Caiaphas, James Tissot (1836-1902)
The Episcopal church is in trouble these days. Most Episcopalians are on the liberal end of the theological spectrum, and many Episcopalians have gone so far to the left of traditional Christianity that they can hardly be considered Christian anymore. An Episcopal bishop can deny the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ, publicly ridicule the authority of the Bible, question the existence of God, or marry another man– and still remain a bishop in good standing in the Episcopal church. One might well wonder what is left of Christianity if not even those basic doctrines and ethical standards are upheld.
But there is, in fact, something left in this Episcopal church, something on which they are strong and solid and firm and uncompromising. This is the church power structure which has shown its willingness to spend millions of dollars, given in the offerings of faithful parishioners, for legal expenses to flex its muscles and rule over local congregations and pastors.
Why is all that money needed for legal expenses? There are still many good, solid, Bible-believing, Episcopal pastors, lay people, and congregations, but they do not know what to do. They feel their national church, and in many cases their own bishops, have abandoned them, and they cannot live in a church that has gone so far from the truth. So they have sought leadership and fellowship elsewhere, usually in Africa. The Episcopal church is the Anglican church in America, and the Anglican church in Africa is very different. It still has a strong and solid Biblical foundation, and it is to those bishops that many American congregations want to transfer their membership, allegiance, and mission offerings. But the American powers that be tell them they cannot do that, because it is against their Anglican traditions.
Imagine that. The same bishops who have abandoned and even ridicule every Biblical truth and tradition, now, in the name of church tradition, will remove pastors from their pulpits, take congregations to court, and even seek to confiscate a congregation’s hard earned property and assets.
There are similarities between the present conflict in the Episcopal church and the conflict that sent Jesus to the cross. In both, we see an entrenched religious institutional authority trying to hang on to power. In both, there are religious leaders who will use any and all legal power to get their way. The presiding American Episcopal bishop took congregations to court to confiscate their property, thus preventing them from getting out from under their authority. Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest at the time of Jesus, wanted to get rid of Jesus in order to maintain his established authority. Caiaphas, therefore, forced Pilate’s hand and sought to influence the crowd to get an order of execution. In both is a challenge to that earthly church authority and power by appealing to an even higher authority. Biblical Episcopalians are appealing to the clear testimony of the Bible. Jesus appealed to his heavenly Father and his own claim to be the promised Messiah, the truth of which was made evident to many people by his powerful words and miraculous deeds. Both conflicts resulted in deep divisions.
Caiaphas saw himself in the role of the protector of the old-time religion. That was made particularly difficult with pagan Romans all over the place, desecrating the whole country, including the temple itself. I am big on protecting the old-time religion myself, so I would be with him on that. But for Caiaphas and the religious establishment of Jesus day, the protections around that old-time religion had grown into an endless list of laws and rules and obligations that was not protecting, but stifling the life, spirit, and truth of the old time religion. Therefore, some of Jesus’ harshest words were directed at these chief priest and other religious leaders.
The central hope of the old-time religion was that someday God would send a Messiah to save the people from their sins. Many people believed that Jesus was the one that the Jews had been anticipating for centuries. But Caiaphas would not even consider the possibility. Not even after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead would Caiaphas open his heart and mind to the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah.
Caiaphas’s goal was to have Jesus killed in order to protect the religious establishment. Matthew 26:3 makes it clear that this was their intention: “Then the chief priest and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him.” Of the many people that played a part in the last week of Jesus’ life, it is only Caiaphas’s agenda that is completely followed.
In God’s almighty providence, it turned out that Caiaphas’s agenda also accomplished God’s agenda. In John 11, right after the report reached Caiaphas that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd, several of the chief priests asked: “What shall we do? If we let Jesus go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away our nation.” Romans or no Romans, it was indeed God’s intention that everyone believe in Jesus. Caiaphas then said, “You know nothing at all. Don’t you realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish?” And that’s just what God had in mind– that one man should die for all the people.
Peter, who loved Jesus as much as anyone, wanted to protect him. But Peter had to have his will opposed in order for Jesus to accomplish God’s will. But Caiaphas, the most wicked of all Jesus opponents, and the one most responsible for his death (humanly speaking), got just what he wanted. As a result of the wicked scheming of Caiaphas, God’s most perfect plan reached its fulfillment. This proves how difficult it is for us to know what is really best. I wonder how God is working in our churches and our world today.
One last thing. There is a caution here for the current members of the religious establishment– and that includes me, and perhaps you also. There is nothing wrong with being part of the religious establishment. Right after Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples and their followers began organizing themselves into communities that could worship and serve together. This organized and established church has accomplished great things over the centuries. But it has also taken some wrong turns and done some very bad things. Therefore, we should look at Caiaphas not with disdain and arrogance, but with humility and caution. We must not make the mistake he made, and let our church institution kill and bury the truth and spirit of its Lord and Savior.
Matthew 23:27-28 — (Jesus said), “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
John 11:47-53 — Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” 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.
Most gracious Father,
we pray to you for your holy Church.
Fill it with all truth; in all truth with all peace.
Where it is corrupt, purge it.
Where it is in error, direct it.
Where anything is amiss, reform it.
Where it is right, strengthen and defend it.
Where it is in want, provide for it.
Where it is divided, heal it and reunite it in your love;
for the sake of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.
–William Laud, English bishop (1573-1645)