Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Arrest and Trials of The Jesus: A Historical Apologetic Approach

The Arrest and Trials of The Innocent

by Mike Robinson 

arrest christ book
In the spring of 30 AD, just 40 years before the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, embodiments of oppressive religion such as Annas, Caiaphas, and Pilate deliberated in the porch of the governor’s palace, as a mob mocked, pelted, and otherwise rallied for the death of a man falsely accused of controverting crimes. Prosecution of alleged capital criminals, records the Talmud, had largely ceased in Israel since Rome appropriated civil and capital authority from the Jewish people just a few decades earlier. Yet, men with long robes and stiff necks passionately pressed the Roman governor to execute Jesus Christ. And as such, Christ was crucified at Calvary.

Today, 2000 years after the crucifixion of Christ, numerous non-Christians are again pondering the killing of Jesus Christ. The case illustrates the complexity of construing a new theory in modern contexts (e.g., Alsan, Ehrman, O'Reilly, etc.) that are devoid of the cultural, linguistic, and religious environment that was so unique during first century Israel.

Christ’s death surely had something to do with the serious legal abuse He suffered, since the priests were complicit in His arrest and brutal execution. Yet in the case of Christ, death was not the end of the story.

Plato, in positing an idealist-victim in the death of the Socrates, did not need to see a risen philosopher, since the sage came to discuss wisdom and not provide atonement. In contrast, Christ’s killing was essentially about securing the salvation of sinners through His death on the cross and His subsequent resurrection.

The Night Arrest of Jesus Christ

The ancient Hebrews forbade the use of accomplice testimony . . . The arrest of Jesus was ordered upon the supposition that He was a criminal: this same supposition would have made Judas, who had aided, encouraged, and abetted Jesus in the propagation of His faith, an accomplice. If Judas was not an accomplice, Jesus was innocent, and His arrest … therefore was illegal.1

The apprehension of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane occurred at around midnight of the 14th day of Nisan, according to the Hebrew calendar (April on the Roman calendar). The Jewish people typically began their day at sundown. The men who arrested Jesus were part of the temple guard, a Roman military detachment that policed the temple grounds because Jewish riots often erupted in the vicinity.

The opposition (the Jewish leadership in Judea) against the Galilean, Jesus ben Joseph, had intensified towards the end of Christ’s ministry. Selected elements within the Jewish leadership were determined to arrest Christ during the Feast of Tabernacles. They authorized temple-guards to seize Him while He was preaching in the temple, however, after hearing His words they declined inasmuch as no man ever spoke in the manner Christ did (John 7:32-7:46). Later, Jesus’ friend Lazarus died and was in the grave for a total of four days signifying the corruption of his body. Then Jesus called him from the grave and Lazarus emerged alive again. This miracle incensed the priestly leadership and they became even more determined to kill Christ. The chief priest Caiaphas** lobbied it was beneficial that one man should die for the people so that the nation would survive as a whole (John 11:47-54).

Following a prayer, Christ awoke the disciples and taught them how to pray so that they could overcome temptation. At this time a throng composed of troops, Pharisees, and officers of the Sanhedrin* went marching up to arrest Jesus—and Judas was with them.

Then Judas, having received a detachment of soldiers and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, "Whom are you seeking?” They replied: "Jesus of Nazareth." Christ answered: "I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground (John 18:3-6).

Jesus by the power of the divine name (“I am” in Greek is ego eime; Exodus 3:14, LXX) blew the whole mob back to the ground in one sudden movement. Christ could have smote the whole lot and called on an angelic host to instantly pulverize His enemies. Instead, Christ purposed towards the cross.
* The Sanhedrin was the Jewish Supreme Court in the time of Jesus. It was also called the Council of Seventy.
 **The name "Caiaphas" means "the oppressor."

Jesus Held Unlawfully

The proper manner, taught by the academy of soldiering in Rome, was to take the accused by the right wrist, twist his arm behind him so that his knuckles touched between his shoulder blades, and at the same time, jam the heel of the boot down on the right instep. And they tied the other arm with a loose noose around the neck.2

According to Hebrew law (the Mishnah and first century Jewish law), the arrest of Jesus was highly illegal on at least three counts:

  1. All legal measures, including arrests and detentions, were prohibited at night. Moreover, it was an exacting rule of Hebrew law that arrests and trials regarding capital crime could not occur at night.

  1. The use of an accomplice (Judas in this case) in securing an arrest was prohibited by Jewish law (Leviticus 19:16-18).

  1. According to Hebrew law, it was illegal to shackle a man before he was found guilty and afterward sentenced (John 18:12-13).

Jewish and Roman Trials

Hebrew law provided that false witnesses should suffer the penalty provided for the commission of the crime which they sought by their testimony to fix upon the accused. This rule is based on Deuteronomy 19:18-21.3

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 (Mark 14:56-59).

After Christ’s arrest there were endless interrogations, Jewish trials, and Roman trials. The documentation for Christ’s trial begins with the New Testament. No thoughtful person has legitimately questioned the actuality of the trial of Jesus, or that sentences of guilt were declared by Israel and Rome. Moreover, His enemies haughtily admit that the Romans executed Christ. The accepted Gospels as well as the Talmud often refer to the trial and the crucifixion. The ambiguities are of minutiae, not material, apropos the facts of the trials. In details, the synoptic Gospels agree extraordinarily well with one another and form a consistent portrayal regarding the trial of Christ. In the vehemence of its conviction, modern Orthodox Judaism agrees with the rabbinical application of justice that was applied to Christ by the hands of the Romans. Orthodox Judaism’s revulsion of Jesus Christ is so severe that by Mishnahic strictures, some contemporary Jewish fundamentalists would send Christ to Pilate a second time, should they be given the opportunity.

Despite the prejudices and theological preconceptions of the Romans and the Sanhedrin, the trials of Christ record many incidents that demonstrate Christ’s trials were illegal. The trial by night, the false witnesses, and the court’s secrecy—no one appraising these passages could ever doubt the reality of the illegal actions, malfeasance, and subterfuge.

The Fashionable Critics

Today, a variety of skeptics have come forth with best-selling books to dispute the biblical accounts of the arrest, trial, and death of Christ. Some claim that Jesus was a revolutionary or a Zealot—others claim He was a tax protester. But the reader can be supremely confident, even have complete assurance, scripture and its account of Christ are true. On reflection, one will find that skepticism regarding Christ’s life and death are overturned using arguments from ultimate criteria (the Christian worldview vs. a non-theistic worldview) which has a mutable non-universal foundation.

The skeptic accepts the reality of historical analysis, the necessary condition of which is God. This problem seems to be disabling for the semi-skeptical program of Aslan, Ehrman, and other similar biblical fallibilists. This is the case not merely because of skepticism’s dubious coherence, but because of its ontological limitation—it lacks a source that is lofty and majestic enough to provide universal immutables utilized in historical analysis. In rational pursuits, including historical investigation, there is no ontic cheating: you either have the goods or you do not. If one’s worldview lacks the resources to account for the universal operating features of reason, it is incapable of underwriting such an enterprise altogether.

God furnishes all the a priori essentials; the necessary epistemic equipment utilized in all analytical pursuits. God has the ontic attributes of omniscience, immutability, and omnipotence (He has universal reign) thus enabling Him to be the ground for the universal and immutable laws of logic that are utilized in all thought and analysis. Any position that rejects the true God, as the epistemic (knowledge) base, not only leaves an unnerving fissure, but hopelessly fails. Consequently, whatever evidence one discovers must be discerned and processed with the rational implements that arise from Christian theism and the worldview that emanates from God. The immaterial, transcendent, and immutable God supplies the indispensable pre-environment for the use of immaterial, transcendent, universal, and immutable laws of truth. Skeptical thought, because it rests upon mutable and non-universal ground, cannot furnish the necessary preconditions for the immutable universal laws of truth utilized in historical analysis; therefore it results in futility because of its own internal weakness. 

This topic of Christ's death is of distinctive interest, not only on account of its intrinsic importance, but more particularly on account of its depiction of stark injustice. Additionally, this inquisitiveness leads directly up to what is both the greatest miscarriage of justice as well as the most marvelous redemptive act performed in the history of mankind: the death of Jesus Christ. On exhibit in the New Testament narratives are two of the most significant legal systems in antiquity: Roman and Talmudic Judaism. We will discover the reason for the six night trials in Part Two.

His Arrest Led to Salvation

Our sins are debts that none can pay but Christ. It is not our tears, but His blood; it is not our sighs, but His sufferings, that can testify for our sins. Christ must pay all, or we are prisoners forever (Thomas Brooks).
Jesus was unjustly arrested and illegally tried. Nonetheless, His arrest resulted in His death—a death that provided atonement for sinners. Jesus is the Captain of salvation for He overmastered sin, death, and the grave. He turned the darkness of death into the dazzling glory of the Resurrection. With Jesus no one needs religion to escape death’s grip; no one needs religion to be loved and accepted: Jesus is alive and He loves His own to the end.
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him (1 John 3:1).
Jesus is all-wise, omnipotent, omniscient, and He is everywhere present; He is blessed and radiant in power and glory. He propitiates God’s judgment and wrath as He offers unconditional love to all His people. Jesus saves, redeems, protects, delivers and leads His people. Jesus, as God, accomplished the supreme purpose as the conqueror of darkness and wickedness. Jesus is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

Contemplate the glory of Christ. Rejoice in the wonder of His person. Delight in His friendship. Thank Him for His forgiveness and love Him for His loveliness. With Jesus you do not need manmade religion. So focus on Jesus, live upon Jesus, walk with Jesus, and follow hard after Jesus as you obey His word out of gratitude; moreover, love Him for all He is and all that He has done for you.
When you have done your best, and have not succeeded, bring out this last hammer—the cross of Christ. I have often seen on pieces of cannon, in Latin words, this inscription, “The last argument of kings.” That is to say, cannons are the last argument of kings. But the cross is the last argument of God. If a dying Savior does not convert you, what will? (Charles Spurgeon).

 For a more exhaustive exposition of the arrest and numerous trials of Jesus see my new book: On Sale a very limited time for $0.99


  1. Chandler, Walter. The Trial of Jesus, vol. 1.
  2. Bishop, Jim. The Day Christ Died.
  3. Chandler.

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