Mark 14 records the final hours of Jesus life and the circumstances surrounding his death. Verses 53-65 are the first part of Jesus’ trial. Jesus is presented as being subjected to an unjust trial, and wrongfully condemned to death. Over and over, we have seen Jesus presented as the one fulfilling God’s promises and as the King bringing the Kingdom of God with him. This is what makes this unjust trial and condemnation so shocking. Jesus is the one coming to rescue Israel and rule in justice, yet he is rejected and condemned unjustly. But in God’s loving sovereignty, he works this injustice and the condemnation of his own son to bring about salvation and eternal life for not only Israel, but the whole world!
The trial of Jesus bears all of the marks of a backwards trial full of injustice. Once they arrested Jesus, they lead him to the courtyard of the high priest; it tells us in verse 54. This is not the official place of trial, but the property of the high priest. This trial is illegitimate from the beginning simply because of its location. Verse 55 says they were “looking for evidence…but they could not find any”. They had decided that Jesus needed to be taken out. They determined Jesus was guilty and were going to find him guilty. They weren’t going to let him get away with saying the things he had been saying. There was only one problem with this; Jesus hadn’t actually done anything wrong. He had actually broken any laws; he simply made the wrong people angry. They tried to find witnesses, but verse 56 says no one’s testimony agreed. Twice it says “false testimony” was given. The closest thing they could get too was to charge him with threatening to destroy the temple, but no one could agree on the words he had used. Jesus didn’t threaten to destroy the Temple, but that is a charge brought against him. There is irony in this though; in bringing this charge against him, the Temple will be destroyed. Because Israel rejects her messiah, they invite destruction upon themselves and these leaders are the ones responsible for it. Jesus talked about the Temple being destroyed, but not destroying it himself. He did say that he would rebuild it himself though.
In Verse 58 the word used for “Temple” changes. It’s a different for the word used for “Temple” in the other places in Mark’s Gospel. It might better be rendered “sanctuary”. You may even read that in some translations. This may not seem like much, but it shows the nature of the exaggeration in their accusations against him. –hey don’t just accuse him of destroying the Temple in general; they speak of the “sanctuary” or the inner room where the High Priest met with God on the Day of Atonement: “The Holy of Holies” or “The Holiest Place”. The language is more serious because they speak of him destroying the holiest place. Since they could come up with nothing, the High Priest begins to ask Jesus about these charges, but Jesus remained silent. So, the High Priest asks Jesus very plainly about what the crowds of people had been talking about. Remember they were singing his praises and treating him like a King on the day he rode into Jerusalem only a few days before this. In verse 61, he asks Jesus if he’s the Messiah. The High Priest is careful not to say the Name of God so that God’s name isn’t inadvertently taken in vain, so he says “Blessed One”. He’s precise in observing this custom, yet, he’s manipulating evidence and practicing injustice in the effort to kill Jesus. He is careful to practice his religion, but has rejected Jesus in the process.
This should be a warning to all of us. As important as religious duty is, we must not forget God in our observance of it. Should the High priest have used God’s name loosely and without respect? Absolutely not! But in practicing his religious observance, he neglected to observe what is most important – he did not love God. There are religious duties and moral obligations that Christianity requires of us, and these should not be neglected. Yet we need to always fight the temptation to be more absorbed with religious observance than loving God. Jesus is our model in this, completely sinless but not because he was trying not to sin, but because he loves the Father. The high priest misses this, and he rejects his Messiah in the process.
Jesus has avoided answering questions like this directly, but here he is very specific. He doesn’t make the claim to being the Messiah himself, the High Priest does, but Jesus answers clearly and boldly. At this point in Jewish history, they didn’t expect the Messiah to be literally divine, but when Jesus combines Messiah, with Son of Man, and Mighty One coming in the clouds in verse 62, it’s clear that he’s making a claim to divinity. These are references to Daniel 7:13 and Psalm110:1 which tells of the way the Messiah will Judge. Jesus is saying he is the Divine Judge who will judge the world, but at this moment he’s reversing everything. Rather than judging the world, he is being judged by the world. The high priest is sitting over Jesus the Messiah in judgment and Jesus’ reply to him is a warning. In effect, Jesus is saying, “you may be judging me now, but soon I will judge you in the highest court.” The high priest rips his clothes which is a response communicating the highest outrage. They deem him guilty of blaspheme.
This court called the Sanhedrin was a religious court that ruled on many things, but they needed the Roman procurator Pilate to rule on a death sentence. So in verse 64, they condemn him to death, but they lacked the authority to carry it out. Rather than being proclaimed the Messiah and Son of God being accepted by his people Israel, Jesus is rejected and the proclamation of his titles is in his condemnation and death. They kill him for saying he’s King and Judge and Son of God, when it should’ve been the reason they worshipped him. They put him to death when they should have believed in him.
The witnesses don’t agree, the high priest asks Jesus to respond to unsubstantiated charges. They are meeting in an unofficial location. They are meeting at nighttime rather than during the day. This trial is a farce. There was not a shred of evidence against Jesus yet they find him guilty. They find Jesus guilty of breaking the Law, and in their claim to uphold the law, it was they who were breaking it. Then in verse 65, they spit on Jesus, their Messiah. They mock him saying “prophesy” as they beat him. The irony of this is what happens next in the story. He does in fact give a prophecy that is fulfilled.