AT THE END OF THE ACCOUNT OF the resurrection of Lazarus, John pens a short section steeped in ironies (John 11:45-53). All of them point unerringly to the cross.
(1) The authorities are thoroughly frustrated. No one can deny that the miracle Jesus has performed actually occurred: it was too public, and Lazarus was genuinely dead—so dead that the smell of decomposition was public and obnoxious (John 11:39). So how can the Sanhedrin trim Jesus’ rising authority or quell the messianic fervor that is likely to erupt when the report of the miracle circulates? Eventually, they fear, “everyone will believe in him,” the rebellion will become established, “and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48). There may be irony even in their mention of “our place”: the peculiar expression could refer to the temple (as the NIV footnote suggests), yet it is hard to deny that their real interest is not so much the temple as their place of privilege in society. Yet there is a deeper irony. As the story unfolds, they take action against Jesus, and he is crucified. Yet this fails to preserve their “place.” Within forty years, the Romans descend on Jerusalem and crush it. They destroy the temple. And the “place” of the authorities is wiped out.
(2) But that is still in the future. It is Caiaphas who first formalizes the concrete proposal to pervert justice, sacrificing judicial integrity on the altar of political expediency. “You know nothing at all!” he exclaims (John 11:49), his pique belittling his colleagues as, in effect, a bunch of nincompoops. “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (John 11:50). Note: it is better for you—that is the real locus of interest, the political selfishness behind the political claptrap. Bump off Jesus, and the messianic fervor dies and the nation is spared: it all seems so clean, so logical—and besides, it will be good for “our place.” So Jesus dies—and the tragic irony is that the nation perishes anyway. Not even A.D. 70 was the end of it. Six decades later the Bar Kochba revolt brought in the Romans again (132-135). Jerusalem was razed to the ground. It became a capital offense for any Jew to live anywhere in the environs of Jerusalem.
(3) But there is a deeper irony yet, which John detects in Caiaphas’s words. Caiaphas speaks as high priest, and in God’s providence he speaks better than he knows. Jesus dies for the Jewish nation, and not only for them “but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one” (John 11:52).