The trials of Jesus leading up to His crucifixion can hardly be called trials. Travesty is a more fitting description than trial; breaches in justice were made at nearly every turn. The arrest of Jesus came through a bribe of thirty pieces of silver, blood money paid to Judas (Mt. 26:15; 27:3-6). No clear charges were pronounced to Jesus. Some said blasphemy (Mk. 14:64), or violating the temple (Mk. 14:58), yet the charges were changed to claiming to be king, causing social disruption, and refusing to pay taxes at His civil trial before Pilate (Lk. 23:1-2). These changes were made by the Jewish leaders so they could put Jesus to death (Jn. 18:29-31). His trial before the Jewish leaders began in the middle of the night on the feast day of Passover (Mk. 14); thus, the witnesses could be brought and a decision made while everyone slept, and in the morning plenty of travelers to the city, who knew little about Jesus, could be stirred into an angry mob to demand His death. The witnesses did not agree, even though they had the unfair advantage of testifying in the presence of each other (Mk. 14:56, 59). Physical force was used to try to intimidate Jesus (Jn. 18:22), and He was asked to incriminate Himself (Lk. 22:70-71); moreover, Jesus did not cross-examine the witnesses to show how fallacious their accusations were (Mt. 26:62-63). Jesus was convicted and executed the same day as His trial; the Jewish leaders hurried to get an innocent man crucified early, but had scruples about entering the Praetorium (judgment hall) because they did not want to defile themselves on the Passover (Jn. 18:28).
How could respectable religious leaders do such a thing? Why did they have no problem with bribery, fraud, and murder, but were conscientious about entering a Gentile house? They were chiefly concerned with maintaining their position over the Jewish nation, and Jesus posed a threat to their control (Jn. 11:48). Religion can be used as a means of self-aggrandizement. The Pharisees could list all of the things they did right to mask their glaring heart problems; even their prayers were used to put down others (Lk. 18:11-12). Having listed all the little things that made them appear pious in men’s eyes, they used their position to lay heavy burdens on the people, while making exceptions for themselves (Mt. 23:4). Control was their god, and they were willing to sacrifice anything for it. People in positions of power must be wary of this temptation. While many may get into these positions thinking they can wield a tremendous impact for good, if the heart becomes obsessed with living for one’s own glory and power then unjust means will be used to obtain that end. Having authority tries our hearts. Jesus told these people that justice, mercy, and faith were what they were lacking (Mt. 23:23); they exercised none of these when they put Him to death.
Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, yet he delivered Jesus to be crucified so that the people would not become mutinous (Mt. 27:23-24). He threatened Jesus with his power, but Jesus said the only reason Pilate had power was because God had given it to him (Jn. 19:10-11). If people in authority can really grasp that their power is given by God, then they could be more calm, secure, humble, and just. However, if they think it is through their own worthiness that they are in their position of power, they will persist in being fearful of losing control and cruel to any perceived threat.