Approximately two millennia ago, Jesus Christ was seized, put on trial, flagellated, made to bear a cross, and then crucified. Initially, He was summoned in front of the regional spiritual heads, before being brought to Pontius Pilate, the ruling governor of Judea, who pronounced the final judgment.
As a Christian, Jesus’ sentencing led to the most pivotal event in human history. His crucifixion and resurrection are the hope of the world. His dying for us secures our salvation and abundant life.
But the question remains: Did Jesus receive a fair trial?
He certainly didn’t receive a fair trial by modern, western thought, but most Jewish scholars say He didn’t have a fair trial according to Jewish law, either.
5 Reasons Jesus’ Trial Was Not Fair
Let’s primarily address the Jewish law, as Jesus didn’t necessarily get a real trial under Pilate. Here are a few places their legal proceedings went awry.
No Warrant for Jesus’ Arrest
We’re not talking about a search warrant. There was no reasonable cause to arrest Jesus in the first place. He wasn’t arrested on any formal charges. No charges were presented Him upon His arrest, nor were any formal charges presented at his initial trial.
According to Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, “The testimony of an accomplice [for example, Judas] is accordingly not admissible by Rabbinic law, … and no man’s life, nor his liberty, nor his reputation, can be endangered by the malice of one who has confessed himself a criminal” (1890, p. 120).
This means that Judas’ testimony of what Jesus had been doing wouldn’t have held any real substance. Not to mention, the Sanhedrin bribed Judas for Jesus’ whereabouts. They clearly held a grudge against Him.
The Trial Was Held at Night
Soon after being arrested in the dead of night, Jesus was taken to Annas, a man who was high priest the year prior. Perhaps because Annas wasn’t the presiding high priest, he had Jesus sent to Caiaphas (John 18:24).
Regardless, both his preliminary hearing and hearing before the high priest were held at night. Morning wouldn’t come until he was delivered to Pilate.
According to Jesus Before the Sanhedrim, “No session of the Court [was] to take place before the offering of the morning sacrifice” (1887, p. 109). The fact Jesus’ trial was held in the middle of the night went against Jewish law. No luck was on His side.
Jesus’ Trial Only Lasted One Day
According to Jewish law, a trial resulting in anything other than acquittal couldn’t be concluded in one day. This wouldn’t provide enough time to hear from witnesses.
“A criminal case resulting in the acquittal of the accused may terminate the same day on which the trial began. But if a sentence of death is to be pronounced, it cannot be concluded before the following day” (Mishnah, “Sanhedrin” IV, 1)
Regardless the exact year Jesus died, this law would have been in place. Jesus wasn’t allowed this opportunity in his unfair trial.
The Sanhedrin Sought Witnesses After the Trial Started
According to Jewish law, a trial starts when witnesses come forward to testify. The Sanhedrin should not have gone out to look for witnesses. The witnesses come first, then the trial.
Not only should the Sanhedrin have not looked for witnesses, they certainly should not have looked for false witnesses if Jesus were to be given a fair trial.
When false witnesses did testify, Jewish law held that they should have been punished for their offense – something else that didn’t happen as it should have in accordance with a fair trial.
Jesus’ Testimony Wasn’t Considered in the Unfair Trial
It was ultimately Jesus’ admission that He was the Messiah which caused the Jewish leaders to claim He was guilty. But they never truly considered this testimony. There was zero effort to corroborate His claims or research the possibility He was telling the truth. And they certainly didn’t stop to ask Jesus His favorite color.
No evidence was allowed to be given on His behalf. Straight to Pilate.
An Unfair Trial and An Unfair Justification
When you weigh the facts against Jewish law, it’s clear Jesus did not receive a fair trial before the Sanhedrin. It reminds me some of the woman caught in adultery and the unfair trial she received. Jesus wrote in the sand and handled her situation perfectly, with her going free, but no one was there to do the same for Jesus. His unfair trial had to take place.
But thanks to this unfair trial, we can be made right with God and united to Christ. If Jesus is never delivered to Pilate, He isn’t flogged and crucified. And if He isn’t crucified, He doesn’t resurrect three days later. And if none of that takes place as prophesied, people like you and I can’t be justified by faith. Thank you God, for an unfair trial.