When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “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.” He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.
In Matthew’s Gospel, after Jesus’ triumphal entry and lament over Jerusalem’s future destruction, Jesus gives a final speech explaining what the Kingdom of God is like, and what it will look like when God’s chosen King ascends to power over all the nations. (See Matthew 25).
When he finished, Jesus told his disciples that in two days will be the Passover, when “the Son of Man” will be handed over to the authorities to be killed. Meanwhile, the plot to kill Jesus was already in motion.
Jesus had entered Jerusalem on a donkey, as the promised king from the line of David. But he was not the first nor the last during the Second Temple period who would be hailed as a Messiah by the Jewish people.
These periodic “messianic insurrections” in the 100 years before and after Jesus continually prompted swift and brutal beatdowns by the Roman military, ending with mass slaughter and public executions of the rebel ring-leaders–often by crucifixion.
The Jewish elders were afraid of Jesus’ popularity, and the chance that it would lead to yet another insurrection and violent reaction by the Romans. Rome’s tendency to overwhelmingly crush dissent explains the Sanhedrin’s reluctance to arrest Jesus during the Passover festival (Matthew 26:5) for fear that it would cause the people of Jerusalem to rally around Jesus as Messiah and endanger the entire nation.
This is why the high priest Caiaphas in John’s Gospel states, “it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (John 11:50). The Jewish priests want to execute Jesus because they want to avoid the chance that Jesus’ ministry draws Rome’s wrath, but they also wanted to avoid the possibility that the people would be angry with them for arresting and killing a beloved Messiah.
Why rehash all of this? Because we must see something. It is good and right to say that Christ went to his death as a lamb to the slaughter, in obedience to the Father’s will, that he may be an atonement for sin. But we must also recognize that the principalities and powers were also at work in Jesus’ death.
The principalities and powers–a term used by the apostle Paul to represent the human institutions of power, money, and religion, and the spiritual forces that operate behind and within them. Jesus Christ was obedient to the Father’s will, who lovingly sought to use the power of Christ’s blood to make those of us who are far off near again.
But he was also unjustly murdered by the political, economic, and religious power of Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas. We must never lose sight of that tension. Human beings cooperated with the demonic will to power to crucify the innocent Son of God.
The plot to kill Jesus was hatched because religious leaders were more concerned about protecting their own privilege, status, and power than with discerning, obeying, and seeking after the Kingdom of God.
When the power of God confronted them in the face, in the ministry and person of Jesus, they could not abide it, because it threatened to take away all those things they held dearer to themselves than the love of God. Let this be a lesson for all of us–it is easy to subvert God’s agenda to advance our own lesser, human agendas.
Let’s avoid the mistake of the Jewish elders. We must surrender ourselves to the actual person, power, and meaning of Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Let all other considerations fall away as we pursue who he really is.