The Sanhedrin’s Plot
John 11:46-53 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. (47) Then the chief priests and Pharisees gathered a Sanhedrin, and said, What can we do? For this man does many miracles. (48) If we let him alone this way, all will believe on him. And the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation. (49) And one of them, Caiaphas, being the high priest of that year, said to them, You do not know anything at all, (50) nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation perish. (51) And he did not speak this of himself, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation; (52) and not for that nation only, but also that He should gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. (53) Then from that day they took counsel together that they might kill Him.
The reaction in the verses above is entirely typical of the frightened thinking of a threatened elite. Their regime is unstable and is predicated of the support of an occupying military power. Jesus is a popular leader, and a threat to the delicately balanced status quo. They live for their political power “our place and our nation” and so react to any perceived threat to their privileged world with utter ruthlessness.
At first they are largely correct: “What can we do? For this man does many miracles. (48) If we let him alone this way, all will believe on him.”
That was certainly the case. Jesus was increasingly popular. He did perform many miracles and Lazarus was a most noted example. In the light of all these miracles the logical thing would have been to say “so God must be with Him and therefore God is among us and will help us and may even rescue our nation”. But they thought politically and pragmatically, and in their view God was out of the picture and the people and the Romans were in the picture. There is a theory that John was a nephew of the high priestly family and may have had access to information about this meeting of the Sanhedrin.
Instead of joy at the miraculous there was an uneasy dread. They were losing their grip on the people and this usurper, this populist, was winning their loyalty instead. Order had to be restored, the old families had to be kept in power and the challenge to the authority of the scribes and Pharisees and chief priests “nipped in the bud”.
Their rationalization was “to prevent Roman intervention”. They may have thought that Jesus, who was of the line of David, was trying to assume the Kingship. (A chunk of the rest of John’s gospel plays around the theme of Christ’s kingship and Pilate’s question “Are you a King?”) Any restoration of the Kingship would have plunged the country into conflict and turmoil.
Caiaphas, one of the murderous and treacherous line of Annas the High Priest takes the line of expediency and advocates the murder of Jesus “for the sake of the nation”. This was a ‘prophecy’ given in his role of High Priest – but without his realizing it. God can speak through Balaam’s donkey, and even through evil men like Caiaphas! Thus the mere fact of prophesying does not make a good person. Even Balaam prophesied accurately concerning Israel – but is the archetype of false prophets! What made Balaam a false prophet was his greed, and what made Caiaphas a wicked high priest is his murderous intent. The fact that it was an accurate prophecy of salvation does not make Caiaphas any less culpable.
While coming from an evil man with a wicked heart it is still an important prophecy, which is why John both mentions it and explains it. Let’s go clause by clause:
“You do not know anything at all” – True, they had no knowledge of God
“That one man should die for the people” – as Christ died on the cross, the second Adam, the One Man through whom salvation comes.
“And not that the whole nation perish” - For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in him might not perish….(John 3:16)
John then adds: “And he did not speak this of himself, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation; (52) and not for that nation only, but also that He should gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.”
Christ gathers all the “children of God’ Jewish and non-Jewish, whoever seeks after God, into one holy people. What wicked men intend for evil, God turns into good. Just today I read of an incident in Laos where a young persecuted believer sadly recanted his faith to escape punishment and threw his New Testament in the river, where it was found and read by fishermen, who then told others so that 24 people were saved and a church planted. The Word of God was not stopped, but even advanced by persecution.
“Then from that day they took counsel together that they might kill Him.” The only times the conservative Pharisees and high-priestly and liberal Sadducees were united was in their determination to kill Jesus. This wicked meeting of the Sanhedrin sets the stage for John chapters 12-21 which we did last year. From this point on we are entering into the passion narrative and the Last Supper, crucifixion an resurrection. This is the point when the leadership of Israel united in lethal hatred of their Saviour. Thus the giving of life to Lazarus would result in death for Jesus. This is a principle of gospel ministry that explains while the apostles were destitute while people were blessed:
2 Corinthians 4:7-12 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us; (8) in every way having been troubled, but not having been hemmed in; having been perplexed, but not utterly at a loss; (9) having been persecuted, but not having been forsaken; having been thrown down, but not having been destroyed; (10) always bearing about the dying of the Lord Jesus in the body, so that the life of Jesus also might be revealed in our body. (11) For we who live are always being delivered to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus might also be revealed in our body. (12) So then death works in us, but life in you.