Seeking Testimony Against Jesus
Vigilantes were self-appointed law enforcement groups which sprang up on the American frontier. One writer says that “vigilantism was [often] carried out by citizens who were moderate and orderly in their application of force,” but he notes that the danger of mob rule was also present. Just ask the poor fellow whose grave at Boot Hill Cemetery in Arizona bears this epitaph: “Lynched by mistake.”
A local council, or court, could be established in any town with at least 120 men who were heads of their household. Each council, known as a sanhedrin (from the Greek word sunedrion, meaning “sitting together”), provided legal governance to its community. These local councils were composed of twenty-three men, often drawn from the leadership of the synagogue. An odd number of council members ensured that, whenever they voted on an issue or determined a verdict at a trial, there would always be a majority decision.
The supreme court of Israel was located in Jerusalem and met daily in the temple, except on the Sabbath and other holy days.
Based on the stipulations articulated in the Old Testament, the Jewish legal system provided those accused of a crime with several protections: a public trial held during daylight hours, an adequate opportunity to make a defense, and the rejection of any charge unless it was supported by the testimony of at least two witnesses.
Normally, a decision in the Sanhedrin followed an orderly process, in which members cast their votes one at a time, starting with the younger members so that they would not be unduly influenced by the older members. The votes were carefully tabulated by a scribe. But on this night, the council was characterized by a mob mentality in which they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.
The Sanhedrin knew they would need to elicit Rome’s help to execute Jesus. Because a claim of equality with God was not a crime the Romans deemed worthy of death, the Jewish leaders had invented new charges about which Rome would be concerned. When they later brought Jesus to Pilate, they alleged that He was guilty of fomenting an insurrection against the empire. They told the governor, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King” (Luke 23:2). Once again, they invented a bald-faced lie in order to see Jesus condemned and executed.