Annas and Caiaphas

Have you noticed how Bible villains often come in pairs? For instance, Ahab and Jezebel menaced Elijah; later, Sanballat and Tobiah interfered with Nehemiah’s building project. In this article, we consider a pair of bad priests, Annas and Caiaphas, who are mentioned in the Gospel narratives and the Acts of the Apostles. Their names and roles are confirmed by the Jewish historian Josephus.1 Annas officiated as high priest from AD 6-15. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, John 18. 3, who was high priest during the public ministry of the Lord Jesus, Luke 3. 2; John 11. 49.

Annas and Caiaphas were guilty of three principal crimes:

  1. Their rejection of the Son of God
  2. Their ignorance of the word of God
  3. Their hatred of the gospel of God

We will examine these sins in turn, then conclude with a practical challenge to ourselves.

Rejection of the Son of God

Throughout His public service, the Jews repeatedly attempted to harm the Lord Jesus, even to kill Him. From Nazareth, Luke 4. 29, to Jerusalem, John 8. 59, the Lord’s words and works infuriated the Jews. The priests’ plot gathered momentum after the raising of Lazarus, John 11. 45-53, as ‘they took counsel together … to put him to death’, v. 53. Little did they know that their activity was anticipated in the ‘determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God’, Acts 2. 23. They designed their plan and accepted Judas’ offer of treachery. They sent their soldiers to Gethsemane that fateful evening to arrest the Lord.

There followed a series of night-time judicial hearings, first before Annas, John 18. 13, later Caiaphas, v. 24, then before the Sanhedrin, Matt. 26. 59. While false witnesses presented conflicting testimony against the Lord Jesus, Mark 14. 56, there was no valid cause for condemnation. The only sin brought to light was perjury by the witnesses. Like ‘a sheep before her shearers’ the Lord Jesus maintained a dignified silence, Isa. 53. 7. Eventually, Caiaphas posed a question under oath, which the defendant was honour bound to answer. The high priest asked, ‘Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ Mark 14. 61. The Lord emphatically answered in the affirmative, alluding to the most famous Son of Man prophecy, Dan. 7. 13. At once, Caiaphas tore his priestly garment, contravening Levitical law, Lev. 21. 10, as he accused the Lord Jesus of blasphemy, confirmed by his cronies in the courtroom.

Annas and Caiaphas subsequently resorted to political manoeuvring to persuade the Roman authorities to sentence the Lord to death by crucifixion, in the ongoing sequence of trials early the next morning. Ultimately, these priests spoke out to condemn Christ - their rejection of the Son of God is the ultimate sin of blasphemy.

Ignorance of the word of God

The Jewish ruling elite refused to accept the Lord Jesus, apart from a couple of notable exceptions like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. The priests’ understanding was veiled, 2 Cor. 3. 14, so they could not recognize the Lord Jesus as the fulfilment of Messianic prophecy. Many of the Jewish leaders were Sadducees, who adopted a liberal, non-literal, interpretation of scripture, Acts 23. 8. Stephen exposed their stubborn resistance to the Holy Spirit in his final sermon, 7. 51.

The key moment that encapsulates Caiaphas’ attitude to scripture is when he spoke a word of prophecy, John 11. 51, that ‘one man should die for the people’, v. 50. Although Caiaphas said these words, he could not understand their real import - emphasizing the substitutionary sacrifice of Isaiah chapter 53. Instead, this high priest exhibited tragic ignorance of scripture.

Hatred of the gospel of God

Annas and Caiaphas demonstrated animosity against the apostles in Jerusalem, Acts 4. 6. Although the Jewish leaders denied the resurrection, they could not deny resurrection power at work as seen on the day of Pentecost, also in the healing of the lame man, and in the conversion of thousands of Jews. ‘Unlearned’ men were proclaiming eloquent sermons, v. 13, because ‘they had been with Jesus’.

The priestly family held a conference to plan their next move. After interviewing the apostles, they commanded them to cease from preaching the gospel. This official court order had authority, but the apostles rightly chose to ‘obey God rather than men’, 5. 29, so evangelism continued despite the priests’ best efforts.

Practical challenges

Do we harbour similar attitudes to Annas and Caiaphas in our hearts, as we practically reject the Lord Jesus’ claims upon us? It has often been said, ‘If He is not Lord of all, then He is not Lord at all’.2 Do we at times fail in our allegiance to Him? Further, do we neglect the study of scripture? A fervent affection and desire to study the word characterized the Psalmist, Ps. 119. 97; this should be a great example to us. Finally, although we may not hate the gospel, we can still maintain a ‘guilty silence’3 when we ought to be proclaiming good news. Let’s endeavour to be the opposite of these priests in our love for the Lord, His word, and the gospel.



Antiquities of the Jews, written by the first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.


I have heard many preachers use this challenging quote, which may have originated with Hudson Tayior.


John Stott, Our Guilty Silence, Hodder & Stoughton, 1967.