From the divine perspective, Christ's death was no accident. But from a human perspective, the crucifixion was the result of six different trials Jesus endured marked with false accusations, flimsy evidence, and flagrant violations of the religious and civil laws of Jesus' day.
The six trials of Jesus are divided into two categories. The first three were religious trials conducted by the Jews where He was accused of blasphemy by claiming He was Messiah.
The next three trials Jesus experienced were civil trials conducted by the Romans. The Romans could not have cared less about Jesus' claim to be God. But a man who claimed to be king was another story. So, the Jews tried to convince the Romans that Jesus was guilty of treason. Thus, the fourth, fifth, and sixth trials of Jesus were before the Roman rulers.
All six trials were illegal in one way or another. None of these six trials was an honest attempt to arrive at the truth. Instead, Jesus’ enemies were frantically rushing from court to court trying to find someone to do their dirty work for them.
Let’s look at each of these trials:
The Religious Trials
1. Trial before Annas (John 18:12-23)
The decision to arrest and crucify Jesus was more of a political issue than a judicial one. From the Garden of Gethsemane, the Roman soldiers and Jewish leaders first took Jesus to the home of Annas. The mob wanted to make sure that they had the political support of Annas, the previous high priest, as well as that of his son-in-law Caiaphas, who was now the high priest.
Obviously, violence is not permitted in any legitimate courtroom setting. But it is clear from the beginning of this ordeal that no one is interested in discovering the truth. Jesus says, "I have not been teaching in secret. I am on the record as claiming to be the Messiah. If I am lying to you, then prove it. If I am telling the truth then why do you strike me?”
The religious leaders had no answer to Jesus' pointed question, so that trial ends in a stale mate.
2. Trial before Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57-66)
Now it is about 3 am by this time. The leaders were trying to obtain false testimony. But they couldn't find two witnesses who could agree, which was the requirement of Jewish law. Finally, two came forward and remembered something Jesus had said three years earlier.
Jesus kept silent until Caiaphas placed Him under oath and then quoted from Daniel 7, which was a prophecy of the Messiah coming in clouds to reign on the earth. Caiaphas and all of those assembled had heard Jesus claim He was the Messiah. And they had one of two choices, they could either bow down and worship Him or they could reject Him. Caiaphas and the mob chose to reject him, and again violated Jewish and Roman law by inflicting punishment on Jesus themselves.
3. Trial before the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71)
Once daylight had come, Jesus was brought before the entire Sanhedrin composed of 70 men with Caiaphas as the ruling member. They asked if He was the Messiah, and He said what difference does it make what I say, you won't believe me. Then they all said, "Are You the Son of God, then?" And He said to them, "Yes, I am."
They ask again "Are you the Son of God?" And without hesitation, He answers, "Yes I am." By claiming to be Messiah, the Sanhedrin had all of the evidence they needed and were ready to take him to the Roman governor Pilate. But blasphemy was not a crime under Roman law, so the Jewish leaders would have to trump up another set of charges.
The Civil Trials
4. Trial before Pilate (Luke 23:1-4)
Jewish leaders led Jesus away from Caiaphas to the home of Pontius Pilate, the governor over all of Judea. Pilate was a hardened, bloodthirsty ruler who absolutely hated the Jews. But Pilate was under investigation by his superiors in Rome for being too hard on his subjects. Thus, you see Pilate—wanting to save his own neck—vacillating in his decision of what to do with Jesus. He did not want any trouble. He decides to let Jesus go.
But the people keep insisting. When he hears that Jesus was born in Galilee, in Northern Israel, he sends them to Herod Antipas, who is the ruler over the northern district.
5. Trial before Herod Antipas (Luke 23:8-11)
Jesus and Herod were no strangers to one another. Herod was notoriously brutal. He was the same Herod who had ordered John the Baptist beheaded. Herod was looking forward to meeting Jesus and perhaps seeing him perform some of the miracles he had heard about. But Jesus refused to answer Herod's questions. So, he mocked Jesus by dressing him up in a robe and sent him back to Pilate to deal with.
6. Final trial before Pilate (Matthew 27:15-26)
It is now about 7am on that Friday, and the mob brings Jesus back to Pilate. Now Pilate thought he had an easy way out of the Jesus mess. There was a custom of the governor releasing a prisoner the people wanted to be released. So, he said, “Whom do you want me to release—Jesus or Barabbas?”
The people chose Barabbas and called for Jesus' crucifixion. Pilate thought he had no choice. In spite of his wife's advice and his own conscience, he delivered Jesus over to be scourged and crucified.
In Jesus’ day, the goal was to make execution as painful as possible, and there was no more painful way to die than crucifixion. Crucifixion was designed as a way to keep the victim alive as long as possible so that he that he would feel the maximum amount of pain.
There are two men who experienced the forgiveness made possible by Christ's death. One of course was the thief on the cross who said, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." And Jesus said, "Today you will be with me in Paradise."
But the other man—the first man—who experienced firsthand forgiveness because of Jesus was that hardened criminal Barabbas. More than anyone, Barabbas understood what it meant to have someone innocent die for his sins.
Barabbas was guilty, he was deserving of death, but on that Friday afternoon, someone innocent died on that cross in his place. And not only did Jesus die in place of Barabbas, but He died for you and for me. He suffered the wrath not only of man, but of God Himself for the very real sins each of us has committed, so that we might escape the punishment we deserve.
As 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."