102. Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:63-71)

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Gospel Parallels §241

James J. Tissot, 'The Torn Cloak -- Jesus Condemned to Death by the Jews' (1886-94)
James J. Tissot, 'The Torn Cloak -- Jesus Condemned to Death by the Jews' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, Brooklyn Museum, New York.

"63  The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. 64  They blindfolded him and demanded, 'Prophesy! Who hit you?' 65  And they said many other insulting things to him. 66  At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67  'If you are the Christ,' they said, 'tell us.' Jesus answered, 'If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68  and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69  But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.' 70  They all asked, 'Are you then the Son of God?' He replied, 'You are right in saying I am.' 71  Then they said, 'Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.'" (Luke 22:63-71)

This is a brief passage, with its share of irony and shame -- and several lessons for observant disciples.

Temple Soldiers Mock Jesus (Luke 22:63-65)

After intense interrogation in the high priest's palace during the night, the temple soldiers who are guarding (Greek synechō) Jesus begin to abuse him. They sense the angry mood of their superiors and begin to inflict that anger and violence upon Jesus' person, perhaps in full sight of Peter and John.

"The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, 'Prophesy! Who hit you?' And they said many other insulting things to him." (Luke 22:63-65)

The word "mocked" is Greek empaizō, "to subject to derision, ridicule, make fun of, mock someone."1089 The word "beat" is Greek derō. Originally the word meant "to skin, flay," but in the New Testament it is used figuratively to mean "beat, whip."1090 It was probably a pretty severe beating with clubs or sticks. Later in the morning it is intensified by Roman soldiers who flog or scourge him using a whip designed to dig into the flesh and shred the skin (Greek phragelloō, Matthew 27: 26; Mark 15:15; John 19:1). The KJV clause "they struck him on the face," probably wasn't in the earliest texts of Luke, though this action is recorded in Matthew 26:67 and Mark 14:65.

First, the soldiers ridicule his power by beating him severely. Next, they mock his popular designation as a prophet by blindfolding him, having one of the soldiers slap him, and then demanding that Jesus prophetically identify his attacker.

Luke summarizes their insults with the verb blasphemeō, from which we get our English word "blasphemy," irreverence towards God or things considered sacred. The Greek word, however, isn't limited to irreverence towards God, but includes any "speech that denigrates or defames, reviling, denigration, disrespect, slander."1091

In our day, Jesus isn't present physically for people to beat, but the anger and spiritual blindness that surrounded Jesus' trial still exists today. If Jesus were present, some are so angry with God that they would beat him still, spit upon him, mock him, and publicly despise him. You and I have heard abundant cursing of God, slander against his holiness, challenges to his power, and questioning his justice. Occasionally, we disciples bear the brunt of this abuse, as well. Jesus instructed us:

"Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy,
because great is your reward in heaven.
For that is how their fathers treated the prophets." (Luke 6:22-23)

The Sanhedrin Meets (Luke 22:66)

"At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them." (Luke 22:66)

The Jerusalem Sanhedrin (Greek synedrion) had authority, theoretically at least, over the spiritual, political, and legal affairs of all Jews, though at times the Jerusalem Sanhedrin's authority was limited to Judea. It was presided over by the high priest, and was made up of seventy-one persons consisting of three groups:

  1. Chief priests (Greek archiereis), which included former high priests and members of the priestly aristocracy. They were Sadducees.
  2. Scribes (KJV) or "teachers of the law" (NIV; Greek grammateus), were learned men, sometimes priests but mostly lay persons, who were entrusted with making copies of the Old Testament as well as providing instruction in the Torah. In Jesus' time they drew from both the Pharisee and Sadducee parties, served as judges and theologians, and would be called upon to speak in the synagogues.1092
  3. Elders (Greek presbyteroi) sometimes refers to members of the Sanhedrin as a whole, and elsewhere to a third group among the members consisting of priests and lay members of the nobility.

It was technically illegal for the Sanhedrin to convict a person of a capital crime during a night session, though Jesus' interrogation at the high priest's palace during the night served as a preliminary meeting to allow members to get an idea of the charges, and to hear (false) testimony against Jesus (Mark 14:53). However, a verdict to convict had to wait until the following morning.1093 (See Appendix 2H. The Chronology of Holy Week.) Luke is clear that the official verdict is rendered after dawn. In 22:66, the word translated "council" (Greek synedrion) may refer to the body's assembly room on the western boundary of the Temple Mount in the Hall of Hewn Stone.1094

At times, the Sanhedrin had authority to convict and execute capital criminals, but apparently during this period, power to execute is solely in the hands of the Roman governor (John 18:31).

The Christ, the Messiah (Luke 22:67)

Up to this time, Jesus has avoided publicly declaring that he is the Messiah (Greek christos), though his disciples knew (9:20-21), and occasionally Jesus revealed this to followers privately, such as the Woman at the Well of Sychar (John 4:25-26). Nevertheless, popular speculation in Jerusalem has been rampant that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Messiah (John 9:22). But when asked directly, Jesus prefers the less politically-charged title "Son of Man."1095 Now, Jesus' enemies have him in a position to demand a clear answer:

"'If you are the Christ,' they said, 'tell us.'
Jesus answered, 'If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer....'" (Luke 22:67-68)

In Matthew and Mark's account, Jesus answers their question about whether he is the Christ before he goes on to speak of the Son of Man. In Luke, Jesus points to their unbelief: "If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer." They don't really want to know the answer. They just want Jesus to admit it so they can accuse him of being a political threat to Rome. They don't care about truth.

The Glorious Son of Man (Luke 22:68-69)

But Jesus doesn't end with the question of whether he is the Messiah. He points to his favorite title, "Son of Man."

"... But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.'" (Luke 22:69)

This is a reference to the glorious reign of the Son of Man at God's right hand found in Daniel's prophecy:

"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed" (Daniel 7:13-14).

Jesus' accusers ask what they perceive as a political question: Do you come as the Messiah who is expected to overthrow the Roman oppressors and make Israel free again as it was in the days of David? But Jesus responds that he is heir to a much more comprehensive Kingdom than David ever imagined -- over all peoples, forever!

Read Daniel's prophecy again and catch the boldness and audacity of what Jesus' reply must have meant to his accusers. They must have been shocked!

The Son of God (Luke 22:70-71)

This was more than a claim to be an earthly Messiah. Jesus is claiming to be God's heir in a unique way -- blasphemous if it were not, in fact, true.

"They all asked, 'Are you then the Son of God?'
He replied, 'You are right in saying I am.'
Then they said, 'Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.'" (Luke 22:70-71)

We Christians have used the term "Son of God" so often that we know what it means for us -- a statement of Jesus' divinity as the Second Person of the Godhead.

But what did Jesus' accusers mean by "Son of God" when they asked this question? Of course, they had no understanding of the triune nature of God. Occasionally the term "Son of God" appears in the Old Testament in reference to angels (Genesis 6:2; Job 1:6; Daniel 3:25), Israel (Exodus 4:22-23; Hosea 11:1; Malachi 2:10), and the king (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7; 89:26-27). This means that the Jews are aware of the term in several messianic passages. Three passages from the Dead Sea Scrolls use the term.1096 It isn't likely that Jesus' accusers use it in the popular Hellenistic sense of a hero, philosopher, ruler, or miracle worker.1097 Apparently, Jesus' accusers mean by "Son of God" something quite similar to what they mean by "Messiah" or "Christ" -- the king, especially favored by God, who will sit upon David's throne. They are using this term as another way to ask if Jesus is the Messiah.

Notice Jesus' answer is somewhat ambiguous. The KJV renders the Greek quite literally: "Ye say that I am." Marshall gives the sense of it:

"The form of expression is not a direct affirmation; but it is certainly not a denial, and is best regarded as a grudging admission with the suggestion that the speaker would put it otherwise or that the questioners fail to understand exactly what they are asking."1098

Mark's Gospel renders it clearly as, "I am" (Mark 14:62). Obviously, Jesus' accusers take his answer as a "Yes," since they seem exultant: "Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips" (Luke 22:71).

It is strange that they exult in Jesus' confession of who he is. But they exult only that they now have enough evidence to bring him before Pilate as a political threat. How sad that they cannot exult in knowing who Jesus really is and put their faith in him!

Lessons for Disciples

What are we disciples to learn from this?

First, Jesus bears the insults and ridicule of his enemies as an example to us, who must bear our share of that same violence, enmity, and mockery.

Second, some people are so frozen in their understanding that they can't recognize God in the flesh when they see him in action and hear from his own lips who he is. We expect our opponents to be able to discuss Jesus rationally, but many are not able to. They have such an investment in protecting their own way of life that they cannot afford to believe that Jesus is who he says he is. They are unable to listen to reason.

Third, Jesus is not quick to allow himself to be placed in others' pigeonholes. He seeks to define himself for people in terms they cannot so easily dismiss. How do people categorize us so they can dismiss us? How can we communicate who we are in ways that are provocative and force others to "think outside the box" regarding the Christian faith?

Fourth, we have three titles and roles of Jesus on which to meditate:

  1. Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. He is not the kind of military and political Messianic-Deliverer the Jews -- or Jesus' own disciples -- expected. But he is the Messianic-Deliverer from sin and death, the Redeemer who offers us life.
  2. Jesus is the glorified Son of Man. He is seated at the right hand of the Father and soon will come in the clouds. He is the King of an unshakable, everlasting Kingdom, with authority over everyone -- both believers and unbelievers. He is Lord -- a glorious, reigning King.
  3. Jesus is the Son of God. While the Jews understood this phrase in a Messianic context, the Christian community, through the insights of the Apostles John and Paul -- and Luke himself  (Luke 2) -- understands Son of God in terms of Jesus' unique relation to the Father as a Son.

In Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin, false witnesses testify against Jesus (Mark 14:56), but he is finally convicted for being who he is. This is not mere misunderstanding; it is stark, hardened unbelief. Jesus' next step towards Calvary is to the Roman governor with the damning evidence that he is the Messiah, the reigning King of all, and the Son of God. No wonder Pilate writes on the placard placed on his cross, "The King of the Jews."


Lord Jesus, when I began to think about who you are, I find it amazing that you found so much patience for obtuse people like me and my brothers and sisters. Forgive us our flippancy about you. Forgive us our lack of faith and our unbelief. Forgive us the timidity that prevents us from identifying clearly who we are when called to give account for our faith in you. Mold us into your strong, unflinching image. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verse

"But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God." (Luke 22:69)


Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions that follow -- your choice.

  1. How did the temple soldiers abuse Jesus? (Luke 22:63-65) Why did they abuse him, do you think?
  2. Why was it important to Jesus' opponents to get him to admit to being the Messiah? (Luke 22:67a) What kind of Messiah were they expecting?
  3. Why are Jesus' opponents often unable to listen to truth told them by credible people? (Luke 22:67b-68) How does understanding this help us to be more faithful disciples?
  4. Read the passage about the Son of Man that Jesus refers to in 22:69 -- Daniel 7:13-14. What does this tell us about Jesus' preferred title of Son of Man? What does it tell us about Jesus' true nature?
  5. Extra credit: What, if anything, do the concepts of Messiah and Son of Man have in common? What are the differences between them?
  6. What did Jesus' Jewish opponents mean by the term "Son of God"? What do Christians mean by the term "Son of God"? Why is Jesus as the Son of God so important to our understanding of him?
  7. What goals did Jesus' opponents achieve in his trial before the Sanhedrin? What liability did they incur by means of these proceedings?
Discipleship Training in Luke's Gospel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Lessons compiled in 805-page book in paperback, Kindle, & PDF.


Abbreviations and References

[1089] Empaizō, BDAG 323.

[1090] Derō, BDAG 219.

[1091] Blasphemeō, BDAG 178.

[1092] Graham H. Twelftree, "Scribes," DJG, pp. 732-735.

[1093] m. Sanh. 4:1. This section draws heavily upon the conclusions of Graham H. Twelftree in "Sanhedrin," DJG, pp. 728-732. Twelftree, in turn, relies on the New Testament as well as the writings of Josephus to reconstruct practices as they were in the time of Jesus. The Mishnah was written later, and probably reflects the situation as it was in Jamnia, not Jerusalem before 70 AD.

[1094] Twelftree, p. 731, cites Josephus, Wars 5:144; 6:454.

[1095] See my essay on "The Son of Man" in Appendix 2.

[1096] 4QFlor 1:10-14; 1QSa2:11-12; and 4QpsDan Aa (4Q246).

[1097] This paragraph draws heavily on David R. Bauer, "Son of God," DJG, pp. 769-775, especially p. 770.

[1098] Marshall, Luke, p. 851.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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