Messianic enthusiasm over Yeshua had been progressively building in Judea. With each appearance He made in and around Jerusalem, more and more people believed Him to be the Messiah. After the resurrection of Lazarus, the enthusiasm reached a crescendo. If anyone doubted the validity of His miracles, they only needed to travel to Bethany and interview Lazarus and those present for the miracle.
Word of the resurrected man spread throughout Jerusalem. In their naïve enthusiasm, some of those who had seen the miracle reported the event to the Sanhedrin.
The high priest Joseph Caiaphas, the other chief priests and Sadducean leaders joined with Yeshua’s critics to call an emergency meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What will we do? For this man does many signs” they said. They convened to discuss how they might avert a political crisis. “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48). “Our place” refers to the Temple and the Sadducean priesthood’s control over it. “Our nation” refers to Judea and the Sanhedrin’s legal authority over the people.
They fully expected the Galilean, as a contender for the title of king of Israel, to eventually make a bid for power. It had happened often enough previously. With thousands of enthusiastic, messianic zealots behind Him, Yeshua would surely raise an insurrection against Rome who would, in turn, send their legions to crush the rebellion and remove the existing religious authorities from power. It was the only possible scenario that they could imagine.
One of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” (John 11:49-50)
Those words invoked a proverbial rabbinic maxim: “Better one life should be risked than that all should be certain to die.” The high priest’s point was clear: Kill Him now before He gets us all killed.
The Gospel of John takes note of the irony in Caiaphas’ words. He had unwittingly uttered the gospel message: “Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for that nation only…” (John 11:51-52). That is to say, God honored the office of the priesthood, and His Spirit inspired the utterance.