Last week, we watched as Judas led a crowd of men armed with clubs and swords to the place where Jesus had taken His disciples. There in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was arrested while His disciples left Him and fled.
The crowd took Jesus to the high priest. The position of high priest was established by God back in the days of Moses. The tribe of Levi was the group that would serve God in the temple. The Levite clan of the Kohathites would be the group from which the priests came. But only the Kohathites who descended from Aaron could be the high priest.
When Aaron died, his oldest son Eleazar became the high priest (Num. 20:25-28). When Eleazar died, his oldest son Phinehas became the high priest (Judg. 20:28). This method worked well for a long time. However, by the days of the New Testament, several things had gone wrong with the system. And currently, that something was the Roman Empire's occupation of Israel.
We have heard of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Empire's governor of Judea (Luke 3:1). But the man who had the job before him was named Valerius Gratus. He was appointed by the emperor of Rome to be governor of Judea, and was for eleven years. But in that short period of time, he made a mess of the high priesthood.
- When Valerius was appointed, Annas was the high priest.
- But soon after, Valerius removed Annas from that position, and replaced him with Annas' son Eleazar.
- Eleazar lasted about a year, before Valerius replaced him with a man named Simon.
- Simon didn't last more than a year either, before Valerius replaced him with Caiaphas (Josephus, Antiquities 18.2.2).
Caiaphas was the fourth high priest in as many years. That certainly explains why John in his gospel three times used the phrase, "high priest that year" (John 11:49; 11:51; 18:13)!
Of course, because Annas was the priest who had rightly inherited the position, many of the Jews considered him to be the only true high priest. That's why Luke described the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry as beginning...
Luke 3:2 in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas...
Knowing this helps us to understand why they...
John 18:12-13 ...arrested Jesus and bound Him, and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.
Matthew doesn't mention this first visit to Annas, but you can read about it in John 18.
John 18:19-24 The high priest then questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching. Jesus answered him, "I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said." When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, "Is that the way You answer the high priest?" Jesus answered him, "If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?" So Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
Although Jesus' disciples had all left him and fled, some of them had not gone far. Two of them were trailing Jesus as He was being taken from place to place. John tells us,
John 18:15-16 Simon Peter was following Jesus, and so was another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, but Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in.
Because John is the only gospel writer to give us this detail, most Bible commentators believe that the disciple letting Peter into the courtyard was John himself. While he was waiting to see what happened to Jesus, he sat down with the officers to warm himself by their fire (Mark 14:54). In our next study, we will see exactly what happened to Peter there in the courtyard of the high priest.
Caiaphas had already determined that Jesus was going to die. We know this because after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead in Bethany, many of the Jews in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas began to believe in Him (John 11:45). When word got to the Pharisees and the chief priests about this, they convened a council (John 11:47) and said,
John 11:48-50 "If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish."
And so Caiaphas had predetermined the outcome of this so-called "trial." Jesus was going to be found guilty. It was just a matter of how they were going to arrive at this verdict.
The chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to get witnesses to swear to lies about Jesus. They had no shortage of people who gave false testimony, but the problem was that their accounts were blatantly contradictory (Mark 14:59). Finally, when they heard the claim that Jesus had said He was able to destroy the temple, they thought they had something.
With all of these false accusations swirling about, Jesus wasn't saying anything. He wasn't speaking a word in His defense. This really surprised everyone, especially the high priest. After all, who doesn't defend themselves when false accusations are being hurled at them? Jesus, that's who.
Is. 53:7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.
Do you realize that there is a time not to answer false accusations? Now, it's not every time. The Bible says that there is...
Eccl. 3:7 ...a time to be silent and a time to speak.
But in this instance, Jesus wouldn't answer them (Mark 14:51). And this is one of the hardest lessons I've had to learn in my Christian life. Recently, some astronomically false accusations were made against me. I was accused of saying things I didn't say, of doing things I never did, and of being someone that I am not. But I didn't write any letters defending myself, didn't start making phone calls to "build my team," or do one single thing to mount a defense. I did what Jesus showed me to do by His example:
1Pet. 2:23 ...while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously
There may be a time in your life that you will need to remember and apply this very lesson.
Jesus hasn't spoken a word in His defense. But He does speak up when asked Who He is. I believe we need to do the same. No, I often won't defend myself against false accusations. But yes, I will answer when asked who I am. I am a Christian. I am a man who loves God and fears God. These things I will speak, regardless of the consequences. After all, when Jesus said Who He was, it got Him killed.
The Jews were livid. Their hatred for Jesus drove them to abominable behavior. They began to spit at Him (Mark 14:65), beat Him, and slap Him in the face. Since He was known as a prophet,
Luke 22:64 ...they blindfolded Him and were asking Him, saying, "Prophesy, who is the one who hit You?"
This was only the beginning of Jesus' agony that day, which He endured to pay the price of our sin.