In recent years, Americans have been bombarded by one sensational criminal trial after another—each one, it seemed, the "trial of the century." Ironically, this exposure may have given us new eyes for appreciating the details of what Christians believe to be the trial of all time: Jesus bar Joseph v. Sanhedrin.

How would today's legal analysts characterize this 2,000-year-old trial of a carpenter's son from the backwaters of Galilee? What would they single out as the highlights, the crucial turning points? How would they understand the charge brought against Jesus?

Unwelcome reformer

Using the last chapters of the Gospel of Mark as their legal brief, the analysts would probably begin with the end—with the blunt fact that the defendant loses the case andgets executed. Then they would zero in on a series of tactical blunders the defendant makes that ultimately cost him his life.

We know that Jesus, after having been betrayed by one of his own followers, was hustled under tight guard to stand before the Sanhedrin, an assembly of Jewish religious leaders whose chief priest at the time was Caiaphas. Fearing the worst, his disciples fled. Peter, however, ventured as far as the building where Jesus was taken for examination. While sitting around a fire with some soldiers in an outside courtyard, Peter feigned ignorance of the controversial teacher being interrogated inside. He knew all too well why his master had been arrested and did not wish to share the same fate.

Because Israel at this time was a puppet Jewish state under the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire, the Sanhedrin did not possess the legal power to sentence a person to death. Only the Roman magistrates could do this. So the assembled Jewish ...

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