45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.
55 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 56 They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” 57 But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.
(John 11:45-57 NIV)
Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead. Mary and Martha had previously put their faith and trust in Jesus as Messiah. Now John records that many of Mary’s friends who had come to mourn Lazarus’ death believe in Jesus as Messiah. No one else has ever done anything like healing the blind or raising the dead to life. Surely Jesus is the Messiah!
While many believe, John records that some do not. The unbelievers go back and tell the Pharisees what just happened. The Pharisees and the chief priests call an emergency meeting of the Sanhedrin, the highest ranking group in Jewish religious leadership.
John has the “inside scoop” on the conversations behind closed doors. While John does not explicitly tell us his informant, it is likely either Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea. Both of these men were followers of Jesus and also members of the Jewish religious leadership.
John records the primary motivation of the Jewish leaders – fear. They feared their loss of control over the Jewish population, and with that loss of control, loss of everything they held dear – their temple and living in Israel (v. 48). Notice that their relationship with God nowhere in their thoughts or conversations. Their bravado with Jesus back in chapter 8 has disappeared, and fear ruled the day. They knew the Romans would not tolerate any upheaval in their conquered holdings; the Jews had caused enough trouble to the Romans already, and any more trouble might send the Romans over the edge. The leadership’s fear would one day come to pass; the Romans would eventually burn down the Temple and kick all the Jews out of Jerusalem around AD 70.
John introduces Caiaphas to the story. Caiaphas was high priest and sought to bring order to the chaos of the Sanhedrin. Caiaphas told the leaders that they knew nothing (essentially calling them knuckleheads or fools), then reminded them of his prophecy of Jesus dying for Israel, both in Israel as well as those scattered around the world (vv. 51 – 52).
While the prophecy was obviously from God, the Jewish leaders decided that God needed their help to make this happen and plotted to kill Jesus. After all, as Caiaphas reasoned, it was better than one man dies instead of the whole nation being wiped out by the Romans.
John records that Jesus no longer felt safe in Jerusalem or Bethany, and retreated to Ephraim, about a day’s walk north of Jerusalem.
John ends Chapter 11 by providing an updated timeframe in the story. Passover was just around the corner, and everyone was wondering if Jesus would show up for the festivities. John has slowed down his chronology from eternity to months to weeks; he will soon slow down the timeline again from weeks to days to hours.
So what is our takeaway from today’s passage? What is our faith lesson?
I think the biggest faith lesson is to live in faith and not in fear. Do we honor Christ with all our life, both publicly and privately, or do we only honor Him if we think it won’t make waves with our neighbors, friends, or the authorities? Are we more about self-preservation than trusting God with our life and sharing the Good News of Christ with those around us?
May we dare to be like Daniel of the Old Testament, and like the disciples of Jesus after He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, boldly proclaiming Jesus to the lost and hurting world around us.