26. A Reflection on Matthew 26:63-65

The high priest said to [Jesus], “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Anointed One, the Son of God.” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the “Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.

I will begin with these opening thoughts. The world did know him. He came to his own, and his own did not receive him (Jn 1:10-11). For several years, Jesus had practiced a sincere form of Judaism and pious Jews are often referred to as sons of God. However, the Jewish Sanhedrin questioned his piety and other activities, especially the Chief Priest. They had been monitoring him and had become concerned about his apparent contempt and a lack of reverence for the Mosaic Laws, which were given to a man by God. The Chief Priest was convinced that the time had come, to have him brought before the entire Sanhedrin to answer questions about a variety of charges against him. To ensure his presence, Jesus was arrested and brought before the assembly. The most troubling charges against him was his habit of working on Sabbath Days, telling people their sins were forgiven, and assault and damage in a Temple court. On these charges and others, Jesus was found guilty of blasphemy. When rendering the verdict, Caiaphas had this to say about what Jesus had taught over the last few years, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses?” Then he looked at the entire members of Sanhedrin, and said, “Look, now you have heard the blasphemy” (so be it). With these words, Caiaphas adjourns the meeting of the Sanhedrin. Now I will begin my reflection.

I have read this chapter many times, I read commentaries written about these verses, and I have heard many sermons based on this Biblical text. However, for reasons unknown to me, no one has approached these verses from the stand point of the history of the Roman Empire and I am not sure why? Because the Chief Priest was acting as a protector of the people and his appointment as Chief Priest was approved by the Roman Empire. Therefore, he is clearly acting in the best interest of both Israel and the Roman Empire.

Now let us look at his question, but from a Roman point of view, “Tell us if you are the Anointed One, the Son of God?” The kings and prophets of Israel where anointed and here we have a very popular rabbi being asked if he had been anointed. I do not think Caiaphas is asking if he had been anointed to perform his acts of ministry, although that is a possibility. Because the question is phased as a title, I do not think Caiaphas is addressing Jesus as a pious Jew. If he was to address Jesus in such a manner, he would say something like, blessed son of God, are you anointed?

I believe this question is political in nature and not a religious one, because Jesus did claim to be a king in a very a subtle and quiet way. During this period in history, all things political always found themselves in the presence of Roman authority and culture. It has been two-thousand years since this meeting of the Sanhedrin took place and the words of this question require us to take a trip backwards, into the history of the Roman Empire. When a Roman or someone under the authority of Rome uses the words Son of God in a title, what does it mean? It was part of the title of Caesar Augustus, his official title was “Emperor Caesar Augustus, son of god.” Although he had been dead and buried before this meeting of Sanhedrin, the title lived on. Now the question of Caiaphas is becoming clear, the Roman emperors saw themselves as gods and when someone, like Caiaphas, says to you, “are you the anointed one, son of god?” You must be very careful with your answer, because you are being asked, have you been anointed king, a son of god. If you say yes, you are challenging the authority of Rome and if you say no, you are denying you are a king. If Jesus had said yes to the question by Caiaphas, he would be seen by the Sanhedrin as declaring himself as king of Israel, which would be an open challenge to the reign of Herod. Adding the “son of god” phrase to the title had nothing to do with Jewish piety, it was a political ploy to place Jesus in the center if the wrath of Rome. Jesus, was very aware of the environment he was in, he also knew a simple yes would be a confirmation of everything Caiaphas had been saying about him, much of which were lies and distorted truths. In this context, Jesus could not say yes or no, so he returned the question Caiaphas.

“A son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.” Daniel 7:13.

After refusing to directly answer the question, I believe Jesus was silent for a minute or so, then he most likely looked right at Caiaphas and paraphrased the quote from Daniel, “You will see the | son of man | sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and | coming on the clouds of heaven.” Jesus added, “sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One.” The right side of someone is a place of privilege and authority and by adding this to his quote from Daniel, Jesus was saying in a subtle way to Caiaphas, I have privilege, authority, and I am a better Jew than you are.

In ways that were both direct and subtle Jesus had exposed Caiaphas and was about to face his jealous anger. When egomaniacs are exposed and their hidden activities brought to light, they can be very dangerous and Caiaphas was no exception. I am not curtain if Caiaphas would call this tit-for-tat inquisition an offense against God, unless he believed it to be a form of insubordination towards the supreme authority of the Chief Priest, which his ego just might do. Nonetheless, Caiaphas did have a list of charges against Jesus, ranging from working on the Sabbath to assault in the temple. He saw Jesus as someone who habitually displayed contempt and a lack of reverence for God through continuous activities that were contrary to the religious laws (blasphemy). He had been patient for several years and now he felt the time had come for punishment. Therefore, regardless if it happened at this meeting or somewhere else, Caiaphas had enough and declared Jesus was guilty of blasphemy.

In Closing: Although Jesus never engaged in the anti-Roman behavior of the Zealots, Caiaphas was most likely telling people in his inner circle that Jesus was a descendant of King David and as such he could convert his religious renewal movement into a militia group and attempt to seize the throne in Jerusalem and attempt to remove the Romans from Israel. In this context, Jesus posed a political and an economical threat to the wealthy societies of Jerusalem and it would be beneficial if Jesus would disappear. Therefore, the kinds of statements that were being made by Caiaphas would get the attention of Rome. Jesus was aware of what was being said about him, that is why he said, “You have said so,” Clearly Jesus had no desire to give any credence to what Caiaphas had been saying about him. Nonetheless, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and this entrance into the city was praised by many, he was silently saying, I am the promised messianic king. This action by Jesus confirmed to others what Caiaphas had been saying and this silent proclamation by Jesus signed his death sentence. Therefore, Caiaphas declared Jesus guilty of blasphemy and found circumstantial evidence for a charge of sedition against the Roman Empire. It should be noted that Pilate, the Roman Governor, did not agree with the assessment of Jesus by Caiaphas, he did not see Jesus as a Zealot who wants to be a king. In fact, the reposts Pilate had received from the Roman army, would cast a favorable light on Jesus. At this moment, Pilate did not realize this, but that reason why Jesus did not want to be king, was because he was already king.

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Written by Dave Pflueger March 20, 2017 (c) copyrighted by Pflueger. Dave is a former Correctional Chaplain of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and certified for mental health peer counseling.

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