When asked if he is the Messiah, Jesus replied, “You have said so.” If the answer was ambiguous in English, the meaning was not lost on the high priest, he immediately tears his clothes and cried out that Jesus spoke blasphemy (Matthew 26:65-66).
Typically the tearing of clothes is a symbol of mourning, but it was also practiced when someone blasphemed in one’s presence. Davies and Allison cite m. Sanhedrin. 7:5, which “tells of judges who, as a symbolic, ritual act, rend their clothes in response to blasphemy” (Matthew, 3:533) But the high priest was not supposed to tear his clothes (Lev 21:10), although this may not apply if he is not wearing the priestly vestments at the time.
The high priest calls for the group to render their verdict, and they answer that he is “worthy of death” (KJV, “guilty of death”). The word ἔνοχος is used in judicial contexts for a punishment (“worthy of death” in this case). According to Leviticus 24:16, anyone who blasphemes the Lord should be put to death. The chief priest and scribe gathered all agree, what Jesus has said qualifies as blasphemy and that he ought to be put to death.
Could the Sanhedrin execute criminals? Most scholars agree they did not, only the Romans had the right to execute people. This should be nuanced since in Acts 7 Stephen is executed for blasphemy with some official oversight (Saul was giving approval). Stephen’s death might be considered a lynching, an illegal execution. But it was over a religious matter so the Romans might have looked the other way.
The real issue is not whether the Sanhedrin or the High Priest had the authority to kill Jesus, but whether he could risk the political ramifications of executing someone the huge Passover crowd thought was a prophet, and possibly the Messiah. As with the arrest, the group meeting to decide what to do with Jesus does not know whether Jesus has armed disciples hiding out in and around Jerusalem who would be willing to defend him to the death.
This means the High Priest and his group of advisors need to find a way to hand Jesus over to the Romans. If there are armed disciples of Jesus willing to start an insurrection, let the Romans slaughter them! Politically, they can wash their hands of any blame for the death of the beloved holy prophet and teacher.
After the group condemns Jesus, they begin to spit on him and slap him (26:67-68). In Mark, we are told at this point Jesus was blindfolded, and those that hit him taunted him by demanding Jesus prophesy. This is all to mock him for claiming to be the Messiah. The true Messiah, to their mind, would have destroyed those that tried to do this to him. Something like, “You claim to be the Messiah, but this proves you are not! “Cruel and vindictive belittlement” is the fate of the discredited prophet (Nolland, Matthew, 1136). The temple authorities decided to hand Jesus over to the Romans, to Pilate as a politically dangerous insurrectionist who ought to be executed publicly by crucifixion.
Jesus stood before his accusers and boldly confirmed he is the Messiah and he will be the eschatological judge who inaugurates the coming kingdom. At the same time, Peter has been also boldly confirming in the outer courtyard; but his boldness is a denial that he has anything to do with Jesus.