53 They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. 54Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. 55Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. 56For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. 57Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, 58‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.” ’ 59But even on this point their testimony did not agree. 60Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ 61But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ 62Jesus said, ‘I am; and
“you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power”,
and “coming with the clouds of heaven.” ’
63Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘Why do we still need witnesses? 64You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?’ All of them condemned him as deserving death. 65Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ The guards also took him over and beat him.
66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. 67When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.’ 68But he denied it, saying, ‘I do not know or understand what you are talking about.’ And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. 69And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’ 70But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.’ 71But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’ 72At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.
"New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved."
The scene of Jesus before the Chief Priests differs considerably in it details among the four Gospel narratives. Perhaps this is because followers of Jesus were not present at the historical event, and so traditions about it were inconsistently and creatively transmitted to the evangelists. In Mark’s account, a formal council is convened on the first night of Passover to find a case against Jesus, but they are unable to find consistent testimony against him.
The pivotal moment in Mark’s scene is when the high priest asks Jesus if he is the Christ or Anointed One, the Son of the Blessed. The latter phrase, “Son of the Blessed,” seems to mean more than an honorary or adopted status, as when the Bible calls all of Israel God’s son or David God’s son. Because the priest exclaims “blasphemy” when Jesus answers, “I am,” the title means that Jesus himself personally possesses divine status. However, since this awareness did not arise among followers of Jesus until after the resurrection, it appears that the Marken priest is here expressing the criticisms of opponents of Mark’s church at the time of the writing of the Gospel.
In Mark’s narrative, confessing the divine Sonship of Jesus leads to death. Words that are found only in Mark’s Gospel appear when Peter denies knowing Jesus for the third time. The Greek of chapter 14 verse 71 strongly implies that Peter actually curses Jesus in order to save himself from his questioners. The verb anathematezein almost always requires an object, and the only object that makes sense as the target of Peter’s curse here is Jesus himself. Why might Mark portray Peter’s denial so shockingly?
A letter written to the Emperor by a Roman official during a later persecution of Christians in Asia Minor sheds light on this question. The letter describes the procedure used by the official in the case of people accused of being Christian. If they deny this, they are required to prove their claim by cursing Christ, “something a genuine Christian cannot be induced to do.”
Presumably similar tactics would have been employed if Mark’s community had lived through the trauma of the persecution of the church in Rome by Caesar Nero in the years 64-66. Members of Mark’s church would have been coerced to curse Christ in order to save their own lives or the lives of their families. By portraying the great apostle Peter, who probably was crucified during Nero’s persecution, as having cursed Jesus, fallen members of Mark’s church could take hope that they too could repent and be restored.
In sum, Mark’s narrative of Jesus before the chief priests repeats his earlier emphasis on Jesus as totally alone. He testifies to his identity as “Son of the Blessed” despite the peril to his own life. Jesus’ disciples, the members of Mark’s church, ought to do no less. They should be ready to “take up their crosses” and follow Jesus in giving truthful witness. If they have succumbed to threats and torture, they can take courage from the example of Peter, who once cursed Jesus, but later gave his own life for faith in Christ.