What was the Sanhedrin?
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The Great Sanhedrin (which in Greek means 'a sitting together' or 'council') was the supreme council of the Jews who met within Jerusalem's temple in a place known as the chamber of hewn stones (although they sometimes met in the house of the High Priest). They were like the U.S. Supreme court in that it was the highest and final authority on decisions that affected all aspects of Jewish religious and political life. The council convened each day of the week except the Sabbath and the annual Biblical Holy Days.
In New Testament times the Sanhedrin was composed of seventy-one members: the High Priest, a vice chief justice and sixty-nine general members. Only chief priests, elders and scribes were eligible to sit on the council. Members were required to possess scholarship, modesty, strength, courage and popularity among their fellow men. Their rulings were, at one time, binding on all Jews scattered throughout the world. Their jurisdiction, however, was greatly curtailed by Herod the Great and then by the Roman Empire.
The Sanhedrin is traditionally viewed as the last institution that commanded universal Jewish authority among the Jewish people. Until the time when Judea was subjected to the Romans it had the power of life and death. In New Testament times, although it still retained the power of passing sentence, the Roman Empire retained the right to accept or reject their verdicts and to ultimately decide and carry out any penalties. Since the dissolution of the Sanhedrin in 358 A.D. by imperial decree, there have been several attempts to re-establish it either as a self-governing body or as a puppet of a sovereign government.
In the New Testament the Sanhedrin is variously referred to as "the chief priests, the elders, and all the council" (Matthew 26:59, NKJV throughout), the "chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people" (Matthew 26:3), the "chief priests and elders of the people" (Matthew 27:1) and in several places referred to as "the council" (Mark 15:1, Matthew 5:22, Acts 5:21, etc.).
The Sanhedrin was THE driving force that insured Jesus was betrayed, falsely arrested, falsely accused, unjustly judged and condemned to a death on the cross.