The Just and the Unjust
Injustice can feel unbearable. The unfairness of life in both small and significant situations is experienced by people universally.
The Jewish Legal System
The Jewish people aspired to a just society. The foundation for their legal principles came from the Law.
(Deuteronomy 16:18-20) 8 You shall make judges and officers in all your gates, which Yahweh your God gives you, according to your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 19 You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality. You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. 20 You shall follow that which is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which Yahweh your God gives you.(Deuteronomy 16:18-20
In response to this command from God, they set up three different types of tribunals. Local councils had three judges, in towns numbering less than one hundred and twenty men. These local courts could not try capital offences. The second council of twenty-three judged more severe crimes, including trials that could lead to capital punishment. The highest court in the land was a tribunal of seventy-one. This highest court was the Great Sanhedrin which met in the Temple.
In theory, there were principles that the courts operated by to guarantee an accused person a fair trial. The Sanhedrin unjustly condemned Jesus. Some of the legal principles ignored were:
- The right of a public trial – Jesus’s trial was away from public scrutiny (Matthew 26:57).
- A defence counsel was obligatory – Jesus stood alone before His accusers.
- The need for at least two reliable witnesses to guarantee a conviction – The only witnesses produced at Jesus’s trial were false witnesses who could not agree (Matthew 26:59-61).
- False witnesses received the punishment they hoped to inflict on the accused if found out. The source of the often misquoted scripture, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, is specific to false witnesses trying to destroy innocent people. – The false witnesses against Jesus were not condemned nor punished.
16 If an unrighteous witness rises up against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, 17 then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before Yahweh, before the priests and the judges who shall be in those days; 18 and the judges shall make diligent inquisition; and behold, if the witness is a false witness, and has testified falsely against his brother, 19 then you shall do to him as he had thought to do to his brother. So you shall remove the evil from among you. 20 Those who remain shall hear, and fear, and will never again commit any such evil among you. 21 Your eyes shall not pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.(Deuteronomy 19:16-19)
- A death sentence could not happen until the third day. This delay was to allow time for reflection with fasting by the court and prevented hasty decisions. It also allowed time to discover further evidence for the condemned man’s defence. Trials were not held during feast days when fasting was prohibited. The travesty of the unjust trial of Jesus was rushed through, and Jesus killed with a few hours in the middle of a religious feast.
- The accused was not allowed to condemn himself, and a confession did not constitute sufficient evidence for a conviction. The sanhedrists tried to get Jesus to condemn Himself (Matthew 26:62-63).
- During a trial, an official read out all the evidence and eyewitnesses were required to testify to its accuracy. – No official did this in the case of Jesus.
- Witnesses had to specify precise details, including the month, day, hour and location. – The so-called witnesses against Jesus could not agree upon the main points of their testimony, let alone details.
- The court could not try charges they had brought themselves but needed an outside party to make the accusations. – The court both fabricated the charges and the outcome of these (Matthew 26:65-67).
- Innocence was always presumed until proven otherwise. Even though Jesus was innocent, the court desperately tried to find guilt.
- In capital trials, the Sanhedrin was motivated to save, not destroy, life. – In the case of Jesus, the Sanhedrin was motivated by a desire to murder Him (Matthew 26:66-68).
- Trials were not permitted at night. The bulk of the proceeding against Jesus happened at night.
- A unanimous verdict of guilt would result in the acquittal of the accused. It was presumed that mercy was lacking in the council. – The council unanimously condemned Jesus, who should therefore have been released (Matthew 26:66).
- Witnesses would be the first to administer punishment to the guilty. This action linked their testimony to the consequences in a very personal way. Jesus was handed over to the Romans for execution, distancing the Jews in their minds from actually killing Jesus.
The Injustice of the Sanhedrin
Many Jewish people would have been horrified at how the Great Sanhedrin abandoned their principles when Jesus stood before them.
The Sanhedrin had become increasingly corrupt over time.
The High Priest was supposed to be a lifetime office that a direct descendant of Aaron held. It had become a political football with appointees holding the office for various lengths of time. Herod or Rome dictated who would be a high priest according to what benefited their interests. On one occasion, the brother of a possible high priest maimed the other to prevent him from being the high priest. The Law did not allow high priests who were physically disabled.
Annas was an evil but successful high priest. He held this position for only six or seven years but ensured that five of his sons, Caiaphas a son-in-law, and a grandson, followed him. The family gave Annas all the benefits without the restrictions of actually being the high priest. He gained incredible wealth by controlling all the Temple franchises, including selling sacrifices and exchanging money for coins acceptable to Jewish worshippers.
The Bazaar of Annas, as it was known, was hated by ordinary Jews. It was this bazaar that Jesus twice broke up much to the murderous hostility of Annas and his family. It was before Annas, Caiaphas and their cronies that Jesus stood.
Comparing the Jewish legal principles with what took place in Caiaphas’s palace, we see every rule of justice broken. The Sanhedrin may well have rationalised this by saying they were not placing Jesus on trial but merely trying to find an accusation to bring before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate at trial. How often evil-doers seek to minimise their sin by using rationalisation to deny the reality of their actions.
The Just and the Unjust
Jesus is utterly just, but mankind is totally unjust. The treatment of Jesus before the Sanhedrin demonstrates this.
18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: (Authorised Version)(1 Peter 3:18)
Jesus, the just one, will put right every injustice, both known and hidden on the day of judgement (Acts 17:31).
He has suffered injustice and so can comfort those who have been wronged at this time.
18 For in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.(Hebrews 2:18)
Because Jesus is just, we must prepare to stand before His court where nothing is hidden. At this time, we can experience forgiveness for the wrong we have done. Pardon is because the just, Jesus suffered the punishment for the unjust, us. On the day of judgement, we will be found not guilty if we have put our trust in what Jesus has done for us.
30 brought them out, and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”(Acts 16:30, 31)