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The Famous Words of Caiaphas: History, Prophecy and Providence Converge as Atonement is Made

Caiaphas is famous for unknowingly prophesying how Messiah would atone for sin. The Council feared that if Yeshua (Jesus) was left alone He would gain such a following that the Romans would swiftly move in and remove their place and the whole nation.

His solution was this “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider it expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish (John 11:49-50)”. In other words he thought that if Jesus were to die then this could spare the Jewish people from destruction at the hands of the Romans.

John explains further, “Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad (John 11:51-52)”.

Caiaphas in History

Caiaphas is mentioned in Matthew 26:3 as the ‘high priest called Caiaphas’ and Jesus was led away to Caiaphas the high priest where the scribes and elders assembled (Matthew 26:57). Luke the careful historian tells us that in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar Annas and Caiaphas were high priests and also that Annas the high priest and Caiaphas were present in the Sanhedrin when Peter and John were arrested and when Peter addressed them (Acts 4:6ff). Finally John explains the plot to kill Jesus in John 11:45-57 and tells us that Annas was his father in law (John 18:13). In John 18:14 it was Caiaphas who advised the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people. Jesus was questioned by Annas the high priest (John 18:19-23) who in turn sent him bound to Caiaphas in John 18:24/28.

Regarding his words “it was expedient that one man should die for the people, the 1906 unedited Jewish Encyclopaedia notes that this was a saying found also among the Rabbis (Gen. R XCIV.9).[i]

Josephus also references Caiaphas twice. In connection with the priesthood he mentions Joseph Caiaphas being made high priest to succeed Simon son of Camithus (Jewish Antiquities 18:2:2). [ii]Additionally, he states that Joseph who was also called Caiaphas, of the high priesthood was replaced by Jonathan the son of Ananus to succeed him (Jewish Antiquities 18:4:3).[iii] Originally a high priest would hold their position for a lifetime though the Romans were afraid of a man gaining too much power so Caiaphas was appointed in office from A.D. 18-36.[iv]

Now fast forward almost two millennia and an incredible archaeological discovery occurred. ‘Looking down through the collapsed ceiling of the cave, Greenhut noticed four limestone ossuaries, or bone boxes, scattered about in the cave’s central chamber. He knew immediately that the cave was a Jewish burial site because the custom of secondary burial, for which ossuaries were used, arose in Jerusalem only among Jews and only during the century preceding the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E., as described in later literary sources’.[v]

The Biblical Archaeological Review recorded that the burial cave of the Caiaphas family was uncovered by Zvi Greenhut. Whether the burial box and the bones were his, is another question, yet the tomb itself is of great significance since one of their family presided at the trial of Jesus.[vi]

Caiaphas’ Prophecy

His words had a deeper meaning as cynicism was transformed into prophecy.[vii] Ironically the decision of the council hastened the destruction of the temple in AD70.[viii]Furthermore Wiersbe notes the great significance of the Isaiah 53:8 prophecy “For the transgression of My people He was stricken” and that true to his vision of a worldwide family of God, John added that Jesus would not only die for the Jews but all of God’s children gathered together in one heavenly family (John 4:42; 10:16).[ix]

Messianic scholar David Stern notes the greater meaning was that Yeshua would fulfil Isaiah 53:6

“All of us, like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned everyone to his own way;

and Adonai has laid on him

the iniquity of us all,”

And not only the death penalty on behalf of the people of Israel but also on behalf of non- Jews (John 10:52; 10:16).[x]

The Providence of Messiah

Though Caiaphas was willing for Yeshua to die in an effort to prevent the Romans from taking their place and their nation, Yeshua fulfilled the great prophecy of Isaiah 53 and made atonement for sins. He was stricken for the transgressions of His people and through His sacrifice He made salvation possible for both Jewish people and Gentiles.

Caiaphas was a high priest and an important historical figure who prophesied a deep and solemn truth without understanding the full implications of his words. The Lord Jesus is the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Blood was given for atonement (Leviticus 17:11) and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sins (Hebrews 9:22).

The providence of God is greater than even a ‘standard miracle’ if it could be described in that way! Since God is outside time and space, He is able to do what we cannot do. Jesus the Messiah healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and raised people from the dead. Though through His providence and since He knows the end from the beginning, God can use people apparently opposed to His will such as Balaam or Caiaphas and use that miraculously for His glory to fulfil His sovereign purposes.

[i] Richard Gottheil, Samuel Krauss Caiaphas or Caiaphas Joseph 1906

[ii] The New Complete Works of Josephus Translated by William Whiston Commentary by Paul Maier (Kregel; Grand Rapids, 1999) Jewish Antiquities Book 18:2:2

[iii] Ibid, Jewish Antiquities Book 18:4:3

[iv] John Walvoord & Roy Zuck The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament Edition (Victor; USA, 1983), p315

[v] Biblical Archaeological Review September October 2001 The Tomb of Caiaphas

[vi] Biblical Archaeological Review 18:5 September/October 1992 Burial Cave of the Caiaphas Family Zvi Greenhut

[vii] W.H. Griffith Thomas The Apostle John (Kregel; Grand Rapids, 1984), 195

[viii] Ibid, 196

[ix] Warren Wiersbe The Wiersbe Bible Commentary New Testament (David Cook; Colorado Springs, 2007), p270

[x] David Stern Jewish New Testament (Jewish New Testament Publications; Clarksville, 1992),p191