John thanked his friend, waved Peter into the courtyard, then quietly slipped back into the servants’ entrance to Annas’s apartments. He knew several who followed Jesus as his friend did, though secretly, for they served in the palace of the high priest, Sadducees who had no love for the itinerant rabbi.
Annas had often returned to his chambers enraged, whenever Jesus would teach in the temple courtyards. Parables of heaven and references to the prophets would prompt Annas’s expostulations against modern innovation to their ancient faith. Sadducees were purists, the true conservatives, who held to the Law of Moses and not a word else. Whenever the servants heard “No scripture but Torah, no writings but Moses,” it meant an angry tirade soon to follow. Angels, the spirit world, resurrection of the dead, miracles, all of it infuriated him as magical thinking and spell-casting imported from the despised Babylonian exile.
But Annas, who owned and ran the temple market which included the highly lucrative money exchange, was particularly bitter over Jesus’s ransacking of the Court of the Gentiles.
For that alone, no one mentioned the Nazarene’s name within Annas’s domain.
As John stood in the shadows with the servants, he heard them whispering about the plans being laid. Annas had recently been high priest but his corruption was so widespread, imperial Roman had gotten word, and deposed him. However, they had continued to grant the office to the family and household of Annas, and now his son-in-law Caiaphas was readying himself as high priest for the night’s proceedings.
Meanwhile, though retired, Jewish law saw the office of high priesthood as a life-long position, making Annas still very powerful. Only now, he ruled from behind the scenes.
This inquiry at Annas’s house would be unofficial and informal. John’s heart quickened as he watched Jesus brought into the room. The Master looked in his direction with gentle dignity, then back to Annas, his gaze frank and open.
How big was Jesus’ following? Who were his disciples? What was he teaching them? What were the political implications?
“I myself have spoken freely to the world, with openness and plain speech,” Jesus said, in quiet confidence. “I always taught in synagogue and the temple, wherever all the Judeans gathered together, and never even once spoke in secrecy.”
Jesus fell silent for a moment, holding Annas’s eyes with his own. Even in the entryway, the servants held their breath, and John felt the familiar tingle of fear and fascination catch in his chest.
“Why do you interrogate me?” Jesus’s voice was mild, but with a depth and timbre so powerful the sound seemed to fill the room. Ripples of low voices from throughout the room stilled and all turned to stare.
“Interrogate those who have listened to what I said to them, behold! They perceived what I said.”
Jesus had reminded Annas about Jewish law in which the defendant is not to testify against themselves. The Master spoke boldly and with authority, he did not have one kind of teaching for the public, and another teaching he gave in private.
As Jesus spoke in his calm voice, Annas began to draw back, his face becoming white and drawn, his dark eyes widening. Perhaps unconsciously, he had half-raised a hand from his lap, palm outward, as though to ward off the words Jesus was saying to him.
Suddenly a loud crack rang out as one of Annas’s personal guards slapped Jesus hard against his face. Almost immediately a red welt rose up, the marks of the guard’s fingers easily discerned. John sucked in his breath, but Annas smiled as the guard shouted, “In this way you answer the high priest?” His outrage was palpable.
The Master’s gaze never left Annas’s face, though the aging high priest had momentarily broken eye-contact. Annas gave his guard a nod of approval, but when eyes returned to Jesus, his look of satisfaction faded.
“If I spoke wrongly, bear record of the wrong. But if I spoke rightly, why batter me?”
Everything Jesus had taught and done was above reproach. To be struck during questioning, particularly without provocation, was also illegal.
Everyone knew it.
When Jesus next spoke again, it was to command Annas to speak to the evidence and follow due process.
The old man sat back in his chair, his fingers pulling rhythmically at his gray beard, his lips moving back and forth, pursing, then flattening, pursing, then flattening. Finally, he looked away with a slight flick of his fingers. Away. Take the prisoner away.
Ancient middle eastern homes were most often built as a collection of dwellings composed around a large, common courtyard. As the extended family grew, more places would be added to the complex. When Herod the Great had mounted his ambitious temple remodel, his vision included grand palaces, almost a city within a city, with food kiosks, pathways with many mikvehs and souvenir stalls, places to purchase animals and grain for sacrifice, wine and oil, frankincense and nard, (all taxable, of course) to provide all a pilgrim might need or want. There would be ample room for the high priest’s magnificent residences.
This arrangement would now make the religious rulers’ plan that much easier to execute.
Since Annas could not make any headway with Jesus, there would be no preliminary preparation. He dismissed the Lord to be walked across the courtyard to the high priest’s manse, now occupied by his son-in-law. He hoped Caiaphas was prepared, for it was clear intimidation would have little effect on their quarry.
And in fact, as Jesus was being arrested, Caiaphas had been gathering together enough members of the Sanhedrin to meet informally at his house to launch their examination—they were determined to find fault with the Lamb of God and put him to death.
Just as silently as he had slipped into Annas’s house, so now John slipped out, making his way along the edges of those gathered around the several fires kindled around the spacious private courtyard. The temple’s ever-present aroma of incense, the prayers of the people, hung in the cold night air, mingling with the smell of woodsmoke and turned earth. As John walked, he looked for Peter but heard him before he saw him.
Swearing the oaths of a sailor in his loud voice, Peter shouted, “I do not know this person you are talking about!” John had just rounded the large group of soldiers accompanying Jesus when he saw Peter waving his arms belligerently, his angry invective aimed at the guard next to him.
Jesus saw him too, and John watched as their eyes met.
In that moment, horns sounded from the roof of Fort Antonia, the predawn shift was ending, and already soldiers dotted here and there in the compound’s spacious inner garden were clattering weapons and making their way to the gate. They were next on sentry duty, as others ended their turn.
John hesitated, wanting to go to his friend, but already Peter had turned away, and soon John was hurrying towards the servants’ entrance of the high priest’s quarters.
John knew many of those assembled in the shadowed meeting hall. Flames flickered and hissed from wall sconces, and braziers warmed the room. It seemed all the chief priests had gathered, for even Annas had wrapped himself in a heavy cloak and arrived by the official entrance. Annas and his sons, past and future chief priests, gathered with Caiaphas at the center of the Sanhedrin’s dais. Others, elders from both the Pharisee and Sadducee sects, were assembling themselves, each to his customary chair.
The high priest waited till all were seated, then motioned for Jesus to be brought before him.
To his side were a knot of witness, disgruntled Judeans, including a few who had been paid for their testimony. One by one, as they were waved forward to speak, each gave witness to Jesus’ doings and teachings. He healed many, he cast out demons, he made claims Almighty God, may his name be praised, was his father. But no two witnesses could give the same testimony, all the evidence was corrupted, and it seemed the temple elite’s scheme to put Jesus to death would fail.
The proceedings had become laborious, drawing on into the morning, as witness after witness told their story. Some of the elders stifled yawns, servants in the back shifted from foot to foot, the air was becoming close and stuffy, with little ventilation.
Until finally, some came forward who spoke with self-conscious temerity,
“We heard him say that, ‘I will destroy this shrine made by hands and in three days another not made by hands will I construct.’”
It raised Caiaphas from his seat, for the temple was at the very heart of Judaism, but even more so, at the heart of Judea’s commerce and rule. Without the temple, Jerusalem would collapse.
Caiaphas threw his arms up and out, striking a dramatic pose as he swept his head to each side, taking in his fellow scribes and teachers of the law, chest heaving in great emotion.
“Not even one answer?!” He cried, as he now locked his fiery eyes on Jesus.
Jesus watched him with a steady gaze.
Caiaphas strode to the edge of the dais to point a finger at the silent prisoner, then thrust his hand towards the witnesses, “What are they testifying against you?” Caiaphas, already a large and imposing man, had now subtly swept out the rich cloth of his robe to the full, to reveal the crisp white and deep blue of his prayer shawl, and the voluptuous drape of his sleeves. What evidence is this that I, the holy representative of the people to God, and the rule of God to the people, must hear?
But Jesus continued his steady gaze in silence, and John was certain that somehow a light yet discernible breeze had found its way into the room, refreshing him, but causing others to shiver.
Turning the Other Cheek
The way Jesus handled this situation illustrates what he might have meant in his Sermon on the Mount about not resisting the evil person even to turning the other cheek. After Jesus had been struck on his cheek for answering honestly, Jesus pointed out the injustice. He did not argue, or get emotional. But he did speak up for the truth. Jesus did not strike back, but he also did not let evil go unanswered.
Grace and Truth.
[Taken from John 18:12-14, 19-23; Mark 14:53, 55-56, 71, the translations are my own]
[Annas and Caiaphas | The Brooklyn Museum, Tames Tissot / Public Domain]