When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden…
That there should have been two high priests needs explanation. One of these was a famous man whose name was "Merciful." (Hebrews Chanan, here represented in a shortened form by the Gr. Annas). "Merciful" had once been the high priest according to Jewish law; but, more than twenty years before, Valerius Gratus, Pilate's predecessor, had put him out of office, and had put into it a nominee of his own. In the creed of every true Israelite this act was null. The law of God ordained that whoever was high priest was so for life; and a man could no more have two high priests at one time than he could have two fathers; therefore, "Merciful" was, in the sight of the orthodox, a great and sacred personage. More than this, we have reason to think that while his son-in-law held the post of high priest by the grace of the Emperor, he himself was by the same grace his sagan, or deputy; and this was an office so august that the person who held it might, on urgent occasions, go into "the Holy of Holies." He even received the appellation of high priest. So Luke uses the expression, "Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests;" the one being so de jure, the other de facto. It is easy to understand how the senior was virtually the primate, and how he would naturally keep his official residence in the high priest's palace, on one side of its vast quadrangle. " Merciful" was an old man of seventy. While the Jews regarded him as a potent force in their national affairs, he was also eminently acceptable to the Romans, for he was a priest who was touched with no inconvenient convictions; he was also a capitalist, willing to oblige a needy nobleman with a loan on fair terms; in him, too, they had a gentleman and a man of the world to deal with; he was cool, politic, and safe; altogether, in the judgment both of Jews and Gentiles, "Merciful" was just then, probably, the first man in all Jerusalem. Leaders of history know that persons who have most reverence for the priestly office have sometimes less than the least reverence for some particular priest. It was so here. "Merciful" was detested. In the popular opinion, his nature belied his name. "Call that man 'Merciful!'" it was thought, "you might as well speak of a merciful 'viper;'" and "viper" seems to have become his common cognomen. When he passed along the road in his palanquin, here and there a citizen might crouch down to the dust before him as if in speechless worship, but would be likely to mutter under his breath, "Viper!" Subtle, deadly, gliding, tortuous, noiseless as the snake slipping along through the evening grass, and sometimes able to wait with wicked patience for his prey — thus we picture this "Merciful." The first old priest who saw Jesus in this world said of Him, as He lay across His mother's arms, "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace," &c. Now another old priest looks on Him, but with cold, steely eyes that glitter and stab. The meaning of "Caiaphas, the name of this younger and more active representative of the sacerdotal party, is uncertain; but there is no uncertainty as to what manner of man he was. As to his theology, he was doubtless considered to be "liberal," or "broad;" for he "believed in neither angel nor spirit," and smiled at the doctrine of "a resurrection." Ostensibly, he was first of the priests, yet he cared more to work out problems in political mathematics than to ponder "the things into which angels desire to look." Although in every respect of the same party as the other priest, he was altogether different from him in his natural calibre, He wore no mask, he simulated no gentleness; but looked like the man he was, hard, bold, and unscrupulous. He was an intense Jew, and was ever on the watch to cross the plans of Pilate, but was also ever on the watch to avoid whatever might disturb safe relations with the Roman government.
(C. Stanford, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples.