The fundamental decision to take action against Jesus was put into effect on the night leading from Thursday to Friday with his arrest on the Mount of Olives. This decision was already reached during the meeting of the Sanhedrin.
Jesus was led, still by night (here term ‘night’ very important, especially for the author of John’s gospel. There exist an interplay between night and Jesus the light; goodness of God and evil of darkness), to the high priest’s palace, where the Sanhedrin with its three main constitutive groups – chief priests, elders, scribes – was evidently assembled. The events follow reveal of two “trials” of Jesus, one before the Sanhedrin and another before the Roman Governor Pilate. Most of the legal historians and scholars after careful examination of the trials of Jesus had assume that what took place when Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin was not a proper trial. They were more of a cross-examination that led to the decision to hand Jesus over to Pilate the Roman Governor for sentencing.
First Accusation against Jesus
There existed two charges (accusations) in circulation against Jesus after the cleansing of the Temple (For a better understanding you have to look into my older posts with regard to the topic on ‘Cleansing of the Temple’). The first had to do with Jesus’ interpretation of the prophetic gesture of driving out animals and money-changers (traders) out of the Temple. This was looked as an attack on the Holy Place itself (Temple – the center on which the life of Jewish people revolves for centuries and their only existing political identity as a nation). Hence, it was an attack on the Torah (which the Israelites considered to be given by Yahweh through Moses. This in turn is seen as challenging the teaching authority of Moses, which in turn to challenge Yahweh who gave it) on which Israel’s life was built.
It is important to note that it was not the cleansing of the Temple as such for which Jesus was called to account, but only the interpretation Jesus gave to his action. In fact, the danger of Jesus being accused lies in the interpretation and in the authority He is claiming to possess. (I always feel that this interpretation is not properly taught by most of the Scripture professors and the result is seen in emerging theologians and priests who take up this event of Jesus cleansing the Temple in order to give base for their own personal revolutionary interests in Church activity and worship. This in turn brings about unnecessary issues in a Christians life.)
A good authentication of this fact is found in the Acts of the Apostles, where we can find a similar charge/situation brought against Stephen, who had quoted Jesus’ Temple prophecy. This led to Stephen’s death by stoning, which indicates that it was considered to be blasphemous among the Jews. In Jesus’ trial episode we could find witnesses coming forward to report what Jesus had said. But there was no consistent version. Therefore, his actual words could not be unequivocally established. The fact that this particular charge was then dropped reveals concern to observe a correct juridical procedure.
Second Accusation against Jesus
On the basis of Jesus’ teaching in the Temple, a second charge (accusation) was in circulation: that Jesus had made a Messianic claim. The accusation was that through this Messianic claim Jesus had somehow put himself on a par with God. This seemed to contradict the very basis of Israel’s faith which firmly proclaims their belief in only one God, Yahweh. The key factor to be remembered is that both charges are of a purely theological nature. Yet given the inseparability of religion and political dimension during the time of Jesus (For better understanding check my older article on “Trial of Jesus: Jesus Distinguishes Religion from Politics”) makes these charges against Jesus to possess a political dimension as well. The Temple is the place of Israel’s sacrifices to which the whole Jewish community comes annually on pilgrimage for great feats. The Temple also stands for the Jewish people as the basis for Israel’s inner unity at the backdrop of constant exiles and foreign rules. The Messianic claim, especially during the annual Passover feast when pilgrims are flocking towards Jerusalem and the Temple within to offer sacrifices, is in fact a claim to kingship over Israel (the nation and its people). This fact becomes evident when the Roman Governor Pilate places the charge “King of Jews” above the Cross to indicate the reason for Jesus’ crucifixion and the refutation by the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate saying, ““Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews’”” (Jn 19: 21).
This makes it clear why Jesus’ act of ‘cleansing of the Temple,’ his teaching in the Temple, and the messianic claim during ‘Palm Sunday’ leads to the crucifixion and death of Jesus. To put it in a nut shell I would say that there already existed in the history of Israel the events of ‘Jewish war.’ These wars were fought in order to liberate Israel as a nation from the foreign political and military rulers. We have the books of Maccabeus in the Bible which speaks about this. Thereby it is strongly believed that there were certain circles within the Sanhedrin that would have favoured the liberation of Israel through political and military means. But what led to Jesus’ death was the way in which Jesus presented his claim as the “messiah” which they considered to be unsuitable to the effective advancement of their cause. So the present Roman political status quo was preferable. Because Rome at least respected the religious foundations of Israel and therefore the survival of the Temple of Jerusalem and the nation could be considered more or less secure.
I think this is one of the prominent reasons why after the vain attempt to establish a clear and well-founded charge against Jesus on the basis of his statement about the destruction and renewal of the Temple of Jerusalem – they (chief priests, elders, scribes) still opted to crucify Jesus.