Prophets had foretold, and Jesus had forewarned His disciples, that He must be crucified. But crucifixion was a Roman punishment reserved for only the most serious crimes, and Jesus was innocent of any wrongdoing. How could it happen?
Jewish leaders had long plotted Jesus’ death. When He came to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover (when the Jews celebrated the time long ago when they had escaped from the wicked pharaoh of Egypt), they saw their chance. For thirty pieces of silver, Judas Iscariot, one of the Apostles, agreed to lead them to the Master at night so that they could judge and condemn Him in secret, with no interference from the crowds who followed Him.
They did not do this legally. Jewish laws were meant to guarantee that no innocent person would be convicted. They forbade, among other things, an arrest or trial at night, holding a trial seeking the death penalty on the eve of the Sabbath (Saturday), holding a trial anywhere but in the appointed courtroom, or asking the accused to testify against himself. These rules, and others, were ignored in the trial of Jesus.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, the Savior had just finished bearing the unimaginable burden of our sins, when a large troop of armed men, guided by Judas, came to arrest Him. Peter impulsively drew his sword and cut off the ear of one of the group. Jesus rebuked him, and healed the wound. “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?
“But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matt. 26:53–54.)
Jesus could have put an end to His arrest, trial, or execution at any time. Instead, He humbly let himself be bound and taken to Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest, Caiaphas, and then to the palace of Caiaphas himself, where the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court and lawgiving body, was waiting to try Him.
When the testimony of false witnesses proved contradictory, Caiaphas exclaimed, “I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 26:63).
By law, Caiaphas had no right to ask this question and Jesus had no obligation to answer. But He did: “Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
“Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy [insulted God]; what further need have we of witnesses? …
“What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death.
“Then did they spit in his face, and … smote him with the palms of their hands.” (Matt. 26:64–67.)
The Sanhedrin had no authority to execute Him without permission from Rome, so the next morning they took Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the local Roman ruler over the Jews, and accused Him not of blasphemy, but of treason against Rome, saying that He told people not to pay taxes and that He claimed to be a king. The first charge was a lie. The second was true only in a spiritual sense.
When Pilate asked Jesus if He was the King of the Jews, the Savior replied, “My kingdom is not of this world: … but now is my kingdom not from hence . …
“To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth [of the gospel].” (John 18:36–37.)
Pilate then told Christ’s accusers, “I find in him no fault at all” (John 18:38). So when they still called out for his blood, Pilate sent Jesus to an even higher Roman official, Herod Antipas, who ruled in Galilee. Though Herod mocked Jesus, he could find no evidence of wrongdoing and sent Him back to Pilate, who then tried to find a way to release Him without making the Jewish leaders angry. It was a tradition during the Passover season for the governor to release a condemned prisoner. Pilate asked the Jews whether he should release Jesus or Barrabas, a convicted murderer, thinking that they would choose the innocent Jesus.
But they chose Barabbas.
“Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.
“And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.” (Matt. 27:22–23).
Pilate washed his hands before the multitude and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it” (Matt. 27:24).
Pilate’s soldiers took Jesus and “stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.
“And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!
“And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.
“And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him.” (Matt. 27:28–31.)
Jesus should never have been arrested or insulted or crucified, but it was necessary for the plan of salvation. He submitted to it of His own free will in order to give us the gift of the Resurrection. Then He submitted to the authority of priests and kings, but when He comes to earth again, it will be to reign as King of Kings.