God’s People, part 123: High Priest

Read John 11:45-57

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“‘Away with him,’ they yelled. ‘Away with him! Crucify him!’ ‘What? Crucify your king?’ Pilate asked. ‘We have no king but Caesar,’ the leading priests shouted back.”  (John 19:15, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

bible-videos-caiaphas-jesus-trial-1426886-printPart 123: High Priest. When we think of the High Priest of the temple in Jerusalem, we think of someone who was from the Levites and was chosen by God to serve in the position of High Priest, fulfilling the duties of ordering the worship life of the Temple and leading the kingdom of Israel in an ongoing and faithful relationship with God. We think of someone divinely chosen and independent of politics.

Unfortunately, this is a mistake. First, the High Priest WAS a political position as much as it was a religious one. The ancient world did not make any sort of distinction between the political and the religious spheres. That distinction is, strictly speaking, a modern one. This is extremely important to realize. The high priest was not just in charge of religion, but also of law. The TORAH was not just religious law, but the LAW of the land.

Second, the High Priest in the time of the Roman occupation became more of a political role than it was religious. This may sound scandalous and, if you are thinking that, you are absolutely right. It was scandalous. By Jesus’ time, some groups such as the Essenes had left Jerusalem and went out into the wilderness to live. They believed that the corruption of the office of the High Priest, and the ultimate corruption of the Temple, were signs of the end times. Thus, they waited in the wilderness for the Messiah to come, ready to join the holy war when that time came.

The first high priest to be appointed under the newly formed Roman province of Iudaea (aka Judea, pronounced Yoo-dee-ah), was Annas in 6 CE. What’s more, Annas was appointed to that position by Quirinius, the Roman legate governor of Syria. You read that right! A Roman aristocrat and politician appointed Annas as the High Priest of Judea. I am sure you can now see why groups like the Essenes “got out of Dodge” and headed for the wilderness hills.

Annas’ was deposed as High Priest in 15 CE at the age of 36. With that said he held great influence of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Legal Council made up of priests) through his sons who succeeded him in the role of High Priest. First, his son Eleazar succeeded him and was High Priest for one year (16-17 CE). Following Eleazar was Annas’s son-in-law, Caiaphas. He was High Priest from 18-36 CE and was the High Priest who plotted to have Jesus handed over to the Romans to be crucified.

As you can see, there were major politics at play here in the first century. We Christians like to pretend that everything Jesus did was “spiritual” and not “political”; however, this simply was not true. By accusing the High Priest of hypocrisy and corruption, by violently overturning the tables in the Temple, Jesus was intentionally upsetting the political and the religious order simultaneously!

This should challenge us as Christians. We often choose to remain silent on issues because we don’t want to be “political”; however, our silence is just as political as speaking out. In fact, when we don’t speak out we stamp our seal of approval on whatever it is that is going on. We ought not be afraid of upsetting the political or the religious order. If what is going on is wrong, we ought to take a stand against it. Our Lord did no less. We ought to carefully steer away from the status quo, which the High Priests were holding fast to for their political gain and power, and draw close to Jesus who would have us interrupt the silence for the Kingdom of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Damning are the politics of silence.

PRAYER
Lord, give me courage to interrupt the silence. For I know you are with me and strengthen me. You are my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

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