Throughout John’s Gospel we have seen this dual reaction to Jesus. People see the signs and hear His words and trust in Him, sometimes for all the wrong reasons, or they think He poses some sort of threat to the status quo. We don’t often see a neutral stance. Here in chapter 11, things reach a climax. The Pharisees and chief priests decide that Jesus must die.
Their reasoning behind this decision is fascinating. Instead of seeing Jesus and His signs as a wonderful, hopeful thing—a man who can heal the sick, raise the dead and teaches of reconciliation with God—they see Him as nothing more than a threat. They fear the people’s reaction to Jesus will cause the Romans to come and take away their “place” (the Temple) and their nation. In spite of the fact that the priests here are likely referring to the temple, they are also really talking about their position of power and authority. They want to protect the status quo where Jews are permitted to exercise their religion and a degree of self-government. Both of those things empower the ruling class.
Caiaphas declares that it is preferable for one man to die than for the whole nation to suffer. They decide to get Jesus killed. The irony here is that this is all a part of God’s plan. That doesn’t wash away the evil and guilt of this cabal’s decision, but God repeatedly shows an ability to use the free will of mankind—even used for evil—to accomplish His perfect plan. Jesus will die for His people, both the believing Jews and all those who will follow Him scattered throughout the earth and throughout time.
The ultimate irony is that the fears of the ruling class were fulfilled anyway some 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. That John doesn’t mention this fact might argue for a pre-70 date for the writing of this Gospel.