συμφέρει ὑμῖν ἵνα εἷς ἄνθρωπος ἀποθάνῃ ὑπὲρ τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ μὴ ὅλον τὸ ἔθνος ἀπόληται (John 11:50 BGT)
During this week of our preparation of home and heart for Passover, I’ve been reflecting on John’s version of the Passion Week. There’s just something special about John’s Gospel. Perhaps Clement of Alexandria, one of the early church fathers says it best:
John, noticing that the physical things had been set forth in the [other] Gospels, wrote a spiritual Gospel.”
This weekend I have been reflecting on a story set just days before Jesus’ final Passover Seder. We’re all familiar with the story of Lazarus, so I’m going to skip the summation and move on to the interesting bit, right after Lazarus is gifted a new lease on life.
The Pharisees and Sadducees convene a meeting of the Sanhedrin, unable to ignore so great a sign as resurrection.
They don’t deny Jesus’ power, nor do they blame his power on the Evil One. Instead, they fear that Jesus will win the hearts of all Israel, and in turn, Rome will destroy them.
Caiaphas, the high priest then issues a starling and ironically prophetic statement:
You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (John 11:49-50)
The Greek word “for” is ὑπὲρ. Unlike it’s counter-part ἀντὶ, ὑπὲρ has a double meaning. It can mean representation (on behalf of, for) or it can mean substitution (in the place of, instead of).
Thus, John 11:50 is rich in soteriological meaning. ὑπὲρ has a secondary spiritual nuance: Christ died both for our sakes, and in our places.
The Gospel writer seems to be implying that Caiaphas didn’t utter this on his own initiative, or at least, was unknowingly prophetic. He merely thought of Jesus’ death as a political life raft for continued priestly power and Jewish semi-independence, but, like Balaam of old, his words had more significance than he could have dreamed.
Yeshua, the heavenly man, the image of God in flesh, was about to die—not for the sake of political expedience as Caiaphas thought—but for the salvation of Israel.
That he might gather into one the children of God scattered abroad.” (John 11:52)
Yeshua was going to die in the place of all the children of God: the children of Jacob and the children of Abraham. The Jewish people and the scattered children of God around the world, both past, present and future.
That’s why this Passover would be so very different from all the others.