HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest’s palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end. —Matthew 26:57-58
Jesus Had to Be Tried Twice
Our Saviour had to undergo two trials, the one before the high priest, and the other before the Roman governor, and it is with the former of these two that our passage deals. Had Palestine been an independent state, the tribunal of Caiaphas would have given the verdict. There would have been no appeal for any prisoner from the decision of the college of the Sanhedrin. But Palestine had lost its independence. It was part of the great Roman province of Syria. Hence the last word, in cases of high moment, lay not with the Jew, but with the Roman. Now the Romans did not strain their own authority. They left a large measure of power with the provincials. Especially where matters of religion were concerned, they gave the conquered nations a free hand. But when the question was one of life and death, they took the final judgment to themselves, and that explains the double trial of Jesus. He is first brought before the Jewish council, and by it, He is held guilty of death. He is then brought before the Roman governor, and in another message, we shall find what happened there.
Why Was He Brought to Annas First?
Caiaphas, then, was high priest at the time, and Jesus should have been led straight to him. But it was past midnight now, and some of the members of the court would be in bed–could not something be done with Jesus till all was ready? John tells us that Jesus was taken before Annas. This Annas had himself been the high priest, and just as we sometimes call a man provost, or bailie, though it is a year or two since he held office, so Annas, a man of most commanding influence, was still called, in Jerusalem, the high priest. He parleyed with Jesus, in an informal way, while the senators came hurrying into the council hall. And then, while all the city was asleep, and the children were dreaming of play and love and heaven, the Friend of the children was put on His trial. It was an illegal council, to begin with. The Sanhedrin was forbidden to meet by night. But if they waited until the city was astir, and the whisper ran along the streets that Christ was a prisoner, might there not be a popular rising in His favour? They loved the darkness because their deeds were evil. Like Judas, they had a kinship with the night. It was well that the Roman soldiers should have Jesus when the day lightened and the city awoke.
Jesus Patiently Stood His Hurried Trial
Then the trial began with the summoning of witnesses, and for a time it looked as if the prosecution must break down. Things had been rushed with such a nervous hurry that even the witnesses had not been drilled. There was no lack of witnesses, it seems (Matthew 26:60). I wish we could always count on witnesses for Christ, as surely as they reckoned on witnesses against Him then. But though these witnesses had much to say, and repeated many a biting word of Jesus on His judges, the judges knew their own character too well and knew what the people thought of them too well, to dream that Jesus could be condemned for that. There was a vaunt about the Temple, certainly, but you could not get Rome (that rude destroyer of temples) to sanction a Galilean’s death for that. Caiaphas was baffled. The steady composure of Christ was like an insult. Everyone else was feverish, Jesus alone was calm. And it was then, as in half-frantic desperation, that Caiaphas put his question to the Lord. He conjured Him to tell if He were Messiah. Jesus answered immediately that He was, and “hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” Jesus was very courageous in His silence, but He was also very courageous in His speech. That sentence practically sealed His fate, yet the hour had come for speech, and Jesus spoke. They called it blasphemy. He was guilty of death (Leviticus 24:15). They had triumphed, and self-control went to the winds. Their pent-up passions burst out like a torrent. They spat on Him, and they smote Him–how they loathed Him! And out in the court, the Apostle John was sitting, watching it all in unutterable agony. Would not this hour come back to him again, when, long years afterwards, in the isle of Patmos, he wrote of “the Kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ”?
Peter Arrives to Deny Him
Meantime Peter had come upon the scene. Impelled partly by curiosity, it may be, and largely by his devotion to his Lord, he had followed afar off to the high priest’s palace. Like other men who follow afar off, he was running into terrible temptation. Unbefriended and unknown, Peter might have been denied admission to the high priest’s house. But John was there already, and John was a man of some little social standing, and it was at John’s entreaty that Peter got in. There are times when we think we are doing our friend a kindness, and we are only making life the harder for him. Now, when we read about the high priest’s palace, what do we understand? It was a large house built around a square courtyard, and with the windows opening inward on the court. It was in this courtyard, then, that Peter was sitting, chafing his cold hands at the fire when one of the maidservants charged him with discipleship. And Peter was so utterly taken aback, that quick as lightning, he denied the charge. And then it dawned on him what he had done, and he rose up and went to the dark gateway. He would stand in its deep shadows for a little if only to feel the ground beneath his feet. But the lamp in the gateway swung and flared, and every now and then it lit up the face of Peter, and another maid recognised him there, and Peter once again denied his Lord. The first sin made the second easier. Meanwhile, the news was spreading in the courtyard. There would be a sport in baiting the disciple. It would put some warmth into their hearts on that cold morning to worry this bewildered Galilean. Poor Peter! It was too late to keep silence now, and to open his mouth was to be betrayed by his Highland accent. Peter denied again. “And immediately the cock crew.” With a breaking and a penitent heart, Peter went out. When Judas went out, it was darkening to midnight. But when Peter went out it was very near the dawn.