Having your words twisted and used against you hurts. It especially hurts when coming from those you are trying to help.
Jesus stood trial before people who had been aching for the chance to get him out of the way permanently.
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”
“He is worthy of death,” they answered. (Matthew 26:63-66.)
To Jesus’ accusers, the failure to deny outright was the same as an admission. Jesus could not deny it in any case, of course, since he is the promised Messiah and Savior, the Son of Man and Son of God. Jesus said the Son of Man is equal to God as they knew him, echoing Daniel’s prophecy centuries earlier which foresaw the effect of the incarnation of God as human and yet still ruler of all creation.
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man [i.e., God the Son], coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days [i.e., God the Father] and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14.)
The religious leaders would have known Jesus was applying this prophecy to himself in his answers to them.
Falsely Condemned but Not Falsely Accused
They accused Jesus of claiming to be God. This is not a false accusation.
They also condemned him for it. This is where things took a false turn. It all hinged on twisting his words against him to achieve a desired result. After all, his accusers had been looking for an excuse to kill him for a long time.
They gave orders to arrest him:
But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him. (John 11:57.)
… because they had long wanted him dead:
Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. …
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:1-2, 5-6.)
So upon his capture the religious leaders held a trial, questioned him, and twisted his words against him to achieve the conclusion they desired. His execution.
The injustice of this ancient trial and condemnation is clearest today for people who live in countries where accused women and men are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, where they cannot be forced to say anything either for or against themselves, and they are tried in courts presided over by neutral judges with juries of people who have no interest in the case.
It’s the part about Jesus being questioned at all three of his trials – before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish religious leaders), Herod (Rome’s puppet king over Galilee, Jesus’ home) and Pilate (the Roman Governor over Jerusalem) – that stands out most starkly for those who know the United States Constitution. One of its principal guarantees for a fair trial is the right to be free from self-incrimination.
No person … shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself … . (U.S. Constitution, Fifth Amendment.)
You might think that compelling someone to be a witness in favor of themselves is not prohibited since a literal reading only forecloses being compelled to be a witness against herself or himself. Yet when Jesus spoke the truth about fulfilling prophecy the religious leaders claimed to believe in, his words were used not to exonerate him but to condemn him. The drafters of the Fifth Amendment knew their history and had seen the same twisting of an accused person’s testimony against them through the centuries, continuing to cultures and courts of their own time.
The Right to Remain Silent
Juries are instructed not to draw any inferences from the right not to testify, not to discuss it or use the circumstance in any way in deliberating on the charges, and to put the burden completely on the prosecution to prove by the evidence that the charge is true beyond a reasonable doubt. In modern American courts, a prosecutor who calls the accused person to the stand has committed error and ends up with a mistrial.
If Jesus had these rights in his trials, would it have made a difference in the outcome? Unlikely, since those who arrested him and brought him to trial sought not justice but his death. This too was in fulfillment of prophecy.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:8-9.)
His judgment was a product of oppression, his words held nothing but truth, and his death was punishment for other people’s wrongdoings. His was an undeserved death. And he did it for you.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5.)
Your peace with God came through Jesus’ choice not to stand on his rights nor his authority as the Son of Man, Messiah, and Son of God.
He did this because he loves you.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17.)
[A (facetious) cinematic take on self-incrimination – I Shot the Clerk? from My Cousin Vinny:]