Matthew 26:57-75 Part 1


Just a couple of things here before we come to the text….  As the text at the end of chapter six of the Acts of the Apostles indicates, Stephen had been the subject of “suborned” testimony.  Suborned testimony is “procured” testimony, or “misdirected” testimony, or “perverted” testimony.

As Luke records it in verse twelve of that sixth chapter of the Acts, that testimony was the same as that which was brought against Jesus.  Let me say that again.  The suborned testimony that was brought against Stephen (within months after the trial and crucifixion of our Lord) was the same suborned testimony that was brought against Jesus here in our text.

Luke says that the charges brought against Stephen were 1) saying that Jesus the Nazarene will destroy “this place” (as the suborned testimony went), and 2) that Jesus would change the laws and customs that Moses delivered.

All through the Gospel of Matthew, as we’ve seen, from chapter five to the end, Jesus had dealt constantly with the re-interpretation of Moses by the hypocritical judaists in Israel.  Please remember that judaism is another religion… not the one revealed by God which, from the beginning, had foreshadowed and anticipated the coming Christ!  From beginning to end, the Older Scripture is a thoroughly Christian document.  But judaism had turned God’s Word upside down and created another religion.

And through all the Gospel narratives, Jesus had obliterated the best lawyers they had, and all their arguments.  He had not changed Moses, and would not change Moses.  He was the One Who had revealed the Word to Moses!  What He did was condemn the judaists’ reinterpretation of Moses!

By the time, here in our text for this morning, by the time Jesus appeared before Caiaphas, these men were so desperate to kill Him that their desperation is apparent in everything they do.  Finally they just have to drop the two suborned charges and try to get Him to say something about Himself that they could charge Him with.

But let’s now go to the text.

As you can see from the text at verse fifty-seven, Matthew indicates that word had been sent out for the elders and the scribes to come to the temple.  The last word in the verse is written in the passive voice (had been assembled); and it is the same word from which comes the term “Sanhedrin”, which was the ruling Jewish court in Israel.  It was the “seat” of power (the word comes from the word sent).

So in the very early morning (sometime between midnight and dawn) messengers had been sent out all over Jerusalem in order to locate and awaken the elders of the tribes and the pharisee/scribes.

They had been called to assemble at the courtyard of the high priest’s quarters in the temple complex.  All the other high priests (members of the Sanhedrin) would have already been in the complex (so Matthew mentions only the elders and the scribes here).  The chief priest’s quarters had a courtyard which looked somewhat like what we in Texas would recognize in Spanish construction – a gate opens into a passageway leading to a large, open area in the middle… a living area, or yard, surrounded by buildings and a wall.

And a big fire was built in the courtyard (as we learn in the other Gospels) because it was cold.  Apparently the chief priest, Caiaphas, had a very well thought out plan, and he was executing that plan as the elders and scribes were getting up and making their way to the temple.

The man Judas, who was a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, had been sent out with a large crowd of well-armed men.  And they would be able to quickly subdue whatever resistance there was and bring this “Jesus” back to within the temple walls where he could be dealt with in secret.

So all the members of Israel’s highest judicial court were called into session, and everything was being made ready for a trial in the middle of the night.

Now, explicit and implicit in the Scriptures is a legal system from God Himself which has, as one of its presuppositions, the depravity of man.  And because God is infinitely just and true, therefore the system of Law is to be just and true.  And all things relating to justice were to be open to view and to scrutiny.  Otherwise man, in his cursed and sinful state, would become tyrannous and oppressive.

So there was in Scripture, as there is on the books in some of our governmental institutions, a sunshine law.  In other words, there were to be no trials at night, or in secrecy.

But, so it seems, maybe because of the nature of the Passover feast (and the countless thousands of celebrants and worshippers and the potential for great international embarrassment), and certainly because of fear of the large numbers of Jesus’ followers, the chief priest, Caiaphas, chose to set that law aside – summarily rescinding it, or abrogating it – for this occasion.  His intent, on this Passover night, was to hold a capital trial in the middle of the night, at his own quarters, and with all of his own people there, and to get this man Jesus out of the way quickly!

Meanwhile, down in Gethsemane, the disciples had fled; and those who had been sent with Judas by Caiaphas seized Jesus and put Him in bonds.  And in the darkness of late night they led Him out of the orchard… across the stream in the valley, and up the side of Mount Zion toward the walls of the great city.  And considering the “stealthy” nature of this whole business and the numbers of people who were encamped around the city, I think that we can assume a rather “quiet” and “dimly lit” crowd of men in procession toward the gate and the temple complex.

And having entered the city they proceeded through the streets of the city into the temple area and into Caiaphas’ courtyard.  As verse fifty-eight indicates, Peter was following


“from afar even to the courtyard of the high priest; and when he had entered within he was sitting with the attendants to observe the end.”


Now, when the apostle John wrote his Gospel several years later (after the danger to himself and Peter was over), he was somewhat more detailed about all these things.  He was also (for some reason), more well known in Jerusalem.  In fact he mentions in his Gospel (without naming himself) that he was “known of Annas”.

Annas was Caiaphas’ father-in-law and the chief priest emeritus, having been chief priest for some twenty years himself, and being, arguably, the most powerful and influential man in Jerusalem at the time.

And what Matthew omits is that John also followed (and maybe even joined) the crowd of armed men as they took Jesus back to Jerusalem.  And apparently he had gone right in to the priest’s quarters with them.

And since Peter (not wanting to be seen and identified as one of Jesus’ disciples and the one who had attacked the priests’ servant)… since Peter stayed back and followed, the gate was closed before he got there.  And it was John who had noticed that he was out there looking in.

So he went to the maidservant who was attending the gate, and he persuaded her to let Peter in.  And that’s how Peter got in to observe the entire proceeding.  (When we come to verse sixty-nine we’ll see the recognition of Peter by three different people and his thrice denial of Jesus.  And this girl at the gate was the first of the three to call attention to his presence.)

But here again at verse fifty-eight Matthew says that Peter entered into the courtyard and was sitting with the attendants to observe the end.  Again, according to John, they were all sitting around a big fire in the middle of the courtyard.  John says it was cold.

But Peter just joined right in… pretending to be one of the group – the ones who were sent out by the priest to bring Jesus in.  And as Matthew says, he was sitting


“with the attendants to observe… the end.”


Matthew’s choice of the word “end” here sounds strange to us, but it’s chosen with reason.  It is an eschatological word which means “the last”, “the completion”.  We must understand that it was Jesus’ purpose to point toward Jerusalem and offer Himself as the one substitutionary Sacrifice.  And now, as Peter watches with the others, the completion of that purpose was at hand.  (We’ll be dealing with these theological issues in more depth later.)

But it ought to be mentioned at this point that (according to John) it was Annas, the chief priest emeritus, to whom Jesus was first brought.  Although Caiaphas was chief priest that year (and probably chosen by Annas to succeed him), and was president of the Sanhedrin by virtue of that position, it was Annas who was still thought of as the higher dignity.

But whether it was the understanding of that higher authority or simply custom – I’m not sure.  But Annas was the first to see Jesus.  Apparently he was still in residence at the chief priest’s quarters at the temple; and Jesus was first brought to stand, in bonds, before him.

Since it’s not in our text we won’t examine that brief confrontation in any detail, but John says that Annas questioned Jesus about His disciples and about his teaching.  And Jesus answered him, in effect, that He had taught openly in the synagogues and in the temple.  And if Annas wished to know His teaching, then there were many who could testify.  And if there were witnesses to His saying or doing something which was against the Law, then let them do it!  Let them testify!

Then one of the attendants struck Jesus and chastened Him for speaking to the chief priest in that manner.  Whereupon Jesus said to him,


“If I said something evil, then witness to it.  But if I didn’t, why did you strike Me?”


So Annas, without the ability to accuse Jesus of anything, just sent Him over to Caiaphas.  In other words, since his son-in-law set all of this up, let him deal with Him!


Now.  With that initial encounter (recorded by John) in mind, let’s go back to the text, verse fifty-nine and the first half of sixty.  This is what it says:


“Now, the high priests and the whole Sanhedrin had been seeking false testimony against Jesus so as they might put Him to death, and they did not find many false witnesses among those who came forth.”


The whole Sanhedrin is here sitting as a court, with the chief priest as the prosecutor in the case.  Matthew presents the whole focus of this illegal action against the perfectly innocent Man when he says that the court was hearing witnesses and seeking PSEUDOMARTURIA – false testimonies.

Now, Jewish formal law, based on God’s revealed Word in the Decalogue, required an indictment and an arrest on the strength of that indictment which, in turn, was based on the testimony of at least two or three witnesses.

But here was a trial of the sinless Man, already arrested, against Whom no indictment had been issued, and no witnesses had been found!  And they had been busy trying to find two or more who would say something by which Jesus could be indicted!

No crime had been committed; and no charges had been made… and the unindicted, illegally arrested Messiah is brought to the court in bonds, at an illegal hour, before the supreme court of Israel!  His death had already been decreed, you see!

And (as is the case so many times with villainous judges) a “show” of legal formalities is portrayed.  So the entire Sanhedrin (not squeamish whatsoever about the means) seeks some testimony on which it can proceed with some appearance of formality on which it can pass the verdict of death!

And the only way open to them to accomplish that is to find some witnesses who would say something in testimony by which they could get that conviction.

And the most amazingly ironic thing about all of this is the fact that they would not pay for perjured testimony!  In other words they wouldn’t get someone to the side and say to them, “If you will say this before the court, I’ll give you money!”

And in fact we find the very essence of the hypocrite, don’t we?  The reason they wouldn’t buy perjured testimony was to avoid the guilt of breaking the ninth commandment, which forbids false testimony!!  By not “buying” it… by not participating in it… by not “speaking” the false testimony, they could use whatever was said to their own ends without sharing in the guilt of it!

So these are truly men of hypocrisy… cunningly perverting and suppressing the Truth; making a mockery of the Law of God by observing outward formalities to avoid guilt!  This is “double-mindedness” – using the outward formalities to be, and appear, holy; but, at the same time, subverting the Law for their own purposes!

And this they proceed to do.  As verse sixty indicates, much to their dismay it wasn’t so easy to find what they thought would be easy to find.  An array of witnesses comes forth – man after man testifies – but little is found, and no two or three agree, so as to charge Jesus with something for which the death penalty applies!

Now, because of this we understand that it is testimony that they’re looking for… not that the witnesses themselves would be purposely false; not that the testimony would necessarily be fabricated; but that there might be testimony that could be interpreted by the court as false!!  The emphasis here is clearly on the interpretation, by the court, of the testimony that they heard – and not on the witnesses themselves.  Otherwise they could have quickly found two false witnesses who agreed on purposely fabricated testimony!

But it is clear in this verse that all the witnesses were telling what they truly heard and saw, or what they thought they heard and saw; and, therefore, it wasn’t easy for the court to find the false testimony (or testimony that they could interpret falsely) that they were so diligently seeking.

But finally, as the last part of verse sixty and verse sixty-one say,


“But subsequently two, when they approached said, ‘This Man said “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in the course of three days.”’”


More than likely these two men approached the court one at a time… to testify as to what they had heard (or thought they heard).  They wouldn’t have come up together, because the Gospel writer Mark says that they didn’t even say the same thing – that their testimony was only about the same thing, but it wasn’t the same.  If they had come up together, then their testimony would have been exactly the same.

Now, I don’t doubt that these two men were repeating what they remembered Jesus saying… that this Man claimed He was able to destroy God’s temple, and that He could build it over the course of three days.  The testimony isn’t fabricated testimony.  But it is testimony of what they thought they heard!  And even though it was two different versions, it’s still not what Jesus said!

But Caiaphas was desperate for something, so he jumped right on it – even though the two didn’t agree!

But we know what Jesus actually said, because John recorded the statement.  He said:


“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it.”


Now, that’s totally different from the two misquoted testimonies!  Jesus was speaking of His body – the New Holy Sanctuary of God’s people, the resurrected second Adam Who would rise from death on the third day!

The old sanctuary, with its holy of holies, provided access to God by the high priest once a year for all the people; but the perfect second Adam cleansed a cursed and depraved people and made absolute and continuous access for them to the Throne-room of God.  That’s the new and better sanctuary; and the visible representation of that is the Church.

Jesus had spoken of the Jews putting Him to death:  “Destroy this temple (speaking of Himself), and I will raise it on the third day.”  But these two men thought they heard Him claim the divine ability to destroy the sanctuary in Jerusalem and to rebuild it in three days.  (He would destroy it… but that’s another issue.)

In verse sixty-two Caiaphas then rises, thinking that now he may have something.  If this Man thinks He’s Almighty God and has the power to destroy and rebuild the temple, maybe He’ll claim that… and even if they didn’t have two witnesses saying the same thing, His own words would be enough to convict Him!

So he asks Jesus’ answer to what these men testified.  You see, it’s an open-ended question, craftily formulated to allow Jesus to speak about His own divinity.  But Jesus knows that they don’t have two witnesses saying the same thing.  So the supreme court of Israel is caught with nothing.  He doesn’t have to say a thing!  And He remains silent (as Matthew records in the first part of verse sixty-three).  This is written as a dramatic, descriptive imperfect tense…..


“He continued silent.”


And they waited… and waited.  Nothing.  By doing and saying nothing, Jesus manifested to all the fact that He was the absolutely innocent One Who could be charged with nothing!  And it left the Sanhedrin in a position of complete illegality.  All of the illegality and immorality was theirs… and none was His.

And now, as the remainder of sixty-three indicates, Caiaphas becomes exasperated.  Having decided before that this Man had to die – and quickly – the situation had to be taken in hand.  The fact that no clear testimony by two or three witnesses could be found (as much as they had searched) left the Sanhedrin in a very tenuous position.

Even in this trial (in which the Law had been clearly manipulated, which was the way they always did things) they still had to produce items which were critical in order to justify their actions in killing a Man!  And the witnesses was that critical factor.

But since blaspheming God was a death penalty offense, the only way now open to Caiaphas was to get this Man to say something in public – before all these witnesses – which is irrefutably blasphemous.  Then an indictment could be brought against Him right there in court.

So Caiaphas shifts gears completely, abandoning the former strategy; and he turns now to the primary issue at hand, which is:  whether Jesus personally, openly, claims to be the Messiah.  They had heard that He had.

Next Lord’s Day we’ll begin right here with Caiaphas’ strategy; hopefully we can finish looking at the text itself.  Then, after that, we can deal with some of the great Theological issues arising from it.