TRANSLATION AND COMMENTARY ON JOHN’S GOSPEL
The chief priests and the Pharisees then convened a council and said: ” What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. If we allow him to do so, everyone will place their trust in him and the Romans will come and take away our Temple and our nation.”
But one of them Caiaphas, who was High Priest that year, said to them, “You’re completely ignorant not to understand that it’s to your advantage that one man should die for the people, rather than that the whole nation should perish.”
He did not say this as his own opinion, but as High Priest for that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation; and not for the nation only but also to gather into one the scattered children of God. So from that day on they planned together to kill him. For that reason Jesus no longer walked openly amongst the Judeans, but went away to the region near the desert, to a town called Ephraim, where he remained with the disciples.
Now the Passover of the Judeans was near, and many went up to Jerusalem from the region before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking out for Jesus and saying to each other as they stood in the Temple, “What do you think? That he won’t come to the Festival?”
Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given instructions that if anyone knew where he was, he should report it, so that they could arrest him.
It is typical of this author that the story of Lazarus, which is a symbolic drama characterising the whole life of Jesus, is followed by this narrative in a realistic historical mode. It outlines the dilemma of the religious authorities as understood in light of the disastrous Jewish uprising of 70CE, which resulted in the destruction of the Temple and the dispersal of the people. It’s possible that this chimed with the tradition John inherited through his community of believers, but it is impossible to be sure. Certainly this is a different view from the other gospels which interpret the religious authorities’ enmity to Jesus as a savage protection of their own position.
It is clear from the whole gospel tradition that Jesus experienced opposition from both the reform party of his faith, The Pharisees, and the traditionalist party, the chief priests. None of the gospels is discriminating about these groups, often simply lumping them together, as John’s does. We can understand this perspective as the gospels were written after the destruction of the Temple and during a developing enmity between Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah and the orthodox synagogues.
For this reason, we need to look critically at what the gospels say about the events that led to Jesus’ judicial murder by the Romans. This gospel focuses on Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah of his people, which is certainly at one with the inscription on the Roman execution stake, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
Caiaphas’ cynical utterance is therefore seen (invented?) by this writer as an profound ironic prophecy of the true meaning of Jesus’ death, that it is for the sake of the people and “of the scattered children of God”, which may be a phrase originally meaning the Jewish diaspora, but adapted here to mean those of all races gathered in the assemblies of Jesus. This hint about the Gentile church is picked up in chapter 12 from verse 6: Jesus’ death at the hands of the Judeans and Romans is what draws people of all races to him.
The details of Jesus and his disciples hiding in Ephraim, the expectations of the pilgrims and the official orders issued by the authorities are also in a realistic mode, and may come from a source used by this author. He is particularly concerned to link Jesus’ death to the Passover festival, not only because of the symbolic connection between the Passover lambs and the Lamb of God, but also because he sees the death of Jesus as the beginning of a new exodus in which God’s people break out of Judean slavery into a multiracial freedom.