21 November 2021
Book: Mark

The Tragic Irony of the Trial of Jesus

Bible Passage: Mark 14:53-65

In all of human history, there has never been a tragic irony greater than the trial of Jesus. #SalvationDawns

The Tragic Irony of the Trial of Jesus


The irony is when something is meant to be understood or applied one way but is instead understood or applied the exact opposite way. This is why a lot of times we laugh at the outcome because the contrast between what was intended and what was real is so stark that you find humor in it. In some way, the irony is often laughable. Sometimes it’s harmless and innocent humor but other times it’s dark and even tragic.

For instance,

COVID-19 wasn’t the first time a Chinese scientist claimed to be trying to do something positive but ended up causing the death of millions of people. “When ancient Chinese tribes found gunpowder for the first time, they obviously didn’t know what it was. We do have their journals and notes from that first discovery, and the lead scientist called the power “an elixir of immortality,” which is pretty ironic considering it has led to more deaths than any other substance.”1


Otto Lilienthal, creator of the flying glider, was killed by his own invention after declaring that it was one of the safest ways to travel, and would be safer than traveling by horse and buggy, or even by foot.2


“H. G. Wells named WWI after he called it “the war that will end war.” However, it was actually the war that started all of the wars and created many of the modern problems that we have today. Plus, it was just a prelude to the deadlier WWII.”3


“John F. Kennedy’s last conversation was ironic in light of events which followed seconds later. Seated in the middle row of the presidential limousine in Dallas, First Lady of Texas Nellie Connally reportedly commented, “Mr. President, you can’t say that Dallas doesn’t love you.” Kennedy replied, “That’s very obvious.” Immediately after, he was mortally wounded.” 4


In 1974, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission ordered that lapel buttons be printed to promote toy safety. However, those buttons were recalled for a number of safety concerns, including containing lead paint, being too sharp around the edges, being a choking hazard for small children who swallowed the clip5

In the Dred Scott v. Sandford ruling in 1856, the United States Supreme Court held that the Fifth Amendment barred any law that would deprive a slaveholder of his property, such as his slaves, upon the incidence of migration into free territory. So, in a sense, the Supreme Court used the Bill of Rights to deny rights to slaves. Also, Chief Justice Taney hoped that the decision would resolve the slavery issue, but instead it helped cause the American Civil War.6


All of those ironic events had a dark and even tragic reality to their outcome. Some, like the Dred Scott v. Sandford ruling, directly impacted a horribly tragic outcome. However, in all of human history, there has never been a tragic irony greater than the trial of Jesus and it’s a tragic irony that should cause us to take a serious look at our own hearts. But, before we consider the implications in our own lives, let me walk you through the passage.


Mark 14:53-65 demonstrates 3 ways the trial of Jesus was a massive tragic irony.


In the name of justice, the religious leaders intentionally violated the judicial process. (14:53-54)


53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54And 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. 


Quick side note on verse 54. Mark is dropping this in here to set the stage for what he will tell us after the passage we are studying today. It’s where we will be next week. So for now, just note that Peter has very discreetly made his way to the house of the high priest and is doing everything possible to stay quiet and blend in so he can keep up with what’s happening. We will see what happens with him next week! The passage we are studying study builds itself what is introduced in verse 53.


In our present paragraph (Mark 14:53–65), therefore, it is assumed that the preliminary hearing before Annas has been held.”7


Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin is problematic, for the proceedings described by Mark grossly violate Jewish jurisprudence as stipulated in the Mishnah”8


“This is the only recorded instance of a Jewish trial being conducted at night, which was illegal. Clearly, the Sanhedrin did not want the people of Jerusalem to know what was happening lest they march in protest. Jewish law also prescribed that no trial could be held on the Sabbath, a feast day, or the eve of a Sabbath or a feast day so that regulation was violated as well.”9


“According to the Mishnah, twenty-three members of the Sanhedrin were necessary to judge capital cases, with reasons for acquittal preceding reasons for conviction. In capital cases, a verdict of guilty required a second sitting the following day. Both sittings had to take place during daytime, and neither on the eve of Sabbath or a festival (m. Sanh. 4:1). … the chambers of the Sanhedrin were the Hall of Hewn Stones in the Temple (m. Sanh. 11:2); there is no evidence that the Sanhedrin ever met formally in the house of the high priest.”10


“The Jewish leadership conducted this trial at night because of their anxiety to avoid a confrontation with the masses whom they felt would support Jesus (Matt 26:5). However, according to Jewish custom, the Sanhedrin could not meet to try anyone at night, and when this body was likely to find someone subject to the death penalty, the sentencing was supposed to be delayed until the following day so that each Sanhedrin member could sleep on his decision. Furthermore, the voting was supposed to start with the most junior member and progress through the order of seniority to the high priest, thus avoiding pressure by the opinions of a member’s seniors in an endeavor to obtain a fair, unbiased verdict. All these rules were broken in the case of Jesus’ trials, for, now that they found Him in their hands, their objective was to get the trials over as rapidly as possible and get Him into Roman custody before the mob could free Him. Expediency reigned supreme over both caution and justice.”11


The religious leaders intentionally sought out lies to justify what they claimed to be true. (14:55-59)


55 Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree.


Justice is in no way possible if you only seek out and consider the facts that confirm your desired and/or predetermined conclusion. Justice is only possible if you seek out all the facts, objectively observe and study them, then make a conclusion! However, verse 55 tells us that they were only interested in what they could use to have him put to death!


Furthermore, the witness they did find, and paid to testify, couldn’t get their stories straight! Witnesses would be brought in one at a time to present their testimony. It appears they followed this practice, otherwise, when they presented their case to Pilot, he would have been unable to allow it. 


But, “even though they had the best witnesses money could buy, those who lied without a twinge of conscience, the testimonies were not in harmony.”12


Mark then gives us a specific example of what some of the false witnesses were saying, but because they were twisting up Christ’s words they kept stepping on each other’s accounts. Mark writes,


57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “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.'” 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 


“Mark 14:58 refers to John 2:19 spoken by Jesus three years previously—their testimony was false, for He never said He would destroy the temple, but, in fact, invited them to destroy this temple (His body). It is no wonder they could not agree—they were trying to twist the truth to their ends. So we find the conundrum of the high priest trying to use legal processes to perpetrate an illegal act!”13


“This misinterpretation could have earned him a capital conviction, for a mere threat against the Temple appears to have been punishable by death. Years before, when Jeremiah had prophesied the destruction of the Temple, he was arrested and brought before the royal court as a criminal deserving death (Jeremiah 26:1–19).”14


Again, ironically, “Jesus has replaced the temple as the place where God meets his people (11:12–21). According to 2 Sam 7:12–14, David’s son would build a temple to God’s name. This son receives God’s promise, “ ‘I will be his father, and he will be my son.’ ” The builder of God’s house, in other words, will be God’s Son. In a way truer than his accusers could have imagined, Jesus fulfills 2 Samuel 7, for he will presently confess himself before the high priest as God’s Son, and his resurrected body will replace the earthly temple.”15


The bottom line is that the “language indicates that the Jewish religious leaders were not on a truth-seeking mission. They were not gathering facts. The Greek implies that they were intentionally trying to find something by which they could convict Jesus of a capital offense. In truth, this was a witch hunt.”16


If you have to seek out lies to claim to be true, then you have already totally removed any concept of justice! Instead of listening to the words of Jesus and discovering the truth, they knowingly twisted them up to try and kill the very truth they all needed! This takes us straight into the 3rd way Mark demonstrated the tragic irony of the trial of Jesus.

The religious leaders concluded it was just to demand the death of Jesus because Jesus claimed to be the one who could rescue them from death! (14:60-65)


60 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?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. 


“Of course, Jesus could have exposed the totally unwarranted character of the accusation, “I will destroy this temple.…” He could have shown that it was both a misinterpretation and a distortion of what he had said. But he knows very well that the purpose of this trial is not to vindicate the right, but rather to cause the wrong to triumph. So he remains silent. This irritates Caiaphas.”17


“His silence is dictated by more than strategic interests, however. Mark consciously patterns Jesus’ silence in both trials after the suffering servant of Isaiah, whose silence represents his innocence: ‘He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep, before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. (Isa 53:7)’” 18


It exemplified the contrast of Christ’s character and the religious leaders as well as a fulfillment of Scripture. Every time Jesus engages the religious, they walk away stupid. If Jesus wanted to speak and save His life, he very well could have done it. Jesus however is not there to be let go, here’s there to be found guilty and take upon Himself the sins of the world. The religious leaders have no clue of this purpose, but Jesus does. 


I believe Jesus stood silent until there was a question that gave Him the opportunity to proclaim the central truth of the Gospel and as such confront the religious leaders with the truth that would ironically fulfill His mission send Him to the cross. It’s the same truth that confronts all of us, the truth that we will all one day stand before Jesus and given an account for. And here it is! 


Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (61b)


“The word Blessed is circumlocution. It was a word the 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?”19


“How ironic that in the Gospel of Mark the two most complete christological confessions from humans occur in the mouths of those responsible for Jesus’ death: the high priest in 14:61, and the centurion at the cross in 15:39!”20


“When Caiaphas asked what he must have considered a question that would drive his enemy into a corner, he was actually in the providence of God giving the Son of man the opportunity for which he was looking.”21


 Therefore, Jesus broke his silence and responded!


62 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.”


““It was both a confession and a terrible warning, alluding to three Old Testament Messianic passages to tell them that he was their coming Judge! Isaiah 52:8 says, “When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.” Psalm 110:1 adds, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” Daniel 7:13 records, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.””22


“However, when Jesus said, “you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven,” He took another step. This was a clear reference to Daniel 7, with which everyone in that court was familiar. It describes a heavenly being who comes to the throne of the Ancient of Days. Jesus was saying, essentially: “Yes, I am the Son of God. I came from heaven and I am going back to heaven. I am appointed to judge the earth.” He was letting them know this would not be the last time they would meet in the context of a trial. He would be back with all of the authority of heaven, and He would judge them. That was His clear implication.”23


“The phrase “coming with the clouds of heaven”—see also Dan. 7:13; Joel 2:2; Zeph. 1:15; Rev. 1:7; 14:14–16—reminds us of the fact that Scripture frequently associates “a cloud” or “clouds” with the idea of judgment, God’s coming in order to punish the wicked. This, however, is by no means always the case. In fact, sometimes it is God’s love, mercy, and grace that are emphasized (Exod. 34:5–7), though even then punitive justice is not left out of the description.”24


63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 


“Blasphemy was not breaking a holy commandment or even profaning a holy place, but the audacity to ascribe God’s honor to oneself, or to equate oneself with God. It was the claim to be God’s Son (v. 62), not Messiah, that sealed Jesus’ fate before the Sanhedrin. The charge of blasphemy is powerful if indirect, proof of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God.25


Ironically, “The testimony that the Sanhedrin seeks against Jesus is in the end not provided by the false witnesses but by Jesus himself in the claim to be God’s Son.” 26


All they needed to do was ask Jesus! They had wasted hours trying to piece together paid-for witnesses when all they needed to do was ask the one that was going to pay the price for them! So much for sleeping on it overnight and so much for letting votes come in one at a time with the youngest going first! They all erupted in a unified chorus of condemnation!


“In the Old Testament, whenever someone ripped his garments, it was because he was overcome with profound grief or rage. Caiaphas was furious.”27


 Ironically some scholars noted that Caiaphas didn’t even follow the prescribed way of doing this – and yes there was even law on how you were to tear your garments to demonstrate grief and anger! How ironic! This is the one they are looking for and praying to come! They literally prayed every day for the one in Daniel 7 to come! So if He is this one (whom He says He is), then it should be a matter of rejoicing and worship not condemnation! But instead, this happened,


65 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 cruelty reached its climax when with their fists these wicked men struck their blindfolded prisoner in the face, and then shouted, “Prophesy,” meaning, as Matthew and Luke explain, “Prophesy to us, Christ, who is it that hit you?”28


Yet another irony. He just prophesied and yet they demand that he do it as if He hasn’t!


“These actions recall Isaiah’s description of God’s Suffering Servant: “The Lord God has opened My ear, and I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away. I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting” (Isa. 50:5–6). If someone tries to spit in your face, you shield yourself. However, Jesus took it, following the prophetic utterance of Isaiah of what would happen centuries in the future to the Servant of the Lord. He was beaten and spat on, and He endured it.”29


Instead of falling on their faces in the worship of the Father who had sent His Son they willfully refused to consider any of the evidence that Jesus was indeed the Son of God so that they could justify their anger that this Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be Him! They would rather be a savior of their own making than worship the one who can actually save them! They would rather not be saved than be saved by a savior who refused to prioritize their selfish motives and desires! 


I’ll never forget my first Life Guard job. On the last day of school of my Sophomore year in High School (June 1989) I drew the short straw and had to work. Nobody wants to work on the last day of school, you want to go hang out with your friends! But, I was also pretty excited about finally becoming a lifeguard and landing a job; so I was pumped! The pool was totally packed with kids, so much so you could hardly see the bottom of the pool. 


I’ll never forget watching this one kid slip off his float, then bob up and down off the bottom trying to grab the float and get back on. After multiple attempts, I saw a look of horror come over the kid when he realized he had bobbed up off the bottom of the pool for the last time. The float shot out from him, his face red with exhaustion and fear didn’t drop down to the bottom to jump back up again, but instead went down like a rock that could make no attempt at coming back up. 


As I dove off the stand, I blew the whistle all the way to the water to clear the pool. I then exploded across the pool to the kid, jerked him up off the bottom of the pool, and pulled him out. Luckily, I got there before the kid totally ran out of breath and started breathing in water. We were literally seconds away from that happening. Ironically, with all the commotion of clearing the pool and the loud roar of all the kids in the pool going dead silent to watch what was unfolding somebody still had to go get the mother. 


Here is where it all went crazy! Somebody told her the lifeguard just saved your kid from drowning and she stormed over, jerked the kid up from his now sitting position, and proceeded to cuss me out for causing a scene with her son! Instead of thanking me for saving his life she instead cussed me out for “embarrassing him.” I couldn’t believe it! I got back on my lifeguard stand totally dumbfounded by what just happened! My normally full of words self could only muster up a very sarcastic, “your welcome” as she stormed off! That lady’s response to me saving her kid’s life was rooted in the same self-centered arrogantly depraved human thinking that Christ faced in the High Priest’s house. One scholar summed it up this way,


“This is a remarkable turn of circumstances, is it not? It clearly demonstrates that only one decision would satisfy the human race: their Creator must die. The underlying reason for this, of course, is that sinful man is desperately and ridiculously anxious to avoid the responsibility he recognizes towards God, so he wants God dead. There is no logic in wanting the source of all being dead, but, then, sin is never logical. So, of course, Caiaphas’ argument must be inconsistent, self-contradictory, and illogical, for it is the supreme expression of mankind’s desire to be unfettered from God. Sin is essentially a rebellion against God’s authority.”30


Challenge: Is there a tragic irony in your response to Jesus? 


When presented with the truthfulness of your lostness do you get angry about the presentation or repent? Do you grab life or continue to cling to death? Do you get angry about the proclamation that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, or get excited that there is a Way, Truth, and Life?


As a person who proclaims to be a Christian, when you are presented with the reality of your sin, do you use that as your reason to continue in it or repent and be freed from it? Do you get offended by those who expose the reality of what you’re doing to rescue you as opposed to thanking them for rescuing you?


Part of a worthy response to Jesus is being faithful to proclaim His truth. How tragically ironic is it that people risked rejection to bring the Gospel to us, but we refuse to share it with others. How tragically ironic is that we would see somebody drowning in sin but value their approval more than we value their rescue! Jesus valued our life more than His and therefore we have life. 


How tragically ironic that Christ died to give us eternal life, we repented and believed and received that life that cost Him everything; then we constantly set it aside to pick up the very thing we were saved from!


We will even go to the extent of twisting up God’s Word, or using it out of context (just as the religious leaders did) to justify doing something or believing something that is fundamentally opposed to the obvious teaching of God’s Word! The take the precious gift of having God’s Word and twist it up to match our words!


So, the challenge is straightforward this week. Be honest about the tragic irony in your life and stop covering it up! 


  1. https://literarydevices.net/13-thought-provoking-examples-of-irony-in-history/
  2. https://literarydevices.net/13-thought-provoking-examples-of-irony-in-history/
  3. https://literarydevices.net/13-thought-provoking-examples-of-irony-in-history/
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony#Misuse
  5. https://literarydevices.net/13-thought-provoking-examples-of-irony-in-history/
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony#Misuse
  7. Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, p. 604). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
  8. Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 442). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
  9. Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, p. 383). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
  10. Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (pp. 442–443). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
  11. Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Mt 26:57–Jn 18:24). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.
  12. Hughes, R. K. (1989). Mark: Jesus, servant, and savior (Vol. 2, p. 181). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
  13. Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Mt 26:57–Jn 18:24). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.
  14. Hughes, R. K. (1989). Mark: Jesus, servant, and savior (Vol. 2, p. 181). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
  15. Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 445). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
  16. Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, p. 383). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
  17. Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, p. 610). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
  18. Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (pp. 445–446). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
  19. Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, p. 384). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
  20. Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 446). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
  21. Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, p. 611). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
  22. Hughes, R. K. (1989). Mark: Jesus, servant and savior (Vol. 2, pp. 181–182). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
  23. Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, pp. 384–385). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
  24. Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, p. 612). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
  25. Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 449). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
  26. Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 449). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
  27. Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, p. 385). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
  28. Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, p. 614). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
  29. Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, p. 385). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
  30. Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Mt 26:57–Jn 18:24). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.