The Conspiracy to Kill Jesus
During the weeks leading up to Jesus' crucifixion opposition from His enemies was steadily increasing. At the time of the fall Feast of Tabernacles the Jewish leaders attempted to arrest Jesus and even stone Him to death, but they were unsuccessful (John 7:30-32; 8:59). Jesus' presence at the winter Feast of Dedication prompted a similar attempt on His life (John 10:31, 39). At that point Jesus relocated His ministry to the east side of the Jordan River (John 10:40) because His time had not yet arrived. When His friend Lazarus died Jesus returned to the Jerusalem area and raised Lazarus back to life. This outstanding miracle intensified the debate about Jesus, a debate that resulted in a determined conspiracy on the part of the Jewish leaders to put Jesus to death. John's account of this conspiracy raises several tensions that challenge our thinking even today-evidence versus unbelief, human decisions versus the divine purpose, and curiosity versus conviction. From these tensions we learn that Jesus is worthy of our deepest devotion because His work is the fulfillment of God's perfect plan.
Evidence versus unbelief-faith is
a matter of the heart, not just the head (John 11:45-48).
The people of Jesus' day had a unique opportunity to respond to Him in faith based on the tangible evidence of His miracles. However, even in the face of undeniable evidence many chose to reject Jesus. Evidence alone isn't enough to engender faith. Faith is a matter of the heart.
Many Jews put their faith in Jesus as a result of the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:45).
On the outskirts of Jerusalem Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. Many people were present for Lazarus' funeral, and many were present when Jesus called him from the grave. Even those not present at the raising of Lazarus could have seen him alive again. The evidence was indisputable. Many of the Jews who had visited Lazarus' sister Mary and had witnessed this outstanding miracle turned to faith in Jesus.
The Jewish leaders feared that Jesus' popularity would threaten their nation's limited independence (John 11:46-48).
However, not everyone who witnessed Jesus' miraculous power was ready to believe in Him. Some left the scene of Lazarus' tomb and reported to the Pharisees what had taken place. The Pharisees and the chief priests called together the Jewish ruling council known as the Sanhedrin. They didn't deny the miracles that Jesus had been performing. However, instead of praising God for the miraculous work that was taking place around them, these hardened hearts expressed their fear that more people would become followers of Jesus. The Jewish leaders expressed to each other their concern that Jesus' following would grow to the point that the Roman overlords would step in, take away their "place" (possibly the holy place-the temple-or their place of influence in society). The nation's limited independence would thereby be at risk. In spite of the evidence these Jewish leaders refused to believe in Jesus. We sometimes wonder if more people would turn to Jesus today if there was simply a great display of God's miraculous power, but the historical record proves that people's hearts can be hardened toward God even in the face of incontestable miracles. Faith is more than a matter of the head. It's a matter of the heart.
Human decisions versus the divine purpose-God can
override evil to accomplish His perfect plan (John 11:49-54).
The tension between evidence and belief leads us to think about a second tension, that between human decisions and the divine purpose. The Jewish leaders conspired to kill Jesus, but ultimately Jesus' death as a sacrifice for our sins fulfilled God's eternal redemptive plan.
Caiaphas, the high priest, declared that it was expedient for one man to die for the people (John 11:49-50).
During that sinister meeting of the Sanhedrin the high priest, a man named Caiaphas, pointed the Jewish leaders to a diabolical solution. Caiaphas served as high priest from A.D. 18-36, but "that year"-that year in which he made a declaration about Jesus-became the most significant year in all human history. Caiaphas reprimanded the other members of the Sanhedrin for their shortsightedness. He then stated that it was better for one man to die for the nation than to let the whole nation perish. Obviously Caiaphas saw no redemptive plan in Jesus' death. Caiaphas was interested only in political expediency. His decision, however, played into the perfect plan of God.
John interpreted Caiaphas' statement as a prophecy about Jesus' sacrificial death (John 11:51-52).
At this point John, the author of this gospel, inserted his broader interpretation of Caiaphas' statement. In many ways Caiaphas' words were prophetic. Jesus would indeed die for the whole nation, but His death would be far more important than a mere political sacrifice. Jesus' death was a redemptive sacrifice. He died for, that is, in the place of, sinners. He died for the Jewish nation and for the "scattered children of God" globally. Jesus died for the sins of Jews and Gentiles, for lost people everywhere. He did so in order to unite believers as one in Him. While Caiaphas anticipated a political solution, God overrode that plan in order to provide a redemptive solution to the real human problem, sin. Jesus died for us.
The Jewish leaders began to plan a way to kill Jesus (John 11:53).
Previous random attempts to take Jesus' life had failed. Now the Jewish leadership plotted more intently to kill Jesus. They began to look for an appropriate time and place to arrest, try, and execute Jesus. They also wanted to carry out their nefarious plot secretly, avoiding the publicity that the Feast of Passover would produce (Mark 14:2). Jesus' death became the focus of their attention.
Jesus withdrew from Jerusalem and carried out His ministry in and around the village of Ephraim (John 11:54).
Jesus withdrew from Jerusalem at this point not out of fear but in order to fulfill the divinely appointed time for His sacrificial death. Although the Jewish leaders wanted to avoid arresting Jesus during Passover, it was that particular feast that would fulfill Old Testament typology relating to Jesus' death as our sacrificial lamb. Between the feasts of Dedication and Passover Jesus withdrew to the village of Ephraim. There on the border of the Judean desert He taught His disciples and carried on His final itinerant ministry. Passover was approaching and with it Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross. God would override the evil conspiracy of the Jewish leaders and fulfill His purpose of providing through His Son the perfect sacrifice for our sins.
Curiosity versus conviction-we must pursue Jesus
for who He is, not simply to satisfy our personal interests (John 11:55-57).
A third tension exists in the hearts of many when it comes to matters of faith, the tension between mere curiosity and true conviction. As Passover approached, the people began to look again for Jesus.
As Passover approached, those who traveled to Jerusalem looked for Jesus and wondered if He would attend the feast (John 11:55-56).
The weeks moved along quickly and the season of Passover soon arrived. People traveled from great distances to be in Jerusalem for this special occasion and often arrived a few days early to carry out the appropriate cleansing rituals. Many of the people looked for Jesus during those days and asked each other whether they thought Jesus would return to Jerusalem for the Passover. It was apparent to all that the Jewish leaders were opposed to Jesus and that a confrontation was coming to a head. The Jewish leaders had, in fact, issued an order for His arrest. Those who were looking for Jesus during those days prior to the Passover seem to have been driven largely by curiosity rather than a genuine conviction that Jesus was their Messiah.
The Jewish leaders ordered that anyone who knew Jesus' whereabouts should report it so that they could arrest Him (John 11:57).
The Jewish leaders had declared Jesus a public enemy. They ordered the people to report on Jesus' whereabouts in order to arrest Him. The death threat against Jesus probably wasn't widely known, but the animosity that the Pharisees and chief priests held toward Jesus was all too apparent. If Jesus returned to Jerusalem His safety-in fact His life-was at risk. Such threats, however, didn't deter Jesus from completing His mission. He soon entered Jerusalem boldly, ready to die for us, ready to become our Savior.