In the aftermath of Jesus’ miraculous raising of Lazarus after four days in the tomb it seems outrageous that there were remarkably different reactions from the onlookers. We’re not surprised that some of those present believed in Jesus. The miracle, bolstered by the instruction of Jesus, resulted in the faith of some that day. What seems so strange is that others, seeing the same miracle, went to the Jewish religious authorities to report Jesus. How, we wonder, could anyone hear the words of Jesus and see his awesome power and not believe?
Unbelief, however, is not passive. It is a stubborn thing. It requires a lot of effort to refuse to believe what God has made clear in creation and upon the conscience. The ones who reported Jesus to the religious authorities witnessed a miracle and yet did not believe. The authorities themselves had already acknowledged that Jesus had performed miraculous acts of healing. But even now, in the face of a resurrection, they finalize their decision to kill him.
In a moment of divinely inspired irony, Caiaphas, the High Priest, settled the issue by offering the final justification for their plan to kill Jesus: “It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (vs. 50). Caiaphas had no idea of the true significance of his words, which John characterizes as a word of prophecy (albeit, unintentional on Caiaphas’ part). He had no idea that their actions were being directed by the hand of Divine providence to bring about the salvation of a vast host of people from every nation. What is more, this is happening just as the Feast of Passover begins. Jesus, the Lamb of God will soon enter the holy city to offer himself up to his executioners. He will shoulder the wrath of Divine judgment that every sinner who believes may receive mercy. He will bring about that great and final exodus of his people from their slavery to sin.