Meditations on the Cross, 11
When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was forced to go through a series of "trials" in the night, conducted by the Jewish leaders, before being sent to Pilate. The second of these was at the house of Caiaphas, the ruling high priest where we are told the scribes and elders were gathered along with the chief priests. This was not a formal gathering of the Sanhedrin; that would follow.
Though Jesus had been on a hit list for quite some time, John in his Gospel lets us know that it was Caiaphas, the current High Priest, who was the one heading up the witch hunt. John 18:14: "Now it was Caiaphas who had counseled the Jews that it was expedient that one Man should die for the people."
In John 12:47-53, we read of the meeting where Jesus' death had been determined. Jesus was perceived as such a great problem that there was felt to be a danger of the Romans acting to destroy the nation. Better for just one to die, then all. Hence we can understand that the trial was more like a hearing in which Caiaphas and company were determined to find some accusation with which to condemn Jesus. Perhaps we could call it a kangaroo court. The Defendant was already condemned to death in the minds of His judge and jury. Their task was to justify the decision they'd already made.
Mark in his Gospel describes the inquisition (Mark 14:60-64; also see Matthew 26:62-66). "And the High Priest stood up in their midst and questioned Jesus, 'Don't you have an answer to these who are witnessing against you?' But He stayed silent and didn't give an answer. Again the High Priest was questioning Him, and he said to Him, 'Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?' And Jesus said, 'I AM! And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power - and coming with the clouds of heaven!'Then the High Priest tore his robes and said, 'Why do we still have need of witnesses? You've heard the blasphemy! What is your decision?' And they all condemned Him as deserving of death."
At first Jesus had simply remained silent while false accusations were made against Him, but when Caiaphas questioned Him directly as to who He claimed to be, Jesus could no longer be quiet. And His answer was incriminating!
First His reply "I AM!" The words in Mark's Greek text are "ego eimi." If the trial was conducted in Hebrew, His words would have been "EHYEH" - the very words that God gave to Moses when asked His name! (Related to the name "Yahweh," the One Who Is." See: Exodus 3:13-15.)
Then Jesus referenced two Scriptures which were not only considered Messianic, but even pointed to His deity.
The first was Psalm 110:1: "Yahweh said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies a stool for your feet.'" Jesus had previously used this passage in His debates with the Pharisees in the Temple just a few days before (Mark 12:35-37; Matthew 22:41-46), to point out that the hoped for Messiah would not only be the son of David - i.e., of human descent - but He would also be David's Lord - i.e., divine.
Then Daniel 7:13ff: "As I was looking in the visions of night, I saw coming on the clouds of Heaven, One like a Son of Man. He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a Kingdom ... " Jesus throughout His ministry had used the label "Son of Man" (huios anthropou in Greek, but if Jesus spoke in Aramaic, it would have been Bar Enash, the title used by Daniel) for Himself. Though the expression could be understood as simply meaning a human being, in Daniel's prophecy it referred to a coming being Who would have both human and divine characteristics.
Was this the point at which Caiaphas finally realized that the Man whom he had been out to get was more than just a wonder-working troublemaker who was claiming to be their Messiah, as other crack pots and scoundrels had done? I suspect that Caiaphas had finally come to the realization that Jesus was claiming to be God in the flesh!
Though many in our day, as well as in the last 2,000 years, will tell us that Jesus never claimed to be God, Caiaphas knew better. The charge was blasphemy. How had Jesus "blasphemed"? He had said nothing against God. The blasphemy charge was because of His claims to Deity! It is not enough, however, to recognize Jesus' claims; they must be recognized as true. It would appear that this had never occurred to Caiaphas.
Instead of recognizing the trust of Jesus' claims, Caiaphas tore his robes as a symbol of his grief and undoubtedly in his blind rage at the Man standing before him. The tearing of one's garments was a common way of showing one's grief in that culture, as it is in many cultures today. However, the Mosaic Law forbade this action to one person.
Leviticus 21:10: "And the priest who is highest among his brothers on whose head the anointed oil has been poured, and who has been ordained to wear the garments, shall not bare his head and shall not tear his garments. He shall not go in to a dead body; he shall not defile himself even for his father or mother."
Previously Caiaphas had unwittingly prophesied that " ... it is advantageous .. that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish," which John interpreted to mean "that Jesus was going to die for the nation ... " (John 11:50-52)
Now for a second time, Caiaphas was unwittingly making an acknowledgment. By tearing his robes he was signifying that the priesthood of the family of Aaron was coming to an end after 1,500 years. Standing before him was the new High Priest who was about to become not only the Priest but the Sacrifice itself!
I wonder if Caiaphas' robes were patched back together or if he had a new set made, It made little difference; that priesthood which Caiaphas had unwittingly shown to be over, would limp on for 35 or so years before finally coming to a close.
But as for the followers of Jesus, the Letter to the Hebrews tells us " ... we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God ... for we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.
Let us come then with boldness to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the right time."