Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Trial of Jesus Christ and The Last Supper

The Story

What accusation bring ye against this man?

John 18:29

It was a Thursday evening in early spring.   Thirteen men gathered for a Passover supper in an upper room.   Pockets of light from oil lamps shone down on the long table where the men sat.  This day would become the most fateful Thursday in all of human history.

As was the custom at Passover, each man had drunk four glasses of wine.   Some of the men, unused to such large quantities, were a bit drunk.  Presiding over the supper was a young man of thirty.  He was unaffected by the wine.

DaVinci's Last Supper
DaVinci's Last Supper

Suddenly, the conviviality of the scene shattered.   One of you who eats with me shall betray me, said the leader.   With this startling pronouncement, the tranquil scene became one of confusion, one voice talking over another, some angry, some bewildered, some with slightly slurred speech.  Except for one, all of the men reacted with horror at the very idea.  They could not believe what they had heard.   Is it I? each of them asked.  It is one of the twelve, the leader said.  As the babble of voices abated, the leader sent Judas Iscariot away.

Jesus in the Garden, painting
Jesus in the Garden, painting
Following the Last Supper, these men, Jesus and his disciples, retired to the Garden of Gethsemane. The garden was a tranquil spot on the edge of the bustling city of Jerusalem, a city whose population swelled with crowds of worshipers observing Passover.  Eyelids heavy with the wine they had drunk, the disciples fell asleep.  While they slept, Jesus prayed, struggling with the knowledge that the inevitable was about to take place.  Jesus finally aroused the sleeping disciples.  He told the most loyal of them, Simon Peter, that this day, even in this night, before the cock crows twice, thou shall deny me thrice.  There was a sense of impending doom, as well as sadness in what Jesus knew would come.

The quiet of the garden was suddenly broken with the sound of clanking swords and pounding feet.    It was the arrival of soldiers of the high priest led by Judas Iscariot.  By prior arrangement, Judas kissed Jesus to identify him. Jesus was not surprised.  Wouldst thou betray me with a kiss? asked Jesus.

When the arresting officers asked if he was Jesus of Nazareth, he said, I am he.

An image of Jesus, painting
An image of Jesus, painting
A disciple drew a sword and cut off the ear of one of the soldiers.   For a moment, confusion reigned, swords were brandished, and a battle seemed about to begin.   Jesus told his disciples to desist, and healed the man whose ear had been cut off.  An eerie quiet now enveloped the garden.  The fierceness of the disciples evaporated.  They were outnumbered, and their eyes were fearful.  They fled.

It was now late Thursday night.   A few hours before, Jesus had been breaking bread with his disciples.  Now, they were gone.  The soldiers took Jesus to the Council of the High Priests in the Temple where Caiaphas, the high priest, questioned him.  During the questioning, Caiaphas asked Jesus, Are you the Messiah?  Jesus did not answer the question directly, but allowed his interrogators to conclude that he had said yes. He did not respond to other questions.  His silence was infuriating.   From the priests point of view, this troublesome rabbi had caused enough mischief for the Council of Priests.  Had he not chased the moneychangers from the Temple? His heretic teachings must cease.

Witnesses were brought forth to testify that Jesus said that he would tear down the Temple and rebuild it in three days. This was a most blasphemous statement, as the Temple was the most holy of structures in Jerusalem.  The witnesses contradicted one another.  They could not seem to get their stories straight.  Jesus was silent throughout this proceeding.  Angered to the point where he tore his clothes in frustration, Caiaphas pronounced Jesus a heretic, and, with the consent of his fellow priests, sentenced Jesus to death.  All during this interrogation, the disciples were nowhere to be seen.  Peter, at a safe distance, stood at the door outside the Temple chamber.  Then said the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, are you not one of this mans disciples?  Peter, as Jesus had predicted, said, I am not.

The next morning, Friday, the Council of High Priests met again.   It had been a long night, but the high priests had hardened in their determination to rid themselves of this threat to their power.  They decided to transport Jesus to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.  They had to do this because they needed a death sentence pronounced by the Roman governor.  Jews were not allowed to carry out capital punishment. Fortunately, thought the Jews, Pilate had no reluctance to use his power. 

Having faced his prosecutors, Jesus now faced his judge.   Pilate examined Jesus.  At first, Jesus seemed little different from many other self-proclaimed messiahs that he had examined over the years.  Most of these messiahs were whipped and sent on their way, temporary irritants to his administration of this Roman province. He asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews, and Jesus neither admitted nor denied it, saying simply, You say that I am.  This man puzzled Pilate.  He was a bit different from the others.  He had heard of Jesus and his teachings, and now he confronted this strange man.  Pilate told the noisy, assembled throng that he could not find fault with Jesus.

The crowd was adamant.   There was the smell of blood in the air.  They called for Jesus crucifixion, the terrible method of execution for traitors used by the Romans.  Pilate reminded the multitude that he could release a prisoner of their choice, since it was Passover, and such commutations were the custom.  Pilate did not get the answer he expected. The crowd called for the release of Barabbas, a prisoner who had been charged with murder during an insurrection.  Still not convinced that Jesus must die, Pilate had him taken away and whipped.  He hoped that would satisfy the crowd.

Pilate presenting Jesus, painting
Pilate presenting Jesus, painting

Even yet reluctant to sentence Jesus to death, Pilate again proposed that Jesus be released.   He presented a beaten but erect and proud Jesus to the crowd, but they continued to call for his crucifixion.  Crucify him, crucify him! they shouted.  Pilate was faced with an unruly mob --- a threat to the good order of Roman rule.  Bowing to the pressure of the crowd, and eager to keep the peace, he reluctantly sent Jesus off to be executed, telling the Jews that he washed his hands of the entire matter.  The Jews, in their enthusiasm to kill this Nazarene heretic, took the responsibility for what was about to occur.  It was of little consequence to them that they would be blamed for the death of this threat to their religious authority.

The Crucifixion of Jesus & others, painting
The Crucifixion of Jesus & others, painting

Jesus was crucified on that Friday.   After three hours on the cross, Jesus died.  The King of the Jews was no more.

Saturday passed without event.   On Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead.  It was Resurrection Sunday. Easter.

One story has ended.  Another, lasting to this day, has begun.

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