THE BEGINNING OF THE LAST ACT
OF THE TRAGEDY
When Jesus had completed all these sayings, he said to his disciples. “You know that in two days tune it is the Passover Feast, and the Son of Man is going to be delivered to be crucified.” At that time the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the courtyard of the High Priest, who was called Caiaphas, and took counsel together to seize Jesus by guile and to kill him. They said, “Not at the time of the Feast, lest a tumult arise among the people.”
Here then is the definite beginning of the last act of the divine tragedy. Once again Jesus warned his disciples of what was to come. For the last few days he had been acting with such magnificent defiance that they might have thought he proposed to defy the Jewish authorities; but here once again he makes it clear that his aim is the Cross.
At the same time the Jewish authorities were laying their plots and stratagems. Joseph Caiaphas, to give him his full name, was High Priest. We know very little about him but we do know one most suggestive fact. In the old days the office of High Priest had been hereditary and had been for life; but when the Romans took over in Palestine, High Priests came and went in rapid series, for the Romans erected and deposed High Priests to suit their own purposes. Between 37 B.C. and A.D. 67, when the last was appointed before the destruction of the Temple, there were no fewer than twenty-eight High Priests. The suggestive thing is that Caiaphas was High Priest from A.D. 18 to A.D. 36. This was an extraordinarily long time for a High Priest to last, and Caiaphas must have brought the technique of cooperating with the Romans to a fine art. And therein precisely there lay his problem.
The one thing the Romans would not stand was civil disorder. Let there be any rioting and certainly Caiaphas would lose his position. At the Passover time the atmosphere in Jerusalem was always explosive. The city was packed tight with people. Josephus tells us of an occasion when an actual census of the people was taken (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6. 9. 3). It happened in this way.
The governor at the time was Cestius; Cestius felt that Nero did not understand the number of the Jews and the problems which they posed to any governor. So he asked the High Priests to take a census of the lambs slain for sacrifice at a certain Passover time. Josephus goes on to say, “A company of not less than ten must belong to every sacrifice (for it is not lawful for them to feast singly by themselves), and many of us are twenty in a company.” It was found that on this occasion the number of lambs slain was 256,500. It is Josephus’ estimate that there were in the city for that Passover some two and three-quarter million people.
It is little wonder that Caiaphas sought some stratagem to take Jesus secretly and quietly, for many of the pilgrims were Galilaeans and to them Jesus was a prophet. It was in fact his plan to leave the whole thing over until after the Passover Feast had ended, and the city was quieter; but Judas was to provide him with a solution to his problem.
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