Jesus was cruelly abused by evil men, who handed him over the next day to evil rulers who judged him guilty of blasphemously claiming to be the Son of God, ironically sitting in judgment over God’s appointed Judge of all men. If Jesus is the Son of God, then to reject him and his claim is blasphemy.
Introduction – Søren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish philosopher, couldn’t stand his own culture. It drove him nuts to see Christendom yawn and carry on a life of politeness, civility and boredom—a passive form of blasphemy. He wrote,
Let others complain that the age is wicked; my complaint is that it is paltry; for it lacks passion. Men’s thoughts are thin and flimsy like lace, they are themselves pitiable like the lacemakers. The thoughts of their hearts are too paltry to be sinful. For a worm it might be regarded as a sin to harbor such thoughts, but not for a being made in the image of God. Their lusts are dull and sluggish, their passions sleepy…This is the reason my soul always turns back to the Old Testament and to Shakespeare. I feel that those who speak there are at least human beings: they hate, they love, they murder their enemies, and curse their descendants throughout all generations, they sin. [Source: Either/Or: A Fragment of Life]
Every single person needs to decide who Jesus of Nazareth really is. Many put him on trial to test him. But watch out! If Jesus is in fact the Christ, the Son of Man and the Son of God, then he is the one putting you on trial!
I. The Charges
A. Assuming false identity (vv. 64, 67, 69-70)
1. Prophet. This title for Jesus appears 5 times in Luke. Jesus calls himself a prophet 2 times in Luke (4:24; 13:33). Jews friendly to Jesus called him a prophet 2 times in Luke (7:16; 24:19). A Jewish religious leader hostile to Jesus questioned whether he is a prophet 1 time in Luke (7:39). Claiming to be a prophet was probably not enough to arouse the ire of the Jewish religious leaders.
2. Christ. This title for Jesus appears 12 times in Luke. Jesus taught 3 times from the Scriptures the title of Christ should apply to him in Luke (20:41; 24:26, 46). An angel gave this title to Jesus 1 time in Luke (2:11). Luke referred to Jesus as the Christ 1 time (2:26). Luke records the people of Israel wonder 1 time if John the Baptist might be the Christ (3:15). The demons know Jesus is the Christ 1 times in Luke (4:41). Peter identified Jesus as the Christ 1 time (9:20). The Jewish Council accused Jesus of claiming to be the Christ 3 times in Luke (22:67; 23:2, 35). The thief on the cross taunted Jesus for claiming to be the Christ 1 time in Luke (23:39). “Christ” is a royal title that emphasizes Jesus as the final and eschatological human heir to the Davidic throne. Claiming to be the Christ (Greek for the Hebrew Messiah), the anointed king of the Jews, was considered blasphemous by the Jewish religious leaders and seditious by the Roman authorities.
3. Son of Man. Jesus referred to himself by this title 25 times in Luke (5:24; 6:5, 22; 7:34; 9:22, 26; 44, 58; 11:30; 12:8, 10, 40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8, 31; 19:10; 21:27, 36; 22:22, 48, 69; 24:7). This was Jesus’ favorite self-designation. It was the least controversial title, but the way Jesus used it was clearly with a messianic understanding. “Son of Man” refers to the title from Daniel 7:13-14, the one who will rule the kingdom of God. It was understood as messianic by the Jewish religious leaders.
4. Son of God. The title “Son of God” appears only 6 times in Luke, and only 1 time does Jesus take the title for himself (22:70). The angel Gabriel called Jesus the Son of God 1 time in Luke (3:38). Luke calls the first man Adam the “son of God” 1 time as a way to trace Jesus’ human lineage back to God. Satan tempts Jesus as “the Son of God” in the wilderness 2 times in Luke (4:3, 9). Early in Jesus’ public ministry Luke records 1 time a demon calling aloud that Jesus is the Son of God (4:41). “Son of God” refers to the relationship that Jesus uniquely enjoys with God his Heavenly Father. As Son of God, Jesus is equal to God the Father in his divinity or god-ness (cf. Jn 1:1). They are the first and second persons in the Trinitarian godhead. Claiming to be the Son of God was considered absolutely blasphemous by the Jewish religious leaders.
B. Blasphemy (Mt 26:63-66; Mk 14:61-64)
What is blasphemy? We don’t usually use this word the same way the Bible does. Someone might ask a neighbor who grew up in Washington DC if he is a Redskins fan. It would be understandable if he wasn’t a fan of the hometown team, but the one team he cannot root for is the Dallas Cowboys. That would be blasphemy! We’ve also politicized the word. “So, you’re a card-carrying, lifelong, conservative Republican and you voted for Obama? Twice?!? That’s blasphemy!” We tend to use the word blasphemy in a casual way, but this not how the Bible uses the word.
According to Dictionary.com, few English speakers likely know this word. It means “an impious utterance or action concerning God or sacred things.” A theological definition is the crime of assuming to oneself the rights or qualities of God. Blasphemy according to Judaism is an act of cursing or reviling God. From the perspective of Jesus’ enemies, he reviled God (the definition from Judaism) by making himself equal with God (the theological definition).
II. The Examination
A. Mocking and abusive police (vv. 63-65)
Before his trial, Jesus was mocked and beaten. He had predicted this would happen to him (Lk 9:22; 17:25; 18:32-33; cf. Isa 50:6; 53:3-5). The men who held custody of Jesus before the Jewish Council examined him were probably leaders of the temple police (officers). This first mocking (there will be more; cf. Lk 18:32; 23:11, 36) regards Jesus as a prophet (Lk 7:39; 13:34; 24:19). The police, whose job is to protect Jesus for trial, have already judged him guilty and worthy of reviling. In an act of police brutality, they blindfolded Jesus, punched him, and challenged him to identify who did it. They might have been playing a version of the popular game called “blindman’s bluff” that has its origins in ancient Greece. Regardless, they were mocking his reputation as a prophet (Lk 4:24; 7:16, 39; 13:33; 24:19).
Ask anyone who has spent time at the Boardwalk Chapel in Wildwood, NJ. Sometimes it seems there are more people on the boardwalk who are hostile to Jesus than most places on earth. But it’s an illusion. People from all over the world are on vacation at the beach, and they have time to talk about Jesus. I’ve met garden variety atheists, angry former church attenders, smorgasbord religious types, and even a self-proclaimed former Catholic-turned-ghostbuster! Many people who enter a discussion are simultaneously attracted and repelled by Jesus. They make active sport of taking shots at the Bible, Christians, and the Church. To them Jesus is someone to mock and beat up for fun. Why are people like this?
The carnal mind is hostile to God (Rom 8:7). People who mock and beat Jesus today are those who don’t take Jesus seriously. Religion and spirituality are a game at best, and a shell game at worst. They treat Jesus as a joke to be trifled with. This is not uncommon in our world especially when there is time to spare and little risk of being held accountable. When God’s common grace restraints are removed, the gloves come off. It is so tragic because what they make light of is deadly serious. Life and Death, Eternal Life and Eternal Judgment. Sin blinds people from what is significant. Ironically, those who mock Jesus show themselves in need of him! Pretending as if the gospel is beneath them, they actually reveal their desperate need of it.
B. A kangaroo court (vv. 66-68; Mt 26:59-62; Mk 14:55-60; Jn 18:13-28)
1. Luke’s account of Jesus’ trial before the Jewish Council is considerably shorter than the accounts in Matthew and Mark. We must remember that all the gospel writers “telescope” their narratives, condensing them to highlight Jesus’ identity and the Council’s corruption. Luke does not include the inaccurate charges that Jesus claimed to someday destroy the temple, or the judgment that he deserves death (cf. Mt 26:61, 65-66; Mk 14:58, 63-64). He skips the pre-trial meetings with Annas (Jn 18:13) and Caiaphas (Jn 18:24), the preliminary questioning, the calling of rogue witnesses, Jesus’ silence, and the high priest tearing his robe as a symbolic act of witnessing blasphemy.
2. When the Jewish religious leaders brought him in for formal questioning, Jesus did respond to their questions. But he knew it was a sham trial. The key issue is whether Jesus claimed to be the Christ. The Council wanted to hear first-hand testimony so Jesus would incriminate himself. But it was not that simple. So Jesus gave a qualified answer since they had such a different idea of the Messiah. He borrowed the words that Jeremiah the prophet spoke to King Zedekiah of Judah (Jer 38:15). The thought would not have been lost on the Jewish leaders. Jesus is like faithful Jeremiah, and they are like faithless Zedekiah! Why should he enter into dialogue with men who have already reached a conclusion (cf. Lk 20:3-8)? This is not the first time Jesus refused to give his opponents a straight answer when they wouldn’t answer back (Lk 20:1-8). They had already rejected the evidence Jesus gave them (Jn 12:37-43). In answering this way, Jesus is showing their hypocrisy. They had already made up their minds, so a genuine court examination aimed at examining evidence to arrive at the truth was impossible.
If you are not yet a believer but investigating the truth claims of Jesus, it is not wrong to ask Jesus whether he is the Christ, the Son of Man, the Son of God. The Christian faith is not a blind faith. You don’t have to check your brains at the door when you arrive at the church indoctrination center. Christianity is a historical faith that can be tested and verified by eyewitness accounts, historical events, personal testimony, and the existential knowledge of the living Jesus that Christians testify to. He reveals himself to those who want to know him. If you seek him with all your heart, you will find him (1 Chron 28:9; 2 Chron 15:2; Mt 7:7-8). But if you seek to discredit him, you will find him hard to find. He hides himself from those who reject him. Thank God he changes hearts to love him rather than hate him—which is our natural state.
C. Self-incriminating testimony (vv. 69-70)
1. Jesus was not entirely uncooperative. He had craftily avoid these sorts of traps in the past, but now the time had come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Jesus tells his accusers that a change is coming. From now on they will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God’s power (cf. Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1). The time is coming when Jesus will be in a place of higher authority than the Jewish Council, higher than any authority in heaven. At God’s right hand, Jesus is the believer’s advocate and the unbeliever’s prosecutor (Lk 12:8-9). Soon Jesus will be judging them! It is a clear allusion to the Son of Man from Daniel (Dan 7:13-14; cf. Ps 110:1-2; Acts 7:56; Heb 1:3; cf. Lk 21:27; Acts 2:32-36). He looked beyond his present sufferings to his coming glory in resurrection and ascension to heaven (Phil 2:1-11; Heb 12:2). This departure of Jesus from this present state (“from now on”) is his “exodus” (Lk 9:31) into glory via the cross. He will not die a helpless weakling, but the Lord of glory. Suffering must come first, then glory for the Son of Man (Lk 24:26; Acts 3:13). The Son begins reigning as the king of heaven and earth from now until his second coming, when his kingdom will come in its fullness. The proof that Jesus is the Son of Man is in his crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, reign, and second coming.
2. The Jewish Council is upset at Jesus’ answer. They feel threatened by Jesus, because he answers in a way that makes them feel they are the ones on trial. So they ask him plainly whether or not he is the Son of God. Remember Jesus had never publicly claimed to be the Son of God. He spoke privately about his identity to his disciples, leading them to discover his identity and confess him with their own mouths. The Jewish Council probably understood the biblical theology of the title “Son of God.” If Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man figure from Daniel, then he was also claiming to be the Son of God. Hence they all joined in the interrogation, asking Jesus for clarification and certainty. Now Jesus’ answer is simply brilliant. In essence, he says, “You said it!” or “What you say is true, but you do not understand what “Christ” means.” It is a Greek expression that means “Yes” but also deflects responsibility back to the inquirer (cf. Mt 26:25, 64). His answer is a bit nuanced, but it clearly implies an affirmative answer (cf. Lk 23:3). I think his answer had the sense of, “I cannot deny that I am the Son of God, but my understanding is different from yours.”
Only Jesus can claim to the Christ, the Son of Man, the Son of God—because he is. Anyone else who makes such claims or believes such things about himself is surely guilty of blasphemy. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is much more than using God’s name flippantly or even as a curse word. Consider some of the duties required and sins forbidden by the Third Commandment, according to the Westminster Catechisms (WSC 54-55; WLC 112-113).
III. The Verdict & Sentence
A. Jesus is judged guilty and sentenced to death (v. 71; Mt 26:66)
The Jewish religious leaders take Jesus’ answer as a Yes. They have long been pursuing Jesus to trap him in his words (Lk 11:54; 20:20, 26), and finally have the testimony they think they need to put him on a cross. The Jewish Council judges Jesus as guilty of blasphemy because it believes Jesus cannot be who he claims to be. Even so, the charge of blasphemy is not enough to convince the Romans to convict Jesus. Thus they will present Jesus to the Romans as one claiming to be Christ, the King of the Jews and deliverer from Rome’s authority. Thus ends Jesus’ religious trial. Next up: the Roman authorities.
B. Who is really on trial? (vv. 65, 71)
Stop and meditate on this story. Recently I watched the movie God’s Not Dead. It’s a Christian film about a college student who takes a philosophy 101 course. The professor is an atheist who pressures all his students at the beginning of the semester to write on a sheet of paper “God is dead”, sign it, and turn it in so the class can proceed without talk of God. The Christian students politely refuses to comply, so the teacher makes him put God on trial and defend God’s existence before his classmates who serve as a jury. The movie premise got me thinking. Jesus had his trial, which was a farce. Jesus is the Son of Man who is the real and ultimate Judge of everyone. Is God really on trial, and do sinful human beings have any standing to put him on trial? It seems that we are really the ones on trial before God. Who is really on trial?
1. Luke gives us two hints as we carefully read his account. First, when we read all the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ religious trial, it is obvious that Jesus is tried and found guilty of blasphemy. But Luke only uses the word for “blasphemy” once—to assign blame to the police who mock and abuse Jesus. Blasphemy is a direct sin against God. Only God can be blasphemed. By saying Jesus is blasphemed, Luke wants us to see that Jesus is God. The mockers and haters are the ones on trial before God. Second, Luke’s account of Jesus’ trial makes us consider the last words of the Jewish Council. “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”
The Bible asks you the same thing. Have you decided who you think Jesus is, who he claimed to be? If you’re sitting on the fence waiting for more information, what further testimony do you need? You have heard Jesus’ own testimony to his identity. You know everything you need to decide and act upon the evidence.
2. Jesus’ trial is in some ways your trial. When he rose from the dead and ascended to heaven to sit at his Father’s right hand of power, he showed himself to be the ruler and judge of the world. What you think of Jesus’ trial reveals what you think about him. If you are a Christian, in one sense Jesus is on trial for you. He died the death you should have died and lived the life you should have lived. He wasn’t guilty of blasphemy, but we are when we live as if Jesus being the Son of God is not a big deal, that it just matters to get our “Get Out of Jail Free” card. We testify to our paltry, passionless, sub-Christian beliefs and lifestyle. In another sense, he is on trial with you. He stands with you before an unbelieving world that persecutes the true worshipers of God. Evil people killed God’s Son, therefore we should expect they will persecute his disciples. As he was vindicated, so you will be too. If you are not a Christian, then you need to realize Jesus proved he is the divine Son of Man by rising from the dead. He is reigning in heaven right now at the Father’s right hand. He is coming to save his people and heal the world of every kind of blasphemy (Rev 21:5-8; 22:12-15).
Conclusion – I think many Christians have lost their sense of wonder, excitement, and urgency about the gospel. They believe the gospel, but it has little contact with their heart and life. If you take seriously the sin of blasphemy, and recognize a paltry attitude toward Jesus (and all that is holy) is a form of blasphemy, then you will seek forgiveness and change with all your heart. In other words, you will seek God. Take comfort in the testimony of the Apostle Paul, a former blasphemer who found salvation.
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim 1:12-17).