On Trial

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St Stephen's Gate, tb010310638

Modern day St Stephen’s Gate (or Lion’s Gate) leading east from the city of Jerusalem in the direction of Bethany

I grew up wanting to be a priest but, as you probably know, to serve the Lord in His holy Temple in this capacity you have to be able to show that you are a direct descendant of great Aaron, the brother of Moses himself. I am a Levite but Aaron is my great great however many times great grand uncle so priesting was not and never could be an option for me. But there are plenty of other jobs open to descendants of Father Levi: scribes, librarians, genealogists, musicians, slaughter-men. Plenty of choice. I chose to enlist with the Temple Police. Most of the time it is not much more than traffic control, trying to keep the crowds moving in and out of the precincts. But one keeps an eye open for known trouble-makers; the pick-pockets and cut-purses, and con-men that follow a crowd. Yes, even within the holy Temple we have crime.

Sometimes I would be sent out on special duties. I have lived in Cyprus where I learned to speak Greek, so when the Romans need an interpreter I sometimes get sent. Most Romans speak Greek as well as Latin but not so many of them learn our language so there is always work  for a translator. That’s when I first saw Jesus, although at that point I didn’t know his name. I was translating for a detachment of Roman soldiers watching the gate on the Bethany road in the lead up to Passover when Jesus and a whole crowd of followers came into the City making quite a disturbance. And disturbances seemed to follow him around for the rest of that week. Some he created and others he seemed to bring on himself. I was there when he got really angry with the traders in the temple courtyard. Angry? He was furious. Drove them out, tipped over their tables, let the animals escape. Well, between you and me, I think he had a point. Some of those merchants were buying cheap and selling dear. Not that there’s anything wrong with turning an honest profit but this lot were ripping off pilgrims who’d spent the whole year saving up to come to Jerusalem and were then having to pay through the nose to buy an animal fit for sacrifice. Pick-pockets are not the only thieves at work in the Temple you know.

Jerusalem from Mount of Olives at night, tb031505530

Looking towards Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives at night

But the Powers That Be do not like up-country preachers disturbing the peace. Jesus made some serious enemies that day so soon he was brought in. There was a lot going on behind the scenes. The Romans were brought in too. Then we had a tip-off from an informer on where the preacher could be picked up on the quiet. The traitor took some of our lads to the place and made sure we had the right man and then, I’m told, he later refused to take his pay. Strange. Anyway, there was a bit of a scuffle in the dark once we had our man but Jesus stopped his followers from putting up a fight. It was almost as if he had been waiting for us. My guess is that perhaps he wanted to meet with the priests. Perhaps he thought he could persuade Annas and Caiaphas to see things his way. No chance. Whatever Jesus hoped to achieve that night he did not get it. Poor man.

My shift ran through that night, Usually a night shift is pretty quiet, even at Passover time, but that night I was run ragged. Pretty soon it became clear that old man Annas was out for blood and was prepared to bend the rules to get it. Did I  say bend? Ha! Drive a horse and chariot through them, more like. We don’t hold trials after dark, We allow the defendant time to prepare his case. Not that night we didn’t. I was sent around the city to gather Annas’s cronies to make up the jury. All his yes men. I used my initiative and called in some of the other leading men who weren’t on the list. Men like Joseph from Arimathea. Someone not afraid of the high priest or the Romans, for that matter. But it was too little, too late. One or two spoke up for Jesus or, rather, spoke against a blatant misuse of the high priest’s authority. But they were whistling in the wind. The result had been decided long before. I mean no one could have been convicted on the “evidence” that was brought forward. I’m not a lawyer but surely, if you are going to rig a trial you make sure your witnesses can agree on what they are going to say. If it hadn’t been a matter of life and death it would have been funny. It seems that Jesus had been saying that he was going to destroy the Temple and then rebuild it. Well, that’s what the witnesses said. I’m no theologian but surely Jesus did not mean that he was going to do this and then rebuild it into the bargain all in three days. Surely this was a hidden message of some sort. Or a prophecy even. But none of the priests so much as bothered to ask him what he actually meant. A case of “ask no questions, hear no truth”, I’d say.


Model of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem and Antonia Fortress – a possible venue for the meeting of Jesus and Pontius Pilate

Now, I’m not saying Jesus was innocent. I don’t know about that. But I am saying he didn’t get a fair trial. The priests were not trying to find out anything. They had already decided that Jesus should die and were just trying to force home a Guilty verdict. I think the only thing that trial proved was that Jesus had enemies in high places. High priestly places, if you know what I mean. So he was fed into the killing machine. Annas passed him on to Caiaphas, who was the official High Priest that year. Yes, that’s the sorry state to which we had fallen. Two High Priests. Old man Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas. But neither of them had the authority to sign a death sentence. Only a Roman can authorise an execution. So our big-wigs had a problem, They had found Jesus  guilty but the crimes were not anything that would stand up in a Roman court. What did Governor Pilate care about our Temple? He would laugh at the accusation that someone was going to destroy it! So the High priests came up with a charge that Pilate would have to notice. Insurrection. He claims to be the King of the Jews, they said. And at Passover time that would make the Romans twitchy. Jerusalem is restless at the best of times but at Passover it is like the day before a storm breaks. So an official delegation from the office of the High Priest had to be noted, minuted, and a copy sent to Rome. If Pilate ignored it and the mob turned nasty he would be left carrying the can. He knew it. And so did Annas and Caiaphas. They knew exactly what they were doing. And so did Jesus. Yes, I know this sounds strange but it is true.

Samaritan Passover, slain lamb, tb041106749

A lamb having been led to the slaughter

Once I had delivered the summonses to the members of the Council I had nothing more to do so I sat quietly at the back and watched and it was Jesus who I watched most closely. You could see it in his face. He knew. He knew what the High priest was doing to him. And throughout that sham of a trial he kept his dignity, He could have ranted and raved about the injustice of it all, with absolute justification. He could have demanded his legal rights. But he would have been ignored or  out-manoeuvred. So he held his peace and kept quiet.  Like a . . .  Now, here’s a thing. I have only just thought about it in this way but Jesus was like a lamb being led to the slaughter. Like a Passover lamb on Passover Eve. But unlike a real lamb Jesus knew what was being done to him. He knew what was happening and why. And here’s another thing: I reckon he could have brought a stop to it all if he had wanted. How? Well, that’s another story but some very strange things happened at his execution. The death sentence was hurried along so as to be over before Passover started and I was there when Jesus died and it was like nothing I have ever seen before. Ask me to tell you about it some other time.


P. S. You can read a little background to  this article on our web site here.

BiBloS 02-July 2015 smallThis article is from BiBloS, a teaching resource of the British Bible School. To read more articles or download the whole of Issue 2, click here.