The Passion and the People: Caiaphas

Caiaphas interrogating JesusJohn 11:45-53: Pragmatism During the Passover


In our Lord’s killing, who plays the most active part in His death?  Many take part, and without their involvement, Jesus will not die.  Still, one man sets the death train in motion—Caiaphas.  Without him, many others will be without a role to fulfill.

The High Priest, Caiaphas, holds the most prominent position of an Israelite under Roman rule.  The religious leader of the Jews commands the respect of the people and controls the money of the Temple treasury.  Also, ruling as the president of the Jewish Ruling Council, the Sanhedrin, he comes with much clout and influence.

Now, this man didn’t become the High Priest as God intended—by inheriting the position.  No, he owes his title to the Roman governor, the one who came before Pontius Pilate.  To help keep a lid on top of trouble, the Romans handpicked the High Priest.  Only by pleasing the occupying authority can Caiaphas stay in power.

So, this appointed man can lose much from the movement inspired by the Rabbi from Nazareth.  With His many miracles, Jesus gains a sizable following of everyday people.  For this man claims to be the Messiah and undercuts the corruption taking place in the Temple.  Did He not drive out the thieving moneychangers and threaten Caiaphas where he is most vulnerable, in the bank account?

More than all the others, if the Romans believe Jesus to be a threat, they will come to subdue, squeezing all the people without mercy.  So, Caiaphas can lose everything.

Still, when you think about Caiaphas, you begin to wonder why he did what he did.  For God created His Old-Covenant priesthood as a foreshadow of the Messiah to come.  The High Priest performed a God-ordained ritual for the people.  For 1,500 years, he brought blood sacrifices to God, directing the people to the Sin-slayer, who will one day come and sacrifice Himself for our redemption.

The High Priest’s position is to point the people to the Messiah.  How ironic!  The High Priest is now plotting His death.  In a strange twist, through Caiaphas, God will speak.  The Old Covenant is coming to an end, with its symbols and sacrifices, fulfilled by the One who will bring in the New Covenant.

Of all the people to recognize and welcome the Messiah, the High Priest should—but he doesn’t.  No, he uses his office only to his advantage.  Why?  By most accounts, Caiaphas is a Sadducee.  Unlike Jesus and the Pharisees, he doesn’t believe in body’s resurrection, an afterlife, or in heaven or hell.  So, what takes place in this life is what matters because nothing will come later.

So, salvation isn’t an issue with Caiaphas.  No, what concerns him is what he gains for himself in this life.  The Messiah’s teachings don’t appeal to him.  So, church leaders lose the truths they are to believe and teach.  Other topics now occupy their minds, often social or political.  So also with Caiaphas.  No longer holding the teachings of sin and salvation, he focuses on what he can collect for himself, here and now.

So, the cunning Caiaphas, a man not to be denied, channels his rage against Jesus.  To rid Israel of this Rabbi is his goal.  Whatever he needs to do, he will do.

The conniving and conspiring began long before the fateful, dark Friday of long ago.  The Jewish leaders spy on Jesus, taking note of what He teaches and does.  Many times, they try to trick or trap Him, without success.

Earlier, our Lord raised Lazarus from the dead.  Many now realize Jesus is the Messiah with the power over death, and so they believe in Him.  “Some of them, however, went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus did” (John 11:46).  By seeing a dead man, now alive, something magnificent should stir inside them, but all some can do is to tattle.

So, the Pharisees call an emergency meeting of the Sanhedrin.  Oh, they recognize the miracles Jesus is doing—and they don’t bother trying to deny Lazarus is now alive.  In fear of what might lay ahead, they lament.  “What are we going to do since this man does many miracles?  For if we let him go on in this way, everyone will believe in him.”

In a panic, they fear this rabble rouser will corrupt the population by His teachings and mighty works!  The end of their understanding of the Law and Israel’s unique place in history is now before them.  What will happen when the people are free from their religious control, will they try to rid themselves of the Sanhedrin, or Rome?

So, the angst of a foreboding future agitates within.  The council deliberates the issue with no resolution.  Oh, those religious leaders realize they are losing the loyalty of the people.  All the while, they fret about the threat from Rome—but they only rehash their worries, too divided to take any action.

So, the High Priest makes his move.  “Fools,” he yells!  For they talk much but do little.  So, he tells them what to do, without offering any real religious motive or zeal for God.  No, he tells them their patriotic duty and self-interest is to kill Jesus.  “Consider how better for you if one man dies for the people than the whole nation to perish.”

With the last nail now in the coffin, Caiaphas’ words end the discussion.  “One man” or “the nation”?  Do only two choices exist?  So sayeth the High Priest!  The Sanhedrin decides like lemmings in motion.  Too much is at risk, so they decide the “one man” Jesus must die to save the nation.

The High Priest’s scheme is working.  Little does he realize the Almighty is making the Sanhedrin work for the well-being of all people on earth.  Yes, Caiaphas manipulates others with his words, but God turns them into the words of a prophet.  With murder on the High Priest’s mind, God is, instead, planning our eternal rescue.  The council members want to kill Jesus for their selfish purposes, but God will only let them kill His Son for His purpose—eternal life.

The Gospel of God comes from Caiaphas’ mouth, though he only intends to communicate hatred and self-serving pragmatism.  Despite what he thinks, Caiaphas is not in control—God is.  Through a scheming High Priest, God reveals, “Consider how better for you if one man dies for the people than the whole nation to perish.”

So the words leading to Jesus’ execution contain a beautiful truth—Jesus will die for the people.  So, God leaves no one out in the death of His Son, not the Jews, council members, Romans, or us.  Now, our Lord’s death did not save the Jews from the Romans as Caiaphas wanted.  Within 40 years, the Empire’s army will crush the Jews because they will rebel.  A century later, Rome will again bring destruction to Israel because the Jews will choose to follow a false, partisan messiah in another rebellion.

Still, our Lord goes as the heaven-sent substitute for fallen sinners.  For us, He suffers, paying our penalty.  Oh, the High Priest is right—Jesus needs to suffer death.  What he gets wrong is why.  For Caiaphas thinks Jesus must die for political reasons when the real reason is spiritual.  One man, the God-man, must die for all people!

The most wicked deed ever perpetrated is not beyond God’s ability to use for our well-being.  The God of our deliverance turns the crucifixion of His Son into His saving gift—the eternal salvation of sinners.

In his wicked ways, Caiaphas chooses to use his foreign occupiers to arrest Jesus and subject Him to a criminal trial and sentencing.  With false witnesses, he rebukes Jesus for remaining silent.  Later, during Jesus’ interrogation, as Caiaphas realizes he might be losing his case, he changes tactics.

The Gospel writer, Matthew, fills in more of the story.  In the interrogation, the High Priest continues.  “By the living God, I place You under oath: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63).  Now Jesus speaks.  “The words are your own, but I tell you: From now on, your eyes will view the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).

The Son of God, Jesus, is the Messiah and He speaks the final word.  The High Priest, however, in his death wish, can only picture Jesus dying.  So, the Council declares, “He is worthy of death” (Matthew 26:66).

Perhaps, you find what Caiaphas did as hard to believe.  Stare deeper within yourself, and you will find such a spirit in you, as well.  Are we not often pragmatic, more concerned about what will work instead of what is right?  In such cases, we also want Jesus out of our way.  Hey, Jesus isn’t always convenient, and He cramps my style.  Examine some of your motives, and you will find a little of Caiaphas inside yourself.

Think about your pride, which moves you to seek approval from others.  In opposition, Jesus asks you to humble yourself and serve others.  Don’t you want life to go your way?  Yes, but Jesus calls you to follow His way.

How much time do you take to learn Jesus’ teaching?  Still, He cuts no slack, telling His pastors to teach “all,” everything, He wants us to learn (Matthew 28:20).  So, we become a pragmatic Caiaphas, judging Sunday School not worth the effort, pushing Jesus aside to satisfy our wishes.

The God in human flesh died for Caiaphas as He also died for you.  So today, we thank God He used a wayward High Priest to bring His Son to the cross.  On the wood, Jesus took our sins upon Himself and paid the ransom to God’s Law to set us free from sin.  Only He redeems our sinful pride, our rebellious ways, and our selfish yearnings.

In Christ, we learn of God’s unending, undeniable love.  Through an act of strangeness, God declares His love through the mouth of an unbeliever, someone who is hell bent on killing His Son.  Consider how better for you, for you, if Jesus dies for the people instead of all to perish.  Amen.


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