Following up on Sunday’s sermon

When Jesus is put on trial by the high priest, Caiaphas, and his ruling council, the Sanhedrin, in Mark 14:53-65, Mark notes that many witnesses brought trumped-up charges against Jesus. Nevertheless, none of the witnesses agreed about what Jesus did wrong.

One charge, at least, was nearly true. As verse 58 indicates, some witnesses misheard or misinterpreted Jesus’ words (not found in Mark but in John 2:19): “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.” The witnesses reported that Jesus said that he would destroy the temple and raise it up in three days. (Oh, the days before video!) Still, Mark says, even these testimonies didn’t agree about what Jesus said.

According to Deuteronomy 19:15, the Sanhedrin shouldn’t have been able to convict on this basis.

Finally, Caiaphas asks, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus replies, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” And with that, Caiaphas believes that he has what he needs. Jesus, he says, has blasphemed.

From what I’ve read, it wasn’t blasphemous for Jesus to claim to be the Messiah (which is what “Christ” means). Jesus would be mistaken or deluded, his critics would say, but he wouldn’t be guilty of blasphemy.

In his book 24 Hours That Changed the World, Adam Hamilton asserts that Jesus’ first sentence tipped Caiaphas off: “I am.” Here, Hamilton says, Jesus was identifying himself with God’s name as given to Moses in Exodus 3:14. Many other commentators have made this connection. It’s an intriguing possibility, but it feels like a stretch to me. Would Caiaphas have heard that allusion in Jesus’ answer? Isn’t “I am” a straightforward answer to Caiaphas’s question?

In scholarly circles, it’s routine to dismiss the idea that Jesus claimed to be God in any sort of direct way. And technically that’s true, I guess. When Jesus agreed with Caiaphas, for example, that he was “Son of the Blessed One” (a circumlocution for God), he wasn’t exactly saying he was the Second Person of the Trinity, fully God and fully human, as later theology would develop the concept. Or at least Caiaphas wouldn’t have heard it that way: to him, “Son of God” was a claim to Davidic royalty, not divinity.

Whatever. Let’s not miss the importance of this blasphemy charge. Caiaphas and the assembly clearly heard something in Jesus’ answer in v. 62 that was blasphemous. They believed Jesus was claiming something for himself—a uniquely intimate relationship with God—that no human being ought to claim for himself. That may not be a direct claim that Jesus was God, but it was close enough for the council to convict Jesus of blasphemy.

Here’s a question: Why did the high priest and the council turn Jesus over to the Romans? I’ve heard it said that only the Romans could execute someone, but that’s not true: In Acts 7, the Sanhedrin kills Stephen without any trouble. Why didn’t they do the same with Jesus? Why was it important for Rome to execute him for sedition rather than have the Sanhedrin execute him for blasphemy?

Did they not want blood on their hands in case Jesus’ followers rose up against them?

I honestly don’t know the answer. Do you? I’m not saying there isn’t a good answer, I just don’t know what it is. So help me out if you can!

Leave a Reply