Why was the death of Jesus illegal?

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What happened to Jesus, the Savior of mankind, is without precedent. Christ was condemned to death even AFTER he was declared innocent by the ruling authority (Pontius Pilate)!

Few people realize that Jesus actually had TWO trials. The first one, at the High Priest's palace, was right after his arrest and began around 2 a.m. Although this trial was held only with judges who were his enemies, enough of them were at the trial to officially arrive at a verdict and declare a sentence. Many of the details of this proceeding were recorded by the gospel authors. Because Jewish law demanded two sessions of the Sanhedrin hear and try a defendant, a second trial was held around 5 a.m. Very little is written about this proceeding, which was likely nothing more than a "rubber stamp" or automatic approval of the first trial. He was bound and sent to the Roman authorities around 6 a.m.

Below are some of the reasons why what happened to Christ after his last Passover, centering around what occurred during his first trial, was contrary to Biblical principles of justice or Jewish / Hebrew law.

No formal charges were made

No legal basis existed for Jesus' arrest. There were no formal charges registered against him! He, in the Garden of Gethsemane, was simply taken away and tried at the behest of the religious leaders who HATED him (Mark 14:55)!  

The Sanhedrin, or more properly the Great Sanhedrin, was the supreme council of the Jews composed of seventy elders plus the high priest. The Great Sanhedrin, who at the time officially met in a chamber within Jerusalem's temple known as the chamber of hewn stones, had jurisdiction over religious matters. Based on the Bible, there had to be at least two or three people charging a particular person with breaking the law:

"One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits;  by the mouth of TWO or THREE witnesses the matter shall be established." (Deuteronomy 19:15)

 
 
 
 
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An accomplice was used in the arrest

It was Judas, one of the disciples, who led the religious authorities to Christ for his arrest:

"And immediately, while He was still speaking (in the Garden of Gethsemane), Judas, ONE OF THE TWELVE, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.  Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, 'Whomever I kiss, He is the One; SEIZE HIM and lead Him away safely.'  As soon as he had come, immediately he went up to Him and said to Him,  'Rabbi, Rabbi!' and kissed Him." (Mark 14:43-45)

If Jesus was believed to be a criminal, then the twelve disciples (including Judas) could easily have been considered accomplices in his illegal activities. The use of an accomplice to effect the arrest or conviction of a person was forbidden by Jewish / Hebrew law (W. Chandler, The Trial of Jesus, Vol. 1, pgs. 228-229).

The merits of the defense were not investigated

No investigation by the court was initiated to determine the merits of any accusations:

"If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days.  AND THE JUDGES SHALL MAKE CAREFUL INQUIRY . . . " (Deuteronomy 19:16-18)

Hebrew law provided no lawyers to defend or prosecute. The judges were the defenders and the witnesses the prosecutors. Therefore, the court was supposed to seek for evidence ONLY in behalf of the accused.

The arrest took place at night in order to hide evil

The arrest of Jesus was set in motion by chief priests bribing Judas to take them to him during the NIGHT (Matthew 26:14-16).

"Then Jesus answered and said to them,  'Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me?   I was DAILY with you in the temple teaching, and YOU DID NOT SEIZE ME . . .' " (Mark 14:48-49)

Judas would not have been needed if the religious leaders were merely looking for ANY opportunity to make an arrest. For, as Jesus stated above, he OPENLY taught in Jerusalem's temple and therefore could have been taken at any time. What the council wanted, however, was to HIDE the evil they were doing! His arrest in the middle of the night was the beginning of the council's planned SUBVERSION of the entire legal process so that they could "legally" murder him! Perverting justice is condemned in scripture:

"You shall not follow a crowd to do evil;  nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to PERVERT JUSTICE." (Exodus 23:2)

"You shall do NO INJUSTICE in judgment . . . You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people;  nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor:  I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:15-16)

"YOU SHALL NOT PERVERT JUSTICE . . . " (Deuteronomy 16:19)

The trial was held at night

Jewish law permitted only proceedings that took place during the daylight hours (Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:1, Mendelsohn, Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, p. 11).

The trial was held before morning sacrifice at temple

Because the trial began before morning sacrifices at the temple it was illegal based on Jewish law (Talmud, Jer. San. 1:19).

The trial was held before one of God's annual feast days

The trial was illegal, based on Jewish law, because it began on a day before a high Holy Day (First Day of Unleavened Bread - John 18:28).

"They shall not judge on the eve of the Sabbath nor on that of any festival." (Mishna, San. 4:1)

The trial was too short

Both trials were completed in the space of less than five hours. Jewish law says, however, that if a death sentence is pronounced that a trial cannot conclude until the next day (Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:1). There is little doubt that the starting time of the first trial (about 2 a.m.) and its shortness (around three hours) were sought after by the enemies of Jesus because:

  1. It minimized the chances that council members who may or would have advocated him (they were not informed of the first trial) suddenly or accidentally showed up.

  2. It rendered nearly impossible the chances that any witnesses of the defense could be notified and arrive at the trial in time to offer their testimony.
Trial was not held before impartial Judges

The judges at the trial HATED the accussed that was brought before them:

"After these things Jesus walked in Galilee;  for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him." (John 7:1, see also Matthew 26:3-5)

Jewish law expressly forbids a person from judging a case if they are already negatively biased either against the accused or the accuser (Mendelsohn, Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, p. 108).

Those who would have possibly voted AGAINST punishment or the death penalty were not at the trial.  Joseph of Arimathea, a rich member of the Sanhedrin, was likely not invited to the first trial. If Joseph had been at the trial He would not have voted for the death penalty:

"Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man.  He had NOT consented to their (the council) decision and deed.  He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God. " (Luke 23:50-51).

It was Joseph of Arimathea, not one of the eleven disciples, who went to Pilate and asked for the dead body of Jesus. After seeing Pilate Joseph had Nicodemus help him prepare the body for burial. Nicodemus was, like Joseph, a member of the Sanhedrin who believed in him (John 3:1-2). The resentment and bitterness toward Christ is all the more striking when one realizes the religious leaders who hated him KNEW he was from God!:

"There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews (member of the Sanhedrin). This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, 'Rabbi, WE KNOW THAT YOU ARE A TEACHER COME FROM GOD; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.'" (John 3:1-2)
Known false witnesses allowed to testify

The ninth commandment states:

"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." (Exodus 20:16)

Yet KNOWN false witnesses were sought and used during the trial.

"Then some rose up and bore FALSE WITNESS against Him, saying . . . , " (Mark 14:57, see also Matthew 26:59-60)

Lying against someone, especially in court, is something God says He HATES (Proverbs 6:16-19). The Biblical penalty for being a false witness was fair but severe (Deuteronomy 19:16-19, 21). These principles meant that those who LIED in court deserved the DEATH PENALTY for which they were giving testimony! Jewish law also did not allow false testimony during a trial and punished those found to be giving such during a trial (W. Chandler, The Trial of Jesus, Vol. 1, pg. 140).

Self-incrimination

Jesus did not defend himself against the charges made by the false witnesses. The High Priest, frustrated that he will not say anything in his own defense, calls upon GOD to witness the answer given to a very self-incriminating question (Matthew 26:62-65). According to Jewish law a person could NOT be condemned based on their own testimony (self-incrimination).

"We have it as a fundamental principle of our jurisprudence that no one can bring an accusation against himself." (Maimonides, Sanhedrin, 4:2, see also Mendelsohn)

Additionally, the indictment used to justify the death penalty was ILLEGAL because the judges themselves originated the charges. Based on the Bible, a charge against someone was to be brought up by at least two or three witnesses of the alleged crime:

"One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits;  by the mouth of TWO or THREE witnesses the matter shall be established." (Deuteronomy 19:15)

The Sanhedrin, according to Jewish law, could NOT originate charges. Alfred Edersheim in his Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (book 3, chapter 2) states:

"The Sanhedrin did not, and could not, originate charges. It only investigated those brought before it."

The condemnation charge was false

The High Priest's charge of blasphemy (cursing God or assuming to oneself the rights and qualities of God), which was used to justify sentencing Jesus to death, was INCORRECT because he WAS telling the truth. He was the Son of God (Mark 14:60-63)!

The death penalty was unanimously agreed

ALL those during the first trial who gathered to hear and judge the case called for the death penalty.

 AND THEY ALL CONDEMNED HIM TO BE DESERVING OF DEATH. (Mark 14:64)

It was illegal in Jewish law to unanimously condemn a person to death if no one testified as a witness for the defense (Jesus the Christ: A study of the Messiah and His mission, James Edward Talmage, pg. 647, quote from Rabbi Wise, Martyrdom of Jesus, p. 74).

The sentence was announced in an unlawful place

The final sentence was pronounced in the High Priest's palace (house) (see Mark 14:53). It was illegal to sentence someone to die in any location other than the court's (Great Sanhedrin's) appointed place, which was a chamber in Jerusalem's temple known as the chamber of hewn stones. Jewish law forbid the sentencing of death in any location ((Maimonides, Sanhedrin, 14).

Court changes charge after trial

The court illegally switched the charges from an alleged threat that Jerusalem's temple would be destroyed to blasphemy:

"But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, "This fellow said, 'I AM ABLE TO DESTROY THE TEMPLE OF GOD AND TO BUILD IT IN THREE DAYS.'" " (Matthew 26:59-61)

"Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, 'What further need do we have of witnesses?  You have heard the blasphemy! . . .' " (Mark 14:62-63)

After the trial the Sanhedrin AGAIN changed the charges, this time from blasphemy to treason (Luke 23:1-3, John 19:12). Jesus' enemies conveniently switched the charges against him to treason, a Roman crime, so that they could improve their chances of having the Romans (and not them!) do the dirty job of murdering him! When the religious leaders, however, initially presented him to Pontius Pilate they offered NO evidence for their new charge. Although Pilate determined he was innocent and wanted to release him, his desire to gratify the crowd led him to release an innocent man to the soldiers for crucifixion (Mark 15:12-13, 15).

Pilate has the charge against Jesus written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin and put on his cross. While the exact words Pilate wrote are unclear from the gospels, it was likely a version of "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." This charge has nothing to do with his threatening to destroy the temple or blasphemy. It shows that his enemies were willing to do whatever it took, including changing the charges against him a few times, in order to have him DEAD. (Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19-22).

Jesus' arrest and conviction was a conspiracy by his enemies to subvert and pervert the entire legal process so that he could be put to death. What happened to him is the greatest travesty of justice the world will ever see.

"The pages of human history present no stronger case of judicial murder than the trial and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, for the simple reason that all forms of law were outraged and trampled under foot in the proceedings instituted against Him." (Walter M. Chandler, The Trial of Jesus from a Lawyer's Standpoint, p. 216.)

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