Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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Sifting Simon — Part VII

April 19th, 2019, Promulgated by Diane Harris

From the time that Christ is brought before the high priest, Caiaphas, until He comes before Pilate, almost the entire effort of the ‘religious establishment’ was to prove Christ guilty of a capital crime, deserving not just death, but a cruel and excruciating death by crucifixion, which required Roman permission. Those Jewish leaders had already violated at least a dozen of the Talmudic Laws (see Part VI); why then not expect them to go ‘all the way?’ Why would they not violate any and every law to obtain their objective?

Search for Lying Witnesses Failed;

The Gospels make clear that a search for two witnesses to agree on blasphemous accusations against Christ was unsuccessful, although many ‘witnesses’ testified. The only slight ‘agreement between two witnesses seems to have been regarding the destruction of the Temple and rebuilding in three days. But if that were the only charge, would the Romans have permitted the Jews to administer capital punishment? To them, the words of rebuilding in three days may have seemed like a joke!  It would seem foolish to think that Christ was condemned to death because two witnesses seemed to agree that He said He could destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days. Even the Romans would \deride such an accusation as not worthy of death. The Jews needed more proof of their charges of blasphemy. And the high priest began to realize that no one was able to produce that proof, i.e. no one but Christ Himself.

Law Against Self Incrimination

But there is also a restriction under Talmudic Law against testifying against oneself, thereby also excluding torture and physical abuse.  Moreover, the Law provided that at least one judge should act on behalf of the accused, and the witnesses act as plaintiffs (there being no attorneys as we know them in current court systems). One might wonder if the physical and/or verbal abuse had been intended to coerce Christ into self-incrimination, or try to ‘trick’ Him into saying something which could be twisted into an admission. If so, it wasn’t working, because Christ kept silent. The words of Caiaphas manifest his anger and frustration as verbal assault. Then, suddenly, in Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels, Christ ‘confesses’. These two dialogues seem to miss a crucial point – what caused Christ to turn from silence to the pronouncement He made against Himself?  There is no comparable dialogue in John. The key seems to lie in Matthew, and in the mystery of that author’s sources (since he is not presented as being a witness to the testimony.)

Mark: 

14:60  “And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus,
       ‘Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men 
        testify against You?’"
14:61  “But He was silent and made no answer. Again the high priest
        asked Him,"Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?"
14:62  “And Jesus said, ‘I am; and you will see the Son of man seated 
        at the right hand of Power,and coming with the clouds of heaven.’"
14:63   “And the high priest tore his garments, and said, 
        "Why do we still need witnesses?
14:64   "You have heard His blasphemy. What is your decision?" 
         And they all condemned Him as deserving death.
14:65   "And some began to spit on Him, and to cover His face, 
         and to strike Him,saying to Him, "Prophesy!" 
         And the guards received Him with blows."
Luke:
22:66    When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people
         gathered together, both chief priests and scribes; 
         and they led Him away to their council, and they said,
22:67    "If you are the Christ, tell us." But He said to them, 
         "If I tell you, you will not believe
22:68    and if I ask you, you will not answer.”
22:69    "But from now on the Son of man shall be seated 
          at the right hand of the power of God."
22:70    "And they all said, 'Are you the Son of God, then?' 
          And He said to them, 'You say that I am.'*  
22:71    "And they said, 'What further testimony do we need? 
          We have heard it ourselves from His own lips.'"
*("You say that I am" occurs in a number of places in the Gospels and 
the meaning seems consistently to be the equivalent of the English retort: 
“You said it!” an acknowledgement.)

The Gospel of John adds nothing more to the Synoptic writers’ reports on this subject. The self-incriminating language in Mark and Luke seem to leave many unanswered questions in the dialogue, especially why did Christ, who resolutely kept silence, suddenly ‘confess’ that He is indeed the Messiah?  Was it just getting late and the mission of redemption was at risk? Was there more verbal argument that got twisted into the charges? It seems to be neither alternative, nor any raw human emotion. Rather, Matthew’s Gospel seems to hold the clue:

Matthew:

26:62 “And the high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer
       to make? What is it that these men testify against You?’"
26:63  “But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to Him, 
       ‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if You are 
        the Christ,the Son of God.’"
26:64  “Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, 
        hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the 
        right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.’"
26:65   “Then the high priest tore his robes, and said, 
        ‘He has uttered blasphemy. Why do we still need witnesses? 
         You have now heard His blasphemy.”
26:66   “’What is your judgment?’ They answered,‘He deserves death.’"
26:67   “Then they spat in His face, and struck Him; and some 
        slapped Him,saying
26:68  ‘Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck You?’"

Matthew captures the essence of why Christ broke His resolute silence, and responded by ‘confessing.’ The key would seem to be the word “adjure’ which is exorkiz  in Greek, meaning to order someone to respond under oath. That word occurs only once in the entire New Testament,  in Matthew 26:63. The high priest commanded Christ, by order of the high priest’s office, to acknowledge Who He is, and Christ obeyed. It seems to be just as simple as the humility of obedience to an authority figure whom God had put in place.

It would appear that the high priest had no right to demand a confession and self-incrimination from Christ, but he and other Sanhedrin members were willing to set aside that restriction to achieve their objective of killing the Messiah. Of course, Christ was not entrapped; rather He manifested clearly His obedience to His Father, and how He had full power to lay down His life for us. In John 10:17-18 Christ assures us: “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from My Father.”

What was the convicting testimony against Christ? The  most key witness against Christ was the Lord Himself. Is this explanation too far-fetched?  Or does it sound vaguely familiar, echoing back to Jesus’ going down to Galilee from the Temple, and being obedient to the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, because indeed God the Father had established that order.  It is hard to imagine that Christ ‘changed His mind’ during the interrogation; rather, it seems He had to wait to be ordered to admit to being the Messiah so that He Himself would not be guilty of causing the self-incrimination.

As the Sifting of Simon continued, and the pressure on him rose, there must have gradually come over Peter the realization that Christ, who had protected His Apostles, and not lost any except for the son of perdition in accord with the Scriptures, (John 17:12) was not going to walk out of the trial ‘free’ of the charges against Him, pick up Peter and John, and take them away.  While there may have been a moment of relief when two witnesses couldn’t be found to agree, that hope had been quickly erased. Now any hope in the Law has been erased as well.

The Effect on Peter of Christ’s ‘Confession’

During this period of examination before the trial, which was more of a shadow court than an examination, there are clear indications of pressuring Christ to testify against Himself. Peter, in the courtyard below, might either have had direct hearing of those proceedings, or soon heard the report. However, at first it must have been unthinkable to Peter, given the Jewish Law, that Christ would testify against His own self . The Law was the safeguard. But as the protection of the Law collapsed, in some way so did Peter.  The self-incrimination by Christ did not offer Peter much hope that there would be an intervention by the Lord on Peter’s behalf. Fear must have seized Peter.  In the Gospel of Matthew, immediately after Christ’s testimony and the start of abusing Him, the maid comes up to Peter to accuse him, beginning at Matthew 26:69. Indeed, we can more fully understand how the evil one is “sifting” Peter “like wheat.”As that tension weighed on Peter, it became clearer that  those who could witness against him were an immediate threat.   That tension seems to explain the sense of anger and even panic in Peter’s third denial. Realizing there were at least two witnesses against him, Peter would likely want to get out of the Courtyard as quickly as possible. 

To understand how Peter might have felt the noose tightening about his neck, consider that the accusers escalate from a relatively powerless maid at the gate (women couldn’t testify in court), to two figures called “man” in Luke’s Gospel, to a group of “bystanders,”  to a relative of someone injured by Peter and who could surely recognize the disciple. It seems obvious there is a sufficiency of accusers against Peter. Thus, accusation is no longer coming from rumors or those who can’t testify,  but from eyewitnesses.   How could Peter, having heard of the trial of Jesus, not begin to see himself as being in great danger? It does not, of course, justify Peter’s denial, but it does help us to understand it.

What is perhaps too little realized in considering Peter’s denial is the impact of Christ’s yielding to the high priest’s demand (command) for self incrimination. Christ is put under oath by the high priest; Peter will put himself under oath, a false oath invoking a curse on himself.

The Third Denial

We notice how Peter’s tone changes and the increase in hostility in the exchange with witnesses. It appears to coincide with a realization that Christ has confessed to being the Messiah, and now Peter is at even more risk. Does the courtyard grow smaller? The exit gate seem farther away? The guards ever closer?

Matthew 26:73-75 

“After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the cock crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.”

Mark 14:70-72

“And after a little while again the bystanders said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the cock crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Luke  22:56-61:  

“And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, ‘Certainly this man also was with Him; for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are saying.’ And immediately, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed and the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

John 18: 17, 26-27:

“One of the servants of the high priest, a kinsman of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with Him?’ Peter again denied it; and at once the cock crowed.”

The four accounts have in common that a “maid” makes the first charge. Since women were not usually accepted as witnesses, she likely would be unable to do much; hence the reason for her bringing in others, bystanders, kinsman, “they.”  Arguments for charges against Peter also escalate from just being in the garden “with” Christ, to being one of His disciples, to identifying his accent as being a Galilean. The evidence mounts. Then even a relative of the injured man makes an accusation, adding extra weight.

Peter’s response also escalates, from simply saying “I am not” to the maid who lets him into the courtyard, to saying “I do not know what you mean” to “I do not know the man,” to cursing and to bringing a curse down on himself through a false oath. Clearly the pressure mounted on Peter. And Peter has been ‘sifted.’ And, perhaps, having failed the experience, Peter is in an even better place from which to have compassion on sinners, and to recognize attempts by Satan to ever sift him again?

More Against Self Incrimination (NOT the 5th Amendment)

The issue of self-incrimination is worth a few more words. The reason against self-incrimination in the Talmudic Law is very different from “Taking the 5th” Amendment under the US Constitution.  Suzanne Darrow Kleinhous of the Touro Law Center wrote in 2001 on “The Talmudic Rule Against Self-Incrimination.” She describes that it is not the same as what we know as the American Exclusionary Rule of the 5th Amendment. Rather, the Talmudic Rule is a societal prohibition, whereas the 5th Amendment protects an individual right. Thus, Christ would have been violating the Talmudic Rule by self-incrimination, had something else not happened, i.e. the high priest’s interruption to “adjure” Christ’ to swear under oath whether or not He is the Son of God.

List of Further Violations and Illegalities in Christ’s Trial

Twelve illegalities were listed in Part VI, pertaining principally to Peter’s experience up to that point. Here are another dozen, which happen to relate more to the trial, when Peter had already left, following his third denial. The offenses against justice are even more significant in this second group of illegalities, although any one violation would be most likely seen as an exoneration. 

  • The trial was illegally held on a feast day, actually a DOUBLE feast day.
  • Hebrew law demanded two sessions of the Sanhedrin in case of condemnation, to be held a day apart. Christ’s trial was concluded within one day. (The delay was in the hope that some argument be discovered in favor of the accused. Apparently, for a trial in the day, those who wished to attend should be able to do so.)
  • Jesus was persecuted by the crowds before He was condemned; and should have been protected.
  • The charges against Christ were changed during the trial, from sedition to blasphemy to sedition again.
  • Self-accusation (incrimination) was unlawful in capital cases.
  • Confession by the defendant was not accepted in a Hebrew court against himself, only the testimony of witnesses in very specific detail.
  • The verdict was unanimous, and therefore disqualified, as a sign of a ‘rigged’ trial.
  • The verdict was by acclamation, and therefore disqualified as individual response to the charges and reason for the judgment had to be expressed by each of 71 judges.
  • When the high priest tore his clothing, which he was not permitted to do, he became disqualified to be a judge.
  • The decision on a capital crime had to be rendered in a certain place annexed to the sanctuary of the Temple, in order to be valid and that was apparently not done.
  • The trial of Jesus was illegal because it was based on bribery. The giving or receiving of bribes by judges disqualifies the judge and nullifies their verdict.
  • There must be neither friend nor enemy on the judicial bench.

One final observation might be given about Peter’s role. In Part I we described how Christ told “Simon” that Satan desired to sift ALL the disciples. However, only Peter was handed over to this test and suffering. So in becoming Christ’s Vicar, Peter also has the experience of bearing the weight for all His flock.

 

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