14 Nissan • The Palace of the High Priest
· Nicodemus, the Teacher of the Law ·
“Normally, He won’t shut up. Why won’t He say anything now?” Joseph of Aramathia murmured under his breath.
I shrugged as minutely as possible. I took my eyes off the bound rabbi standing before the court for a moment to glance around the room. It would do us no favors if anyone suspected that we were sympathetic toward this prophet from Nazareth, Jesus.
He was so young. On the opposite side of 35 from me, anyway. Yet He had always struck me as an old soul.
His hair was brown but tonight, it lacked its usual curl, as though it was drying from a bath. He had a long, thin nose and piercing, fiery eyes. It was as though He could see past my status, reputation, and merits and pitied the confused, stumbling, lost soul behind them. He usually had this expression on His face like He was the happiest man in the world. Tonight, though, He looked tired and… well, determined. He had managed to capture the heart of the nation in three years, despite His homely appearance and lack of family wealth. I sometimes wished that I could go back to a younger version of me and tell myself about Jesus about His accomplishments. The younger me would have laughed at the thought of a young, poor teacher who could accomplish so much.
When I looked back at Him, He was watching me. His hands were tied behind His back and a guard was on either side of Him. I looked at my fingernails. Anything to avoid the sight of dried blood caked on His face. As of yet, I hadn’t heard any explanation for the bloody sheen on His forehead. However, the guards claimed He had resisted arrest and striking Him on the head had been the only means to make Him come quietly. We were also told that He insulted Anas, the father-in-law of the high priest, during a private examination. Hence, the blood trickling from His mouth and the bruise blossoming around it. I doubted both tales.
I rubbed my aching temples. I’d seen many trials from this seat. A few, I’m ashamed to admit, had been mock trials. But none that had made me this uncomfortable. First of all, official hearings were supposed to be held in the Chamber of Hewn Stones in the Temple, yet we sat in the Palace of the High Priest. Second, it was the dead of night. By law, we should have heard the evidence against Him long before dusk. Third, it was the fourteenth day of our first month, the holiest days of the year. Just like on the Sabbath, the law forbad meeting for any legal business.
“I’m getting too old for this,” I whispered. “I don’t know why He’s so calm. If He had any idea how long the council has been planning for this, He wouldn’t be so insolently quiet.”
“At least they haven’t found any consistent witnesses yet.”
The door opened and a temple guard ran toward the dais at the front of the room. “High Priest Caiaphas! we found two witnesses who agree.”
Jesus glanced at the temple guard, His hands still tied behind His back. I wanted to strangle Him for His nonchalance. Or at least warn Him that He would be in a world of hurt if the council didn’t see a show of humility.
Caiaphas glared at the guard. “Are you sure? If these two are like the last dozen–”
“No sir! I swear to you that their testimony is reliable!”
Jesus lifted an eyebrow and I squinted at the guard. All the testimonies we had heard so far had been incongruent and obviously false. Caiaphas had ordered each witness cast from his hall. His reasoning was beyond me. Legally, they should have been imprisoned then tried and severely punished for giving false testimony.
“Then bring them in. Quickly! We don’t have all night.”
My lips pursed. Jesus’ arrest had been far too hasty. Long before they brought Him here, they should have had a formal charge and witnesses lined up. Plus, those lists should have been public.
At the front of the room sat Caiaphas and Prince Gamaliel, the president of the council. It was a curious sight. Caiaphas, by nature of his holy office, had a seat on this council but was not supposed to preside. That was Gamaliel’s right and responsibility. Yet Gamaliel sat in the lower of the two chairs and hadn’t spoken much since we started.
Two men walked in, their heads held high. As soon as I recognized one of them, my stomach fluttered. “Joseph?” I murmured. “What are the chances that they were bribed?”
“What?” he hissed. “No. Jesus has many enemies here, but I doubt that even they would stoop to something illegal. Why do you ask?”
I nodded at the man on the left. “He and I arrived at the same time. The pouch hanging from his belt was empty then. Now look at it.”
Joseph cocked his head, then blinked at the full and jangling pouch. “Well… maybe…” He shook his head. “I haven’t the foggiest.”
Sometimes I wondered if Joseph purposefully closed his eyes so that he wouldn’t be able to see the obvious. I put my hands on my armrests to rise. Someone had to object to their testimony, and I was the only one here who suspected the truth.
Caiaphas leaned forward to address them before I could stand. “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob witnesses your testimony. He will by no means hold you guiltless if you speak falsely, even if this court does.” He glanced down at the witness’ belt pouch, a smug smile playing on the corners of his mouth. My jaw dropped. Could he be in on the bribery? I settled back in my seat as he continued, “Now, what accusation do you bring to the court?”
“High Priest Caiaphas, I bring evidence that He is a sorcerer and has sacrilegious designs against the Temple,” the first man said. My mouth suddenly went dry.
Jesus leaned back and raised His other eyebrow. Caiaphas looked at Jesus, a smirk playing on his mouth.
Joseph leaned toward me. “Isn’t the penalty for sorcery death?”
I looked back at Jesus, who met Caiaphas’ stare with ease. I slowly nodded. “Stoning.”
The witness cleared his throat. “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands; and in three days I will build another one, not made with hands.”
“Well, now we’re getting somewhere!” A priest sitting near me said. “And your friend can certainly collaborate?”
His “friend” shouldn’t have even been in the room while he was speaking. It compromised the testimony.
“Of course he can!” The first witness cried.
“Um…” The second man looked at his friend and licked his lips. “No… This man said, ‘I can tear down God’s Temple and build it again in three days.’ He never said that He would!”
Groans rippled through the council. Joseph and I, however, sagged in relief. Jesus was looking at the floor and I couldn’t gage His expression.
“It’s the same thing!” The first man cried.
“Get them out of here!” Caiaphas yelled at the guards at the door, then sank into his chair and covered his face with his hands. Gamaliel leaned toward him and whispered furiously. Caiaphas threw his hands in the air and hissed back. Finally, Caiaphas held up a finger and glared at Jesus. “Despite the disagreement in testimony, sorcery and sacrilege are two serious accusations that we cannot dismiss lightly. The penalty is death.” Jesus didn’t react.
Caiaphas stood, his nostrils flaring. “Have you nothing to say to the accusations?”
Jesus pinched His lips, but didn’t look up.
“This joke has gone on long enough,” I whispered to Joseph.
“What are you going to do?”
I rose from my seat. “High priest!”
“What is it, Nicodemus?” Caiaphas spat.
“Sir, it’s time to let Him go. Obviously, we can find no charge against Him! Even if we did, we are in noncompliance with the laws of our fathers by not seeking out witnesses who can speak in His defense!” Caiaphas glared at me, fists clenched. I swallowed nervously, but lifted my chin. “Besides, most of the men gathered here are blatant enemies of this man. Honor and the law dictate that we must find impartial judges for a trial of this nature!”
“Impartial judges,” a priest behind me snickered under his breath. “Good luck finding one. He’s insulted and offended us all.”
I ignored him. “By your honor and office, my lord high priest, dismiss this man and return Him to His people with proper restitution for the indignity He has been shown tonight.”
Jesus looked at me with soft and sad eyes. I smiled, a warm glow filling my chest. He wasn’t free yet, but He would be soon if I could at all manage it. After all, we were friends. Well, of a sort. I owed much to Him for His life-changing perspective, even if I couldn’t show it publicly without risking political suicide. But then He sighed and looked down at the floor, His shoulders drooping. My eyebrows lowered, confusion at his reaction quickly replacing the glow.
Caiaphas raised himself to his full height and shook his head. “It’s not that simple, Nicodemus. You’ve allowed yourself to be blinded by this young scoundrel!”
“I– I–” I cleared my throat as my stomach tied in knots. “‘Blinded’ is such a harsh term…”
Caiaphas rolled his eyes. He looked down at Gamaliel, a slow smile spreading across his face. When he turned to Jesus, I held my breath, hoping my sudden queasiness was a false premonition. “I put you under oath! By the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God!”
The blood drained from my face. By that oath, Jesus was duty-bound to answer. I looked at Him, hoping He would answer with a parable or some clever riddle like He usually did.
Jesus raised His head and looked Caiaphas straight in the eye. “I AM.”
The room erupted. Council members on every side stood, yelled at Jesus, and shook their fists at Him.
I collapsed in my chair before I remembered to breathe. Blasphemy. In two words, He had condemned Himself. With two words, He had spoken the highest name of God and– worse!–claimed it as His own. Two foolish words. Why couldn’t He have kept His beliefs to Himself?
In compliance with the blasphemy laws, I ripped my tunic. The lump in my throat, however, rose at the thought that I was now a key witness to Jesus’ crime. I would have to cast one of the first stones at Him.
But Jesus wasn’t done yet. Over the crowd, He yelled, ” I tell you! One day you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Most Holy One and coming on the clouds of heaven!”
“Again, Blasphemy! You hear how casually He speaks of the attributes of the Lord! This is blasphemy according to the laws of the Pharisees and Scribes!” Caiaphas tore his tunic then raised his hand to silence the rest of the council. “We have heard it ourselves from his own mouth!” He sneered at me, “Well, my expert in the law? What is your verdict?”
My mouth opened, but I couldn’t force out any words. I looked at Joseph, whose eyes were wide in horror, so I looked at Jesus. His shoulders were square and He stared straight ahead. Even with His hands tied behind His back, He looked dignified. My mind raced over every law I had ever read. Certainly, one of them would give a caveat for keeping Jesus alive right now. Each law that came to mind pointed back to the law of Moses: “whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death.”
I gulped, wishing I was anywhere else. “By the most ancient laws, He… He deserves death.” As I said it, I felt like my insides were collapsing in on themselves.
Caiaphas smirked. “Why do we need additional testimony?”
Caiaphas gestured to the guards on either side of Jesus. They pushed Him, sending Him to His knees before the dais. He rose to His feet and stared at Caiaphas, chin up. The high priest stepped in front of Him so they were almost nose-to-nose. “So be it!” With that, he spit in Jesus’ face.
It was as though he gave permission for the rest of the council to express their opinions with fists. They surrounded Jesus and beat Him, shouting insults in His face. “What are they doing?” I shouted, gasping for breath. They had no authority to beat Him like this. It went against every conduct law on the books!
“Don’t you dare!” Joseph glared at me. “You’re just as bad as they are!”
“Alright!” Gamaliel broke up the mob. “I want Him dead as much as you do, Caiaphas, but this isn’t the way! He must be stoned outside the city after sunrise.”
“No,” Caiaphas wiped the blood on his knuckles on his garment. “Not stoning. It’s too good for Him.”
“But… You…” Gamaliel squinted. “Then what do you suggest?”
Caiaphas’ eyes hardened. “Remember what I told you a few weeks ago? One man on behalf of the nation. We bring civil charges against Him and take Him to Pilate!”
I grabbed Joseph’s arm, but he shook me free. “Don’t touch me!”
Suddenly, an idea burst into my head. It was a long shot, but it might work to set Him free. “Lord high priest!” I cried standing up. The crowd turned to look at me, parting enough that I could see Him. He was sprawled on the floor, gasping for air. His face was swollen. The blood dripping down the side of His face came from a wound that looked like it had been caused by one of the Pharisees’ walking sticks. I gulped.
Caiaphas kicked Jesus, who gasped. “Get up,” he snarled. “Get up and stand like a man.” Jesus struggled to His knees, but didn’t rise further. Even so, I got a better look at His face. It wasn’t good. There was also a welt on His neck, as though someone had hit Him there, too. And… were those gaps in His beard? Had people actually pulled out His hair?
“Nicodemus! Stop staring at Him and speak to me.” I forced myself to obey Caiaphas’ command.
“Sir, according to the laws of Rav Kahana, a man cannot be convicted if all the judges agree. It shows a bias in the house of judgment. We must table this trial until we can find more suitable judges!”
Caiaphas neck corded and his face grew redder by the second. With all his might, he kicked Jesus in the ribs. He keeled, His head touching the floor as He gasped for breath. Caiaphas looked back at me and opened his mouth, then his face returned to its normal color and he smiled. “Joseph…?” He cooed. Joseph’s face drained of color. “You don’t agree with our decision, do you?”
“Of course you don’t.” Caiaphas chuckled. “There you go, Nicodemus. twenty-two for, and one against.” I sunk into my chair. Caiaphas commanded the temple guards, “Take the Nazarene into the courtyard. At dawn, we’ll gather with all seventy-one members of the Sanhedrin and formally charge Him.”
The temple guards yanked Jesus to His feet and drug Him out the door. The rest of the guards followed, laughing and catcalling.
“My brothers, you are dismissed, but return at dawn so that we can finish this matter quickly. If any of you decide to not come,” He looked right at Joseph and me, “I will find a substitute among my servants. The Nazarene must die for His crime before sunset!”
“Caiaphas!” I stood again. “You can’t do this! Rav Kahana also says that a condemned man cannot be tried and sentenced on the same day! We need time to do this right! Would it please you to wait–”
“NO!” He shouted. “This arrogant puppy has been a scourge on us for the last three years! I will not wait!” He marched out of the hall, and most of them followed. Joseph rose and marched out the door without me. Feeling ten years older, I left by a different door than the one they had drug Jesus out of. I had no desire to see how the temple guards were treating Him.
The sky was black and grey over Jerusalem, but there was a tinge of light on the far eastern horizon. Another hour and Jesus would be condemned formally. I had until then to think. I sat down on a bench under a pomegranate tree, kneading my throbbing forehead. “Oh God of my fathers,” I whispered, “What just happened in there?”
The door to Caiaphas’ house opened and closed. I looked up, my hands sliding to my lap. Joseph stood there stiffly, watching me. “Joseph, my friend,” I murmured, “can you ever forgive me?” Joseph blinked, but said nothing as I continued, “No. I suppose not. Nor should I ask you to do something that I can’t do myself.”
Joseph’s shoulders softened. He sat down beside me and laid his hands on his lap. “Is it blasphemy if its true?”
“Watch your words.”
“But what if He is who He says He is?”
“He’s from Nazareth, not Bethlehem.”
Joseph shook his head. “You’re not as close to Him as I am. He was born in Bethlehem during the first census when Quirinius was governor in Syria.”
“What?” My eyes widened.
“And think about everything He’s done in the last few years. He healed wherever He went and ministered to the brokenhearted.”
Prophecies I memorized as a boy bubbled up from my memory.
He Himself took our weaknesses and bore our diseases.
God has sent me to heal the brokenhearted; to proclaim freedom to the captives, to let out into the light those bound in the dark…”
“He gave sight to the blind, the lame walked, the deaf heard, and He preached good news to the poor,” Joseph continued. My mind shifted to other prophecies.
The eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears fo the deaf will be stopped; then the lame man will leap like a deer and the mute person’s tongue will sing.
Your dead will live…
The Lord has anointed me to announce good news to the poor…
“And He taught with a new authority in the Temple,” Joseph continued.
My mind supplied one more passage from the prophets.
The Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His Temple.
I gasped. ” ‘The Lord whom you seek’?”
“Yes!” Joseph whispered. “He’s a prophet like Moses in every way, except that He has done more. He’s greater than all the prophets and patriarchs.”
“But…” My insides felt like they were melting from this revelation. “What have I done? Oh, Heaven! Forgive my blindness!” I covered my face, the lump in my throat rose until tears slipped through my fingers. “What have I done?”
Finally, I looked at Joseph, who watched me with soft eyes. I gulped and whispered, “They’re going to condemn the One who laid the foundation of the earth.” I glanced at the sunrise and rose to my feet, stumbling towards the door. We didn’t have a moment to lose. “We have to stop them!”
“Wait,” Joseph put a hand on my shoulder and turned me around. “Nicodemus, I forgive you.”
Tears rose in my eyes again. I swallowed and nodded. “Let’s get Caiaphas to see reason, then perhaps Jesus will forgive me, too.”
+ + + + +
“Does this mean, then, that you are the Son of God?” Caiaphas’ voice rung down the corridor.
“No!” I shouted, breaking into a run to the hall where the trial was underway. “This can’t be happening! Not yet!”
“They should have sent a guard to find us!” Joseph matched my speed. “Why didn’t they?”
I didn’t bother answering.
At the door, two temple guards stopped us. “I’m sorry, but we can’t let you pass,” the one on the right said.
“But we’re councilmen! We need to be in this session!” I shouted in their faces.
“You should have been here at dawn, then.” The second one smirked.
Joseph gestured back down the corridor. “The sun has only just peaked over the horizon! Let us pass, man!”
“My orders were to let no one pass this door once the session began. I’m sorry,” the first guard said.
A roar came from within the hall. “Take Him away!”
“He doesn’t deserve to live!”
“Why do we need additional testimony? We have heard it ourselves from his own mouth!” Caiaphas shouted.
My shoulders slumped as I turned to stare at Joseph. Tears streamed down his cheeks. “It’s over,” I whispered. “We’re too late.”
+ + + + +
Thank you for reading part 4 of The Holy Week Series!
Check back tomorrow for part 5!
Read part 1: “Behold the Man” 13-year-old Alexander is esctatic to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. But what he doesn’t realize is that this festival will change his life forever.
Part 2: The Last and the First John the Disciple has eaten more meals than he can count with his Master, Jesus of Nazareth. But this one is different. In many respects, it feels like a meal to end all meals. Then again, is it a herald of things to come?
Part 3: The Commander’s Vigil “Jesus went as usual to the Mount of Olives… There appeared to Him an angel from heaven, giving Him strength.” (John 22:39 and 42, CJB)
Part 5: The Sacrifice Joseph of Arimathea has been waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God, and believes that Jesus heralds its arrival. But when Jesus is crucified, Joseph is left only with would-have’s, could-have’s, and should-have’s.
Part 6: The Sword-Pierced Heart When Jesus was a baby, a prophet warned Mary that a sword would pierce her heart. 33 years later, that prophecy came true in ways she couldn’t imagine possible.
Part 7: The Appearance As far as James is concerned, it’s the end. His brother, Jesus, is dead, and that is–unfortunately–that. But he’s about to figure out that God has other plans.
*All scripture quotes are from the Complete Jewish Bible, © 1998 by David H. Stern. The following passages were quoted (in order that they appeared in the story):
Sources and Further Exploration
Blasphemy by Jewish Encyclopedia
Capital Punishment by Jewish Encyclopedia
Joseph of Arimathea by Catholic Encyclopedia
Ancient Jewish History: The Sanhedrin By the Jewish Virtual Library
What position in society did the teachers of the law hold? by Biblical Hermeneutics
Why was the Arrest, Trial and Conviction of Jesus Illegal? by LivingtheWay.org
The Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus