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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The World into Which Jesus Came

Don Stewart :: What Was the Sanhedrin?

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What Was the Sanhedrin?

The World into Which Jesus Came – Question 7

The word “Sanhedrin” is a combination of two Greek words meaning, “seated together.” They were a ruling body of seventy-one members with the High Priest as the chief officer. They were in existence as the time of Christ and figure prominently into His life. There are a number of observations that we can make about this group.

1. They May Have Been Patterned after Moses

The number was probably patterned after the seventy elders of Israel that the Lord established under Moses:

The Lord said to Moses: Choose seventy of Israel’s respected leaders and go with them to the sacred tent. (Numbers 11:16 CEV)

The Lord commanded Moses to choose these elders. The Sanhedrin seems to have patterned themselves after this command.

2. They Are Called the Assembly of the Elders

They are called the “assembly of the elders” or “the nation’s leaders” in the four gospels. Luke writes the following in his gospel:

When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said. (Luke 22:66 ESV)

They are called “the nation’s leaders” by the Contemporary English Translation:

At daybreak the nation’s leaders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law of Moses got together and brought Jesus before their council. (Luke 22:66 CEV)

This title, variously translated as “the council of the elders,” “the assembly of the elders or “the nation’s leaders,” shows that they were the leaders of the people.

3. They Were under Roman Authority

Since Israel was subject to the Romans in Jesus’ day, the Sanhedrin ruled under the Romans in civil and religious matters. Among other things, they were not allowed to officially put anyone to death. Therefore they sent Jesus to Pontius Pilate to have Him executed. Matthew records this in his account of Jesus’ life. He wrote,

When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death. And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor. (Matthew 27:1, 2 NKJV)

Pilate alone had the authority to order Jesus’ execution.

4. They Had No Right to Execute Jesus

The council acknowledged to Pontius Pilate that they had no right or authority to execute Jesus.

We read the following in John’s gospel:

Pilate came out and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” They answered, “He is a criminal! That’s why we brought him to you.” Pilate told them, “Take him and judge him by your own laws.” The crowd replied, “We are not allowed to put anyone to death.” And so what Jesus said about his death would soon come true. (John 18:29-32 CEV)

Jesus’ prediction of the way in which He was to die was being fulfilled. He would be handed over to the Gentiles by the religious rulers of His own people, the Jews.

5. The Sanhedrin Was Abolished after Jerusalem Was Destroyed

The Sanhedrin was abolished after the city of Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in A.D. 70. The control over the city of Jerusalem was no longer theirs. To this day, they cease to exist.

However, in recent years there has been an attempt to reinstitute this ancient council. This is not surprising in light of what the Scripture has to say about the “last days.” For more information on “things to come” see our books The Jews, Jerusalem, And The Next Temple, and The Final Antichrist.

Summary – Question 7
What Was the Sanhedrin?

One particular group who figures prominently in the account of Jesus’ trial and execution was the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was a Jewish council of seventy-one members. They seem to be patterned after the seventy elders that God established through the prophet Moses.

In the four gospels they are called such things as, “the council of the elders,” or “the nation’s leaders.”

One of Jesus’ trials was before this body of elders. However, in Judea, they were under Roman authority and could not carry out capital punishment. Yet they wanted Jesus to die for His words and deeds. This is why we find them sending Jesus to Pontius Pilate after they had condemned Him to death. They acknowledged to Pilate that they did not have the authority to officially execute anyone.

Thus, for Jesus to be executed, Rome had to give the order. As we know, the order was given by Pontius Pilate and Jesus was led away for crucifixion.

When Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 the Sanhedrin ceased to exist. They have never banded together again. Yet there is a movement today in Israel to re-institute this ancient council.

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