Jesus Died for the Nations

Yesterday was Good Friday and we wait to celebrate the resurrection tomorrow. It may look dark but Sunday’s coming. We look forward with anticipation because we look back on those events through the knowledge of the first Easter morning.

In my reading this week I discovered a chilling passage of Scripture:

Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. 48 If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” 51 Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they planned together to kill Him. (John 11:47-53)

First off, notice the motivation of these religious leaders… basically they are saying, if we let Jesus go on like this, the government will come down on us and take our place and our nation. So, they were not concerned for the people, they feared losing their position in society and with the Roman leadership. How often are we also afraid of allowing Jesus control over our lives because we might lose position or status in the community? It may not be like losing your job. It may be more subtle, like “hiding our light under a bushel,” but we do it.

Next, Caiaphas declared that it is better for one man to die (kill this blasphemous rebel) rather than for the people to be led astray. I love John’s commentary at this point, that the High Priest spoke prophetically without realizing it. The reason for this post is to look at the words John used in this passage…

In John 11:50, Caiaphas mentions one man dying for the people. In Greek, the word laos is used, basically, the laity. The same is used today in reference to people in the church. For the most part, and for clarity, the word laity has been used as the people in the church, separated from those who may be considered professional clergy. Caiaphas says that the one man would die for the people, and he adds, in order to save the nation, ethnos, in Greek. He was referring to the nation of Israel under Roman rule.

But in John 11:51-52, notice how the Holy Spirit leads John to write about this prophetic utterance. He does not use the word laos, but rather ethnos. Jesus was not just dying for the people (laos as Caiaphas says), he was dying for the nation. But not just the Jewish nation, Jesus was dying for everyone, all the the nations. This is a great mission passage and we often just read over it on our way to more significant elements in the story.

This is the story of the cross, the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). We are commanded to make disciples of all nations, pas ethnos, “all of the nations.” All these nations will be gathered together into one family of God (John 11:52). If you are a believer in person and work of Jesus, he died for you that day, and for all who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior.

[Image: Adrian Schiller as Caiaphas in Son of God.]

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