October 22, 2011

What Christ's Trial Before the Sanhedrin Tells Us


It is often stated or claimed by modern scholars that Jesus never made claim to the fact of His divinity. In some cases some modern scholars believe that Jesus didn’t even realize who He was nor did He realize nor claim He was divine. We see with the likes of D.F. Strauss cynical claims that the Gospels never even happened, they are myth. Although Strauss doesn’t deny outright the existence of Jesus as a historical character, he does deny just about everything else contained in the Gospel accounts. As such these modernistic claims present the possibility that if Jesus did not fully understand His exact purposes it is possible He may have just been a misguided extremist that tried to usher in an eschatological kingdom. They see Jesus as a regular man, a revolutionary or non-violent zealot that ended up dying a criminal’s death because what He did had been misconstrued as insurrectionist in intent. If He was just a regular man then He was not divine and then couldn’t have possibly have been Resurrected. With this in mind we find in modern times that Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin has become a pivotal study of the Christological title that reveal Jesus’ self-cognizance and self-awareness of his divinity. I intend through the scope of this post to show just that.

If we go back to the Old Testament we see in Daniel the Ancient of Days that had the appearance of a man/human and we know from Scripture that Jesus believed in this eschatological appearance. A being that is given dominion and glory that is God-like. Although it is not Scripture we also see in the Book of Enoch the mention of the, Son of Man (l En. 48:3-6) who ‘shall depose the kings from their thrones and kingdoms’ and shall sit "upon the throne of his glory". Similar blurbs from extra-biblical sources reside in 4 Ezra 13. In these citations we see that the idea that the Son of Man, Jesus as a divine figure would’ve been in no way anti-Jewish. As we can see from history, the Jews obviously missed the boat on this count. The “Son of Man” was Jesus choice of self-reference. It was a title Jesus gave Himself having been conscious of His purposes here on earth coupled with the fact that He had a divine timeline to fulfill. As such it very well may be an acknowledgment of His divine identity albeit a veiled one that allowed for His “time” καιρός / kairos or perfect time to unfold in which He would fulfill His mission on the Cross and not a moment before then.

Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified John 12:23

Some claim that even though Jesus used the title Son of Man, He was actually talking of someone else yet to come, not Himself. Without even reading the source text I (Andy Pierson) can tell you that this is just wishful thinking. Proper exegesis reveals that Jesus had a sense of unsurpassed authority, “You have heard it said, but I say to you…” (Sermon on the Mount). Jesus teaching not only claimed unsurpassed authority He put His teaching on par with the Law. He quotes Torah then countermands it and actually claimed the authority to set it aside. He even superimposed Himself in the Law's place...

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17

He put Himself in God's place by his words and actions. Having done this with Himself it makes no sense that Jesus would suppose that someone else would come to judge the world. Jesus Himself would then need to be judged by this enigmatic “Son of Man”. If Jesus were in fact the Guru or the “really good” spiritual leader label that is often attributed to Him by modern liberal theologians/scholars, it still does not account for the self-cognizance Jesus had. The self-sense of unsurpassed authority would’ve been totally incompatible with a view that He was waiting for someone else to come. This would be unreliable eisegesis not reliable exegesis of the intent of the text. One would have to read meaning into the text not extract Jesus’ meaning from the text. Jesus said nothing of the sort, He said just the opposite if He said anything.

In Mark 14:60-64 we see what amounts to a compelling evidence that Jesus did indeed know exactly who He was in the trial before the Sanhedrin. Never mind the fact that Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy that the Suffering Servant would be lead silently to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). Never mind that with this claim He has solidified and stiffened His sentence to death.

And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, "Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?" But he was silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? "And Jesus said, "I am; and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven." And the high priest tore his mantle and said, "Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?" And they all condemned him as deserving death. Mark 14:60-64

The priest asks Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" Jesus answers, “I am; and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven." In the Jew’s eyes He has blasphemed and they react accordingly. They condemn Him to deserving death. There is not ambiguity here either on Jesus’ behalf or in the reaction by the religious leaders to Jesus’ perceived blasphemy. The Sanhedrin’s reaction tells us all we need to know about Jesus’ statement/answer. Jesus claimed to be equal or on par with God being at the right hand and the leaders wanted Him dead.

So did Jesus really say this? For anyone that believes in the Inerrancy of Scripture a brief perusal would indicate yes. From a more secular or Jewish investigative point of view we see the comment from the Sanhedrin, “Son of the Blessed (One)". It is an interesting term to use in a question considering Jews often avoided the word "God” or performed a circumlocution by using an ambiguous figure of speech to refer to God out of reverential awe. Interestingly, this term is only used in the Gospel of Mark. To further bolster the argument that Jesus knew who He was we see additional indicators such as the fact that nowhere else is the Son of Man associated with the sitting at God's right hand which is a position of favor and preeminence. Again we see a roundabout reference not a direct statement even during Jesus' judicial abortion called a trial. Although Psalm 110 refers to sitting at the right hand of God it says he sits next to the "power" in v.1 not God…another nebulous circumlocution. It is extremely unlikely according to the text that Mark would’ve accredited this type of prediction to an essentially demonic Sanhedrin who would’ve been literally blind to what Jesus was saying and to understanding that Jesus was fulfilling this. There is just no way by any stretch of the imagination.

In Sanhedrin lingo rules for dealing with blasphemy cases in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 7.5) concern cases in which a person is accused of having pronounced the divine name "Yahweh" so as to dishonor God. The alleged blasphemy of Jesus occurs unexpectedly on the spot, so that only the high priest tore his garments. If Jesus actually said God’s divine name a report by a Jewish man who had been trained practically since birth would’ve avoided repeating Jesus’ claim verbatim so to avoid saying God’s name. A record of what transpired in Jesus' trial (Gospel of Mark) would not include the pronunciation of the divine name itself but a periphrase like "the Power" would’ve been used or "Son of the Blessed" perhaps? This is exactly what we see in Mark. Whether Mark witnessed the events, the information we see Mark parley is unique to the circumstance and authentic to the times he lived in. This is not an editorialized event, it is a documentation of an eyewitness event just as we would see in the news today on television. Based on these theological, geographical, socio-cultural and rhetorical contexts we can ascertain that this is a reliably documented event true to the 1st century location that the Scriptures make claim to and to the 1st century Jewish sensibilities. Due to these considerations the conditions and contexts of these events are historically verifiable therefore it at least in part legitimates the claim that Scripture makes about Christ in this passage.

So....(time to breathe)

How did Jesus perform blasphemy in the Sanhedrin’s opinion? He put Himself on par with God. Among other things this is a direct violation of the very first two commandments, (1) “Exodus 20:4-You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” By claiming to be an equal to God as a “mere” human, the Jews more than likely believed Jesus had done this. Furthermore, Exodus 20:7, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” would’ve held particular relevance to the Jews because they had added legalism into this command to the extent to even use God’s name at all was forbidden.

To wrap this discussion up concisely we see something unique in Jesus’ trail before the Sanhedrin. It is in Mark’s manner of writing that we see Scripture, through Jesus’ own words instilling a divine self-consciousness into His own words. If Mark did indeed document the things that had actually happened (which I believe he did) as the rhetorical devices like periphrasing/circumlocution suggest, Jesus did indeed make a claim to divinity in these passages. If this is the case then everything Jesus said is true as He is who He said He was…equal to God and divine sitting at the right hand of God as the "Son of Man". Based on this conclusion we can then assume the following when referencing the inherent qualities of Scripture because Jesus said them Himself:

It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law. Luke 16:17

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Matthew 5:18

I quote these verses to drive home this final point: If Jesus is divine (therefore perfect), then what He has claimed about the veracity of the Bible is also true. If the Bible is absolutely true then it is also absolutely inerrant. Inerrant means that Scripture does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. If it is inerrant it can be relied upon to tell the complete truth about what it speaks. That includes the things it says about Jesus Christ being divine even when stated implicitly. Some would say that I have reasoned in a circle but an honest observation shows that I did not make the claim to the veracity of Christ being self-aware of His divinity, the Bible did through its verses. The Bible speaks for itself and Christ not being able to go against His own nature would not lie about Himself or Scripture… therefore He validates both claims due to His divine nature. If any of these deductions are wrong then the entire argument falls apart.

As Christians we realize that all these things are true thereby making this an airtight argument. Jesus validates Scripture and Scripture validates Jesus. If we then add historical/contextual proofs in the from of literary and historical Biblical criticisms we then give a posteriori evidence to prove that these things did indeed happen in time and space, therefore naturalists have no leg to stand on to refute the Christian claims. An airtight case with valid historical evidence. We have so much more than that though don't we...we also have documented eyewitnesses...Matthew, John, James, etc...

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