Kingdoms in Conflict (John 11:47-53)
“Kingdoms in Conflict: Caiaphas vs Christ”
For years, workers and visitors flocked to the sight of silvery dust flakes that floated to the floor in a mill where steel strips rolled over pads in a tall cooling tower. In his book The Heat: Steelworkers’ Lives and Legends, steelworker Joe Gutierrez tells how beautifully “the snow danced in August.”
Then people discovered the dust was asbestos. “Everybody breathed it,” wrote Gutierrez. He now suffers from the slow, choking grip of asbestosis, as do many plant workers.
“Who am I? I’m everybody. Can’t walk too far now. I get tired real fast, and it hurts when I breathe sometimes. And to think we used to fight over that job,” he says.
How many things in our culture resemble the silver flakes in that steel mill? They’re enchanting but deadly.
We human beings tend to be far too naïve about our strengths and weaknesses. In Jeremiah 17:9, the prophet said that the human heart was deceitful and deceptively wicked. We see that deception in the person of Caiaphas during the trial of Jesus; how much are we like Caiaphas?
By the time Jesus appears before Caiaphas, Christ’s popularity has laid hold on the whole land, has made Jerusalem expectant, and has raised ambitious dreams in the hearts of His disciples. It is not until He enters Jerusalem that the storm bursts almost out of a clear sky. In ten days all is over - the Son of God is crucified!
The Sadducees’ lives and interests centered in the Temple. When Christ crossed their path, when His growing influence threatened theirs, when His leadership became a peril to their predominance, and His popularity a danger to their safety, they did not parley with Him. They acted. “They took counsel to put Him to death…”
The leader of the priests / Sadducees was Caiaphas. The high priesthood had been the petty gift of all the foreign rulers of Judea, bestowing it as their pleasure or their passion prompted. He hold the office for a long period - 18 years (18-36 A. D.).
There is no mistake on his character. The gospel writers present him in the same unflattering light as other writers of that period. Who is this resolute, defiant, merciless man? He was an astute and unscrupulous diplomatist, someone who could manipulate others, a master of crowds with a speech that could move men, someone who could conceive of bold policies, and a will that was unflinching and resolute.
CAIAPHAS WAS A RELIGIOUS PERSON:
He was the virtual leader of the Jewish people, from a religious perspective. To be high priest, to speak to God for men, and to speak to men for God, should not only have lifted a man into nobleness, it should have kept ever in his view the supreme purpose and the spiritual function of the church, the kingdom, which Jesus Christ the Messiah had come to establish.
The priest under the Law of Moses was a channel for the revelation of God, the epitome of His grace, the pillar and ground of His truth, the source of the holy things and the pure things which strengthen men for living, and comfort them when they are dying.
The high priest should have been one who was as source of hope, spiritual focus, and encouragement for a despairing people.
The kingdom of God which existed through the OT, of which Caiaphas was the titular head, was an institution on which Caiaphas ought to have been able to discuss with great eloquence. It was a kingdom that should have been protected from Greco-Roman pagan influences and preserved until it was fulfilled in the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ. It was an institution which had its offices and ceremonies, its buildings and privileges and powers.
Caiaphas, as the high priest, and his fellow priests held authority and power in that institution.
But, with Caiaphas, the “new wine” was going to endanger the “old bottle” (see Matt. 9:17). And Caiaphas wanted to protect the “old bottle” as much as possible. The “old bottle” gave him his place, his power. It had to be preserved. Jesus’ role as High Priest would make Caiaphas’ role obsolete. Caiaphas’ fellow priests worried, “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48).
Why did Caiaphas feel this way? The same reason why sometimes people living in our day and time reject the Jesus of the Bible: worldliness. Here, I mean the attitude that simply focuses on the here-and-now and cannot think and plan for the spiritual future.
We know Christians who have forgotten about the exalted and the pure. They have been distracted by this world and so they play loosely with “Truth” and forget the greatness of the kingdom of God and its richness. Spiritual talk makes them feel uncomfortable and endangers their own “church” or “kingdom” which rules in their own hearts.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we need to gasp the idea that the church is the temple of the living God (1 Cor. 3:16-17). We need to grasp the idea that all that God has set into the church - its terms of entrance, its acts of worship, its tasks it is given to fulfill, all shine the light of God’s truth into our hearts and the hearts of others. We need to be receptive of all truth that comes to us through the Light to God’s word.
CAIAPHAS WAS CLOSED MINDED:
Caiaphas had his followers, certainly. The chief priests, the Levites, members of the Sanhedrin, the Sadducees, and some of the common people. Maybe even some of them loved him.
We have no doubt that in all that he did, Caiaphas was determined in his own mind that he knew what was true and he knew that he knew what he needed to know. What motivated him, what motivates all religious people, the state of his mind was his attitude toward doctrine, toward teaching from God.
Caiaphas had been influenced by hundreds of years of false teaching, a false approach to Scripture - the pattern for the priesthood for Caiaphas was what had happened in the years before he entered the office - not the pattern God had given him in Exodus and Leviticus. Caiaphas did not keep an open mind, he did not “test all things, hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21); he did not have a discerning mind.
You and I each of us come to the Bible with things we have been taught from our parents and what we have heard and learned since that time, along the way as we have grown and matured. We know there are teachings in the Scriptures which are absolutely true, clearly true. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).
But growing out of some of those basic teachings are lots of teachings that might be new to us, or they might be worded in Scripture a little differently than what we are use to or what we heard growing up.
In contrast to Caiaphas, then, we need to keep an open mind. Is something true? Is it clearly taught in the Scripture? All Scripture is guided by the Holy Spirit and is intended for us to believe, to obey, and to teach to others. If my view of something does not fit correctly with what the Scriptures teach, I don’t need to be like Caiaphas. I need to keep my mind open and teachable so that I can be guided more clearly into the way of truth.
We point out that in John 11:50, that Caiaphas states “it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” So Caiaphas was not interested in truth; he was more interested in “expediency.” What is the impact on me and my agenda?
To be concerned about “Truth” means that we are not primarily concerned about expediency. We are concerned about “what is truth?”
Expediency is Satan transformed into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). We each, if we truly want to serve the Embodiment of Truth (John 14:6), need to be concerned about every single statement of truth that comes out of the mouth of God. We should determine never to change any conviction, never consider the impact of truth on us or our pride, never to consider the cost of our loyalty to Jesus Christ.
“Expediency” attacked Jesus on more than one occasion. In the wilderness with Satan. From the lips of His own apostle Peter. In the darkness of Gethsemane. Jesus determined to go to the cross (Luke 9:51), and Jesus went to the cross. Why? Because that was the truth from God.
CAIAPHAS HAD A DARKENED HEART:
You know that Jesus of Nazareth was well-known to Caiaphas. Jesus did a lot of ministry and teaching in the area of the Sea of Galilee, which was about 100 miles away from Jerusalem. But, He also spent a lot of time in Jerusalem. Jesus began cleansing the temple early in His ministry (John 2:13-22).
When Jesus cleansed the temple a second time, at the end of His 3-year ministry, He quoted Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11: “My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den” (Matt. 21:13).
I’m sure that action and those words were not lost or forgotten by Caiaphas. When Jesus did it the first time, Caiaphas probably viewed Him as an obscure zealot. But now, three years later, Jesus has a sizable following and He is now prominent. His travels around Judea have become popular. His miracles have aroused the wonder and excitement of the people. His teaching has secured the faith and respect of many of the Jews.
Caiaphas could easily imagine the followers of Jesus getting out of control and the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, could interpret their actions as insurrection. He could then send in the Roman soldiers who would crush the temple and the priesthood and there would go Caiaphas and his priesthood and his pride.
So in the middle of the meeting of the Sanhedrin, when they are confounded as to what to do with Jesus, Caiaphas arrogantly stated to them: “You know nothing at all” (John 18:49). Then he suggests they kill Jesus. The man who was so poor, He had no place to lay His head. The man who was so merciful that the mute and the deaf praised Him. The man who was so meek that even little children loved Him. The man whose gentle grace stirred praise in the hearts of the multitudes, the man whose feet women kissed.
“He must be put to death!”
The church of Jesus Christ needs members; she needs leaders. But members with pure hearts. She needs wise counsel and energy and conversation that is healthy and wholesome. She needs members who are patient and untiring in their efforts to serve.
If Caiaphas had had a pure and sincere heart, here’s what he would have said:
“And they who laid hands on Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas. And when Caiaphas looked at Him, and saw Him meek and lowly, he was deeply moved. And Jesus turned and looked at Caiaphas, and in that hour his heart struck him, and his eyes were cleansed, and he saw the Son of God. And he came down from his high priest’s seat, and took off the ephod he wore, and put it on Jesus, and being high priest that same year, he prophesied, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Behold the King of Israel!’ And he knelt before Him and said, “You are a high priest after the order of Melchizedek!”
There is no such passage of Scripture. Christ was the stone of stumbling, the rock of offense and Caiaphas, the religious man with the closed mind and darkened heart, tripped over that stone.
What is He to you?
Take home message: Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ. Open the gate of your heart wide so that the King of Glory can come in and reign over your thoughts and words and actions.