A Brief Background of the Office of the High Priest
Text: Matthew 26 : 57- 75
Only the Gospel of John mentioned that Jesus was brought before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas (John 18:13). Luke made an interesting comment about both Annas and Caiaphas. They were actually mentioned as “high priests” together (Luke 3:2).
1. Appointment of the high priest
The office of the high priest was both a religious and a political appointment. Interestingly, it was Rome who appointed people to the office of the high priest. Josephus Annas was appointed the high priest from 7-15 AD by Quirinius, the governor of Syria. Judea was under his jurisdiction. He was deposed by the new governor Valerius Gratus. Caiaphas was the new high priest appointed to his office (17-37 AD) by this Roman governor.
2. Josephus Annas the high priest
Annas may not have ruled for very long as high priest. However, he dominated all the other high priests that came after him. Five of them were his sons. Caiaphas was his son-in-law! Annas was a man of great wealth. His riches appeared to have come from fleecing the pilgrims who came to offer worship at the temple. The family business of selling animals for sacrifices was a monopoly! He did not need to be called the high priest to wield the power associated with that office.
3. Joseph Caiaphas the high priest
He married the daughter of Annas the former high priest. Little was known of his earlier career, but he was the high priest at the trial of Jesus. None of the synoptic Gospels mentioned Annas, only Caiaphas.
“And those who had laid hold of Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas
the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.”
As the high priest, Caiaphas was also the president of the Sanhedrin Council, the highest religious authority of the land.
THE GREAT SANHEDRIN
The Great Sanhedrin wielded enormous powers over all Jews. They regulated just about everything, from education to religion. Their legislative and administrative powers were extensive. There was only one lack. They did not have the power to order the death penalty.
The Great Council appeared to have been made up of 72 leaders. There were 23 chief priests. There were also 23 elders. There was another set of 23 scribes. Two recording heralds were present to record the “yes” and the “no” votes. The high priest presided whenever the Great Sanhedrin met.
ORIGINS OF THE GREAT SANHEDRIN
Some trace the concept of the Sanhedrin all the way back to Moses. He had 70 elders to assist him in shepherding Israel (Cf. Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25; Exodus 24:9-11).
Others suggest that the Jews formed the Sanhedrin Council after the Talmudic teaching after the so-called Beth Din (House of Judgment) in the Heavenlies. (Of dubious value because the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. Some of the Sanhedrin Council members were of necessity Sadducees. The high priestly family members were Sadducees).
CONVENING OF THE SANHEDRIN COUNCIL
The Sanhedrin Council would normally be convened in the day time. Sufficient notice would be given to all Council members. Rarely, if at all, would a Council Meeting be convened late at night. The trial of Jesus by the Sanhedrin Council late at night would be of questionable legal validity. (But the Sanhedrin Council was a law in itself. It was the Supreme Court of Judea!)
“But Peter followed Him at a distance to the high priest’s
courtyard. And he went in and sat with the servants to see the end.
Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought
false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none.
Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none.
But at last two false witnesses came forward and said,
‘This fellow said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and
to build it in three days.” ‘ ”
1. “The chief priests, the elders and all the council”
The Sanhedrin Council may not have all its members present, but they did have a fairly good representation judging from this statement Matthew made.
2. “Sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death”
The Great Sanhedrin Council was capable of great moral misconduct. Instead of upholding justice, they were capable of manipulating the judicial system so that the verdict would fit into their schemes. Injustice was not unknown in the history of Israel. Many of the prophets of old, and a good number of the psalms spoke against the problem of injustice (Cf. Psalm 82; Isaiah 10:1-3 etc).
Matthew noted an important truth though. The phrase, “but found none” was repeated twice over in this text! The corrupt council could not even find enough false witnesses to testify effectively against Jesus!
At last two witnesses came up with a trumped up charge that Jesus made a wild statement about destroying the temple of God and rebuilding it in three days. But would this charge deserve the death penalty? Even the most fickle-minded among the Sanhedrin Council must have been near despair at the way the trial was progressing!