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John 11:48 NASB

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.

How did the chief priests and the Pharisees come to this conclusion? What would it mean for the Romans to take away their nation?

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The Roman government, despite its oppression, allowed most people considerable freedom, on the single requirement that absolute loyalty be shown to Rome and the Emperor. Since this was well-known, it was often used as a scare tactic by people saying something like, "If we/you do that it will be interpreted by Rome as insurrection".

That is, whether accepting Christ would have raised the ire of Rome or not is a rather moot point but it was used by the Sanhedrin in their internal political struggles. [Note - it is always a sign of weakness that an external threat must be used to gain internal unity.]

The fact that Jesus never encouraged dissent from Rome, but instead encouraged loyalty to ruling powers (Matt 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25, see also John 19:11, Rom 13:1-7, Acts 4:27, 28, 1 Tim 2:1, 2, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-17, etc) did not prevent Rome being used as a scare-tactic against their enemy, Jesus.

Note the comments of the Pulpit commentary:

Verse 48. - If we let him alone thus, as we have been doing hitherto - if we suffer him to do these things - all men will believe on him, and the Romans will come and take away from us, i.e. from the Sanhedrin, from the lawful rulers in all matters affecting religious order or privilege, our place - the city or temple - and the nation, which we rule through our subordinates and surrogates, but to accomplish which we shall prove our incompetence if we cannot keep down all insubordination and hold perilous enthusiasm in check. ... Ewald, Godet, Meyer, Watkins, consider τόπον to be the city, the seat of all the power of the nation, spiritual and civil. The nation was a province of the Roman empire, but the hierarchy was still invested with great powers. John 11:48

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Look at the context:

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did [raise Lazarus from the dead], believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone 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 understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (John 11:45–53, ESV)

The Pharisees didn't get along with Jesus because he didn't follow their strict traditions interpreting the Torah and because Jesus reached out to the common people (sinners). After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead the Pharisees feared nothing could stop Jesus. He wasn't the Messiah they wanted so they went along with the Sadducees.

Note the Pharisees' reaction to the Triumphant Entry:

The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” (John 12:17–19, ESV)

The Sadducees, which included the high priest, were in league with the Romans and after anyone claiming to be the Messiah, fearing they would lead a rebellion. Their fears were valid related to false messiahs. Rebellion lead to the destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem.

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The conclusion was natural as both the high priest and the king of Judea were appointed by Rome. Judea had been annexed as a client kingdom of Rome after Pompey's siege of Jerusalem in 63 BC. (1) Caiaphas had been appointed by the Roman prefect (govenor) Valerus Gratus in 18 AD. (2) Herod Antipas (Herod the Great) had been appointed as client king by Mark Antony and the Roman Senate in 37 BC.

The Sadducees held power over the people of Judea through the council and the temple treasure, while the Pharisees claimed elite knowledge of Torah, thus holding power and sway over the teachings of Torah. Both the Sadducees and the Pharisees saw their power being diminished by Jesus' teachings as He was turning the people away from the false teachings of the temple money changers and elitist rabbinical thought which excluded many of the people. (4)

The phrase in John 11:48, "take away both our place and our nation" refers to their appointed positions by their Roman over lords, and to the people of Judea (nation/ race) (5). By losing their appointed positions and control over the people they would lose "their nation," because they considered the land of Judea to be under their control.

Notes:

  1. Pompey - Livius

  2. Caiaphas becomes high priest - Livius

  3. Herod the Great - here

  4. The Pharisee and the Publican - Gracegems

  5. Strong's Gr. 1484, ethnos - Biblehub

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One key angle we neglect sometimes is recognition of what it meant to the Chief Priests and Pharisees to "believe in" Jesus. For these men and their contemporaries, the 'Christ' was to be a King:

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” John 12:12‭-‬19 ESV https://bible.com/bible/59/jhn.12.12-19.ESV

The Pharisees had very little concept of the Christ as a spiritual saviour - they didn't think they had any need of rescue from sin or anything like that, and would struggle to conceive of that being available to others outside of the Temple.

Their concern was Jesus becoming King. If all men believe in him, then Jesus will be King. And if Jesus becomes King over Israel, that is a direct threat to Rome and will result in yet another bloody conflict. And so this is how they accused Jesus when he was arrested:

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. John 19:1‭-‬3 ESV

Indeed, this is the justification they finally used to kill him, and the cause for the crime named against Jesus on his Cross:

Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” John 19:19‭-‬22 ESV

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The institution of Sanhedrin with its high priests was regarded by Romans as a legitimate authority, sanctioned by the Roman Emperor. Thus, religion of Israel enjoyed a status of the religio licita (the licensed religion). Romans even respected the antiquity of Jewish religion, out of which respect and, also, in order not to irritate Jewish religious feelings, did not erect statues of gods and the Emperor in the holy city of Jerusalem (Nero ill-advisedly ordered his statue to be erected, but the procurator was mindfully tardy to fulfill it in avoidance of turmoil, and then Nero, happily, died and his order was made null).

Now, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was not a part of the Sanhedrin, was not regarded as a legitimate authority by Romans. Therefore, if Jews would follow Him rather than the Sanhedrin, by the plausible logic of Jewish religious authorities, then all those people with their illegitimate leader would be considered as disobedient to Rome and thus enemies. With such enemies Rome had little ceremonies: they were to be either subjected by force or eliminated.

Thus, in a way, the Sanhedrin has humanistic and patriotic motives by saying that “it is better if we hand in one man to the Roman justice system to be executed, than to subject the entire nation to a risk of being eliminated by Romans”. Of course the questions whether He was really against the Roman power (and He was not), or whether this Man was not only innocent, but also righteous and acted so many benefactions for Jews - healings, expulsion of demons etc. - was for them irrelevant. Thus they were truth-less, slanderous patriots.

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