Some of the Jews who witnessed the raising of Lazarus be-lieved on Him (v.45 cf. 2:23,24), but some didn’t (v.46), proving Abraham was right (Luke 16:31). This is a type of people in the millennium who will see Old Testament saints raised but won’t believe. If you think your friends would believe if they saw a miracle, think again. The gospel is the power of God to salvation (Ro.1:16;10:17).
The “chief priests” were probably Sadducees (Acts 5:17) who didn’t get along with the Pharisees (Acts 23:8)—except when they agreed here to reject Christ. Gentile enemies also got together to reject Him (Luke 23:12), all of which fulfilled Psalm 2:1-3. These religious leaders asked what to do about Christ (v.47), just as they asked later about the apostles, for they couldn’t deny these miracles (Acts 4:16). When miracles are legitimate, even God’s enemies can’t deny them—unlike the “miracles” performed by modern religious leaders. When these leaders determined to keep men from believing on Christ (v.48), it explains how the devil takes the word out of men’s hearts (Luke 8:12) when he can’t enter our minds or know our thoughts (IKi.8:39)—he uses men, religious men, to do so.
Why would the Romans care if all men believed on Christ (v.48)? Well, remember how Herod considered himself king of the Jews, and so tried to kill the One whom people were saying was king of the Jews (Mt.2:1-16)? The current Herod would do it again if the people made Him king (cf. John 6:15). These leaders feared the Romans would take away their “place” (11:47), their place in Israel’s government (cf.Dan.2:35; Eph. 6:12; Rev.12:7).
While these leaders didn’t know what to do about Christ, the high priest did (11:49)! He pointed out that Christ had to die (v.50). Now it sounds like he is saying that Christ would die for the sins of the nation Israel, and you could read it that way. As John points out in an editorial note, he was speaking as the high priest, and so was making a legitimate prophecy (v.51). God honored this wicked man because he held a legitimate seat in Israel’s government. Remember, no matter how wicked the man in charge of your government, he is still ordained of God (Rom.13:1-7).
So dying for the sins of Israel wasn’t what he meant to say, but it is what the Spirit meant to say through him. God says of the prophets that “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (IIPet.1:21). Caiaphas wasn’t a holy man, but neither was Balaam, and despite his wicked-ness he spoke what God wanted him to say (Num.22:38), and so did wicked Caiaphas. He meant something evil by what he said, but God meant it for good (cf. Gen. 50:20).
Notice though that this high priest only prophesied that Christ would die for “that nation” (11:51), i.e. the nation of Israel. This is all the prophets knew (Isa.53:8; Mt.1:21; 20:28) until Paul (ITim.2: 5,6). It sounds like John is saying otherwise (11:52) but “the children of God” can’t be Gentiles, for they were not children of God (Mt. 15:26). These were Jews who were “scattered abroad” (11:52 cf. Ezek.11:15-17), who will be gathered into the kingdom when the Lord returns and fills them again with His Spirit (Ezek. 11:19,20).
When these religious leaders determined to kill the Lord (11:53) it showed His trial was a sham. But did you ever wonder how the Lord “knew” their plan (v.54)? We just read a private backroom conversation, but the Lord was a prophet (Deut.18:18) and they just knew things like this (cf. II Ki. 6:11,12). In response to this plot, he left town to fin-ish training the apostles (11:54), and live to fulfill proph-ecies like Zechariah 9:9. He knew His Bible, and so knew if He left town the heat would die down (cf.IISam.27:4). He also left town as a judgment on those leaders (cf. Isa. 30:20). The worst judgment God can give is to withdraw teachers of His Word, which means that teachers are the best blessing He can give—a good reason to be in church!
Ephraim (11:54) meant to be fruitful in the land of affliction (Gen.41:52), and the Lord was bearing fruit among the apostles during this time of His affliction. The religious people coming to purify themselves (11:55) would soon be calling for His blood—that’s religion for you!