Two High Priests | Mark 14:53-65

And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 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. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “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.’” Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 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?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 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.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 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.

Mark 14:53-65 ESV

Writing to the exiles who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, the prophet Zechariah received the following vision of Joshua the high priest standing before the God’s heavenly throne:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by.

And the angel of the LORD solemnly assured Joshua, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.

Zechariah 3:1-10

This vision of the high priest standing before God’s heavenly court is an interesting contrast to our present text, in which Jesus stands before the high priest and the Sanhedrin. In Zechariah’s vision, Joshua (which, by the way, is the Hebrew equivalent of Jesus) stood before Satan and the Angel of the LORD (whom many theologians believe is the preincarnate Jesus). He stands in filthy and defiled garments rather than the spotless and pristine garments that the high priest was supposed to wear. This clearly represented Joshua’s iniquity. He was a sinful high priest, so how could he represent his people before their sinless God? Yet in a picture of marvelous grace, Joshua’s filthy garments were removed, and he was clothed in clean garments. Most importantly, however, Joshua was promised that God’s Servant, the Branch from the house of David (see Isaiah 4:2 & Jeremiah 23:5), would come to “remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.” He would accomplish a full and final Day of Atonement, which is the very day that Mark now continues to describe for us.

JESUS BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN // VERSES 53-59

Having been arrested, Mark now tells us: And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. On the surface, this seems to suggest that the wolves had finally secluded their lamb, that the sharks had cornered their prey. The chief priests, elders, and scribes are the religious leaders that have been plotting since the beginning of His ministry. Of course, as is so often the case with workers of evil, they did not go arrest Jesus themselves, rather they sent others to do that kind of dirty work. Only now that Jesus was securely captured did they come together.

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. We will spend much more time on Peter next week, so let us only briefly note that Peter evidently did not run far away from Christ. Instead, after escaping from the crowd with swords and clubs, Peter turned back around followed them, yet he did so from a distance. R. C. Sproul asks us to consider whether we are like Peter:

Are you following Jesus from a distance? Do the people with whom you interact each day know that you are a Christian? I am not asking whether you wear your Christianity on your sleeve and make a pest of yourself to your friends and coworkers. I am simply asking whether they know where your allegiance lies. if they do not, perhaps you are keeping a safe distance from your Savior.[1]

As Jesus stood before the high priest, Mark tells us that “Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none.” This council was the Sanhedrin, “the Jewish highest court, comprising seventy influential Sadducees and Pharisees who served as ‘chief priests,’ wealthy ‘elders,’ and legally astute scribes. The high priest presides over the court.”[2]

Many commentators have noted that it was illegal for the hold a trial at night and on a feast day, but should we be surprised? This court of justice gathered at an unlawful hour because they were gathering to put an innocent man to death, simply because He had exposed far too much of their corruption. Rightly did the Preacher lament in Ecclesiastes 3:16: “Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness.”

Of course, they could find no reason to order Jesus’ execution because He had done nothing wrong. Indeed, Mark notes their efforts in verses 56-59:

For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “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.’” Yet even about this their testimony did not agree.

Testimony after testimony was brought against Jesus, yet none of them could agree. Since every testimony needed to be established by two or more witnesses, they could not secure what was needed for their conviction. Since they were bearing false witness against Jesus, I would assume that there were many outright lies that the witnesses told, which makes me wonder whether a fog of confusion was placed over their minds so that they could not even collaborate properly in their lies.

Yet Mark does record one accusation that had at least some basis in truth. They said, “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.‘” After cleansing the temple for the first time at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus actually said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The Jews were baffled by this statement, but John explains “but he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:21-22).

Since even Jesus’ disciples did not understand that saying until after He was risen from the grave, how much more would Jesus’ enemies not understand it! Even still for more than three years, they had held onto these words of Jesus with the hope of one day being able to wield them in accusation against Jesus, modeling themselves after the Accuser himself, Satan.

As disciples who are not greater than our Teacher, we must expect to be slandered by those who cannot understand what we believe. This was certainly true of the early church, where Christians were accused of practicing cannibalism and orgies because the non-baptized were not allowed to participate in their love feasts, which was what they called their observance of the Lord’s Supper.

The same is still true today. Increasingly, the world continues to embrace love itself as a kind of modern deity, and the greatest expression of this love is affirmation. Indeed, not to affirm someone is an act of blatant hatred. Of course, this has now led to parents affirming their children into chemical castration because to do anything else would be unloving. How foreign to this conception of love is actual love, and how open for slander and accusation! Biblical love, of course, believes in acting for someone’s good, whether they recognize it as good or not. Parents exercise this love through discipline. Corporeal discipline is meant to teach a child that disobedience leads to negative consequences before they become an adult and those negative consequences are far more severe than a swat with a belt. Yet that kind of love is antithetical to the world’s conception of love, and we ought to expect no better reception from the world than Jesus Himself received.

SEATED AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER // VERSES 60-65

After a rather poor attempt to convict Jesus of some sort of crime, the high priest himself stepped up to question Jesus: “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?‘” There was perhaps more honesty to his second question than we may first assume. With so many witnesses contradicting each other, the high priest evidently concluded that only Jesus had the clarity to convict Himself. “But he remained silent and made no answer.” John Calvin writes:

We may think it strange that he who had just cause to refute this error says nothing against it. However, as we have suggested and as we will see later in more detail, Jesus Christ is not now there to defend his teaching as he did before. We need to be wise and to distinguish one circumstance from another. Our Lord, having fasted in the wilderness, was sent by God his Father to proclaim the message of the gospel. During all that time we see how staunchly he defended the doctrine whose minister he was. We know that he withstood all objections. That is how he discharged his duty, for he had been sent as a servant of the word. Here, on the other hand, there is something special to consider. He is to be the Redeemer of the world. Therefore he must be condemned, not for having preached the gospel but in order to suffer affliction for our sake, as one cast into the deepest pit. He must maintain our cause and represent in person all transgressors, all who are accursed and who deserve everlasting death.[3]

Indeed, the verbal contests of chapter 12 testify to the fact that if Jesus wanted to demolish their testimonies He could have done so with ease. Yet as Calvin said Jesus was not on trial to defend His teaching; He was on trial to die as a ransom for many. He was in the midst of fulfilling the great promise of Isaiah 53, particularly verse 7 here: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”

Yet the high priest was not satisfied with such silence. “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?‘” R. C. Sproul notes here that “the word ‘Blessed’ is circumlocution. It was a word that Jews used to avoid saying, and perhaps misusing, the sacred name of God. Caiaphas was really asking, ‘Are You the Christ, the Son of God?'”[4] I find it interesting that even here the high priest is avoiding the direct usage of God’s name as an act of self-righteous piety, while He was preparing to condemn the eternal Son to death. This is possibly one of the greatest examples of a religious figure neglecting “the weightier matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23). He was “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel” (Matthew 23:24)!

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.” Before discussing the great significance of what Jesus said, it is worth noting that Jesus here gives a living picture of Proverbs 26:4-5. Those verses read: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” Both verses are placed side-by-side because wisdom is required to discern what best in every situation. We, of course, will always be imperfect judges, speaking when we ought to keep silent and keeping silent when we ought to speak. Jesus, however, knew precisely the right time for both, which is what we should expect of Jesus since He is “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

I think that Calvin is right to see this answer as being a “threat in order to nettle them all the more, so that if earlier they were full of malice and cruelty, this will further inflame their passion.”[5] Jesus verbally poked the hornets’ nest. After using the divine declaration of Himself, Jesus took both Daniel 7[6] and Psalm 110[7] as referring to Himself. Bayer writes:

Rarely did anyone claim to be the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14. Rarely did anyone claim to be the Lord in Psalm 110:1. Never did anyone claim to be both at the same time. Jesus, who initially arose as the herald of the coming rule of God (Mark 1:14-15), now identifies himself openly as the ruler of that kingdom (12:35-37; 14:25), the builder of that temple (2:7; 12:10), and the appointed judge of mankind (8:38; 13:26). In all of these functions, he reveals himself to be the eternal Son of God.[8]

And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death.

Here even the pretense of impartiality is thrown aside as the high priest tore his clothes in anguish, openly declaring his intention to condemn Jesus to death. Of course, the rest of the council agreed. Such an explicit declaration of deity was exactly what they needed to convict Jesus. To be fair, Jesus’ words would certainly have been blasphemy, if only they were not true. It would be blasphemous for any one of us to declare to be equal with God, yet Jesus did so, and the Father vindicated Him by His resurrection.

It is also irony of the highest caliber that Jesus is condemned here by the high priest when He, in fact, is the great high priest. Indeed, it is Psalm 110:4 that the author of Hebrews uses to make the case for Jesus’ priesthood, which came not from Levi but from Melchizedek. Under the old covenant, the high priest had the particular responsibility to offer a sacrifice for the sins of Israel as a whole once a year on the Day of Atonement. That sacrifice was to be offered in the Holy of Holies, the inner room of the temple that contained the ark of the covenant and the very presence of God. Thus, Caiaphas (this particular high priest) had entered into that room and slaughtered the goat as atonement for Israel’s sins. How tragic that he of all people was willfully blind to God in the flesh standing before him! How tragic that though he was the high priest he assumed the role of Satan, the accuser, against the true and final high priest! How tragic that Caiaphas could not see that he was sending Jesus off to accomplish the true Day of Atonement, to offer Himself upon the heavenly altar for the forgiveness of our sins!

Indeed, in Zechariah’s vision, Jesus as the Angel of the LORD defended Joshua against the accusations of Satan, ordered Joshua to be given clean garments, and promised His own coming to cleanse His people’s iniquity once for all. Zechariah certainly did not know that that day would come through Jesus being accused by another high priest and having his clean garments made filthy with blood and spit. 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.

The old covenant, even at its best, was utterly incapable of cleansing anyone’s sins. Even godly high priests like Joshua stood before God in filthy garments needing to be made clean. How much worse high priests like Caiaphas who desecrated that sacred office! Since vines and fig trees were symbols of God’s blessing upon the land, Jesus was right to curse the barren fig tree and tell the parable of the vineyard tenants against these religious leaders. All legalistic efforts to earn God’s favor are same; they are insufficient at best (like Joshua) and blatantly evil at worst (Caiaphas).

Jesus is a much greater high priest. Though perfectly sinless and unsoiled, He took our sin onto Himself, receiving our rightful condemnation in our place so that we can now proclaim the words of Romans 8:1, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Like Joshua, we are only clothed with clean garments before God because Christ took our filthy garments upon Himself.

That is the gospel, the good news, that Jesus now offers. We can be completely and wholly accepted by God, not through any efforts of our own but through the work of Jesus Christ for us. Rightly did Zechariah 3 conclude with these words: “In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.” The fig trees of this world are barren, and the tenants of the vineyard are so often as wicked as Caiaphas. Leave them behind and sit under Christ’s vine and fig tree.

Indeed, as we come to the King’s Table, let us see that we are all Joshua, standing before the Accuser polluted by our sin. Yet we have an advocate greater than our sin. Let us look upon, through the bread and cup as symbols, Christ who has taken our filth upon Himself and cleansed us by His own blood. O brothers and sisters, taste and see the goodness of our Savior, who bore our guilt and shame and has given us the clean garments of His perfect righteousness.


[1]R. C. Sproul, Mark: An Expositional Commentary, 350.

[2] Hans Bayer, ESV Expository Commentary Vol 8: Matthew-Luke, 676.

[3] John Calvin, Crucified and Risen, 49-50.

[4] Sproul, Mark, 352.

[5] Calvin, Crucified and Risen, 50.

[6] Daniel 7:13–14 | 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. 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.

[7] Psalm 110:1 | The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”

[8] Bayer, ESV Expository Commentary Vol 8, 678.

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