Jesus had received word that his friend Lazarus was ill, and by the time he arrived to visit, Lazarus had died. In John 11 we read the story of what happened next. Jesus spoke with Mary and Martha and explained that he had the power to raise Lazarus from the dead, because he was ‘the resurrection and the life’ (John 11:25). And in front of the astonished crowd, he then brought Lazarus back from the dead.
As you might imagine, that caused quite a stir! And the passage that follows demonstrates just how sharply this miracle divided the crowd.
‘Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 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.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.” Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.’ (John 11:45-53)
Many people were amazed and believed in Jesus on account of this miracle. Others considered Jesus a dangerous threat and plotted to put him to death. But in the midst of the plotting, Caiaphas said something unexpectedly profound. ‘It is better that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish’ (v50).
John tells us that Caiaphas was the High Priest that year. Actually, he had been the High Priest for eighteen years, which is longer than any other High Priest in the first century. While his response – “You know nothing at all!” – is quite arrogant in tone, it probably reflect the fact that he believed that his long-serving in this role had given him insights into the way religion and politics worked. He’d seen would-be Messiahs come and go, and he considered this Jesus no different.
Being a Jewish leader in this time and place was a precarious business. The relationship between the Jews and the Romans was complex, and although Rome allowed many Jewish practices to continue unrestricted, there was always the threat that if the people of Israel ever seemed to pose a threat, Rome would come down on them like a tonne of bricks. Only a short way back in Israel’s history many Jewish people had been martyred for standing up against their oppressors, and Caiaphas would certainly not have wanted a repeat on his watch! So if a Messianic pretender like Jesus had the potential of causing trouble that would result in Rome inflicting its anger on Israel, by Caiaphas’ reckoning it would be better to dispose of Jesus to save the nation.
But John adds a comment of his own, understanding that whilst Caiaphas may have been playing a political game and considering Jesus’ death an acceptable price to pay for national peace, there was another level to his pronouncement. A prophetic one.
According to John, Caiaphas’ words were more profound than he realised; since through Jesus’ death a nation would be saved. But not in the way Caiaphas had imagined. In fact, not only a nation, but people from all nations. Because through Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection, God was initiating a plan to reconcile all people to Himself.
As Paul puts it,
‘Jesus is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross’ (Colossians 1:17-20)
What Caiaphas failed to grasp and what John spotted, was that God’s plans were far bigger than anyone had imagined. God wanted a nation that would unite people from every background. And nobody could have foreseen the way in which He intended to achieve it…
Questions for Reflection
- Caiphas’ example shows us that it is so easy to focus on immediate circumstances and miss the bigger picture of what God is doing. How can we learn to see the full breadth of God’s plan, rather than just noticing the ways in which it affects us?
- John realised that God’s plan was bigger than one nation. It includes provision for all nations to be reconciled to God. How can we build communities that celebrate diversity and create unity that crosses boundaries?
Why not use the following to help you to pray today:
Lord Jesus, thank you that you care about all nations and that your plan is big enough and broad enough to include even me. Thank you that through your death and resurrection, you have made for yourself one people, that gathers representatives from every nation. And I thank you for the privilege of being part of your diverse family. Help me to celebrate diversity, build unity that crosses boundaries, and enjoy the honour of being reconciled to God through your work on the cross. Amen
If you find yourself with some extra time today, why not read Colossians 1:17-20, Ephesians 1:1-14 and 2:11-22 and reflect on the breadth of God’s plan through the cross.
You may also want to listen to David Stroud’s sermon on John 11: I Am: The Resurrection and the Life
Join us for one of our meetings over Easter:
Friday 18 April – Good Friday. 11.00-12.15. The Swiss Church, Covent Garden, WC2H 9DY
Sunday 20 April – Easter Sunday. 11.00-12.30. The Mermaid Theatre, EC4V 3DB
Image: Jesus? by Isaac Torrontera, used under CC