Meet Caiaphas: High Priest of the Jerusalem Temple

Caiaphas was one of the co-conspirator in the death of Jesus

Jesus Standing Before Caiaphas
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Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest of the temple in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' ministry, ruled from AD 18 to 37. He played a key role in the trial and execution of Jesus Christ.

Were the Remains of Caiaphas Unearthed?

Caiaphas' family tomb may have been found several kilometers south of the Old City of Jerusalem. In 1990, a rock-hewn burial cave containing a dozen ossuaries (limestone bone boxes) was accidentally uncovered. Two of the boxes were inscribed with the name Caiaphas. The most beautifully decorated had "Joseph son of Caiaphas" etched on it. Inside were the bones of a man who had died around the age of 60. These are believed to be the remains of Caiaphas, the very high priest who sent Jesus to his death.

The bones would constitute the first physical remains of a biblical person ever discovered. The Caiaphas ossuary is now on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Caiaphas accused Jesus of blasphemy, a crime punishable by death under Jewish law. But the Sanhedrin, or high council, of which Caiaphas was president, did not have the authority to execute people. So Caiaphas turned Jesus over to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who could carry out a death sentence. Caiaphas tried to convince Pilate that Jesus was a threat to Roman stability and had to die to prevent a rebellion.

Caiaphas' Accomplishments

The high priest served as the Jewish people's representative to God. Once a year Caiaphas would enter the Holy of Holies in the temple to offer sacrifices to Yahweh.

Caiaphas was in charge of the temple treasury, controlled the temple police and lower-ranking priests and attendants, and ruled over the Sanhedrin. His 19-year tenure implies that the Romans, who appointed the priests, were pleased with his service.

After the Roman governor, Caiaphas was the most powerful leader in Judea.

Strengths

Caiaphas led the Jewish people in their worship of God. He performed his religious duties in strict obedience to Mosaic law.

Weaknesses

It is questionable whether Caiaphas was appointed high priest because of his own merit. Annas, his father-in-law, served as high priest before him and got five of his relatives appointed to that office. In John 18:13, we see Annas playing a major part in Jesus' trial, an indication he may have advised or controlled Caiaphas, even after Annas was deposed. Three high priests were appointed and quickly removed by the Roman governor Valerius Gratus before Caiaphas, suggesting that he was a shrewd collaborator with the Romans.

As a member of the Sadducees, Caiaphas did not believe in the resurrection. It must have been a shock to him when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He preferred to destroy this challenge to his beliefs instead of supporting it.

Since Caiaphas was in charge of the temple, he was aware of the money changers and animal sellers who were driven out by Jesus (John 2:14-16). Caiaphas may have received a fee or bribe from these vendors.

According to the Scriptures, Caiaphas was not interested in the truth. His trial of Jesus violated Jewish law and was rigged to produce a guilty verdict. Perhaps he saw Jesus as a menace to Roman order, but he also may have seen this new message as a threat to his family's rich way of life.

Life Lessons

Compromising with evil is a temptation for all of us. We are especially vulnerable in our job, to maintain our way of life. Caiaphas betrayed God and his people to appease the Romans. We need to be on constant guard to stay faithful to Jesus.

Hometown

Caiaphas was probably born in Jerusalem, although the record is not clear.

References to Caiaphas in the Bible

Matthew 26:3, 26:57; Luke 3:2; John 11:49, 18:13-28; Acts 4:6.

Occupation

High priest of God's temple in Jerusalem; president of the Sanhedrin.

Key Verse

John 11:49-53
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life. (NIV)