The Darkest Night — Peter’s Denials & Jesus’ Trials Begin

“They led him to Annas first, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was the High Priest in that given year. It was Caiaphas who plotted with the Jews that it would be useful that one man die for the group. And Simon Peter followed Jesus in addition to another disciple. As that disciple was known to the High Priest he was also allowed in with Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest. But Peter stood outside of the door, therefore the other disciple who was known to the High Priest went out and spoke to the doorkeeper and brought Peter in.”

(John 18:12-16)

 

“And the ones who had seized Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the High Priest, where the Scribes and the Elders gathered.”

(Matthew 26:57)

 

“And Peter, from a distance, followed him as far as the courtyard of the High Priest and he was sitting with the guards and warming himself by the fire.”

(Mark 14:54)

 

“And they arrested him and led him off. They brought him to the house of the High Priest — Peter followed at a distance.”

(Luke 22:54)

 

As dark as this night already was, for Peter and Jesus, it was about to get darker. Jesus is ultimately tried by three groups prior to his execution — once here by the High Priest, twice before Pilate, and once by Herod. And of the groups that tried him, only that trial by the Pagan Roman — a Gentile! — had any semblance of order, and Pilate’s trial wasn’t a good one by any stretch of the imagination. And then there would be Peter’s denial. Grief is not adequate to describe the events of this night, but nothing short of grief can describe the sorrow that would befall the events that took place. According to Jewish custom, trials were to be held during the day and 2-3 credible witnesses were to be present. Darkness and lies reigned in the testimony of this night — even from Peter’s own lips…

As we look at the parallel accounts, though, we learn some interesting tidbits that are important to our understanding of this event. Notice how both Mark and John point out that it was Jesus that Peter was following. Mark does not say, “Peter followed them,” speaking of the mob that arrested Jesus, but he records that Peter followed “him.”  What a significant reminder to us even today that when in the midst of trying times, we should always be following Jesus — though perhaps not at a distance.

We are told that Jesus is taken to the courtyard of the High Priest for this trial and that the High Priest at the time was Caiaphas. John will also introduce Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, a little further into the narrative. There is some debate as to which of these men is the real “High Priest.” At one point, Luke seems to imply that both men were High Priests at the beginning of Jesus’ three-year ministry (Luke 3:2) but then seems to indicate in Acts that it was Annas who was the High Priest (Acts 4:6). At the same time, John seems very clear in this passage that it was Caiaphas who was High Priest (John 18:24). At the same time, this adds another level to the discussion. Did Jesus meet with Annas first and then get sent to Caiaphas as seems to be implied by John 18:12, or was this all one meeting where both men were present?

To know some history about these men is helpful in seeking to put this puzzle together, and thankfully, Annas is well known in Jewish historical writings. Annas was officially appointed High Priest in the year 6AD in what was then the newly established Roman province of Judaea and he was appointed by another figure known to Biblical scholarship: Quirinius the Roman Governor (see Luke 2:2 — note that the census of which Luke speaks took place earlier, when Judea was still part of the Syrian province). During his reign as High Priest, Annas used his position and influence to garner great amounts of wealth for himself and his family and influence in the powers that be — both in terms of the Roman and Jewish authorities. He was aligned with the Sadducees, and though deposed in 15AD, he still held an important seat in the Sanhedron.

While in Ancient Israel, the position of High Priest was considered one for life (see, for example, references to the liberty given to manslayers that came with the death of the High Priest), by Jesus’ day the role had become more or less a political one and not necessarily one held until death, as in Annas’ case. Though deposed, four of Annas’ sons would rise to power as High Priest, as well as Caiaphas, his son-in-law, and one grandson. Thus, while it is clear from the texts before us that Caiaphas was the official High Priest, Annas still holds a great degree of influence and is treated with the respect due to the High Priest. In some circles, we might refer to Annas as “High Priest Emeritus.”

As to the sequence of events, then, it is clear from John’s text that the soldiers escorted Jesus to Annas first and then to Caiaphas, yet from the description it appears that the events being described take place in the same location (not both the house of Annas and then the house of Caiaphas). The answer to this can be presented in a fairly simple way. Annas and Caiaphas both were clearly behind the plot to arrest and try Jesus for insurrection, but Annas would have been the one of the two with the informal connections to see such a large mob rallied and led by a cohort of temple guards. These guards were likely loyal to Annas and thus, to Annas Jesus was brought. Annas, it seems, had an initial (informal) conversation with Jesus to satisfy his own curiosity — perhaps even in the shadows of Caiaphas’ Court — and then when done with Jesus, he sent Jesus along to Caiaphas for the formal “trial.” Note that the text never says it was Annas’ courtyard or house — only that Jesus was led to Annas first. The simple logic of the account then, places these events in Caiaphas’ court with Annas, his father-in-law, helping to manipulate and pull strings.

And such continues the darkest night in history…

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