John 11:46-57

John 11:46-53     Jewish Council Plots the Murder of Jesus

Though many of the Jews came to believe in Jesus, recognising not just the sign but also its meaning, not all came to faith. Some of them chose to close their minds and to inform the Pharisees of what had happened.

46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 
47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin, 

The Sanhedrin was the supreme governing body, comprised of chief priests, scribes and members of the aristocratic families, some of whom were prominent Pharisees. Delegated by the Roman administration, they took care of the day-to-day functioning of Jewish society.

… and said, "What do we do? This fellow is doing lots of signs.
48 If we let him keep doing this,
everyone will believe in him,
the Romans will come
and take the Temple and the nation.

The narrative had repeatedly shown the growing concern, particularly among some Pharisees, as well as their murderous intent. Charged with maintaining law and order on behalf of their Roman conquerors, they were particularly sensitive to one who challenged their religious authority and who was seen by many as Messiah (effectively a potential leader threatening Roman rule).

Better that One Man to Die for the People

49 One of them Caiaphas, the high priest for that year, said to them,  
"You people know nothing.
50 You do not see that it is better for you
that one man die for the sake of the people,
than that the whole nation be destroyed."

Caiaphas’s comment reflected perfectly the points that Jesus had tried to convey in his discussions with the Jews during the Feast of Dedication. Caiaphas did not know the God of Jesus. Caiaphas’s “god” was a god who had no problem with making victims, a god perfectly prepared to achieve a “good” outcome by means of violence and murder. That “god” was the devil, a murderer from the beginning, their father, the one from whom they inherited their unquestioned attitude to death [8:44]. Jesus’ God had nothing to do with victim-making or violent solutions.

Caiaphas’s cold-blooded political realism has been echoed across the centuries by a variety of national leaders: national interest so often overrides all other concerns; and even in the modern world has been used as justification for immoral procedures, such as preemptive military strikes and torture.

In fact, the members of the Sanhedrin were less concerned about national interest than about their own power base. Interestingly, it was the deliberate and general rejection by the nation of Jesus’ way of non-violent love as the means to life and freedom, that led the Romans to destroy Jerusalem and the Jewish state, just forty years after the murder of Jesus. A series of armed revolts occasioned the ruthless response of Rome.

51 He did not say this of himself,
but as high priest for that year he prophesied
that Jesus was destined to die for the nation
52 and not only  for the nation,
but so that he might gather into one
all the scattered children of God.

In the earlier controversy accounts, Jesus had already been accused of blasphemy, and efforts had been made to stone and arrest him. Caiaphas’s motivation was presented as something much more secular and expedient. With wonderful irony, the author had him unwittingly prophesy the universal outreach of the death of Jesus.

The author used the same Greek word to describe the convened meeting of the council [verse 47] and the universally-oriented gathering into one of the scattered children of God through the power of the impending death and resurrection of Jesus. The author deliberately referred to the universal outreach of Jesus’ death. Israel was included in that outreach, but had no monopoly on it. Jesus had said in an earlier discussion: I have other sheep that are not from this sheepfold. I need to gather them in as well.  They shall listen to my voice; and there will be one flock, and one shepherd [10:16]. The Prologue had anticipated the outcome: to those who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God [1:12].

53 So from that day they planned to kill him.

In an earlier incident, Nicodemus had challenged the council on a point of order: Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it? [7:51]. The council took no more notice of the legal point on this occasion than it had done on the earlier one

They would learn that their putting Jesus to death would have no effect on the one who was the resurrection and the life [verse 25], other than to occasion his glorification.

Contemporary records suggest that Caiaphas worked closely with the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, on a number of shared concerns. He may well have talked with Pilate about his intentions and the need to dispose of Jesus. This could well explain why the group that would later arrest Jesus consisted of a detachment of (Roman) soldiers together with (Temple) police [18:3].

John 11:54-57     Jesus Withdraws to the Wilderness

54 Consequently, Jesus no longer walked about publicly among the Jews,
but went from there to a place close to the desert,
to a town called Ephraim,
and he stayed there with the disciples.

Though the raising of Lazarus from death would soon lead to Jesus’ death and, through it, to the revelation of God’s glory [11:4], the timing of Jesus’ hour would be determined by Jesus’ free will and not by political decision-makers.         

55 The Jewish feast of Passover was near
and a lot of people from the region went up to Jerusalem
before the Passover to purify themselves.

This would be the third Passover to occur in the narrative. The Hebrew people had taken their first steps towards freedom at the time of the original Passover. On that eventful night, lambs had been slain and, through their blood sprinkled on their door posts, the sword of the destroying angels was averted. Now a new liberation was about to dawn. The people’s real liberation would be brought about, no longer by the blood of lambs, but by the blood of the truly free Jesus, who would deliberately face into violent death as the price of his love for the world.

56 They were looking out for Jesus,
and as they were standing around in the temple,
they were saying to each other,
"What do you think? Will he not come for the feast?"
57 For the high priests and the Pharisees had given orders
that, if anyone knew where he was,
they should give information,
so that they could arrest him.

The scene was set for the eventual arrest, trial and execution of Jesus; but the author would interrupt the flow of proceedings to present a series of further events and reflections that would clearly bring into relief the deeper meanings of what had been narrated so far and the significance of Jesus’ imminent death.

Next >> John 12:1-12