The trial of Jesus was illegal. He was fraudulently convicted by Jewish and Roman courts. He was executed by crucifixion even though His judge found Him innocent! Why?
It is time we understood what was behind Jesus’ crucifixion and learn the twelve outstanding reasons why the arrest, trial and conviction of Jesus was illegal.
Years ago a Communist conspiracy was going about to prove that Jesus was legally put to death. Here are surprising statements from a book unconsciously influenced by this conspiracy. The book, entitled The Prosecution of Jesus, was written by Richard Wellington Husband, concerning the trial of Jesus. He states on page 281: “The arrest was legal. The hearing by the Sanhedrin was legal. The course of trial in the Roman court was legal. The conviction was legal, and was justified.”
This man, a lawyer, was undoubtedly sincere in his convictions. He was a professor of classical languages at Dartmouth College! Mr. Husband was not the only man who has been unconsciously influenced by communist propaganda. But his contentions are better written than most. Here is how Mr. Husband justifies his shocking beliefs: “the arrest” of Jesus Christ “was legal, for it was conducted by the proper officers, acting under instructions from the Sanhedrin. There was not illegality in the circumstances under which the arrest was affected. The hearing by the Sanhedrin was legal, for it was merely a preliminary hearing, and was not a formal trial. The course of trial in the Roman court was legal, for it harmonized with the procedure shown in the sources to be pursued by governors of provinces in hearing criminal cases.”
Pilate conducted himself as other judges did, contends Mr. Husband. That made it legal! It is a strange way of reasoning. But that was the point of view of many who have been unconsciously influenced with Communist propaganda.
Now here is his final conclusion. “The conviction was legal, and was justified provided the evidence was sufficient to substantiate the charges, and the records,” he wrote, “do not prove the contrary”!
Just imagine! A professor in one of America’s leading colleges – Dartmouth-- spouting out that there is insufficient evidence in the Bible to show that any reversal of Jesus’ conviction was justified. Here is a man, who, if he had sat on the Sanhedrin, might have sincerely said, “He is guilty.” Why? What makes supposedly Christian lawyers believe Jesus was guilty?
In another book from the Jewish point of view – The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth, by Max Radin, a professor of Law in the University of California. In it he states: “If he (Jesus) had said only a tithe of the things credited to him it was enough to make an indictment.”
Imagine! If Jesus said only a tenth of the things credited to him, that was worthy of “an indictment.” So states Max Radin. In the same book on page 109, Mr. Radin, who has been taught from childhood to believe what he does, says there is “no clear statement of how the knowledge of the trial came to those who reported it.” Radin has been taught to believe that neither Matthew, Mark, Luke nor John had any personal evidence because the trial was private, a secret affair.
What he neglected to say, of course, was that Jesus Christ, who was condemned, rose from the dead and is alive today. The One who heard everything, who was there on trial, rose from the dead and told the disciples what occurred so that they could report it to us that we might know today.
But let us continue with the Jewish point of view. On page 231 you will discover the following statement as to what a normal Jewish trial was like in Jesus’ day: “We are, most of us, familiar with the procedure of criminal investigations. The accused person is arrested, arraigned before a committing magistrate, specifically accused, and formally tried. He may, and he generally does, appeal to a higher court, if he is convicted. All these things take time, and there is almost necessarily an interval of weeks and months between the later stages of the procedure. But above all the procedure is strictly regulated by law, and any serious deviation is not merely an irregularity but will probably prevent punishment from being inflicted.”
Notice that most trials involving criminal procedure take weeks, if not months. Did you know that Jesus’ trial was completed in less than nine hours after His arrest? And it was all done in private, secretly, so that there would not be any witnesses who could testify on his behalf?
On page 241, he reasons: “Mark’s version, even by his own testimony, cannot be more than a guess. Instead of a hurried night meeting, a harsh and brief interrogatory, a disregard of established rules of evidence and procedure, the trial may have been formally correct, and the judgment even from the point of view of an upright judge, though somewhat severe.”
Do you see how these men reason? He assumes that Mark was guessing? Then he assumes it could have been conducted as he thinks. His conclusion is that even “an upright judge” may consider Jesus’ condemnation a “just” decision though a bit severe! The only evidence of the trial comes from the Bible. There is no other historical record to justify the Jewish point of view or the point of view of atheistic communist propaganda.
What power did the Jews have to convict and to execute Jesus Christ? “According to the common view,” reports Mr. Husband in his book, page 210, “the right to try capital cases,” that is, cases involving death penalties, “and even the right to pronounce sentences, still rested with the Sanhedrin, but the actual penalty could not be inflicted until the governor” that is, the Roman governor – in this case Pilate, “had given his sanction.”
But this view is not true. The Jews not only had the power to try certain crimes, but they had the power to convict and the power to execute in all but cases of treason or sedition.
The assumption that the Jews had no power to execute is incorrectly based on John 18:31-32. Here the Jews had said that, “it is not lawful for us to put any man to death.” Lifting it out of its context, critics have assumed that the Jews had no lawful right whatsoever to put anyone to death. But this does not happen to be the case.
Have we forgotten how Stephen died? The Jews said, “He blasphemes,” and they stoned him to death. The Romans didn’t disapprove. When Jesus first preached his sermon the day of Pentecost in Nazareth in Galilee, the Jews sought to stone Him to death. If it were illegal, they wouldn’t have dared try it. The Romans would have pounced on them.
The Jews brought to Jesus a woman who was committing adultery. They said, “Moses wrote in the law she ought to be stoned to death. What do you say?”
If they had no right to stone any to death, Jesus could have said very simply, “Don’t you know under what law you are living?” And what would they have felt like before the Romans – if that would have got to Pilate’s ears? But Jesus didn’t say any such thing. Jesus accepted the fact that they had the right to execute adulteresses and other criminals. He told the guiltless to cast the first stone!
Paul was stoned in Asia. Not only in Judea, but in other areas of the Roman world, wherever the Jews were settled it is plain the Jews had the legal right to execute the penalty of their law.
Here is what Mr. Husband himself admits in his own book, page 19: “The Romans agreed that “the high priests should enjoy the same privileges which they had possessed before the coming of the Romans.” And on page 29, he admits almost the same thing: “We learn that the Romans allowed to the subject nations all the rights that were consistent with an adequate administration, and did not conflict unduly with Roman interest.” And page 33: “The ecclesiastical law of the Jews was allowed to stand unchanged.” Josephus even bares testimony to the fact that the Jews could execute criminals and enforce punishment for any violation of the Mosaic Law.
But why did the Jews make the statement that we find recorded in John 18:31-32? Here is the answer: “From the earliest period the Roman governor took cognizance of all matters that had any relation to the public security or the majesty of the Empire. Consequently there was no time at which the Roman magistrate would not step in when a charge of treason was made, or a seditions movement begun. The case against Jesus is one especially in point, for the charge against him (treason) could under no circumstance be tried by any tribunal except that of the governor.”
Only when it came to treason, civil disobedience, enticement to revolution, attacks against the majesty, that is, Caesar, did the Roman government decide that it was proper that its governors or representatives should intervene. Otherwise, all local administration was carried on by the people and the regular constituted courts of the conquered nations, of the provinces, or the allies of Rome.
The Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy. But they did not want to execute Him. So they charged Him with treason before the Romans.
What the Jewish religious leaders had to do was to trump up charges of treason against Christ in order to bring it up to Pilate so that they would appear not to be responsible for His death.
After the Passover service, which must have lasted to nearly midnight, Jesus went out and prayed. Then Judas came with a mob. In that mob were the High Priest, and the judges and all the jury, inciting the mob as they went out to arrest Him.
After He was arrested, Annas examined Him alone. He was ex-High Priest. They next took Him to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, before sunrise while it was yet night, where He was informally condemned.
After sunrise, the Sanhedrin quickly condemned Him formally to justify their previous conduct. Then, they took Him to Pilate on different charges. Pilate wanted to wash his hands of the whole affair. When Pilate found Jesus was of Galilee, he sent Him to Herod. After Herod saw Jesus and could not get anything but silence from Him, Herod decided to let Him go back to Pilate. Then, at the second time before Pilate, the Roman governor, under heavy pressure from the Jews, gave sentence – even against his own will, after he washed his hands of it!
These are the six steps through which Jesus went from after midnight to nearly 9 o’clock. And at 9 o’clock He was crucified. At 3 o’clock that afternoon, He was speared in the side and killed (Matt. 27:49, Moffatt translation). Shortly before sunset, He was buried. That’s how quickly the Jews got rid of their Savior! Now let us examine the illegal bases of the trial of Christ.
“Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve. And he went his way, and command with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him unto them. And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money. And he promised, and sought opportunity to betray him unto them in the absence of the multitude.”
Judas’ treachery developed as a result of Jesus’ rebuke to Judas for having condemned the woman who anointed Him with oil. Judas had said to Jesus, “Why didn’t you give that to the poor.” Judas wanted that money himself. He would have taken the oil, gone out and sold it, then claimed he gave it to the poor, and pocketed the money. That is what he wanted to do for he was a thief (John 12:1-9). Judas felt he was about to be discovered.
So he went to the chief priests and the captains who bribed him to deliver Christ in the absence of the crowds who listened to Jesus. The idea was to have Jesus seized privately, so the public, especially the Galileans would not know until it was over! The Galileans, remember, kept the Passover on the eve of the 14th of Nisan. The Judeans did not. They incorrectly kept it one day later. Many Galileans were up as late as midnight.
They probably slept late the next morning. Many may not have arisen next morning until the time Christ’s crucifixion was over.
The priests’ plan was to get Jesus at night, try Him at night, sentence Him just after sunrise, to make it look legal, take Him to Pilate, entice a mob to get Pilate to condemn Him, have Him crucified, if possible, even before 9 in the morning, before those favoring Him would be up.
Who made up the mob which arrested Jesus? The answer to this question brings us to the first error in Jesus’ conviction.
We should now examine, point by point, the twelve primary reasons why the arrest, trial and conviction of Jesus Christ was illegal!
The principle on which any trial may be considered illegal is the fact that it is prejudicial against the man who is tried, that it is not fair that it does not allow him to have full recourse of law so that he might present his part of the case.
Now notice the illegal steps in Jesus’ arrest, trial and conviction. The first point is that Jesus was arrested illegally. His arrest was contrary to the law of those who arrested him.
Consider John 18:2-8: “And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place” – where Jesus was after that Passover night – “for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples. Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. Jesus therefore went forth, and said unto them, whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus said unto them I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him” by a kiss “stood with them. As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground. Then asked he them again, whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he; if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way.”
Now continue with Luke 22:52, “Then Jesus said unto the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders, which were come to Him, be ye come out as against a thief, with swords and staves?”
Those who went to have Christ arrested included the priests and elders – His judges! They were also the very ones who bribed Judas!
Jesus was arrested secretly, gestapo-like by night. He was not arrested on the formal charge of any crime. There was no charge presented here! There was no warrant for His arrest, no statement of what He had done. They just simply took Him.
Contrary to what Mr. Husband said in his book, The Prosecution of Jesus, there was no legal basis on which Jesus was arrested. Nobody had presented testimony or evidence of guilt to the Sanhedrin whereby they could have requested His arrest.
Here is what the Jewish law declares on this point. Mendelssohn says in his Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, page 274: “The testimony of an accomplice,” that is, Judas, “is not permissible by Rabbinic law and no man’s life, nor his liberty, nor his reputation can be endangered by the malice of one who has confessed himself a criminal.”
The very fact that Judas took a bribe from the judges was certainly proof that Judas was a criminal!
The first step in Jesus’ trial was a preliminary examination in a private night proceeding before Annas (John 18:12-14, 19-23). Notice the Jewish law on this point from Dupin’s book, Jesus Devant Caiapbe et Pilate (a French work): “Now the Jewish law prohibited all proceedings by night.” Salvador in his Institutions de Moise, pages 365-366 declares: “An accused man was never subjected to private or secret examination.” Yet Jesus was! From the Jewish Misbna (Pirke Aboch IV, 8) we read the following command: “Be not a sole judge, for there is no sole judge but One.”
According to Jewish law, as stated in the Jerusalem Talmud, the Sanhedrin sat from the close of the morning sacrifice to the time of the evening sacrifice. And Lemann says in his book, Jesus Before the Sanhedrin, p. 109, “No session of the court could take place before the offering of the morning sacrifice.” No night meetings were permitted! The Jews permitted such an investigation only upon daylight.
The indictment against Jesus was itself illegal. According to the law of the Jews, declares Edersheim in Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Volume I, page 309: “The Sanhedrin did not, and could not originate charges.” But in Jesus’ case, it did!
Here was the proper Jewish procedure, as stated by Innes in his book The Trial of Jesus Christ, page 41: “The evidence of the leading witnesses constituted the charge. There was no other charge, no more formal indictments.” In Jesus’ case there at first had been no witnesses presented. The Jews simply arrested Him and started to accuse Him.
Continuing: “Until they (the witnesses) spoke, and spoke in the public assembly, the prisoner was scarcely an accused man. When they spoke, and the evidence of two agreed together, it formed a legal charge, libel or indictment, as well as the evidence for the truth.”
Next consider what Mendelssohn writes in his book, The Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, page 110: “The only prosecutors known to Talmudic criminal jurisprudence are the witnesses to the crime. Their duty is to bring the matter to the cognizance of the court, and to bear witness against the criminal” – after he is arrested. “In capital cases, they are the legal executioners also. Of an official accuser or prosecutor there is nowhere any trace in the laws of the ancient Hebrews.”
In the case of Jesus there were no witnesses who presented their evidence to the court. The court took it upon itself to secretly arrest Jesus; then they had to find false witnesses.
The Sanhedrin court illegally proceeded to hold its trial of Jesus before sunrise. Notice that the preliminary investigation before Annas brought forth no evidence whatsoever! Instead of dismissing the case they proceeded to hold an illegal court.
Why was it illegal? Mendelssohn states: “Criminal cases can be acted upon by the various courts during day time only, and by the Lesser Sanhedrins from the close of the morning service till noon, and by the Great Sanhedrin till evening” (p. 112).
Here is what Maimonides writes in Sanhedrin III: “The reason why the trial of a capital offense could not be held at night is because the examination of such a charge is like the diagnosing of a wound, in either case a more thorough and searching examination can be made by daylight.” An interesting way of putting, but nevertheless true!
The Misbna says, Sanhedrin IV, I: “Let a capital offense be tried during the day, but suspend it at night.” Once more the Jews violated their own law in order to get rid of Jesus and His teachings.
Be watching for part II of Twelve Reasons Why Christ’s Trial was Illegal.