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