The Judgement of the Sanhedrin on Jesus

Many Jewish people reject the claim that Jesus is the Messiah on the assumption that the religious leaders of Judaism, who are learned in the Scriptures, would have accepted him as such if it were true. They reason, that if the religious leaders rejected Jesus as the Messiah, they can trust in their judgement which has prevailed for almost two thousand years. What most Jewish people do not realise is that it was written in the prophets that the Messiah would be rejected by the religious leaders and most of the Jewish people. Their rejection of him is not evidence that he is not the promised Messiah – on the contrary, the rejection by the Jewish leadership is further proof that he is indeed the Messiah of Israel.

Following the crowd has often led God’s people into disaster. God’s message to his people has often fallen on deaf ears. The prophet Isaiah asked:

“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” He also prophesied of the Messiah, “He was despised and rejected by men . . . he was despised and we esteemed him not . . . we considered him stricken by God” (extracts from Isaiah 53:1;3;4).

The account of the trial of Jesus and his crucifixion at the hands of the Romans is well known. Although the gospels make it clear that the high priest and the Sanhedrin, which had been hastily assembled at the crack of dawn, condemned Jesus to death for blasphemy, they did not carry out the sentence. It has been suggested that the Sanhedrin had not been convened according to regulations, but, be that as it may, the high priest circumvented Jewish law by handing him over to the Romans to be executed. Jesus predicted this before his death (Matt. 20:19), and in the book of Acts (2:23) Peter makes it clear that it was according to God’s set purpose and foreknowledge that Jesus was put to death by the Jews with the help of lawless men (Gentiles), to emphasise that all men are accountable for the rejection and crucifixion of the Messiah, whether Jew or Gentile. The Messiah died for the sins of the whole world in order to make atonement and redeem all men to God. What all men will be required to give account for is how they responded to the message of salvation in his name.

Obeying the judges

Scripture gives a clear injunction to the Jewish people to abide by the rulings of the judges of Israel:

If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge; whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults; take them to the place the Lord your God will choose. Go to the priests, who are Levites, and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they will give you the verdict. You must act according to the decisions they give you at the place the Lord will choose. Be careful to do everything they direct you to do. Act according to the law they teach you and the decisions they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left. The man who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the Lord your God must be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel. All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not be contemptuous again (Deut. 17:8-13).

Judaism officially and confidently rejects the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah of Israel. It is assumed that this official standpoint was the ruling of the Sanhedrin, who were the council of elders of Israel with authority over all religious or civil matters. Their decisions were binding. Anyone who showed contempt for their decisions could be sentenced to death. It would be a very bold decision to defy the ruling of the Sanhedrin – a decision which could be construed as rebellion to the law! Surely God would not expect his people to disobey the law of Moses by defying the ruling of the Sanhedrin?

The only grounds for defying the authority of the Sanhedrin might be if the Sanhedrin themselves had obviously compromised the Torah or rejected the writings of the Prophets. Could a situation ever arise where the elders of Israel would collectively misinterpret God’s word? Did God ever expect the Sanhedrin to make a completely erroneous judgement concerning the single most important issue — that of the identity of the Messiah? Is it possible that the builders of Judaism would ever reject the very foundation upon which the Jewish faith was to be established – the belief in and expectation of the coming of Messiah?

The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes (Psalms 118:22-23).

And he (the LORD Almighty) will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured (Is. 8:14-15).

Who are the builders that rejected the Cornerstone?

Judaism regards the sages as being more important than the prophets. The prophets are regarded merely as “secretaries” who wrote down the word of God, whereas the sages are regarded as the ones who have the keys to unlock and interpret the word of God. Most Jewish people rely on the writings of the sages to interpret and determine the Jewish faith.

The rabbis spent hours debating the intent and interpretation of the Law of Moses. They made further laws to serve as a hedge around the law in order to keep the Jewish people from breaking the more important laws. The word of God spoken through the prophet Isaiah is fulfilled in them:

“For it is: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there. Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues (in other words through Gentiles) God will speak to this people, to whom he said, “This is the resting place, let the weary rest”; and, “This is the place of repose” but they would not listen. So then, the word of the LORD to them will become: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there; so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured” (Isa. 28:10-13).

Judaism has become a legalistic religion of rules determined by the rabbis rather than a walk of faith with God. The messianic hope, which is the substance and cornerstone of the faith, is no longer a central reality. The rabbis, having rejected the cornerstone, are no longer building upon the true foundation.

What did the Sanhedrin decide?

Judaism remains opposed to the gospel and supports efforts to silence and undermine the testimony about Jesus. Is this in keeping with the decision that the Sanhedrin made almost two thousand years ago? We have seen from Scripture that the Sanhedrin were destined to reject the cornerstone. Therefore, when they were confronted with the testimony of eye-witnesses that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and the implication of their guilt in the matter, they deliberately disregarded the law of Moses that states that every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses, not to mention the testimony of the prophets concerning what would happen to the Messiah. Nevertheless, although Jesus was condemned in a trial that was a travesty of Jewish law, the Sanhedrin did not decide on behalf of all Jewish people for all time that Jesus is not the Messiah. After the crucifixion the apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin because they were proclaiming that God had vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead and that salvation could be found in no other name:

Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said.“Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead; whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name [Hashem] (Acts 5:27-41).

Do we obey God or man?

The apostles, having been eye witnesses of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, decided that their obligation to testify to the truth took precedence over their obligation to obey the Sanhedrin. They defended their actions by saying that they had to obey God rather than man.

The strength of their conviction did not go unnoticed by Gamaliel. The Sanhedrin were furious, but they were persuaded by Gamaliel to let them go. His advice to them was that if what the apostles were claiming was a mere human invention, designed to draw followers after themselves, it would soon come to nothing, but if they were speaking the truth, and were faithful witnesses to what God had done in raising Jesus from the dead then the Sanhedrin would not be able to stop them – they would only find themselves fighting against God. Rabbi Gamaliel the elder, grandson of the famous Rabbi Hillel, was president of the Great Council and spiritual leader in Israel in the decades before the destruction of the temple. Pirqei Abot 5:17 records a statement which closely resembles the testimony of the New Testament: “Every party (i.e. division or controversy) which is founded in God’s name will in the end endure; but one which is not built in God’s name will not endure in the end” 1

The LORD told Moses that he would send another prophet, comparable to Moses, and that he would require the whole Jewish nation to obey him because this prophet would speak God’s word to them. This was speaking of the Messiah who was to be born from among the Jewish people:

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account” (Deut. 18:18).

Whoever listens to Him is neither defying the Sanhedrin, nor disobeying Moses, because they are listening to God’s anointed, which is also what Moses commanded.

Rabbi Saul, who later became known as the apostle Paul, was at one time a student of Gamaliel. Before his dramatic conversion he went about persecuting the believers and trying to destroy the church, thinking that in so doing he was defending the true faith of Israel. When Jesus revealed himself to Paul, he confirmed what Gamaliel had said – that by opposing the gospel the Jews are fighting against the purposes of God:

“And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?’ And he said, ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks’” (Acts 9:4).

Samuel Levine, an anti-missionary writer, wrote a book entitled, “You take Jesus, I’ll take God.” The truth is that by rejecting Jesus, the King whom God has anointed, one is rejecting the Cornerstone, which is exactly what the prophets foresaw concerning the builders of Judaism, and this causes them to stumble and fall (see also 1 Peter 2:2-8).

God’s judgement & vindication

When Jesus was brought before the high priest for questioning he was asked if he was the Messiah, the Son of God. He replied,

“Yes, it is as you say, but I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).

This was a direct reference to Daniel’s vision of the Messiah being brought into the presence of God:
“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. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped 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).

The reference to coming on the clouds was understood to mean judgement. Jesus was saying to the Sanhedrin that though they thought they had the power to judge him, he would be taken into the presence of Almighty God where he would receive sovereign power and that he would be vindicated when judgement came upon all of them.

In his mercy God gave them time to acknowledge their guilt and come to repentance and faith. He allowed the Sanhedrin’s authority to continue for a further forty years, during which time the gospel was preached throughout Israel and the known world. As the faith in Jesus the Messiah grew from strength to strength many priests and teachers of the law became convinced that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. There were members of the Sanhedrin who were believers:

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God (Luke 23:50, cf. John 3:1, John 7:50 and John 12:32).

The book of Acts tells us that thousands of Jews who were zealous for the law, including many priests, believed.

The prophet Isaiah warned of the devastating judgement that would come upon the rulers of Jerusalem. Following on from the rebuke to the religious leaders who had added “rule upon rule” (p.4) he continues,
“Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers who rule this people in Jerusalem. You boast, ‘We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place.’ So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place’” (Isaiah 28:14-17).

This was fulfilled with devastating consequence in AD70. After God had given them the opportunity to repent, he brought judgement upon the stubborn judges of Israel who refused to repent and acknowledge their guilt in rejecting their Messiah, the stone that God had chosen. The Sanhedrin that had judged Jesus and his followers were themselves judged. The powers and authorities that had condemned Jesus and persecuted the believers, trying to stop them from testifying to the truth of what God had done in raising Jesus from the dead, were themselves overthrown, using the Roman armies as his sword of judgement. Judgement came upon Jerusalem in 70 AD exactly as Jesus had prophesied. The believers heeded the word of their Messiah to flee the city as soon as they saw signs of the Roman siege approaching and they escaped the terrible tribulation that came upon Jerusalem.

The testimony of time

The Sanhedrin decided, following Gamaliel’s advice, to allow time to prove the veracity of the claims about Jesus. The testimony about Jesus not only endured – it spread to the far corners of the earth. Time has vindicated the faithful testimony of the apostles. Despite having witnessed the phenomenal growth in the number of Jews and Gentiles who have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah over the last two thousand years the rabbis chose to ignore the verdict of the Sanhedrin. Despite Gamaliel’s caution and the ensuing judgement on Jerusalem, the rabbis continued to oppose the good news that the Messiah has come.

The destruction of the temple effectively ended the practice of Judaism according to the Law of Moses. For two-thousand years God has not permitted the temple to be rebuilt, nor the sacrifices required by the Law to be reinstated. The letter to the Hebrew believers (written before the destruction of the temple), refers to the Mosaic covenant as obsolete and soon to disappear (Hebrews 8:13). The rabbis, in an effort to preserve Judaism without temple and land, had to reform it around ethics and moral principles because it could no longer function according to the Law of Moses. As was predicted, the Mosaic covenant, having been made obsolete by the New Covenant in Messiah, did, in practice, disappear with the destruction of the temple. The continuity with Old Testament Judaism is not found in Rabbinic Judaism, but in the faith in the Jewish Messiah, which revealed, in Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice for sin and the fulfilment of all the covenant promises to Israel. Despite their zeal the stubborn pride of Judah has kept many from confessing that the true faith of Israel is faith in Jesus, God’s anointed (Messiah) King, which is in perfect accord with the Hebrew Scriptures.

Some rabbis try to claim that the messianic movement of Jesus has been an utter failure among Jews, citing as evidence the fact that Jews throughout the centuries up to and including today have rejected Jesus as the Messiah. This is a glib and deceptive argument. During the first century Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah remained within the Synagogue and the Nazarenes were considered as another sect within Judaism. The believers were forced out of the synagogue by the introduction of the Birkat-haMinim into the benedictions of the Synagogue, which pronounced a curse against ‘heretics,’ and was directed at the followers of Jesus. The mere fact that such a measure was considered necessary indicates that the followers of Jesus were steadily increasing in numbers within the Synagogue and were regarded as a significant threat to Rabbinical Judaism. The split was inevitable in any event because the nationalistic, racially defined conception of Israel could not accommodate the universal messianic hope in which true faith, rather than race, determines membership. Thus, the Jewish believers, especially after the Bar-Kochba revolt, eventually found their place within the universal, but by then, Gentile dominated church.2 

Nevertheless, while Jewish believers have always been a minority within the church due to the sheer numerical superiority of Gentiles (apart from the first few decades of the proclamation of the gospel), they represent a higher percentage of their own nation than do most other ethnic groups. In every generation there have been a significant number of Jewish Christians. It would be impossible to quantify the number of their descendants that are to be found within the Christian Church. Though they may be counted as “lost” in terms of Jewish identity they remain part of the faithful remnant of Israel. Whereas believers from most other ethnic groups are not disowned because they believe in Jesus, Jewish believers are excommunicated and their descendants are no longer counted as Jewish because Jewish identity is so closely linked with the Jewish faith, the true expression of which is the area of dispute. By excommunicating Jews who believe in Jesus Judaism maintains that one cannot be Jewish and believe in Jesus, but the truth is that the Synagogue represents the unfaithful of Israel. The prophets always identified the true Israel as a faithful remnant and this faithful remnant is part of the universal church.

I will make them envious

God warned Israel that, because of their unfaithfulness, he would provoke them to envy by revealing himself to the Gentiles (who were previously excluded from the covenant):

“They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols. I will make them envious by those who are not a people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding” (Deut 32:21).

Time has proven that not only has the faith in Jesus the Messiah endured but, as was prophesied, the good news has spread to the ends of the earth. God said concerning His Messiah and Redeemer:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

Jesus is acknowledged in all the earth as the greatest Jew who ever lived. Despite deceptive teachings which have crept into the Church and attempted to pervert the gospel over the last two thousand years, the truth has been preserved in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, and the gospel of Jesus the Messiah is still being received by those who are honestly seeking after truth. The religious leaders should heed the wise council of Gamaliel and concede that the messianic movement has stood the test of time because its origin is from God.

The rejection of Joseph foreshadows the Rejection of the Messiah

The rejection of Jesus was foreshadowed in the life of Joseph. Joseph was despised and rejected by his brethren, sold out to the Gentiles, and endured much suffering, but it was all part of God’s purpose to bring salvation to all the nations, including Jacob’s family, in the time of famine. Just as Joseph was reconciled to his brothers and forgave them for what they had done to him, Jesus longs to be reconciled with his brethren and is willing to forgive all for our rejection of him. This was his dying prayer: “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

However, before we can be reconciled we have to repent and admit our guilt:

For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will rend and go away, I will carry off, and none shall rescue. I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress they seek me, saying, “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn, that he may heal us; he has stricken, and he will bind us up” (Hosea 5:14).

God’s Word – the final evidence

The argument that Jesus is not the Messiah because many Jews have not believed in him is no more valid than the argument that he is the Messiah because many Gentiles have believed. The evidence that Jesus is the Messiah is not based upon the success or failure of the movement, nor in the decision of the Sanhedrin, but in the word of God spoken through Moses and the prophets. The only reliable evidence upon which to base our faith is the word of God. Jesus said to the teachers of the law that if they believed Moses and the Prophets they would also believe in him because Moses and the Prophets testified about him. We now have the word of the prophets made more certain. Jewish people must examine the overwhelming evidence of the word of God spoken through Moses and the Prophets which has more authority and reliability than the words and commentaries of men and base their decision upon it:
“Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (Proverbs 30:5).

Jesus said that he did not need the testimony of men and neither were his claims to be the Messiah based upon his own testimony alone. God himself testified that Jesus is the Messiah, both audibly in the presence of witnesses, as he did with the ministry of Moses, and through the testimony of his word recorded by Moses and the Prophets. He further testified that Jesus is the Messiah by raising him from the dead because it is written, “you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay” (Psalm 16:10). There were hundreds of witnesses who testified to what they had seen and heard – that God had raised Jesus from the dead and that he had appeared to them. At one stage Jesus appeared to more than five hundred people.

The historical evidence of the death and resurrection of Jesus is what has led millions of people from every nation, both Jews and Gentiles, to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Though other religions have attracted many followers there is only one religion through which the knowledge of the God of Israel has reached the ends of the earth. Many false religions have appeared over the centuries and have led many people astray. While all other religions direct people away from the God of Israel and the testimony of His word, Christianity calls people of all nations to obedience to Israel’s God and King. Through Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, the calling of Israel to be a light to the nations has been fulfilled, and in and through him Israel has fulfilled the purpose for which God called her. Israel was found unfaithful, but the Messiah, as the representative of Israel, took her guilt upon himself as the suffering servant, and was found faithful (cf. Isaiah 53). All who identify with him are declared righteous by faith in him. In him Israel has obtained the victory over her foes, but those who want to be counted among the faithful of Israel, and to share in this victory, must find their identity in him!


1. Paul the man and the teacher in the light of Jewish sources- by Risto Santala p. 29.
2. The Ebionites, a small group who were regarded as heretical by the Church and rejected by the Synagogue, eventually disappeared.