The Spirit of Caiaphas (John 11:45–57)

Read John 11:45–57.

As I write this, I’m sitting at my kitchen table on a balmy Saturday afternoon. My train of thought is being derailed every few minutes by my oldest son, Jonah—age six—who’s taken it upon himself to give me regular updates on the weather. A thunderstorm is supposedly on its way, but every time the sky appears as though it’s about to crack wide open with summertime fury, the clouds relent and push on, only to regroup a few minutes later to try again.

Reading the Gospel of John is a bit like waiting on a thunderstorm. Since the first chapter when John the Baptist announced that Jesus was the Lamb of God (1:29), the storm clouds have been gathering, growing thicker and darker with each passing scene. Now, with the raising of Lazarus, we’ve reached a turning point in Jesus’ story. To be sure, the Son of God was always moving toward the cross, but now things will accelerate. The wind will pick up. The rain will start to fall. The peels of thunder will swirl ever closer.

Lazarus’ resurrection is too big—and too public—to ignore. News of the miracle soon spreads far and wide, and before long it reaches the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews. It’s there that the wonder and beauty of the miracle is strangled by fear. “If we let [Jesus] go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation” (John 11:48). Rather than recognizing Jesus as the Messiah they have been waiting for, they see Him as a problem to be dealt with. They do not fear God, whom they cannot see; they fear the Romans, whose chariots and swords are plenty visible.

There’s an irony here that John expects his readers to receive. In the decades that followed Jesus’ ministry, the Romans did come and take away both the temple and the nation. The siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was the end of the age. Killing Jesus did nothing to stop it.

But there’s another ironic twist in this scene as well. The high priest, Caiaphas, proclaims the heart of the gospel without realizing it. He says, “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (v. 50). John tells us Caiaphas had strummed this same note once before, having prophesied as high priest “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” (vv. 51–52). Amen, Caiaphas, amen.

Caiaphas doesn’t recognize the beautiful truth in what he’s saying. He simply believes killing Jesus is the expedient thing to do, that His death will prevent trouble with the Romans. But the Romans were never the biggest problem faced by the Jewish people—or any other nation for that matter. Sin is the real enemy. So, yes, Jesus will die for the nation and for the people of God in distant lands, but not as an appeasement to the Roman Empire; He’ll die to pay the price for sin we could never pay on our own.

Jesus is now a wanted Man, but it’s Caiaphas and his co-conspirators who should be pitied. They are bent on murdering their only hope of salvation. They are trading the keys to the kingdom of God for keys to middle management in Jerusalem. They are pushing aside the open arms of the Father in favor of Rome’s cruel fists.

It strikes me—and saddens me—that the spirit of Caiaphas lives on in certain corners of the church today. How many pastors are willing to set aside some clear teaching from God’s Word for the sake of popularity? How many Christian leaders join hands with the culture in the hopes of not losing the privileged place they enjoy? How many people listen to the loud shouts of their fear rather than the calm whispers of their faith? I ask these questions not as an outsider, but as someone who’s given in to the temptation to manage a situation when I should have simply followed the Lord. Like all temptations, this one looks good in the moment but inevitably leads to death.

The ends do not justify the means, no matter what. Whoever said they did never met the Lord. He calls us to faithfulness, not compromise—even when the worst storms come our way. And come they will.

What’s this all about?

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