Thursday, November 20, 2008

Taken Before Annas (John 18:12-14)


12 Then the detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him. 13 And they led Him away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year. 14 Now it was Caiaphas who advised the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.


First, let us look at the historical setting behind this passage.

In Jesus’ day, the Jewish high priest was appointed by the Romans. Anyone wanting to be high priest had to pay a large sum of money to the governor. Because of this, the Roman governor would typically depose each high priest after he had served one year, so as to have another regular source of income (this despite the fact that the high priest technically held a life term!).

Annas had once been high priest, as had five of his sons, but this year, his son-in-law Caiaphas held the office. But although Caiaphas held the office, Annas was the real power behind the throne. That is why Jesus was first taken to a former high priest rather than directly to the high priest. It seems that the Jewish rulers had already agreed to have Jesus first be brought to Annas. Annas no doubt agreed completely with Caiaphas’ statement that “it was expedient that one man should die for the people” (verse 14). And, in Fr. Farley’s words, “This being the case, it was apparent that no fair hearing could be expected that night. The death of Jesus had already been prearranged among the powers manipulating the Sanhedrin” (303).

St. John is the only evangelist who mentions this trial, which really seems to be more of a preliminary hearing, before Annas. The other Gospel writers only mention that Jesus was tried by the Great Sanhedrin (with Caiaphas presiding), condemned, and then sent to Pilate. St. John omits this second and main trial, stating only that “Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest” in verse 24 and that “They led Jesus…from Caiaphas into the Praetorium” in verse 28. Again, St. John assumes that his readers are familiar with the trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, so he doesn’t repeat the story, but rather fills in a gap, narrating the details of the hearing before Annas, which the other evangelists had omitted. But why include the details of the hearing before Annas? Fr. Farley suggests two reasons:

1. It provides the backdrop for Peter’s denials. In reality, these denials took place after Annas’ interrogation and during the trial before the full Sanhedrin. “This is to compare the inconstancy of Peter with the hostility of Christ’s foes, and to show how Christ was let down by everyone, friend and foe alike” (303).

2. The hearing before Annas portays Christ as more than the victim of circumstances (a theme that runs throughout St. John’s gospel). Whereas in the trial before Caiaphas, Jesus remained silent throughout and was beaten at the end, “John has less interest in showing Christ ast he passive victim than he has in revealing Him as maintaing a serene composure and control throughout. Christ’s interrogation before Annas was brief, but it was during this exchange that He more successfully defended Himself and resisted being bullied” (304).

I would add a third reason: because he could! Verse 15 tells us that John was able to get into the court of the high priest; he was the only one of the eleven to do so. He must have been able to hear the proceedings and thus give an eyewitness account.

5 comments:

charlene said...

Father James,
In verse 14, is Annas simply saying it would be advantageous to them forJesus to die? Or is he saying it would be to the priests' advantage for some-one to be killed, and Jesus is the perfect candidate?
God bless you Father for everything you do and have done.
charlene

Fr. James Early said...

Charlene,

The words you are referring to were originally spoken by Caiaphas (not Annas)in chapter 11, verse 49. I agree with the notes in the Orthodox Study Bible:

"Caiaphas, being high priest of Israel, is given through his office the authority to speak prophetically. Caiaphas means only that the death of Jesus would spare the nation from Roman intervention. But the greater prophetic meaning of these words is that the death of Jesus will be for the salvation of the Jewish people and many others throughout the world."

Thus, Caiaphas' words are unintentionally full of irony.

I hope that helps. If not, fire back!

charlene said...

Father James,
I am sorry to so often drag you into teaching Remedial Bible 101. Your answer was very helpful,. The prophecy part had gone right over my head. I am now wondering about the priests' fear of Roman intervention. Were the Romans as worried about Jesus' effect on the people as the priests were, so much so that they might come down on the Jws if they did not keep their own house in order?
charlene

Fr. James Early said...

Charlene,

You are more than welcome to ask as many questions as you want. I don't mind answering them; in fact, I enjoy it. I am impressed by your love for the Scriptures and your desire to know them better. I wish more would post comments!

I think you are correct. The Roman emperor demanded that Pilate keep the people quiet and keep the taxes coming in. The consequences for failure were severe! Pilate, in return, demanded that the Jewish leaders keep their own house in order (as you stated). Therefore, all the rulers, both Roman and Jewish, lived in a state of fear, especially since their was so much political unrest among the people.

charlene said...

Thank you,Father, for both your explanation and your kind words.
charlene