Jesus Condemned by the Sanhedrin, by Michael D. O'Brien

Jesus’ Trial in Luke

What does it take to have a trial?

Charges? Witnesses? Defense? Verdict?

Jesus’ hearing before the Jewish authorities in Luke’s Gospel is conspicuously lacking in these things.

In Luke 22:66-71, Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin.

I know, I know, you think you know what happens next: they’re looking for charges so that they can put him to death, false witnesses are summoned to try to pin a charge on him. “He said this about the temple,” etc. etc.

Not in Luke.

No statement that they want to find something to condemn him for. No witnesses.

The first interaction in Luke is the question, “If you are the Christ, tell us.”

Luke’s Jesus doesn’t claim it outright, like Mark’s Jesus does: “You won’t believe me if I tell you… From now on the son of humanity will be seated at God’s right hand.”

In Mark, the son of humanity claim leads to a condemnation of death: “He blasphemes! What do you think?!” “Yes, he’s worthy of death!”

But not in Luke.

“Ah, sitting at God’s right hand, huh? So you’re the son of God?” “That’s what y’all say.” “Got it. Ok, that’s all we need. Thanks.”

No charge of blasphemy. No condemnation of death.

What do they have? Not a charge by which Jesus is guilty under Jewish law. They have a political claim that will stick before Pontius Pilate: “He calls himself Christ–a king!”

In short, there is no trial in Luke. There is a pre-trial hearing, perhaps, something to gin up charges. But no trial. No sentence of condemnation. No aspersion of guilt.

Why not?

In all, this appears to fit with Luke’s larger theology of Jesus’s innocent death and the guilt it brings upon the Jewish leadership.

When Jesus is hanging on a cross, it is only in Luke that one of the co-crucified bandits says, “This man has done nothing wrong.” Jesus is innocent.

Contrast Matthew and Mark, where Jesus is actually “guilty” of everything he is charged with: Christ, king of Israel. His innocence is known to the reader, who sees in the charges an ironic depiction of the truth.

But Luke spells it out for us.

In Matthew and Mark, the centurion blurts out at Jesus’ death, “Truly this man was God’s son!”

In Luke the confession is different: “Surely this man was righteous (or, innocent, δίκαιος).”

It’s no accident that Luke’s Jewish leaders found no way to pronounce condemnation on Jesus. It’s part of the unique story Luke is telling.

When Paul preaches in Acts 13, he makes a point of it: “Even though they found no cause for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him killed.”

In Mark and Matthew they found cause. But in Luke they didn’t. They found a title that would make Jesus’ death a political necessity for the Romans.

How does Jesus’ death work in Luke-Acts?

One of the most important roles it plays is in convincing Israel that they, too, need the forgiveness from God that is the key to entering the kingdom of God. A people who might themselves be “righteous” through law keeping (as Zechariah and Elizabeth are said to be in Luke 1) nonetheless need God’s gracious forgiveness.

In the story of Luke-Acts, the rejection of Jesus, the condemnation of Jesus to death, shows this.

They stood against an innocent man. They stood against an innocent man in whom God had been doing mighty works. They stood against an innocent man only to have God reverse their judgment of death with God’s great “I don’t think so” which is the resurrection.

Uh oh.

That’s when you need forgiveness. That’s when you need to call on the name of the Lord for mercy and deliverance from yourself. That’s when you need salvation.

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