53They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. 54Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. 55Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. 56For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. 57Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, 58“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59But even on this point their testimony did not agree. 60Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62Jesus said, “I am; and
‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”
63Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. 65Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.
They arrest Jesus in the darkness, and they take him to a hastily arranged late night trial, at the home of the high priest. This is all highly irregular; the Sanhedrin (the Jerusalem Council) normally met in the daytime, in the temple. Caiaphas, the high priest, was appointed by Rome; he and his allies are concerned about maintaining their power, which Jesus attacked on his first day in Jerusalem. The others are concerned about keeping some element of power centered in the temple, knowing they will lose if Rome senses a rebellion or uprising among the people. Still others, Pharisees, see Jesus as breaking the Mosaic Law, as they so precisely defined it, and are angry at Jesus for pointing out their faults. Together, they form a coalition to get rid of this upstart rabbi, thinking that if they kill him his followers will fade away. We know that there were members of the Sanhedrin who disagreed, but did not dare speak up, or perhaps, were not told of the unusual meeting – including Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, whom we find in John’s gospel.
Even so, they needed witnesses, and none could testify that Jesus had done anything wrong. And so, the chief priest paid false witnesses; but even they could not get their stories together, and so were not reliable.
Meanwhile, Peter did not desert like all the others, but in the darkness had followed at a distance. Once again, Mark inserts one story within the other – we will hear the story of Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin before we return to Peter’s story.
Finally, the chief priest questions Jesus directly, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed one?” Notice, he cannot even say the word, “God”, or “Jehovah”, or “YHWH”; to even utter God’s name would be sacrilege. And yet, Jesus answers with the words “I AM”, which is not simply an affirmation, but a claiming of the name of God, for the 4 letters of “YHWH” mean “I AM”, as God spoke to Moses from the burning bush – when Moses asked his name – saying, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). And then Jesus quotes Scripture, Psalm 110:1, “The LORD says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand’”, and Daniel 7:13, “I saw one like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven”, and in 7:14, “To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away.” Finally, Jesus has told them all who he really is!
But to the chief priest (who was quite willing to make compromises to the extent of breaking the commandment against murder) these words are blasphemy! And he tears his clothes (indicating anger and dismay) and demands a guilty verdict from the council – they have all heard; they do not need witnesses! And so, Jesus was condemned, and they tormented him.
picture is steps leading to the gate near what is believed to be the house of Caiaphas – perhaps the very steps on which they brought Jesus to trial that dark night.