to abuse him, and, as the Philistines with Samson, to make sport with him, Mark 14:65. It should seem that some of the priests themselves that had condemned him, so far forgot the dignity, as well as duty, of their place, and the gravity which became them, that they helped their servants in playing the fool with a condemned prisoner. This they made their diversion, while they waited for the morning, to complete their villany. That night of observations (as the passover-night was called) they made a merry night of. If they did not think it below them to abuse Christ, shall we think any thing below us, by which we may do him honour?