Caiaphas—Bitter Opposer of True Worship
“THE lips of a priest are the ones that should keep knowledge, and the law is what people should seek from his mouth.” (Mal. 2:7) These inspired words indicate that Israel’s priests should have been champions of true worship. Especially should this have been true of Israel’s high priest. Yet Caiaphas, a high priest in the first century C.E., did not live up to this expectation. He was one of the foremost enemies of truth.
Valerius Gratus, predecessor of Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, appointed Caiaphas to the office of high priest about 18 C.E. (or, perhaps as late as 26 C.E.). A desire to maintain his office at all costs was a major factor in Caiaphas’ fierce opposition to loyal servants of Jehovah God.
The publicly known resurrection of Lazarus prompted Caiaphas and most of the other members of the Jewish supreme court, the Sanhedrin, to seek the death of Jesus Christ. (John 11:43-53) That miracle was a powerful blow to the sect of the Sadducees, to which the priestly family, including Caiaphas, evidently belonged. (Acts 5:17) This was so because the Sadducees denied the Scriptural teaching of the resurrection.—Acts 23:8.
However, when the miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection was considered by the Sanhedrin, the religious view of the Sadducees was not brought into the discussion. The main consideration was fear for position. The Bible record reports: “The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Sanhedrin together and began to say: ‘What are we to do, because this man performs many signs? If we let him alone this way, they will all put faith in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.’ But a certain one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them: ‘You do not know anything at all, and you do not reason out that it is to your benefit for one man to die in behalf of the people and not for the whole nation to be destroyed.’ This, though, he did not say of his own originality; but because he was high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was destined to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that the children of God who are scattered about he might also gather together in one. Therefore from that day on they took counsel to kill him.”—John 11:47-53.
Like the majority of the members of the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas was bent on killing Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, in view of his sacred office, Caiaphas was used by Jehovah God to prophesy about Jesus. This somewhat resembled what Jehovah did in causing the diviner Balaam, who wanted to curse Israel for a reward, to bless the Israelites and utter true prophecies concerning them.—Num. 23:1–24:24; 2 Pet. 2:15; Jude 11.
Thereafter, Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas were doubtless the chief priests who plotted to kill Lazarus. They wanted to put an end to the powerful effect that the miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection had in moving many people to put faith in Jesus Christ.—John 12:10, 11.
WILLFUL PERVERSION OF GOD’S LAW
Later, Caiaphas and Annas became deeply involved in bringing about the actual death of Jesus Christ. Shortly before the Passover of 33 C.E., Caiaphas and other members of the Sanhedrin ‘took counsel to seize Jesus by crafty device and kill him.’ (Matt. 26:3, 4) With the cooperation of Judas Iscariot, whom they bribed, they succeeded in their scheme. (Luke 22:2-6, 47-53) After seizing Jesus under the cover of darkness in the garden of Gethsemane, an armed crowd brought him first to the house of Annas. (John 18:13) Next, Jesus was led bound to Caiaphas, at which time false witnesses presented conflicting testimony. Finally, Caiaphas put Jesus under oath, demanding that he tell them whether he was the Christ the Son of God. On hearing Jesus’ affirmative reply, Caiaphas ripped his garments apart and called upon the court to condemn him as a blasphemer. This the court did, sentencing Jesus to death.—Matt. 26:59-66.
After this illegal night trial, the Sanhedrin met early the next morning to confirm their judgment. (Mark 15:1) Doubtless Caiaphas was among those who then brought Jesus before Pilate, accusing him of ‘forbidding the payment of taxes and of claiming to be Christ a king.’ (Luke 23:2) Then, when Pilate sought to release Jesus, Caiaphas was no doubt one of the “chief priests” who shouted: “Impale him! Impale him!” (John 19:6, 11) Evidently he used his influence to persuade the crowd to ask for the release of Barabbas, a murderer, seditionist and robber, instead of Jesus. (Matt. 27:20, 21; Mark 15:11) Caiaphas likely also must have cried out: “We have no king but Caesar.”—John 19:15.
Having achieved their goal in getting Jesus sentenced to death, the chief priests were still not pleased with the charge that was to be posted on the executional stake. They protested, saying to Pilate: “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’” But Pilate did not cooperate with them in this.—John 19:21, 22.
Caiaphas did indeed fail in his responsibility to uphold the Law that he was under obligation to obey and teach as high priest. He cooperated in violating the laws on bribery (Deut. 16:19), conspiracy and perversion of justice (Ex. 23:1, 6, 7), false testimony (Ex. 20:16), releasing a murderer (Num. 35:31-34), mob action (Ex. 23:2), following the statutes of other nations (Lev. 18:3-5), accepting as king one not of their own nation (Deut. 17:14, 15) and murder.—Ex. 20:13.
POST-RESURRECTION OPPOSITION TO TRUE WORSHIP
After Jesus was dead, Caiaphas and other priests requested that Pilate do something about guarding the tomb. But Pilate replied: “You have a guard. Go make it as secure as you know how.” (Matt. 27:62-65) When Jesus was resurrected and some of the guard reported this to the chief priests, Caiaphas and the others were not moved to repentance. Instead, they bribed the soldiers and instructed them: “Say, ‘His disciples came in the night and stole him while we were sleeping.’ And if this gets to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him and will set you free from worry.”—Matt. 28:11-14.
Caiaphas thereafter tried desperately to put a stop to the preaching and teaching of Jesus’ disciples. In connection with the healing of a man lame from birth, Peter and John were jailed and the next day haled before Caiaphas and the rest of the Sanhedrin. On that occasion the Sanhedrin demanded that they stop speaking on the basis of Jesus’ name. But Peter and John were determined to keep on declaring the truth, Caiaphas notwithstanding. (Acts 4:1-20) At another time Caiaphas questioned all the apostles and called attention to the Sanhedrin’s order for them to stop preaching on the basis of Jesus’ name. But the apostles declared their firm resolve to continue obeying “God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:27-29.
It was Caiaphas who sometime later shared in causing God’s faithful servant Stephen to be stoned to death. (Acts 6:11–7:60) He also gave authorization to Saul (Paul, who later became a faithful apostle of Jesus Christ) to seize Christ’s disciples in Damascus and bring them bound to Jerusalem for judgment.—Acts 9:1, 2.
Soon, however, Caiaphas had his career cut short. In 36 or 37 C.E. Vitellius, a Roman official, removed him from office. Humiliated and unable to bear the reproach, he reportedly committed suicide.
Truly Caiaphas’ efforts against true worship were to no avail. The very thing that he was most concerned about—his position, and the power, authority and prestige it brought—he lost. Though he was a high priest who could have used his influence for good, he died as a fighter against God.—Acts 5:39.