Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man does many miracles.…
If some historian were to write that Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States that same year in which the great civil war broke out, would any be justified in imputing to him the mistake that the presidency was an annual office, or in concluding that the writer could not have been an American living at the time, and to whom the ordinary sources of information were open? And who has a right to ascribe to the words of St. John any further meaning than that Caiaphas was high priest then? Whether he had been so before, or should be after, was nothing to his present purpose. The oracular, even prophetic, character which his utterance obtained requires some explanation. That a bad man should utter words which were so overruled by God as to become prophetic, would of itself be no difficulty. He who used Balaam could use Caiaphas. Nor is there any difficulty in such unconscious prophecies as this evidently is. It exactly answers as such to the omina of Roman superstition, in which words spoken by one in a lesser meaning are taken up by another in a higher, and by him claimed to be. prophetic of that. Cicero ("De Divin." 1:46) gives examples: these, too, resting on the faith that men's words are ruled by a higher power than their own. How many prophecies of a like kind meet us in the history of the Crucifixion! What was the title over our Lord but another such scornful, yet most veritable prophecy? Or what, again, the purple robe and the homage; the sceptre and the crown? The Roman soldiers did not mean to fulfil Psalm xxii when they parted Christ's garments, etc., nor the Jewish mockers when they spoke those taunting words; but they did so none the less. And in the typical rehearsals of the crowning catastrophe in the drama of God's providence, how many a Nimrod, Pharaoh, Antiochus and Nero — Antichrists that do not quite come to the birth — have prophetic parts allotted to them which they play out, unknowing what they do. We have an example of this in the very name Caiaphas, which is only another form of Cephas. But the perplexing circumstance is the attribution to him because He was the high priest of these prophetic words. But there is no need to suppose that St. John meant to affirm this to have been a power inherent in the high priesthood; but only that God, the extorter of the unwilling, or even unconscious, prophecies of wicked men, ordained this further: that he in whom the whole theocracy culminated, who was "the Prince of the People" (Acts 23:5), for such, till another high priest had sanctified Himself — and his moral character was nothing to the point — Caiaphas truly was, should, because he bore this office, be the organ of this memorable prophecy concerning Christ, and the meaning and end of His death.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles.