So you say. But I tell all of you: from this time on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right side of the Almighty and coming on the clouds of heaven!
The chief priests and the elders sent out an angry mob armed with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus and take him to the house of the High Priest. So who was this High Priest anyway? As with many things related to ancient Jewish religion, High Priests (like Temples) were a pagan custom. Even though the role of the High Priest was outlined in the Law of Moses, it wasn’t a Jewish invention.
The High Priest was not considered to be divine or infallible or inerrant: The Law of Moses says, “If it is the High Priest who sins and so brings guilt on the people, he shall present a young bull without any defects and sacrifice it to the Lord for his sin.” (Leviticus 4:3). The role of the High Priest was to oversee the Temple and perform the required sacrifices. He was personally responsible for all of the ritual purifications on the Day of Atonement. It wasn’t originally defined as a political role. The High Priest had very special clothes, including tassels, bells, and a breastplate that had a dozen precious stones on it. A very fancy outfit.
Not much is known about Joseph Caiaphas, the High Priest during the time of Jesus. The high priests were supposed to be descendants of Aaron. Caiaphas was appointed by the Romans, not the Jews. Because little was written about him, we can probably assume there wasn’t anything exceptional about him. Just a run-of-the-mill high priest.
One thing we do know is that by the time of Jesus, the role of the high priest had evolved from Temple caretaker to one of considerable political and legal clout. Instead of serving as an intermediary between man and God, which is the true role of a priest, Caiaphas was more like the CEO of the religious institution. He ruled over the people at the discretion of the reigning king, consequently his task was to keep the Jewish people passive and under control and keep the king happy.
On the night that Jesus was arrested Caiaphas called together the Sanhedrin, the Jewish judicial body of that time. The Sanhedrin (or Council) was not a group of specific people like today’s Supreme Court. It was kind of an ad hoc group of elite people who assembled at will to create policy and enforce Jewish law. Interestingly enough, the administration of justice was not supposed to be the job of the High Priest and an informal assembly of his friends, so the whole assembly that condemned Jesus didn’t have the authority to do so according to the Law of Moses:
“Appoint judges and other officials in every town that the Lord your God gives you. These men are to judge the people impartially. They are not to be unjust or show partiality in their judgments; and they are not to accept bribes, for gifts blind the eyes even of wise and honest men, and cause them to give wrong decisions. Always be fair and just, so that you will occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you and so that you will continue to live there. (Deuteronomy 16:18-20).
The scripture says that Peter followed along from a safe distance and waited around to see how it was going to turn out. Peter wasn’t the most courageous guy in the world, but at least he was concerned. All of Jesus’ other buddies ran off.
The Sanhedrin then conducted a sort of kangaroo court kind of trial, with lots of people coming forward to make false accusations against Jesus. It all sounds pretty corrupt. And of course there wasn’t anyone there to defend him, because his followers were all outcasts. He didn’t get the luxury of a “jury of his peers.” It was a jury of the rich and powerful.
The chief priests and the whole Council tried to find some false evidence against Jesus to put him to death; but they could not find any, even though many people came forward and told lies about him. Finally two men stepped up and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to tear down God’s Temple and three days later build it back up.’”
Here’s another surprise for me. I thought Jesus actually said he was going to tear down the Temple, but in reality it’s just a corruption of two of his actual statements:
- Jesus left and was going away from the Temple when his disciples came to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Yes,” he said, “you may well look at all these. I tell you this: not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one of them will be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1-2)
- From that time on Jesus began to say plainly to his disciples, “I must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life.” (Matthew 16:21)
It’s like the people testifying against Jesus took these two concepts – the destruction of the Temple and his resurrection after three days – and mixed them together in a single adulterated statement. A misquote. I didn’t know this until today. I thought he said it.
Anyway, the High Priest asked Jesus if this is true, and he remained silent. So then, the High Priest cut to the chase. He asked Jesus the one thing they all wanted to know: “In the name of the living God I now put you under oath: tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
Jesus answers with the words of today’s scripture: “So you say. But I tell all of you: from this time on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right side of the Almighty and coming on the clouds of heaven!”
Jesus doesn’t give them a straight answer. Instead, Jesus makes a verbal jab at them by saying that he has a position of honor at the right hand of God. He says that he will have the last laugh over his persecutors. And Jesus has every reason to believe that God has a position of honor waiting for him. At his baptism, and again at the Transfiguration, a voice from heaven has said, “This is my own dear son with whom I am pleased.” He says that the “Son of Man” (either himself of all of ordinary mankind) will sit in a position of honor next to God, which is another way of saying he is doing exactly what God wants him to do and God will reward him for it.
And it should be noted that once again Jesus is evasive about the issue about whether or not he is “the Messiah.” He doesn’t answer their question. And of course this makes sense, because Jesus is certainly not the Messiah the Jewish people had envisioned (see Day 145). He is not a “new David” who will liberate them by killing “tens of thousands.” Jesus never signed on for this task. And of course “the Messiah” they expected was not a Biblical concept. The actual “Anointed One” described by the prophets was a man of peace who would usher in a new and better world. Jesus came to fulfill the true, written prophecies recorded in the scriptures – not the ones the people had made up in their own minds.
So how do the religious authorities respond to Jesus’ enigmatic statement about whether or not he is the Messiah?
At this the High Priest tore his clothes and said, “Blasphemy! We don’t need any more witnesses! You have just heard his blasphemy! What do you think?” They answered, “He is guilty and must die.” Then they spat in his face and beat him; and those who slapped him said, “Prophesy for us, Messiah! Guess who hit you!”
This apparently infuriated the High Priest, who is so angry he starts tearing up his clothes. Who does that? Biblical people were so darned weird sometimes. Actually this was something people did as a sign of mourning. Was he mourning because he was disappointed that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah? Or was he mourning on behalf of all humanity for this evil, blasphemous prophet who came out of the Galilean countryside to cause trouble. Or was he just pissed off because Jesus was causing trouble?
What if Jesus had said he was the Messiah? What would they have done? They probably would have said something like, “Great. We have a whole stockpile of guns in the basement and lots of angry hordes who are willing to use them. Let’s slaughter all the Greeks and Romans and all of the rest of them so we can take over the world in the name of God.” That’s what they wanted. That’s what they were hoping for.
And if Jesus had tried to explain that God had a different idea about the true nature of the Messiah, I doubt that they would have listened. They would have still torn their clothes and condemned him and spit in his face and beat him and slapped him and bullied him and ridiculed him because it isn’t what they wanted to hear. They wanted a license to bully their own people and kill their enemies, so Jesus the Messiah was of no use to them because he didn’t support their agenda. And the High Priest certainly didn’t care about the truth or what God had to say. That wasn’t even on his radar.
It sounds like the deck was already stacked against Jesus from the get-go. The Sanhedrin didn’t like him because he was causing trouble. They wanted him out of the way because he was disruptive and annoying and troublesome. They had already decided he was guilty and were looking for any reason to nail him, like the way the Feds got Al Capone for tax evasion. Any reason to get him out of circulation was reason enough.
Just like Jewish Law and the Temple, the priesthood and the Council had been corrupted. Jesus repeatedly asserted that the trappings of Jewish religion were no longer serving God’s purposes and revealing his will for humanity. Here is a case in point. Clearly, if Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin had been listening to God he would have done things differently. That’s the bad thing about earthly power. It seems to make people deaf and blind and, well, stupid and regressive. And when other people follow blind leaders everyone ends up in the ditch (See Day 138). Like the angry mob who came after Jesus with spears and clubs. Like the Sanhedrin, and all of the others along the way who followed their precious high priest into a ditch by persecuting Jesus. History does not remember them kindly, and within a hundred years or so their whole way of doing business was obsolete. No more priests, no more Sanhedrin. God handed out pink slips to all of them.
What does this scripture say to you?