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.