Easter Without Hindsight: Jesus through the Eyes of the Religious: The High Priests
One problem with religion is that it sucks you into its busy-ness. Doing religion is a bit like tying knots in a handkerchief to remind you of important things. Imagine being so focussed on the shape and style of the knots that you forget why you tied them in the first place.
Jeshua was heading to Jerusalem to attend the Passover Festival, perhaps (then and now) the most important Hebrew festival of the year. It celebrates the release of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt many centuries earlier. The High Priest in Jerusalem at the time was a man called Caiaphas. We know from contemporary historians that he had been in post for a number of years and was an effective politician. Passover was only weeks away. Jeshua arriving for the festival could generate a number of problems for Caiaphas.
Firstly there was the impact on the Passover festival itself. In the first century it added, to Jerusalem’s thirty-odd thousand existing inhabitants, tens of thousands of pilgrims, many from Jewish communities across the Roman Empire and often on the trip of a lifetime to the centre of their faith. The logistics of organising the proper sacrifice of about a hundred thousand Passover lambs in a few days were immense on their own: just getting them into the Temple and out to tens of thousands of pilgrims in good sacramental order was a huge challenge. Any civil unrest incited by Jeshua would be disruptive.
Secondly, there had just been a violent insurrection against the Romans. The Romans crucified rebels, so there were probably dozens of corpses hanging by the roadsides across Judea at that moment. Grief and anger would have pushed the political temperature even higher than normal. The Romans were tensed for more action. If Jeshua started a rebellion, as many wanted him to, then the consequences, from Caiaphas’ perspective, were incalculable. Jewish blood would inevitably be spilled and that might not be the worst of it.
The High Priests at the time came from the Judean Sadducee aristocracy. They were the families that had the wealth to buy all the trappings of priesthood. They self-selected each other too, a bit like our own elite in Britain (of all parties) which tends to be public-school and Oxbridge educated. Perhaps they believed that it’s the only way to keep the right people (people like them?) in power? Caiaphas was the son-in-law of a previous High Priest, Annas.
A serious revolt so soon after the last one might threaten the Temple itself. What if the Romans decided to close the Temple and suppress the Jewish faith and religion? Whatever Jeshua had in mind could interfere with religious life and upset the balance of power with the Roman occupiers. The interests of keeping peace in the city coincided with maintaining good order of sacramental worship. Jeshua was only a tradesman. He lacked formal education and priestly qualification. Why would the elite view him as messiah? Given the potential catastrophe if things got out of hand it was better that, in Caiaphas’ view (John 11:47-50), that one man should die rather than the whole nation.
Caiaphas, like many in Jeshua’s time, thought the rabbi was planning to take on the Romans. That, after all, was what many Judeans hoped and expected messiah to do. But what if Jeshua had other targets in mind?