John 11:45-54 (John 11:1-53)

Christ on cross between good and bad thieves.

 "Christ on cross between good and bad thieves." 
Reprinted from Icon: Visual Images for Every Sunday, copywrite© 2000 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission.


Ylvisaker: The fourth Gospel has been called the 'Book of Signs'. John groups his account of Jesus' public ministry before the Passion about six great miracles. Three of these were performed in Galilee: the turning of water into wine in chapter 2, the healing of the nobleman's son in chapter 4, and the feeding of the 5,000 in chapter 6. Three were performed in Judea: The restoration of the sick at Bethsaida in chapter 5, the healing of the man born blind in chapter 9, and the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11. These signs may be considered in a climatic or ascending relation, one to the others. The opposition to Jesus waxes greater and more bitter, therefore His signs become more marvelous and reveal His majesty with an ever greater glory and effulgence. There is a battle, as it were, between the light and the darkness. Jesus seeks to save His opponents, but they despise and repudiate Him.

Well said. John 11 ought be read in English in its entirety before one studies verses 45-54.

John 11:45 (NIV) Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.

Jesus' miracles had one of two effects, reflected in verses 45-46.  "Therefore" in view of the miracle. Compare verse 19.

They had come to console the sisters and left as believers in Christ. They received much more than they gave. They saw what Jesus did. This brought them to faith. Not to be excluded are the words which Jesus spoke.

John 11:46 (NIV) But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

Lenski thinks that these too were believers but went to the Pharisees to tell them that they were mistaken about Jesus. We disagree. People feared to disagree with the Jewish leaders. However, we do not agree with LB: "returned to the Pharisees" which implies that the Pharisees had sent them. This cannot be proved.

Note that the first group believed. The second merely reported. They had the evidence but rejected it.

John 11:47 (NIV) Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. "What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs.

"In view of this message."  They swing into action at once. Note the order of words: verb, subject, object.

By the way, this must have taken place in Jerusalem. Commentators and translations differ as to the meaning of  "called a meeting."  Does it mean simply a meeting, a gathering of part of the Sanhedrin, or the full Sanhedrin? We prefer the last. But, in any case, from what is said in verse 53, there were sufficient authorities to make a decision.

"They were saying" denotes repeated action. They were not asking for information. We think AAT gets at it: "What are we doing? This man is doing many miracles."  They are admitting to each other that all their attempts to curtail Jesus' work and influence have failed utterly. On the other hand "This fellah is performing many miracles." He goes right on doing the Father's will and more and more people believe on Him.  "This fellah" is plainly derogatory. Note how the Jewish authorities never want to use Jesus' name. One can trace that through all four Gospels.

They are frustrated by both the number and quality of His miracles. Perhaps they have in mind the miracles in chapters 5, 7, 9 and surely in chapter 11 here. They had the indisputable evidence. They could not deny it. But they refused to believe in HIM. They had the intellectual knowledge but their will was adamantly opposed to Him.

Bengel: Death itself sooner yields to the power of Christ than does unbelief.

Exactly. Jesus came to conquer sin, death and the devil. But those who absolutely reject this are worse than death itself.

John 11:48 (NIV) If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."

"If we allow Him to go on in this way (of doing miracles), everybody will believe in Him."  That is just what God wanted. That is just what they did not want. As if they could stop Him! Read Matthew 27:18. Envy was their root-problem. The people followed Jesus rather than the Jewish authorities.

"And then" means "and as a result."  The first half of verse 48 is precisely right but the second half involves a fallacy. It implies that Jesus was a revolutionary, for which there was no evidence. In the second place, most of Israel was looking for a secular Messiah, one who would throw off the yoke of Rome. But when it came right down to it, the Jewish authorities did not even want that kind of Messiah.

Note the prominence of "they" meaning primarily the Jewish authorities. The authorities are thinking primarily of themselves.

Ylvisaker: In order to attain their objective, they seek to give the matter a political aspect. They would appeal to the love of liberty among the masses.
Bengel: With all their scheming the Jews did not escape that which they dreaded; indeed, they brought it upon themselves by this very course of action.

By rejecting Jesus they thought they'd keep Rome away. The very opposite happened.

Lenski: Observe the selfishness that is here thinly veiled behind a show of patriotism. . . . Yet the plan they adopted for maintaining themselves brought on the very calamity they meant to avoid.
Stoeckhardt: They themselves did not believe that Jesus was politically dangerous, but this was advantageous to them to quiet their own conscience and to rid themselves of Him Who had told them the truth.

The thinking of the Sanhedrin is a mixture of envy, rejection, unbelief, lies, hatred and illogical thinking. Deliberate unbelief leads to madness.

John 11:49 (NIV) Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all!

This is the first mention of Caiaphas in the Book of John. Here in verse 48, in verse 51 and at 18:13 John makes a point of the fact that he was high priest of that year. In which year?

Bengel: In that memorable year when Jesus was to die.
Ylvisaker: Caiaphas was a heartless person, cold, calculating, and discerning, a man who looked with sovereign disdain upon all others. He shows his mastery at once. If the other members of the council are at a loss, this is certainly not true of him.
Hendriksen: In the patchwork of his personality the strands of brazen impudence, insane ambition, rancorous jealously and consummate cleverness were interwoven. . . . That Caiaphas was a rude and sly manipulator, an opportunist, who did not know the meaning of fairness or justice and who was bent on having his way, is clear from the passages in which he is mentioned (Matthew 26:3.57; Luke 3:2; John 11:49; 18:; Acts 4:6).

They know nothing! He knows everything!

John 11:50 (NIV) You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." 

Caiaphas is speaking of what is advantageous to the Jewish leaders. JB is good here: "You don't seem to have grasped the situation at all; you fail to see that it is better for one man to die etc." They don't know anything nor do they assess the situation correctly. What's his solution? Cold-blooded murder.

Ylvisaker: He feigns the belief of a necessary choice between two evils.
Bengel: But John does not now any longer call them a people since their polity was expiring.

Caiaphas presents only two possibilities which allowed no third choice.

Hendricksen: The alternative which Caiaphas presented was false because it was based upon a presupposition which was the exact opposite of the truth. His reasoning was: Follow Jesus, and the nation perishes; put Jesus to death, and the nation is saved. Conclusion: Jesus must be put to death, --By the irony of history the exact opposite was to happen: when the Jews murdered Jesus, they sealed their own doom.

John 11:51 (NIV) He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation,

Verses 51 and 52 are virtually a parenthetical thought, added by the evangelist, most wonderful Gospel. 53 resumes the thought of verse 50. This does not mean that he spoke as a robot. It was not only of his own deliberation.  "Quite to the contrary."  The true cause for his saying this was that he was high priest in that memorable year , the year of Christ's death.

Lenski: God controlled his utterance. His wickedness is left wholly intact, his murderous intent and his cunning way of expressing it in order to bring the Sanhedrin to action. . . . The words. . . . say just what HE wants to say and are words that also say just what GOD wants said. . . . THEY want to slay Jesus for their purpose, GOD will let them slay Jesus for his purpose. . . . He unconsciously states also GOD'S purpose. This, John says, was not accidental but due to God.
Stoeckhardt: God used Caiaphas for our good, putting this significant prophecy in his mind and on his lips, so that his knowledge and will, Caiaphas poured ONE meaning into his words; God, ANOTHER. In God's wonderful providence, the choice of words was so directed that these same words were capable of expressing the gist of God's glorious plan of salvation.
Bengel: Caiaphas and Pilate condemned Jesus; yet both gave a testimony foreign to their own personal feeling: Caiaphas, in this passage, gives testimony as to the SACERDOTAL character of the death of Christ; Pilate, in the inscription on the cross, gave testimony as to His KINGLY character. Compare 2 Corinthians. 5:14.15.
Ylvisaker: The fact that a person may be an instrument of the Spirit without personal communion with God and with His Spirit--without a spark of faith and love--is nothing new; this is apparent already in the case of Balaam, the old Mesopotamian seer (Numbers 24:1ff.).
Edersheim: This was the last prophecy in Israel; with the sentence of death on Israel's true High Priest died prophecy in Israel, died Israel's high-priest-hood.

John 11:52 (NIV) and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.

Note the correlative "not only the Jews but also the Gentiles."  Though Israel rejected Jesus, He died for them. But more than that.  "Also for" denotes purpose.  "Gentiles" or "children of God"  is used proleptically of all those Gentiles throughout history who would become children of God. They are called "scattered" because sin and the resultant judgment of God have scattered them.

Jesus is the subject. He takes the initiative through His suffering and death. Synergism is ruled out.

"Into one"  denotes the invisible church, the Una Sancta. TEV might give the wrong idea: "into one body."  The whole point is that Jesus, by His suffering and death, reconciles man to God, takes the initiative and makes the sinner one with Himself and the Father.

Bengel: The apostle of Christ takes a wider range of view than the Jewish high priest. . . .The children of God he calls them, in respect to the divine foreknowledge.
Stoeckhardt: Through Christ's sacrificial death God's purpose is being fulfilled, because through dying Jesus has reconciled Israel and the heathen to God, which is being proclaimed to all people. Through this proclamation the exalted Christ gathers His people from the Jews and Gentiles, converting them from sinners to being His children, who serve Him willingly.
Ylvisaker: The Jews were, in the sight of the evangelist, one nation, those without were scattered abroad. From Israel, the evangelist visions all nations and observes the effect of Jesus' death in its most inclusive sense. 'Children' not because they were children before the Gospel came to them, since a person may become a child of God only through faith in Jesus Christ, but 'children' in the sense of the 'sheep' in John 10:16: they who shall become children.

From Caiaphas' point of view his prophecy proceeded from envy, hatred arid hypocrisy. From God's point of view it proceeded from grace and love. Compare John 3:16.

John 11:53 (NIV) So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

"From that day" goes back to verse 50, "in view of what Caiaphas said." They followed his advice.

"That year" occurs in 49 and 51, the year in which Jesus died.  "That day," the day of the raising of and the resultant meeting of the Sanhedrin initiated the final plot against Jesus.

The verb clearly shows that Caiaphas had cold-blooded murder in mind at verse 50. There he used the word "die" to soften his words. Here the evangelist uses "kill" to show Caiaphas' true meaning. Were there dissenting votes?

Ylvisaker: Henceforth the members were fully determined to put Jesus to death. Apparently Nicodemus was not present, for we have no reason to believe that he took part in this conspiracy against Jesus.
But Lenski: Did Caiaphas encounter dissent? Luke 23:51 reports that Joseph of Arimathea did not consent to their counsel and deed. . . . We have no word about Nicodemus, save his former courageous dissent, 7:50 etc. It is a fair conclusion that a minority of the Sanhedrin protested, although to no avail.

But that cannot be proved. By the way, though they began plotting and planning Jesus' death, they could not have carried it out without the help of Judas, humanly speaking.

John 11:54 (NIV) Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead he withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.

"In view of this plot." Jesus knew about it. But His hour had not yet come. He did not die until He was ready to die. John 10:18.

Jesus remained in a place near the desert. Opinions differ as to the locale of Ephraim. It was someplace northeast of Jerusalem. But the real point is that He did not move from place to place as a fearful vagabond.

Bengel: This was not due to fear.
Ylvisaker: Here Jesus would remain undisturbed with His disciples until the Passover and prepare them for whatever the future had in store.

Some concluding thoughts:

  1. Read Genesis 50:20. Its application in verse 50 is obvious.

  2. Compare the usage of "faith" and "believe" in 45 and 48. Caiaphas was afraid of people becoming believers. To him faith in Christ was a threat. And it was, because he was an unbeliever. Their faith condemned him just as Noah's faith condemned the world, Hebrews 11:7.

  3. Sensus literalis unus est,  an important rule of interpretation. That holds true in John 11:50-52 which has two meanings, that of Caiaphas and that of God. But that double meaning is the intended sense, for God tells us so.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1980, pp. 73-76. Used with permission.

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