It is Friday, April 3, A.D. 33. It is the darkest day in human history, though most humans have no clue of this. In Rome, Tiberius attends to the demanding business of the empire. Throughout the inhabited world, babies are born, people eat and drink, marry and are given in marriage, barter in marketplaces, sail merchant ships, and fight battles. Children play, old women gossip, young men lust, and people die.
But today, one death, one brutal, gruesome death, the worst and best of all human deaths, will leave upon the canvas of human history the darkest brushstroke. In Jerusalem, God the Son, the Creator of all that is (John 1:3), will be executed.
The Jewish day dawns with night, and never has it been more fitting, since today the hour has come and the power of darkness (Luke [22:53]). Jesus is in Gethsemane, where he has prayed with loud cries and tears, being heard by his Father (Hebrews 5:7), whose will will be done. Jesus hears noises and looks up. Torches and hushed voices signal the arrest party’s arrival.
Jesus wakes his sleepy friends, who are jarred alert at the sight of their brother, Judas, betraying his Rabbi with a kiss. Soldiers and servants encircle Jesus. Peter, flushed with anger, pulls out his sword and lunges at those nearest Jesus. Malchus flinches, but not enough. Blinding pain and blood surge where his ear had been. Voices speak, but Malchus only hears the screaming wound, which he’s grabbed with both hands. He feels a hand touch his hands and the pain vanishes. Under his hands is an ear. Stunned, he looks at Jesus, already being led away. Disciples are scattering. Malchus looks down at his bloody hands.
Jesus is led brusquely into the house of Annas, a former High Priest, who questions him about his teaching. Jesus knows this informal interrogation is meant to catch him disoriented and unguarded. He is neither, and gives this manipulative leader nothing. Rather, he refers Annas to his hearers and is struck with irony by a Jewish officer for showing disrespect. Frustrated, Annas sends Jesus on to his son-in-law Caiaphas, the current high priest.
At Caiaphas’s house the trial gets underway quickly. Morning will come fast. The council needs a damning verdict by daybreak. The examination proceeds as bleary-eyed Sanhedrin members continue to file in.
The trial has been assembled hastily and witnesses haven’t been screened well. Testimonies don’t line up. Council members look disconcerted. Jesus is silent as a lamb. Irritated and impatient, Caiaphas cuts to the quick: “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew [26:63]).
The hour has come. Charged in the name of his Father to answer, Jesus speaks the words that seal the doom which he had come to endure (John [12:27]): “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew [26:64]).
In a moment of law-breaking (Leviticus [21:10]), politically religious theater, Caiaphas tears his robes in feigned outrage and thinly concealed relief over Jesus’s blasphemy. He declares the trial’s end with, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips” (Luke [22:71]).
As the sun breaks over Jerusalem’s eastern ridge, Judas swings from his own belt, Peter writhes in the grief of his failure, and Jesus’s face is streaked with dried blood and saliva from the pre-dawn sport of the temple police. The council’s verdict: guilty of blasphemy. Their sentence: death. But it’s a sentence they cannot carry out. Rome refuses to delegate capital punishment.
Pilate’s mood, already sour over the Sanhedrin’s sudden insistent intrusion so early in the morning, worsens as he grasps the situation. They want him to execute a Galilean “prophet.” His seasoned instincts tell him something isn’t right. He questions Jesus and then tells the council, “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4).
A game of political chess ensues between Pilate and the Sanhedrin, neither realizing that they are pawns, not kings.