November 11, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: The plan to kill him

See John 11:45-57

Jesus’ raising Lazarus back to life, which we explored last week, had its desired effect, both on his friends and his enemies. John’s Gospel says that many of the Jews who had seen what he had done began to believe in him. They were his friends. But he had made enemies among the Jews, too, and they now plotted to kill him.

We have heard before that some of the Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus because they were convinced that he had blasphemed by claiming to be God and because he had violated many of the traditions they held dear, especially by curing people on the Sabbath. But the Pharisees were part of the Jewish religious establishment. It was the Sadducees who were the Jewish power politicians, the ones who had control of the temple, although John’s Gospel, for whatever reason, doesn’t mention them.

The Sadducees hadn’t paid too much attention to Jesus up to this time. Later, they would try to ridicule his and the Pharisees’ belief in life after death. But they really weren’t much concerned about Jesus’ religious beliefs.

Now, though, with the raising of Lazarus in nearby Bethany, it appeared that Jesus might be about to make a bid for power. It wouldn’t be the first time that a rebel tried to unite the people against their Roman occupiers. The Sadducees, as the Jewish wealthy aristocracy, had learned to live with the Romans, and the Romans even permitted them to have their own governing body, the Sanhedrin. Most of its members were Sadducees, although there were a few Pharisees, such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.

The Sanhedrin was convened to decide what to do about Jesus. The members feared that Jesus might arouse the Rome-hating Jews sufficiently that the Romans could clamp down on them, perhaps even destroy the temple and disperse the Jews. (That, of course, is precisely what happened between the time of Jesus and when John’s Gospel was written.)

Now we’re introduced to Caiaphas. He was the high priest, the son-in-law of Annas, a former high priest whom the Romans had deposed 15 years earlier. Caiaphas held that office from 18 to 36 A.D. He advised the Sanhedrin that it would be better for one man to die in order to save the nation. He had no particular dislike or hatred for Jesus; it’s doubtful that he had ever met him. He simply wanted to preserve the status quo and not antagonize the Romans.

The evangelist couldn’t resist adding something to Caiaphas’ words. He took them as a prophesy that Jesus would die “not only for the nation but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.” Wouldn’t Caiaphas have been surprised to hear that that was what he meant!

With the Sadducees now determined to get the Romans to kill Jesus, he hid in a village called Ephraim, about 12 miles from Jerusalem at the edge of the Judean desert. It’s believed that this was the former Ophrah and today it is called Taibe. †


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