Matthew 26:1-16 Part 3


As we come to God’s Word now to hear it preached, let’s remember the former two sermons on verse two… that it was God the Father Who would deliver up His Own Son to be crucified, for Jesus was the perfect Lamb of God to substitute for the sins of His people.

And also, in prophesying His crucifixion, the prophets spoke of His being “cut off”, which is a form of the word covenant.  All this to show that our Lord received the ultimate “circumcision” in His being cut off from the living and cut off from His people on the cross.  Circumcision, the sign of the covenant, always was a foreshadowing of the “cutting off” of Christ on the cross.

And then, as we introduced these verses three through five, we saw that the intent and timing of the Sanhedrin was at odds with that of God, since our Lord fixes the time of His crucifixion as Passover… in two days (in our passage this morning it is still Tuesday, remember); but the Sanhedrin had other ideas.  Their plan was to murder Him after nine days, i.e., after the seven days of Passover festivities were completed.

Needless to say, God rules in time and history; and the “who, when, where, how and why” was His to determine.  And, as the Psalmist prophesied (Psalm twenty-two), the “assembly of the wicked” (the dogs, the bulls, the ravening lions) would close around Him.  The horror of that which was about to happen to Jesus had already been prophesied; and He was fully aware of that which He was about to suffer – in two days.

Now.  As verses three through five indicate, while Jesus was saying all these things (chapters twenty-four and twenty-five, and now beginning chapter twenty-six), the Sanhedrin (the full political and ecclesiastical leadership of Israel) was meeting in secret to craft His murder.

We’ve seen them before – when Jesus confronted them and condemned them there in the temple (chapter twenty-three).  But we’ve yet to describe them in such a way that we can see and understand them historically.

And the man… Caiaphas; we need to know him – not just as an obscure name that comes up somewhere in the story of our Lord’s crucifixion, but as the high priest of Israel, and as the president of the Sanhedrin, and as the strategist in the plot to kill Jesus.

Now, some would look back to the return of Israel from its seventy year exile in Babylon for the beginnings of the ruling body called the Sanhedrin.  Ezra and Nehemiah were the “movers and shakers” at that time in the rebuilding of the temple and the wall and the city, and in renewing the political and ecclesiastical structures of the nation.  But if that were the case (that the Sanhedrin’s history goes back only that far), then the institution would be only five hundred plus years old at the time of our text.

But from a vision that God gave to Ezra (a vision concerning the “seventy” elders of Israel standing there in the temple before all the nation’s idols), we understand that “the council of seventy” was a much older institution than that.  According to Isaiah and Jeremiah the perversion of the Scriptures and the self-serving hypocrisy of Israel’s priests and elders had been going on for centuries before the Babylonian captivity!

Now, although the priests and elders of Jesus’ time couldn’t trace their personal lineage back to the beginning (to the Aaronic inception of the priesthood), it’s obvious that there is a very strong connection between the Sanhedrin here in our text and the governmental and judicial arrangements that God gave to Moses at Mount Sinai (fifteen hundred years before!).  From the beginning then, the number “seventy” has been the ideal representative number for Israel’s adjudicatory.

But the name “Sanhedrin” appeared nowhere before Alexander the Great conquered the known world and made it all Greek in thought, language and culture.  In about 140 BC the Greek word “Sunhedrion” appeared.  It meant (in reference to Israel’s judicial body) the council (and that’s the translation of the Greek word in the King James version of the Bible).  The word was later “Hebraized”, and the name “Sanhedrin” stuck.

As you might suppose, the council underwent many changes through the years, and was even eliminated several times as changes in the rulership over Israel occurred.  When Rome came to world-wide power, Julius Caesar restored the council – of course he did so that it might respond to him alone.  But when Herod the Great (the Edomite) was appointed king of Israel, he had the entire Sanhedrin killed, except for two men.  That was in 37 BC.

And even though Rome still ruled the world, and the Herodian family still reigned locally (in Tetrarchies), by the time of the birth of Jesus the ruling council of Israel was back in power and continued so until the nation was destroyed in 70 AD.

Now, no one should get the idea that this was some prehistoric, tribal setting, with men coming together in austere surroundings.  The seventy (with a president… making seventy-one) were the highest ranking men in the nation.  And we can certainly assume that they all had secretaries and aids and understudies; and since they met in special chambers in the temple, there were all the comforts and “perks” of high political, or ecclesiastical, power.

The temple was the “seat” of Jewish culture, and it was anticipated that it would, one day again, be the center of the world order.  Mount Zion, and the temple dome, and the (rebuilt) Solomonic temple were, in the eyes of the Jews, worthy of the world’s adoration.  And the men who ran it assumed the power and cloaked themselves with all the trappings.  And although there were no phones and fax machines, the finest of whatever-was-available was there.

Just as an aside here, for example, even though water doesn’t run uphill, and even though the temple was the highest elevation, engineers had tapped into fresh water below, and had installed an elaborate plumbing system with fresh running water and septic elimination!  So, as you can see, these are not “spartan”, or ascetic, conditions.  Jerusalem, and especially the temple mount, had the finest of everything.

In looking at all the New Testament passages in which we find Israel’s leadership, we find that there were actually three “classes” (I guess you would call them) of men who constituted the Sanhedrin.

First there were the high priests.  These were the men who had actually held the position of high priest and president of the Sanhedrin, along with a representative of each of the twenty-four classes of priests from the Levitical family.  The Levitical and Aaronic priesthood was never meant to be this way, but by this time the position of high priest was a political one rather than the “best” men rotating into the position annually.  This was a thoroughly degenerate priesthood, and it wasn’t at all like the law of the priesthood that God had given Moses at Sinai.

Then there were (as our text says at verse three) the elders of the people.  These were the representatives of the tribes.  And, thirdly, there were the scribes – the pharisee doctors of law who had distinguished themselves among their peers.

The priesthood were to be men of the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron who were set apart by God as holy; they were to be men of piety who led the nation (really, the world!) in worship of a holy God and who mediated God’s covenant.  And they were to be examples to the people of righteousness as they performed all the rituals of the sacrificial system… in anticipation of the Lamb of God.  This was the only place in the world where this was going on!  The ceremonial system which foreshadowed the Savior of the World was being performed in this place, and these were to be the men doing it as the light of the world!

The elders of the people were supposed to be the mature and wise and Godly representatives of the tribes who saw to it that there was true justice for all, and that the business of the nation was proper and good, and that their people were being led in a righteous direction.

And the pharisees were to be the interpreters of God’s Holy Law, and the teachers of the nation, so that the people could hear!  Shema, Israel; Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is One God.  And His Word is the only true ethical system… for individuals, for families, for business, for governments, for nations!  It was the scribal doctors of Law and their pharisee understudies who were to preach and teach God’s Word.

This was supposed to be the makeup of the Sanhedrin.  But it was all perverted by degenerate men (and it had been… for centuries!).  The temple was filled with idolatry; the people groaned and sighed under injustice; and there was no hearing of the true Word of God.  The pharisees had grossly misinterpreted it and misused it for their own benefits and their own vainglory!

And the prophets that God had sent to them to call for their repentance… for seven hundred and fifty years… had been ignored, beaten and killed!  And the people of God’s nation (especially the remnant-elect of God) had been left in bondage, and darkness and sickness, and in economic destitution; and now they were even being ruled by the fourth successive, pagan, Gentile nation (Rome)!  This was the situation into which the Son of God had been born; and this was the condition of the Sanhedrin when Christ entered the city for Passover, in 30 AD.

Afraid for their own positions in Israel’s society (under this Roman government); and fearful of the world-wide attention which would come should there be some kind of insurrection during the Passover festivities; and terrified of the Roman emperor should there be some kind of seditious activity, or coup attempt; and embarrassed and intimidated by the Theological and Biblical blistering that they had received there in the temple from this lowly carpenter’s Son from Nazareth, the Sanhedrin of Israel goes into the high priest’s chambers in the temple complex in order to secretly devise a suitable plan to eliminate this man Jesus (verse three).

As the text says (verse four) it is to be “by guile”.  That means that the “elimination”, or the “killing”, or the “murder” is to be accomplished in such a way as to bring no condemnation to them!  In other words, it will “look like” the Sanhedrin has no guilt in it!  See the hypocrisy in that?

Israel’s leadership was obsessed by how they looked to the people!  Whatever they did, and however they accomplished it, and whatever they were… these things were of no consequence to them.  It was how they looked when they did it!  And that’s the very center of hypocrisy, isn’t it?  To “appear” to be one way, or one thing; but in reality to be another!

Israel’s leaders were self-concerned, self-serving and pragmatic men – by no means holy men.  But they wished to appear pious (after all, they were Israel’s spiritual leaders!).  They were evil men judged and condemned by Christ; and included in their sin was their hypocrisy, for they wore their great robes and phylacteries in public… so they could be seen and admired.  They prayed on busy street corners; they made a “show” of the tithe; when they fasted they wore “long” faces so people would know they were fasting.

It was a part of their nature… it was a lifestyle… to seek the approval of men (on the outside), but in secret to serve themselves and their own benefits and comforts.  And so they met in secret to plan to apprehend and kill Jesus… by guile.  It would appear to be one way, but, in actuality, they would have planned it to appear that way.

And the high priest (and president of the Sanhedrin) was their leader.  As you see at the end of verse three, he was called “Caiaphas”.

Now, before I tell you what the Scriptures say about this man, I have to interject something here.  There are many crafty men (and women) out there right now who would seek to do damage to the Kingdom of Christ… pragmatic men, smooth in language and philosophy; entrapping the immature and unwary.

And I heard one of these men recently – Bishop Spann of the Episcopal diocese of New Jersey.  A writer of several books – the latest being The Resurrection:  Myth or Reality?  This “trash” isn’t worth our time to explain it, but he delighted in supporting his “mythological” interpretation of Scripture by pointing to what he called the “inconsistencies and contradictions” in the Biblical text.

And one of those “contradictions” that seems to come up frequently in the works of men who are involved in “higher criticism” of Scripture is the fact that Matthew here refers to Caiaphas as high priest of Israel; and, yet, another Gospel writer calls Annas the high priest of Israel.  So, according to Spann and other critics of the Bible, this, and other seeming “contradictions” in Scripture, show that these are really “stories” evolved from oral tradition; and that the “spiritual value” is what really counts in the lives of people – not historical fact!  So the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death is real… for some people; but it’s “mythological”.

But as we’ve said before, whenever there is what-looks-like-a contradiction in the Biblical text, the problem is with us – not the text!  The problem is that we either don’t know enough to understand it, or would rather not understand it!  Some, like Bishop Spann, would rather delight in it remaining a contradiction.

But with regard to Caiaphas and Annas, this is one of the “easy” ones!  For years, the rotation of highly influential priests into the high priest’s office had been suspended.  And one man, Annas, had retained that position for some twenty years.  He was the most powerful and influential Jew in all of Israel!  And after he had held the position for himself for all those years he succeeded in installing all four of his sons – in succession!  And at the time of Passover, 30 AD, his son-in-law Caiaphas had already been in the office for five years!

It’s obvious that Annas was still the most powerful man in Israel; and that he was the high priest whose influence dictated policy.  (As an example, in John chapter eighteen, after his capture, Jesus was first led to Annas – and then to Caiaphas.)

But it is also obvious that Caiaphas was ipso facto high priest and president of the Sanhedrin.  He was there in fact!  (So there’s no contradiction in Scripture.)

And his long term in that office (twelve years) attests to his own vigorous, crafty and unscrupulous character, as is exhibited in this proceeding against Jesus – and then against his disciples later.

Now, Matthew doesn’t quote what was said here in this secret meeting (verses three through five); only that they schemed to take Jesus and kill Him by guile… after the Passover festivities were concluded.

But apparently the apostle John heard about what was said at that meeting and what Caiaphas had said in return, and he recorded it in his Gospel.  And it is stunning in its impact.  Listen.  Some members of the council were saying, “What are we doing?  This Man is doing many signs; and if we leave Him alone everybody will believe in Him.  And the Romans will come and take our positions from us – and the nation!”  (See what their concern is?)

And here’s how Caiaphas responds: 


“You don’t know anything!  Nor do you consider that it is expedient that One Man should die for the people and all the nation not perish!”


What a remarkable statement!  Here’s what John says about it: 


“He did not say this from himself (the Greek word meaning not from him as the source), but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but that He might also gather the scattered children of God into one.”


The degenerate and unscrupulous high priest of Israel, scheming to murder the Son of God, prophesies (unbeknownst to him, not from him as the source) the substitutionary, sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ for all His Father’s people!  (Not only for the elect remnant of Israel, but for all His people scattered in the nations!)

It didn’t come from him as its source, but God’s grace and love for His people in the slaughter of the Lamb of God came out of the mouth of the one who planned Jesus’ murder!  Even though what he meant was in total opposition to what God meant; and though he didn’t know the meaning of what he said; and although what he said even condemned him the more – the grace of Almighty God shone through the mediatorial priesthood of Israel.  The priest of God finally acted and spoke in Truth concerning salvation in Christ Jesus the Lord.  God caused it to be so.  And Jesus would die for His people – in two days.  And the third day He would be raised from death in order that all those who faith in Him would be raised together in Him unto eternal life.