08 April 2022

Jesus’s pre-trial trial.

John 18.12-14 KWL
12 The mob, the chief, and Judean police
then arrest Jesus and bind him.
13 They first bring Jesus to Annas,
for he’s the father-in-law of Joseph bar Caiaphas,
who’s head priest that year.
14 Bar Caiaphas is the one who recommended to the Judeans
for one person to die, rather than all the people.
John 18.19-24 KWL
19 The head priest then asks Jesus about his students,
and about his instruction.
20 Jesus answers him, “I’ve freely spoken to the world.
I always teach in synagogue and in temple,
where all the Judeans come together.
I never spoke in private.
21 Why do you ask me this?
Ask those who’ve listened to what I speak to them.
Look, they’ve known what I say.”
22 Once he says this, one of the police standing by
gives Jesus a slap, saying, “This you answer the head priest?”
23 Jesus answers him, “If I speak evil, testify about the evil.
If good, why beat me?”
24 So Annas sends Jesus away,
having bound him for Bar Caiaphas the head priest.

In the synoptic gospels, right after Jesus’s arrest, the Judean police and their posse took Jesus to the head priest’s house. But in John they didn’t. John’s the only gospel where they took a little side trip first… to the former head priest’s house. That’d be Khánan bar Seth, whom historical records call Ananus, and whom the KJV calls Annas. John relates it’s in the courtyard of Annas’s house where Simon Peter denounced Jesus.

Backstory time. Ever since the time of the Maccabees, the head priests had also been the kings of Judea. (Or, using the title Israelis had used for their kings, the Messiah. Yep, that title.) Their dynasty ended with Herod 1, who overthrew his father-in-law Antigonus Mattathias in 37BC, and took the throne. Herod became king, but because he was Edomite not Aaronite, he couldn’t be head priest; only descendants of Aaron could be head priest, y’know. Lv 6.22 But Herod claimed the right to appoint the head priest—and did. In fact he appointed a bunch of head priests. He kept firing them when they wouldn’t do as he wished.

And once the Romans took Judea from the Herods, they did the same thing. Annas became the 11th appointed head priest since Herod took over. (He’s actually the ninth guy to hold the job. Some of the previous head priests had non-consecutive terms.) Annas was appointed by the Syrian legate Publius Sulpicius Quirinius in the year 6, and stayed in office till the year 15. He’s a descendant of King John Hyrcanus, so while he was still in the royal family, he wasn’t a contender for the throne.

Bible commentators aren’t always aware that Herod and the Romans kept swapping out head priests, and assume Annas was the hereditary head priest, like all the head priests before Herod’s time. So they aren’t so surprised when Annas’s five sons, son-in-law, and grandson become the head priest after him: Isn’t it supposed to be a hereditary job? And yeah, originally it was… but now it wasn’t, and hadn’t been for decades, and the fact Annas managed to keep his family in power for nearly sixty years is pretty darned impressive.

Annas’s successors include:

  • Eleazar, his son (16-17CE)
  • Joseph bar Caiaphas, his son-in-law (18-36)
  • Jonathan, his son (36-37)
  • Theophilus, his son (37-41)
  • Matthias, his son (43)
  • Jonathan again (44)
  • Annas 2, his son (63)
  • Mattathias, his grandson (65-66)

He wasn’t the only guy with a political dynasty though. Four sons and a grandson of Boethus, another descendant of Aaron, were also head priest. Including Joazar bar Boethus, Annas’s direct predecessor.

The power behind the head priests.

Since Annas’s family kept holding the office of head priest, clearly Annas had a lot of influence in Judea. The Judeans certainly thought so. Not for nothing do two of the gospels treat Annas kinda like he’s still head priest. John straight-up calls him the head priest in verse 19 of today’s passage, and Luke also calls him the head priest when he’s nailing down the time John the baptist’s ministry began:

Luke 3.2 KJV
Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.

The bible indicates there’s only one head priest (and currently it’s Jesus, He 3.1) but Annas wielded enough power behind the scenes that everyone basically acknowledged yeah, Annas was still head priest. Any time one of his kids was head priest, he was back in power, and even though he didn’t personally wear the ephod and go into the Holiest Place during Yom Kippur, functionally he was head priest too.

Even though the head priest wasn’t king anymore, he was still functionally Judea’s head of state. The Roman emperors were off in Rome having orgies, and the Roman procurators only worried about keeping down insurrections, so the actual running of Judea was left to the Judean senate. And the head priest presided over the senate. He ran the country. Not necessarily well, nor with the best interests of Judeans in mind: He wanted to keep the Romans from clamping down on his his nation’s freedoms, remain in power, and feather his nest.

If Jesus was Messiah, this was an utter threat to his power. So naturally Annas wanted to check out this reported Messiah for himself. After all, what if he was Messiah? What if he actually, suddenly called down 12 legions of angels Mt 26.53 and took his kingdom by force? Annas may have already made up his mind about Jesus, but he wasn’t stupid; he still needed to meet the man.

In the other gospels, Jesus largely stood there and kept his mouth shut while his accusers made a ruckus. In John, he was pretty talky.

John 18.20-21 KWL
20 Jesus answers him, “I’ve freely spoken to the world.
I always teach in synagogue and in temple,
where all the Judeans come together.
I never spoke in private.
21 Why do you ask me this?
Ask those who’ve listened to what I speak to them.
Look, they’ve known what I say.”

True, in John Jesus hadn’t taught anything in private, nor said anything he didn’t care to repeat publicly. But that’s not true in the other gospels. He didn’t care to interpret his parables publicly. Mk 4.11, 34 He ordered more than one person he’d cured to keep their mouths shut. Mk 1.43-44 When Simon Peter figured out Jesus was Messiah, Jesus ordered his students to not say anything about it. Mt 16.20

So Jesus did have private teachings, and if we compare this statement to the events of the other gospels, it looks like Jesus didn’t tell the truth. But since Jesus doesn’t lie, that can’t be what happened here.

We have to remember what Jesus was being accused of—and therefore what he was being questioned about, and the context of his answer. The Judeans believed he wasn’t Messiah, but pretending to be; he was a ψευδόχριστος/psevdóhristos, a false Messiah Mk 13.22, Mt 24.24 who’d lead Judea astray, and get them all killed by the Romans. ’Cause plenty of false Messiahs kept cropping up to pick fights with Rome… and got crushed, and got a lot of Judeans killed with them.

In the absence of proper leadership in Judea, it left the head priest holding the buck. They worried about rebellions. They worried Jesus might lead yet another rebellion. They knew it was only a matter of time before the Romans had enough, sent in the troops, and flattened Jerusalem. They’d flattened Carthage; Jerusalem might be next. Hence the Judean senators fretted,

John 11.48 KWL
If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.

Don’t get the wrong idea; the head priests did this just as much (if not more) out of self-interest as national interest. Some of ’em actually did believe they were doing God’s work. But as Sadducees, they largely believed God stopped acting back in bible times, didn’t believe any of the books past Deuteronomy, and didn’t believe in angels either. So they neither knew the scriptures nor God’s power, as Jesus pointed out Mk 12.24 —though he didn’t say they didn’t know God. They barely knew God. It’s why they couldn’t recognize his Son.

Annas’s questions were very likely about whether Jesus led another rebellion. Which, Jesus wanted to make clear, was not at all what he taught. Never taught any such thing. He wasn’t there to plot against the Roman Empire, and overthrow it with swords and soldiers. He was there to overthrow it with grace and love. That’s what he openly taught. Taught it so plainly, it alienates those who prefer swords and soldiers. Heck, he taught it while they were arresting him! Mt 26.52

In these teachings, the ones in question, everybody could confirm it’s precisely what Jesus taught. He didn’t have some secret revolutionary agenda which he only discussed in dark places. He boldly, openly proclaimed God’s kingdom. And less boldly, less openly, let slip he happened to be its Messiah/king. But everything he did wasn’t gonna bring down the Romans upon Judea. On the contrary: Rejecting Jesus as Messiah simply opened a bunch of spaces for various new fake Messiahs to rise up and run wild. And that was gonna trigger the Jewish War in less than 40 years.

As if Annas cared to hear it.

Jesus’s reply suggests a level of frustration on his part. Closed-mindedness always annoys him. Mk 3.5, Jn 8.43-45 Likely he’d given Annas straight answers—“Yes, I taught that. No, I taught no such thing”—yet Annas stubbornly persisted otherwise. If you recall elsewhere in John, when people wouldn’t believe Jesus, he pointed to other things, like John the baptist, Jn 5.33 like the miracles he performed, Jn 5.36, 10.25 like the Father himself. Jn 5.37, 8.18 Here, he was doing that again: “You don’t believe me? Ask anybody. I said all this stuff in public.”

Still didn’t believe him though. The priests already had their minds made up: Jesus was a fake Messiah, and they needed to be rid of him. That’s why Annas’s underlings had no qualms about hitting him: He’s never gonna be exalted to a position where his name’s above every other name, and every knee in the cosmos bows to him. Ain’t gonna be no repercussions of giving him a slap.

Because the head priests already had their minds made up, it’s a lot of the reason Christians tend to call Jesus’s trial a show trial, kangaroo court, mockery, farce, hypocrisy, rigged: If the judges are already decided about the verdict before they ever hear testimony, what’s the point of any trial? They were just going through the motions to make everything appear proper. Annas’s behavior exposes what was really going on: Jesus was already judged, and doomed.

If Jesus had any questions about whether he’d get a fair hearing, Annas’s pre-trial interview answered them. No wonder he didn’t bother to speak up when he later stood before the senate: No point. He’d just suffer in silence, and await his inevitable death sentence.