Jesus Our Substitute
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John 11:49-50 (Holman) One of them, Caiaphas, who was High Priest that year, said to them, AYou know nothing at all! You=re not considering that it is to your advantage that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish.@
While others hesitated, one man had made up his mind. Caiaphas had a perfectly clear, definite purpose which would end their vacillation.
The Council had expressed their timid fear, AThe Romans will come.@ In this moment of terror, the High Priest found his chance to interject a foul plan.
Caiaphas, wearing Aaron=s mitre on his brow, embodied centuries of illustrious, noble priestly tradition. Though merciful justice had forsaken all others, surely it would find a dwelling place in the High Priest=s heart. Not this time. Caiaphas= arrogant contempt was a stark contrast to Jesus= gentle love.
Israel found in the High Priest, not Godliness, but a leader morally blind, a schemer totally unspiritual, a cut-throat terribly cruel. The nation=s supreme religious leader proved himself to be an assassin, an accomplice of murderers.
Is it possible Caiaphas stood in the position held by Aaron, who risked his life to stop the death sweeping over Israel (Numbers 16:48); Eleazar, to whom Joshua came when he needed a word from God (Numbers 27:21); Phinehas, whose zeal stopped the plague in Israel (Numbers 25:6-8); Eli, who blessed Hannah and raised Samuel (1 Samuel 1-4); Abiathar and Zadok, who risked life and limb to serve as David=s fifth column during Absalom=s revolt (2 Samuel 15:29); Jehoiada, who courageously overthrew wicked Queen Athaliah (2 Kings 11); and Azariah, who boldly withstood King Uzziah when he trespassed the Holy Place (2 Chronicles 26:17-18)?
How solemn, strange, and sad it is to know the long illustrious line of Aaron=s priesthood ended in a man like this. Aaron=s blessed river ended in a cesspool. And of all years for it to happen in, it was Athat year,@ the year of people=s redemption, as the next verse (51) tells us.
John 11:51-52 He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to unite the scattered children of God.
Though Caiaphas degraded and prostituted the High Priesthood, it was still the most sacred of all human offices. Israel was yet God=s people, and the High Priest was yet their representative. God turned the unscrupulous priest into an unconscious prophet, and let his savage advice be a remarkable prediction.
Sometimes God speaks through us without our even knowing He is doing it. As the hearts of all are in God=s hands, so are all tongues. God can use even the mouths of the wicked.
Laban was kept from speaking harshly to Jacob. Pagan Pilate unwittingly wrote, AThis is the King of the Jews.@ Demons testified Jesus was the Son of God (Matthew 8:29).
Balaam was not allowed to say what he wanted to say when he came to curse Israel. God spoke to Balaam through a donkey, and spoke to Peter through a rooster.
What Caiaphas uttered as a cynical political reality, God meant for us to understand in a much deeper way. AOne man should die for the people@ is nothing more or less than a prediction regarding the purpose of the cross.
Our author John took Caiaphas= narrow, limited words and expanded them to world-wide significance. Caiaphas was speaking of physical life for one nation; John saw in the words spiritual life for the whole world. Caiaphas was unwittingly proclaiming one of the major blessings of the cross B substitution.
Jesus took our place. He endured for us the cross we deserved. Under Napoleon a certain man agreed to enlist in the place of a friend who had been drafted. The substitute was killed in battle. Later another draft was made. When they tried to take the man whose substitute had died, he appealed to the Emperor himself, who ruled in the man=s favor. The man was saved by substitution.
At Ragenbach, Germany, a rabid dog rushed a crowd. A blacksmith ran to meet the dog, seized it, held it down, and yelled to the crowd, AHurry! Better for one to perish than for all.@ The dog tore at the man until it was finally killed.
The crowd re-gathered and wept for the man. The blacksmith said, ABe quiet, my friends; don=t weep for me. I=ve only done my duty.@ He chained himself to the anvil in his shop, and told his friends, ANow it=s done. You are all safe. I cannot hurt you. Give me food while I am well, and keep out of my reach when I am mad. The rest I leave with God.@ In days madness seized him, and he died, a substitute for his friends.
Before modern understanding of disease, plague was making a desert of Marseilles, France. A group of physicians thought it might help if a corpse were dissected, but it would mean death to the surgeon. A celebrated physician, Guyon, said, AI devote myself for the safety of my country.@ He left the room, made his will, and spent the night in prayer. The next morning he dissected a corpse and wrote down all his surgical observations. Before long he died. Substitution is a blessed gift, and our only hope.
John 11:53 So from that day on they plotted to kill Him.
Jesus was already condemned to death before his trial began, mainly due to the influence of the High Priest. Caiaphas= words swayed the day and marked the turning point.
Having said what all others feared to say, his words gave body to their thoughts. They now had a concrete plan around which their thoughts could rally. Evil people confirm, encourage, and worsen one another.
Jesus had to be eliminated. People hate to be disturbed in their sin. When Wilberforce began his crusade against slavery, a nobleman pointed to a picture of the crucifixion and said, AThat is the end of reformers.@
Early in Jesus= ministry, the Pharisees were His chief adversaries. As He approached His Passion, all four Gospels present the priests as His principal opponents. The priests, the ones who offered sacrifices for Israel, would now offer one for all mankind.
It is fitting the High Priest played a strategic role in Jesus= death. The High Priest offered every year the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people.
This was exactly the duty Caiaphas performed here. By his vote and influence, the last legitimate representative of the Aaronic priesthood began the process which led to the sacrifice of the ultimate Victim, the Lamb of God.
John 11:54 Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews but departed from there to the countryside near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim. And He stayed there with the disciples.
When they rejected Jesus, He left for Ephraim, a town 15 miles northeast of Jerusalem. His physical absence pictured God=s spiritual absence from Israel. It was a sad preview of the darkness coming soon on Jerusalem.
John 11:55-57 The Jewish Passover was near, and many went up to Jerusalem from the country to purify themselves before the Passover. They were looking for Jesus and asking one another as they stood in the temple complex: AWhat do you think? He won=t come to the festival, will He?@ The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it so they could arrest Him.
The people were not sure Jesus would come to the Passover. They underestimated the Galilean Carpenter. Fearless and undaunted, Jesus was ready to confront all of Israel=s religious and political leadership.
When Luther was warned against going to the Diet of Worms, he replied, AI would go if there were as many devils in Worms as there are tiles on the housetops.@ Luther=s boldness was merely an imitation of his Master=s courage.
Jesus always causes a stir. He forces people to decide. What will our decision be? For or against Him?