Caiaphas’ Rending of his High Priestly Garment

It was the peculiar lot of Caiaphas, in connection with the Christ, to act prophetically, not once but twice. His first prophetic act occurred when Jesus had performed His greatest miracle, the resurrection of Lazarus out of the grace. Many of the Jews had there-upon believed in Him and the godless and unbelieving leaders of the Jews had become desperate. Caiaphas, however, had remained calm. It was then that the level-headed, cold-blooded high priest uttered the now famous words: “It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation perish not.” Of course, what Caiaphas meant is plain: Jesus must be destroyed. Yet, we read that he speaks this not of himself; he is compelled to prophesy of the fact that Jesus must die in order that His people may live. And his second prophetic act occurs in the text to which we now call attention. Indeed, he rends his garments in mock holy horror because of the Lord’s confirmation of the truth that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. However, it is surely a symbolic act, symbolizing the fact that he is at this very moment busily engaged in bringing to an end the high priestly office of the Old Dispensation. 

It is Jesus who forces Caiaphas unto this act. How the high priest had attempted to avoid this dilemma! He employs godless subtlety to condemn Jesus upon any other ground. All his efforts, however, are to no avail. And, through it all, Jesus continues to hold His peace. Pilate therefore must ask the Saviour this question. After all, the cross is God’s cross. And God is executing the Christ exactly because He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And then the high priest rends his garment.

What a shameless hypocrisy! 

Indeed, how strange and contradictory it is that the high priest should express his indignation upon thistestimony of the Saviour! Did not the Old Testament Scripture speak exactly of such a Messiah as this Jesus claimed Himself to be! It is certainly true that He, Who was the object of Israel’s expectation and hope, would be the Christ, the Messiah. Besides, would this Christ not also claim to be the Son of God? When Caiaphas asks the Saviour whether He be the Son of God, he does not mean this in the modern sense of the word, but in the sense that Jesus is the Son of God, essentially, God Himself. Would not a virgin conceive and bear a Son whose name would be called Immanuel? Would not His name be Joshua, and does Joshua not mean “Jehovah is Salvation”? Did not Malachi speak of Jehovah Himself as coming to purify His temple? How strange and amazing, therefore, that it is exactly upon the basis of this confession of the Christ that Caiaphas should have been so profoundly provoked! Indeed, instead .of condemning Him immediately upon this confession, the high priest should have investigated the credentials of this Jesus of Nazareth. 

Hypocritical was this act of the high priest especially in the light of a comparison between him and the High Priest Who stood before him. Caiaphas was the high priest. He was the son-in-law of Annas. There was no figure better known in contemporary Jewish history than Annas. None was deemed more fortunate or successful. But it is also true that none was more cursed and detested than he. Much can be said of him. He was not in office. Yet, he was the power behind that office. 

And Caiaphas? He is the high priest and, therefore, the president of the Sanhedrin. He alone could enter the Holy of Holies to sacrifice for the sins of himself and of all the people. He is a Sadducee, a Jewish modernist. He did not believe in the resurrection of the dead or in the spirit world. Moreover, he is a man of a very low, degraded character, a man of carnal lusts and passions. His very countenance showed the effects of a life spent in the satisfying of his carnal flesh. Thus he is presented in the Word of God. He did not hesitate to resort to cunning and trickery to capture Jesus of Nazareth and to devise a plan with traitors. And to this we may add that he loved filthy lucre with all the passion of his evil heart. We should understand this godless high priest. He was the high priest of the shadows, but to this we will return presently. He loved the world, believed not in God, surely not in Christ, and did not long for the fulfillment of the promise. 

Before him stands Jesus, the Servant of Jehovah. He came to speak and to do the will of God. He not only testified that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, but He also fulfilled all that was written concerning Him. . . . 

Consequently, what a hypocritical act we have here! He purposes to show holy horror and righteous indignation because Jesus must have blasphemed the Holy One of Israel. But this is Caiaphas. How he hated Jesus! He is darkness, loves sin and corruption, hatesthe truth and the covenant of Jehovah. And Christ is the light. He is the holy Child, Jesus, the perfect Servant of Jehovah. From Him only light radiates, no darkness at all. From Caiaphas only darkness radiates, no light at all. So, how hypocritical he is! Really, blasphemy never offended this high priest. He himself lives in blasphemy. He uses God’s office to seek and enrich himself. And now, without, examining the Lord’s credentials, he promptly rends his garments because of his intense hatred of this Jesus of Nazareth. 

We have here also a terrible prophecy. It is thus throughout the ages. Darkness, in its attitude toward the light, does not proceed from the principle of reason, cannot be explained merely intellectually. The darkness always recognizes the light and it spontaneously rejects it. This will culminate at the end of the ages. At the time of Jesus’ condemnation Israel was controlled entirely by a godless Caiaphas and his godless Sanhedrin. And at the end of the ages the church shall have become wholly corrupt. And then a final and supreme effort will be made to destroy the cause of God from the face of the earth.

How wantonly wicked was the act of Caiaphas, that he rent his clothes! He had no right to do this. 

It was a wicked act even if as high priest he were allowed to rend his clothes in the presence of blasphemy. Some contend that a high priest was permitted to rend his clothes when confronted by blasphemy. We cannot discuss this now in detail. We are aware of what we read in Lev. 21:10. It is claimed that this passage was only generally true and that a later law prescribed that it should be done. It is true that Scripture speaks of several instances where the people of God rend their garments. But we do not know a single passage in Scripture where we read of a high priest who rends his clothes. 

However, even if a high priest were permitted to rend his clothes because of blasphemy, this would emphasize rather than minimize the godlessness of Caiaphas. As the high priest, he was Israel’s highest judge, the president of Israel’s highest tribunal. What right did he have to declare that Jesus had uttered blasphemy? Had he not asked the Christ whether He be the Christ, the Son of the living God? Did he examine the Lord’s testimony? Was he not fully aware of the Savior’s innocence and his own wickedness? This Word of God, however, presents us with a more profoundly wicked act than this.

Fact is, in this instance Caiaphas was surely not allowed to rend his garments. We must bear in mind that he was high priest under the shadows. This means that he was high priest in the typical sense of the word. And being the high priest under the shadows it was his calling to serve as a type of the Christ. All the shadows of the Old Dispensation pointed to the Christ. And it was surely the high priest’s calling to serve as that type of the Christ, to direct the people of God to the Christ and to be Christ’s substitute for God’s people. Consequently, in this instance he was strictly forbidden to tear his high priestly raiment. If he loved God and also the Christ he would not care to be high priest anymore when Christ came because then his priestly office would be without significance. Caiaphas was compelled to recognize this fact. What Caiaphas was, therefore, called to do, and this lies in the very nature of the case, was not to tear his high priestly robe, but to remove it and deliver it unto Him who stood before him. He must at this time abdicate willingly and voluntarily. He must say to the Christ: “My work is finished; my task is done.” 

Hence, what a wantonly wicked assumption of power we have here on the part of Caiaphas! How eager he should have been to “hand over” his high priestly raiment? How he should have longed for the fulfillment of Israel’s hope! How his heart should have burned with intense longing to see his Christ and his High Priest! How eager he should have inquired into the credentials of this Jesus of Nazareth! But, how wicked he is! Abdicate for the sake of the Christ of God? He will kill this Jesus of Nazareth, have Israel go to hell and perish forevermore, and deprive the people of the Lord of their Messiah!

Also now, in spite of himself, the shadow must serve the reality. Once before he had done this—see John 11:48-52. And now he prophesies again. For now he rends his high priestly mantle. And he means to emphasize that this blasphemer has merited death and that, therefore, there is no reason for him, Caiaphas, to abdicate in his favor. Really, however, without understanding it, he prophesies again. He may now tear his garment. It will never be worn again. The shadow must make way for the reality. 

What a beautiful symbol! Not only of the fact that his high priestly office is about to vanish. But even as he is now tearing his mantle, so Caiaphas at this very moment is actually bringing his office to an end. He is condemning Jesus to death. He, the shadow, leads the Reality, Priest and Sacrifice, unto the altar. 

The Anointed must shed His life’s blood before the face of His Father, and thereby enter into His glory. 

And the office of typical high priest is ended forevermore.