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John 11:45-57 Study Guide: Under Pressure

Community Group Study Guide — Under Pressure
John 11:45-57

Study Information:
You would think that the people who witnessed Lazarus being raised from the dead would have left with a stronger faith and tremendous joy. But, no good deed goes unpunished. Many did “believe in Jesus” but we read in John 11:46 that a group went and told the Pharisees what happened. They were not spreading the good news, but bringing accusation and news that people were following Jesus in large numbers. Instead of believing the signs, the religious leaders desired to put Jesus to death. If they let Jesus go on like this they risked losing their nation and their power. Why would they refuse to believe the signs and why was their nation at risk because of Jesus? There are many factors, but John brings out one big one that has been mostly unnamed to this point in his gospel: the political pressure of the time.

Political Pressure: Rome and Jewish Pushback
John 11:45-48
The political situation in Jerusalem in AD 33 was wild. Rome had a major shift just 60-70 years before Jesus was born. The nation went from a republic to being run by an emperor. Julius Caesar was a successful military general who brought his army from the outskirts of the nation back with him into Rome and took control as emperor. He reigned for a couple years as emperor, under a ten year agreement; but was assassinated after grabbing more power when he appointed himself “emperor for life.” There was a war for succession and Julius Caesar’s adopted son Augustus won and took charge. During Julius Caesar’s reign he had declared himself “God among them”; Augustus ran with this and would rule with the title “son of God.” This led to a cult of worship of whoever the current Caesar was as being divine. Rome had a massive empire and kept the peace with two strategies. First, they allowed for a lot of religious tolerance as long as you worshipped the Caesar as the “son of God” and second, they violently crushed rebellion. How would the Jews respond to this kind of environment? 

Rome conquered the land of Israel in 63 BC and the Jews developed an uneasy truce with Rome. It was in Rome’s economic interest to keep Israel peaceful since so much trade and troop movement went through the land. They installed a puppet Jewish King in 40 BC - in this case Herod the great (during the time Jesus was born), and later on his son Herod Antipas (during the adulthood of Jesus). In this uneasy truce, Rome would not push for the Jews to worship Caesar as long as the peace was kept. Two groups of Jewish religious leaders adopted two different strategies. The Sadducees were politically entangled with Rome. They were mainly noble, wealthy and priestly families. They also made up the majority of the Jewish “supreme court” the Sanhedrin and the high priest was a Sadducee appointed by the Roman governor. The other group, the Pharisees took a different stance and separated from the culture to preserve their religious way. “Pharisee” meant separate one and they did this with an attitude of hostility towards non-Jews and outsiders, and by adding to God’s Law to make themselves distinct. 

Jesus presented a problem for the religious leaders in terms of keeping the peace since so many people were following him. 

The Swelling Popularity of Jesus
John 11:45-46, 49-50
The swelling popularity of Jesus was a problem because if too many people followed him in that politically charged atmosphere, with the crowds calling him “the Christ,” which is the Greek word for King, meant that Rome could easily see it as a revolution in the making. Likewise, the Jewish leaders were threatened by Jesus because he did not fall in line with either of the religious leaders groups, and the common person were “believing in him.” 

They called a council and the high priest silenced everyone saying “none of you get it, do you not know it is better for one man to die rather than the nation perish?” The high priest meant this as a way to keep their power and their nation. 

Unintended Prophecy: It IS better for One Man to Die
John 11:49-57
John tells us that Caiaphas prophesied (spoke truth from God) without knowing it. Caiaphas was trying to protect himself and their nation from the pressure of living under Rome, but God intended these words as a picture of the gospel. God would use this group’s selfish motives to bless the world. Jesus would die so that the nations would not perish. Our salvation is based on substitution. Jesus, the righteous, died for the unrighteous and all this took place around the time of Passover, which was the yearly feast that reminded them of how God delivered them from oppression and slavery in the past (John 11:55). God was not delivering them from Rome, but rather from the oppression and slavery of sin and death. John had already described Jesus as the passover lamb who takes away the sins of the world and is calling that back to us as the readers (John 1:24, 35). Jesus is the savior that God provided, but they chose their nation over the Messiah. 

This passage helps us learn how intense pressure can either push us towards God and living as a blessing to the world, which was the original calling God gave his people; or it can push us towards hostility and separation. Seasons of intense pressure also reveal what we really love and look to for our hope and salvation. We’re all tempted to have something that rivals our love for God. Every person who comes to faith in Christ is called to deny themselves and take up their cross and Jesus warned us that we cannot serve two masters. When following God threatens our idols we can treat Jesus as disposable and get rid of Jesus to project those things. But, what the religious leaders intended for evil God meant for good and to provide salvation to the nations. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:
Read John 11:45-57

What was the political situation of Jerusalem in AD 33 like?

How did the crowd respond to Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead? Read John 11:30-31. Who was in this crowd and why had they gathered together with Martha and Mary?

John tell us this conversation took place during Passover, how does that add to the prophesy from Caiaphas that “it is better for one man to die than the whole nation perish?”

Times of pressure can cause followers of Jesus to be about loving and blessing the world (like the early Christians during times of persecution) or they can often cause us to be self-focused and protective (like the religious leaders under Roman oppression). What are some ways followers of Jesus do during times of pressure to stay faithful to Jesus?