Monday, October 13, 2014

One Man Should Die for the People

Life of Christ 133

          A few weeks prior to the crucifixion, Jesus and His Apostles, who have been avoiding Galilee and Judea of late, travel back to Bethany, which is close to Jerusalem, in order to effect the resurrection of Lazarus. Primarily, Jesus did this in order to give His Apostles a demonstration of His power over death so that their faith in Him would be strengthened for what they were about to unknowingly face.
          This resurrection of Lazarus did not happen in a vacuum. Not only was Bethany only 15 city blocks away from Jerusalem, but there many people present, ministering to Mary and Martha in their grief, who saw what happened. Consequently, word of it gets back to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem quickly. Our story today (John 11.45-54) is the discussion that takes place in the Hall of Hewn Stone immediately afterward.
          Interestingly, no one there denied the validity of the miraculous resurrection just performed. Which is exceedingly curious, for it was the Sanhedrin's given job to investigate reports of religious miracles in order to verify them. Indeed, this is probably what led Nicodemus to Jesus in the dark of night three years prior in John 3 (see Life of Christ 28). Yet there is no discussion at all about the significance of the fact that a man claiming to be Messiah had just, indisputably, raised a man from the dead less than two miles away from Jerusalem.
          The Sanhedrin, though, while ignoring its patent responsibilities, is bent on quashing this latest Jesus related disaster. At this point, nothing Jesus did was going to reach them; they were hardened in their rebellious hatred of Him. They immediately realized that the fact of Lazarus' resurrection (he was out there, walking around and talking to people, 15 blocks away) would draw people to Jesus if they did not do something. 'If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him' (John 11.48).
          Their panic was driven, not just by a personal hatred of Jesus, but out of political fright. The Sanhedrin was the quasi-religious/political body that ruled Israel under Roman suzerainty. It was composed of several main groups.
          The Pharisees, though they disliked Rome, already hated Jesus for religious reasons, believing He was a false messiah. They were a majority of the populace, though a minority on the Sanhedrin, but they were well represented.
          The Sadducees were a smaller popular party, but a larger leadership party, and they occupied the majority of the seats on the Sanhedrin. They were afraid of Rome's military power, and very concerned about what she could and might do to an Israel that chose a new king (which was supposedly Jesus' goal, as they saw it), and revolted against Rome.
Annas and Caiaphas
James Tissot, 1880
         The head of this rotten excuse for national leadership was the family of Caiaphas and Annas. Both are mentioned as high priests in the Gospels, and their family had held that position for decades, trading it back and forth amongst various relatives. Originally held by Aaron, and designed to be the position which led Israel spiritually, by Jesus day it had degenerated into an office that was bought and sold under the Romans. This position was, in every sense, the family business for Caiaphas and Annas (see Life of Christ 27). Jesus had already, once, at the beginning of His ministry, put a spoke in the wheel of that corrupt business when He whipped the moneychangers out of the Temple. Now, Caiaphas and Annas feared that a popular revolt in favor of Jesus as king would destroy both their nation and their corrupt family business. 'If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation' (John 11.48).
          Caiaphas, already morally degenerate, saw the solution to all of these potential problems as being the murder of Jesus Christ. 'And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not' (John 11.49-50).
          In so doing, Caiaphas unwittingly pronounced a Holy Spirit inspired prophecy, the last one ever uttered by a Jew. 'And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad' (John 11.51-52).
          Having thus ignorantly stated Jesus' actual purpose and accomplishment in life he then takes a dramatic step. For a long time the Sanhedrin had quietly, behind the scenes, allowed and then fostered a mob violence mentality against Jesus in order to keep Him in check, and potentially remove Him from play. Now they take this an awful step farther – an official vote is taken to organize and conspire a plot to assassinate Him. 'Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death' (John 11.53).
A coin issued by Bar Kokhba
          There is, sadly, tremendous irony here. Not only does Caiaphas unconsciously prophesy the true purpose of Jesus' life, but that which the Sanhedrin feared so greatly would later come upon them for precisely these reasons. In AD 130 the Sanhedrin would be responsible for writing the epitaph of the Jewish nation by subscribing to the messianic claims of Simon bar Kokhba (Son of a Star), and following him as he led Israel in its third revolt against Rome in the preceding 60 years. This was the final revolt of the Jewish people, and though initially successful the Romans responded by committing half of their total military force to put down the revolt. The result was death on a massive scale (Roman historian Cassius Dio estimates 580,000 Jews died; the Talmud says millions), and the complete annihilation of the Jewish national state for the succeeding 1900 years. Bear in mind, this is a different revolt than the one Josephus describes that resulted in the sack of Jerusalem in AD 70, which was itself awful enough.
To put it mildly, a Sanhedrin full of Pharisees and Sadducees chose the wrong messiah. In spite of all the fulfilled prophecies seen in the life of Christ, in spite of His matchless holiness, in spite of His powerful preaching, and in spite of dozens of verified public miracles, the Sanhedrin chose to execute their own Messiah. Then, to add insult to injury, a hundred later they accepted a false one and brought their nation to an horrendous end.
Yet out of this disaster, as with the life of Joseph, came tremendous blessing, for it was out of this disaster that my Saviour died for me. And for you, 'being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God' (Acts 2.23).
God is amazing, isn't He?

'And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, and to them who are the called according to His purpose' (Romans 8.28).

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