Caiaphas: Inner Portrait of Israel’s High Priest
The City of Gold, Jerusalem, had not fully lifted herself from slumber. Some industrious shopkeepers were just beginning to set up their wares in the bazaar. The pungent odor from the fishmonger’s booth seeped heavily into the dawn. The silhouette of a man stepped down from the awesome structure of the Temple and followed a secluded path which led to his home, The steps were heavy. A restful night had been aborted by anxiety and painful waiting. He had learned from the Temple guard that the tomb of Jesus was secure. He was a Sadducee; son-in-law to the cunning and powerful Annas. He was the reigning high priest of Israel. He was Joseph Caiaphas.
It was the third day since the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. His disciples were gone, dispersed as by a strong wind, Still Caiaphas was rattled with uneasiness. The imperial government might still be dissatisfied with his handling of the situation. For some time now Rome had been casting a wary eye upon Palestine. The activities of the rebellious zealots had already pricked their pride. Reliable sources had warned that Rome would be intolerant of petty antics within the Jewish state. One major uprising and Rome would march; the Temple in all of its splendor and his position within the Jewish hierarchy would vanish.
Caiaphas had been concerned since the proclamation of John the Baptist . . . the proclamation that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah and Deliverer of Israel. Annas had convinced his son-in-law that many false messiahs had indeed come and gone. Why the alarm over Jesus? Given time, He too would pass from the scene — in death or disgrace. Jesus was not the popular hero that had been expected, yet multitudes were drawn magnetically. He did not fit the description of the scribes who portrayed the Messiah as a great human deliverer who would overthrow the Gentile powers. Jesus came as a teacher, couched in humility, not at all seif-seeking. He gathered to Himself a mere twelve disciples, students who beheld Him as their Rabbi. He was a man of great compassion and appealed readily to those Jews who were poor and disabled, the uneducated, along with the social misfits. They found in Him an acceptance quite apart from the reception normally given them by the Pharisees. They felt a genuine freedom from the stringent requirements of the law which seemed virtually impossible to keep.
Caiaphas had listened cautiously to reports which filtered in from time to time. Any attempt at usurping the power of the Sanhedrin would be dealt with swiftly.
During His three years of public ministry, Jesus traveled to every city, village and hamlet.
During those years He had repeatedly disobeyed the teachings of the rabbis concerning the Sabbath. He had refused to perform the ritual cleansing of the foods that He and His disciples ate and would attack the Jewish leaders vehemently when they would question Him concerning these matters (Mt. 23; Lk.6;Jn. 7). His teachings were founded on the Word of God, not on the words of the rabbis. He claimed. He came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17).
Caiaphas had become personally involved when Jesus took it upon Himself to ‘cleanse’ the Temple by the overthrowing of its many business concessions (Jn. 2:14 ft). Annas was incensed for he profited from such Temple business. He made known to Caiaphas his displeasure and advised that Jesus be publicly discredited. After all He was misleading the people and His claims of being God in the flesh were blasphemous. Caiaphas thus instructed the scribes and Pharisees to follow and challenge Him whenever and wherever He ministered. He left the doctors of the law dumbfounded; they would walk away only able to shake their heads. It seemed as though there was not a passage in the entire Scripture that He did not know (Mt. 22). Devastating were the blows of defection from within his own ranks. Caiaphas learned of Nicodemus and his visit by night to Jesus (Jn. 3). He would not escape scandal. Disquieting were the many reports by the leading Pharisees and priests who had witnessed the miracles of Jesus and could not deny them. This was no ordinary faker or soothsayer. They would wander back to the Temple commeriting amongst themselves how Jesus spoke with the authority of Moses and the speech of David, indeed, several lost their nerve on the occasion when Jesus quoted David and likened Himself to the stone which the builders rejected who would become the cornerstone (Ps. 118:22). Finally, there were the rabbis and teachers who had witnessed the raising from the dead him who was called Lazarus of Bethany (Jn. 11). Reputedly he had been dead several days so that the body was stinking.
Caiaphas what shall we do? Many continue to believe! The Romans will come and take away our place and our nation.
Caiaphas had looked at them with disdain. With calmness and evenness of tone, he had explained that Jesus must die that the nation might live. All had been put on alert to watch for Jesus (Jn. 11). The Passover was drawing near, and no precautions could be spared. At first His disciples remained in seclusion; however, it became common knowledge that Jesus would come to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. As the crowds passionately waved their palms and shouted, Hosanna (Lord deliver us now)! Blessed is the King of Israel, that cometh in the name of the Lord (Jn. 12:13), deep frustration growled within Caiaphas. This people of the land were cursed because they knew not the law. Their blatant ignorance and acceptance of Jesus festered within him. His mind raced back to the Feast of Tabernacles. The proceedings on the last day of that feast had been marred by the appearance of Jesus. He stood in the midst of the Temple and proclaimed that those who believed on Him would have living water flowing from their hearts (Jn. 7:38). Apparently even the officers of the Temple had been mesmerized by Jesus’ magnetism. Caiaphas had allowed the Pharisees to deal with the situation as they were acquainted with the intricacies of oral tradition. He had been confident that they would have an answer. “… Are ye also deceived?” goaded the Pharisees, “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?” (Jn. 7:47-48). The logic was impotent, and Caiaphas knew it.
The betrayal and arrest of Jesus afforded only a brief respite for the high priest, Judas never came forth to testify at the trial. Witnesses contradicted one another in their accounts thus violating God’s Word. It was stipulated that two or more witnesses must be in agreement (Dt. 19:15 ff). Jesus remained silent as charges were repeatedly hurled at Him by members of the council. Solemnly, Caiaphas had stood and adjured Him by the living God to tell the council if indeed He were the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus assented. The poll was only a formality.
The conviction and pronouncement of the death sentence was bittersweet for Caiaphas (Mt. 26). He and the elders of the Sanhedrin had to appear before Pilate to vie for the implementation of their sentence. Pilate had used Jesus as a pawn in taunting them, in challenging the judgment they had rendered. Only when they had enlarged the charge to one of treason against the state, against Caesar, emperor of Rome, did he concede (Jn. 18).
The ugliness of the crucifixion and the naked tortured body were now only a haunting memory. Caiaphas was still plagued. Still there was an air of desperation enveloping the high priest The massive veil in the Temple had been rent from the top to the bottom (Mt. 26:51). Explanations did not even provide hollow relief. The tomb was now sealed by Roman hands, guarded by Roman soldiers along with the Temple guard. Caiaphas could only wait. The final day must pass — the final proof that Jesus was not who He said He was. His mortality and inability to conquer death after three days in the grave would be the vindication for Caiaphas.
The clatter — the voices pitched with excitement — they were in the courtyard now — they were calling his name. “Caiaphas,” they cried. His face flushed crimson as the Temple watch fearfully reported their encounter with the angel of the Lord and the empty tomb. What would they say – what explanation would be given to the Jewish people. Hurried counsel with the elders produced the “official” account: His disciples had come by night and stolen the body while the watch slept (Mt. 28).
Joseph Caiaphas was a Sadducee, a politician who had courted the favor of Rome. He had been fortunate enough to marry into the family of Annas (Hanan) who had maintained an iron grip on the corrupt priesthood of Jesus’ day. As a Sadducee, Caiaphas would have viewed the Scriptures with cold legality. He would have rejected the teaching of life after death and dismissed bodily resurrection and the presence of angelic being with scornful logic. No doubt the very roots of his orthodoxy were shaken by these events climaxing in Jesus’ resurrection. Pride of the heart and a fear of losing power perhaps were the key factors as to why Caiaphas publicly rejected Christ and His claims. How reality must have haunted him during the remainder of his tenure as high priest . . . and for the rest of his life.
We don’t know what ultimately became of Caiaphas. Whether he turned to the Lord and put his faith and trust in Him remains undisclosed. The Scriptures are silent on this matter. We know that Caiaphas was confronted with the proof that the Savior was alive. He was indeed God in the flesh and had conquered death, as He said He would. This is history – life-giving, documented history. YOU have been confronted with the facts. How say ye? Was the stone moved? Is the tomb empty? Does He live?