“It was Caiaphas who plotted with the Jews that it would be useful that one man die for the group.”
The language of Caiaphas’ warning to the Sanhedron is one worthy of reflection. This little parenthesis is meant to point us to an earlier event that took place shortly before Jesus’ Triumphal Entry. John records the event in this way:
“But one from their number, Caiaphas, who was the High Priest in that given year, said to them, ‘You do not know anything, nor do you understand that it would be useful for you that one man die for the group and not have the whole of the people destroyed.’ This he did not say on his own, but being the High Priest in that given year, he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the people and not for the people only, but also in order that the Children of God that are dispersed might be gathered together as one.”
Before we move further, there are some terms that we must understand if we are going to grasp John’s explanation. First of all, this is a plot. Some of our English translations render John 18:14 as if Caiaphas is giving advice or spiritual counsel. What they are doing is plotting and scheming to see Jesus dead because Jesus has upset their powerbase.
The second thing that we must clarify up front is “to whom” will this arrest and execution be “useful” or “expedient.” While John points out that these words of Caiaphas are prophetic, it is important to first understand Caiaphas’ motives for speaking such words. Thus, the “to whom” in Caiaphas’ mind, must clearly be referring to the power of the ruling party in the Sanhedron. Annas, Caiaphas’ father-in-law, showed himself to be a master manipulator of power for personal gain, there is no question that Annas has been coaching his son-in-law in these matters.
Thus, if we know for whom it is “useful” we must also ask for which group is Caiaphas thinking Jesus must die. In God’s economy, we know the answer is that Jesus died for the elect, but in what context is Caiaphas speaking when he utters these words? Some of our English translations imply that the group in question is that of the nation of Israel based on John’s use of the term e¡qnoß (ethnos) in verse 51 above. While e¡qnoß (ethnos) can be interpreted as “nation,” it can more simply refer to a group of people united by any given common tie — hence the derivation of our modern term, “ethnic,” from this Greek word. It is also clear from Caiaphas’ actions that he cares little for the people of Israel apart from his ability to use them for his own personal gain. Similarly, at this point in history, Israel cannot be said to be a nation, but is a Roman province, a status that Caiaphas clearly has no interest in changing due to the fact that an outright revolution would clearly bring Caiaphas’ downfall (the effects of revolt would be demonstrated 40 years later when the Romans would march on Jerusalem in 70 AD).
Thus, the answer seems to be that Caiaphas is still thinking about himself and about those in power. The presence of Jesus only shook up the status quo, interrupted their monetary gains (think of Jesus’ actions with the sellers in the temple courts), and risked the oppression of the Romans. From Caiaphas’ perspective, Jesus must die to preserve Caiaphas’ power and the power of those who were in the ruling class — these are the “people” — the e¡qnoß (ethnos) — of whom Caiaphas is speaking. Again, John points out clearly that Caiaphas is speaking prophetically here, much as the pagan, Balaam, spoke prophetically generations earlier. While Caiaphas’ heart was focused on one thing, God used him to speak truth. It was “useful” that one man should die for the people — and Jesus was the only such man that could do so, being both God and man. For in Jesus’ death, he would pay the penalty of sin for His people — believers throughout the generations — those that God had elected before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and then drawn to Jesus (John 6:44). In God’s eternal plan, this is the group for whom Jesus was dying — a group that Peter would refer to as a nation of priests (1 Peter 2:9-10) — a nation of which, by God’s grace, I have been called to be a member. And you have been made a member of that nation as well so long as you are trusting in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
Caiaphas spoke prophetic words — but words that pronounced his own ultimate defeat at the hands of sin and death. May these words stick with us and remind us not only of God’s sovereignty over even the wicked of this world, but over our lives as well. May these words remind us that it is only in Jesus’ death and resurrection that we can find hope and life for the dark days in which we live and for eternity thereafter.
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.