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The Sanhedrin, or Sanhedrim, is from the Greek word pronounced soon-ed-ree-on, meaning and variously translated as joint session, tribunal, or council. The Sanhedrin is mentioned frequently in the New Testament in reference to the highest Jewish judicial and administrative council in the first century.

High Priest Jewish tradition holds that the Sanhedrin was established with the 70 elders that were appointed by God through Moses (Numbers 11:16), while the Israelites were on their Wilderness Journey between Egypt and the Promised Land, about two years after the Exodus (Numbers 10:11). There is no record that the council operated then as it did in apostolic times however. For this reason, some believe that the Sanhedrin actually began some time during the three or four centuries Between The Testaments, when the land of Israel was under the Syrian kings in the time of The Maccabees.

By the time of Jesus Christ, the Sanhedrin had great authority, while still under Roman rule (see Ancient Empires - Rome). The council consisted of 71 members, including both Pharisees and Sadducees, presided over by the chief priest.

The Sanhedrin were bitter opponents of Jesus Christ. They were responsible for His arrest, "trial," and death sentence (see The Fateful Night) -

  • Under the leadership of the high priest Caiaphas, they schemed to have The Lord killed (John 11:47-53)
  • They conspired with Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus, and they paid him those now-infamous thirty silver coins (Matthew 26:14-16) (see Why Did He Do It?)
  • After being arrested, Jesus was brought before them (Luke 22:66)
  • They used false witnesses to testify against Jesus (Matthew 26:59-60, Mark 14:55-56)
  • While the Sanhedrin did not have the authority to condemn anyone to death, they had The Lord sent to Pontius Pilate and brought political pressure upon him to have Jesus executed (Mark 15:1-15)

The council's opposition to the early Christian church was no less intense -

  • Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin and ordered to stop teaching the Gospel (Acts 4:5-21). When the apostles continued, the council had them arrested (Acts 5:21-27). They were later released with a beating and yet another warning (Acts 5:34-42)
  • Stephen was also brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:12-15)
  • Paul (see On The Road To Damascus) was brought before the council (Acts 22:30), and they later devised a plot to assassinate him (Acts 23:12-20).

The greatest irony, and tragedy, of the Sanhedrin is that they were devout men who truly sought to obey God - but had become spiritually blinded by their own ambitions and traditions.

Fact Finder: What did Jesus Christ have to say about the religious leaders who opposed Him?
Matthew 23:13-36

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