[Over the brook Cedron.] There is a question among expositors about the article in the plural number, and the accent in Cedron; and that upon this occasion, that it might not be thought as if any relation were to be had here to Cedars, wherein one hath been deceived when he thus comments upon it: "It is called the brook Cedron, that is, of Cedars, that grow there." So also the Arab. Interp. in this place, over the brook of Cedar. But in 2 Samuel 15:23, and 1 Kings 2:37, he retains the word Cedron.
Amongst the Talmudists, kedar signifies dung: where the Gloss renders kedar by the easing of nature. Aruch renders it by dung: and the sense of that clause is, More die of inconvenient easing nature than of hunger. I would not affirm that the word kedar was used in this sense in the primitive denomination of the brook Kidron; but rather that the brook was called so from blackness; the waters being blackened by the mud and dirt that ran into it; it being, indeed, rather the sink or common sewer of the city than a brook.
But when the word kedar was used for dung, which it might be at that time when the Greek version was made, perhaps those interpreters might translate the Hebrew word into Greek, which is not unusual with them; so that the brook Cedron might be the same with them as the brook of filth.
[Where was a garden.] The grandees of the nation had their gardens and places of pleasure about the city, yea, even in the mount of Olives: for there were none within the city itself. "The blood that was over and above, after the sprinkling of the inward altar, was poured out towards the foundation on the west of the outward altar. And the blood that was over and above at the outward altar was poured out at the foot of it on the south side: and both the one and the other meeting together ran down through a conveyance under ground into the brook Kidron; and was sold to the gardeners to dung their gardens with; which having bought they used for that purpose."
For the blood, having been once dedicated to sacred use, might not be put to any common use without trespass; so that the gardeners paid so much money for it as would purchase a trespass offering.
3. Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.
[With lanterns and torches.] Out of Succah; "They danced" [that is, in the feast of Tabernacles], "holding in their hand burning torches." The Gloss is: "They threw up their torches into the air, and caught them again in their hands; and some there were so great artists in this exercise, they could do it, some with four, others with eight torches at once, throwing up one and catching another."
10. Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus.
[Malchus.] A name very much in use amongst the Jews; Malluch, Nehemiah 10:4,27: Malchus the Arabian. This was also the name of that implacable enemy to Christianity Porphyrius, and of his father before him. So Luke Holsteine in the Life of Porphyrius, where he reckons up more of that name.
Christ had struck those to the ground that came to apprehend him, by the power of his word, that he might thereby provide for the flight of his disciples, and shew his own divine power. They, getting up again, accost him; Judas kisseth him; they lay hands upon him; and then Peter draws his sword, &c.
13. And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year.
[To Annas first.] For "Annas was father-in-law to Caiaphas," as also the sagan of the priests, Luke 3:2: Targum in 2 Kings 23:4. Now sagan was the same with the prefect or ruler, which we have so frequent mention of amongst the Rabbins.
The 'ruler' saith unto them. Gloss: The 'ruler' is the 'sagan.' 'Sagan' is the same with 'ruler.'
There is frequent mention amongst the Talmudists, of R. Ananias, the sagan of the priests. He was destroyed, with Rabban Simeon and Ismael, at the siege of Jerusalem. But I am apt to think he was that sharp and unjust judge that St. Paul had to do with, Acts 23, rather than our Annas in this place.
Why they should carry our Saviour, when they had taken him, before Annas the sagan, sooner than to Caiaphas the high priest, the evangelist gives us one reason, viz. "because he was father-in-law to Caiaphas"; under which another reason may be deduced, viz. that he was the older man, of greater experience and skill in the law: for there were sometimes some high priests that were very unlearned fellows, as may be gathered from that supposition in Joma; "If the high priest be a wise man, he expounds; if not, they expound to him. If he be accustomed to reading, he reads himself; if not, they read before him."
But for the sagan of the priests, it was very necessary he should be a man of learning, because his charge was about the things and service of the Temple, and was bound to be always assistant and present there, when the high priest was seldom there, or conversed in those affairs.
Juchasin and Aruch; No one could by right be promoted to the high priesthood, unless he had first been sagan. A good cautelous provision indeed, that so in the time of their saganship they might gain experience in the laws and rituals, and might be the better fitted for the high priest's chair. But when it came to that pass, that persons were made high priests for their money, and not for their deserts, it might easily happen that very unlearned wretches might sometimes possess that seat. And perhaps Caiaphas himself was of this stamp.
It seems therefore that they led Jesus to Annas first, that Caiaphas might be directed by his counsel; and, himself being but little versed in things of this nature, might proceed in this affair by the steerage of his father-in-law. And let this high priest pardon me if I ascribe that sentence of his, "It is expedient that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish," not to his prudence and gravity, but to his rashness and cruelty; although the Holy Spirit directed it to its proper end, which the high priest himself did not dream of.
There might be another reason why they led Christ before Annas first, but that I shall speak of anon.
[Which was the high priest that same year.] If the Gloss which I had upon these very same words, chapter 11:51, will not so well fit here as they did there, we may add this also, which will suit well enough in both places; that is, that there was so great a vicissitude and change in the high priesthood, there being a new high priest almost every year, that it was not unnecessary to set down this particular circumstance, Caiaphas was high priest for that year.
"In the second Temple, which stood but four hundred and twenty years, there were more than three hundred high priests within that time. Of these four hundred and twenty years, deduct those forty wherein Simeon the Just ministered, and those eighty wherein Jochanan sat, and those ten wherein Ismael Ben Phabi, and (as it is said) those eleven wherein Eleazar Ben Harsom governed; and then reckon, and you will find that hardly any other high priest sat out his whole year."
But this number of high priests is very much lessened in Vajicra Rabba: "under the first Temple, because they that served therein served in the truth, there were but eighteen high priests, the father, the son, and grandson successively. But under the second Temple, when that honour came to be obtained by money [there are also that say how they murdered one another by charms and witchcrafts], there were fourscore high priests served in that time: fourscore and one, say some; fourscore and two, say others; and there are that say fourscore and four. Amongst these, Simeon the Just sat forty years: but when the place was bought and sold, the years of enjoying it were cut short. The story goes of one that sent his son with two bushels of silver [to purchase the high priest's office], and the bushels themselves were silver. Another sent his son with two bushels of gold, and the bushels themselves were of gold too."
As to this difference of numbers, we will not much trouble our heads about it: perhaps the Gemarists might reckon the sagans together with the high priests, for they were indeed deputed to minister in their stead, if any uncleanness had happened to them. Let there be fourscore high priests, or thereabouts, it is certain that so frequent were the changes and successions amongst them, that the high priest of this year was hardly so the year that went before or that followed after. Although indeed in this Caiaphas it was something otherwise, yet did the evangelist justly and properly enough add this clause, that he was the high priest that same year; tacitly noting the common state of affairs as to the office of high priest at that time.
15. And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest.
[And Simon Peter followed Jesus, &c.] There are some that apprehend in this place some interruption in the order of the story: they would therefore have the twenty-fourth verse weaved in here, "Annas sent Jesus bound to Caiaphas": because what is here related and so on seems all to have been done in Caiaphas' hall, and not in Annas'.
This order the Syr., Arab., Vulg. interpreters, and others do still observe: Nonnus, [Dionysius] Carthusianus, Beza, and, as he quotes him, St. Cyril, invert it. It is true there is here a tacit transition, and a trajection of the words in verse 24, which is not very usual; but neither the one nor the other seems to be without some reason for it.
I. It is told us, Matthew 26:56, and Mark 14:50, that "all the disciples forsook him, and fled." So that probably 'Peter and that other disciple' was amongst the number when it is said they all fled. The transition of our evangelist therefore seems to teach us that neither 'Peter nor the other disciple' followed Christ to Annas' house; but being surprised and confounded with a very great fear, hid themselves for a while; and (not till after some time) recollecting themselves, they put forward amongst the crowd to Caiaphas' hall, or else came thither after them.
II. Annas alone could determine nothing judicially concerning Christ: for when an inquiry must be made concerning his disciples, and the nature of his doctrines, when witnesses must be produced pro and con, this necessarily required a session of the Sanhedrim. He sent him therefore to Caiaphas, where the Sanhedrim also was; and the evangelist lets the mention of that alone till he came to relate their way of proceeding.
But why, or by what right, should Annas be absent from the Sanhedrim? Could there be any right or legal proceeding in the great council, if the whole number of seventy-one elders were not complete? Let Maimonides give the answer: "It is not necessary that the whole bench of seventy-one should all sit together in their places in the Temple; but when it is necessary for them all to meet, let them be called together. But at other times, if any one of them have any business of his own, he may go out and do his affairs and return again. This provision is made, that there might never be fewer than twenty-three sitting together during the whole session. If any have occasion to go forth, let him look about him and see if there be twenty-three of his colleagues in the court, then he may go out; if not, he must stay till some other enter." We give another reason of Annas' absence by and by.
[That disciple was known unto the high priest.] Nonnus supposes that other disciple known to the high priest, from his fishing trade. Others guess other reasons; but to determine any thing in this matter would look rashly. However this knowledge of the high priest came about, it is certain this disciple had the greater opportunity to have stood in the defence of his Master as a witness in his behalf. For,
"Capital judgments begin always on the defendant's side, and not on the accuser's. It is lawful for all to plead on the defendant's side, not so on the accuser's."
"They begin on the defendant's side. One of the witnesses saith, I have something to say in his defence. If any of his disciples say, 'I have wherewith to accuse him,' they enjoin him silence. If the disciple say, 'I can offer something in his defence,' they call him up and place him among themselves, and suffer him not to go down thence the whole day after."
Did they thus proceed with our Saviour? did they endeavour first for the clearing his innocency? and were there any witnesses produced for this purpose? If so, then here were 'Peter and that other disciple,' who could have witnessed in his behalf: but Peter denies that he ever knew him.
18. And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals; for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself.
[For it was cold.] It was the very dead of night, almost at cockcrowing. Our countryman Biddulph, who was at Jerusalem at the very time when they were wont to celebrate the Passover, gives us the reason of this cold by his own experience. He acknowledgeth indeed that he found it so hot at that time as we usually feel it in our own country about midsummer, that he could not but wonder how Peter, at that time of the year, should be so cold. But within a few days his doubt was resolved, for there were mighty dews fell, which not being wholly dried up by the sun made it very cold, especially in the night, &c.
Nay, the traditional fathers suppose there may be frost and snow in the time of Passover, by that canon of theirs: "They do not intercalate the year either for snow or for frost."
The intercalation of the year respected chiefly the Paschal solemnity; namely, that by the interposing of the intercalated month all things might be ripe and fit for that feast. If when it came to the month Nisan the barley was not yet ripe enough to offer the sheaf of the first fruits, then they put a month between, which they called the second Adar. So if the ways were so bad that people could not travel up to Jerusalem, if the bridges were so broken that they could not pass the rivers, they intercalated or put a month between, that at the coming in of the month Nisan every thing might be ready that was requisite for the Paschal solemnity. But if frost or snow should happen when Nisan was entering in its ordinary course, they did not put a month between upon that account. From whence it is plain that frost and snow did sometimes happen at that time.
21. Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.
[Ask them which heard me.] Does not Jesus here appeal to the common right and rule amongst themselves? viz. that the witnesses in behalf of the defendant might be heard first. But who, alas! was there that durst witness for him? It is said, indeed, that "the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against him," Matthew 26:59. But did they seek any true witness for him? or did they indeed deal with the witnesses against him as their customs obliged them to have done? did they search their testimony by a strict and severe examination? did they terrify them, or by grave exhortations admonish them to say nothing but the truth? This by right ought to have been done: but we have reason to suppose it was not done.
28. Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.
[But that they might eat the Passover.] I. We have already shewn, in our notes upon Mark 14:12, that the eating of the Paschal lamb was never, upon any occasion whatever, transferred from the evening of the fourteenth day, drawing to the close of it; no, not by reason of the sabbath, or any uncleanness that had happened to the congregation; so that there needs little argument to assure us that the Jews ate the lamb at the same time wherein Christ did...
II. The Passover, therefore here doth not signify the Paschal lamb, but the Paschal Chagigah: of which we will remark these two or three things:
1. Deuteronomy 16:2, "Thou shalt sacrifice the Passover unto the Lord thy God, of the flock and the herd." Where R. Solomon; "The flocks are meant of the lambs and the kids; the herd of the Chagigah." And R. Bechai in locum: "The flocks are for the due of the Passover; the herd, for the sacrifices of the Chagigah." So also R. Nachmanid: "The herd, for the celebration of the 'Chagigah.'" Pesachin: The flock for the Passover, the oxen for the Chagigah.
Where the Gloss, p. 1: "Doth not the Passover consist wholly of lambs and kids? Exodus 12:5. If so, why is it said oxen? To equal every thing that is used in the Passover. As the Passover [i.e. the Paschal lamb ] is of due, and is not taken but out of the common flocks," neither from the first-born nor from the tenths]; "so this also [i.e. of the oxen] is of due, and not taken but out of the common herd." See 2 Chronicles 30:24, &c., and 35:8,9.
2. The Chagigah was for joy and mirth, according to that in Deuteronomy 16:14, "And thou shalt rejoice in the feast," &c. Hence the sacrifices that were prepared for that use are called sacrifices of peace or eucharistic offerings, sacrifices of joy and mirth.
3. The proper time of bringing the Chagigah was the fifteenth day of the month. Aruch: "They ate, and drank, and rejoiced, and were bound to bring their sacrifice of Chagigah on the fifteenth day"; i.e. the first day of the feast, &c.
There might be a time, indeed, when they brought their Chagigah on the fourteenth day; but this was not so usual; and then it was under certain conditions. "When is it that they bring the Chagigah at the same time with the lamb? When it comes on another day in the week, and not on the sabbath; when it is clean, and when it is small." Let the Gloss explain the last clause; and for the two former, we shall do that ourselves.
"If the lamb be less than what will satisfy the whole company, then they make ready their Chagigah, eating that first, and then the lamb," &c. And the reason is given by another Glosser; viz. that the appetites of those that eat might be pretty well satisfied before they begin the lamb: for if they should fall upon the lamb first, it being so very small, and the company numerous and hungry, they would be in danger of breaking the bones, whiles they gnaw it so greedily.
For this and other reasons the Rabbins account the Chagigah of the fourteenth day to be many degrees less perfect than that of the fifteenth; but it would be very tedious to quote their ventilations about it. Take only these few instances:
"R. Issai saith, 'The Chagigah on the fourteenth day is not our duty.'" And a little after: "R. Eliezer saith, 'By the peace offerings which they slay on the evening of the feast, a man doth not his duty, either as to rejoicing, or as to Chagigah.'"
And now let us return to the words of our evangelist.
III. It was the fifteenth day of the month when the fathers of the council refused to enter into the praetorium, lest they should be defiled; for they would eat the Passover, that is, the Chagigah.
1. The evangelist expresseth it after the common way of speaking, when he calls it the Passover. "It is written, Observe the month of Abib: and keep the Passover: that all that you do may go under the denomination of the Passover." The calf and the young bullock which they kill in the name of the Passover, or for the Passover. Whence we may observe, the calf is the Passover as well as the lamb.
2. The elders of the Sanhedrim prepare and oblige themselves to eat the Chagigah [the Passover] on that day, because the next day was the sabbath; and the Chagigah must not make void the sabbath.
The Chagigah doth not set aside the sabbath. Hence that we quoted before, that the Chagigah was not to be brought upon the sabbath day, as also not in case of uncleanness: because however the Chagigah and defilement might set aside the Passover, yet it might not the sabbath.
31. Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:
[It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.] Doth Pilate jest or deride them, when he bids them "take him, and judge him according to their own law?" It cannot be denied but that all capital judgment, or sentence upon life, had been taken from the Jews for above forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, as they oftentimes themselves confess. But how came this to pass? It is commonly received, that the Romans, at this time the Jews' lords and masters, had taken from all their courts a power and capacity of judging the capital matters. We have spoken largely upon this subject in our notes upon Matthew 26:3. Let us superadd a few things here:
"Rabh Cahna saith, When R. Ismael Bar Jose lay sick, they sent to him saying, 'Pray, sir, tell us two or three things which thou didst once tell us in the name of thy father.' He saith to them, 'A hundred and fourscore years before the destruction of the Temple, the wicked kingdom' [the Rome empire] reigned over Israel. Fourscore years before the destruction of the Temple, they" [the fathers of the Sanhedrim] "determined about the uncleanness of the heathen land, and about glass vessels. Forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the Sanhedrim removed and sat in the Tabernae. What is the meaning of this tradition? Rabh Isaac Bar Abdimi saith, 'They did not judge judgments of mulcts.'" The Gloss is: "Those are the judgments about finding any that offered violence, that entice a maid, and the price of a servant. When, therefore, they did not sit in the room Gazith, they did not judge about these things; and so those judgments about mulcts or fines ceased."
Here we have one part of their judiciary power lost, not taken away from them by the Romans, but falling of itself, as it were, out of the hands of the Sanhedrim. Nor did the Romans indeed take away their power of judging in capital matters, but they, by their own oscitancy, supine and unreasonable lenity, lost it themselves. For so the Gemara goes on:
"Rabh Nachman Bar Isaac saith, 'Let him not say that they did not judge judgments of mulcts, but that they did not judge capital judgments. And whence comes this? When they saw that so many murderers multiplied upon them, that they could not well judge and call them to account, they said, It is better for us that we remove from place to place, for how can we otherwise" [sitting here and not punishing them] "not contract a guilt upon ourselves?'"
They thought themselves obliged to punish murderers while they sat in the room Gazith: for the place itself engaged them to it. They are the words of the Gemarists. Upon which the Gloss: "The room Gazith was half of it within and half of it without the Holy Place. The reason of which was, that it was requisite that the council should sit near the Divine Majesty. Hence it is that they say, 'Whoever constitutes an unfit judge, is as if he planted a grove by the altar of the Lord: as it is written, Judges and officers shalt thou make thee': and it follows presently after, 'Thou shalt not plant thee a grove of any trees near unto the altar of the Lord thy God,' Deuteronomy 16:18,21. They removed therefore from Gazith, and sat in the Tabernae. Now though the Tabernae were upon the Mountain of the Temple, yet they did not sit so near the Divine Majesty there as they did when they sat in the room Gazith."
Let us now, in order, put the whole matter together:
I. The Sanhedrim were most stupidly and unreasonably remiss in their punishment of capital offenders, going upon this reason especially, that they accounted it so horrible a thing to sentence an Israelite to death. Forsooth, he is of the seed of Abraham, of the blood and stock of Israel; and you must have a care how you touch such a one!
"R. Eliezer Bar R. Simeon had laid hold on some thieves. R. Joshua Bar Korchah sent to him, saying, 'O thou vinegar, the son of good wine'" [i.e. O thou wicked son of a good father], "'how long wilt thou deliver the people of God to the slaughter?' He answered and said, 'I root the thorns out of the vineyard.' To whom the other, 'Let the Lord of the vineyard come and root them out himself.'" It is worth nothing that the very thieves of Israel are the people of God: and O! they must not be touched by any means, but referred to the judgment of God himself.
"When R. Ismael Bar R. Jose was constituted a magistrate by the king, there happened some such thing to him; for Elias himself rebuked him, saying, 'How long wilt thou deliver over the people of God to slaughter?'" Hence that which we alleged elsewhere: "The Sanhedrim that happens to sentence any one to death within the space of seven years is called 'a destroyer.' R. Eleazar Ben Azariah saith, 'It is so, if they should but condemn one within seventy years.'"
II. It is obvious to any one, how this foolish remissness and letting loose the reins of judgment would soon increase the number of robbers, murderers, and all kind of wickedness: and, indeed, they did so abundantly multiply, that the Sanhedrim neither could nor durst, as it ought, call the criminals to account. The laws slept while wickedness was in the height of its revels; and punitive justice was so out of countenance, that, as to uncertain murders, they made no search; and certain ones they framed no judgment against.
"Since the time that homicides multiplied, the beheading the heifer ceased." And in the place before quoted in Avodah; "When they saw the number of murderers so greatly increase, that they could not sit in judgment upon them, they said, 'Let us remove,'" &c.
So in the case of adultery, which we also observed in our notes upon chapter 8. "Since the time that adultery so openly advanced under the second Temple, they let off trying the adulteress by the bitter water," &c.
So that we see the liberty of judging in capital matters was no more taken from the Jews by the Romans than the beheading of the heifer or the trial of the suspected wife by the bitter waters was taken away by them; which no one will affirm. But rather,
III. When the Sanhedrim saw that it was in vain to struggle against the mighty torrent and inundation of all manner of wickedness, that played rex and encroached so fast upon them, and that the interposure of their authority could do nothing in suppressing them, they being incapable of passing judgment as they ought, they determine not to sit in judgment at all. And whereas they thought themselves bound by the majesty and awfulness of the place, while they sat in the room Gazith [in the very Court of Israel before the altar], to judge according to the sacredness of the place, but could not indeed do it by reason of the daring pride and resolution of the criminals, they threw themselves out of that apartment, and went further off into the place where the exchangers' shops were kept in the Court of the Gentiles, and so to other places, which we find mentioned in Rosh hashanah.
IV. It is disputed whether they ever returned to their first place Gazith, or no. It is affirmed by the Gloss in Avodah Zarah: "When for a time they found it absolutely necessary, they betook themselves again to that room." We have the same also elsewhere upon this tradition:
"It is a tradition of R. Chaia. From the day wherein the Temple was destroyed, though the Sanhedrim ceased, yet the four kinds of death" [which were wont to be inflicted by the Sanhedrim] "did not cease. For he that had deserved to be stoned to death, he either fell off from some house, or some wild beast tore and devoured him. He that had deserved burning, he either fell into some fire or some serpent bit him. He that had deserved to be slain: [i.e. with the sword], was either delivered into the hands of a heathen king, or was murdered by robbers. He that had deserved strangling was either drowned in some river, or choked by a squinancy [angina]."
But it may be objected, Why is it said, "From the time that the Temple was destroyed," and not, "forty years before the destruction of the Temple?" To this the Gloss answereth: "Sometimes, according to the urgency and necessity of the time, the Sanhedrim returned to the room Gazith," &c. It is further excepted "But they never returned to sit in capital causes, or to try murders. For the reason of their removal at first was because the numbers of homicides so increased upon them," &c.
V. When the great council did not sit in Gazith, all courts for capital matters ceased everywhere else. One Gloss saith thus: "They took no cognizance of capital matters in any of the lesser sessions, so long as the great Sanhedrim did not sit in the room Gazith." Another saith; "What time the great Sanhedrim sat in its proper place, where it ought, near the altar, then thou shalt make thee judges in all thy gates, to judge in capital causes: but when that removed, then all cognizance about those matters ceased."
VI. The Sanhedrim removed, as we have already seen, from Gazith, forty years before Jerusalem was destroyed: and this is the very thing that was said, "Forty years before the destruction of the city, judgment in capital causes was taken away from them." And now let the reader judge what should be the reason of their being deprived of this privilege: whether the Romans were in fault; or whether rather the Jews, nay, the Sanhedrim itself, had not brought it upon themselves. When the Sanhedrim flitted from Gazith: all judgment of this kind vanished, and upon what reasons they did thus flit we have learned from their own pens.
We will not contend about the time when these forty years should first begin: though I am apt to think they might begin about half a year before Christ's death. The words which we have under consideration, spoken by the Sanhedrim to Pilate, seem to refer wholly to the reason we have already mentioned: "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death." Why is it not lawful? Because, being forced by the necessity of the times, we retired from the room Gazith, where if we sit not, neither we ourselves nor any court under us can take any cognizance of causes of life and death.
But what necessity of times could urge you to remove? So greatly did the criminals multiply, and grew to such a head, that we neither could not durst animadvert upon them, according to what the majesty of the place might expect and require from us if we should sit in Gazith.
That must be observed in the evangelists, that when they had had Christ in examination in the palace of the high priest all night, in the morning the whole Sanhedrim met, that they might pass sentence of death upon him. Where then was this that they met? Questionless in the room Gazith; at least if they adhered to their own rules and constitutions: "Thither they betook themselves sometimes upon urgent necessity." The Gloss before quoted excepts "only the case of murder"; which, amongst all their false accusations, they never charged Christ with.
But however suppose it were granted that the great council met either in the Tabernae or some other place, (which yet by no means agreed with their own tradition,) did they deal truly, and as the matter really and indeed was, with Pilate, when they tell him, "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death?" He had saith to them, "Take ye him, and judge him according to your law." We have indeed judged and condemned him, but we cannot put any one to death. Was this that they said in fact true? How came they then to stone the protomartyr Stephen? How came they to stone Ben Satda at Lydda? How came they to burn the priest's daughter alive that was taken in adultery?
It is probable they had not put any one to death as yet, since the time that they had removed out of Gazith; and so might the easilier persuade Pilate in that case. But their great design was to throw off the odium of Christ's death from themselves, at least amongst the vulgar crowd, fearing them, if the council themselves should have decreed his execution. They seek this evasion, therefore, which did not altogether want some colour and pretext of truth: and it succeeded according to what they did desire; Divine Providence so ordering it, as the evangelist intimates, verse 32, "That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die": that is, be crucified, according to the custom of the Romans.
Whilst I am upon this thought, I cannot but reflect upon that passage, than which nothing is more worthy observation, in the whole description of the Roman beast in the Revelation, chapter 13:4: "The dragon which gave power unto the beast." We cannot say this of the Assyrian, Babylonish, or any other monarchy; for the Holy Scriptures do not say it. But reason dictates, and the event itself tells us, that there was something acted by the Roman empire in behalf of the dragon which was not compatible with any other, that is, the putting of the Son of God to death. Which thing we must remember, as often as we recite that article of our creed, "He suffered under Pontius Pilate"; that is, was put to death by the Roman empire.
38. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.
[What is truth?] Christ had said, "For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth": q.d. "I will not deny but that I am a king, as thou hast said; for for this end I came, that I should bear witness to the truth, whatever hazards I should run upon that account." Upon this Pilate asks him, What is truth? that is, "What is the true state of this affair? that thou, who art so poor a wretch, shouldst call thyself a king, and at the same time that thou callest thyself a king, yet sayest thy kingdom is not of this world? Where lies the true sense and meaning of this riddle?"
But supposing when Christ said, he came "that he should bear witness to the truth," he meant in general the gospel; then Pilate asks him, What is that truth? However, the evangelist mentions nothing, either whether our Saviour gave him any answer to that question, or whether indeed Pilate stayed in expectation of any answer from him.