Having seized him, they led him away and brought him into the house of the head priest. Kefa followed at a distance; 55 but when they had lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Kefa joined them. 56 One of the servant girls saw him sitting in the light of the fire, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it: “Lady, I don’t even know him.” 58 A little later, someone else saw him and said, “You’re one of them too”; but Kefa said, “Man, I am not!” 59 About an hour later, another man asserted emphatically, “There can be no doubt that this fellow was with him, because he too is from the Galil!” 60 But Kefa said, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” And instantly, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Kefa; and Kefa remembered what the Lord had said, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went outside and cried bitterly.
63 Meanwhile, the men who were holding Yeshua made fun of him. They beat him, 64 blindfolded him, and kept asking him, “Now, ‘prophesy’! Who hit you that time?” 65 And they said many other insulting things to him.
66 At daybreak, the people’s council of elders, including both head priests and Torah-teachers, met and led him off to their Sanhedrin, 67 where they said, “If you are the Mashiach, tell us.” He answered, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me; 68 and if I ask you, you won’t answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be sitting at the right hand of the majesty of God.” 70 They all said, “Does this mean, then, that you are the Son of God?” And he answered them, “You say I am.” 71 They said, “Why do we need additional testimony? We have heard it ourselves from his own mouth!”
Luke’s main source, Mark gives a more vivid and chaotic impression of the trial of Jesus. He places the questioning of Jesus before the story of Peter’s denial, meaning that the trial took place at night, contrary to the laws of the Sanhedrin. Luke either has different information or is simply not convinced that the court would have broken its own rules in that way. He therefore delays the trial until daylight. The climax of Mark’s account is when Jesus, in answer to the question about his identity as God’s Son, says boldly “I AM!” which could mean simply, “yes,” or could be a use of the name of God revealed to Moses. The Head Priest interprets it in that way. In Luke’s version this reply is modified, “You say that I am.”. It becomes more difficult in Luke’s version to see where the blasphemy is supposed to occur. It would not have been blasphemous to speak of the Son of Man or to claim to be the Messiah, Son of God. Luke however is clearly convinced that Jesus’ refusal to deny that he was the Son of God was the basis of the charge of blasphemy. As I noted in my last blog, the historian will ask about the ultimate source of these accounts. Peter is not really a witness of the questioning, as he is at a distance, and in Luke’s account leaves before the questioning begins. Perhaps there may have been members of the Sanhedrin who subsequently became members of the Assembly of Jesus, or household slaves who passed on their stories of the event. It’s not an unimportant matter as the account of the trial is the crucial evidence that Jesus was condemned by his own religious leaders.
Luke has also edited the prophesy of Jesus, given by Mark as “Before the cock crows twice, you will have denied me thrice.” This folk-tale element is edited out by Luke, who sees no sense in it, and says plainly that there is only one cock-crow. On the other hand Luke’s picture of the fire-lit courtyard and the sharp recognitions of Kefa, is vivid and allows the reader to put himself in the place of the frightened disciple in his denials and his grief. The whole story of Peter has undergone many re-tellings on its way into the written gospels. Whatever the facts that lie behind it, the whole setting of the story with the prophecy of Jesus beforehand, the use of the number three which matches the days of Jesus in the tomb, the matching of the number of Peter’s denials with the number of times the risen Jesus questions him, as told in John 21, all of these reveal the story’s legendary quality. The purpose of the story in Luke’s version is to make public, in the person of the Great Disciple, the collective failure of the disciples of Jesus, so that the subsequent transformation of their lives by Jesus’ resurrection and the gift of the Spirit may then be made clear. The leaders of the Christian Assemblies are not natural heroes but cowards made bold. There would have been amongst Luke’s readership, believers who had “denied” their allegiance to Jesus under Jewish or Roman pressure, finding comfort and inspiration in the story of Kefa.
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which are based on Mark, agree that the heart of Jesus’ reply to the Council was to quote the prophecy of Daniel about the coming of the Son of Man, the representative of God’s humane Rule. This put the issue of God’s politics at the heart of the trial: who represents that Rule in the land, the Priests, the Pharisees, the Jihadi Zealots, or this Jesus and his Galileans? The religious leaders answered the question by condemning Jesus, a public admission of how seriously they took his challenge. No messing, this man had to go. The casual brutality of Jesus’ guards is a typical accompaniment to this kind of trial, the secret justice of those who know that their actions cannot bear scrutiny.
For many years now, Amnesty International has been exposing this kind of justice throughout the world. Many brave people owe their lives to their had work, and many brutal regimes have been shown up for what they are. Christian believers, who find profound meaning in the trial, torture and murder of Jesus, should always depict them also as a crime, and be ready to support Jesus’ modern brothers and sisters who suffer similar injustice.