What charges were brought against Jesus?
How was Jesus opposed?
In the early days, Jesus' opponents confined
themselves to verbal attacks. But, as his
later preaching seems to have taken place
entirely out of doors, it looks as though
Jesus was forbidden to speak any longer
inside the synagogues. It was only as his
reputation grew, and as he became a
political threat, that the plotting against
him became serious and determined.
Finally, Jesus was arrested in a quiet valley
outside Jerusalem at night.
Once Jesus was arrested, the authorities
had to make sure that they could find him
guilty of a charge that would secure the
death penalty. However, it was not enough
for them to satisfy themselves on this point
and convict him under Jewish law. They also
had the more difficult task of convincing the
The religious trials.
The enemies of Jesus brought a religious
charge against him before the Jewish court.
Their accusation was that he was guilty of
blasphemy - a crime punishable by death
under Jewish law.
Jesus appeared before the Sanhedrin, which
was the highest court of the Jews, and they
had the task of finding him guilty on the
evidence of two witnesses in agreement
with each other. The Old Testament law
clearly stated: "On the testimony of two or
three witnesses a man shall be put to
death, but no one shall be put to death on
the testimony of only one witness."
But, the trial did not go as smoothly as they
had hoped. The witnesses gave conflicting
evidence against Jesus and their testimony
was disqualified. And Jesus himself refused
to answer any of their questions about what
he had taught.
"Tell us if you are the Messiah!"
Finally, the High Priest himself asked Jesus a
question under oath:
Was Jesus the Messiah? Jesus responded
with the guarded reply, 'So you say'. Some
people have interpreted this as Jesus
saying something like: 'Yes, I am the
Messiah, but not in the sense that you can
understand the word.'
And what was the reaction upon the
Sanhedrin? ..They were left in no doubt that
Jesus was guilty of blasphemy, as charged.
The political trial.
The Jews were not allowed to put anyone to
death themselves without the authority of
the Romans. So they took Jesus to the
Procurator of Judea, who at that time was
According to two Jewish writers of the time,
Philo and Josephus, Pontius Pilate was an
obstinate, cruel, inflexible and oppressive
man. The portrait painted of him by the
Gospel writers highlights a weakness under
all this, as he was swayed by the voice of
the crowd. He was in charge of all the
Roman troops stationed in Judea, and had
the power to reverse or ratify any sentence
passed by the Jewish Sanhedrin.
The leaders of the Sanhedrin knew that
Pilate would not be the least interested in
any obscure religious charge against Jesus.
So when they brought Jesus before Pilate,
they accused him of crimes that hadn't even
been mentioned in the earlier trials.
Luke tells us that the three political charges
brought against Jesus were revolutionary
activity, inciting people not to pay Roman
taxes and claiming to be a king.
The Sanhedrin clearly had their own
definition of the word 'Messiah', and now
that Jesus had admitted to the title, they
used its political connotations to the full.
On examining Jesus for himself, Pilate could
not agree that Jesus had claimed these
things. There followed a series of arguments
between Pilate and the Jewish authorities,
which only seemed to make Pilate more
convinced of Jesus' innocence.
The Gospels suggest that Pilate was a man
who quickly found out that Jesus was not
guilty, but who feared bad reports reaching
the Emperor about yet another disturbance
in Judea. Pilate had provoked the Jews to
violence on a number of occasions through
his own insensitivity to their beliefs and
customs, and the mob that gathered outside
Pilate's residence played skillfully on Pilate's
"'If you set him free,' they shouted, 'you are
not the Emperor's friend! Anyone who claims
to be a king is a rebel against the Emperor!'"
So Pilate tried evading the situation by
making other people decide what should be
done with Jesus. He sent him to Herod,
because Jesus, as a Galilean, came under
Herod's jurisdiction. But after questioning
him, and receiving only silence for reply,
Herod would not take the accusations
against Jesus seriously. He regarded Jesus
as an object of mockery rather than as
worthy of death. So Pilate had Jesus flogged,
hoping that this limited punishment would
pacify the crowd.
When this too failed, he offered to grant
Jesus clemency, leaving the crowd with the
responsibility to decide between Jesus and
the criminal Barabbas.
"What crime has this man committed?"
Sentenced to death.
All these evasions meant that the crowd
was the deciding factor in the whole affair.
And the crowd were determined to stop at
nothing short of Jesus' death.
So Jesus was sentenced to death, but not
because he was found to be guilty, but
because of the hatred of the authorities and
their desire to see him killed.