A Savior for Sinners
Context – According to plan (both of divine wisdom and mercy and human deceit and cruelty), Jesus was arrested in the garden, betrayed by his disciple Judas. The kiss, representing both the deceit and the cruelty of the human plan, set in motion the final phase of the eternal covenant of redemption. Matthew 26:3, 4 informs us that the chief priests and elders had gathered in the “palace” of Caiphas and “plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.” The heart of Judas as a lover of money had been revealed in his response to Jesus having been anointed with expensive perfume (John 12:5, 6). He was of one mind with the Pharisees on the power of money (Luke 16:14) and thus would fall easily into the system of bribery. Upon the reprimand he received on that occasion, he went immediately to the chief priests to bargain for the life of Jesus, and had given them the sign of a kiss to designate Jesus as the man to arrest. What could be more stealthy for murder than a kiss?
I. Jesus before Caiphas – The Trial of the Son of Man. In this trial, Jesus identified himself with the Prophecy of Daniel 7:9-14. Jesus and Peter arrive at the same time (verses 57, 58) and take their respective places in this scene driven by interrogation and accusation.
A. Court and accusers already present – Knowing that the plot was unfolding even as they had planned, all those who had authority to decide on questions of capital crimes such as blasphemy were gathered. They would not be delayed any longer; other attempts either to kill or to arrest Jesus had failed (Luke 4:28-30; 11:53, 54; John 7:30, 32, 44, 45, 46; 8:59).
B. The Presentation of False Witnesses – The Sanhedrin likely sought false witnesses through bribes, for throughout the unfolding of these events they believed that greed, falsehood, and money were their most convincing weapons (Matthew 28:12-15; Acts 6:11). False testimony given in an extemporaneous manner failed to provide any evidence by which Jesus could be condemned. Pure fabrications in the mouths of a diversity of individuals will bear contradictions and inconsistencies that even those intent on gaining conviction would be embarrassed to embrace as sufficient evidence for conviction. Even thieves and murderers want to save face.
C. Verse 61 – Two witnesses that presented a mangled version of something Jesus said.
- Finally, two appeared who agreed in their testimony about something that Jesus had said that met the criterion of Deuteronomy 19:15 “By the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.”
- Jesus had claimed in John 2:16, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus had used the term egero, which means raise up. It has a wide range of uses both literal and metaphorical but means most literally to lift something that is inactive into a position of activity. John explains that he spoke of the “temple of his body” that he would raise from the dead.
- The witnesses used the term oikodomesai. It is used metaphorically in Acts 9:31 of the edifying of the church, but literally means to build a house. This, as strange a claim as it seemed, did not constitute criminal liability merely as a claim. It had taken 46 years to build the temple and Jesus would reconstruct it in three days? Wildly visionary, a megalomaniac, but not worthy of death.
D. The High Priest’s Adjuration.
- Jesus found nothing to which to respond in the false witnesses or even in the confused reporting of an event early in his ministry. Though his life is in the balance, he has no necessity to respond to falsehoods which provided no evidence and bear no coherent storyline for him to dismantle.
- The two witnesses who bore the same testimony misunderstood the statement and could give no meaning to it that would condemn Jesus. The response of the High Priest is informative, “What is it that these men testify against you?” Even he could not make it into a capital accusation and so he badgered Jesus into being a witness against himself. Jesus remained silent, however, for there was nothing yet to which he must or should respond.
- Knowing, however, the preaching of John the Baptist about Jesus (Matthew 3:7, 14-17), the miracles and healings of Jesus (Matthew 4:23-25; 8:1-4, 16-17; 15:29-31), his claim to be Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8), the claim of Jesus to forgive sins (Matthew 9:2-8), and his consistent use of the phrase “Son of Man” to identify himself (Matthew 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8, 32, 40; 13:36ff; 16:28; 17:12 et al.), the High Priest believed that he could force from Jesus a self-condemning claim. Caiphas was convinced, whether it were true or not, that Jesus believed he was the Christ. Putting him on oath, therefore, to testify about himself would establish the guilt. When Peter preached at Pentecost, he forced his hearers to face this reality—“Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know . . .” (Acts 2:22).
- If Jesus knew Scripture as well as it seemed that he did, then Caiphas would know that his placing Jesus under oath for a testimony of which he had knowledge, Jesus felt that he would be obligated to speak. Leviticus 5:1 said, “If a person sins in this – he hears the utterance of an oath, and is a witness either in seeing or having come to know of a matter, and still does not speak—he bears his iniquity,”
- Caiphas made the oath seeking an absolute confession. He did not say, “Do you believe yourself to be the Christ, the Son of God.” He said, “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus had told the woman at the well that this was so (John 4:26). He had asked inquisitors earlier to draw conclusions from his works (John 10:25) and had specifically called God his Father. Then they accused him of blasphemy for making himself God. Caiphas knew that he would be able to bring a quick end to this trial by making Jesus testify in light of a question to which he alone had authoritative information.
E. The answer of Jesus – Now under oath in a trial for blasphemy and being the only one who could possibly have the information that was asked for, Jesus gave an affirmation. That which he had cautioned people not to do during his ministry, he now did with unmistakable clarity and in the face of the most absolute consequences. As the High Priest had said, so it was. Jesus used the same words with Caiphas that he had used with Judas: “You have said.”
- On both occasions, Jesus allowed his interrogator to provide the answer. In the first, Judas accused himself and Jesus affirmed the accusation. In the second, Jesus received to himself the answer implied in the question.
- Not only did he implicitly claim to be the “Christ, the Son of God,” but he applied a powerful prophecy from Daniel to himself, in which he is set forth as “One, like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and waspresented before him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him” (Daniel 7:13, 14).
- This was a claim to be the culmination of all the messianic prophecies. He would reign as co-regent with the Ancient of Days, thus having equality of honor, and thus of nature, with him. Also, however, his appearance would be as the perfect quintessential man.
F. The answer brings a charge of blasphemy – If this claim were not true, it indeed was blasphemy, that is, speaking so as to bring ultimate reproach to the name and dignity of the one true and living God. Jesus himself had uttered the words, clearly divine dominion. Now, after a line of ineffective witnesses, false on the one hand, and clueless on the other, the only testimony that can bring forth a clear accusation is the testimony of Jesus himself.
G. A mocking call to prophesy –
- Jesus had been called a prophet during his ministry. The Christ indeed would be a prophet. Peter pointed to Deuteronomy 18:15 in a sermon in Solomon’s portico (Acts 3:22), which said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever he says to you. And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.”
- Now the only truest of all prophets was being ridiculed and abused for the pure truth of his character.
II. Peter before the servant girls – The trial of the son of man. Peter in his weakness stands for all the rest of the sons of men. None of us would have done differently.
A. Peter followed at a distance and takes a seat with the guards “to see the end.” Jesus had failed to defend himself, even when Peter was willing to fight for him. What kind of a Messiah was he? Now thoroughly confused, forgetful of the most salient words that Jesus had taught them about this very moment, of his betrayal, his condemnation, his death, and oblivious to the warning and prophecy that Jesus had given about him, Peter now resigns himself to see the end of his hopes. Jesus surely will be condemned and killed. He is there, but fearful and confused; He wants to see what will happen, how it will all turn out, but has not taken the warning of Jesus seriously and so is not watchful.
B. Peter was aligned with Jesus by the witness of two servant girls.
- They were indeed eyewitnesses, and unlike the false witnesses against Jesus, spoke the truth when they said, “You were with Jesus.” One called Jesus the “Galilean” and the other “of Nazareth.”
- Peter immediately disclaimed any knowledge of Jesus. Jesus had refused to speak even when accused falsely; Peter speaks in firm denial of a true witness.
C. A third identification by circumstantial evidence –“Galilean.” When others heard him make the denial, they joined the servant girls with a bit of circumstantial evidence. Like Jesus, Peter was from Galilee, for his accent had identified his provenance. This led to an even more intense denial, taking a curse upon himself to give force to his assertion. So obviously false was his denial, that he had to give greater force to his words through invoking a curse on himself if he spoke not the truth. This action, of course, would alleviate nothing in his predicament but only increase his guilt.
D. A truly blasphemous answer given. Jesus had spoken the truth in proclaiming himself the Messiah, the Son of Man, the equal with the Father, the fulfiller of the height of messianic prophecy. Peter, having confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16), now denies the man who has just confessed that very truth about himself. What a grace that Jesus had previously said, “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32). This blasphemy spoken by Peter would be forgiven; Jesus was being slapped and spit upon for a supposed blasphemy while Peter “went out and wept bitterly.”
E. The words of the Prophet fulfilled – While Jesus was being ridiculed for his real status as a prophet, the prophecy he had uttered about Peter (Matthew 26:34) was in the process of fulfillment. Peter remembered it, after the fact, and now knew why in Gethsemane Jesus had admonished, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41).
III. “Were you there” when they ridiculed the Lord?
A. Though Peter’s fall was great, he followed Jesus to the judgment hall. Though he had misunderstood what Jesus had been telling them, he, nevertheless, desired to follow it out to the end. The fall that we see, was the fall of one of the most robust and personally daring of the disciples.
B. Even with all the attractive human qualities that Peter had, he was no match for the force of the world, the strategy of Satan in sifting him (cf. Luke 22:31), and the indwelling of sinful fear and instinct of self-preservation. He represents the failures and sins of us all in this moment of true cruciality.
C. We find the justification for Paul’s assessment; “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:6-10).