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Caiaphas – High Priest of the Jerusalem Temple

Profile of Caiaphas, Co-Conspirator in Jesus’ Death

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Caiaphas

As high priest, Caiaphas (depicted in red) was the official leader of the Sanhedrin at the time of Jesus' arrest and trial, and the person chiefly responsible for orchestrating Christ's death.

Photo: Getty Images

Joseph Caiaphas, high priest of the temple in Jerusalem from 18 to 37 A.D., played a key role in the trial and execution of Jesus Christ. Caiaphas accused Jesus of blasphemy, a crime punishable by death under Jewish law.

But the Sanhedrin, or high council, of which Caiaphas was president, did not have the authority to execute people. So Caiaphas turned to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who could carry out a death sentence. Caiaphas tried to convince Pilate that Jesus was a threat to Roman stability and had to die to prevent a rebellion.

Caiaphas' Accomplishments:

The high priest served as the Jewish people's representative to God. Once a year Caiaphas would enter the Holy of Holies in the temple to offer sacrifices to Yahweh.

Caiaphas was in charge of the temple treasury, controlled the temple police and lower ranking priests and attendants, and ruled over the Sanhedrin. His 19-year tenure implies that the Romans, who appointed the priests, were pleased with his service.

Caiaphas' Strengths:

Caiaphas led the Jewish people in their worship of God. He performed his religious duties in strict obedience to Mosaic law.

Caiaphas' Weaknesses:

It is questionable whether Caiaphas was appointed high priest because of his own merit. Annas, his father-in-law, served as high priest before him and got five of his relatives appointed to that office. In John 18:13, we see Annas playing a major part in Jesus' trial, an indication he may have advised or controlled Caiaphas, even after Annas was deposed. Three high priests were appointed and quickly removed by the Roman governor Valerius Gratus before Caiaphas, suggesting that he was a shrewd collaborator with the Romans.

As a Sadducee, Caiaphas did not believe in the resurrection. It must have been a shock to him when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He preferred to destroy this challenge to his beliefs instead of supporting it.

Since Caiaphas was in charge of the temple, he was aware of the money changers and animal sellers driven out by Jesus (John 2:14-16). Caiaphas may have received a fee or bribe from these vendors.

Caiaphas was not interested in the truth. His trial of Jesus violated Jewish law and was rigged to produce a guilty verdict. Perhaps he saw Jesus as a menace to Roman order, but he also may have seen this new message as a threat to his family's rich way of life.

Life Lessons:

Compromising with evil is a temptation for all of us. We are especially vulnerable in our job, to maintain our way of life. Caiaphas betrayed God and his people to appease the Romans. We need to be on constant guard to stay faithful to Jesus.

Hometown:

Caiaphas was probably born in Jerusalem, although the record is not clear.

Referenced in the Bible

Matthew 26:3, 26:57; Luke 3:2; John 11:49, 18:13-28; Acts 4:6.

Occupation:

High priest of God's temple in Jerusalem; president of the Sanhedrin.

Remains of Caiaphas Found:

In 1990, archaeologist Zvi Greenhut entered a burial cave in Jerusalem's Peace Forest that was discovered during construction work. Inside were 12 ossuaries, or limestone boxes, which were used to hold the bones of deceased people. A family member would go to the tomb about a year after death, when the body had decomposed, gather the dry bones and put them in the ossuary.

One bone box was inscribed "Yehosef bar Kayafa," which translated to "Joseph, son of Caiaphas." The ancient Jewish historian Josephus described him as "Joseph, who was also called Caiaphas." These bones of a 60 year old man were from Caiaphas, the high priest mentioned in the Bible. His and other bones found in the tomb were reburied on the Mount of Olives. The Caiaphas ossuary is now displayed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Key Verses:

John 11:49-53
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life. (NIV)

Matthew 26:65-66
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" "He is worthy of death," they answered. (NIV)

(Sources: law2.umkc.edu, bible-history.com, virtualreligion.com, israeltours.wordpress.com, and ccel.org.)

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