THE HIGH PRIEST Caiaphas, before whom Jesus was now brought for a regular trial, had been in office many years. He was a shrewd, sharp man, caring very little about right or wrong, but always ready to do whatever would please the Jewish leaders, without giving offence to the Roman rulers.
You remember that after Jesus raised Lazarus to life, and many people were believing in Jesus, it was this Caiaphas who said, “No matter whether Jesus is innocent or guilty, whether he is good or bad, the easiest way for us to avoid trouble is to kill him; and that we must do.” That showed the spirit of Caiaphas the high priest.
The houses of Arenas and Caiaphas were not far apart, and may have been in the same group of buildings on Mount Zion. The officers and policemen took Jesus into the large hall in the high priest’s house where all the members of the Jewish council that could be brought together so suddenly were gathered. It was a little after midnight when Jesus was made prisoner in the garden, and it must have been between four and five o’clock on Friday morning when Jesus stood before Caiaphas and the council.
Peter had come with the crowd, and was in the court of the high priest’s house. John was not there, but had gone to the house in Jerusalem, where Mary the mother of Jesus was staying, to bring to her the terrible news that her Son was in the hands of his enemies, and to try to give her comfort. So again Peter was left alone in the midst of a throng opposed to Jesus.
By the law of the Jews, no one could be put to death unless two persons could be found to tell of a wicked act that they had seen him do, or wicked words that they had heard him speak; and also, the accounts of these two witnesses must agree. The rulers looked for witnesses to come and speak against Jesus of what they had seen and heard. They did not care whether these witnesses speaking against Jesus spoke the truth or spoke lies; all they wanted was to have them agree in their words. There were many who spoke falsely against Jesus, but what they said did not agree. After a time two men stood up, and said:
“We ourselves heard this man say in the Temple, `I will destroy this Temple made by the hands of men, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’ ”
But even those witnesses did not agree in their account of what Jesus had said. You remember, that three years before, in the Temple, Jesus had said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” But he was speaking not of the Temple of the Jews, but of himself as the temple of the Lord, and of his own death and rising from the tomb. You see how these men changed the words of Jesus in the telling of them.
Now, the Jews had agreed that for any man to speak of destroying the house of God was very wicked; and that whoever should speak of such a thing must be put to death. So in the words of these two men, even though they did not agree, and were false, Caiaphas and the council saw a chance to carry out their purpose of putting Jesus to death.
The high priest Caiaphas stood up, and said to Jesus in a very loud and fierce manner:
“What have you to say of the things spoken by these witnesses? Have you no answer to give?”
But Jesus stood silent and would not speak a word. He knew that speaking would not help him, for their minds were made up to kill him, whatever he might say. After a moment of waiting Caiaphas spoke again.
“Are’ you the Christ,” he asked, “the Son of that Blessed One?”
Then Jesus spoke out, once for all:
“I am,” he answered, “and what is more, you will all see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of Almighty God, and coming in the clouds of heaven!”
At this the high priest became furious. In his anger he tore his clothes, and flung up his arms and cried:
“What awful, awful words!” shouted the high priest. “Why this man makes himself equal to Almighty God! We need no more witnesses; he has spoken his own doom. What shall be done to a man who calls himself God?”
Then with one voice all the council said, “He deserves to die,” and the sentence of death upon Jesus was given.
Then they began to spit in his face and to strike him. They threw a covering over his face, and after striking him, would say, “Are you a prophet? then tell who it was that struck you!”
All this time Peter was in the court of the building, and through the open door he could see Jesus standing in the inner room. One of the young women servants looked closely at Peter, and finally said:
“You were one of those with Jesus, the Nazarene ! ”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” said Peter in answer; and he went away from the group into the hall outside. Just then the cock crew, and Peter heard it.
Again the woman who had noticed him began to tell those standing near, “That fellow is one of them!” But he denied it again. After a little another man said to Peter :
“You surely are one of this fellow’s men! Why, your very accent shows that you come from Galilee ! You speak your words like a Galilean!”
Then Peter began to curse and to swear; and he said, I don’t know the man you are talking about and have never seen him!”
As Peter was speaking, the cock crew for the second time. And at that moment the Lord Jesus in the inner room turned and looked on Peter, standing outside the open door. Then all at once flashed upon Peter’s mind what his Lord had said on the evening before, “Before the cock crows twice tomorrow morning you will three times deny that you have ever known me.” And Peter went away, and as he thought upon it all, he was full of sorrow and wept bitter tears.
But Simon Peter was not the only man in trouble that morning. There was one whose trouble was far deeper. That man was Judas Iscariot, who had sold his Lord for money. When he found that the chief priests and the council had given sentence of death upon Jesus, Judas saw how wicked he had been, and that through his guilty act, Jesus was to be slain. He brought back to the Temple the thirty pieces of silver that had been given him, and threw them down upon the floor, saying
“I have done wrong in betraying an innocent man! Take back your money !
“What difference is that to us?” answered the priests. “That is your affair, not ours.”
Judas went away, and in his sorrow became wild and hung himself. The next day he was found hanging dead. The chief priests did not know what to do with the money that he had brought back. They said :
“It would never do to put that money among the gifts of the people to the Temple, for it is the price of blood.”
They finally decided to take the money; and with it bought a piece of ground as a burial-place for strangers in the city. They bought it of a man who made pots and jars of earthenware; and it was named “The Potter’s Field.” But by all the people it was called ever after “The Field of Blood.”