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Edward F. Markquart

Annas and Caiaphas 

Palm/Passion Sunday      John 18:19-24

The story of Jesus’ passionate suffering continues. The drama of Jesus’ last twenty four hours was continuing for unfold, as if we were watching a play.

It all began on that Thursday morning in March or April; the last Thursday morning in the life of Jesus.  On that Thursday morning, it was springtime in Israel. When we think of April, we immediately think of the blossoming rhododendrons, azaleas, crocuses and the plums trees with their new flowers, and so we think of the flowers blossoming in Palestine as well. We think of springtime in Palestine and their flowering trees and the warmth of spring breezes and the smell of newness in the air.

It was not only springtime in Palestine; it was Passover time. It was the Thursday of the Passover, and the Passover was a great, grand religious holiday. Nobody had to work. For us, it would be like Christmas, and you know how you children look forward to Christmas.  Similarly, all the Jewish boys and girls looked forward to Passover. Passover finally arrived. There would be no school for eight days; it would be an eight-day spring vacation. Eight days of no work. Eight days of feasting and partying and taking a trip to the capital city of Jerusalem. So it was Passover time, springtime, a grand time, and time for everywhere to take a spring trip to the capital city.

So everybody went to Jerusalem.  Would you believe that two to three million people jammed into downtown Jerusalem for the Passover? People were shoving and pushing and shouting, and happily preparing for the Passover. Literally, there were two to three million people in downtown Jerusalem that Thursday afternoon.

The stores had closed at 12:00 noon. From 12:00 to 3:00 that afternoon, the lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple, and it had been a big business day at the Temple. They slaughtered all those lambs; 250,000 lambs, would you believe.  250,000 lambs sold, slaughtered and sacrificed on the altar.  The cash registers were rapidly dinging…ding, ding, ding, ding, for the High Priest, for Annas and Caiaphas, the managers of the Temple. It was their biggest sale day of the year, and Annas and Caiaphas were making really big money that Thursday afternoon.  It was their biggest money day all year, like our day after Thanksgiving. The shoppers are out. So it was on Passover.

That night Jesus had finished his Passover meal. Judas suddenly left in the middle of the meal and most likely had gone to the home of Annas and Caiaphas, the High Priests. The plot was coming to a head.

Following dinner, Jesus had gone with his disciples into the Garden of Gethsemane, as the disciples usually did with Jesus. Judas knew that. Later that night, Judas came with the chief priests and the scribes and he betrayed Jesus by kissing him on the cheek. A brief fight broke out; the soldiers bound Jesus and they took him away. The disciples ran for their lives. Finally, it was about two or three o’clock in the morning and Jesus was brought to the home of Annas and Caiaphas, the two men who four or five days before, had plotted Jesus’ assassination. The two men were the real culprits and planners of his destruction, and they finally had him in their clutches. Finally, Jesus was standing before the throne, the real power of Israel, Annas and Caiaphas.

I would like to tell you about Annas and Caiaphas. You may not know much about these two men, and I would like to give you some historical material that will fill in what happened between that night when Judas betrayed Jesus and the early morning when Jesus was taken before the Roman ruler, Pontius Pilate.

Jewish history tells us that Annas and his family were the real culprits behind the crucifixion of Jesus.  Nowadays, we usually think of Pontius Pilate, Judas, and the mob as being the instigators of Jesus’ death. The real culprits though were Annas and Caiaphas, the High Priests.  These were the ones who arranged for Jesus to be killed. We need to understand more about Annas and Caiaphas, in order to understand the Passion story of Jesus more clearly.

Let me tell you about Annas and Caiaphas. They were the most powerful Jewish leaders in Israel at the time of Christ. They were a family dynasty that ruled for thirty years, from 6 AD to 36 AD; from the time Jesus was a boy of twelve until after Jesus died. Theirs was a family dynasty much like the Rockefellers, the Kennedys and the duPonts. In that family, there was the old man, the old gray-haired patriarch of the family, the real power behind the throne. His name was Annas. He was the equivalent of Joseph Kennedy.

Annas had four sons and one son-in-law, and they all became High Priests. It was a High Priestly family. The one son-in-law was Joseph Caiaphas.  Joseph Caiaphas was High Priest for eighteen years; he was a shrewd and masterful politician much like the late Mayor Dailey of Chicago. This family, especially Annas and Caiaphas, ruled the nation in collusion with the Romans for thirty years.

Annas and Caiaphas were very smart men and they consolidated three forms of strategic power. First, they had religious power. They occupied the office of High Priest and officially, the High Priest was the most religious person of the Jews. He was like the Pope of Israel. Once a year, the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies of the Temple and offered sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. Nobody else could go into the Holy of Holies.

Secondly, this family had political power.  The High Priest was chairman of the Sanhedrin that was a combination of the Senate and Supreme Court rolled into one. There were 71 priests who were part of the Sanhedrin, and the executive presiding officer was the High Priest. Annas and Caiaphas had real political clout, just like the late Mayor Dailey had political clout in Chicago. They were the head of the political assembly.

The High Priest also had economic power. The High Priest was the manager of the Temple and the temple treasury.  Literally, hundreds of thousands of dollars would come into the temple treasury. They were the bankers of the day and collected the offerings.  That is where the real money was. The High Priest controlled the inspectors of the sacrifices.  That is kind of tragically funny.  Let’s say, for example, that some of you were going to bring your offerings to God, and so you brought your pigeons, doves or little lambs that would be offered for sacrifice.  Your pigeon, dove or lamb had to be perfect. If your sacrifice wasn’t absolutely perfect, you had to go and buy a new one at the temple market, at temple costs, which were double the money. Annas and Caiaphas became immensely wealthy men off the offerings of the temple. These temple markets were called the “Bazaars of Annas.” Annas and his family were notoriously rich and  were hated by the Jews.

Now, you can imagine how Annas and Caiaphas felt about Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus was popular and he was rapidly rising as a true prophet of Israel. Jesus had come into the temple a few days earlier, into their temple, into their money bin, into their Wall Street, and began driving the sellers from the temple, shouting, “You robbers, making my house into a den of thieves.” With a whip, Jesus began driving out the money-changers from Annas and Caiaphas’ money-making temple.

Needless to say, Annas and Caiaphas did not like this Jesus of Nazareth. He was costing them money. People were starting to listen to Jesus rather than giving money into their treasury. With their High Priestly power threatened, Annas and Caiaphas arranged for Jesus to be captured and killed. They were the real culprits, not Pontius Pilate, not Judas, not the mob. This family was the planner of his execution.

It was a kangaroo court that night. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus was first taken to the house of Annnas. The old man, the gray-haired patriarch, the Joseph Kennedy, wanted to see Jesus, this young whipper-snapper, this young upstart. He had heard about this Jesus and he wanted to see him face to face in order to size him up.  So when Annas looked this Jesus over and drew his own conclusions, he finally asked Jesus, “What are your teachings young man? What do you believe? What do you have to say for yourself?”

The questioning continued until Jesus finally spoke back: “Why are you asking me all of these things? I taught opening in the Temple. Ask those who heard me teach.” The soldiers slapped Jesus on the face and said, “Don’t get smart with the High Priest.” Jesus was quiet. Jesus was then sent to Caiaphas who was the official High Priest that year, the son-in-law of Annas.  You see; it was all in the family.

At the home of Caiaphas that night, Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish senate, and said nothing to all the questions asked of him. So Caiaphas asked him one more time:  “Tell us clearly. Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?”  For the first time in three years, Jesus finally declared it openly, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting in great power at the right hand of God, and you will see the Son of Man coming at the end of history to judge the world.”  Implication? To judge you, Caiaphas.

Caiaphas looked at Jesus and smiled icily.  Hearing this blasphemy, a man claiming to be God, Caiaphas had the man in his clutches.  Caiaphas tore his garments, as he is supposed to do when he hears words of blasphemy.  He looked at his friends in the Sanhedrin and smiled, “What’s all the fuss? The man has condemned himself by claiming to be God. Away with him to Pilate, so he can be sentenced for execution.”

Jesus was then sent to Pilate and you know the rest of the story, how Pilate caved into the mob and in order to avoid a riot, condemned Jesus to be crucified.

So what can we learn from Annas and Caiaphas?

First, an important question is this: Who was really on trial that night? Jesus or Caiaphas? Caiaphas thought he was trying Jesus, but how foolish.  It was the other way around. Caiaphas was on trial before Christ. Let me explain by means of an analogy. Beethoven is not really on trial before a concert audience; the audience is on trial before Beethoven. And Michelangelo, the famous sculptor, is not really on trial before a college art class; it is the art class that is on trial before Michelangelo. And Shakespeare is not on trial before a high school English class as they read Macbeth;  the students are the ones who are on trial before the greatest author in the English language.

And so it is with Jesus. The towering stature of his personality, with his prophetic voice and his willingness to suffer, with his self image of humility and self understanding of being a servant; it is certainly not Jesus who was on trial that night. It was Caiaphas who was on trial, although Caiaphas did not understand it that way.

Today, in one sense, Jesus is on trial before our civilization. Today, many modern people are examining Christ to see if he has any relevance in today’s modern age. Many individuals and institutions and nations think that they are putting Jesus to the test, thinking that Jesus is some outmoded relic from the past.  Jesus is an old superstition from the first century.  Jesus is very much on trial in today’s modern world.

But in the deepest and final sense, it is not Jesus who is on trial today, but it is our civilization. I love the quotation by Albert Einstein when he answered the question: “What weapons will be used in World War III?”  Albert Einstein responded, “I don’t know what weapons will be used in World War III, but I do know what weapons will be used in World War IV. Stone clubs.” 

It is our civilization that is on trial today, not Jesus Christ. Our handling of our natural resources.  Our use of energy and water. Our handling of the nuclear bombs, nuclear missiles, nuclear war and nuclear waste. Our handling of our institutions like the family and the rearing of our children. Our handling of intimate love relationships between a man and woman. It is not Jesus who is on trial today. It is our civilization that is on trial before the face of Almighty God, and our civilization does not realize this.  We think that Jesus is on trial.

What else can we learn from Annas and Caiaphas?

We can see that on that Passover Thursday night, Jesus was confronting the religious powers and institutions of his time. We see that Annas and Caiaphas were preoccupied with their own pleasure and prosperity rather than true religion. Annas and Caiaphas were more preoccupied with protecting their vested interests, their wealth, their prosperity, their lifestyles, their institutional religion than carrying out the prophetic message of the Old Testament for the poor, the oppressed, and the widows.

Importantly to me, it seems that Annas and Caiaphas did not fear God so much as they feared the loss of privilege and pleasure. They feared the loss of prosperity and power. They feared the loss of security.  These were the real fears of Annas and Caiaphas. The fear of God had been replaced by a “this worldly” fear of loss of privilege, pleasure, power, and security. These were the real fears of Annas and Caiaphas.

Likewise with so many of us.  We can so easily become like Annas and Caiaphas where we have lost our fear and reverence for God and where our real fears are the loss of a middle-class life, the loss of its securities, the loss of its pleasure, the loss of its luxury. We often live out our lives in order to protect our opulent life styles. Far too often, we are no different than Annas and Caiaphas who wanted to protect the status quo and their good life and banking interests.

This can also be true of the church.  Like Annas and Caiaphas, the church is always in danger of being more preoccupied with its vested interests, and we become more preoccupied with our wealth, prosperity,  success, than being the servants of Christ in a suffering world.  When this happens, the church becomes more important than the cross. The church becomes an end in itself. Churchianity becomes more important than Christianity.  Being a member of a church becomes more important than carrying the cross. In the church today, there are millions who love the Christian religion more than the cross of Christ.

In Jerusalem on that Thursday, it was springtime. It was Passover time. It was money time, and Annas and Caiaphas were making the biggest money ever.  Passover was their biggest money day of the year at the temple. Jesus, as a new young prophet, was definitely a threat to their financial security and pleasure, and so they were the ones who arranged for Jesus to be killed. Jesus was brought to their houses in the middle of the night, and they put Jesus on trial, at least so they thought. But in reality, it was the other way around. Jesus was not on trial that night; they were. And so it is in our world today. Jesus is not on trial.  No, our civilization is on trial before the face of God.  And so is the church.  The church is on trial before the cross of Christ. Amen.

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