The intervention of the High Priest in the legal proceedings following the various testimonies marks a turning point. He asks Jesus to respond to the testimonies, but has to face his silence. For Mark, since the testimonies do not agree, it is a form of contempt on Jesus' part, while for Matthew, where the testimonies follow the judicial rules, it is a form of tacit approval of the destruction of the temple. In both cases, Jesus' silence is read in the light of the suffering servant of the Old Testament who does not open his mouth before his adversaries.
The high priest asks Jesus the question whether he is the Messiah, the Son of God. These titles must be interpreted not in the context of Jesus' life, but in the context of the one in which the Gospel was written and in the context of the Christian listeners: the Messiah and the Son of God referred to the one who was generated not by a human father, but by the Holy Spirit. Mark speaks of the "Son of the Blessed One", an expression of his own faith to give a Judaizing flavor to his narrative, as he does in certain dramatic moments with Aramaic expressions. Matthew, clearer with " son of God ", refers to the apostolic confession of faith. Luke, with greater historical sense, distinguishes messiah, more appropriate to the time of Jesus, from the title of son of God, more appropriate to the Christian confession.
Was Jesus considered messiah and son of God during his lifetime? To answer this question, the two terms must be considered separately. As far as the title of messiah is concerned, it is plausible that some of his disciples considered him the promised king of the house of David, the anointed one called to reign over the people of God. Jesus' response was ambivalent, for on the one hand, he rejected certain features of popular perception, and on the other hand, it was up to God to define the role that this messiah should play in the kingdom. As for the title of Son of God, it is reasonable to think that Jesus was not called Son of God by his disciples during his lifetime, just as it is reasonable to think that the question of the high priest asking him if he was Son of God was not really part of the legal proceedings.
- Intervention of the High Priest; Silence of Jesus (Mark/Matthew)
- The Christological Question: The Messiah, the Son of God
- Jesus the Messiah
- Jesus the Son of God
Words of Mark shared by the other evangelists are underlined. In red are words of John shared by other evangelists. Square brackets  indicate parallels found in another sequence in the New Testament.
|Mark 14||Matthew 26||Luke 22||[John 10]|
|[66 ...there was brought together the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes; and they led him away to the Sanhedrin]|
|60 And having stood up, the high priest in (their) midst questioned Jesus, saying, "Have you nothing at all to answer to what these are testifying against you?"||62 And having stood up, the high priest said to him, "Have you nothing to answer to what these are testifying against you?"||[24 So the Jews surrounded him and were saying to him, |
|61 But he stayed silent and answered nothing at all. Again the high priest was questioning him and says to him, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?"||63 But Jesus stayed silent. And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you according to the living God that you say to us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God."||67 saying, "If you are the Messiah, say to us". [But he said to them...] 70a But they all said, "Are you then the Son of God?"||"...If you are the Messiah, say to us openly". (25 Jesus answered them...) 36 ... "Do you say that, You are blaspheming, because I said, I am Gods Son?"] |
|[19:7: The Jews answered him [Pilate], "We have a law, and according to the law he ought to die, because he made himself Gods Son".]|
- Intervention of the High Priest; Silence of Jesus (Mark/Matthew)
- "And having stood up, the high priest in (their) midst questioned Jesus". The fact that the high priest stood up implies a turning point in the judicial proceedings. One has the impression of arriving at the heart of the dispute. The expression "in (their) midst" suggests that the high priest speaks for the whole Sanhedrin. Christian tradition has kept the memory that he is Jesus' principal adversary. In Luke's case, the high priest plays no role, for the material in this scene was transferred to the scene of Stephen's trial in the Acts of the Apostles.
- "Have you nothing at all to answer to what these are testifying against you". Since the beginning of the court proceedings, attempts have been made to accumulate material against Jesus, and now the high priest draws attention to this material. While Mark and Matthew seem to use similar words, the emphasis of their story is quite different. For in Mark's case the testimonies were false and inconsistent, and Jesus' silence is a way of dismissing these worthless arguments. On the other hand, Matthew's last testimony fulfilled the conditions of a valid testimony, and Jesus' silence can be seen as a tacit agreement.
- "But he stayed silent and answered nothing at all". Jesus' silence will return before Pilate (Mk 15:5; Mt 27:14), and before Herod (Lk 23:9). This silence must be seen as a form of contempt on the part of Jesus before these hostile proceedings. One has the impression that Jesus has resigned himself to his fate, knowing that, whatever he says, nothing can change his outcome. Christian tradition has read this silence in the light of the Psalms (for example, 38:15: "like a man who has heard nothing and has no reply in his mouth") or Isaiah 53:7: "Abused, he humbled himself, he did not open his mouth, like the lamb that is led to the slaughterhouse, like a dumb sheep before shearers, he did not open his mouth". And afterwards, this attitude of Jesus became a model: "he who insulted did not return the insult, suffering did not threaten, but entrusted himself to Him who judges with justice" (1 Pet 2:23).
- The Christological Question: The Messiah, the Son of God
- "Again the high priest was questioning him and says to him" The expression "again" in Mark shows the persistence of the high priest who, faced with the impasse of false testimony, turns to a new tactic to make Jesus speak.
- "I adjure (exorzō) you according to the living God". This sentence in Matthew is a call to take an oath before God. It accentuates the courtroom atmosphere. The expression "living God" is an echo of Peter's confession ("You are the Christ, the Son of the living God", Mt 16:16). Ironically, at the very moment when Jesus is asked to take the oath, Peter swears that he does not know him.
- Messiah, Son of God. It must be assumed that when the listener of the Gospel heard these words, they had the familiar meaning in the proclamation of the creed or in the liturgical celebration, a meaning different from that of Jesus' time. And through the hostility and skepticism of the high priest, these Christians saw in them the Jewish rejection they experienced. For them, the Messiah was no longer the king of the house of David, but the second name of Jesus. The same is true of the expression "Son of God". It was now a far cry from Nathan's promise to David that every king from his house would be considered a son by God, because for the reader of Matthew and Luke the son of God meant the one who was born not of a human father, but by the Holy Spirit. For the reader of John, the Son of God is the one who is constantly in the presence of the Father (1:18), even before the creation of the world. Being aware of all this, let us look at how each evangelist deals with the Christological question.
- "Are you the messiah (sy ei ho christos)?" (lit: "you if the messiah?"). The expression sy ei is frequent in Mark, but we must immediately add that the question: sy ei ho christos, appears in all four Gospels. Let us also note that what follows (the son of the Blessed One), is not a second question, but an apposition to the first question.
- There has been much discussion among biblical scholars about the meaning of messiah, some associating him with the son of David as was the case in Jewish circles. But then we forget to situate ourselves at the level of the period when the evangelist writes and the context of Mark's listeners: the Messiah is then indeed understood as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as Peter affirms (8:29) as well as the beginning of the Gospel (1:1). And it is in this sense that Jesus' response to the following verse should be understood: "I am".
- "the son of the Blessed (eulogētos)". Why doesn't Mark simply say: the Son of God? Eulogētos appears 8 times in the New Testament and usually refers to God. But here it is the only time it is used as the title of God. This is a unique case. It is possible that the custom of using a substitute for the divine name was well known among Greek-speaking Jews. And Mark uses this popular touch in his stories by incorporating Aramaic expressions, such as the last words of Jesus on the cross, for example, to reconstruct the middle of Jesus. This approach is especially visible in certain dramatic moments. And here, in our scene in front of the high priest, it contributes to its importance.
- "if you are the Messiah, the Son of God?" Matthew is more interested in pedagogical clarity than in drama as with Mark. Thus he clearly refers his reader to the apostolic confession of faith (see 14:33: "Truly, you are the Son of God"; and Peter's confession in 16:16: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God"). The link with Peter's confession is reinforced by the expression "living God" in the mouth of the high priest ("I abjure you according to the living God"). For Matthew, there is no doubt that we are speaking here of the Messiah in the Christian sense, the glorified Son of God.
- "If you are the messiah..."; "Are you then the son of God?". Luke has a greater sense of history and a perception of what is appropriate for a later time. Thus, he distinguishes between the title of messiah more appropriate in Jewish circles and that of son of God more appropriate in the Christian faith. For example, John the Baptist (3:15-16) and Peter (9:20) will speak of the messiah, while the voice coming from heaven (3:22; 9:35) will speak of sons of God. This might explain why Luke only partly follows Mark, preferring other traditions for his account.
- Jesus the Messiah
- The word "messiah" comes from the Aramaic měšîḥâ, reflecting the Hebrew māšîaḥ, and translated into Greek by christos, who gave us: Christ. The word both Hebrew and Greek means: anointed, an anointing both physical (of oil) and spiritual.
- In Jewish history, the anointing with oil was first applied to kings, and only later to priests. During the Davidic monarchy (1000-587 BC), every king was anointed with oil as a sign of his election and adoption by God, who assured him victory over his enemies and an eternal dynasty. In the 8th century, in the context of a succession of rotten and inept kings, voices like Isaiah's were raised to revive hope, but a much more nuanced hope: God will raise a newborn child (Emmanuel), a sign that he is always present with the chosen people, and his heir will restore justice and build a great empire of peace (Isa 7:14-16; 9:1ff; 11:1ff). During the post-exilic period, a drastic change occurs, since the Davidic dynasty is no longer on the throne: the ideal king will come in an undefined future and the Davidic dynasty will be restored by the very power of God.
- At the time of Jesus, expectations vary enormously. Unfortunately, documents are scarce. In Qumran, the Messiah of Righteousness appears in the form of a descendant of David or a priest or prophet who has been anointed. In the Jewish apocrypha, he is the son of David who comes to gather his people like a shepherd, or he is a king who comes to reign for 400 years and rebuke the unjust. As for the Jewish historian Josephus, he never attributes the title of messiah to the great historical figures he describes. Finally, we find in rabbinic literature this passage in which Simon ben Kosiba is called messiah (about 130 CE) by Rabbi Aqiba, but before this period no one receives this title.
- In conclusion, there is no single national expectation concerning the Messiah with which his followers could have associated Jesus. Nor is there a multitude of messiahs among whom Jesus would have distinguished himself. Finally, since Jesus was not of Levitical descent, he could not be associated with a priestly or prophet messiah, but only with a kingly messiah. Let us now examine certain elements, two of which are facts, the third a probability.
- Fact #1: After his resurrection, Jesus was called Messiah with amazing frequency, as first attested by the pre-Pauline confessions and then by the Pauline writings, to the point that his name is often replaced by Christ.
- Fact #2: In the Gospels, scenes where Jesus is given the title of messiah are very rare and his acceptance by Jesus is not clear. For example, the title of messiah in the mouth of the Samaritan woman in John's account (4:25-26), if it is historical, cannot refer to the anointed one of the house of David, since the Samaritans rejected the Davidic monarchy. In Matthew (16: 16-17) Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God, but in the parallel passage of Mark (8: 29-30) Peter only speaks about the Messiah and Jesus asks him not to tell anyone; what is historical in all this? The same question arises in our account where the high priest asks Jesus about his messiahship: according to Mark, Jesus says: "I am", according to Matthew, Jesus says: "You are the one who says it".
- Probability: Jesus was crucified on the charge of being or claiming to be the king of the Jews. All the Gospels agree on this point. Since it is a title that his disciples never used, it is unthinkable that they invented it. Apart from the Gospels, only Mara bar Serapion (Assyrian philosopher of the first century) established a link between royalty and the death of Jesus. In short, it is highly probable that we are facing a historical event. Even if being called king does not necessarily refer to the Davidic monarchy, it remains harmonious with the idea that Jesus could have been called messiah during his public life. On this last point, let us review various theories of the biblical scholars, whose degree of probability we will qualify each time in italics.
- Unlikely: In public or private, according to some biblical scholars, Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. Reply: One would look in vain for texts demonstrating that Jesus knew he was the messiah, but held back from saying it to leave all the room for God, or that Jesus considered himself a messiah involved in a revolutionary movement, or that Jesus saw himself as the messiah during the parousia.
- Unlikely: According to some biblical scholars, Jesus clearly denied being the Messiah. Reply: This would be tantamount to denying fact #1 and would make it difficult to understand the likelihood that Jesus died under the accusation of being king of the Jews. It is understandable that Jesus never clearly denied being the Messiah, yet never clearly affirmed it, because the title was equivocal: to have denied this title would have led Jesus to deny his unique role in establishing God's reign, and to have accepted it would have misled those who were waiting for David's reign on earth and the extermination of the enemies.
- Most likely: According to some biblical scholars, the opponents of Jesus interpreted the words of Jesus or his disciples as a claim to messiahship, which contributed to the accusation that he was crucified. Reply: This is consistent with facts #1 and #2 and the likelihood that he died under the charge of being king of the Jews. And it is easy to understand that the Jews were interested in whether he believed himself to be a messiah, and the Romans were interested in whether he believed himself to be a king.
- Very likely: According to some biblical scholars, during the life of Jesus, some of his disciples believed he was the Messiah and confessed him or others. Reply: This point helps to understand fact #1 while clarifying the reason for Jesus' accusation, not to mention that it is also supported by the four Gospels. For Jesus preached using abundant use of the language of the kingdom, and one can understand the shifting of thought from a kingdom already present through the word and healings of Jesus to his person as the promised king. Moreover, was not Jesus himself of Davidic ancestry?
- Probable: According to some biblical scholars, Jesus' response to his messiahship is ambivalent, neither affirming nor denying it, no doubt partly because of his conception of what he was to do, and partly because he left the manifestation of his true role in God's hands. Reply: This point sheds light on both facts #1 and #2, as well as on the motive for Jesus' indictment and the assertions (iii) and (iv) we have just seen. According to the Gospels, Jesus is sure of himself when he affirms the coming of God's reign through his words and deeds, but at the same time acknowledges that it is up to God to set the time and manner of this coming; the ambivalence comes from the fact that it is up to God to establish the role of the Messiah King in the kingdom of God.
What can we conclude? During Jesus' ministry, it is plausible that some of his disciples considered him the promised king of the house of David, the anointed one called to reign over the people of God. Jesus' response was ambivalent, for on the one hand he rejected certain features of popular perception, and on the other hand it was up to God to define the role that this messiah was to play in the kingdom. Nevertheless, this ambivalence was enough to make his enemies decide to hand over this so-called future king to the Romans.
- Jesus the Son of God
- We have less data for "son of God" than for "messiah". Generally speaking, in the polytheistic culture of the Greco-Roman world, many people received the title of son of God: heads of state, heroes or wonder-workers, because they were considered the product of God's union with a human being. In Israel, the angels receive this title figuratively (Genesis 6:2), or God calls his people as sons (Hosea 11:1), or pious people are referred to as sons of God (Wisdom 2:18). But it is extremely rare in both biblical and extra-biblical Jewish literature that "sons of God" is a title attributed to a human being. Only an isolated and obscure text from Qumran (4Q246) would allude to a son of God, perhaps a messianic figure.
- How did we arrive at the notion of a son of God in relation to Jesus? Even the commentary in Qumran (4QFlor 1:1-13) on 2 Samuel 7:11-14 where God addresses David as a son does not insist on this filial relationship. Yet the frequency with which the title of son of God is attributed to Jesus in the Christian writings of the 50s, and even earlier, is impressive. One need only think of Romans 1:3-4 (established Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness) which refers to a title that seems to have been known for a long time. Did such a reflection begin during Jesus' lifetime?
- When we read the Gospels carefully, we notice that no human being gives the title of Son of God to Jesus when he was alive. In Mark, Peter calls him: Messiah, not Son of God. In Matthew, the passages (14:33; 16:16) where Jesus is called Son of God are clearly additions of the evangelist. In Luke, only supernatural beings give him this title: demons (4: 3), or an angel (1: 35). The message is that it takes an extrahuman understanding to grasp this aspect of Jesus, as Mark dramatically shows by the centurion's confession after his death: Truly this man was a son of God! (15, 39). In short, it is reasonable to think that Jesus was not called Son of God by his disciples during his lifetime. Likewise, it is reasonable to think that the question of the high priest asking him if he was a son of God was not really part of the legal proceedings.
- By what process of thought did the early Christians arrive at the idea of Jesus as the Son of God? His Davidic ancestry was not open to such a perspective (see Mark 12:35-37). Some biblical scholars believe that the language of Jesus praying to God by calling him father, as well as some of his claims about himself as "son", may have laid the foundation for a Christology that became explicit after his death.
Next chapter: Sanhedrin Proceedings, Part One: Jesus' Response(s) and Statement about the Son of Man
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