It was an interesting moment in the life of Christ. He had spent time away from Jerusalem because the religious leaders were plotting to have Him killed. Yet word had come that His friend, Lazarus, was sick and dying. Lazarus lived in Bethany, a mere two miles from Jerusalem, but Jesus still planned to go to him and his family. What was really strange was that even though Jesus knew the situation was serious, He told His disciples that they would wait a few days until Lazarus had fallen asleep. He meant that He was going to wait until Lazarus died before He went to see Him. It was all a part of God’s plan to give Lazarus the amazing privilege of being a powerful testimony of his friend’s power over death.
Imagine how the word spread. A man who was unquestionably dead had been raised to life by Jesus, the very One everyone was talking about. Jews from Jerusalem had witnessed it firsthand. There was no disputing the facts. Lazarus was gone for four full days, and now he was alive.
The people of the nation of Israel were going to want answers from their Jewish leadership. How was it possible for this Jesus to have such incredible power if He wasn’t from God? If He was from God, and He was the Messiah, then what was wrong with these leaders? Why were they trying to kill God’s servant?
The Jewish Scripture was filled with stories of men who were the heroes of God and others who were His vilest enemies. Which side was Jesus on? Which side were the religious leaders? Were they on the same side as men like Mannaseh, the evil king who killed the prophet Isaiah? The king whose memory had been despised by everyone in Israel for hundreds of years? Were these men on the same side as those who had killed the prophets of God?
As the Jewish leaders went against Jesus and tried to silence Him, and as Jesus stood in His authority as the Son of God and fearlessly proclaimed the Truth, it became increasingly sharp and clear that only one side could be right. Would the Jewish leaders repent? Would they finally accept that the Messiah had come? Would God’s holy people believe?
Many of the Jews who had come to mourn with Mary and Martha and saw what Jesus did put their faith in Him. Others went to the Pharisees. Then the Pharisees went to the chief priests in Jerusalem to tell them about this new development. This was a serious problem. If this Man, Jesus, kept on deceiving the people, there would be no stopping Him. Clearly, the Pharisees could not control Him.
They called together a council of the Sanhedrin, the highest court in the land. As the most powefulr men in Israel met together, they debated what to do about Jesus.
“‘What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs,’” some said. It was an honest question. How could they explain the miracles?
“‘If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation,’” others declared. They were trying to claim that Jesus was such a rabble-rouser that He would force the Romans to move against Israel. They would come and destroy the Temple and lay the nation to waste to quiet things down.
In the next few weeks of our reading, it will become very clear that this was absolutely ridiculous. The Romans hardly knew who Jesus was and weren’t troubled by Him in the least. Pontius Pilate, the governor that Rome sent to rule over Jerusalem, didn’t even know who Jesus was! But these Jewish rulers needed a good excuse to destroy Christ, and they could hardly admit it was because they were jealous!
Finally, Caiaphus spoke. He was the high priest with the most powerful position in the Jewish nation. By the end of his term, he would have held it for eighteen years, longer than any other high priest in his century. But he did not keep his position because of his righteous leadership or because God took pleasure over his rule. He and his father-in-law, Annas, held a dynastic-like power over the Temple and the Jewish religion, using corruption and manipulation to hold onto their influence and power. They used one of the most honored roles God gave to His people for their own selfish gain. With Jesus, they had found a new rival that they couldn’t control. They had no scruples about bringing the full force of their power against Him.
The high priest rebuked the other leaders, declaring, “‘You know nothing at all’” He wasn’t a very polite man, was he? But what he said next was even worse. He declared, “‘…nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.’”
Wow. Caiaphus had already decided. Jesus had to die. There was no desire to give Him a fair trial or to seriously consider the facts. There was no move to hear both sides of the argument about who Jesus was and the things He did. The other voices that had voiced those concerns were silenced.
Yet isn’t the way Caiaphas said it interesting? It was true. Jesus did have to die so that the nation could be saved. God had ordained that the high priest of Israel would state this prophesy, whether He followed the Lord or not. Jesus truly was going to die for the nation. As John wrote this story down, he wanted to make sure we understood this. He said that Jesus not only died for the nation of Israel, but for all the children of God who were scattered all over the world. He was talking about us! Caiaphus meant one thing with his declaration that Jesus needed to die, but God meant something far different…far more dreadful and vast in scope, and yet full of the greatest hope the world will ever know.
Another great tragedy and irony in this declaration is that the very thing that Caiaphas claimed he was trying to avoid also came true. John would know all about it when he wrote this story down years later. He must have found it stunning. In 70 A.D., the Roman Empire invaded Jerusalem and utterly destroyed it, and the nation of Israel would not exist again for almost two thousand years.
The Sanhedrin had made their decision with their high priest leading the way. From that time on, they plotted and planned about how they were going to do it. For you see, it was complicated. They had no legal reason to kill Jesus. He had done nothing wrong, They could catch Him in no deception. Not only that, but many in Israel believed in Jesus. If they tried to arrest Jesus in public, there might be a riot. Yet Jesus was always surrounded by people. How could they get a hold of Him without anyone finding out?
Word leaked out about the Sanhedrin’s plan. Suddenly everything became much more dangerous. Jesus could no longer go out among the Jewish people. There were many in Israel that would benefit from getting on the good side of the Sanhedrin. So Jesus made His way north to the countryside, out near the wilderness in Ephraim, and His faithful disciples went with Him.