John 11 (winter, AD 29)
The calendar was about to turn from AD 29, to AD 30 – in the spring of which Jesus was murdered.
This passage shows us the power of Jesus over death. And it’s no accident of narrative that the response to Jesus’ demonstration of his power over death was to plot his death. We’ll look at that plot today, and other aspects of the passage tomorrow.
What’s different about this plotting in v.45-57 is that the religious leaders developed a (false) rationalisation for their murderous intent, and had it sanctioned by the highest ecclesiastical authority: the High Priest.
Note the trail of the religious leaders’ murderous intent, looking only at John’s gospel:
John 5:16 “…because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.”
John 5:18 “For this reason [the Jewish leaders] tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
John 7:1 “After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him.”
John 8:58-59 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him…”
John 10:31-33 “Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’. ‘We are not stoning you for any good work,’ they replied, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God’”.
John 11:49-53 Caiaphas the High Priest said, “You know nothing at all! You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish…[earlier that year]…he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation…[and]…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.” (emphasis mine)
Initial persecution of Jesus had grown into murderous intent under the guise of fulfilling the Mosaic law to stone to death all blasphemers. There was no trial, of course, just a desire to kill him and several attempts to do so.
What we have in this chapter is the official sanctioning of the murder by the High Priest himself, for the cowardly notion that Jesus was, would or might stir up trouble with the Romans. The fear was that the occupiers would come down hard on the Jewish population which – up to that point – they had been allowing carry on with their religious practices. Jesus was turned in as a mark of loyalty to the idolatrous and violent occupiers of Israel, under the pretence of Jesus being a threat to law and order.
We know of course from Jesus’ trial, and indeed from his entire ministry, that this was a lie. At no point did the Jews as a society have the slightest concern about Jesus, and when the religious leaders tried to persuade the Romans at trial that Jesus was a threat to them, the Roman authorities disagreed.
This is an example of the godlessness of certain religious people. Where explicitly godless people would say they don’t care about the rules, ‘religious’ people rebel by saying, ‘My plans might be against the letter of the law, but God knows my heart and my heart is good’.
And that’s not just a temptation for obviously Pharisaical types – you and I can be like that, too.
Do you complain…and pretend that you’re a campaigner for justice?
Do you gossip…and convince yourself that you’re merely searching for truth?
Do you cheat…and think that God doesn’t mind because it’s good for him when a Christian does well at work?
Do you keep the gospel to yourself…reasoning that everyone is free to make up their own mind?
Ask God to help you see the parts of your life that – whilst not proudly rebellious – might just be sin that you’ve justified to yourself. Invite him to use His Word and the the person of the Holy Spirit to see where you twist what God says to justify what you want to do, think and say…and perhaps also to justify NOT doing what God commands you.