A Kangaroo Court is a mock court where a guilty verdict is predetermined. It is a court characterized by irresponsible and unauthorized proceedings. But where did the phrase, kangaroo court, originate?
No one knows for sure. But one thing most people who study the origin of phrases agrees upoon is that it probably DID NOT orginate in Australia; the only country where kangaroos are indigenous. Most etymologists (a person who studies the history and origin of words) trace the origin to the historical practice of itinerant judges on the U.S. frontier in the early 19th century (1800s). These roving judges were paid on the basis of how many trials they conducted and their salaries were often dependent on the amount of fines they collected from the convicted. The more guilty verdicts, the more money pocketed. The phrase, kangaroo court, comes from the image of these judges hopping from place to place, guided less by concern for justice than by the desire to wrap up as many trials as the day allowed. The phrase also carries the image of a kangaroo’s pouch, meaning the court is in somone’s pocket. A kangaroo court is a perversion of justice. Jesus’ trial, and guilty verdict, is the epitome of a kangaroo court.
Jesus vs. Kangaroo Court
Late Thursday evening Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested by the authorities. The arresting guards “began moking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, ‘Prophecy! Who hit you?’ And they said many other insutling things to him” (Luke 22:63-65). Isaiah prophecied that the Messiah would “not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears” (Isaiah 11:3). The arresting guards were servants to the high priest. They were Jewish! They knew of this prophesy. By blindfoling Jesus, hitting Him, and asking Him to “Prophesy! Who hit you?”, they were mocking His claim to be the Messiah. Of all the insulting things they said to Jesus, Luke considered this to be the most offensive. From the very beginning, Jesus’ trial was a miscarriage of justice.
Jesus never really had a trial, much less a fair trial. What Jesus had, over the course of 12 hours, was four hearings before 3 authority figures. Nothing about His hearings followed the proper protocol of that day. It was, indeed, a kangaroo court.
The people who arrested Jesus were not Roman soldiers but Jewish soldiers assigned to protect the Sanhedrin in general and the high priest in particular. They were much like the Swiss Guards who protect the Pope and defend the Vatican. The Sanhedrin was a ruling body of 71 elders who operated like the Supreme Court for the Jewish people. However, outside the Jewish community, they had little to no authority.
Luke records, “At daybreak the council of the elders of the people (the Sanhedrin), both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. ‘If you are the Christ (the Messiah),’ they said, ‘tell us’” (Luke 22:66-67a). The Jewish leaders knew Jesus had really done nothing wrong. Their only hope of any type of “conviction” would be to get Jesus to claim to be the Messiah, the Son of God, God Himself.
Jesus responded to their one and only charge by proclaiming, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer” (Luke 22:67b-68). I love Jesus’ response. He was saying, “You guys are going to convict me, regardless of what I say. And you are going to convict me, even though you don’t believe I am the Messiah. And, if I asked you guys who you really are, you would not answer me.” Then Jesus continued, “But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God” (Luke 22:69). Jesus, intentionally, took their trick question and claimed to, not only be the Messiah, but to be God, Himself!
For the sake of clarification, making sure they completed understood what Jesus said, the Sanhedrin asked Him, “Are you then the Son of God?” (Luke 22:70a). Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am” (Luke 22:70b). Jesus could have said, “Yes.” He could have said, “No.” But instead He said, “I am.” The very personal name of God! The name God gave Himself while talking to Moses through the burning bush (see Exodus 3). To this day, a name so sacred to Jewish people, that they refuse to utter it out loud. By saying, “I am,” Jesus was claiming to be Yahweh, Jehovah, God Himself! A claim that, if not true, was blasphemy! According to Jewish laws, which the Sanhedrin enforced, blasphemy was a crime punishable by death. “Then they said, ‘Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips” (Luke 22:71).
Before proceeded further, let me stop to make one thing perfectly clear: Being a Christian means you believe Jesus is, not just the Son of God, but God Himself! He is God Incarnate. He is the great I am. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End. To put it another way, If a person denies the deity of Jesus, that person is NOT a Christian, no matter what they may say or teach! Any person, or group, or church, that denies the Trinity is not a true follower of Jesus. They are a false gospel.
Now, back to the story.
The Sanhedrin realized they had a problem. They have found Jesus guilty of blasphemy and have sentenced Him to death. But they had zero authority to carry out an execution without the permission of the Roman government. So they take Jesus to the Roman prefect (the local Mayor) to obtain a certificate of execution. As a Roman administrator, Pilate could care less if someone claimed to be a god. The Sanhedrin knew the charge of blasphemy would not stick, and so in front of Pilate, “they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king” (Luke 23:2). This was fake news on many fronts. First, Jesus had not been subverting any earthly authority. He had made it clear that His kingdom was not of this world. Second, by their accusation, the Jewish leaders were guilty of apostacy because they said to Pilate that the Roman nation was “our nation.” The Roman Empire was not their nation. The nation of Israel was their nation. Third, Jesus had taught that you should pay your taxes (see Matthew 22:15-22). Fourth, while it was true Jesus claimed to be the Christ, it was misleading to tell Pilate that meant Jesus was claiming to be an earthly king, which would mean He was a traitor to Rome, a crime punishable by death.
I get the impression Pilate knew this was a kangaroo court and so he played along, asking Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Luke 23:3a). Jesus answered, “Yes, it is as you say” (Luke 23:3b). After further inquiry, that Luke does not tell us about but other gospel writers do, “Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man” (Luke 23:4).
“But they insisted, ‘He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here’” (Luke 23:5). Pilate now sees a way out and an opportunity to pass the buck. Luke continues, “On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time” (Luke 23:6-7). Herod was partially Jewish, so he would have been in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. Jesus, being from Galilee, was Herod’s problem, and so Pilate sends Jesus to him.
“When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer” (Luke 23:8-9). While Jesus loved everyone, I don’t think He really liked Herod all that much. After all, Herod’s father, Herod the Great, had tried to kill Jesus when He was a toddler. This Herod, Herod Antipas, beheaded, John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and close friend. Furthermore, Herod was not taking any of this seriously. He wanted Jesus to put on a show. It’s no wonder Jesus did not speak to him or answer his questions. During all of this, “The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him” (Luke 23:10).
Jesus’ disrespect, and the religious leaders continual antagonism, angers Herod and so he “and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies” (Luke 23:11-12). The elegant robe was because Jesus claimed to be the king of the Jews. Luke doesn’t tell us what Pilate and Herod were enemies so apparently it is not important to know why.
Jesus returns for a second round of questioning by Pilate. Pilate then tells the Sanhedrin, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him” (Luke 23:13-17). The obvious question is, If Jesus is innocent, why punish Him at all?
The Jewish leaders were not satisfied. “With one voice they cried out, ‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!’ (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder)” (Luke 23:18-19). Barabbas, also a Jew, had been guilty of all the charges the Sanhedrin threw at Jesus. He had started a rebellion. He wanted to overthrow the Roman government, and he had actually killed people in his attempt. Still, Pilate wanted to release Jesus. “But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify Him!’” (Luke 23:20-21).
Once again, Pilate tried to reason with the Jewish leaders and release Jesus, but they were insistent on obtaining a certificate of execution. The Sanhedren was not going to take no for an answer. “So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will” (Luke 23:24-25). The result is that a guilty man is freed while an innocent man is railroaded. How could such a thing happen? It’s a classic example of “groupthink.” It’s important to note that it was not the Romans who killed Jesus but the religious leaders of the day! Another radical reversal. Likewise today, the greatest threat to Jesus is not secular society, or even ISIS. The greatest threat to Jesus is a church that has forgotten what it means to follow the Messiah.
We are getting closer to the actual crucifixion of Jesus and His resurrection. Easter is just a few weeks away. But before getting to His crucifixion, let’s stop and answer a question: Why did Jesus have to endure such torture and humiliation before He was even crucified? By the time Jesus was hung on the cross, death was a welcome relief. Why did Jesus have to suffer so much?
I think there are at least three reasons why. First, Jesus had to suffer, and endure a kangaroo court, to fulfill prophecy. The Old Testament has hundreds and hundreds of prophecies about every aspect of the Messiah’s life. Jesus filled full everyone of them, leaving no doubt that He was, and is, the Promised One. Second, Jesus had to endure these things to affirm His deity. Jesus was, and is, God, the second Person of the Trinity. Luke’s Gospel makes it clear that the Romans did not kill Him because He was leading a rebellion or causing a riot. The only charge He was guilty of that was punishable by death was His claim to be the Great I Am. The Romans participated in this kangaroo court to appease the Jewish leaders. Jesus is not just a revolutionary philospher or a great teacher. He is God Incarnate! Third, Jesus had to suffer and die to forgive sins. More specifically, to forgive your sins and to forgive my sins. There was no other option. The Bible clearly teaches, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Thus, it wasn’t the Romans who killed Jesus, and it wasn’t religion that killed Jesus. In reality, it was your sins, and my sins, that hung Jesus on the cross. Here is where grace comes in: While it was our sins that hung Him there, it was His love that kept Him there.
The only proper response to all this is to confess your sins, receive forgiveness, and then live your life loving and serving Jesus by loving and serving your neighbor. Anything less mocks and ridicules the sacrifice Jesus made on your behalf.
 Parenthesis added for explanation.
 Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.