Mar/Apr 1994 The Prophecy of Caiaphas
From the March / April 1994 issue of The Concordia Lutheran
THE PROPHECY Of CAIAPHAS
(Read John 11:19-53)
“What are we doing? What in the world are we doing? This Fellow (they had an aversion to using the Name Jesus which they knew meant “Savior”) keeps doing miracles. If we continue to do nothing but sit here and leave Him alone, only fuming as we have in the past, all Israel will end up believing in this Man.” This was the attitude of the vast majority of the so-called spiritual leaders of Israel. What drove them to hate the Christ, the promised Messiah, with such bitter hatred? And how did God use that hatred?–for everything serves the Lord God and His Church, His people on earth.
The hatred of the Jewish leadership was nothing new; it had begun when Jesus began His ministry. But Jesus had just performed another of those signs or miracles. He had raised Lazarus back to life, a man who had already been dead and had lain in the tomb for four days. “Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on Him” (v. 45). Jesus, with this miracle, affirmed for many of the Jews who were present to console Mary and Martha, the Word which He had spoken: “I am the Resurrection, and the Life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.” (vv. 25, 26). The news of this spectacular sign spread quickly throughout Jerusalem and its environs, and some who witnessed this wonder took their report to the chief priests and Pharisees, the spiritual leaders of Israel.
These “spiritual” leaders of Israel immediately called a meeting of the entire Sanhedrin. Not only did they have sure and certain knowledge of this last miracle, (after all, Lazarus, who had most certainly been dead, was now walking around), but this miracle could mean only one thing: “This Fellow” had the power over life and death. “This Fellow” Jesus was God! But instead of these miracles driving them to the only conclusion possible, that this “Fellow” was the Christ, the promised Messiah, they only hardened their resolve to do something, anything, to stop Jesus’ influence with the “common” people.
Their reason they themselves clearly state: “If we let Him thus alone, all men will believe on Him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and [our] nation” (v. 48). Their motive, then, to act against Jesus? Envy, and selfishness, motivated by their fear of losing their position and power. James explained perfectly how this happens when he wrote: “Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death,” James 1:14,15. These men looked not for a spiritual Savior, but a king to sit on an earthly throne, and they would not see or hear the truth. Thus, they feared that their power, their control over the nation, their very means of living, was going to be taken from them because the people would set up Jesus as king of their nation and then the Romans would come in and destroy all they had. Their self-importance is manifest in their very words, “our position, our nation.”
One among these dithering, spiritually blind leaders of the blind vented his frustration with the foolishness of his co-workers in the Sanhedrin and proposed what he and they knew to be the only solution, and in so doing, out of his blind hatred was expressing God’s intent for His beloved Son, that He should die for the nation, the people. Caiaphas, the high priest, said: “Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” (vv. 49, 50). Out of his hatred for and envy of Jesus, Caiaphas unwittingly, to be sure, but by the direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost, explained in these few words the glorious work of the Lord Jesus, the vicarious or substitutional nature of His sacrifice.
It was in truth expedient for them that one Man, the God-Man, Jesus Christ, die instead of the nation. Indeed, that was Jesus’ work: to live, suffer and die in order that not only the nation of Israel, but also the whole world might not perish. His life, from His conception on, was sacrificial. The eternal Son of God assumed unto Himself a true human nature, flesh and blood, so that, as the writer to the Hebrews explains, “He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil,” Heb. 2:14. He became true Man that He might take our place under the Law. He became true Man that He might be able to suffer and die in the stead of all sinners, including those who were plotting His death. But He was also true God, that His fulfilling of the Law might be sufficient for all men, that His life and death might be a sufficient ransom for the redemption of all men, and so that He might be able to overcome death and the devil for us” (Questions 129, 130, Luther’s Small Catechism). Had Jesus not done this for mankind, for the “people” of the world, then all mankind would have perished eternally. The Holy Spirit, through John, explains that this is exactly what was meant when Caiaphas spoke his prophecy: “This spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad,” (vv. 51, 52). The evil intent of Caiaphas and the majority of the Sanhedrin remained the same–they intended to murder Jesus, the Prince of Life (Acts 3:14, 15). But like Balaam’s ass, Caiaphas spoke only truth, despite his murderous intent.
At this writing, we are in the midst of Lent, remembering the blessed life and terrible sufferings and death of our Savior for the sins of the world–for your sins and mine. May God’s Holy Spirit work in us through His precious Word a true appreciation of the nature of Christ’s work, that He lived, suffered and died as our Substitute, keeping the Law perfectly in our stead and suffering all the wrath of God against our sins, and not ours only, but also the sins of the whole world, delivering us from both the guilt and the punishment we deserve by our sins. And as we rejoice on Easter morning that Jesus “was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification,” may we do so knowing that Jesus was but the First Fruits. Let Jesus’ death and resurrection assure us that we, too, for the sake of His substitutional redemptive work, even now have life, and have it more abundantly, and at our death or the coming of our Savior in glory, shall live and reign with Him in all eternity. Amen.
–M. W. D.