What’s behind the high priest’s ‘overreaction?’

The high priest Caiaphas questions Jesus in Matthias Stom’s 17th century work. What might look like an overreaction by Caiaphas in tearing his garments at Jesus’ answer has more to do with the roots of what Christ actually said.

The high priest Caiaphas questions Jesus in Matthias Stom’s 17th century work. What might look like an overreaction by Caiaphas in tearing his garments at Jesus’ answer has more to do with the roots of what Christ actually said.

One of the few things I remember from my college psychology classes is that sometimes an overreaction to an ordinary situation may be a signal that something more is going on than meet the eye. This is common sense. If an adult runs screaming at the first sight of a bee, chances are the overreaction stems from a bad experience with a bee. Scripture has its share of what seems like overreactions, but really they are signals for us to dig deeper behind the Bible.

One “overreaction” that puzzled me was that of the high priest during Jesus’ trail. The high priest asked Our Lord, “Are you the Messiah?” And Jesus answered:

“I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’”

Gary Michuta

Gary Michuta

You’d think that the high priest would be pleased to get an answer. But instead, the high priest tears his robes (which is forbidden in Leviticus 10:6 and 21:10) and says, “… ‘What further need have we of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’…” (Mark 14:63-64).

Why such a violent reaction to Jesus’ words? Clearly, there is more going on here than meets the eye.

One possible reason for the charge of blaspheme may be that when Jesus said “I am,” he wasn’t just saying “yes.” The words “I am” happen to be the same words in the Greek Old Testament for God’s name. When Moses asked God for His name, God replied, “I am who am” (Exodus 3:14). Since speaking the Divine Name in ancient Judaism was sacrilegious and worthy of capital punishment, Jesus’ reply could explain the high priest’s reaction. However, it is not at all clear that Jesus said the Divine Name. He may have just said, “I am [the Messiah].” If this is so, why did the high priest react like he did?

A better explanation that scholars (even Jewish scholars) have highlighted may be what Jesus says afterwards: “…you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

These words come from the Book of Daniel. In Daniel 7:13-14, Daniel sees in a dream a vision of “One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.”

What may have caused the charge of blaspheme isn’t so much Our Lord’s application of this verse to Himself, since it certainly points to the Messiah but that He, the son of man, will be “…seated at the right hand of the Power” (Mark 14:62).

Just before Daniel 7:13-14, Daniel had another vision.

“As I watched, Thrones were set up and the Ancient One took his throne … His throne was flames of fire, with wheels of burning fire. A surging stream of fire flowed out from where he sat; Thousands upon thousands were ministering to him, and myriads upon myriads attended him…” (Daniel 7:9-10).

What’s interesting here is that Daniel saw more than one throne set up. The Ancient One, who is God, took one throne, but there is no mention of who takes the other throne. Some Jews have speculated that the Son of Man, when he received universal dominion over the earth, would take the other throne. Sounds reasonable, but if this is so, the Son of Man would be divine and enjoy divine prerogatives. When Jesus said he will come “seated at the right hand of the Power” and coming “on the clouds,” he essentially put these two ideas together and claimed that he is the Messiah, the Son of Man, and God. The high priest also knew the implications of Jesus’ words, and he ripped his robes in protest of the perceived blasphemy.

The next time you run across something in Scripture that seems to be an overreaction, watch out! There may be more going on behind the Bible.


Gary Michuta is an apologist, author and speaker and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at www.handsonapologetics.com.