“Annas in Jesus’ Last Days”

Someone has said that “God prepares men then launches the events of history.” If all history is really the narrative of God unfolding His redemptive plan for mankind, then all history is worth studying. As we do, we discover a fitting plan whereby the right man (or woman) is present and prepared – at just the right time. Today we look at Annas, a person who figures significantly in Jesus’ last days, as we do, we see God’s Sovereignty.

During the Solomonic temple period high priests were of the family of Zadok (II Sa.15.24). They would wear specifically designed clothing when carrying out certain responsibilities and they would offer flour and oil (cake offering) twice daily.

According to the Dictionary of New Testament Background edited by Craig Evans and Stanley Porter, “The families of the once high priests, formed an aristocracy of chief priests. Eventually the Sanhedrin, the official Pharisaic judicial power, gained control over the appointments long after Herod’s death, but with the destruction of the temple this privilege came to an abrupt end.”

John is the only Gospel writer to mention Annas specifically in reference to Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem (18.13). Luke mentions Annas by name two times, once in his introductory remarks regarding “John the son of Zechariah” in his Gospel (Lk.3.2). Second time in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke mentions Annas when Peter and John were brought before him (Ac.4.6) – Caiaphas, John, and Alexander are also named in the same text.

Josephus informs us that Cyrenius “appointed Ananus [Annas] the son of Seth, to be high priest.” According to the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary he would serve officially as high priest from A.D. 6 until A.D. 15 when Valerius Gratus, Pontius Pilate’s predecessor would remove him from his office. After serving in Judea for eleven years he would return to Rome after having replaced Annas with Ismael, the son of Phabi [Fabus], then replacing Ismael with Annas’ son Eleazer. He would replace Eleazer with Simon the son of Camithus; and finally, Joseph Caiaphus the son in law of Annas. It is worth noting that all five of Annas’ sons would eventually serve as high Priest. Josephus further mentions that Annas and Caiaphas are “no other than the Annas and Caiaphas so often mentioned in the four Gospels.

According to Eckhard Schnabel the name Annas is a transliteration of the Hebrew name Hanan. As noted by Schnabel, Richard Bauckham in Eyewitnesses, states that among Palestinian Jews the name Hanan/Annas is the twelfth most popular.

Ones personal observation might reasonably conclude that Josephus seems to be the primary if not almost exclusive source of what is known about the High priest Annas as evidenced by Schnabel’s referencing nine out of fourteen endnotes to Josephus in less than two pages of text dedicated to Annas. One might also note that in many of the sources regarding Annas, reference to Josephus is made.

As stated already, Annas would be removed from office by Valerius Gratus. According to Schnabel, this may have been done to flex his political muscle especially since this seems to be a move made very early in his Judean responsibilities. Since he appointed one of Annas’ sons to the position of high priest it seems reasonable to conclude that Schnabel would be right in his observation. This is affirmed in the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, “Annas’ later prominence, long after his deposition, and the success of his family in high priestly office, make it seem unlikely that he was deposed as a result of official displeasure; he served the accommodation with Rome very well.

Eusebius helps one understand the revolving door of the high priests in his Ecclesiastical History when he states the rites of the law were abolished and the priests’ appointment were no longer lifetime. Furthermore, he says under Roman governors different high priests were appointed and “did not continue in office for more than a year.” It is possible this was an attempt to control the influence of the high priest and maintain political leverage over the Jewish population.

Despite attempts to control the power of the high priests, Annas remained “perhaps the most powerful Jew in the land” according to R.C. Sproul in his expositional commentary on Mark. Bruce Milne affirms this when he writes that “In every sense Annas was the power behind the throne…” Jesus may have been brought to Annas first out of the simple respect for the former high priest (not to mention father in law) or it may have been out of “deference to Annas’ continuing power and stature.” Köstenberger, referencing Morris and Carson, states, “Annas…to be the real high priest.” John MacArthur, in One Perfect Life confirms this observation as well when he says, “Annas continued to wield influence over the office, most likely because he was still regarded as the true high priest.”.

As has been stated, Annas and his family may well have been the greatest influence upon the Jews during much of the first century. If this is accurate, then when Schnabel makes the claim that this high priestly family were the “main opponents of the early Christians” one would find it entirely reasonable. Logical also would be the acknowledgment that this persecution and opposition would have begun during Jesus’ earthly ministry and would be particularly obvious during Jesus’ last days. Making the point further would be Caiaphas’ role in Stephen’s death (Ac.7.1) and the younger Annas’ involvement in the death of James as noted by Schnabel in Jesus In Jerusalem.

The date of Annas’ death is uncertain. What can be understood with greater certainty is the burial place of the influential and patriarchal high priest. Schnabel suggests that Annas’ tomb may be in the “southern end of the Hinnom Valley on the slope of the Rogel Spring.” Annas’ tomb may in fact resembled a monument.