When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

Christ Before Caiaphas

It was past midnight, but the moon lighted the way. They that had laid hold on Jesus led him over the Kidron bridge, beneath which the little river ran like a stream of silver. Before them, at the summit of the hill, rose the walls of the city and the open gate. At first, as they entered, the people seemed to be asleep. The streets were empty and all the windows dark; only a sentry was pacing back and forth along the castle wall. But presently there was a sound of running feet. The palace of the high priest was all alight, and out of the entrance servants were running down this street and that, knocking on the doors of great houses; and men looked out and said, "What is the matter?" and the servants answered, "He is taken; you know who. There is to be a meeting of the Sanhedrin immediately, that he may be put on trial."

The Jewish people had two rulers. One was Pilate, the Roman governor, who was the head of the state; the other was Caiaphas, the high priest, who was the head of the church. The high priest could do nothing without the consent of the standing committee, the Sanhedrin. The members of this committee were, therefore, summoned out of their sleep. While our Lord was being led along in the midst of the police and the crowd, they were hastily putting on their clothes, and making their way to the place of meeting. Jesus was brought in, and the trial began.

The high priest asked Jesus of his disciples and of his doctrine. He answered, "I spake openly to the world: I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort, and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said." And as he finished speaking, an attendant, one of the lower officers of the court, struck him in the face with the palm of his hand. The servant, seeing no doubt how all was going, and thinking to gain favor with his master, struck the King, saying, "Answerest thou the high priest so?" Our Lord turned and said quietly, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?" But the high priest did not rebuke the brutal servant.

Instead of that, the priests and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death. They were determined to kill him, but they wished to kill him legally. They knew that many of the people believed him to be a prophet. They feared that they would be called to account for what they did. So they were careful to observe the form of law. There must be witnesses, two at least, to testify against a criminal. If they could find no true ones, false witnesses would do as well.

So the servants hurried again into the night to bring in witnesses. Now one day, as he taught in the temple, Jesus had said something which nobody quite understood. Whether the words themselves were so mysterious, or whether there was so much confusion that they were not heard distinctly, we do not know. Anyhow, they were reported to the authorities, in one way and another, and they were now brought up against him. Two false witnesses came and said: "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.' " But they did not agree. They could not remember exactly what he said. Even the apostles did not understand it, though long after, thinking it over, they concluded that he must have spoken of the temple of his body. But nobody knows. He had said something, however, about the destruction of the temple: that was plain. He had spoken, they believed, against that holy place in whose service the Sadducees were engaged. And so speaking, he had spoken against the Sadducees. There they sat, then, in the council, ready to vote against him.

But the false witnesses had not agreed together. Another evidence must be found against him in order to convict him legally. So the high priest, clad in his robes of office, stood up solemnly in the midst, and asked Jesus, saying, "Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?" But he held his peace, and answered nothing. And the high priest said unto him, "I adjure thee, by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God." Thus the moment came which our Lord had long awaited. "Do not tell," he said to Peter, on the day of the great recognition. "Do not tell," he said to the three, as they came down from the mountain of the transfiguration. He himself would declare the great truth in his own time. Thus he stood looking into the faces of the leaders of the people. "Yes," he said, "I am. I am the Christ, the Son of God. By and by you shall see me sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven."

Then the high priest rent his clothes; he grasped his flowing gown of linen and tore it from top to bottom, as was then the way of men in great excitement. "He hath spoken blasphemy," he cried. "He claims to be the Christ, the Messiah promised of the prophets, the King of Glory, the Sun of God. What further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. What think ye?" Our Lord's mysterious words about the temple had determined the Sadducees to vote against him: this declaration decided the Pharisees. It was as they had suspected, then; this Nazareth carpenter, who had despised their customs, claimed to be the Christ. But, indeed, they were all against him. The trial was no trial. Even as they came out of their houses their minds were made up. "What think ye?" They answered and said, "He is guilty of death."

Thus it all ended. He who had come from heaven, in whom God dwelt and he in God, of whom the Father of all had said, "This is my beloved Son," the King of Glory, was condemned to death. He told them who he was: I am your King,—and they cried out against him. The high priest rejected him. So did the lesser priests, and the preachers of the synagogue, and the whole church. The church of God resolved to kill the Son of God.

The church, however, had no power to put any man to death. That belonged to the state. Caiaphas had condemned Jesus, but in order that the false Christ, as he thought, should be killed, he must be given over into the hands of Pilate. It was as yet too early in the morning to see Pilate. The moon had gone down, but the sun had not yet risen. They must wait. Jesus was, therefore, given into the charge of the servants of the palace till the day should dawn. The scribes and elders returned to their homes. Jesus, with his hands tied, stood amidst the servants. And the servants, seeing in him one whom their masters had condemned to death, mocked him. They struck him first on one cheek, then on the other, and spat in his face. They put a cloth over his eyes to blindfold him, and each, in turn, dancing about him beat him, crying with each blow, "Thou prophet, prophesy now, who is he that smote thee?"

In the mean time two of the fleeing disciples, seeing that nobody was following them, had turned back. Keeping in the shadow of the walls and houses, they approached the palace of the high priest, and at last, plucking up courage, entered. The first to go in was John; and finding that no attention was given to him, he went out and brought in Peter. The palace was built about an open court, into which the rooms opened. Across this court were clattering little breathless groups of men,—belated members of the council, servants going on hasty errands. In a hall whose lights shone out into the court Christ was standing before Caiaphas. It was cold in the early spring morning, and the servants had built a charcoal fire on the stone pavement, and stood about it warming themselves. And Peter joined them, holding out his cold hand to the blaze. But Peter, as we have already seen, was a talkative person, and now in his great excitement he could not keep silent. It was plain by the look of him that he was a stranger from the country. His clothes hinted that and his voice proved it; for the fishermen of Galilee had a way of speaking which people in Jerusalem thought to be queer. They did not pronounce their words as the city people did. No sooner, then, had Peter opened his mouth than the man to whom he spoke knew that he came from Galilee.

The first to address Peter was a maid-servant, who attended the door. She said, at once, as he came in, "Art not thou also one of this man's disciples?" And Peter, already tired from lack of sleep, nervous and afraid, and now taken by surprise, said, "I am not." John and he had come to see the end,—the end of all their hopes. There were no longer any disciples. That beautiful brotherhood had been broken up. The Master was on trial for his life, and they who had followed him would see him no more. So Peter spoke out of the bitterness of his heart. He had been his disciple, but he was such no longer.

Peter came in, then, and stood by the fire, getting what news he could about the proceedings in the palace, but looking so miserable that another maid-servant gazed curiously at him and said, "And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth." But he denied a second time, saying, "I know not what you say;" that is, "I don't know what you are talking about." And he went out into the porch, into the passage which led from the court into the street. As he stood by the gate a first faint streak of light began to appear in the east, and a rooster in some neighboring barnyard sounded the signal of approaching day: the cock crew.

What had the Lord said about the crowing of the cock? Peter started back, but as he did so the woman at the gate called to the men at the fire. "See this fellow," she cried; "is he not one of them?" "Yes," they answered, looking sharply at him, "he is a Galilean; his speech shows that." And one of then, a kinsman of the man whose ear Peter cut off, started up and said, "Yes, yes, I saw him in the garden with him." And Peter began to call even Heaven to witness that he was no disciple of the Prophet. "I do not even know this man of whom ye speak." And again the cock crew.

And at that moment Jesus was led forth, and, hearing Peter say these words, the Lord turned and looked upon him. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, "Before the cock crow twice thou shalt deny me thrice." And he went out and wept bitterly.