By BISHOP W. R. NICHOLSON. D.D.
The Lord shall scatter thee among all peoples, and shall give thee there a trembling heart, and thy life shall hang in doubt before thee, and thou shalt fear night and day. Deut. 28: 64.
Demolished as a body politic; no longer an organized power,
horribly cut down in number, festering with the memory of their appalling
subversion, homeless, friendless, forlorn, the entire people, by squads and in
various directions, began those world-wide wanderings that as yet have not
ended. And as they began, so have they
continued, for all along the way what calamities!
Look back now and behold them. Despised, slain, starved, enslaved, banished. They glutted the slave markets of imperial
And yet, despite it all, a people ineffaceable they remain; as
much apart from all others as when, amid their prowess under Joshua, the sun
stood still upon Gibeon, and the moon in the
* * *
It is most wonderful to see the critical and supreme encounter between Christ and the official heads of Gods chosen people, officials who were acting, with unchallenged power and authority, on behalf of the only nation in the world that stood for Jehovah. The nation that possessed the Temple, and the Priests of Jehovah, and a line of Prophets for centuries, was face to face with One claiming to fulfil all the prophecies of the Messiah who was to come; and we see the marvellous encounter, step by step and word for word, as Israel made official and (for two millenniums) final contact with the Son of God.
First we see the Court before which our Lord was brought. The Sanhedrin, consisting of seventy leaders
Now the lawlessness of the trial at once provides a startling background for the radiant form of Christ. The Law decreed that no trial must occur before sunrise; the accused must have an advocate, and be allowed witnesses; and no death sentence must be passed on the day of trial: here, the court sat before sunrise; the Accused was given no advocate, and allowed no witnesses; and the death sentence was passed on the day of trial. No star-chamber was more lawless.
The heart of the whole scene at once reveals itself. For the High Priest, after various suborned
witnesses had failed to establish a case, conceives a master-question which, he
believes, will compel the Prisoner to incriminate Himself. It was a question which centred its whole
weight on the heart of the claims of Christ: the High Priest had a perfect
right to put it: it was, in his person, the whole of
But the matter is still more momentous. The High Priest, deliberately and of set purpose, puts our Lord under oath; which he had a perfect right to do as the official representative of Jehovah; and no oath was ever uttered under circumstances so solemn, or on a question of fact so momentous. So also our Lord, who had been hitherto silent, instantly responds; and by doing so accepts the alternative of either the truth or perjury. Four times Jesus had been silent - once earlier before Caiaphas, once before Herod, and twice before Pilate: now, when it is no longer a matter of false accusations, but the challenge of the greatest of all truths, He speaks. Caiaphas says:- I adjure thee - I put you under oath - by the living God - the most solemn conceivable oath - that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God (Matt. 26: 63). The Law said:- If anyone sin, in that he heareth the voice of adjuration - he is put under oath - if he do not utter it - his witness - then he shall bear his iniquity (Lev. 5: 1) - silence is guilt. So the High Priest, solemnly and officially, forces a confession, under oath, which will settle the controversy for ever: he directly charges home the fearful question, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?
The answer of the Lord could not be more explicit. And Jesus said - returning Messiahs official answer to the official challenge of Gods
People, and speaking to the official leaders of
The effect of our Lords utterance it is impossible to exaggerate. And the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What further need have we of witnesses? Ye have heard THE BLASPHEMY. The Jews had plainly asserted (John 10: 33) that in saying He was the Son of God - Thou, being a man, makest thyself God. They now can scarcely trust their ears that He, so deeply humiliated and already death-sentenced, could make such an assertion. We little realize the fearful issues at stake. And they all condemned him to be worthy of death, and in passing the death-sentence on blasphemy, they were acting strictly according to the Law, if blasphemy had been committed. He that blasphemeth the name of Jehovah, he shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him (Lev. 24: 16). So therefore if our Lord could have denied Caiaphas challenge; or if He could have so softened down the High Priests expressions Messiah, the Son of the Blessed - that they should not imply Godhead; it would not only have saved His life to do so, but if He was not God, it was the only truthful, honourable, righteous answer to give. On the contrary, the sole count on which our Lord was condemned was nothing witnessed against Him, but His own simple statement of the truth of His Deity.
So now we face the outstanding consequences in all their fearful import. (1) The whole scene proves in what sense Caiaphas used the expression the Son of God on his own testimony - he had it carefully in mind when he put his challenge; and therefore it equally proves in what sense our Lord also uses the expression, for He is deliberately answering him: both meant Godhead, or it would not have been blasphemy. And (2) there is an even more fearful consequence. If our Lord is not God, He was guilty of blasphemy; but, on the other hand, it equally follows that if He was not guilty of blasphemy, He is God, and therefore everyone to-day who either praises Him or disparages Him, but who at the same time denies His Deity, is doing exactly what the Sanhedrin did - charging Him with blasphemy; and, in consequence - since our Lord spoke the truth - is guilty of actual (though unintentional) blasphemy himself.
A symbolic action of the highest significance closes the scene. The High Priest did that which was strictly forbidden to a priest - he rent his clothes. The command to priests was:- Neither rend your clothes, that ye die not, and the Lord be not wroth with all the congregation (Lev. 10: 6): that is, it endangered the death-penalty. The Old Testament symbolism depicted the High Priests robes as a picture of a perfect righteousness under the Law; and to tear up the robe was to despair of justification under Law, and to confess oneself a lost sinner. This is exactly what Caiaphas unconsciously did; and what we all, sooner or later, must do; for Grace robes where Law makes naked. Our very doubt was blasphemy, and our righteousness was tattered rags. But this is our salvation. HE hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, HE hath covered me with the robe of righteousness (Isa. 61: 10).
It is amazing to find
And the iron hand of the Sanhedrin once more threatens the
D. M. PANTON (Vol. 14. 1937-38