Our study of the Gospel of John, is now back on track. We studied John 11:1-45 Easter week, starting here, in which we learned the story of Jesus miraculously raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. In verse 45, we read that as a result of the miracle, many people put their faith in Jesus. Unfortunately not everyone who was there when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead responded with belief. Let’s read verse 46.
“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 is the Sanhedrin? The Sanhedrin was a council of the most powerful and influential Jews, and with a few important exceptions (matters of life and death punishment, military action and taxation), the Romans let the Sanhedrin govern.
In Jewish culture at that time, it doesn’t get any more serious than the Sanhedrin. If the Sanhedrin is talking about you, especially if they are feeling threatened by you, that is a very bad place to be in. So how does the Sanhedrin talk about Jesus? Look at the middle of verse 47, and we’ll read through verse 53.
“‘What are we accomplishing?’ they asked. ‘Here is this man performing many miraculous 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 place 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.”
Notice that the Sanhedrin’s discussion of what to do about Jesus is connected to their concerns about the Romans. They believe that there is a larger issue at hand. In that time, though the Romans were in control of Palestine, the Jewish people were living in their land, able to worship at their own temple. The Sanhedrin is saying that if they do not take action to stop Jesus, they believe his rising popularity will incite Rome to take such devastating military action that the nation of Israel will be no more.
Better that one man, Jesus, dies than Rome decimate Israel, Jerusalem and the temple. That is the logic of the Sanhedrin, and they are not wrong in their evaluation of the possible ramifications of the Jesus situation.
Jesus sure has had a lot of conflict, hasn’t he? Yes, he has, but this is different. This is the top level of Jewish leadership in that day. No longer are we talking about theological squabbles. Though the Pharisees have long wanted to take Jesus down, now in verse 53 we learned so does the top leadership group of the Jews. Jesus has a serious target on his back. What will he do? Look at verse 54:
“Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead he withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.”
Jesus essentially lays low, under the radar. But the authorities are watching. Take a look at verses 55-57.
“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, ‘What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the Feast at all?’ But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest him.”
There is tension in the air! How will Jesus respond from his hideout in the remote desert town of Ephraim? Look at chapter 12, verses 1-2.
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.”
Bethany is just outside the city of Jerusalem, only about two miles. That means Jesus is only a half hour walk from the very city where the religious leaders are on high alert. A rider on horseback could alert the Sanhedrin in minutes, if they wanted to.
But Jesus is back in Bethany anyway, and he joins his friends, the siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus, at a dinner party in his honor. When I studied this passage, I thought, “Do they know how desperate the religious leaders are to arrest Jesus? Do they know the Sanhedrin has been talking about Jesus? Is this a secret dinner? Are they taking any precautions? Or are they oblivious?”
Reading this passage, I don’t get a sense of concern. Instead, I get a sense that the dinner party has a celebratory mood. Why? Because it wasn’t all that long ago that Jesus had risen Lazarus from the dead, which is an obvious cause for celebration. Lazarus had been dead four days! Jesus brings him back to life, and now Lazarus is sitting at the table at a dinner party. It had to be an amazing sight to behold. Then something else happens at the dinner that has me thinking this was a celebration.
We’ll learn about that in the next post.
Photo by Ricardo Arce on Unsplash
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