Caiaphas, the high priest for that year and figurehead leader of the people of Israel, since Annas his father-in-law was the true leader, is next to question Jesus during this midnight interrogation. He probably lived close to his father-in-law, maybe even in the same compound. Caiaphas, like most of the other religious leaders, had already made up his mind about what should be done with Jesus. Long before this night Jesus had raised another man from the dead. Lazarus was four days dead, buried and rotting, when Jesus called him out of the tomb. He was a walking, living, breathing witness to one of Jesus’ miracles. These leaders wanted to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus. Perhaps disposing of all the evidence would allow the people who knew the truth to eventually forget.
Let me be blunt here. We will examine the death, burial and resurrection of Lazarus at a different time. (I have written about this in Roar of the Lion: Encounters with the Christ in the story The Twin.) When Jesus raised Lazarus from death he did something only God can do. He gave life. Lazarus died again. But his living witness was never contradicted by anyone.
As you read the documents you will see there are three reasons the religious leaders, lead by Caiaphas, wanted Jesus dead.
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” [John 11:45-49 ESV]
They were afraid of losing control over the people. They were afraid of the Romans taking away their control over their positions before the people. They were afraid the Romans would not allow worship in the temple in which the people were commanded to worship, which they controlled. They were afraid the Romans would remove them from Israel, their nation, dispersing them throughout the world. They wanted the Romans gone. They wanted God to remove them and give them autonomy over their nation. But mostly they were afraid of losing control. Jesus challenged their authority and their control over the people.
When God created man in His image He gave him dominion over the world.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” [Genesis 1:27-28 ESV].
Dominion means supremacy, to have total control over something. The word actually means “to tread upon” but not in the sense of a malevolent dictator but a benevolent ruler, whose whole purpose is to care for and encourage growth. Sin brought loss of control and man, created in the image of God, whose image is now bent, has sought to regain control ever since. It is striking to realize God uses the same word when He “curses” Eve’s by saying she will “desire” to control her husband, and by extension all wives desires to control their husbands, is the same word He speaks to warn Cain, telling him sin “desires” him. The word means to stretch out toward or long for, meaning control. Not benevolent control but all encompassing control, to the place where the other is enslaved, with no mind or heart of their own. Such desire to control is opposite the dominion God originally gave man as part of His image.
Sin wants to dominate all and Caiaphas is dominated by it, wrongly thinking he has control over all which happens. His control is an illusion and temporary. Even his words, known by God, reflect what will happen, not what Caiaphas wants to happen. God can never be taken out of the equation.
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. [John 11:50-53 ESV]
There is much in this passage which needs examining. God speaks through even those who hate Him. He is God, after all. But He will never force someone who hates Him to change. He will provide all of the evidence needed to encourage those to change, then provide the strength and wisdom and desire to change but will force no one to love Him. Forced love is not true love but slavery.
Jesus is brought before Caiaphas, who has seen the evidence of Jesus’ life, heard his words, maybe only through others, and decided Jesus needs to die. He is the one who sent out the mob to arrest Jesus. It is not a stretch to believe Caiaphas, even though he was the religious leader, would look for any excuse to have Jesus put to death. False witnesses are normal in regimes headed by sycophants and tyrants.
Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.'” And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” [Matthew 26:59-62 ESV]
What kind of an answer were they looking for? Jesus did say he would do what they are accusing, sort of. But he wasn’t talking about the physical structure of the temple. He was standing in front of the temple when he made his statement, so it is easy to understand how someone could misinterpret what he said. They were not paying attention to his words. He was predicting his own death and resurrection. He did this three years before his trial.
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. [John 2:19-22 ESV]
Jesus did not respond to their false accusations and statements. He did not defend himself because he knew they had already condemned him. They would not see the evidence of his life and words before. They will not listen to his defense now. Having decided long before this time Jesus was to die all they needed was an excuse.
There is nothing abnormal about this exchange. It is easy to see such attitudes in leaders in danger of losing control over those lead. I have seen it in fathers and bosses and government officials and pastors. I have experienced the unjust accusations of people who hate God. This kind of trial happens regularly. There is nothing about it which is fanciful and fictional. Throughout his time on earth Jesus was accused of being something he was not. This time is no different.