CAIAPHAS, THE HIGH PRIEST (Fr. Varghese Paul, S.J)

The name Caiaphas means a searcher or one who seeks with diligence. Joseph Caiaphas was the Jewish High Priest from AD 18 to 37. It was his scheming and cunning leadership, which led to Jesus’ arrest, conviction and crucifixion by the Roman authorities in Jerusalem.

The Evangelist Mathew in the first Gospel refers to Caiaphas twice by name. “Then the chief priests and the elders met together in the palace of Caiaphas, the High Priest, and made plans to arrest Jesus secretly and put him to death” (Mt. 26, 3).

“Those who had arrested Jesus took him to the house of Caiaphas, the High Priest, where the teachers of the Law and the elders had gathered together” (Mt. 26, 57).

The third evangelist Luke mentions Caiaphas by name in the context of the preaching of John the Baptist. “And Annas and Caiaphas were high priests. At that time the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert” (Lk 3, 2).

Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas who was the High Priest from AD 6 to 15. Among the priestly aristocracy a priest usually married the daughter of another priest. The Jewish high priests appointed their sons and sons-in-laws to high positions, priestly authority and money power. Thus Caiaphas succeeded his father-in-law as High Priest.

According to Ronald Brownrigg in “Who’s Who the New Testament” both Caiaphas and his father-in-law, Annas, were appointed from Rome but removed from office by the Roman procurator, in the case of unpopular Caiaphas by Vitellius” (p. 24).

Alarmed by the growing popularity of Jesus especially after raising Lazarus to life the High Priest Caiaphas called the Sanhedrin – the Jewish Council – and cunningly planned the arrest and condemnation of Jesus.

John in the fourth Gospel gives us a graphic picture of the Council meeting. “So the Pharisees and the chief priests met with the Council and said, ‘what shall we do? Look at all the miracles this man is performing! If we let him go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Roman authorities will take action and destroy our Temple and our nation!’

“One of them named Caiaphas, who was High Priest that year, said, ‘What fools you are! Don’t you realize that it is better for you to let one man die for the people, instead of having the whole nation destroyed?’ Actually, he did not say this of his own accord; rather, as he was High Priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish people, and not only for them, but also to bring together into one body all the scattered people of God” (Jn 11, 47-52).

The messengers of Caiaphas had tried several times to trap Jesus into self-conviction without any success. So it was natural for Caiaphas to raise the question in the face of the growing popularity of Jesus as ‘he presided the Council as the ruling High Priest “what shall we do?”

And Caiaphas himself answers the question, “What fools you are! Don’t you realize that it is better for you to let one man die for the people, instead of having the whole nation destroyed?”

John’s comment at this statement of the High Priest Caiaphas is remarkable. John says, “Actually, he did not say this of his own accord; rather, as he was High Priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish people” (Jn 11, 51).

John says that after the Council meeting “the Jewish authorities made plans to kill Jesus” (Jn 11, 53).

In the beginning of his public ministry Jesus visited the Temple at Jerusalem on the occasion of the great Jewish Paschal Feast (Passover Festival) as many Jewish people did. But Jesus’ action of cleansing the Temple was certainly a direct affront to the authority of the High Priest Caiaphas. John writes, “It was almost time for the Passover Festival, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. There in the Temple he found men selling cattle, sheep, and pigeons, and also the money-changers sitting at their tables. So he made a whip from cords and drove all the animals out of the Temple, both the sheep and the cattle; he overturned the tables of the money-changers and scattered their coins; and he ordered the men who sold the pigeons, ‘Take them out of here! Stop making my Father’s houses a market place!’” (Jn 2, 13-16).

Jesus’ cleansing the Temple not only challenged the authority of High Priest Caiaphas but it also seriously affected business interest and monetary gains of the high priests as they controlled the thriving trading in the temple premises. For instance, only Temple coinage was accepted in the Temple. So money-changers charged exorbitant rate of exchange for Roman and Greek money. But the fear of the common people, who flocked to Jesus, restrained the Temple authorities from arresting and punishing Jesus. But from then on Jesus was a marked man as the High Priest Caiaphas was concerned.

But after about three years of watching Jesus, his final entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was a sort of call to action for Caiaphas. The crowds of people were acclaiming Jesus as ‘Son of David’ at the Passover Festival. Caiaphas decided to act calling the Sanhedrin to meet to discuss the matter and take concrete decision to do away with Jesus – the popular hero of the people, especially the large number of Galilean pilgrims.

Caiaphas the High Priest as a presiding CEO sent the Temple guards to arrest Jesus at night in haste and get a nocturnal trial under way.

Ronald Brownrigg writes, “It was illegal to try a capital charge at night; it was illegal for the president (Caiaphas) to invite the prisoner to convict himself; it was illegal for him not to be acquitted once the witness had disagreed” (Who’s Who the New Testament, p. 25).

Jesus’ trial before the Council is recorded by all the four evangelists. When the accusers failed to bring any convincing proof against Jesus, High Priest Caiaphas himself cross-examined the prisoner Jesus. All four evangelists have narratated the events in similar words. Mark writes, “The High Priest stood up in front of them all and questioned Jesus, ‘Have you no answer to the accusation they bring against you?’

“But Jesus kept quit and would not say a word. Again the High Priest questioned him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed God?’

“‘I am,’ answered Jesus, ‘and you will all see the Son of Man seated on the right of the Almighty and coming with the clouds of heaven!’

“The High Priest tore his robes and said, “We don’t need any more witnesses! You heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?’

“They all voted against him: he was guilty and should be put to death” (Mk 14, 60-64).

Bible scholar Herbert Lockyer’s comment on trial of Jesus by Caiaphas is to the point. Lockyer writes, “since Caiaphas was the High Priest his announcements were clothed with authority, but his shameless disregard of the forms of law to bring about the death of Jesus, revealed his warped conscience (Mt 26, 57-58; Jn 18,24). Yet Caiaphas used language somewhat prophetic when he said that it was expedient for one man to die for the people, and Christ did die for the Jews and Gentile alike. By his death He broke down the middle wall (Eph. 2, 14-18)” (All the Men of the Bible, p. 81).

Caiaphas as the High Priest appears several times in the Acts of the Apostles. He presided over the examination of the Apostles Peter and John on two occasions. But he could not condemn them for the fear of the people but at the advice of a respectable Pharisee Gamaliel, Caiaphas had Peter and John beaten and the discharged them with strict warning not to preach in the name of Jesus.

Caiaphas was also the High Preist who presided in the trial of Stephen. As High Preist Caiaphas also gave letters of authority to Saul (who later became Apostle Paul) to persecute Christians in far and near places which led to the scattering of Christians and the spread of Christianity. (contact the author: यह ईमेल पता spambots से संरक्षित किया जा रहा है. आप जावास्क्रिप्ट यह देखने के सक्षम होना चाहिए.

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