THE BETRAYAL, ARREST, TRIAL & CRUCIFIXION OF CHRIST
FROM EACH PERSPECTIVE OF THOSE INVOLVED
Judas Iscariot (Betrayal)
Judas' name "Iscariot" meant "man of Kerioth." "If Judas indeed came from the town of Kerioth, he was the only Judean among Jesus' disciples. [The rest were Galilean.] Judeans looked down upon the Galileans as crude frontier settlers. This attitude may have alienated Judas Iscariot from the other disciples" (J.I. Packer, M.C. Tenney, Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 529).
When Judas was in the Upper Room with the disciples, Jesus said to him, "That thou doest, do quickly, but beware of innocent blood. [Then Judas went to betray him] for he turned away from him and was offended because of his words." (JST Mark 14:28, not included in the LDS Bible. For more on the JST see a previous post.)
After the deed was done, Judas "repented himself and brought again the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? See thou to it; thy sins be upon thee" (Matt. 27:3-5 including JST footnote).
To the Jews, "shedding innocent blood pollutes the land and brings 'bloodguilt' on the people" (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 1908).
The Other Disciples (Abandonment)
"And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane, which was a garden; and the disciples began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy, and to complain in their hearts, wondering if this be the Messiah. And Jesus knowing their hearts, said to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. And he taketh with him, Peter, and James, and John, and rebuked them, and said unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; tarry ye here and watch" (Mark 14:36-38, JST in the LDS Bible Appendix, p. 805).
"From this passage we understand that the apostles had begun to question whether Jesus really was the Messiah. We may imagine that the more Jesus suffered, the more the apostles doubted his messianic identity. After all, the King-Messiah, in the minds of most Jews, was not supposed to suffer, not supposed to fail in restoring the great Davidic kingdom of ancient times, not supposed to collapse under the weight of spiritual distress nor retreat in the face of expectations of great demonstrations of power, signs, and wonders. Obviously, the apostles did not fully comprehend the true and varied roles of the real Messiah" (Andrew C. Skinner, Gethsemane, p. 108)
When the mob came to get Jesus, the disciples were still with him. They wanted to fight the officers, but Jesus said, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matt. 26:53). A Roman legion was 6,000 infantry and 120 cavalry (Harper-Collins). "But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?" (Matt 26:54).
The JST gives the impression that it was Christ's words "But the scriptures must be fulfilled" that terrified them and caused them to flee: "And the disciples when they heard this saying, all forsook him and fled" (JST Mark 14:49-50, not in the LDS edition). David H. Stern lists 20 Old Testament prophecies of the evil that would befall Christ, with their corresponding New Testament fulfillments (David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 79-80). They realized there was nothing they could do to help him, no hope of saving him, and undoubtedly were terrified of their own fates, which had been prophecied by Christ during his Olivet Discourse, to be rather dire: "Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you, and ye shall be hated of all nations [possibly referring to all the races of people in the area] for my name's sake" (Matt. 24:9).
Peter had promised the Lord that he would go with him "both into prison and to death" (Luke 22:33). Peter did not entirely forsake his promise: he went with him, after a fashion, following him "afar off" (Luke 22:54).
Christ told Peter he had prayed for him that his faith would fail not, "and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren" (Luke 22:32). We might think that Peter had been converted by this point in time, being one of the first to follow Christ, and a member of the inner circle of three disciples who had been with him on the Mount of Transfiguration, but Peter had not yet received the baptism of fire that would convert him into a new man. The Gift of the Holy Ghost was not given him until after Christ's death. (See a previous post for more on this.) Without the Gift of the Holy Ghost, he was not strong enough to withstand his fear, but after he received it, his faith became unshakeable. (See Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Vol. 4, p. 20.)
The Chief Priests and Elders (Jewish Trials)
"Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees (temple guards), cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground" (John 18:4-6).
Why were the men so shocked that they fell backwards? Wasn't he just identifying himself as "Jesus of Nazareth," the person they were seeking? No. The King James Bible Translators took great care to be precise and convey the exact meaning from the original language. At times, they added a word to make the meaning clearer, and whenever they did this, they italicized the word, so the reader would know it was not in the original text. (For more on the King James Version, see a previous post.) When we remove their italicized word here, we understand why the officers were so appalled: Jesus was not saying, "I am he, Jesus of Nazareth," he was saying "I Am," which was one name for the God of the Old Testament, Jehovah. (Remember, when Moses asked who he should say sent him to free the enslaved Hebrews, he was told, "I Am that I Am" [Exo. 3:14].)
He repeated the phrase immediately, in case anybody missed it (v. 8), thus inflaming the mob. This cemented their desire to have him killed, and they sought a judgment against him that would deliver that end.
"The primary object of the Hebrew judicial system was to render the conviction of an innocent person impossible" (James E. Talmadge, Jesus the Christ, p. 647). But the chief priests and elders broke just about every law in the book to convict Christ during the night trial recorded by in Matthew 26 and Mark 14. Here are a few:
- An arrest at night was illegal.
- An arrest by treachery (using an accomplice such as Judas) was illegal.
- A trial before a single judge (such as Caiaphas) was illegal.
- A trial at night was illegal. The Sanhedrin itself was only allowed to convene court during certain hours of the day, after morning devotional.
- The Sanhedrin had not the power to originate the charges, only to judge after a case was brought to them.
- A trial during Passover or on the eve of the Sabbath was illegal.
- A trial resulting in the sentence of death could not take place in only one day.
- Impartiality on the part of the judges was required. Here the Sanhedrin was serving as both prosecutor and judge.
- The charge of blasphemy, the focus of his entire conviction, was extremely loosely used. Blasphemy was actually defined as cursing God's name, which Christ never did.
- There must be two or more witnesses against the defendant, but the Sanhedrin "sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; but found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none [that witnessed his charge of blasphemy]. At the last came two false witnesses." And all they testified that Christ had said was, "I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days." (Matt. 26:59-61) Or according to Mark, "many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together" (Mark 14:56).
- It was illegal to use a man's confession of his own guilt as evidence against him. Jesus knew this and "held his peace" when asked if he was God, until, according to Matthew, the high priest "adjured" him "by the living God." (Matt. 26:63). In respect for the position of high priest, he finally answered, "I Am" (Mark 14:62, see also Matt. 26:64). Jesus' conviction, therefore, was based solely upon his own testimony, his own "admission of guilt" that he was the Christ (Mark 14:62). "Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, 'What need we any further witnesses?'" (Mark 14:63). Well, yes, according to their own law, they most certainly did need further witnesses!
After the illegal nighttime trial, it appears that there was a formal trial before the Sanhedrin, although the details are uncertain. In any case, following the Jewish trial, Jesus was brought before Pilate, the Roman governor over the province of Judea. Pilate asked for the charge: "What accusation bring ye against this man?" (John 18:28-29). They answered that there certainly was a good one: "If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee" (v. 30). Pilate replied, "You're Hebrews, he's a Hebrew, this is a Hebrew offence--Take him and judge him according to your Hebrew laws." (See v. 31.) But the Jewish leaders did not have the legal power to put him to death, which was what they wanted, so they needed the conviction and sentence of a Roman judge.
Their own conviction of Jesus, under Hebrew law, was that he had committed blasphemy. But the Romans couldn't care less about that, so the Jews brought three false charges against him, tailor-made to incense a Roman leader:
- "perverting the nation" or forming a revolt
- "forbidding to give tribute to Caesar" or sedition
- "saying that he himself is Christ a King" (Luke 23:2). A Hebrew could be king--Herod, for example--but must be appointed by the Romans (Harper-Collins).
None of the chief priests or elders were personally present for this examination by Herod because they didn't want to "defile" themselves by entering a Gentile's home during the Passover. So Pilate had to go back and forth between Christ and the Jewish mob outside.
Pilate found no criminal offense in him (John 18:38; Luke 23:4), but this inflamed the crowd (Luke 23:5). So Pilate sent him to Herod, the Hebrew political leader (Luke 23:6-7) who was in town for the Passover. Herod had sought unsuccessfully for the title "King of the Jews" from the Romans for himself. Christ wouldn't answer a word to Herod to appease his curiousity, so he finally gave up, mocked him with his soldiers, and sent him back to Pilate.
Pilate called together the accusers so they could personally hear his verdict, "not guilty" (Luke 23:13-16). The mob was infuriated to hear this declaration, and they scared Pilate. He was a serious fence-sitter, afraid of both sides of the situation. He believed Christ innocent, and possibly even had a small testimony of his holiness. He was also afraid of convicting him because of a warning his wife had received in a dream (Matt. 27:19). He knew the accusation was totally false (Matt. 27:18).
But, on the other hand, he was afraid of the Jews and they were the more immediate danger. He had only been in office a short while and in that time had committed many blunders and acts of violence and offence against them. The Roman government had a policy to be generally tolerant of occupied nations, and Pilate had not conformed to this. Therefore, petitions had been previously sent to the Roman emporer by the Jews, including four of the Herodian princes, to have Pilate removed from office. "He realized that his tenure was insecure, and he dreaded exposure. Such wrongs had he wrought that when he would have done good, he was deterred through cowardly fear of the accusing past" (James E. Talmadge, Jesus the Christ, p. 649).
It was a Jewish tradition that at Passover their governor could release one prisoner of their choice (Matt: 27:15; Mark 15:6; Luke 23:17; John 18:39). So Pilate tried to get out of this sticky situation by using their own custom to give the Jews a preposterous choice: letting them choose between Christ who was totally innocent and hadn't harmed a soul or been convicted of a crime, and Barrabas who was a murder involved in insurrection with no doubt as to his guilt. Had they chosen Christ, they would have solved Pilate's problem, but they were so black of heart, they chose Barrabas.
Pilate said then, "What should I do with Jesus? He's innocent." "But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him" (Luke 23:21). "The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God" (John 19:7).
Although one of the hymns of the Passover sung that very week proclaimed to God, "We have no God but you" (Harper-Collins), when Pilate said, "Shall I crucify your King?" the chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15).
Crucifixion was a horrible, torturous death, as you can imagine. In fact, death by crucifixion sometimes took as long as nine days (Illustrated Manners & Customs, p. 520). Therefore, the Romans would weaken the person to make death quicker by scourging them, and also requiring them to carry their own cross, but it was only the crossbar that they carried: the stakes were permanently in place, as we will later see in a video (Harper-Collins).
It was customary to put the crime of the convict up on his cross as a deterrent to others (Harper-Collins). It was unusual, however, to put it above the person on his cross (Matt: 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19-20). Pilate went to the extra care to post Christ's charge in Hebrew, Latin and Greek, so that everyone could read it. The priests wanted the sign changed to read, "He said he was the King of the Jews," but Pilate, for once, stood up for his own belief and refused to change it. So the charge symbolically became reversed, plainly convicting the Hebrews of killing their own king, "The King of Jews."
The Roman Soldiers
The soldiers then cast lots for his clothing (John 19:23-24). The outer "garment" was a single long piece of cloth, which could be useful for other things if cut into pieces. The "coat" was an ankle-length tunic, T-shaped, and woven in one piece--much more useful untorn (Harper-Collins).
"Then said Jesus, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (meaning the soldiers who crucified him)" (Luke 23:34 with JST footnote). Jesus many times accused the Jews of knowing exactly what they were doing. But later, when Jesus died and the earth reacted in commotion "the centurion and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God" (Matt. 27:54; also Mark 15:39; Luke 23:47-48). (Although, we shall see a couple of lessons from now, that even the Jews who called for Christ's crucifixion were offered his mercy.)
The Other Convicts
Jesus was hung between two thieves. Matthew and Mark report that both of them reviled him, but Luke writes that one of them defended him (Matt 27:44; Mark 15:32; Luke 23:39-43). So which was it? Once again, the JST clarifies, although it is not found in the LDS edition: All three in the JST agree with Luke's account.
Friends of Jesus (Burial)
Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin who had been a follower of Christ, "but secretly for fear of the Jews." He had the power because of his position to approach Pilate and ask for the body of Christ (Matt. 27:57-58; Mark 15:42-43; Luke 23:50-52; John 19:38)
Nicodemus, also a member of the Sanhedrin and secret believer in Christ "brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight" (John 19:39). Myrrh is a dried resin from a tree, used as medicine, perfume, and in embalming the dead. "So valuable has it been at times in ancient history that it has been equal in weight value to gold" (Wikipedia). Aloe was an aromatic wood from a tree, not the succulent plant we refer to as aloe vera today. Portions of the trunk heavily saturated with resinous substances where the wood has been attacked by fungi are particularly valuable. It was used for perfume and incense. (Here are 2 sources on that: (1), (2).) Both myrrh and aloe would have been in powdered form (Harper-Collins).
Coincidentally, or perhaps not, these substances of great value in healing, beautifying, and staving off the decay of a dead body are best created as a reaction to a wound in the tree, just as Christ's Atonement, the greatest source of healing, sanctifying, and overcoming death was created through his immense suffering and injury in the Garden and on the tree. The amount Nicodemus brought was the equivalent of 75 lbs. today--much, much more than was necessary for a burial (Harper-Collins). It was a gift of great honor, respect, and love.
Joseph offered a sepulchre he owned as a burial place for Christ. It was unusual in that it had never been used before (John 19:42). In a sepulchre, there was a niche or alcove cut in the wall with a shelf for the body to lie on. Sepulchres were difficult to come by and were often reused, the bones from the previous occupant being put in a hole in the floor (Illustrated Manners and Customs, p. 521). Christ's sepulchre had no one else's remains in the floor.
The Jewish Nation (Common People)
Pilate had literally washed his hands of the business, an action which decreased his legal liability, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see that ye do nothing to him.' Then answered all the people [the word translated here means more than just the mob of chief priests and elders, but the nation as a whole according to Harper-Collins] and said, 'His blood be on us, and on our children'" (Matt. 27:24, JST in italics, not included in the LDS edition).
This was a terrible cry which was, thirty years later, answered upon their heads and the heads of their children as, in that very spot, 3,600 Jews were victims of the fury of Rome. Many were scourged and crucified right there, including the nobles, the chief priests and elders. In the words of the historian Edersheim, "A few years more, and hundreds of crosses bore Jewish mangled bodies within sight of Jerusalem. And still have these wanderers seemed to bear, from century to century, and from land to land, that burden of blood; and still does it seem to weigh on them and their children" (Talmadge, Jesus the Christ, p. 648).
However, it is good to remember that Jesus "died for all, not just for Jews: the righteous Messiah died for everyone who is unrighteous, which is to say, for everyone. Everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, is a sinner. By sinning, everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, killed him" (David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 83). We all may not have been there crying, "Crucify him," but "he was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities" (Isa. 53:5) and we all contributed to the agony which he suffered in order that we might be healed.
As he died, "Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, Father, it is finished, thy will is done, yielded up the ghost" (Matt. 27:50, JST in italics, not in the LDS edition).
And here comes the triumphal moment, the beginning of the happy ending which we will study and rejoice in during our next lesson: "And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom" (Matt. 27:51). This veil separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest was allowed to pass through the veil into the Holy of Holies, and only once a year, during the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), to symbolically approach God and offer an atonement for his sins and the sins of the people. Of course, this was a type of Christ. Once Christ had died and offered the real Atonement, the veil was destroyed, symbolizing that now anyone could approach God himself and seek his own Atonement through the merits of Christ (David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 84).
You may want to end the class with the last 8-9 minutes of the poignant video "To This End Was I Born" from the Church's New Testament Video Presentations. Begin the video or DVD at the spot where the disciples are singing the hymn at the end of the Last Supper, and end it after the stone is rolled over the sepulchre and the picture fades to black. (The complete video segment is 16 minutes long.)
If you would like a different and thought-provoking ending to the movie, you can turn on a recording of the American spiritual "Were You There?" on a separate CD or mp3 player while fading out the sound on the video. Do this at the point in the video when Christ is nearly at the top of the cross and the words will align very nicely with the images if you use a version of the song that is just over 3 minutes long. It is on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's album "O Divine Redeemer" and the single mp3 is also available from i-Tunes for 99 cents. Another gorgeous version (my favorite) is on the album "My Soul Delighteth: The Best of the Gibbons Family," produced by Deseret Book several years ago, and still available from Amazon.com, either new or used. (The entire album is really beautiful and peaceful and worth the purchase price in my opinion.)