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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The World into Which Jesus Came

Don Stewart :: Who Were the High Priests, Annas and Caiaphas?

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Who Were the High Priests, Annas and Caiaphas?

The World into Which Jesus Came – Question 8

Two High Priests are mentioned during Jesus public ministry; Annas and Caiaphas. Since they figure prominently into the events of His death it is important that we know something about them.

1. Annas Had Been the High Priest

Annas had been high priest from A.D. 6 to 15. The Romans had removed him from office yet he still wielded considerable power behind the scenes. Five of his sons succeeded him as high priest. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas; the high priest who was in office at the time of Jesus ministry. Luke wrote,

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. (Luke 3:1, 2 NKJV)

Annas is still called “high priest” even though he was not serving in that capacity at the time. This indicates that much of the power was still in his hands.

2. Jesus Was Brought to Annas First

His power was obvious. Indeed, when Jesus was arrested He was brought to Annas first, rather than Caiaphas. John wrote,

First they took him to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had told the other Jewish leaders, “Better that one should die for all.” (John 18:13, 14 NLT)

Annas was the first to examine Jesus. The fact that Jesus was eventually sent on to other shows the power this man had.

The examination before Annas was unproductive. The Bible gives the following account of what occurred when Jesus went before Annas:

Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. ‘I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded. “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” (John 18:19-23 NIV)

Since the meeting did not achieve its desired result, Annas then sent Jesus away to Caiaphas, the current high priest.

John also records this. He put it in this manner:

Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. (John 18:24 NRSV)

Caiaphas, the ruling high priest, then conducted the next phase of Jesus’ trial.

3. Caiaphas Was the Ruling High Priest

As we just mentioned, Joseph Ben Caiaphas was the ruling high priest at the time of Jesus’ ministry as well as beyond (A.D. 18-36). He was the son-in-law of Annas. It was Caiaphas who predicted the necessity of the death of Jesus. We read about this in the gospel of John. It says,

And one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, “How can you be so stupid? Why should the whole nation be destroyed? Let this one man die for the people.” This prophecy that Jesus should die for the entire nation came from Caiaphas in his position as high priest. He didn’t think of it himself; he was inspired to say it. It was a prediction that Jesus’ death would be not for Israel only, but for the gathering together of all the children of God scattered around the world. So from that time on the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death. (John 11:49-53 NLT)

Caiaphas said it was necessary for Jesus to die for the survival of the nation. These words of his caused the plot to be on Jesus’ life.

We find the same thing taught in Matthew’s gospel. Caiaphas is the one who plotted to kill Jesus. Matthew records the following,

Then the chief priests and the leaders of the people gathered in the palace of the chief priest Caiaphas. They made plans to arrest Jesus in an underhanded way and to kill him. (Matthew 26:3, 4 God’s Word)

It was by trickery that Caiaphas planned to arrest Jesus.

4. Caiaphas Charged Jesus with Blasphemy

We also find that Caiaphas is the one whom charged Jesus with blasphemy. At Jesus’ trial the following exchange took place:

But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” (Matthew 26:63-66 ESV)

The Jewish leaders wanted Jesus dead! They did not merely want Him judged according to Jewish law.

5. Caiaphas Sent Jesus to Pilate

It was Caiaphas who sent Jesus to Pontius Pilate to have the death sentence carried out. The Gospel of John records the following:

Early in the morning, Jesus was taken from Caiaphas’ house to the governor’s palace. The Jews wouldn’t go into the palace. They didn’t want to become unclean, since they wanted to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What accusation are you making against this man?” The Jews answered Pilate, “If he weren’t a criminal, we wouldn’t have handed him over to you.” Pilate told the Jews, “Take him, and try him by your law.” The Jews answered him, “We’re not allowed to execute anyone.” In this way what Jesus had predicted about how he would die came true. (John 18:28-32 God’s Word)

From all reports it is obvious that Caiaphas wanted Jesus dead. Indeed, he was the man behind the plot to kill Him.

6. The Chief Priests Complained about the Title

Not content with merely having Jesus put to death, these religious leaders watched the crucifixion. In addition, they complained to Pilate about the title he placed above the cross. John records the following:

So the chief priests went to Pilate and said, “Why did you write that he is King of the Jews? You should have written, ‘He claimed to be King of the Jews.’” (John 19:21 CEV)

They objected to the title that was placed over Jesus’ cross; King of the Jews. Pilate did not listen to their request and kept the title to be read by all.

7. They Persecuted Jesus’ Followers

After the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, we find Annas and Caiaphas interrogating Peter and John about a miracle they performed. We read of this in the Book of Acts:

The high priest Annas was there, as well as Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and other members of the high priest’s family. They brought in Peter and John and made them stand in the middle while they questioned them. They asked, “By what power and in whose name have you done this?” (Acts 4:6, 7 CEV)

We note that these two were still prominent in their attempting to silence the ministry of Jesus. Try as they might, they could not stop it! Indeed, nobody can.

Jesus made this clear. We read His prediction in the Gospel of Matthew:

I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it. (Matthew 16:18 HCSB)

The English Standard Version puts it this way:

I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 ESV)

In other words, nothing will stop this work of God. Nothing!

8. The Bones of Caiaphas Have Seemingly Been Found

There was an exciting archaeological discovery in November 1990. Workers constructing a water park south of the Old City of Jerusalem accidentally uncovered a burial cave. In the cave were a dozen limestone chests that contained bones. These types of chests, known as ossuaries, were primarily used in the first century A.D.

One of the chests had the word “Joseph, son of Caiaphas” carved on it. The bones were that of a man that had died at approximately the age of sixty. Because of the lavish decoration on the burial chest there is a high probability that these were the bones of Caiaphas the high priest — the one who charged Jesus with blasphemy. This would be the first physical remains ever discovered of a person mentioned in the Bible.

This is ironic. The man whom Caiaphas unjustly put to death, Jesus, has no burial box where His bones reside. He has risen from the dead! Yet Caiaphas’ bones have been discovered. Death visited him. Such is the awesome reminder of what each of us face.

Summary – Question 8
Who Were the High Priest’s Annas and Caiaphas?

The Bible speaks of two high priests that were prominent in the events in the life of Jesus Christ; Annas and Caiaphas. The Bible records that Caiaphas was high priest during the ministry of Jesus. He was son-in-law to Annas who had previously been the high priest.

Each of these men had important roles to play in the death of Jesus.

Annas, though not the ruling high priest, was seemingly the power behind the office. Indeed, it was to Annas that Jesus was first brought after His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. After interrogating Jesus Annas sent Him to his son-in-law, Caiaphas.

Caiaphas figures more prominently in the events which led up to Jesus’ death. To begin with, He is the one who prophesied that it was necessary for Jesus to die for the nation. In other words, he was the main instigator behind the plot to kill Jesus.

Before the Jewish council, Caiaphas charged Jesus with blasphemy. He then sent Jesus away to Pontius Pilate for execution. This man was determined to have Jesus killed.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection we find that both Annas and Caiaphas persecuted Jesus’ disciples. While they attempted to stop the movement by killing Jesus and then threatening His disciples, they attempts ended in failure. As Jesus had predicted He was going to build His church and not even the gates of hell could stop it!

In an historical irony, the bones of Caiaphas have been found in Jerusalem in November of 1990. This is the first physical remains ever discovered of a person who is mentioned in Scripture. The man who sentenced Jesus to death has his bones still intact. Yet the One whom He sentenced to death does not have any bones rotting away in some burial box. Jesus Christ is risen indeed!

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