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Jesus’ Kingdom…

“Pilate replied, ‘Am I a Jew? Your people and the chief priests have delivered you to me — what did you do?’ Jesus answered, ‘My Kingdom is not of this world. If my Kingdom were of this world, my subordinates would strive in order that I not be delivered over to the Jews. But at present, my Kingdom is not from here.”

(John 18:35-36)

 

I want to begin by noting two words in this text that might otherwise be overlooked. The first word is uJphre/thß (huperetes), which refers to an assistant or a subordinate on some level. Typically, the New Testament employs this term to refer to those soldiers serving under some sort of commander. Yet, oftentimes our English Bibles render this as “servants” here, which is not incorrect, but gives the impression that Jesus is referring to the Apostles and the other Disciples who are following in ministry — a group that hardly represents any threat to either the Roman or Jewish authorities. Instead, this likely should be understood in the context of Matthew 26:53 where Jesus, during his arrest, points out to Peter (who has drawn a sword clumsily) that he has the ability to appeal to his Father for 12 legions of angels that would come to his aid. Understood this way, we see the significance of Jesus’ statement here, for this indeed would be the decimation of both the Roman and the Jewish authorities.

The second word to note is the word, nuvn (nun), translated here as “at present.” Many of our translations omit this word as its role is simply to provide a temporal marker. Yet, that omission misses an important piece of theology — Jesus’ kingdom may not have then been part of this world, but it is now and one day it will fully be. After Jesus’ resurrection he ascended to the throne of glory and has had all things in subjection under his feet (Hebrews 1:3; 2:8). He rules as head of his Church (Ephesians 1:22) and though there is much that is still in open rebellion against him today, he is in the process (through the outworking of the Gospel) of putting all things under his subjection (1 Corinthians 15:25-27) so that at one point in the future every knee will bow and tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11)!

Oh, Pilate, do you not understand? Oh, Caiaphas, will you not bow your knee? Oh, Herod, where is your kingdom now and how will your beloved Caesar come to your aid? Those men, working behind the murder of our Lord, did not realize the extent of their sin and Pilate the extent of the one whom he would usher to his throne. These men have indeed bowed before Jesus, though under the crushing foot of the power of he who spoke the universe into existence. Where is your kingdom now, you who persecuted our Lord? And you who have embraced the prince of the power of the air even in our day — your joy will be cut off unless you repent and turn to Jesus for forgiveness and for grace! Here is the judge of the universe being judged by puny men — the irony is staggering…indeed, Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world…at that time. Loved ones, it is now! Beware to whom you bow allegiance!

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him

Who brings good news, good news;

Announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness:

Our God reigns, our God reigns!

– Leonard Smith

 

Blasphemy!

“Then the High Priest rent his garments, saying, ‘Blasphemy! What witnesses yet do we have to have? Behold, you have now heard blasphemy! What do you rule?’ And they replied, ‘He is liable to death.’”

(Matthew 26:65-66)

 

“Then the High Priest rent his tunic, saying, ‘What witnesses yet do we have to have? You have heard blasphemy! What do you see?’ Then all of them condemned him as one liable to death.”

(Mark 14:63-64)

 

“Then he said, ‘What witnesses yet do we have to have? We have heard it from his own mouth!’”

(Luke 22:71)

 

A point, perhaps, in clarification. Some of our English translations render the High Priest as saying that they had heard “His blasphemy,” but that is not entirely accurate. Jesus has spoken no blasphemy and the text never inserts the personal pronoun within the sentence of Caiaphas. To make such an insertion implies that Caiaphas might have actually been confused about what Jesus was saying, thinking that Jesus had made a blasphemous statement. Yet, a better picture is of the High Priest manipulating the events of this trial like a puppeteer would put on a play and is seeking to use verbal force and innuendo to achieve the ends he has sought to achieve. He is a bully and those leaders amongst the priests who are with him understand that the only way to keep their positions and “move up in the organization” is to placate this forceful individual.

And of course, blasphemy had to be the charge that Caiaphas was seeking because it was the only charge within the context of being ruled by Rome, that they could legitimately seek the death penalty (in fact, it had to be a blasphemous act in or around the temple). Yet, there is no blasphemy on Jesus’ lips. Even in human terms, to speak of himself being a “son of God” is not that unusual for God’s people (Genesis 6:2; Deuteronomy 32:8; Matthew 5:9; Luke 20:36; Galatians 3:26). Similarly, there had been many who identified themselves as messiah’s of a sort, and again, this usually did not get the priests into such a frenzy. It is the fact that Jesus’ actions confirmed exactly what the prophets predicted of the Messiah and his miracles confirmed his divinity that got them upset — furthermore, Jesus did not simply claim to be a Son of God, but he claimed to be God himself — which, again was confirmed by prophesy and miracles — which would mean that the priests would have to submit to his authority, thus losing their own. That was something that the High Priest could not consider.

Isn’t it sad how often we get caught up in our own pride, our own status, and our own agenda — even for the church. Isn’t it sad how often we fail to notice God working through the humble in our midst when we wish to achieve a certain end or recognition. And isn’t it sad that we so often fail to notice God’s authority in our lives when we feel that we might achieve our ends. Oh, dear friends, what shall we do other than repent? For we are God’s, God is not ours. We are the clay in his hands — he does not serve us that we might achieve our ends. May we walk with humility and grace as we live our lives in this world and not seek our own ends, but seek Christ’s ends for us.

That’s What You Said…

“Jesus said to him, ‘That’s what you say. Nevertheless, I tell you from now on you will witness the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’”

(Matthew 26:64)

 

“But Jesus said, ‘I am. and you will see the Son of Man seated on the right hand of power and coming with the clouds from heaven.’”

(Mark 14:62)

 

“‘From now on, the Son of Man will be seated on the right hand of the Power of God.’ So, they all said to him, ‘Are you therefore the Son of God?’ So he said to them, ‘You say that I am.’”

(Luke 22:69-70)

 

On a surface level there would seem to be a bit of a discrepancy between Mark’s account of Jesus’ statements and the account recorded by Matthew and Luke. Of course, they all record the questioning of Caiaphas that leads up to this point, asking Jesus if he is the Christ. Yet, in the record of Jesus’ response there is some variation. Mark records Jesus as plainly affirming the question by stating, ejgo/ eijmi — “I am.” Matthew and Luke, on the other hand, record Jesus saying, “That’s what you say” and “You say that I am” respectively.

So, what shall we make of this? We know in approaching the text that this is the Inspired word of God, so we cannot dismiss the potential discrepancy as an error in the record, but must ask the question as to how these two presentations fit together. The simple harmony would be to see Jesus making both statements and each Gospel writer presenting what they considered to be the most significant portion of what Jesus said, but the question that follows would be as to why. In addition, based on the statements of Jesus to follow that he is not hiding his divine claim, so the suggestion that Jesus’ statement, “That’s what you say,” is meant to hide his identity is unfounded, thus we must look deeper.

Imagine the conversation (based on the three accounts) sounding something like this:

Caiaphas: “Are you the Christ?”

Jesus: “That’s what you said and I am. And from this time on, you will see me…”

Caiaphas: “Then are you the Son of God?”

Jesus: “You already said that I am.”

The reality is that by Caiaphas’ extreme action, arrest, trial, and planned execution of Jesus, he is betraying that he understands that Jesus is the promised Messiah and he wants nothing of him because a Messiah would bring change to his power, wealth, and authority as High Priest. Thus, he is condemning himself by his own actions. Think about it, conspiracy theories abound in our culture today and they often make quite entertaining fiction. Yet, in most cases, the entities about which the conspiracy theories revolve typically don’t make much of a fuss over the matter. But when a fuss is made and a cover-up attempted, it is typically a clue that there is perhaps something to such a theory. Here is one more illustration of that principle. If Caiaphas thought Jesus a ridiculous impostor, he would largely have ignored him and discredited him based on Biblical prophesies about the Messiah. Such a thing never happened; instead, Caiaphas sought to cover up the truth by putting Jesus to death. Something is to be said for Caiaphas’ acknowledgment and rejection — and Jesus does so by speaking judgment, but we get ahead of ourselves.

While it is easy to judge Caiaphas for his wickedness, as Christians we also ought to take into account the way we speak and act as well as the times we reject Jesus by our words and actions. How often, when given the opportunity to take a stand for the Truth of God’s word, we back down. How often we simply speak or act in a way that dishonors God. How often we too need to be reminded that in judgment we will see Jesus sitting at the right hand of power as judge and will be held accountable for our actions and words. The good news is that in repentance there is forgiveness, but do not forget, beloved, that repentance means we turn away from our sins and seek Christ and his righteousness. May we indeed do just that.

A Dangerous Command

“And the High Priest stood up and said to him, ‘Don’t you have any answer for these men who are testifying against you?’ But Jesus said nothing. And the High Priest  said to him, ‘I command you by the living God to tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God!’”

(Matthew 26:62-63)

 

“And the High Priest stood up in their midst and questioned Jesus, saying, ‘Can you not answer anything to those who accuse you?’ But he said nothing and would not answer them. Again the High Priest questioned him and said, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed.’”

(Mark 14:60-61)

 

It is sometimes wondered why Jesus did not offer more words in his defense — I am sure that most of us would be speaking at a mile a minute were we in such a situation. Plus, would this not have been an appropriate time to share the Gospel with them? Apart from the fact that these servants of Satan were not interested in hearing truth, we should remember that Jesus’ silence is also a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:7, where the prophet speaks of the Suffering Servant going silently to his place of execution — like a lamb to the slaughter. Here, more than 700 years before Jesus’ birth and crucifixion, God, through the prophet, tells us the details of his Son’s own trial. That sheer fact alone ought to make us shudder.

Legally, Jesus should have had no need to answer — Jewish law requires more than one witness and if these witnesses couldn’t even get their stories straight, Jewish law insists that there is no case against the accused. Of course, there is nothing legal about this trial at least in human terms. It is a farce. And the King of Glory chose not to legitimize their scheme, though it would mean going to the cross (and on the cross facing the real trial, this time before an almighty God).

The real mockery, though, comes in the High Priest’s statement: “I command you by the name of the Living God…” Here is a wicked human trying to use the name of the Holy God to command the Holy God himself (Jesus!) to testify regarding a false witness. Command indeed. It is Christ who commands us, not we who command Christ. Yet, one must be careful, for is this not how we pray sometimes? Do we not expect God to do this or that because we wish him to? Do we not sometimes get upset with God for not answering our prayers in the way we desire? Loved ones, let us not fall into the trap that causes us to think that God exists for our ends — no, we exist for his glory! Let us never neglect that great truth.

Finally, it is clear from Caiaphas’ statement that he does understand that the Christ is the Son of God from prophesy (Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 9:6). Caiaphas’ problem is that he did not want to admit that it would be Jesus. Yet, Jesus is the Son of God — the Son of the Blessed one — the final title being a wonderful reminder that it is only in God himself that we will find blessing and God has made it clear that the blessings will only be through the Son. Woe to those who stand and mock him (Psalm 2:12).

Let Justice Flow

“Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the High Priest.”

(John 18:24)

 

We have already discussed the relationship between Annas and Caiaphas as to how both are referred to as the High Priest and how this short exchange formed a kind of initial interview in the shadows of the evening prior to the official trial by Caiaphas. Most likely, it was Annas who had the pull to bring out the Temple Guard to make this arrest and it is most likely that Annas wanted to satisfy his own curiosity in this case. The interview does not produce much other than indignation on the part of Jesus and the interview is cut short and Jesus is sent to Caiaphas for the trial.

It is interesting that probably one of the most significant activities that God calls his people to perform is the one thing that is entirely devoid of this evening. God calls us to pursue justice (Genesis 18:19; Exodus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:19; Micah 6:8, etc…). Justice is the ensuring that people are treated with righteousness according to God’s will. It is the heart behind the commandment in Leviticus 19:18 that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Justice means that truth is upheld and wickedness is exposed for what it is — that righteous activities are rewarded and sin is punished. And this evening, no justice takes place.

Then again, in the divine plan, were this evening about justice in its purest sense, we would all be condemned. Jesus endures the injustice of men here so that he may bear the justice of God on the cross on behalf of unjust men — that means you and me. Folks, that simple reality ought to stagger us and drive us to our knees in repentance, thanksgiving, and praise. How interesting it is that God chooses to use such ways to show us such grace.

There is something else that follows that needs to be before our eyes, and that is the change that this grace of God works on us as we live our our life in this unjust world. Will we seek justice? Will we seek to act with grace to those who act unjustly toward us? Will we seek to bring justice to the lives of those who cannot speak for themselves? Millions of babies have been aborted in America and the church has often remained quite silent. Will you be a voice for those babies who are being treated so unjustly? The poor and homeless are often shunned by the church as not fitting into “the mold” that the church is looking for and their voices are often marginalized by city governments that don’t really want to wrestle with the question of abject poverty. Will you be a voice for those who society has sought to silence? Mental Illness is widespread in our culture but few seem to want to address it and learn how to minister to those in our midst that need such care. Again, will you be their voice and advocate? Children with severe disabilities are often denied the kinds of therapy that are needed to help them live a productive life and their families are worn thin with the battles against the system. Will you be their advocate? Justice demands that we be the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves and to ensure that righteousness is advanced and the wicked are punished. And God commands of us that we work justice. Will you be obedient to that command, or will you, like Annas, use Jesus to satisfy your own curiosity and allow justice to be perverted to preserve your own status, comfort, and influence?

“Let justice flow out like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing torrent.”

(Amos 5:24)

 

A Debt of Love I Owe…

“But when he said this, one of the subordinates who was standing there gave a blow to Jesus saying, ‘Is this how you answer the High Priest?’”

(John 18:23)

 

Again, many of our English translations like to render this word as “officer” when it comes to the one who slapped Jesus, giving the impression that this was one of the military guards. A better translation is subordinate, particularly recognizing that this term often refers to governmental offices, not military offices. Thus, we should see this man not as one of the soldiers, but as one of the underlings of Annas, perhaps even one of the Sadducees in authority — we are just not told. And this man strikes Jesus because Jesus refuses to submit himself before Annas in this false trial.

It is interesting that this subordinate also refers to Annas as the “High Priest” although the title rightly belongs to Caiaphas. Thus adds a further degree of support to the theory that Annas is still pulling the political strings of the High Priest’s office from behind the scenes and has likely arranged the events of the night to bring Jesus under Caiaphas’ judgment.

The blow that is struck upon Jesus will be the first amongst many, though it stands out as one of contempt and pride — it is the blow of an underling, likely trying to gain credibility in the eyes of his master, though truly only doing the devil’s deed. Many of our English translations render this phrase in such a way as to argue that the man slapped Jesus. That could be the case, though the word could also refer to one clubbing another with a stick or another blunt object. Were this man one of the mob that was so armed with torches and clubs from earlier that night, it could conceivably be the club and not the hand with which this man struck our Lord.

Loved ones, the one thing that we must keep painfully clear and before our eyes is that Jesus did not need to endure such suffering. Yet, in an outpouring of his grace, he chose to suffer for us by the hand of wicked men. Jesus could have called legions of angels to his defense and left the entire countryside scattered with the bodies of his enemies, but he chose to go like a lamb to the slaughter, be beaten and abused, falsely tried, and then horrifically executed on the cross. He did that for me. He did that for you, that is, if you are trusting in Him as your Lord and Savior. They say that the story of the Gospel is the “Greatest Story Ever Told” and there is truth in that claim. Yet, it is a story that not only travels to great heights in terms of the resurrection and promise of glory — but it is a story that travels to the greatest depths of misery — human and divine — as Jesus enters the household of the wicked to bear the sins of the wicked (you and me!) on his shoulders — and not only facing false judgment by the hands of wicked men, but facing righteous judgment by the hands of a holy God, who crushed him for our sin. Jesus was our substitute, so when you are tempted to wag the finger at these hypocritical Jewish authorities, remember first that he did this for you … and he did this for me. We are the reason Jesus gave himself into the hands of these men, thanks be to God! But oh, my soul, what a debt of love I owe to the King of Grace!

The First round of Questions

“Then the High Priest asked Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching.”

(John 18:19)

 

In light of our discussions above, the High Priest being spoken of here must be Annas — referring to him in this way respecting his reputation and influence (as well as past title) not so much his formal title at the present time. As we labeled it above, we might refer to Annas as “High Priest Emeritus.” Were this not Annas doing the questioning, verse 24 (where Annas sends him over to Caiaphas) would make no sense.

We do not know a great deal of details with respect to this interaction. Clearly, it is not cordial based on what takes place next and it is rather brief (again substantiating that this is likely Caiaphas’ home, though Annas has likely claimed “first dibs” on questioning Jesus as he is likely the one who coordinated the mob that arrested Jesus.

What needs to be noted is that Annas is not only asking Jesus about his theological positions (kind of a hostile Presbytery exam), but also about his disciples. Jesus’ disciples escaped arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane and have gone into hiding. John seems to have connections in the High Priest’s household, so he stays with Jesus to witness events and Peter stays close to John — John getting Peter into the courtyard because of those contacts. Nevertheless, Annas is still after blood and wants to see this movement crushed. The best way to do so, is not just to silence the leader, but also the most significant spokespersons — the inner circle of disciples. Annas did not rise to power and influence without knowing how to silence his enemies and that seems to be exactly what he is doing at this point. Caiaphas can create the political trial; Annas wants to stop the movement.

Friends, it is often easy for us to read the Gospel accounts and to judge Peter and the others for their flight from Jesus’ side. Understand, two things, though. First, the level of hostility that is being expressed here is tremendously high. Were the disciples found, they too would have been similarly tried and killed. Secondly, Jesus had already promised that he would lose none of those that the Father had given to him (John 18:9). Though it was a rather ignoble means of preservation, it was God’s design for the preservation of his own during this time of great wickedness.

Yet, we are still left with the question. Were Jesus questioned about his teachings and disciples today, would we be at risk? Or, perhaps to put the question more plainly — if our words and actions were put on trial, would we be convicted as a Christian? Would the establishment of this world see us as a threat? I propose (sadly) that in most cases, the answer would be, “no.” As Christians, we have grown much too comfortable in this culture we live in and have grown to accept many of the evils around us as “necessary,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Loved ones, let us examine our life and teachings — examine the disciples we are making, particularly of our children — and seek to live and teach in such a way that we can genuinely be convicted of being Christian and even a threat to the status quo of the unbelieving world and their humanism.

A Time to Keep Silence and a Time to Speak

“But Peter followed him from a distance up to the court of the High Priest and going in he sat with the subordinates to witness the end.”

(Matthew 26:58)

 

“And Peter, from a distance, followed him as far as the courtyard of the High Priest and he was sitting with the subordinates and warming himself by the fire.”

(Mark 14:54)

 

“And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down in the midst of them.”

(Luke 22:55)

 

“The servants and the subordinates were standing around a charcoal fire they had made because it was cold and they were warming themselves. And Peter was also in that place and warming himself.”

(John 18:18)

 

Probably the obvious question to ask is with whom did Peter sit? Matthew and Mark speak of subordinates and John adds servants, but the question is, who are these people gathered in the middle of the night in Caiaphas’ court. Luke implies that these were amongst those who arrested Jesus, leading some English translations to render these verses as Peter sitting with the “guards.” Yet, the cohort (the official soldiers from the Temple) seems to have either departed or faded into the background for a variety of reasons, leaving us more likely with the rabble-rousers that made up the mob that accompanied the Cohort from the temple. Needless to say that this crowd is not a casual crowd and they are anything but neutral to the events that are transpiring.

Often this courtyard scene with Peter’s denial is portrayed as if Peter is being asked innocent questions about his association with Jesus and that his denials are out of an unfounded fear of what might happen. I don’t think that is what is implied here, though. These questions come from a very hostile crowd that is wanting to see blood — thus, while we still might speak of Peter’s cowardice to follow Jesus even to prison or death (Luke 22:33), prison or death most certainly would have been the end of this night for Peter had he spoken boldly of his connection with Jesus. Peter had escaped capture in the garden just hours earlier (if that long!), it is sure that this escape was fresh in his mind and he knew the climate of the people with whom he would be mixing in Caiaphas’ courtyard. Danger was all around.

It should be noted that some English versions translate Peter as standing by the fire while the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) portray him as sitting. This objection, if it be a real objection, can be answered in two ways. The simplest way is to recognize that Peter first approaches the fire standing up and remains standing so long as those around him are standing. Then, as Caiaphas takes his position for the trial, people settle down and sit. Peter, not wanting to stand out chooses to sit as well. The second way — if it be a way at all — is to note that the word that John uses, i¢sthmi (histami), can simply mean to be located in a particular spot (standing or sitting). Thus, there is no real contradiction between John’s account and the account of the other four evangelists.

While these questions may be curious, there are two clauses in these verses that are very striking. The first is how Mark refers to the fire around which Peter and the subordinates are gathered. Instead of using the ordinary word for “fire,” which in Greek is pu◊r (pur), he chooses to use the word, fw◊ß (phos) — “light.” One might be tempted to dismiss this as a curiosity, that perhaps Mark was simply looking for a different word to use for variety until one points out that this is the only time Mark uses the term fw◊ß (phos) in his entire Gospel. Furthermore, this is the only occurrence in the Greek New Testament where the term fw◊ß (phos) is used to refer to a fire.

One still might be tempted to suggest that Mark is just referring to the light that is emitted from a fire to foreshadow the fact that Peter would be recognized by those around him. Of course, this is presuming that this fire is the only source of light in the courtyard, which seems to be an odd assumption as oil lamps likely would have filled the space with light. A better answer is to recall that Mark is traditionally understood to have served as Peter’s scribe in Jerusalem, and thus this gospel was written under Peter’s oversight. Thus, there seems to be the suggestion here that the one thing Peter does not intend to do (at least initially) is to hide. His presence by the fire, in other words, is not just to warm himself (though that is one of the reasons), but is also to be present “in the light” and not in the midst of shadows. Of course, Peter’s nerve is lost as the proceedings go on and he realizes that he is noticed, but it is likely that at least at first, Peter’s intent was to be visible.

The second thing of particular interest is Matthew’s statement that Peter followed to see “the end.” The end of what? If Matthew is referring to “the end” of Jesus’ life, could it have been that Peter expected Jesus to be tried and executed even before dawn? Could Matthew have been speaking of “the end” with respect to their pilgrimage from the Sea of Galilee to Caiaphas’ courts? This latter explanation seems to be a better answer to the question. And, while likely not “the end” as Peter anticipated at the time, it indeed was the end — the end of Peter being only a follower and time for Peter to stand up and lead — though that final aspect would not be fulfilled until Pentecost. Solomon writes that to all things there is a season — for Peter (and for the other 10 who remained faithful), the time of following Jesus as he walked and taught in this earth had come to an end. Soon, the time would be for him to speak — and speak boldly he would.

Caiaphas’ Prophesy

It was Caiaphas who plotted with the Jews that it would be useful that one man die for the group.”

(John 18:14)

 

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.”

(John 11:49-52)

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.

-Edward Mote