In a classic scene from the movie Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick shoots the detestable Nazi, Major Strasser. When police reinforcements arrive, police chief Renault orders his men to “Round up the usual suspects”, knowing full well who the shooter was. The police chef conspired to indict innocent men, who were then questioned and presumably released or put on trial.
Casablanca depicted a similar scene 2,000 years earlier when the priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees arrested Peter and John in Jerusalem (Acts 4:1). Peter and John were also innocent men, yet authorities forced them to stand trial before the judges of the ecclesiastical court. Their so-called crimes? – Preaching a sermon on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and working a miracle in His name. They had done their diligent best in the eyes of God, but they were about to suffer under the eyes and constructs of man as Jesus had predicted they would (Matthew 10:17-18).
Arrested in the evening, Peter and John were brought to trial the next morning. They were not forced to endure the indignity of “night court” as our Savior did, but they faced a kangaroo court that had decided on a verdict before the court convened. Strikingly similar to Jesus’ trials, the accusers were impatient to silence the “offenders” and wasted no time in accomplishing their goals – trying to terminate the spread of Christianity.
It was also a usual setting, the same as for our LORD. They were in the Holy city of Jerusalem, where Jesus told His disciples they must expect to suffer unjustly, just as He had in this same location. Jesus loved this city, which formerly had been faithful, but had long since fallen into evil ways, causing great angst in our Savior’s heart (Mathew 23:37).
The judges serving on the court were well-known and respected for their character – rulers, elders, and scribes. This did not preclude them from being corrupt, however. The scribes were men of learning, who came to dispute with the apostles and hoped to confuse them. The rulers and elders were men in power who thought they could find a way to silence Jesus’ ordained messengers. If the Gospel had not been given from God, the accusers might have succeeded. The judges had both the learning and the power of the world on their side, but this is not sufficient to indict the Word of God.
Ironically, the judges themselves were the usual suspects, especially in the eyes of Christians. Some of their names are very familiar. Annas and Caiaphas were the ringleaders in this persecution, just as they were when Jesus was crucified. Annas was the president of the Sanhedrin and Caiaphas served as high priest, although Annas was described as such in Scripture (Acts 4:6). It appears Annas and Caiaphas alternated year-to-year the execution of the high priest’s office. These two were most virulent against Christ before His crucifixion. However, in this trial, their roles were reversed – at Christ’s trial, Caiaphas served as high priest; with Peter and John, Annas reigned. Their specific roles or titles mattered little as both were equally aggressive in their attempts to eradicate the teachings of Jesus Christ.
It is not normal to put the Word of God on trial, but it happens with regularity. The Gospel is an offense to many who hear it, as it convicts our hearts of our own transgressions. Peter and John were usual suspects to the religious leaders and rulers, but they were innocent in the eyes of God and were released from the judgment of this Earthly court. Annas and Caiaphas were guilty in the eyes of God for persecuting His apostles and were no doubt judged by the Father in the Heavenly realms.
All Christians should consider themselves usual suspects. Jesus told us we would suffer for His name if we share the Gospel. If we are not being held suspect, at least in the minds of unbelievers, then we are not doing our job for Him. Ask yourself today –if you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
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