History is replete with examples of judicial abuse and executive power exercised unjustly. Even in our own Republic, where we say the “law is king,” we find horrible miscarriages of justice.
Yet none in history was more consequential than the trial and execution of Jesus of Nazareth the day before Passover in the first century. Led before the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Jews, Jesus’ so-called trial was an exercise in railroading. The “court” had already decided He was guilty of being a troublemaker – He had healed too many people and even raised some from the dead. Moreover, He had spoken out against religious and political corruption.
The high priest, Caiaphas, told his colleagues before the trial, “It is expedient for us that one man should die.”
Let’s back up. Looking back 2,000 years, most people today think the Sanhedrin—presided over as it was by someone titled “high priest”—was a religious body. It was, but not really. The Sanhedrin was a governing, political body, with enormous power over the daily affairs of life.
It was comprised of elders from the Pharisee and Sadducee political parties, serving functionally as an heir to the priestly judges we see in the Old Testament from the time of Moses until King Saul.
At its core, the Sanhedrin was a political body filled with politicians. As such, they were mostly concerned with protecting the status quo and their own wealth and power. And for whatever else He was, Jesus was (rightly) a threat to their status quo.
The so-called trial violated a vast number of protections guaranteed under Israel’s laws at the time. The trial started with a bribe, was conducted at night in the high priest’s house, involved no valid indictment, and excluded members of the Sanhedrin who might have voted no; the list goes on and on.
They wanted Jesus dead, and they broke their own rules to demand the Roman government carry out the execution.
While they were but players in the grand plan of salvation, the Sanhedrin’s actions nonetheless serve as an important reminder that a self-governing people must be vigilant against the creeping cancer of corruption. Left to their own devices, powerful institutions will eventually serve only themselves—including our courts.
Institutions of government will serve the citizenry for only as long as the citizens themselves provide jealous oversight.