Jesus Takes a Deadly Oath
It is ironic that when Jesus was condemned to death, one of the charges against him was blasphemy.
In Matthew 26, Jesus is on trial before Caiaphas the high priest. It is a desperate hour for the religious leaders, because now that they have Jesus in custody, they need some pretext to put him to death—and the sooner the better.
This is their chance, but everyone seems to know that Jesus has committed no offense against God. Even when false witnesses come forward, their words aren’t credible enough to seal the deal.
The turning point comes when another witness testifies, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days’” (v. 61).
This was a distortion of something Jesus had in fact said. He once spoke of destroying the temple, but He hadn’t meant the holy temple of God in Jerusalem—He’d been referring to his own body. So this accusation too, was not going to stick.
Jesus is silent, but Caiaphas presses him. And he puts Jesus under oath: “I put you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God!”
And now Jesus will speak.
He had been reluctant to say anything, but this oath obligates him to speak—and of course, to speak the truth.
Jesus once warned against making an oath in a careless way: “Let your yes be yes” (Matt 5:37). But Jesus knows the Biblical truth that sometimes “necessity requires an oath to maintain and promote fidelity and truth” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 101).
Jesus, more than anyone who ever lived, held God’s holy name in honour. His whole purpose on earth was to magnify the greatness of God his Father. And so in this critical moment, when God is being called upon by an oath to search his heart and hold him to the truth, Jesus will speak.
So Jesus replies to Caiaphas, “It is as you said.” That is, Jesus is the Son of God. And what’s more, Jesus says, He will soon sit at God’s right hand before coming again to judge all nations.
This assertion jars the unbelief of the high priest, and he flings a deadly accusation against Jesus: “He has spoken blasphemy!” At once, those gathered for the trial render judgment: “He is deserving of death.”
If they had better short-term memories, the Sanhedrin could’ve added to the evidence of alleged blasphemy. For in John 8, during another dispute, Jesus made another startling declaration: He knew Abraham. Understandably, the leaders react: “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?” And Jesus answered,
Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.
That phrase in John 8:58 echoes the holy name of God in Exodus 3, “I AM WHO I AM.” This was God’s sacred name, his covenant identity, and Jesus was claiming it for himself. No wonder the leaders took up stones to throw at him. To their minds, this was blasphemy, a breaking of the third commandment. But on that day, no stones were thrown, because it wasn’t yet Jesus’s hour.
Now at his trial, the leaders think that Jesus has besmirched the Lord’s name by putting himself on the same level as God. But this wasn’t blasphemy, for it was true. Jesus is the great I AM, and He is the Lord, the Son of God who sits at the right hand of the Father.
It was a charge of blasphemy that pushed Jesus toward his death in those last days. It was a false charge, but the death of Jesus allows us to know the LORD God in a true and intimate way.
This is such a gift, for we deserve the death penalty for our sins. Let’s make that more specific: we deserve death for how we sully and tarnish God’s great name. For instance, we dishonour God by being known as Christians—perhaps at work or at school—but living in a way that conforms to the pattern of this world. And we discredit the Lord when we think little of him and what He can do.
But Christ gave himself in our place. He was charged with breaking the law of God, so that we could be acquitted of all our sin. Jesus took an oath that led directly to his death, so that we might have life.
Through his death on the cross, the name of Christ is now highly exalted. As Peter says of Jesus, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). This is the glorious name that we’re allowed to use in prayer, in worship, and in meditation: the great name of Jesus, the Son of God, our Saviour.
By baptism, our name and his name are joined together, united in the power of God’s promise. And with that comes a responsibility both beautiful and serious.
Because Jesus died and rose to save you, will your life make much of his name?