Long before the end of Jesus' life there had been conflicts with Jewish religious leaders—over Sabbath observance and in connection with miracles of healing (Mark 3: 6). Traps for him were set and it is not therefore a surprise to read that this opposition came to a head in Jerusalem after Jesus had entered the city with a measure of popular support (Mark 11: 9) and caused chaos in the outer court of the Temple (Mark 11: 15). According to the gospels, after his whereabouts had been betrayed by Judas, Jesus was arrested, brought to trial before the Sanhedrin, and condemned to death. A second trial then took place before the Roman Governor since the Jews, as a subject people, had no legal right to inflict capital punishment, and Pontius Pilate acceded to the wishes of the Jewish leaders, and condemned Jesus to death. He died by the Roman method of execution—crucifixion (Mark 15: 24, 37).

The historicity of the gospel narratives has been questioned, especially by Jewish scholars, who maintain that the evangelists are guilty of putting back into the time of Jesus the antagonism of the Church for the Synagogue. It is argued that the trial before the Sanhedrin is a fiction designed to fasten the blame for Jesus' death on the Jews; and that the historical fact is that Jesus was condemned by the Roman authorities as a dangerous disturber of the peace. The story of the nocturnal trial (Mark 14: 53–64) is not credible—even Luke recognized the improbability and recorded it as happening in daylight (Luke 22: 66); possibly Luke is using a different tradition. The assertion is disputable that the Jews were obliged to hand Jesus over to the Romans because they had been deprived of the right to execute (John 18: 31).

In favour of the gospels' accounts it is held that a preliminary trial before the Sanhedrin accords with Roman procedures elsewhere; it was the diplomatic skill of the high priest to unite the several factions in the Sanhedrin to obtain a unanimous verdict of guilt. The charge of blasphemy could have been based on Deut. 13: 5; a false prophet is to be executed. This was then rephrased in political terms (Luke 23: 2), and Pilate gave way to the pressure. That the Jewish authorities could not themselves inflict the death penalty (John 18: 31) under the Romans is corroborated in the Mishnah. This is not overturned by the death of Stephen (Acts 7: 57), which reads more like a lynching than a judicial procedure.

It is undeniable that the gospels from Mark through Matthew to John show a tendency to exonerate Pilate and maximize the responsibilities of the Jews (e.g. Matt. 27: 24), but the essential facts of trials before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate are defensible.

The gospel of John replaces the trial before the Sanhedrin with an investigation before Annas, high priest until deposed in 15 CE, and his son-in-law Caiaphas, the reigning high priest (John 18: 12–28). Peter's threefold denials are recorded in this section. Cf. Mark 14: 66–72. John's account of this trial is historically improbable. There is no reason why the ex-high priest Annas should have acted as prosecutor. And 18: 20 f. assumes that there are no witnesses to testify, which would be illegal. Possibly John has carefully transposed dialogue of the Sanhedrin trial into John 10 to mark the climax of Jesus' self-revelation.

It is reported in Luke (23: 6–16) that Pilate referred Jesus' case for Herod's opinion, but Herod had no legal right to be consulted. It was perhaps no more than Pilate's crude attempt to make amends for a slight inflicted on Herod (referred to in Luke 13: 1).