This is taken from an assignment I completed as partial requirement for M-BS 2310 NEW TESTAMENT SURVEY 1: GOSPELS AND ACTS at the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO.
Long before the passion narrative starts in John 18, the beloved disciple grants us a unique sneak peek into the mindset of the Jewish leadership that precipitated the crucifixion of Jesus. If properly studied, it helps us understand how the Jewish leaders perceived the threat posed by Jesus, and how His crucifixion was justified and rationalized by the so-called protectors of Torah. Often it is believed that the primary reason the Jerusalem leaders sought the death of Jesus was their religious fervor. But John 11:47-53 presents a more sinister and political reason behind this plot.
Context always helps, and the deliberations of John 11:47-53 should be understood in the context of John 11:45. Jesus raising Lazarus from death was a dramatic turning point in his ministry, since many Jews put their faith in Him after this supernatural event. And such a remarkable event happening so close to Jerusalem didn’t sit well with the chief priests and the Pharisees, as many started reporting the event. We see this as an ongoing issue since in John 12:9-11 we witness the plot by the chief priests to kill Lazarus. And once again in verse 11 here we notice that Lazarus was such a thorn in the side of the Jewish leadership because his resurrection had become a reason why many of Jews were starting to believe in Jesus. In the light of this it is easy to assume that the primary concern of the Pharisees, the chief priests, and the rest of the council is that people are being led away by a false prophet. And hence the plot to murder Jesus and Lazarus arises out of misplaced religious fervor.
In this blog I contend that John 11:47-53 challenges this notion. While religious fervor may have played a role, this record of the council’s discussion reveals a more sinister motive. It is revealed in vs. 48 that the fundamental concern of the Jewish leadership isn’t just regarding the religious belief of its people but the potential loss of power that it can precipitate. The Sanhedrin understood that their power and influence lay in people’s allegiance to the temple and its authority . But if more and more people instead followed Jesus, their political influence would wain and their Roman overlords won’t have as much incentive to be in good terms with them by delegating a certain level of authority over Judea to them. With more and more people following Jesus, this precarious relationship between the Roman political leadership and the Jewish religious leadership, which looked towards each other for the legitimacy and sustainability of their authority, was at risk . And this is clear from their most prominent concern: “…the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
Caiaphas’ solution (vs. 49-50) to this precarious problem also reveals the gravity of this issue for them. At stake for the Jewish leadership is their nation, their authority their ability to pray at their temple and ultimately a Jewish Homeland. The Romans have been very generous with this frontier territory when it comes to not being too overbearing with religious and cultural issues and allowing some level of autonomy. In addition, despite being under the Roman rule Judea has been the homeland for all Jews, including the diaspora. It is this special status that the Jewish leadership and its council fears to lose if the people follow Jesus and the Romans see the authority of their leadership decrease. This fear of losing a nation is what motivates Caiaphas to say that “it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” (vs. 51)
While Caiaphas and the rest of the Jerusalem Council may have had a political reason in seeing Jesus dead, John’s interpretation of this conversation sheds a unique light to the whole event. In claiming that Caiaphas’ words weren’t mere political deliberations, rather a prophetic uttering (vs. 51-52), John is showing God’s divine providence behind Jerusalem council’s resolution to kill Jesus. While the Jewish leadership may have intended to cause harm to Jesus to preserve their power, their culture and their nation, John shows us that God is sovereign over all. And while John 11:47-53 is often a footnote in the study of the scriptures, knowing that despite the decision to kill Jesus being arrived at because of political deliberations, ultimately God was sovereign over all decisions of the politicians and other authorities gives us greater reasons to have our complete hope and faith in our sovereign God.