53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.
In a 2014 Salon article entitled “6 reasons religion may do more harm than good,” Valerie Tarico writes:
Most British people think religion causes more harm than good according to a survey commissioned by the Huffington Post. Surprisingly, even among those who describe themselves as “very religious” 20 percent say that religion is harmful to society.
While I would certainly and strongly disagree with the idea that “religion causes more harm than good” (a statement that is way too vague to begin with but that is profoundly wrong historically speaking if applied to Christianity) there can be no doubt that religion can be a very dangerous thing indeed, and I say this as a pastor! Tarico goes on to lists reasons why religion can be dangerous. The sixth reason she mentions is interesting:
- Religions seek power. Think corporate personhood. Religions are man-made institutions, just like for-profit corporations are. And like any corporation, to survive and grow a religion must find a way to build power and wealth and compete for market share. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity—any large enduring religious institution is as expert at this as Coca-cola or Chevron. And just like for-profit behemoths, they are willing to wield their power and wealth in the service of self-perpetuation, even it harms society at large.
There can be no doubt that there is a great deal of truth in this, especially as it pertains to institutional religion. Of course, I very much want to point out that Jesus was not interested in “institutional religion.” He was not. In fact, He warned against its dangerous in a number of different ways. Even so, even among His followers today and within some of the arguably unavoidable institutional aspects of Christianity we see this regrettable drift towards power.
Yes, some manifestations of religion do indeed drift towards power and control. This sometimes leads religious leaders to do regrettable and even tragic things. Within Christianity specifically a lust for power inevitably leads to an abandonment of God Himself. It was so among the first century Jewish leaders as well. This dynamic is at play in the trial of Jesus as recorded in Mark 14.
In the trial of Jesus, institutional religion was given precedence over actual life with God.
One of the things that becomes readily apparent in the trial of Jesus is the self-preservationist impulse within institutional religion. It plays out in a myriad of ways in this kangaroo court.
53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61a But he remained silent and made no answer.
Henry Turlington has outlines some of the probable illegalities of the trial:
- “a trial had to be conducted during the daylight hours”
- “a conviction could be reached only by a majority of two or more”
- “…and not until the following day”
- “a trial could not be held on a feast day, or on the day before the Sabbath”
- “Jesus was charged by the high priest with blasphemy…but the penalty of stoning was not to be carried out unless the guilty party spoke the Name itself.”
Turlington goes on to note that these illegalities are found in Jewish writings from the second century AD. That must be kept in mind. Even so, they do provide us an interesting guide to such matters. Regardless, many aspects of the trial violate common sense notions of justice that extend even to our day. What, after all, would any of us think of a hastily assembled trial convened late at night in which conflicting testimony was voiced and after which a death sentence was pronounced?
What was behind this? Why were the religious elites so very keen to preserve their institutional power and control? Remember the words mentioned in the article above.
- Religions seek power. Think corporate personhood. Religions are man-made institutions, just like for-profit corporations are. And like any corporation, to survive and grow a religion must find a way to build power and wealth…
Time and time again we see this painful lesson in the history of religion: when safeguarding the institution becomes more important than actual life with God there is nothing that the powerbrokers in the movement will not do. Jesus was a threat. He threatened the establishment. He threatened the religious professionals. His very life was a challenge to the control, the power, and the fear that so many of these men wielded. And this much is true: the powers tend to move against threats to their rule. They do not simply stand idly by and watch their kingdoms crumble. This is why we see repeated warnings in the words of Jesus against these institutional gatekeepers. In Matthew 7,Jesus says:
15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
In Matthew 16 we read:
6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
And in Mark 12, we find:
38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
How sobering this is for a pastor to hear! What a warning this is to me! And what a warning to us! Are we as a church striving to bring people into an encounter with the living God or are we simply trying to preserve the religious institutional machine? Are we seeking to bring people into God’s Kingdom or are we seeking to build our own? Walter Wink’s words are spot on in this regard and should be heeded:
What killed Jesus was not irreligion, but religion itself; not lawlessness, but precisely the law; not anarchy, but the upholders of order. It was not the bestial but those considered best who crucified the one in whom the divine Wisdom was visibly incarnate. And because he was not only innocent, but the very embodiment of true religion, true law, and true order, this victim exposed their violence for what it was: not the defense of society, but an attack against God.
In the trial of Jesus, religious tradition was given precedence over divine truth.
Hand in hand with institutional preservation is tradition-maintenance. For the powerbrokers, the institution must be preserved and the traditional teachings must be maintained. For this reason, Jesus’ shocking interpretation of the scriptures in his words to the high priest were simply too much for them to stomach.
61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.
Why was this so offensive? Why did these words make the high priest tear his clothes and proclaim Jesus a blasphemer? Why did they sentence Him to death for these words? Why did they strike and beat Him?
We must understand than when Jesus responded to the high priest’s question with, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven,” He was quoting one and probably two passages from the Old Testament.
He was certainly quoting Daniel 7 and its vision of the coming of the son of man.
13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
This “son of man” was understood by the Jewish teachers to be a figure bearing great power and authority. He was seen as bearing the special blessing and favor of Almighty God. And Jesus is possibly also alluding to Psalm 110 when He references sitting at God’s right hand.
1 The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
This was a Messianic text pointing to the coming Savior. In applying these texts to Himself, Jesus was making an astonishing claim about His own identity. Again, this was too much for the Jewish religious authorities. They viewed it as outright blasphemy. The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary explains further.
Jesus’ answer that the Son of Man will be sitting at the right hand of God in power also implies that he is on the same level with God…A text from Qumran refers to the last enemy of God calling himself the son of the Most High and demanding adoration and obedience. Flusser calls it “important evidence for a Jewish tradition about the superhuman hubris of the Antichrist.” Jesus’ assertion perhaps confirms the high priest’s suspicions that Jesus is a figure like this who tries to seduce the world.
This ran afoul in a serious way of the traditions of the Jews. This coming son of man might be many things, but, in their minds, he certainly could not be this Jesus! Why? Because Jesus did not fit the mold, did not fit the template. In fact, this Jesus castigated and condemned the religious elites. Thus, they viewed Jesus’ usage of these texts as obscene and blasphemous. The tragedy in this is that these men, who should, of all men, have known better, chose the template over the reality, chose tradition over the truth. They had become so confident in their own minds about who the son of man was to be (or, more accurately, who he could not be) that they not only missed the son of man as He stood before them but actually hated and beat and mocked Him!
See here the power of tradition: it can blind us to the truth! The old ways can blind us to the only Way! And the story as we have come to believe it can become more valuable to us than the Savior for whom it ostensibly should have been preparing us!
Beware dead traditionalism! Beware the nice and neat box of your own assumptions! God is God, even and especially when He violates your notion of God! Do not miss the Savior because you are too busy safeguarding what you see as “the truth.” If what you call “the truth” leads you away from Jesus, it is a lie!
In the trial of Jesus, God gave His love precedence over His wrath.
Thus far we have viewed this trial from the ground up. Now we view it from glory down. And when we do this we see that in the trial of Jesus, God gave His love precedence over His wrath.
Imagine with me: you are watching your son be cruelly and unjustly treated by wicked men. They lie about your son. They twist your son’s words. They mock your son. Then your son speaks. He tells the truth. As a result, these cruel men call him a liar! They are worked into a lather of fury. They beat your son. They spit on your son. They condemn him to death!
They do this, and you see it all. Not only that, you have the power to have all of these wicked men destroyed, killed, annihilated. You could save your son from these outrages. You could bring vengeance! You could pour out your just wrath!
Can you imagine this? What would you do? Would you punish these men? Would you pour out your wrath?
This was precisely the position God the Father was in during this trial. He saw it all. He saw His Son mocked, insulted, lied about, and condemned to death. He saw them beat His Son, Jesus. He saw them spit on His Son. He saw all of this. And He could have poured out His wrath. He could have destroyed these men! He could have decimated them!
But He did not. He did not! Why? Because these men were precisely the reason why His Son came! He came for scoundrels like them! He came to pour out His love, not His wrath. In fact, He came to pour out His love through His Son so that they would not have to suffer His wrath! His Son took His wrath so that they could receive His love. He gave His love precedence over His wrath, just though His wrath was and is! In 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers:
9b …how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
Yes! Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come! Four chapters later, in 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul wrote:
9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
How amazing! These scoundrels deserved wrath. Rather, Jesus offered them love and mercy! What this means is clear enough: if we reject the love we get the wrath. We get the wrath if we reject the love not because our rejection irritates God. We get the wrath if we reject the love because the love is His gracious door out of the wrath that is already and justly upon us for our sins! In John 3, Jesus said:
36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
That “whoever” is important. Why? Because it reminds me that this is not only a story of those scoundrels back then who did these evil things. It is also a story of this scoundrel right here who has done the very same as these men! It is your story too! It is our story, for we all have sinned! And if it is our story in that we share the sin of these men it is also our story in that we share their choice. Like them, I too have a choice. We have a choice: wrath or love. And the person on whom that whole choice is focused is the person of Jesus Christ. If we accept Him, we enter into His love. If we reject Him, the divine wrath that is justly ours remains on us!
What will I choose? What will you choose? Dear friends, the Son, Jesus the Christ, calls you into His love! He has borne the wrath so that you do not have to! Come to the Son. Receive the love of God. Receive the love and live!
 https://www.salon.com/2014/11/17/6_reasons_why_religion_does_more_harm_than _good_partner/
 Henry E. Turlington, “Mark.” The Broadman Bible Commentary. Vol. 8 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1969), p.390.
 David E. Garland, Mark. The NIV Application Commentary. Logos Version.
 David E. Garland, “Mark.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Gen. Ed., Clinton E. Arnold. Vol. I (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p.292-293.