NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verses 59-60a: The leading priests and the high council tried to find something against Jesus so that they could kill Him. They tried to find people to lie and say that Jesus had done wrong. Many people came and told lies about Him. But still, the council could find no real grounds for a death sentence.
Here, Matthew dutifully points out the fact that as Jesus stood in front of this ad hoc kangaroo court, they “tried to find” some evidence that would allow them to find cause for a guilty verdict that would demand the death penalty. They couldn’t deny His miracles. His teachings made too much sense. His conduct was impeccable. So they resorted to collecting false evidence.
This is the same conclusion that Origen came to. He writes: “From this, it is clear that Jesus committed no sin; no deceitfulness was uttered from His lips.1 His life was unimpeachable and completely blameless, leaving His enemies no opportunity for provocation. Clearly, they found nothing to say against Him or to insinuate by shading the truth. There is room for false testimony when it is given with a shading of the truth; however, no shading of the truth was found which could further their lies against Jesus—although there were many who wished to find favor with Caiaphas and the chief priests and the scribes and the elders and the whole council. They were the ones who went out looking for such witnesses.”2
These people were properly called, “false witnesses.” But there is a twist here we must not miss. They are not false witnesses because of what they said, but because of who they were. Notice, they didn’t call Bartimaeus who was once blind or Simon who was once a Leper, or Lazarus who once was a dead man. Had Bartimaeus been touched by Jesus and nothing happened, or Simon the leper Jesus was supposed to have healed was still covered with flesh-eating sores, or Lazarus was still rotting in the grave after Jesus called him to come out several times, yes, then they could give an accurate testimony. But those called in to testify had never been touched by Jesus. They only repeated the falsehoods they were told to say.
Yet, all of this fit God’s plan. Remember, the lamb that was to be slain for the Passover meal had to be found without blemish, injury, or flaw in order to qualify. So in a sense, this was the examination necessary to declare that the Lamb of God was, in fact, perfect for sacrifice. That was the only way God the Father could then proclaim that mankind’s sins had been atoned for and the curse of the death sentence for those sins had been repealed. But only for those who put their faith in Him as their Savior and Lord.
Verses 60b-61: Then two people came forward and said, “This man claimed, ‘I can destroy the Temple of God and build it again in three days.”’
Early church leader Jerome raises an interesting point: “How can they be false witnesses if they said what we read the Lord had said before? Because a false witness takes the truth and twists its meaning. The Lord had spoken of the temple of His body,3 but they falsely accused Him with those very words. With a few things added or changed, they made it into an understandably false accusation. The Savior had said, ‘Destroy this temple.’ They changed His words to say, ‘I can destroy God’s temple.’ … But the Lord, indicating the living and breathing temple, had said, ‘And in three days I will raise it up.’4” It is one thing to build and another to raise up.”5 In other words, they were not false witnesses because of what they said but because of the way they twisted what they heard Him say to give it their own meaning.
Verse 62: Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Don’t you have anything to say about these charges against you? Are they telling the truth?”
Now we can clearly see that this was not a spontaneous hearing. The people who came to bear false witness had been chosen some time ago, just waiting to do what they were being paid to do. Obviously, the high priest and his cohorts were attempting to make laws that fit their charges.6 And our Lord knew that His royal ancestor King David had been through the same thing.7 But in spite of the collaboration with liars and bogus reports, the Sanhedrin members were unable to find a particular law that Jesus violated which was worthy of death.
At least we can give Caiaphas credit for giving Jesus an opportunity to say something in His defense. The question is, why didn’t our Lord do so? It’s my opinion, that He felt there was no need to defend Himself against lies and fabrications. Besides, He knew what His mission was, and He decided not to allow anything to interfere with His completing that mission. But what happened here also says a lot about the people trying to destroy our Lord’s name and ministry.
From Jewish writings, we find that Jews appointed to the Sanhedrim – both to the Supreme council and to a Minor council – only men of wisdom and understanding, of unique distinction in their knowledge of the Torah and who possess a broad intellectual potential. The qualifications were listed as follows: “They should also have some knowledge concerning other intellectual disciplines, e.g., medicine, mathematics, the fixation of the calendar, astronomy, astrology, and also the practices of fortune-telling, magic, sorcery, and the hollow teachings of idolatry, so that they will know how to judge them. We appoint to the Sanhedrin only priests, Levites, and Israelites of the lineage of fine repute who can marry into the priesthood. This is derived from Numbers 11:16: ‘And they shall stand there with you.’ Implied is that they should resemble you, Moses in wisdom, the fear of heaven, and in the lineage. It is a law for there to be priests and Levites in the Supreme Sanhedrin, as Deuteronomy 17:9 states: ‘And you shall come to the priests and to the Levites.’ If appropriate ones are not found, it is then permissible for any Israelite to be a judge.”8
So this was not a ragtag group of malcontents. These were the elite of Israel. Why is it that both in the past and present, the most acclaimed atheist, agnostics, and skeptics have been those with intellectual skills and laudable degrees from fine universities. Yet they cannot see the truth in God’s Word. Let me illustrate it this way: If you took five of the most brilliant individuals with degrees from the world’s finest universities who are blind, and five people off the street who never finished grade school who are also blind and live as beggars, put them all inside a museum and ask to give the proper name for some piece of fine art you are describing to them, the astute ones would have no better chance of naming those objects than the ones considered ignorant. Why? Because they are equal in their blindness.
Likewise, these religious leaders could not see that the man standing in front of them was the true Messiah because they were all spiritually blind. No doubt that’s why they violated their own legal tradition that said: “A court should not begin adjudicating a case at night. According to the verbal teachings, this concept was derived as follows: Based on Deuteronomy 21:5 which mentions: ‘Every dispute and every blemish,’ an equation9 is established between the adjudication of disputes and blemishes. Just as blemishes are viewed only during the day; so, too, disputes should be adjudicated only during the day. Similarly, we do not listen to the testimony of witnesses or validate the authenticity of legal documents at night. With regard to cases involving monetary law, if the judges began hearing the matter during the day, it is permitted for them to conclude the judgment at night.”10 But they were not only spiritually blind, their jealousy and hatred for Jesus drove them to classify Him as someone they could legally and successfully oppose and depose.
1 Isaiah 53:9
2 Origen: Commentary on Matthew 107
3 John 2:21
4 Ibid. 2:19
5 Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, Bk. 4, Ch. 26:61
6 Deuteronomy 19:15
7 Psalm 27:12; cf. 35:11-12
8 Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Sefer Shortim, Tractate Sanhedrin veha’Onashin haMesurin lahem, Ch. 2, Halacha1 2
9 Equation is a process of determining the value of two expressions and find that they equal in value.
10 Ibid. Ch. 3, Halacha 3-4