This morning I was studying my Sabbath School Quarterly which was based on Matthew 26:59-68 where the High Priest Caiaphas rended his garments. Why? It was because Jesus said in response to the demand, “I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said, “Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
Then, Caiaphas tore his clothes, saying, “He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.”
The high priest tore his clothes to symbolize that Jesus was to be put to death. It also symbolized Caiaphas’s righteous indignation and horror over what he thought was a blasphemous claim by Jesus that He was the Son of God. I learned that the law of Moses forbade the high priest from tearing his clothes and doing so can bring a death sentence. Moses said to Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons, “Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people” (Leviticus 10:6).
It is interesting that Caiaphas is condemning Jesus to death for blasphemy yet he did something that in Moses day would have brought death to him and God’s wrath on the people he was suppose to intercede for. Caiaphas was breaking the law which clearly stated, “And he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes” (Leviticus 21:10). Ironically, he thought that Jesus who had done nothing wrong should be put to death yet he, Caiaphas, in rending his ecclesiastical robes, deserved death because he had broken the very law he was supposed to be upholding.
The tearing of the robe has an ever deeper meaning. It signified the beginning of the end of the old sacrificial system and priesthood. This system ended when Jesus died on the cross. Mark 15:38-39 described how it ended. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God. The centurion bore witness that Jesus was indeed the Son of God–so, Jesus’ words to Caiaphas were a true testimony of who He was. He had not committed blasphemy. He had not done anything deserving of death.
Caiaphas, in tearing his clothes was signifying that a new and better sacrificial system was about to be set up. The earthly one which he and his clothes symbolized was about to come to an end. Christ would be the new High Priest ministering in a sanctuary not made of hands. “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, [which are] the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:11, 24).
In rending his garments, Caiaphas disqualified himself as the High Priest. The people needed a better High Priest. One who understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. One who is not self-righteous and blinded by hatred and jealousy. These things blinded the religious leaders from seeing that their whole religion pointed to Christ, God’s Anointed.
I read a little history about Caiaphas. He was appointed to the office of high priest by Valerius Gratus, governor of Judaea, after removal of Simon, son of Camith, A.D. 18, and was removed A.D. 36 by Vitellius, governor of Syria, who appointed Jonathan, son of Ananus (Annus, father-in-law of Caiaphas), his successor. It’s interesting that Caiaphas was appointed by man while Jesus was appointed by God after the order of Melchizedek.
There was a need for a new priesthood. Hebrews 7:14-19 state: For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. For He testifies: “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.” For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.
The writer continues: And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them (Hebrws 7:23-25). Our High Priest is currently interceding on our behalf. His priesthood is a better one than that of the earthly one. Unlike the earthly priesthood in which sacrifices had to be made more than once, Jesus offered Himself once and for all. His blood atoned for our sins so the sacrifice of animals was no longer necessary. The earthly sanctuary pointed to the heavenly one where Jesus is now interceding for all who go to the Father through Him.
Praise God for this new priesthood and our High Priest who shed His blood for our sins and is now ministering to our needs in the sanctuary, making it possible for us to boldly approach the throne of grace.