Revelation 6 – Part 3

15 And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’” Revelation 6:15-16

The first four seal-judgments involving four horsemen depicted utter destruction of the world in general from the Lamb in heaven (6:1-8). These first four seals are “the beginning” (Matthew 24:8) of a series of judgments that take during the first half of the seven-year Tribulation period. They will be followed by a period of persecution (6:9-11), after which the earth-shattering judgments of the sixth seal will take place (6:12-17). This is exactly what the Lord Jesus predicted in His Olivet Discourse:

1. Wars, famines, pestilences (Matthew 24:6-8).

2. Persecutions (Matthew 24:9-14a).

3. Then the end will come (Matthew 24:14b). 1

In anticipation of this persecution, John writes, “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.” (Revelation 6:9). When Jesus “opened the fifth seal,” John “saw under the altar” in heaven “the souls of” believers “who had been slain for” their commitment to “the word of God and for the testimony which they held” during the reign of the World Ruler or Beast of Revelation (cf. Revelation 13:1-7; Matthew 24:9-22). This verse makes it clear that people will be saved during the Tribulation period, but many of them will be martyred. More will be said of these martyrs in Revelation 7.  2

“Some Amillennialists believe these martyrs are all Christians who die for their faith during the entire Church Age, which, according to their view, are all the believers who will have died from Christ’s ascension to His Second Coming.” 3  “Preterists view these people as Christians who died in the first century of the church’s history.” 4

But in the context of Revelation 6:9, a literal understanding places these martyrs in the future Tribulation period. Since the church is already pictured in heaven as represented by the twenty-four elders (Revelation 4-5), these people in verse 9 must be those who died after the Rapture, since all Christians living at the time of the Rapture will experience bodily resurrection and go directly into Jesus Christ’s presence to escape the coming wrath of the coming Tribulation (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 4:15-17). The people John describes in verse 9 are those who come to faith in Christ after the Rapture (cf. Matthew 24:9; Luke 21:12). They had become believers during the first half of the Tribulation through the preaching of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:1-10), and then had suffered martyrdom for their faith. John saw their “souls” in heaven, not their resurrected bodies, because God had not resurrected them yet. The resurrection of Tribulation saints will not occur until the end of that seven-year period of judgments on the earth (cf. Revelation 20:4). 5

“Obviously, then, people will come to faith in Jesus following the rapture because believers of the church age all will have been removed from earth. Notably, this is the first seal in which God’s judgment comes in response to the cries of people.” 6

In the last three-and-a-half years, as the Beast assumes worldwide authority (cf. 13:3), he will set out to rid the world of the witnesses of Christ who are spreading out all over the earth to share the gospel and will succeed in killing multitudes (cf. Matt 24:9, 14; Rev 12:17).” 7

These martyred Tribulation saints Cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Revelation 6:10). These believers “cried with a loud voice” asking the Lord Who is “holy and true,” how long they would have to wait until He would “judge” their murderers.

Compare the prayers of Jesus (Luke 23:34) and Stephen (Acts 7:60), in which they asked God to be merciful to their murderers, with the prayers of these Tribulation martyrs.  The difference is that, for the martyrs’ murderers, the time of God’s longsuffering had now ended, and He had begun to pour out His wrath on rebellious humanity. 8

“This plea to God for justice and vengeance finds its roots in the Old Testament imprecatory psalms—prayers calling God to take His stand against the enemies of righteousness. Psalm 94:1-5 provides a perfect example of this sentiment.

“O LORD, God of vengeance,

God of vengeance, shine forth!

Rise up, O Judge of the earth,

Render recompense to the proud.

How long shall the wicked, O LORD,

 How long shall the wicked exult?

They pour forth words,

they speak arrogantly.

All who do wickedness vaunt themselves.

They crush Your people, O LORD,

And afflict Your heritage.

“This prayer for judgment and vindication acknowledges several important theological truths. God is a God of justice, holiness, and truth who will keep His promises of salvation for His people and retribution against His enemies. But the psalmist, like the saints under the altar in Revelation 6, acknowledges that such vengeance is a strictly divine prerogative. Paul exhorted the Romans, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay’” (Rom. 12:19, quoting Deut. 32:35). Though the martyred saints will have to wait a little longer while their fellow Tribulation martyrs join them (Rev. 6:11), the Lord will keep His promise to avenge the murder of His saints (2 Thes. 1:6-8). In fact, the sixth seal portrays the fulfillment of this promise of vengeance against the enemies of God’s people.” 9

One important question about the fifth seal is, how will the deaths of believers be a judgment for the world? Remember, the seals are divine judgments. The death of God’s people brings judgment in two ways. First, the removal of God’s people, the salt and light of the world, will allow darkness and corruption to overrun the earth unchecked. It will be a case of the blind leading the blind. Second, as the enemies of God murder His people, they are unknowingly heaping more judgment upon themselves. Also, God will answer these martyrs’ prayers for vindication when He pours out His wrath on His enemies.” 10

Next John writes, “Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” (Revelation 6:11). Each martyr was given “a white robe” and told to “rest a little while longer until” the full number of martyrs “was completed.”

These Tribulation martyrs are reminded that even though God’s justice is delayed at times, it always comes. God misses nothing and eventually He will bring complete justice in response to every wrong committed. 11

The sixth seal will provide God’s answer to the cries of these Tribulation martyrs. “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood.” (Revelation 6:12). After Jesus “opened the sixth seal” John saw a “great earthquake” occur as the Beast and his armies gather to make war against Christ (cf. Revelation 19:19). 12 This earthquake resulted in “the sun” becoming “black as sackcloth of hair,” which is likely because of volcanoes erupting and discharging ash that blocks the sunlight. 13  In addition, “the moon” will become red “like blood” (6:12a).

Next, John observes, 13 And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. 14 Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.” (Revelation 6:13-14). Meteor-like “stars of heaven” will fall “to the earth” and “the sky” will recede “as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island” will be moved “out of its place” perhaps due to the great earthquake and meteorites (6:13-14). The universe will seem to be imploding before the eyes of all who dwell on the earth. 14

All kinds of people all over the world without Jesus will panic and seek to protect themselves instead of turning to the Lord for mercy and deliverance. 15 And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’” (Revelation 6:15-16). Without Jesus as their Savior, they would rather have “the mountains and rocks” fall on them and kill them than face “the wrath of the Lamb.” This indicates that the unbelieving people’s perception of God (“Him who sits on the throne”), and the “wrath of the Lamb,” in heaven, will be far more terrifying to them than the physical consequences of this judgment. Whereas the martyrs cry, “Avenge us!” (6:10), these unbelievers cry, “Hide us!” 15

“What sinners dread most is not death but having to stand before a holy and righteous God.” 16

Those who refuse to trust in Jesus during this unprecedented time of worldwide suffering will say, “For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:17). “The splitting of the sky and shaking of the earth that is occurring is so unprecedented that the followers of the Beast clearly recognize their guilt and culpability before God and His Son. They have not one ounce of hope.” 16

This sixth seal “reveals the horror of unbelievers who must face the full wrath of God and His appointed Judge, Jesus Christ. The absolute panic experienced  by these wicked people doesn’t grip them because God is unjust, but because they know He will give them exactly what they deserve!” 17

Oh, my dear friends, as you read this portion of the Word of God, please understand that this is not some science fiction novel or symbolic description of various troubles that have already taken place on earth. This is a literal description of an unprecedented time of worldwide suffering that will take place in the future on earth. Everyone on earth at that time will not only know it is God’s judgment, but they will act like it by seeking death to escape from God’s wrath. You do not have to go through this terrible period of unprecedented suffering. God has provided a way of escape.

Jesus Christ said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24).  Have you heard Jesus’ promise of eternal life?Do you believe or trust Him alone for eternal life?

If you heard and believed Jesus’ promise, Christ guarantees that you now have everlasting life which is a forever personal relationship with the true God (John 17:3) which can never be lost (John 6:37; 10:28-29). If you could lose eternal life, Jesus just told a lie in John 5:24. Jesus is qualified to give you eternal life because He is God (John 1:1; I John 5:20) and He paid for this free gift (Romans 6:23b) when He died on the Cross for all of our sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-8).

Jesus promises that you “shall not come into judgment.” You will not be judged for your sins because you have everlasting life. You have complete forgiveness (Colossians 2:13-14). You are now God’s child forever (John 1:12). You are completely covered by His love without a single fault (Ephesians 1:4; cf. Romans 8:31-34).

You have “passed from death into life.” You never have to be afraid of dying because you now have everlasting life which means you will live with Jesus forever in His Father’s house in heaven (cf. Matthew 6:9; John 14:1-3; Revelation 21-22) after you die or are raptured from the earth (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23; I Thessalonians 4:15-17), whichever takes place first.

Those who refuse to believe in Jesus for eternal life are promised not to “see life, but the wrath of God abides on” them both now (John 3:36), during the Tribulation on earth if they are alive then (Revelation 6), and in the lake of fire for eternity (Revelation 20:15).   

The Bible promises to remove believers in Jesus from the earth to live with Him in heaven forever in the third heaven or Paradise before this great outpouring of God’s wrath takes place on the earth (2 Corinthians 12:1-4; I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-18). Knowing this should comfort and encourage us to live for Christ until we see Him face to face (I Thessalonians 5:6-11).

As believers in Jesus, it is important for us to have Christ’s love for those who are lost, who will one day face this horrific future on earth and do what we can to tell the good news of the gospel of grace to those in need of Christ’s salvation and eternal life. Let us speak of the joy that could be theirs through faith alone in Jesus and His atoning sacrifice and warn of the wrath to come and the eternal suffering that awaits those who refuse to believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God for His gift of everlasting life. 18

Prayer: Holy and true God, thank You for revealing the horrific judgments which will take place in the future during the seven-year Tribulation on earth. Because You are holy, You cannot let any sin go unpunished. Millions of believers throughout history have suffered and died at the hands of Your enemies. Your message today underscores that You will severely repay those who have persecuted Your people. Thank You also for reminding us that those who believe in Jesus for eternal life are not appointed to this coming wrath on earth. Our future is free from Your wrath. Please give us Your heart for the lost so we may boldly and lovingly warn them of Your wrath to come on the earth and in eternity, so they may believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life and forgiveness of all their sins and escape Your wrath to come. In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1523. 

2. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 89 cites as an example Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and Carlisle, England: Paternoster Press, 1999) pg. 39.

4. Ibid., cites as an example Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John 2nd ed., (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1907), pg. 92.

5. Ibid.

6. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2382.

7. Vacendak, pp. 1523-1524.

8. Constable, pg. 89.

9. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 153-154.

10. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 284.

11. Evans, pg. 2382.

12. Vacendak, pg. 1524.

13. Evans, pg 2382.

14. Vacendak, pg. 1524.

15. Constable, pg. 91.

16. Ibid., cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1—7: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 456; cf. Swete, pg. 94.

17. Swindoll, pg.  154. 

18. Adapted from Elizabeth Haworth’s daily verse entitled, “What Does Revelation 6:8 Mean?” at knowing-jesus.com.

How can we overcome failure and religious hatred? Part 3

Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?’ ” John 18:23

As we focus on John 18:13-27, we are learning how we can overcome failure and religious hatred. In our study thus far, we have discovered we must…

Realize life is not always fair, but God always is (John 18:13-14).

– Remain close to Christ and other committed disciples (John 18:15-18).

Now let’s go back to stage one where Jesus is on trial before Annas to discover our third principle. “The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine.” (John 18:19). Annas is conducting a preliminary investigation before sending Jesus to Caiaphas. This may be likened to what might happen today when an arrested person is first brought into a police station. 1  Annas’ questions focus on two primary issues: Jesus’ disciples and His doctrine. He wanted to know the extent of Jesus’ following and about the teaching He propagated. Perhaps Annas wanted to know what Jesus was doing to cause such an uproar among the Jewish leaders. It is also possible that Annas suspected Jesus of leading a subversive movement to undermine the Romans.

“Jesus answered him, ‘I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing.’ ” (John 18:20). Christ explains that He had nothing to hide. He had always taught “openly to the world.” He protects His disciples by drawing attention to His teaching. Jesus’ teaching was the same in private as in public. He was not leading a secret organization or cult. Obviously He was not denying that He had taught His disciples privately. He was simply assuring Annas that His teachings were not subversive. He did not have two types of teaching: a spiritual message for the multitudes, and a revolutionary one for His disciples.

Next Christ challenges the legality of the proceedings when He says, Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said.” (John 18:21). According to the Mosaic law, a person was innocent until proven guilty by evidence of witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). So the high priest should first call on witnesses to testify before questioning Jesus. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them,” Jesus says.By questioning Jesus, Annas assumed He was guilty. Christ’s question exposed the illegal proceedings by Annas. “If I am guilty, then where are the witnesses?” Jesus is asking. There were many people in Jerusalem who were familiar with Jesus’ teachings and could answer the questions of Annas. It was obvious that the officials were not seeking the truth at this first trial but were seeking incriminating charges to advance their purposes.

“And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, ‘Do You answer the high priest like that?’ ” (John 18:22). One of the temple officers thought Jesus’ answer was disrespectful, so he resorted to violence and delivered a blow to Jesus “with the palm of his hand.” It was illegal to strike an unconvicted person.

Rather than turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), Jesus stands up for the truth and for justice. “Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?’ ” (John 18:23). Jesus knew that He had done nothing wrong so He demanded that they produce evidence of wrongdoing. If there was no evidence against Him, then why did they hit Him? Striking Christ without producing evidence of wrongdoing was illegal. Jesus did not let people walk over Him and violate the law. He stood up for justice and He can enable us to do the same.

Notice also what Jesus did not do. He does not respond in anger. He does not hit the officer back. But neither does He say I was wrong. Christ does not back down. He has this continued willingness to say, “I was right in what I said.” But He continues to say it with humility, without anger or malice towards the person who slapped Him. This is another way we can overcome religious hatred. We are to RESPOND TO OUR ENEMIES BY SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE TO THEM (John 18:19-24). Jesus shows us that even when you love an enemy, it is okay to tell them the truth. Don’t back down from the truth. Jesus in love says, “I am standing for the truth. Why did you strike Me?”

When looking at Jesus’ religious trials in this section, one marvels over His steadfastness under pressure. Many of us would have folded under the pressure exerted upon Christ by Annas and the illegal court proceedings. But Jesus stood up for what is true and just. He did not let their wrongdoing go unquestioned. He exposed their illegal procedures and confronted their abusive behavior.

As we grow in our relationship with Christ, He can enable us to confront abusive behaviors in others by speaking the truth with dignity. Jesus did not get caught up in the hatred of the religious leaders and hate them back. He forgave them, but that did not eliminate His boundaries. He stood up to the officer who struck Him and confronted his wrongdoing.

When people mistreat you physically or verbally, please know that Jesus understands how you feel because He endured abusive treatment as well. And I believe He would assure you that you have every right to protest!

Forgiveness means we choose not to “get even” or “get back” at someone who has hurt us. But it does not mean we automatically trust the person who has wounded us. Nor does it mean we do not protect ourselves. The offender must earn our trust once again and that takes time and effort.

Jesus was hated by the religious community. And if we openly identify with the crucified Christ, we too, will not be accepted by religious people. In fact, some of the most brutal treatment of Christians comes from religious people. Religious people do not want to see their sin or admit their need for Jesus Christ Who died in their place for their sins.

If you are in an area of the world that persecutes Christians, you can reach out to the American Center for Law and Justice (aclj.org) which is dedicated to defending persecuted Christians around the world.

Christ confronted wrongdoing which brought an end to Annas’ investigation. Abusers do not like to be stood up to. “Then Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.” (John 18:24). It is possible that Jesus had been “bound” during this preliminary hearing before Annas. If so, Jesus was defenseless when the officer struck Him. 2  It becomes clear at this point, that Annas and the other officials were not interested in justice. They were committed to killing Jesus.

When Jesus spoke the truth to Annas and the officer who struck Him, He was seeking to convict them of their sin, without which they would not see their need for the Savior. Because Jesus was faithful to His Father’s will and He never fails, we can trust Him to enable us to speak the truth in love to a hostile world.

There is also a stark contrast between the corrupt and self-serving high priest named, Annas, and our faithful and blameless High Priest, Jesus Christ, Who was willing to sacrifice Himself willingly for His sheep (Hebrews 2:14-18; 7:26-27). Christ wants us to know that when we fail, we can draw near to Him to obtain the grace and mercy that we need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Keep in mind that there is no guarantee that if we are faithful to bear witness to a hostile world, God will protect us. Jesus was faithful to His Father in heaven, but He died a horrible and humiliating death. The Lord Jesus tells the church in Smyrna, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10).

Believers in Christ who do not compromise when faced with persecution, are guaranteed a rich reward from Jesus in the future – “I will give you the crown of life.” This reward refers to the abundant quality of existence faithful believers in Christ will experience in eternity. If the believers in Smyrna die for Christ in this life, they will receive an eternal experience that is totally opposite to the troubles they faced on earth.” 3

It is our responsibility to remain faithful to God “until death.” It is the Lord’s responsibility to reward us for our faithfulness.

Prayer: Gracious High Priest, thank You for willingly enduring the illegal court proceedings and mistreatment by those presiding over it, so we may obtain complete forgiveness of our sins through faith in You. We need You, Lord Jesus, to enable us to speak the truth in love to a hostile world as You did before Annas.We need Your wisdom to discern when to speak up and when to remain silent. Help us keep our eyes upon You, Lord, to endure persecution without compromise so we may honor You throughout eternity with the rewards You give to us in the future. In Your gracious name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg.683.

2. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 552.

3. Ibid, pg. 1505.

How can we overcome failure and religious hatred? Part 1

All of us have experienced failure in our lives. Perhaps you embarrassed yourself by forgetting the name of the person you were talking to or the friend you meant to introduce. Maybe you missed the catch for the final out in a baseball game or you forgot the crucial line in a school play. Some of us may have lost a wedding ring or engagement ring never to be recovered. After making a mistake, how do you respond? Did you beat yourself up? Did you feel remorse or apologize, if applicable? Or do you blame someone else for your mistakes? How long does it take you to get over a mistake?

As we talk about making mistakes, I am reminded of a conversation between a pastor and a lawyer. The pastor asked the lawyer, “Sir, do you ever make mistakes in pleading?” “I do,” replied the lawyer. “And what do you do with mistakes?” inquired the pastor. “Why, I mend them, if large ones. If small ones, I let them go. And I pray, sir.” The lawyer continued by asking, “Do you ever make mistakes in preaching?” “Yes, sir, I have,” replied the pastor. “What do you do with your mistakes?” asked the lawyer. “Why, sir, I dispose of them in the same manner as you do. Not long ago when I was preaching, I meant to observe that the devil was the father of liars, but I made a mistake and said the father of lawyers. The mistake was so small that I let it go.”

All of us have experienced failure in our Christian lives. That is a reality. How we respond to failure can determine the direction we move from that point on. We can move forward or backward in our Christian lives.

Starting today, we are going to look at two kinds of responses to Christ crucified in John 18:13-27 over the next few days. One response will teach us about failure – factors that contribute to it and how to overcome it. The other response will teach us about how to handle the hatred of religious people toward Christ crucified. The events of John 18:13-27 are like a drama presented on two stages. Stage one is presented first (John 18:13-14) while the action on stage two takes place (John 18:15-18). Then the action shifts back to stage one (John 18:19-24) and then returns to stage two (John 18:25-27).

In these verses we are going to discover some things that took place during the final hours of Jesus’ life before He was crucified. Christ has already been arrested by the Roman soldiers and Jewish temple guards (John 18:12). He now must face the first of six trials. Three would be religious trials: one before Annas (John 18:12-14, 19-23), one before Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57-68), and one before the Sanhedrin (Matthew 27:1-2). And there would be three Civil Trials: One before Pilate (John 18:28-38), one before Herod (Luke 23:6-12), and one before Pilate (John 18:39-19:1). 1

“And they led Him away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year.” (John 18:13). After Jesus was arrested by the Roman soldiers and Jewish temple officers, He was led back across the Kidron Valley into the city of Jerusalem to appear before the religious authorities. It seems as though there are two high priests in this section (cf. John 18:13, 19, 24). But understanding the historical background will help to explain this observation.

According to the Mosaic Law, the high priest was the most important member of the Jewish community because he was the only one authorized by God to offer sacrifices for the sins of the community on the Day of Atonement (Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16).

According to Jewish law, the high priestly office was to be lifelong and hereditary. But during King Herod’s rule, the high priest was frequently dismissed and replaced because the Romans didn’t like the concentration of power in one person.

But because the Jews believed the office of high priest was lifelong, the high priest retained a good measure of power and prestige among the Jewish population even after removal from office. 3  Such was the case with Annas. He “had been appointed high priest by Quirinius, governor of Syria, in A.D. 6 and remained until he was deposed by Valerius Gratus, procurator of Judea, in A.D. 15. According to the Jewish law the high priestly office was for life, but the Romans did not like the concentration of power in one person so they frequently changed high priests.” 4

Because the office of high priest is lifelong, it is not surprising that the matter of Jesus’ arrest and trial was first brought to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest officially recognized by the Roman authorities. Annas was a very powerful man. So great was his influence that eventually five of his sons, as well as his son-in-law and grandson, became high priests. 5  The Jews virtually regarded him as a high priest, although Caiaphas held the title officially.

Annas was also very wealthy. He owned the famous Bazaars of Annas, which ran a monopoly on the temple sale of animals for sacrifices and the stalls of the money-changers. 6  Twice Jesus had cleansed the temple, once at the beginning of His ministry (John 2:13-22) and again at the end of His ministry (Matthew 21:12-16; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-47). From the day of the first cleansing of the temple, Annas hated Jesus. Now at last he has Jesus in his power.

To Annas “was the task assigned of the preliminary hearing of the urgent case under consideration. This preliminary hearing took place in one of the apartments of the high priest’s palace, a large building surrounding a central court, designated for the uses of Annas, whose residence was in another part of the city, between the Tyropoean valley and the upper city.” 7

Ironically, the Jewish religious leaders begin to break law after law with their various trials even though they are trying Jesus for not keeping the law. “Some of the main problems with the trial of Jesus include the following.

“1. There Was No Possibility Of A Fair Trial. To begin with, the Sanhedrin should have never held the trial. They had plotted to kill Jesus ahead of time. Consequently they were hardly in a position to render a fair verdict as to his guilt or innocence. This is especially true of the High Priest Caiaphas. He is the one who said that it was necessary for Jesus to die for the entire nation. The High Priest was the supreme judge in Israel. It was his responsibility to see that a person be given a fair trial. At the very least, he should have not participated in trial in any manner. Yet he was the driving force behind the arrest and trial of Jesus. Therefore there was no possibility that Jesus could have been given a fair trial.

“2. A Capital Trial At Night Was Illegal. It was illegal to try capital cases at night. By doing so the Sanhedrin broke the law. When a person’s life was at stake the trial could only be held during the day.

“3. They Should Not Have Looked For Witnesses After The Trial Started. According to Jewish law, a trial starts when witnesses come forward to testify. The Sanhedrin should not have gone out to look for witnesses. The witnesses come first, then the trial.

“4. They Should Not Have Looked For False Witnesses. Not only should the Sanhedrin have not looked for witnesses, they certainly should not have looked for false witnesses if Jesus were to be given a fair trial. The verdict, of course, was never in doubt.

“5. The False Witnesses Should Have Been Punished. Since the Sanhedrin knew the testimony of the witnesses was false, these witnesses, according to Jewish law, should have been punished. The fact that they were not is another illegality.

“6. The Judgment Should Have Been Delayed Till Next Day. In capital cases, judgment was to be delayed until the next day. The fact that they pronounced judgment immediately is another sign of the illegal nature of the trial.

“7. There Is Not Supposed To Be A Trial On Day Before The Sabbath Or Before Holy Days. Since the judgment in a capital case could not be rendered until the next day, it was illegal to try someone on the day before the Sabbath or before some holy day. During the Sabbath day or holy day there could be no legal meeting of the Sanhedrin. Consequently the timing of the trial was also illegal.

“8. They Never Considered Jesus’ Testimony. There is also the problem of Jesus’ testimony. When Jesus was put under oath he acknowledged that he was the Messiah – the promised Deliverer. This admission of Jesus was what caused the Sanhedrin to cry out that he was guilty of death. However, they never stopped to consider the possibility that Jesus was telling the truth. There was not the slightest interest in attempting to find out whether Jesus may indeed be the promised Messiah. There was no evidence that was allowed to be given on Jesus’ behalf and they weighed no evidence before making their judgment.

“Conclusion: When all the facts are weighed it becomes clear that those who tried Jesus on that night were not interested in giving him a fair trial. The verdict had been determined ahead of time. They only went through the motions of the appearance of a fair trial. Jesus was illegally and wrongfully tried… Therefore when all the facts are considered we conclude that Jesus’ trial was the greatest injustice in all of history.” 8

When you study the trials that Jesus faced, Christ looks more and more innocent and those who were trying Him looked more and more guilty. These were trials that proved the innocence of the accused and the guilt of the accusers. They were unfair in every way. Yet John informs us in the next verse, “Now it was Caiaphas who advised the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.” (John 18:14). The apostle alludes to Caiaphas who unknowingly prophesied that Jesus would need to die for the people. This verse indicates what can be expected as the outcome of the trials. The outcome was certain. Events would lead rapidly to Jesus’ death. It is doubtful Caiaphas meant spiritual benefits “for” the people, but rather political and monetary benefits “for” the nation’s leaders. Nonetheless, God was in control and would use these unfair religious and civil trials to bring about the means of salvation through the death of His Son.

Do you get upset when life is unfair like this? When things are not handled fairly there is something inside us that stirs our anger. Especially those of us who have grown up in America. There is something about the American spirit, the Bill of Rights, and all those things that just burns us up when life is not fair. But notice that God took an unfair trial, held by unrighteous people, and used it to accomplish His perfect will – Jesus going to the cross to die for our sins. We can easily get so focused on what is fair in America that we conclude that God has lost control. We need to remember that somebody can treat us unfairly but it doesn’t keep God from treating us righteously. 

This leads to our first principle: We can overcome religious hatred when we REALIZE LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS FAIR, BUT GOD ALWAYS IS (John 18:13-14). Let’s not forget this. The truth is life is not fair. Jesus did not deserve to be on trial. He lived a perfect life on earth because He was and is God (John 1:1; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18; I John 5:20). If life was not fair for the perfect Son of God, why would we expect life to be fair when we are imperfect sinners!?!

“The world is anything but a fair place. A young man in the prime of his life is killed by a drunk driver who walks away without a scratch. Drug dealers and pornography peddlers make millions of dollars and live in mansions. A less qualified applicant gets the job. The best runner is tripped from behind by another and loses the race. Our response is, ‘It isn’t fair,’ as if labeling it that way somehow changes things. King Solomon, perhaps the wisest man of all time, understood life’s unfairness when he noted, ‘There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless.’ (Ecclesiastes 8:14).” 9

But we need to remember that when life is not fair, God is always fair toward us. If God is not just, He isn’t God and can’t be in control of everything. If God ever once unfairly disciplined or punished a person, it would disqualify Him as God and mean that He is not in control of everything. We see miscarriages of justice all the time here on earth, but there is never a miscarriage of justice with God. We can never honestly say to God that He didn’t handle something fairly or right.” 10   Why? Because only God has all the information about a situation. He is all-knowing and fair, but we are not. So none of us are in a position to critique the God of the universe.

When the books are not being balanced in this world we need to remember this is not where the books are balanced anyway. Heaven will determine the balancing of the books. 11  God will make everything right in His time. His judgment of the world will be fair. He will judge everyone according to their works (Romans 2:5-11). For the unbeliever, God will judge him or her according to their works to determine their degree of punishment in the lake of fire at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). For the believer in Jesus Christ, God will judge him or her according to their works to determine the degree of their rewards in Christ’s coming Kingdom at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:9-11; Revelation 22:12). God will make things right in His time.

Embracing this truth that life is not fair, but God always is, can give us peace when we are treated unfairly. Just as Jesus “committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” when He was unfairly treated by His enemies (I Peter 2:23), so we can do the same when we face unjust situations, knowing that God is fair and He will bring our enemies to justice one day (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10; Revelation 15:3-4; 16:5-7; 20:11-15).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You know what it is like to live in a world that is not fair. Sometimes we let that world bring us down. We see how the world tolerates people who embrace its values, but it hates Christians who live out Your values. It is not fair. But You never promised us that the world would be fair to us. Lord, help us not to forget Who You are and Who You want to be in our lives and in our world. Lord Jesus, thank You for reminding us that in the future You will balance the books and bring justice to this unfair world. Knowing this enables us to live peacefully even when we are treated unfairly. Remind us that no matter how powerful human institutions around us might seem or people in our lives might seem, in comparison to You, all human power looks feeble and foolish. You are the Lord that we need. You are the King that we need.  We worship You as the Lord and King. We need You, Jesus. We thank You for being in our lives. In Your powerful name we pray. Amen. 

ENDNOTES:

1. Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 157.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 320.

3. Ibid.

4. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pp. 682-683.

5. Laney, pg. 321.

6. J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946), pp. 573-575.

7. Ibid.

8. Don Stewart’s article, “Did Jesus Receive a Fair Trial?” at https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_250.cfm.

9. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe (Thomas Nelson, 2019 Kindle Edition), pp. 83-84.

10. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe about God: Knowing God for Who He Really Is (David C Cook, 2017 Kindle Edition), pg. 86.

11. Tom Holladay’s sermon on Wednesday, July 17, 1996, entitled, “Jesus on Trial.”