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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Both Faith and Rejection Arise from the Raising of Lazarus (11:45-54)
Both Faith and Rejection Arise from the Raising of Lazarus (11:45-54)

As a result of this miracle there is again a variety of responses. Many put faith in Jesus (v. 45), but others inform the authorities (v. 46). John does not make clear whether their trip to the authorities is innocent or a betrayal of Jesus. At an earlier stage the crowd was well aware of the authorities' concerns over Jesus (7:13, 25), and their animosity deepened significantly at the Feast of Dedication (10:31-39), leading Jesus to withdraw from the area (10:40-42). So it may well be that this is another betrayal of Jesus, similar to the lame man's betrayal earlier in Jesus' ministry (5:15).

The report alarms the Pharisees, and so the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin (v. 47). The Sanhedrin was the supreme Jewish court in Jerusalem, which, under Roman oversight, "had both religious and political powers and comprised the elite (both priestly and lay) of society" (Moulder 1988:331). Both Sadducees and Pharisees were part of the Sanhedrin. Which of the two was the dominate part is uncertain (Schürer 1973-1987:2:213), though John implies it was the chief priests (7:45, 48; cf. 12:10). The chief priests were members of high-priestly families, along with others from prominent priestly families (cf. Acts 4:6), including, perhaps, temple officers like the treasurer and captain of police (Hubbard 1996:961; cf. Jeremias 1969:160-81; Schürer 1973-1987:2:235-36). Of the fifty-four references to chief priests in the Gospels, all of them are associated with Jerusalem, and almost all of them concern Jesus' final conflict (the exceptions are Mt 2:4; Jn 7:32, 45). In John's Gospel the Pharisees are also closely associated with Jerusalem. When John mentions opponents outside Jerusalem or its environs he uses the term "the Jews" (6:41, 52; see comment on 1:19).

Thus the two chief components of the Sanhedrin now call the Sanhedrin together. Both the Pharisees and the chief priests had attempted to apprehend Jesus earlier (7:32, 45), but now the situation is reaching a crisis, as they see his popularity rising. The low point after the feeding of the five thousand, at which almost everyone deserted Jesus (6:66), is now past and many are believing in him. Like many religious leaders since, Jesus is accused of being a threat to national security. Jesus' popularity could look like a popular uprising that would require calling in the Roman legions (cf. Acts 19:23-41, especially 19:40), who would come and take away both our place and our nation (Jn 11:48). As the NIV footnote indicates, place here refers to the temple (cf. H. Koester 1972:204). The position of the word our is emphatic. In fact, this could be translated, "will come and take away from us both our place and our nation." While they seem concerned for the nation, John says they are actually concerned about their own self-interests, as are the hirelings Jesus condemned earlier (10:12; cf. Westcott 1908:2:105). The irony is that they do destroy the temple of Jesus' body (cf. 2:19, 21), but this does not prevent the Romans from destroying their temple and their nation, nor does it prevent increasing numbers of people from believing in Jesus. Their plot prevented neither of the things they feared, even though they succeeded in getting Jesus killed.

Caiaphas, who ruled as high priest for a very long time by the standards of the day (A.D. 18-36), speaks up: You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish (vv. 49-50). Here again the self-interest is evident (for you). This is a very significant statement for John, as is evident from his dwelling on it (vv. 51-52). Unknown to Caiaphas, he had in fact prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation (v. 51). Caiaphas is thinking of Jesus' death in place of the destruction of the nation by Rome, but John sees the divine intent that Jesus die in place of the nation for their sin. Here, along with 1:29, is the clearest expression in this Gospel of Jesus' death as dealing with sin. John focuses on the cross as revelation (Forestell 1974), but here we see that he also affirms the cross as atonement. The cross as revelation alone leads to Gnosticism, as John discovered in his own communities, hence the emphasis in 1 John on the atonement aspect (1 Jn 2:2; 4:10, cf. Whitacre 1982:156-57). But those members of the community who headed off in gnostic directions were not true to John's teaching in its fullness. John's experience in his community is a cautionary tale. Each aspect of the Gospel needs to be in place, or some deformed shape will emerge. The period of the New Testament saw the articulation of a variety of ways to express the Gospel, with the Holy Spirit guiding and protecting. The unity and diversity we now have in the canon provides a composite shape to the faith that is a guide to the truth of the Gospel—that is what "canon" means.

Caiaphas refers to the people (laos) and the nation (ethnos), but in the next verse John only uses nation. The word laos was not used frequently in classical Greek, but it occurs more than two thousand times in the Septuagint, having become "a specific term for a specific people, namely, Israel, and it serves to emphasize the special and privileged religious position of this people as the people of God" (Strathmann and Meyer 1967:32). Thus, John's refusal to use laos may be significant in the light of the theme of Jesus' departure from the temple and the formation of the core of the new community around him (see comments on 8:59 and 10:1-21). "The Jews at this crisis had ceased to be `a people.' They were a `nation' only, as one of the nations of the world. The elements of the true `people' were scattered throughout the world, as Jews, and Jews of the Dispersion, and Gentiles" (Westcott 1908:2:107).

Caiaphas is only thinking of the Jewish nation, but John sees the significance of Jesus' death to extend to all of humanity (v. 52). Jesus death is also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. The idea of gathering together God's scattered people is a hope found extensively in the Old Testament (for example, Is 11:12; Jer 31:8; Ezek 11:17; Mic 2:12-13; 2 Macc 1:27). Now this gathering will begin to take place in the most unusual way—through the death of the Messiah. Jesus' work as the Good Shepherd (10:16) is accomplished through his death, as he himself will emphasize shortly (12:32). So even in this passage, which touches on the atoning significance of his death, other aspects are developed as well. The oneness with God that the atonement accomplishes is complemented by the oneness of the people of God drawn from the whole of the human race. They are already referred to as children of God since each one who enters Christ's community has been given to him by the Father (6:37) and has responded in faith and has been born again (1:12). John places great stress on the individual, but here we see his appreciation of the corporate whole (cf. Brown 1966:443). The nature of this unity will be brought out soon (chaps. 14—17), but for now we see that it is Christ, especially Christ crucified, that unites the people of God.

The Sanhedrin comes to the decision to kill Jesus (v. 53). There had been attempts to take his life already (5:18; 7:1, 19 ; 8:59; 10:31), but now the decision had been reached in an official manner by the central authority for the Jewish people. "Jesus is formally devoted to death by a vote of the competent authority. This is, in fact, the act by which, in its historical or `objective' aspect, the death of Christ is determined" (Dodd 1953:367). They plotted in the NIV does not do justice to the Greek ebouleusanto, which means, rather, that they "resolved," "determined" or even "passed a resolution" (Bammel 1970:30). Thus, by giving life to Lazarus, Jesus has sealed his own death. In what follows we see the even greater irony that through his death comes life for the world.

Jesus knows of this increased danger, though we are not told whether he knows this through an informant, preternatural knowledge or just common sense. He goes back into seclusion once again, this time to Ephraim (v. 54; cf. 10:40). It is not certain where Ephraim was located, though it was probably four miles to the northeast of Bethel, which places it some fifteen miles north-northeast of Jerusalem (cf. Barrett 1978:408; Brown 1966:441). His movement in and out of seclusion shows him working around the intentions of his enemies as he works out the intentions of his Father. There is a similar pattern in his work in the lives of his followers today. He moves in and out of seclusion in our lives, not because his life is threatened but as part of his love for us, to wean us from false attachments, even false views we may have of God himself.

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