14 August 2014

John 11:45-57

“If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” (v. 48)


No good deed goes unpunished, or so they say. So on hearing the news of Lazarus' miraculous recovery, the Pharisees and chief priests called an emergency meeting to decide what to do about 'the Jesus Problem'.

Namely, that many people had witnessed the extraordinary signs performed by Jesus and - as a direct consequence - "believed in him" (v. 45). The passage doesn't tell us exactly what people believed about Jesus, but the response of the Jewish authorities gives us an idea.

In the first century, religious Jews were waiting for a Messiah. There were various ideas about what this Messiah would look like and what he would achieve - but people were agreed that he would come to save God's people from oppression. In Jesus' day, the dominant understanding of the messiah was that he would be a strong warrior who would free the Jews from the tyranny of Roman rule.

This is why the Pharisees and chief priests were getting twitchy. If people began to believe that Jesus was the Messiah (even if they were wrong) the Roman authorities might feel threatened and clamp down on what little freedoms the Jews were permitted. We see this most strongly in verse 48 (above).

It was horribly simple: Jesus was a threat to national security. So they planned to put him to death. Lazarus was the last straw and Jesus must pay with his life for the life he saved.

Only Caiaphas seemed to understand that this was bigger even than the Roman occupation (verses 49-52). It was not only the fate of the Jewish people in Israel that was at stake - but the fate of all nations.

To Ponder

  • To what extent is seeing believing?
  • As a threat to national security, how might Jesus have been treated by the authorities today?

Bible notes author

Anna Drew

Anna Drew is Director of Communications for the Diocese of Canterbury. She is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4's Daily Service and Prayer for the Day and a freelance writer on faith issues.