Reflections in John: Why is this Passover different from all others?

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.



5 thoughts on “Reflections in John: Why is this Passover different from all others?

  1. “Christ died for our sake and in our place” that is powerful, representation and substitution, how great a love He has for us! Thank you for sharing that Rebekah I will ponder that double meaning this week before we celebrate Passover.

  2. Rebekah, you write so eloquently and with thought provoking prose. It’s incredible what we can find when we truly seek. I love the double, implied meaning. How many have read that and were not able to pick up on that? I love to dissect of words!

  3. “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”

    “But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would never have crucified our glorious Lord.”

    Have you ever heard the theory that the book of John is proleptic?

    I’m curious as to what you think. 🙂

    1. Indeed, it makes perfect sense, as the GJ was the last of the four Gospels written. The Jesus movement had solidified into a vibrant, active faction, and so had the anti-Jesus movement. Like all the Gospel writers, the author of John had a particular audience and goal in mind for his account. From Paul’s letters, we know that one of the central defining accepts of the Jesus movement was its worship of Jesus as Divine in a way unique from all previous messianic, angelic and other divine characterizations. (Check out Larry W. Hurtado’s book: It was something that the author of John clearly felt the need to emphasize and defend. For instance, his famous first chapter draws on both the logic of platonic thought (appealing to the logic of a Hellenized Jewish audience) and to the very Jewish idea of the “wisdom” of God as a separate extension of the Divine.

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