“I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”
When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.
“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” (verses 20-23)
“Turn the other cheek.” That’s Jesus’ command in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:39). So, what’s going on here in the high priest’s house? Why is Jesus giving push-back?
Before we get to an answer, we need to understand the context. There actually seem to be two high priests mentioned in this passage – Annas and Caiaphas. The background is that Annas had been high priest from 6-15 AD, at which point he was deposed by the Romans. The high priesthood was meant to be a lifetime appointment, but the Romans pre-empted that scriptural tradition. Instead, several of Annas’ sons, plus his son-in-law, Caiaphas, held the position for different periods of time subsequently. Hence, Annas was still recognized as high priest by some, while Caiaphas now held the official title.
In this circumstance, Annas and Caiaphas seem to be working in tandem. A formal trial could only happen before Caiaphas, while any interaction with Annas would simply be “informal” interrogation. Perhaps, then, there was a sense that Annas’ interview with Jesus didn’t need to conform to strict legal requirements.
Because it certainly didn’t. At least not according to the rules that were codified in the following centuries. Although it’s not clear whether such laws were actually in place at this point in time, the spirit of those later regulations should have guided the current proceedings. It was considered illegal to directly question a defendant – rather, the questioning was to be focused on eye-witnesses. What’s more, witnesses who would speak in support of the defendant were to be questioned first. This was meant to provide a fair and just examination of evidence.
Clearly, none of that happens here. Hence, Jesus’ words. He had taught openly in public. Yes, he would often give further explanations to his disciples in private, but none of it was “secret” teaching – all of it was open to examination. So, Jesus says, ask those who heard – do what’s right and bring forth their testimony.
Such push-back produces outrage in one of the officials standing nearby. The fact that Jesus was in the right only made it more infuriating. The fact that Annas wasn’t actually the official high priest of the moment, only deepened the offence. The official strikes Jesus in spite.
But Jesus presses forward. He upholds truth and justice, calling these men to live by God’s standard, not their own. He’s fulfilling his role as teacher and prophet, even when the consequences are dire and the likelihood of repentant response is minimal.
What, then, about “turning the other cheek”? Well, he went to the cross. He could have called a thousand angels. But he didn’t. He bore the injustice. He didn’t resist. He went to the cross.
He’s an example for us.
Lord Jesus, you upheld the truth even when the odds were stacked against you. You stood your ground, unwavering. Yet, you turned your cheek, bore the consequence, laid aside your rights, took up my sin, and went to the cross. Hallelujah, what a Saviour.
Give Thanks: Jesus spoke to the injustice, but then bore it anyway. Before he ever got to the cross, he paid the cost of sacrifice – he suffered on our behalf. Consider all he endured. Give thanks.