And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death; and found none. For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together. And there arose certain, and bare false witness against him, saying, We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands. But neither so did their witness agree together. And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus saying, Answerest thou nothing? What is it which these witness against thee? But he held his peace, and answered nothing.a
The Apostles’ Creed uses one word to describe the whole of Jesus’ life: “suffered.” There are times when discouragement fills all our thoughts and we conclude that our life is only suffering. But God declares that our suffering alternates with moments of joy (). On the other hand, Jesus’ experience was that He suffered without interruption. He suffered in His body and in His soul. He suffered at the hands of men. He suffered especially at the hand of Almighty God. Even when He suffered at the hands of men, He saw them to be instruments of God.
Among the human instruments God used to bring suffering to Jesus were members of the ungodly world such as the Pilate and the Roman soldiers. God also brought suffering into Jesus’ life through His own siblings, for He came unto His own and His own received Him not (). This refers especially to fellow Jews. Our text describes Jesus’ suffering at the hands of the church institute, namely, the chief priests and elders, the Sanhedrin.
After Jesus was taken in Gethsemane, He was brought to be tried by the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court. This court, which consisted of seventy-one members, was the consistory of Jesus’ day. The Sanhedrin sat in judgment of moral and ecclesiastical matters, but also of civil and criminal cases (at that time the church and the state were interwoven). But the Sanhedrin was limited in its ability to punish because Israel was under the control of the Roman Empire. As a result, while they could determine that a sin was worthy of the death penalty, they were not allowed to implement capital punishment. Rome kept this right to itself, to be performed by its representative, Pilate.
Almost all the church leaders, including the members of the Sanhedrin, were very angry with Jesus. During the course of His ministry, their anger increased until at this point it reached the boiling point. His popularity with the people was a constant source of irritation to them, especially after He raised Lazarus from the dead. In fact, “from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death” (). He repeatedly frustrated their efforts to embarrass and challenge Him. Just a few days earlier Jesus openly and harshly criticized them (Matt. 23). When their frustration and anger reached a fever pitch, they determined to have Jesus killed secretly. They did not want any kind of public trial because they feared the people. But they decided to postpone any effort to “take him by craft and put him to death” until after the Passover, “lest there be an uproar of the people” ( ).
But their way was not God’s way. God’s way was for Jesus to be arrested on the night of the Passover feast and for Him to endure a public execution on the accursed tree. And so Jesus frustrated their plans by dismissing Judas during the Passover feast. They wanted to kill Him in the garden of Gethsemane, but could not because Jesus sent them tumbling to the ground (). It was obvious that they were not able even to arrest Him except He allowed them to do so.
As a result of Jesus forcing their hand, the chief priests and elders had to put Him on trial before their highest court. Because it was the night of the Passover, all the members of the Sanhedrin were at their homes. Messengers were immediately sent out to call the members of the Sanhedrin together for a quick trial that night. In order to give them time to gather, they had Jesus taken to a secondary courtroom and stand before Annas, the previous high priest (). It was as a preliminary hearing.
Their frustration only grew. Every effort to find a lawful charge against Jesus, both before Annas and Caiaphas, met with failure. They resorted to bribing people off the street in order to bring false charges against Jesus. But also this was not successful, for the false witnesses could not agree with each other.
The trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin was blatantly illegal and a violation of their own rules. First, it was illegal for them to meet after sunset, in the dark of night, for they were to pass judgments only in the light of day. That is why they quickly re-assembled in the morning prior to bringing Jesus to Pilate. And second, their meeting was illegal in that there was no real charge, because they could not find two witnesses to agree even with their trumped-up charges.
The Lord used this mockery of a trial to demonstrate that Jesus was truly innocent. And the Lord used this to demonstrate how crooked and perverse the Jewish nation and church were.
What charge could they bring against Jesus that was strong enough for the Roman governor to judge Him to be worthy of death? The only charge that they believed would make Jesus worthy of death was that He said He would destroy the temple of the Jews and then rebuild it in three days ().
What was the significance of this charge? What is meant by the “temple.” The temple represented God and His people dwelling together in a relationship of loving fellowship (the covenant of grace). The tabernacle and then the temple had two rooms under the same roof: the Most Holy Place where God symbolically dwelt, and the Holy Place where the elect church dwelt.
The original earthly temple was in the garden of Eden, where God and His image-bearers dwelt together, walking and talking together. But Adam (and all mankind in Adam) destroyed that temple. He did so when he purposefully disobeyed God and violated God’s covenant. God then became man’s enemy ().
God immediately exercised grace and maintained His covenant relationship. He declared the promise that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, that is, that the Christ would rebuild the “temple” in a far higher and more beautiful form than in the first paradise. The covenant is rebuilt in the blood of Jesus, who paid the penalty earned by man’s rebellion in the garden. And, Jesus lived so perfectly in loving obedience to God that He also earned a glorious righteousness for all those given Him of the Father. God judged them in Christ to be in harmony with Himself. This put God and man together. The covenant house is built by Jesus.
That Jesus Christ could build the temple is because He Himself is the temple of God, God and man united in one person. He is in Himself what the temple symbolized. What Jesus by His suffering and death established was the fulfillment of the temple. Hence, the veil of the temple was rent at the moment He commended His human spirit to the Father. When the Spirit of this Jesus resides in the hearts of the elect, then they are the temple of the Holy Spirit ().
So, as Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin, He was the Temple and He was the Temple-Builder. False witnesses were bribed to lie (v. 56), to accuse Him of saying that He would destroy the temple. This was something Jesus never said. In fact, He could not say it, for He is the Temple! We cannot even imagine how deeply He must have felt the insult of the lies told against Him. They pierced His soul, for He is the very representation and revelation of the Temple! The “worst” sin they could accuse Jesus of committing was saying that He would destroy the temple.
Let us note two things to the contrary. First, what Jesus did say was that they would destroy the temple (). That is precisely what was happening with their condemning and killing Him. The Temple of God stood before the Sanhedrin, and they were making every effort to destroy Him, who is Immanuel. To accuse the Temple-Builder is to commit a grievous sin.
And second, Jesus was building the temple. In His suffering at the hands of the Sanhedrin Jesus was receiving from God the penalty for the sins of the elect. By enduring this suffering in loving obedience to His Father, Jesus was making the foundation for elect sinners to have a relationship with God. He was rebuilding the relationship of God with man, which the unbelieving Jews were deliberately destroying when they denied that He was Immanuel.
At this terrible miscarriage of justice we want to shout, “Foul,” “Objection,” or “Point of order.” But Jesus “held his peace” (v. 61). We must not draw the conclusion from His silence that He thought their “justice” was just.
Jesus was silent because He knew they were lying. And the false accusers knew they were lying, as did the members of the Sanhedrin. More importantly, Jesus was aware that God knew that they were lying. This was an important instance in Jesus’ life of suffering at the hands of men of how He left us “an example, that we should follow his steps”; …“who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” ().
There was a second important reason Jesus was silent. He was deeply conscious that He was standing guilty before the Jewish council in the stead of His guilty people. It was in our stead that Christ received the grievous insult, for we are temple destroyers. Every sin you and I commit destroys the temple. And the depraved natures we have constantly destroy the temple. So it was in our stead that Jesus stood before the church court, and before God Himself. His silence means that He willingly and deliberately bore the charge of sin for all those whom the Father had given to Him. It is by bearing our sins and our punishment that He is satisfying God’s justice.
And this is why He was silent on the cross as well. Especially during the three hours of darkness He was silent, consciously accepting the responsibility for taking on Himself the penalty that our sins deserved. This is how He is the Temple-Builder.
In this way Jesus Christ completed the task given Him by His Father. He suffered! He suffered all His life. He bore the full penalty for all of our sins. He suffered! He suffered the divine wrath we deserve. He restored the relationship of loving friendship and fellowship—the life of the covenant with God.
Let us never stop thanking Him for suffering on our behalf. And, for turning our suffering around so that it is for our profit. To God be the glory!