Characters Around the Crucifixion - Ciaphas who Sacrificed Him
Ian Rees, Bath, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The word of God can be wonderfully dismissive. In Luke chapter 3 we have a long list of very impressive names and titles which ends with ‘Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests’. One would have thought the word of God would have come to these high priests, but it passed them by. We do not read a great deal of Annas in scripture, but his son-in-law, Caiaphas, leaves behind him a record of wickedness and intrigue. His position was to share the high priest’s office with his father-in-law, Annas, who was popular with the Jews but not with the Romans. His power over the people was virtually absolute, the high priest’s authority extending into every aspect of their lives. His privilege was to be high priest during the life of our Lord. Caiaphas had an unprecedented opportunity to hear, evaluate, believe and accept the Son of God.
The religious authorities of our Lord’s day did not like Him. He undermined their authority, He exposed their hypocrisy, and they were jealous of His popularity. The last straw was the spectacular miracle of raising Lazarus from the grave. The Sanhedrin gathered together. ‘What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation’, John 11. 47-48. The Council feared the people rising up in rebellion against Rome, with this Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah. It is at this point that Caiaphas intervened. ‘You know nothing at all’, said he, dismissively. He then put to them a solution that, until he uttered it, had been unthinkable: ‘It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not’, v. 50. Caiaphas was prepared to contemplate executing Jesus of Nazareth so that He did not become a political figurehead. He had failed to pick up on our Lord’s insistence that ‘My kingdom is not of this world’, 18. 36. Plans had now to be put into place to arrest and eliminate this ‘imposter’. Caiaphas’ words, however, are described by the Holy Spirit as being prophetic. ‘This spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad’, 11. 52-53. This is yet another instance of the Spirit of God prompting an unbeliever to speak words the implication of which he did not understand. Our Lord was not going to be made a political sacrifice for the Jewish nation, but rather a spiritual one for both Jews and Gentiles, so that all ‘the children of God’ should be gathered together to God and by God.
The direct result of Caiaphas’ words was that ‘from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death’. The chief priests immediately sent out the message, ‘if any man knew where he [Jesus] were, he should show it, that they might take him’, v. 57. The command had already been given that any who believed in Jesus would be put out of the synagogue, 9. 22; 12. 42. Knowing Jesus would be in Jerusalem for the Passover, the chief priests sought again how they might put Him to death. Yet still they feared the people. ‘Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve. And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him [Jesus] unto them. And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money’, Luke 22. 3-5. Caiaphas had, at last, the breakthrough he wanted.
It was, therefore, in the darkness and loneliness of the Garden of Gethsemane that our Lord was arrested, as though He were a common thief. With great dignity, He said to them, ‘When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness’, v. 53. Our Lord was initially taken to the house of Annas and then to Caiaphas, John 18. 14. Our Lord is now in vicious and unscrupulous hands.
Caiaphas proceeds to show supreme contempt for Jewish law in his attempt to lay upon our Lord the charge of blasphemy. Rogues had already been assembled, who were prepared to lie about this Jesus of Nazareth. This seems to be the only nod Caiaphas made to Jewish law, which insisted a man could be condemned only in the mouth of two or three witnesses. The tragedy is not that they found rogues prepared to do this, but that the chief priests were prepared to undermine justice by bribing witnesses. When they failed to get these witnesses to agree, Caiaphas put our Lord upon oath in order to make Him condemn Himself. Caiaphas then tore his clothes, something the high priest should never have done, Lev. 21. 10. He permitted the prisoner to be mocked, spat upon, and struck by his own guard. All this took place at night, in secrecy, though the law of the Jews did not permit a man to be tried at night. Their law was also insistent that a man could not be condemned to death in the same sitting of the court that found him guilty. Yet Caiaphas condemned our Lord the very same night in which this unlawful trial took place. Then, to add injustice to injustice, Caiaphas knew that Pilate would not execute a Jew on a charge of blasphemy, so the charge was changed. When Pilate asked, ‘What accusation bring ye against this man? They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor [an evil-doer], we would not have delivered him up unto thee’, John 18. 29-30. ‘We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar’, Luke 23. 2. When Pilate says, ‘I find no fault in this man’, the chief priests were the more fierce saying, ‘He stirreth up the people’, v. 5, and when Pilate is determined to let Jesus go their response is this, ‘If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend’, John 19. 12. Caiaphas has had his way. Jesus of Nazareth is going to be crucified by Roman authorities. All this intrigue, deceit, flouting of Jewish law, and political pressure was planned and plotted by one who should have been a man of God before the people.
There can be little doubt that Caiaphas was delighted to see Jesus of Nazareth dead and on a cross, for ‘cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree’, Gal. 3. 13. No doubt he felt that the existing followers of Jesus of Nazareth would disappear, and now He would gain no new ones. Yet Caiaphas remembered what our Lord’s disciples had not. ‘The chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal Him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead’, Matt. 27. 62-64. On the first day of the week, the report came to Caiaphas that there had been a disturbance at the tomb, that the guards claimed to have seen angels, and the body of Jesus Christ had disappeared. ‘When they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they [these elders] gave large money unto the soldiers, saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught’, 28. 12-15. Once again, Caiaphas, the high priest, bribes witnesses to tell lies. He is still determined that he will not believe on this Jesus of Nazareth.
One would have thought the resurrection would have made Caiaphas and his band of priests to think. Not a bit of it! When the disciples started preaching in the name of Jesus Christ, they were arrested. ‘Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him . . . and were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison’, Acts 5. 17-18. The following day, the ‘high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought’, v. 21. The apostles were brought before the council, and ‘the high priest [Caiaphas] asked them saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us’, v. 28. At Peter’s response, the council once again talked of killing them. Gamaliel urged caution. ‘If this . . . work be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it’, vv. 38-39. The council ordered the apostles to be beaten and sent the disciples away with instructions not to preach in the name of Jesus. Subsequent to this, Stephen gave testimony before the council and was promptly stoned to death. Then, Saul of Tarsus sought and was given letters from the high priest, Caiaphas himself, giving him authority to go to Damascus and arrest disciples of Jesus to bring them bound to Jerusalem. Caiaphas is as determined as ever that he will not believe in Jesus of Nazareth.
We can but grieve for our Lord that he should have faced such a wicked man as Caiaphas, who was in what was supposedly such a spiritual position. Oh what contradiction of sinners against Himself our Lord had to endure! It also reminds us of a common, yet very true expression, that there are none so blind as those that will not see. Here was a man who was given every opportunity to hear the teachings of Jesus Christ, witness His divine authority, His power in working miracles, His astonishing death that even moved a hardened centurion, and His resurrection from the dead. Let us thank God for the privileges we have of hearing and reading the word of God, let us be careful that we do not easily dismiss Jesus Christ ourselves, and that what we have heard and learned of Him is, indeed, mixed with faith. It never seemed to be with Caiaphas.
AUTHOR PROFILE: IAN REES saw an assembly planted in Francistown, Botswana, having served the Lord there for 13 years. Now based in the UK, he was in fellowship in Manvers Hall, Bath, one of his commending assemblies. He has now moved to establish a new assembly in Tenby, West Wales. He is married and has seven children.