Joseph Caiaphas, known simply as Caiaphas in the New Testament, was the Jewish high priest who organized the plot to kill Jesus. Caiaphas was also involved in the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus.
The 1st-century Jewish historian, Josephus, is considered the most reliable literary source for Caiaphas. Josephus relates that Caiaphas became a high priest during a turbulent period. Caiaphas was appointed in 18AD by the Roman prefect who preceded Pontius Pilate, Valerius Gratus.
Caiaphas was the son in law of Annas. Annas was deposed, but had 5 sons who served as high priest after him. The terms of Annas, Caiaphas, and the 5 brothers are:
– Annas, the son of Seth (6–15AD)
– Eleazar, the son of Annas (16–17AD)
– Caiaphas (18–36AD), who had married the daughter of Annas (John 18:13)
– Jonathan, the son of Annas (36–37 and 44AD)
– Theophilus, the son of Annas (37–41AD)
– Matthias, the son of Annas (43AD)
– Ananus, the son of Annas (63AD)
Matthew: Trial of Jesus
In Matthew 26:57-67, Caiaphas, other chief priests, and the Sanhedrin are depicted interrogating Jesus. They are looking for “false evidence” with which to frame Jesus, but are unable to find any. Jesus remains silent throughout the proceedings, until Caiaphas demands that Jesus say whether He is the Christ. Jesus replies “You have said so” (26:64), and “I am: and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of Heaven.” (14:62) Caiaphas and the other men charge Him with blasphemy, and order Him beaten.
John: Relations with Romans
In John 11, the high priests call a gathering of the Sanhedrin in reaction to the raising of Lazarus. Later, Caiaphas and the chief priests extend this decision to also include Lazarus himself (12:10). The parallel with the reaction of the “five brothers” to any raising of Lazarus in the account 16:28-30 has given rise to the suggestion that the “rich man” is itself an attack on Caiaphas, his father-in-law, and his 5 brothers-in-law.
Caiaphas considers, with “the Chief Priests and Pharisees“, what to do about Jesus, whose influence was spreading. They worry that if they “let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” Caiaphas makes a political calculation, suggesting that it would be better for “one man” (Jesus) to die than for “the whole nation” to be destroyed.
In John 18, Jesus is brought before Annas & Caiaphas and questioned, with intermittent beatings. Afterward, the other priests (Caiaphas does not accompany them) take Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, and insist upon Jesus’ execution. Pilate tells the priests to judge Jesus themselves, to which they respond they lack authority to do so. Pilate questions Jesus, after which he states, “I find no basis for a charge against him.”
Pilate then offers the gathered crowd the choice of one prisoner to release — said to be a Passover tradition — and they choose a criminal named Barabbas instead of Jesus.
Pity Caiaphas. For all his learning, he failed to discern the truth. All the power of his personality and office were directed against Jesus, God’s Son, and he never saw it… or, at least, he never admitted it. He was politically a huge success. He was religiously a huge success. But, he was spiritually bankrupt. He had it all… and had nothing.
* Success can be the worst thing that happens to a person.
Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas by marriage to his daughter and ruled longer than any high priest in New Testament times. For Jewish leaders of the time, there were serious concerns about Roman rule and an insurgent Zealot movement to eject the Romans from Israel. The Romans would not perform execution over violations of Jewish law, and therefore the charge of blasphemy would not have mattered to Pilate. Caiaphas’ legal position, therefore, was to establish that Jesus was guilty not only of blasphemy, but also of proclaiming Himself the Messiah, which was understood as the return of the Davidic king. This would have been an act of sedition and prompted Roman execution.
Acts: Peter and John Refuse to Be Silenced
Later, in Acts 4, Peter and John went before Annas and Caiaphas after having healed a crippled man. Caiaphas and Annas questioned the apostles’ authority to perform such a miracle. When Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, answered that Jesus of Nazareth was the source of their power, Caiaphas and the other priests realized the 2 men had no formal education, yet spoke eloquently about the man they called their Savior. Caiaphas sent the apostles away, and agreed with the other priests that the word of the miracle had already been spread too much to attempt to refute, and, instead, the priests would need to warn the apostles not to spread the name of Jesus. But, when they gave Peter and John this command, the 2 refused, saying “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Caiaphas had no idea what to do about these 2 “ignorant fishermen”. Those who heard the bold testimony of Peter & John were “astonished”. Those who heard the 2 were witnessing a power they had never experienced… and could see their carefully laid plans slowly unraveling.
Today, the simple gospel still surprises powerful, intelligent people who thought they had life all boxed, wrapped, and on a shelf. God’s power stuns and stymies worldly wisdom.
* The first lesson in true wisdom is to know and reverence the Lord.
You can read the biblical account of the story of Caiaphas in Luke 3:2; John 11:49; Matthew 26:3,57-68; John 18:12-28; and Acts 4:6.