Why Was Jesus Arrested? (The Charges Against Him)

The arrest of Jesus Christ is one of the most intense moments in the climactic section of each New Testament Gospel. Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ innocence collide when the arrest occurs, resulting in one of the most dramatic scenes in the Bible. One of the most common questions people ask about Jesus’ arrest is what crimes he was charged with and why.

Jesus is arrested because the Jewish authorities accused him of blaspheming God and giving false testimony. The Romans charged Jesus with treason against the empire based on what he said about the destruction of the temple and his identity as a king. As a result, Jesus was sentenced to death.

According to Matthew, what was the basis for the charges that Jewish leaders brought against Jesus? What was the basis for the charges that the Roman authorities brought against Jesus? Was Jesus accused of being a terrorist in the Gospel of Mark? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and more.

Also see Why Did Peter Deny Jesus Three Times? to learn more.

Jesus is arrested
Did Jesus have a fair trial? See below

What charges did Jewish leaders bring against Jesus and why?

Matthew gives more details about Jesus’ arrest than Mark, Luke, and John. In the scene, Jesus isn’t innocent until proven guilty, but the victim of a kangaroo court (e.g. an unprofessional trial). Many scholars believe that the Jewish and Roman authorities violated their own laws to ensure that Jesus would get the death penalty.

Matthew informs his readers that the Jewish authorities “plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matt. 26:4, ESV). Giving Jesus a fair trial was never the plan. The authorities wanted him to die; they just had to figure out how to arrest him and convince the Romans to kill him.

It’s only after Jesus is arrested that the Jewish authorities make up charges against him. They took him to Caiaphas, the high priest and sought “false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward” (Matt. 26:59-60a).

The problem the authorities had was that two witnesses had to agree (cf. Deut. 19:15) or their testimony was inadmissible. In other words, their lies about Jesus contradicted each other.

Jesus is accused of wanting to destroy the temple

Eventually, the authorities found two people who accused Jesus of the same crime. “At last two came forward and said, ‘This man said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days'” (Matt. 26:60b-61).

While two men agreed that Jesus made the statement, it was not true. What Jesus actually said was, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).

Jesus never used the first person pronoun “I” — as the two false witnesses said he did — but the second person pronoun”[you] destroy this temple.” (The original Greek reflects the second person; the English translation implies it.) Jesus’ arrest was based on lies.

Moreover, Jesus wasn’t speaking about the literal temple anyway, but was referring to his own body (v. 21). The description “destroy” referred to his crucifixion. “Raise it up” referred to his resurrection.

Also see Did Jesus Wash Judas’ Feet? to learn more.

Jesus is accused of blasphemy

The next charge the authorities brought against Jesus was blasphemy. When Caiaphas asked Jesus if he was the Messiah, he answered, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (v. 64).

Jesus’ description of the Son of Man is an allusion to Daniel’s teaching about the Messiah. “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him” (Dan. 7:13).

In response, Caiaphas accused Jesus of blasphemy and the Sanhedrin sentenced him to death. “Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death” (v. 65-66).

Judas betrays Jesus
What did Jesus do wrong according to Rome? See below

What charges did the Romans bring against Jesus and why?

The Jewish religious leaders didn’t have the legal right to execute Jesus, so they had to persuade the Romans that he was a threat to them. But the Roman authorities didn’t care about the charge of blasphemy against Jesus. To them, such accusations were internal matters among the Jews.

However, the Romans would have cared if Jesus threatened to destroy the temple. While the temple was a Jewish religious institution, the Romans took pride in it as a structure within the boundaries of their empire. Forecasting its literal destruction would easily result in civil charges.

The Jewish authorities gave Jesus over to the Roman governor, Pilate (Matt. 27:2). When Pilate asked him if he was the king of the Jews, Jesus responded, “So you say” (27:11). The charge started as blasphemy, which was important to the Jews; but it changed to treason, which was important to the Romans.

Pilate knew that the charges that the Jewish authorities rendered against Jesus were based on envy (27:18 and gave the crowd the opportunity to free Jesus. His wife even warned him against killing Jesus (v. 19).

Yet the Jewish authorities convinced the crowds to kill him (v. 20). Pilate asks what Jesus did wrong, but the blood-thirsty crowd simply responded, “Let him be crucified!” (v. 23).

Also see Did Jesus Have a Tattoo? to learn more.

Jesus' trial
Was Jesus accused of being a terrorist? See below

Did Jewish authorities see Jesus as a terrorist?

A word used to describe Jesus in Mark 14:48 can carry the implication of “a terrorist.” The ESV and NASB translation is “robber” and the KJV is “thief.” However, some scholars believe since the word is related to a crime against the civil authorities or institutions (i.e. the temple), it’s better to render it “leading a rebellion” like the NIV or even “dangerous revolutionary” like the NLT.

TranslationsMark 14:48
ESV“And Jesus said to them, ‘Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me?'”
NASB“And Jesus said to them, Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me, as you would against a robber?”
KJV“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Are ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take me?”
NIV“Am I leading a rebellion, said Jesus, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?”
NLT“Jesus asked them, Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me?”

It’s noteworthy that Jesus himself is the one who uses the phrase in Mark 14:48. In Mark’s narration of Jesus’ arrest (Mark 14:43-50), only Judas and Jesus speak. Does this mean the authorities were silent or that Mark just didn’t record any of their words?

It’s possible that the authorities used the term first and Jesus is repeating it back to them. It’s also possible that Jesus was the only one to use the word, based on an observation of how they were treating him. Because Mark doesn’t record any words from the authorities, readers can’t know for sure.

Also see Why Did Jesus Fast for 40 Days? to learn more.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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