After Lazarus was raised from the dead, a great many of the Jews believed in Him. They recognised the power of God in Jesus for no one had ever seen a man resurrected before.
This confounded the leaders, the chief priests and the Pharisees and threw them into despair. They were utterly at their wits end about what they were to do about Jesus. And it was at this time they came together to begin plotting against Jesus and how they would be rid of him once and for all…or so they thought!
Why did they plot?
Look at the words in verses 47-48. The intentions and thought of the chief priests and Pharisees were made quite clear.
47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council, and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.
48 If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”
They were driven by jealousy and fear. They were jealous of Jesus for their concerns were that all of the people would believe in Him and no longer come to them. They believed they were being replaced and made redundant, and in effect they were, but more of that shortly.
They were also afraid that because of the people turning to Jesus, the Romans would destroy them. Why they thought that is a little strange because Jesus did not preach against the Romans. He did not stand in defiance of the Roman rule and authority, even when He was brought before Pilate He did not denounce Rome.
But this is the nature of fear. It is often irrational and misplaced. What the chief priests and Pharisees failed to see was that the word Jesus was bringing was fulfilling the promises to Israel from the old prophets and it was to be embraced, not opposed. But instead of embracing Jesus, they plotted against Him to bring about His death.
What led them to their proposed action?
Caiaphas the high priest that year gave them a prophecy that led them to take the course they followed in plotting against Jesus. He said in verses 49-50,
49 But one of them, Ca’iaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all;
50 you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.”
What he prophesied was correct, that one man would die for mankind, not just the people of Israel, so that all would be saved.
They misinterpreted the meaning of this prophecy believing that Caiaphas was talking about being saved from destruction by the Romans. But we know that the salvation offered through the death of Jesus was to be saved from sin and death.
So driven by their fears and taking the prophecy of Caiaphas they plotted against Jesus to kill Him. They figured if they got rid of Him then things would go back to normal and they would continue to hold a high place of prestige among the people, plus avert the perceived Roman threat. Things could not have been further from the truth!
How did it backfire?
It was the plan of God for Jesus to die as we now know and recognise. His death and subsequent resurrection were meant to happen for through those actions we receive the gift of grace and life. The chief priests and Pharisees were not aware of it at the time, but they were carrying out the plan of God at the time so that we could benefit.
This was not the first time God had raised up someone to do what would be considered evil but in truth were fulfilling God’s plans. Look at Pharaoh when the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. Paul writes in Romans 9:17-18 quoting the Old Testament.
17 For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”
18 So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills.
Pharaoh was raised up to do God’s will and to be overbearing and to do all manner of evil against Israel so that God could overcome and give the people victory and release. The people started in bondage and having seen that freedom on offer they would not want to go back into slavery once they were released by God.
This is an analogy of where we stand as Christians in God’s plan. We too have been released from the bondages of sin, law and death and it is God’s hope that we will choose to learn and do righteousness and not desire to go back to our former lives.
So the actions of the chief priests and Pharisees actually served the purposes of God. They brought about the conditions that would lead to freedom for all of mankind. And their actions backfired on them because they unwittingly did what was needed to achieve the will of God.
In addition, their fears of being destroyed by the Romans were not averted in this plot for it was not many years after the death of Jesus that the Romans did exactly that. They came to Jerusalem, sacked the city and razed the temple to the ground and all we see left of it today is the wailing wall.
(Photo sourced from stock.xchng taken by Joachim Aagaard Nielsen)
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