The Halakha is the collective body of Jewish religious law, which includes the biblical, the Talmudic, and the Rabbinic law, as well as the Jewish customs and traditions. There is one law for religious, civil, and criminal law. Therefore, when a person committed blasphemy, a religious violation where a person claims to be equal with God, they would be tried through the same courts as if they had stolen or committed murder.
The Halakha provided strict rules for how trials were to proceed in order to maintain a fair system of legal justice and to administer the law honestly. However, this legal system, as all others, operated under the hands of sinful men and thus, failed to always operate in fairness and honesty. In first century Judea, the religious leaders stoned Stephen in the streets, several times they picked up rocks to stone Jesus, and they were going to stone the woman caught in adultery. These examples violated the Halakha to fairly seek justice.
When a person was properly charged with a crime and taken to trial, there were specific rules for how the trial was to proceed.
John 18:12 – [At night] Then the detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him. And they led Him away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year. Now it was Caiaphas who advised the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.
John 18:19-23 – The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine. Jesus answered him, “I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said.” And when He said these things one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand saying, Do you answer the high priest like that?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?”
John 18:24 - Then Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
Matthew 26:57-60a – And those who had laid hold of Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. But Peter followed Him at a distance to the high priest’s courtyard. And he went in and sat with the servants to see the end. Now the chief priests, the elders and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward they found none.
Mark 14:55-56 – Now the chief priest and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree.
Matthew 26:60b - But at least two false witnesses came forward and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’”
Mark 14:57-59 - Then some rose up and bore false witness against Him, saying, “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands and within three days I will build another made without hands.” But not even then did their testimony agree.
Matthew 26:62- 68 - And the high priest arose (Caiaphas) and said to Him, “Do you answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! What do you think?”
They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.” Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palm of their hands, saying, “Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?”
Mark 14:65 – Then some began to spit on Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him, and to say to Him, “Prophesy!” and the officers struck Him with the palms of their hands.
Luke 22:65 – And many other things they blasphemously spoke against Him.
After reading how trials were supposed to be conducted and reading how the trial of Jesus was conducted, we see the council violated their own laws in their rush to convict Jesus. Jesus was arrested and tried at night at the house of the high priest, not in the Temple during the daytime. The trial was not open to the public. The charges were brought forward by the council not by a third party. And the charges were never read aloud because they didn’t even know what to charge him with at first. Jesus was not granted any defense, on the contrary, was asked to incriminate himself. No credible witnesses were brought forward. The only evidence presented was hearsay from perjured testimony stirred up by the council itself. These witnesses should have been subject to the same punishment that awaited Jesus.
The vote for conviction was not taken individually from the youngest member to the oldest but was declared by the high priest. There was no two day waiting period until sentencing, nor a three day waiting period before execution. There was no fasting and praying by the council to consider the weight of the decision to execute someone. Mercy was not valued.
When Jesus was arrested there was never even a pretense of justice. The trial was a ruse for them to execute Jesus. The verdict and death sentence were not based on careful consideration of full impartial evidence and testimony. All legal decorum had been tossed aside as they spat on and slapped Jesus.
The charge they finally landed on for conviction was that of blasphemy. Jesus did indeed claim to be God, but this is only a blasphemous statement if you are not God. According to Leviticus 24:16, “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him.” The punishment for blasphemy is stoning. Why was Jesus crucified then? Because in God’s Sovereignty, the Roman empire was ruling over Judea and the Jews were unable to carry out an execution. This was why the high priest needed Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, to agree to execute Jesus. The Roman form of execution for any non-Roman citizen was crucifixion, thus fulfilling the Scripture that his bones would not be broken (Psalm 34:20 and Numbers 9:12) and that He would be pierced for our transgressions (Zechariah 12:10 and Isaiah 53:5).
Of course the trial before Pilate was not a real trial either. There were no witnesses nor evidence provided, only the charges brought forward by the Sanhedrin. In even this though, Pilate seemed more concerned about mercy for a man who appeared innocent than any of the Sanhedrin did. Scripture even tells us that he sought a way to release Jesus. But alas, he feared men more than God. As the angry mob chanted, “Crucify Him!” Pilate released to them Barabbas and sent Jesus to be executed.
But we must remember, none of this happened without God allowing this as part of His divine plan. As Jesus told Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” God was in complete control, and this was the appointed time He chose to redeem His creation by sacrificing Himself in their place.