Where the world comes to study the Bible

Exegetical Commentary on John 11

OUTLINE:

    [3 A The Book of the Seven Signs (2:1 - 12:50)]

      3 B Days of Preparation: Jesus advances toward the hour of death and glory (11:1-12:36)

        1 C The seventh Sign, in Bethany: Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44)

          1 D Jesus hears of and responds to the sickness of his friend Lazarus (11:1-10)

          2 D Jesus reveals that Lazarus has died (11:11-16)

          3 D Jesus and his disciples arrive at Bethany (11:17-19)

          4 D Martha comes out to meet Jesus: Jesus reveals himself as the Resurrection and the Life (11:20-27)

          5 D Mary comes out to meet Jesus: Jesus weeps (11:28-37)

          6 D The miracle at the tomb: Lazarus is raised from the dead (11:38-44)

        2 C The response: the Sanhedrin condemns Jesus to death (11:45-57)

          1 D The meeting of the Jewish leaders (11:45-48)

          2 D Caiaphas addresses the Sanhedrin (11:49-53)

          3 D Jesus withdraws to Ephraim (11:54)

          4 D The crowds in Jerusalem seek Jesus (11:55-57)

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Albright, W. F., “The Ephraim of the Old and New Testament,” Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society 3 (1923): 36-40.

Bammel, E., “Joh 11,45-47,” in The Trial of Jesus: Cambridge Studies in honour of C. F. D. Moule, ed. E. Bammel (Napierville, IL: Allenson, 1970): 11-40.

Cadman, W. H., “The Raising of Lazarus,” Studia Evangelica 1 [= Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 73] (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1959): 423-34.

Dodd, C. H., “The Prophecy of Caiaphas: John 11:47-53,” in his More New Testament Studies (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968): 58-68.

Dunkerley, R., “Lazarus,” New Testament Studies 5 (1958/59): 321-27.

Martin, J. P., “History and Eschatology in the Lazarus Narrative, John 11.1-44,” Scottish Journal of Theology 17 (1964): 332-43.

McNeil, B., “The Raising of Lazarus,” Downside Review 92 (1974): 269-75.

Osborne, B., “A Folded Napkin in an Empty Tomb: John 11:44 and 20:7 Again,” Heythrop Journal 14 (1973): 437-40.

Reiser, W. E., “The Case of the Tidy Tomb: The Place of the Napkins of John 11:44 and 20:7,” Heythrop Journal 14 (1973): 47-57.

Romaniuk, K., “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” Concilium 60 (1970): 68-77.

Sanders, J. N., “Those Whom Jesus Loved: St. John 11,5,” New Testament Studies 1 (1954/55): 29-76.

Trudinger, P., “A ‘Lazarus Motif’ in Primitive Christian Preaching,” Andover Newton Quarterly 7 (1966): 29-32.

Trudinger, P., “The Raising of Lazarus—A Brief Response,” Downside Review 94 (1976): 287-90.

Wilcox, M., “The ‘Prayer’ of Jesus in John XI,41b-42,” New Testament Studies 24 (1977/78): 128-32.

DETAILED EXEGETICAL NOTES:

      3 B Days of Preparation: Jesus advances toward the hour of death and glory (11:1-12:36)

        1 C The seventh Sign, in Bethany: Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44)

Introduction: R. Brown gives an excellent summary of the significance of the miracle in chapter 11 for the Evangelist and its place in the structure of the narrative:

We suggest that here we have another instance of the pedagogical genius of the Fourth Gospel. The Synoptic Gospels present Jesus’ condemnation as a reaction to his whole career and to the many things that he had said and done. In the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, we are told in Luke xix 37 that, much to the discontent of the Pharisees, the people were praising Jesus because “of all the mighty miracles they had seen.” The Fourth Gospel is not satisfied with such a generalization. It is neither sufficiently dramatic nor clear-cut to say that all Jesus’ miracles led to enthusiasm on the part of some and hate on the part of others. And so the writer has chosen to take one miracle and to make this the primary representative of all the mighty miracles of which Luke speaks. With a superb sense of development he has chosen a miracle in which Jesus raises a dead man. All Jesus’ miracles are signs of what he is and what he has come to give man, but in none of them does the sign more closely approach the reality than in the gift of life. The physical life that Jesus gives to Lazarus is still not in the realm of the life from above, but it is so close to that realm that it may be said to conclude the ministry of signs and inaugurate the ministry of glory. Thus, the raising of Lazarus provides an ideal transition, the last sign in the Book of Signs leading into the Book of Glory. Moreover, the suggestion that the supreme miracle of giving life to man leads to the death of Jesus offers a dramatic paradox worthy of summing up Jesus’ career. And finally, if a pattern of sevens had any influence…, the addition of the Lazarus miracle gave the seventh sign to the Book of Signs.99

Note also another effect that the sequence of the sign miracles chosen by the Evangelist has produced. In 11:37 the Jews recall the healing of the man born blind (chapter 9). There are some interesting parallels between the two miracles. In chapter 9 the healing of the blind man was a dramatization of Jesus as the Light of the world (8:12); the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11 is a dramatization of Jesus as the Life (cf. 14:6). Note that these two themes, light and life, were both used in the Prologue (1:4) to describe the relationship of the Word to men. Just as the preincarnate Word gave physical life and light to men in creation (1:2), so Jesus as the Word incarnate gives spiritual life and light to men who come to him.

          1 D Jesus hears of and responds to the sickness of his friend Lazarus (11:1-10)

11:1 There is no specific time note at the beginning of 11:1. I suspect the incident described here took place some time before the final Passion week, which would help to explain its absence from the synoptic accounts (which deal primarily with the Passion week). Since Peter is not mentioned between John 6:68 and 13:6, some have suggested that he remained behind in Galilee and did not arrive in Jerusalem until just before the week of the Passion. Peter’s absence from the scene may also be suggested by the observation that Thomas, not Peter, serves as spokesman for the Twelve in 11:16. If Peter were absent, it may further explain the absence of this miracle from the synoptic accounts, especially if we take Mark to be the personal reminiscences of Peter, and Matthew to be dependent on Mark at this point. This still does not explain the absence of the miracle from Luke’s account, but Luke is probably giving us selected episodes like John rather than a full account. I do not think this answers all the questions over the absence of the raising of Lazarus from the synoptic gospels, but it helps.

Lavzaro" ajpoV Bhqaniva" R. Brown thinks Lazarus is probably symbolic of all Christians, that is, all whom Jesus love (11:3, also 11:11).100 He points out that 3 John 15 uses this title (oiJ fivloi) for Christians in general. (This does not mean that he denies the basic historicity of the account, however, as some do who take the account to be fictional.) There may be something to be said for this idea. In fact, from the beginning the author of the Gospel points out the symbolic significance of the miracle—to insure that none of his readers will miss it. Just as he pointed out in 9:3 that the blindness of the man was for the purpose of having God’s works revealed in him, so in 11:4 Jesus points out that Lazarus’ sickness is for God’s glory; God’s glory will be manifested only when the Son is glorified (note how this prepares for the Book of Glory, chapters 13 -20). Note the Johannine wordplays: The reason the sickness is not to end in death (11:9) is because Jesus will give life, that is, physical life as a sign of eternal life. The miracle will glorify Jesus, not so much in that people will praise him for it, but in the sense that it will lead to his death, which is a stage in his glorification (12:23-24; 17:1). To the extent that Jesus gives eternal life to all whom he loves, i.e., Christians, Lazarus can be seen as representative in that Jesus gives him physical life.

11:2 h deV MariaVm hJ ajleivyasa toVn kuvrion muvrw/It is a bit surprising that John here identifies Mary as “the one who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair,” since this event is not mentioned until later in 12:3. Many see this “proleptic” reference as indication that John expected his readers to be familiar with the story already, and go on to assume that in general the Evangelist in writing the Fourth Gospel assumed his readers were familiar with the other three. Whether the Evangelist assumed actual familiarity with the synoptic gospels or not, it is probable that he did assume some familiarity with Mary’s anointing activity.

11:3 ajpevsteilan ou aiJ ajdelfaiV The sisters sent word to Jesus that their brother was ill. They do not specifically ask him to come, perhaps because they realize the danger involved in coming so close to Jerusalem at this time (cf. 11:8). But it seems clear that this is a request for some sort of help, even though it is not specific.

11:4 au{th hJ ajsqevneia oujk e[stin proV" qavnaton Here Jesus plainly states the purpose of Lazarus’ illness in the plan of God: the end of the matter would not be death, but the glorification of the Son. Johannine double-meanings abound here: death will not be the end of the matter, but Lazarus is going to die; and ultimately his death and resurrection will lead to the death and resurrection of the Son of God (11:45-53). And furthermore, the glorification of the Son is not praise that comes to him for the miracle, but his death, resurrection, and return to the Father which the miracle precipitates (note the response of the Jewish authorities in 11:47-53).

11:6 tovte meVn e[meinen ejn w/| h tovpw/ duvo hJmevra" We are told that when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he remained in the place where he was two days. Some have suggested that the ou indicates that Jesus deliberately waited for Lazarus to die. But we are told in 11:39 that when Jesus had reached Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days. So he may have been dead already by the time the messengers reached Jesus. It may be that Jesus waited longer so that it would be unmistakeably clear that a miraculous resurrection, rather than simply a resuscitation, had taken place; but there is nothing in the narrative that implies this was the reason for the delay. Perhaps it is better to understand this simply as an indication that Jesus’ timing was always deliberate and in the will of God.

11:7-8 e[peita metaV tou'to These words put a bit more emphasis on the time delay discussed in the preceding verse.

11:9-10 toV fw'" tou' kovsmou touvtou blevpei “…if anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.” What is the “light of this world” (11:9)? Literally, of course, it is the sun, but the reader of the Gospel would recall 8:12 and understand Jesus’ symbolic reference to himself as the Light of the world. There is only a limited time left (dwvdeka w|raiv eijsin th'" hJmevra") until the Light will be withdrawn, and the one who walks at night will stumble (compare the departure of Judas by night in 13:30).

Several things in verses 7-10 (also verse 16) tie the story to the preceding chapters, particularly the attempts to stone Jesus (compare especially 10:31), and his taking refuge by leaving Judea and going across the Jordan. Compare 11:9-10 with 9:4, where there is the same emphasis on taking advantage of the light while it is available.

          2 D Jesus reveals that Lazarus has died (11:11-16)

11:11 The disciples misunderstand Jesus’ reference to Lazarus’ sleep (11:11) and to a journey to wake him (that is, raise him from death). As usual, the misunderstanding leads Jesus to explain “plainly” what he means (11:14) and to give more of the theological significance of what is taking place (11:15). The explanation is the same as 11:4, but in verse 4 the relation of the miracle to God and to the Son of God is emphasized (glory to God and the glorification of the Son) while in verse 15 the relation of the miracle to the disciples is pointed out: belief. Note how this relates to the miracle at Cana (2:11): “This beginning of signs Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee, and manifested his glory, and his disciples believed in him. Thus, within the structure of the narrative there is an inclusion: the first sign and the seventh sign are related.

11:14 Lavzaro" ajpevqanen Jesus’ open statement to the disciples about the death of Lazarus is best understood as another example (compare 2:25 and 4:18) of his supernatural knowledge, since the messengers only brought word that Lazarus was sick.

11:15 kaiV caivrw Jesus’ statement that he “rejoices” over the death of his friend still comes as something of a shock, as it must certainly have been for his disciples. Yet he rejoices on their behalf, because he knows that the outcome of Lazarus’ death, the miracle which he is going to perform, will become the occasion of the disciples’ belief.

i{na pisteuvshte Why does Jesus make this statement? It seems necessary to understand the disciples belief here in some developmental sense, because there are numerous references to the disciples faith previous to this in the Gospel, notably 2:11. Their concept of who Jesus is is continually being expanded and challenged; they are undergoing spiritual growth; the climax is reached in the confession of Thomas in 20:28, which involves not just messiahship or kingship, but Jesus’ deity.

11:16 a[gwmen kaiV hJmei'" i{na ajpoqavnwmen met= aujtou' One gets the impression from Thomas’ statement that he is something of a pessimist resigned to his fate. And yet his dedicated loyalty to Jesus and his determination to accompany him at all costs is commendable. Nor is the contrast between this statement and the confession of Thomas in 20:28, which forms the climax of the entire Fourth Gospel, to be overlooked; certainly Thomas’ concept of who Jesus is has changed drastically between 11:16 and 20:28.

          3 D Jesus and his disciples arrive at Bethany (11:17-19)

11:17 =ElqwVn ou oJ =Ihsou'" There is no description of the journey itself. We are simply told that when Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. He was buried some time before this but probably not very long (cf. Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:6,10 who were buried immediately after they died, as was the common practice of the time). There is some later evidence (early 3rd century) of a rabbinic belief that the soul hovered near the body of the deceased for three days, hoping to be able to return to the body. But on the fourth day it saw the beginning of decomposition and finally departed (Leviticus Rabbah 18.1). If this belief were as old as the first century, it might suggest the significance of the four days: after this time, resurrection would be a first-order miracle, an unequivocal demonstration of the power of God. It is not certain if the tradition is this early, but it is suggestive. Certainly the Evangelist does not appear to attach any symbolic significance to the four days in the narrative.

11:18 wJ" ajpoV stadivwn dekapevnte Here we find a typical Johannine note to the reader: the location of this Bethany is given precisely as 15 stadia from Jerusalem. This would be about 1.75 miles (2.7 km).

11:19 polloiV deV ejk tw'n =Ioudaivwn The nearness of Bethany to Jerusalem also explains why “many of the Jews” came out to console Mary and Martha upon their bereavement. At least some of these would have probably been opponents of Jesus.101

          4 D Martha comes out to meet Jesus: Jesus reveals himself as the Resurrection and the Life (11:20-27)

11:20 MavrqaMariavm Notice the difference in the response of the sisters: Martha comes out to meet Jesus, while Mary stays in the house. It is similar to the incident in Luke 10:38-42. Here again we find Martha occuppied with the responsibilities of hospitality; she is the one who greets Jesus.

11:21 kuvrie, eij h" w|de Martha’s statement to Jesus is a commendable expression of faith: she believed that had Jesus been there, he would have healed her brother. We are not told whether Martha knew of the two days Jesus delayed in coming, but she would have known approximately how long it took for the message to reach him. Still, there appears to be no indication of rebuke in the statement, but only genuine regret.

11:22 ajllaV kaiV nu'n oida o{ti o{sa a]n aijthvsh/ toVn qeoVn dwvsei soi oJ qeov" This statement by Martha presents something of a dilemma, because she seems to be suggesting here (implicitly at least) the possibility of a resurrection for her brother. Martha’s statement in 11:39, “Lord, he already smells (i.e., his body is already decomposing) because he has been dead four days,” makes it clear that she had no idea that a resurrection was still possible. How then are we to take the words in 11:22? It seems best to take them as a confession of Marthas continuing faith in Jesus even though he was not there in time to help her brother. She means, in effect, “Even though you weren’t here in time to help, I still believe that God grants your requests.”

11:23 Jesus’ remark to Martha that Lazarus would rise again is another example of the misunderstood statement. Martha apparently took it as a customary statement of consolation, and joins Jesus in professing belief in the general resurrection of the body at the end of the age. However, as Jesus goes on to point out in 25-26, Marthas general understanding of the resurrection at the last day is inadequate for the present situation, for the gift of life that conquers death is a present reality to Jesus. This is consistent with the Evangelist’s perspective on eternal life in the Fourth Gospel: it is not only a future reality, but something to be experienced in the present as well. It is also consistent with the so-called ‘realized eschatology’ of the Fourth Gospel.

11:25a ejgwv eijmi hJ ajnavstasi" kaiV hJ zwhv Note in particular: first Jesus says “I am the resurrection”—this is the direct answer to Martha’s profession of 24 and (while not excluding the final resurrection) tells her of the present realization of what she expects on the last day. Second, Jesus says, “I am the life” (cf. 14:6). It is probably not too much to see significance in the use of ejgwv eijmi here (cf. 6:35, 8:58). Jesus does not simply say that he gives resurrection and life, but that he is resurrection and life. In him the life of the age to come, after the resurrection, is already present and available.

11:25b-26 These two statements are expanded in 25b and 26. Jesus is the resurrection in the sense that whoever believes in him, although he dies physically, will live spiritually. Jesus is the life in the sense that whoever lives spiritually—whoever has received the gift of life through belief in Jesus—will never die a spiritual death.

Note: Some have understood 25-26 otherwise, notably Bultmann, Lagrange, and Hoskyns:

11:25 Belief, despite physical death, will lead to eternal life;

11:26 physical life combined with belief will not be subject to death.

More accurately, though, in light of John’s consistent use of zwhv to refer to spiritual life:

11:25 The one who believes, even if he dies physically, will live spiritually.

11:26 The one who believes, who is alive spiritually, will never die spiritually.

The second interpretation is held by Bernard, Dodd, Brown, and Carson. This seems to fit much better in the framework of Johannine thought. As such, it is a powerful statement of the believers security (cf. 10:28).

11:27 kuvrie, ejgwV pepivsteuka Here we have Martha’s response: She has believed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God. Probably we are to understand this to be a significant but still inadequate concept of who Jesus is: it is good for a beginning, but Martha doesn’t realize the full force of “the One who comes into the world”—that in the person of Jesus the incarnate Word, the Life and Light have already come into the world (cf. Prologue 1:4,9). Eternal life, instead of being something remote in the world to come, is here now in the person of Jesus! So Jesus, to make Martha (and the others) understand that he has the power to give life now, will act out a drama of the gift of life by raising Lazarus. He is not rejecting her traditional titles, but demonstrating the deeper truth that lies behind them concerning his own person and work.

          5 D Mary comes out to meet Jesus: Jesus weeps (11:28-37)

11:30 ou[pw deV ejlhluvqei The Evangelist here gives us another parenthetical note: Jesus had not yet entered the village of Bethany proper, but was still in the place where Martha went out to meet him (11:20) while the preceding conversation took place.

11:31 When Mary heard that Jesus was calling for her, she got up and left quickly (tacevw"). The Jews who were with her consoling her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep there, followed her. The effect of their action was to ensure that the following miracle had many witnesses and would therefore be publicized widely.

11:32 Note the similarity of Mary’s words to Jesus to those of her sister (11:21).

11:33 ejnebrimhvsato tw'/ pneuvmati How do we explain the reaction of Jesus? The verb ejnebrimhvsato (repeated in 11:38) indicates a strong display of emotion, somewhat difficult to translate—”shuddered, moved with the deepest emotions.” In the LXX, the verb and its cognates are used to describe a display of indignation (Dan 11:30, for example—see also Mark 14:5). Jesus displayed this reaction to the afflicted in Mark 1:43, Matt 9:30. Was he angry at the afflicted? No, but he was angry because he found himself face-to-face with the manifestations of Satans kingdom of evil.102 Here, the realm of Satan was represented by death.

kaiV ejtavraxen eJautovn The verb taravssw (11:33) also occurs in similar contexts to that of ejnebrimhvsato. John uses it in 14:1 and 27 to describe the reaction of the disciples to the imminent death of Jesus, and in 13:21 the verb describes how Jesus reacted to the thought of being betrayed by Judas, into whose heart Satan had entered.

11:35 ejdavkrusen oJ =Ihsou'" The word used here for Jesus’ weeping is different from the one used to describe the weeping of Mary and the Jews in verse 33 which indicated loud wailing and cries of lament. This word simply means “to shed tears” and has more the idea of quiet grief. But why did Jesus do this? Not out of grief for Lazarus, since he was about to be raised to life again. Morris (558) thinks it is grief over the misconception of those round about. But it seems to me that in the context the weeping is triggered by the thought of Lazarus in the tomb: this was not personal grief over the loss of a friend (since Lazarus was about to be restored to life) but grief over the effects of sin, death, and the realm of Satan. It was a natural complement to the previous emotional expression of anger (11:33). It is also possible that Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus because he knew there was also a tomb for himself ahead.

          6 D The miracle at the tomb: Lazarus is raised from the dead (11:38-44)

Introduction: Note how the stage has been set: 11:36 recalls that Lazarus is the beloved. 11:37 calls to mind the healing of the blind man—and the theme of Jesus as the Light of the world. 11:40 ties together the theme of belief which Jesus spoke to Martha about in 11:25-26, and the theme of glory from 11:4. This mention of glory gives an inclusion within the chapter. But it also forms (together with 11:4) an inclusion with the Cana miracle (2:11) bringing together the first and last of the signs. And it serves as a transition to the Book of Glory, the second half of the Gospel.

After his prayer of thanksgiving, Jesus calls Lazarus out. Characteristically, John’s account is brief (compare the account of the wedding feast at Cana, 2:1-11); the details of the miracle itself are unimportant. What is important is that Jesus has given physical life as a sign of his power to give eternal life in the present (realized eschatology) and as a promise that on the last day he will raise the dead (final eschatology).

Compare chapter 11 with 5:26-30 —

      11:17

      Lazarus is in the tomb

      11:43

      Jesus cries out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

      11:25

      “I am the resurrection, and the life.”

5:28-29 - “An hour is coming when those who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come forth, those who have done what is right to a resurrection of life…”

Although there is a sense in which the raising of Lazarus could be seen as the fulfillment of 5:28-29, it is important to remember that the miracle in chapter 11 is but a preliminary and limited demonstration of that which will be universally true in the future. To conceive of Johannine ‘realized eschatology’ in such a way that chapter 11 represents the total fulfillment of 5:28-29 is to misunderstand the significance of the miracle as a proleptic ‘sign-miracle’ designed to point out who Jesus is by demonstrating that he can do what only God can do.

11:39 h[dh o[zei, tetartai'o" gavr ejstin Although all the details of the miracle itself are not given, those details which are mentioned are important. The statement made by Martha is extremely significant for our understanding of what actually took place. We are left in no doubt that Lazarus had really died, because the decomposition of his body had already begun to take place since he had been dead for four days.

11:40 o[yh/ thVn dovxan tou' qeou' Note Jesus’ reference to the revelation of the glory of God. For him (as for the Evangelist) this is the primary purpose of the miracle. Compare 11:4—it appears that this statement recalls the words of Jesus to the messengers who brought word of Lazarus’ illness. There Jesus linked the glory of God with the glorification of the Son which the miracle is going to precipitate (see notes on 11:4).

11:41-42 h[kousav" mou It appears that when Jesus prays audibly, he refers to a prayer already made and answered (eujcaristw' soi o{ti h[kousav" mou). The audible prayer of thanksgiving is for the benefit of the bystanders—in order that they might believe that God had sent him.

11:43 fwnh'/ megavlh/ ejkrauvgasen: The purpose of the “loud voice” was probably to ensure that all in the crowd could hear—compare the purpose of the prayer of thanksgiving in verses 41-42.

11:44 ejxh'lqen oJ teqnhkwV" Many have wondered how Lazarus got out of the tomb if he was still bound with the graveclothes. The Evangelist does not tell us, and with a miracle of this magnitude, it is of no importance that we know. If Lazarus’ decomposing body was brought back to life by the power of God, then it could certainly have been moved out of the tomb by that same power. Others have suggested that the legs were bound separately, which would remove the difficulty, but the account gives no indication of this. What may be of more significance for the Evangelist is the comparison which this picture naturally evokes with the resurrection of Jesus, where the graveclothes stayed in the tomb neatly folded (20:6-7). Jesus, unlike Lazarus, would never have need of graveclothes again.

        2 C The Response: The Sanhedrin condemns Jesus to death (11:45-57)

          1 D The meeting of the Jewish leaders (11:45-48)

11:45-46 The response to the miracle is mixed. We are told that many of those Jews who witnessed it believed in Jesus (ejpivsteusan eij" aujtovn). But others went to the Pharisees and reported the things which Jesus had done. In the context there can be no doubt that they did so out of hostility to Jesus. The result (ou , vs. 47) was a gathering of the chief priests and Pharisees to consider what to do about Jesus.

11:47 sunevdrion The sunevdrion which they gathered was probably an informal meeting rather than the official Sanhedrin. This is the only occurrence of the word sunevdrion in the Gospel of John, and the only anarthrous singular use in the NT. There are other plural anarthrous uses which have the general meaning “councils”. The fact that Caiaphas in 11:49 is referred to as “a certain one of them” supports the unofficial nature of the meeting; in the official Sanhedrin he, being high priest that year, would have presided over the assembly. Thus it appears that an informal council was called to discuss what to do about Jesus and his activities.

11:48 The consensus of those meeting together was that if Jesus were left alone, “all will put their trust in him” (pisteuvsousin eij" aujtovn). This was probably an exaggeration on their part, but it indicates the Jewish leaders’ fear. And if a majority of the general populace were caught up in a frenzy of messianic expectations, the Romans would not stand idly by.

          2 D Caiaphas addresses the Sanhedrin (11:49-53)

11:49-50 ajrciereuV" w]n tou' ejniautou' ejkeivnou Some (e.g. Bultmann) have held that the reference to Caiaphas being high priest “that year” betrays a lack of knowledge about Palestinian customs, since the high priest was appointed for life, and the statement in this verse sounds as if he were appointed to a yearly term of office. But the genitive phrase tou' ejniautou' ejkeivnou is better understood as a genitive of the time “during which” he was high priest.103 It was during that fateful year that Caiaphas was the high priest.

sumfevrei uJmi'n i{na ei|" a[nqrwpo" ajpoqavnh/ Caiaphas’ words constitute a case of “unconscious prophecy” —as the author’s explanatory note in 11:51-52 points out. In his own mind Caiaphas was giving voice to a common-sense statement of political expediency. Yet he was unconsciously echoing a saying of Jesus himself (cf. Mark 10:45). Caiaphas was right; the death of Jesus would save the nation from destruction. Yet Caiaphas could not suspect that Jesus would die, not in place of the political nation Israel, but on behalf of the true people of God; and he would save them not from physical destruction but from eternal destruction (cf. John 3:16). The understanding of Caiaphas’ words in a sense Caiaphas could not possibly have imagined at the time he uttered them serves as a clear example of the way in which the Evangelist understands that words and actions can be invested retrospectively with a meaning not consciously intended or understood by those present at the time.

11:52 oujc uJpeVr tou' e[qnou" movnon The Evangelist in his comment expands the prophecy to include the Gentiles as well—this is a confirmation that the Fourth Gospel was directed, at least partly, to a Gentile audience. There are echoes of Pauline concepts here (particularly Eph 2:11-22) in the stress on the unity of Jew and Gentile (sunagavgh/ eij" e{n).

11:53 ejbouleuvsanto The parenthetical remark by the Evangelist concludes at the end of 11:52. Now the Evangelist returns to the decision of the council: from that day forward they sought for ways and means of putting Jesus to death, as a way to resolve the problem.

          3 D Jesus withdraws to Ephraim (11:54)

11:54 eij" =EfraiVm legomevnhn povlin There is no certain identification of the location to which Jesus withdrew in response to the decision of the Jewish authorities. Many have suggested the present town of Et-Taiyibeh, identified with ancient Ophrah (Joshua 18:23) or Ephron (Joshua 15:9). If so, this would be 12-15 miles (19-24 km) northeast of Jerusalem. Jesus apparently did spend some time there (e[meinen) with his disciples.

          4 D The crowds in Jerusalem seek Jesus (11:55-57)

These verses form the transition to the scenes of chapter 12.

11:55 toV pavsca tw'n =Ioudaivwn This is the final passover of Jesus’ ministry. We are now on the eve of the week of the Passion. Some time prior to the feast itself, Jerusalem would be crowded with pilgrims from the surrounding districts (ejk th'" cwvra") who had come to purify themselves ceremonially before the feast.

11:56 ouj mhV e[lqh/ eij" thVn eJorthvn… Questions asked with mhv anticipate a negative response, while the Greek double negative ouj mhv indicates strong negation. The force of the question here is, “Surely he [Jesus] won’t be so foolish as to come to the Feast, will he?”

11:57 dedwvkeisanejntolaV" The danger for Jesus is underscored by the order which the religious authorities had given: anyone who knew anything of where Jesus was must report it, so that he might be arrested.

We are now practically at the close of Jesus’ public ministry. Many of the events of the Passion week took place privately, in the Upper Room, and are recorded in chapters 13-17. The transition to these events takes place in chapter 12.


99 Brown, The Gospel According to John, 429-30 [emphasis his].

100 Brown, The Gospel According to John, 431.

101 See however R. G. Bratcher, “‘The Jews’ in the Gospel of John,” Bible Translator 26 (1975): 401-409.

102 For those familar with the works of C. S. Lewis, it is instructive to compare Ransom’s reaction to the mutilated animals in chapter 9 of Perelandra (New York: Macmillan, 1944), 108-111.

103 See BDF 186.2.

Related Topics: Christology