Better That One Man Die

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

54 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.

55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. John 11:45-57 ESV

John gives what appears to be a surprisingly brief summary of the peoples’ response to the raising of Lazarus from the dead. He simply states that many who had been eyewitnesses to the miracle Jesus performed “believed in him” (John 11:45 ESV). But what did they say? How did they react? Did anyone scream in fear as they watched Lazarus come out of the tomb? Were there tears of joy, shouts of praise, and gasps of disbelief and shock? We don’t know because all John tells us is that many believed and others went to the Pharisees to tell them what Jesus had done.

There is little doubt that Jesus’ miracle made a powerful impression on all those who witnessed it. It had been a jaw-dropping display of supernatural power that was impossible to dismiss or ignore. And for many in the crowd, it had been enough to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah. Who else but the Anointed One of God could have raised a dead man back to life?

But John’s lack of detail regarding the peoples’ reaction is because he has a different point of emphasis. In the very next chapter, John will provide a more satisfying glimpse into the peoples’ emotional state as he recalls what happened when they accompanied Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. But for now, John is far more interested in the reaction of the religious leaders. It would appear that these men had Jesus under 24-hour surveillance. They wanted to know His every move and had commissioned spies to report back on everything they saw and heard. And the miracle in Bethany had sent them scurrying back to Jerusalem, eager to tell the Pharisees what they had seen. Upon hearing the first-hand report of what had taken place in Bethany, the Pharisees informed the high priest, who called a special meeting of the Jewish religious council, the Sanhedrin.

This entire scene is strangely similar to one that would take place after Jesus’ own resurrection. John gives a detailed account of it in chapter 20 of his gospel.

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed — for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. – John 20:1-9 NLT

Notice the differences. Mary found the tomb of Jesus empty and ran to tell the disciples. Shocked at the news, Peter and John rushed to the scene and discovered the burial wrappings discarded and the tomb empty. And they believed.

The men who witnessed the empty tomb in Bethany had also run to tell others. But the Pharisees had made no effort to verify the facts. Upon hearing the fantastic nature of the news, they didn’t bother to make the two-mile journey to Bethany to see for themselves. They simply reported what they heard to the high priest, who decided it was worthy of an emergency meeting of the council.

The news that a dead man had walked out of a grave was not enough to make these men believe. Their only response was to ask, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs” (John 11:47 ESV). In a real sense, what they were saying was, “What are we supposed to do now? Our current course of action isn’t working.”

They realized that the longer they delayed, the more powerful and popular Jesus seemed to become. They had tried to discredit Him. They had even threatened to stone Him. But He wouldn’t go away. And now they had a real problem on their hands. He had reportedly raised a dead man back to life and the rumors were flying. Those who had witnessed the miracle were probably spreading the news that Jesus was the Messiah and the religious leaders were fearing the worst.

“If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation.” – John 11:48 NLT

They saw Jesus as a threat to their way of life. He was a trouble-making, crowd-inciting thorn in their sides who was fomenting discord and rocking the proverbial boat. Everything had been just fine until this rabble-rouser from Nazareth had shown up on the scene. Now, what were they going to do? Jesus had supposedly raised a dead man back to life. How were they supposed to discredit someone who could do the impossible? And with the celebration of Passover just days away, the crowds were gathering, and the news of His latest miracle was going to spread like wildfire.

But Caiaphas, the high priest, tried to put it all in perspective. He calmly and arrogantly responded, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish” (John 11:49 NLT). He had made up his mind. Jesus had to die. It was the only logical solution to the problem facing them. The sacrifice of one man’s life was necessary if they wanted to preserve the overall well-being of the nation.

Little did Caiaphas know that his words were divinely ordained. He was prophesying and didn’t even know it. John reveals that the high priest’s words were Spirit-inspired.

Now he did not say this on his own, but because he was high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish nation, and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered. – John 11:51-52 NLT

It is interesting to note that the Jewish high priest was appointed by the Romans. He served at their behest and knew his power and position were solely dependent upon their approval of his performance. If he were not careful, this “Jesus problem” could get out of hand and turn into an armed revolt, with the people trying to replace the Romans by crowning their new Messiah as King. This was all unacceptable and if it meant that Jesus had to die, so be it. Better that one man dies than that the Sanhedrin risk the loss of their power and the potential destruction of their temple.

The office of the high priest had originally been a God-ordained role, first held by Aaron, the brother of Moses. And as a God-appointed leader of the nation of Israel, the high priest was intended to be a spokesman for the Almighty. And even in the dark days of the 1st-Century when the spiritual leadership of Israel was in a state of apostasy and populated by men who were self-righteous hypocrites, God still spoke through Caiaphas. And while the high priest thought he was declaring Jesus’ death as the logical means of preserving their way of life, God was announcing the death of His Son as the key to eternal life.

Caiaphas was focused on protecting and preserving Israel. But God had bigger plans in store that would include not only the Jews but the nations of the world. And while Caiaphas didn’t realize it, he was going to be used to bring about the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles by participating in the death of Jesus.

The stage is set. The conflict between darkness and light is intensifying. And the days are drawing near when Jesus will complete His God-given assignment and fulfill the will of His Heavenly Father. But for the time being, Jesus avoided the limelight and removed Himself from public view, content to await the very moment for which He had come. The Passover was coming. And the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world was preparing to make His final entrance into Jerusalem

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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