The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods







the definite resolution of the Sanhedrim to put Jesus to death. the abode of Jesus in retirement at the town of Ephraim, until his going up to celebrate the last Passover

(Joh 11:47-57)

The impression which the raising of Lazarus made at Bethany upon the Jews of Jerusalem who were present was great, and productive of decided results. Many were unable to resist this testimony to the divinity of Jesus’ mission: they became believers in Jesus, and went back to Jerusalem testifying on His behalf. But not even was this miracle able to break the obstinacy of Judicial feeling in the minds of all. It is true, no one could deny the fact of the miracle; nevertheless, the manner in which many conveyed the tidings to the Pharisees indicated a hostile tone of mind. The Evangelist distinguishes these in a marked manner from those who had become believers.

The tidings occasioned forthwith a meeting of the Sanhedrim. The Evangelist gives us a glimpse into the council-chamber. The discussion commences with expressions of utter helplessness. ‘What are we to do?’ they ask one another. That something must be done, seems to them clear; ‘for this man (they say) doeth many signs.’ It does not occur to them that these many signs infer on their part the obligation to believe. In spite of those many signs, nay, precisely on account of them, they consider it to be necessary now to put Him out of the way. And, in truth, for political considerations, for ‘reasons of state.’ ‘If we let Him alone’ (they say), ‘then all will believe in Him; and thus the Romans will come and take from us our seat of empire and our imperial people.’1 Every one of these positions was a piece of gross inconsideration working in the service of a sham policy. But now there raised his voice in the college a man who with great haughtiness expressed his opinion as to how the matter was to be dealt with,-the high priest Caiaphas, the father-in-law of Annas. He was ‘the high priest of that year,’ says John, probably with a similar allusion to expressions current with the people to that which repeatedly occurs in his Gospel.2 The orthodox public probably held in secret by the legitimate high priest Annas, who had been deposed, while it chose to designate his successors, named by the caprice of Rome, with bitter irony as ‘the high priest of this or that year,’ because they followed so quickly one upon another.3 Caiaphas reprimanded his helpless colleagues in no mild terms. ‘Ye know nothing at all. Ye do not consider that it is advisable for us that one man should die for the laity, in order that the whole people of God’ (including the priests)4 ‘perish not.’

The opinion thus, expressed was in its meaning and purpose a nefarious proposal founded on the principle that the end sanctifies the means. Under the plea that the welfare of the nation imperatively required it, Jesus was to be sacrificed to their vindictive hatred. This same sentence, however, admitted of being viewed in a higher sense, as an expression of that doctrine of salvation which teaches that the death of One is deliverance for all.

To the Evangelist, therefore, this opinion which Caiaphas expressed, seemed in the highest degree noteworthy. It had a singular double aspect, of individual private malignity aiming to seduce into crime on the one side, and of the consecration of an office both priestly and prophetic on the other. Therefore John makes the observation, ‘This he said not of himself; but because he was the high priest of that year, he prophesied, for Jesus was to die for the people; but not for the people’ (of Israel) ‘alone, but also that He might gather together into one the children of God who’ (as Gentiles in the Gentile world) ‘formed a vast dispersion.’

The high priests carried in their breastplate Urim and Thummim, Lights and Rights; i.e., their breastplate was the highest symbol of the scope of their office, and consequently also of its dignity, and in especial of their call, in the ordinary contingencies of the theocracy, to announce God’s light and right; in doctrine and discipline to utter, as occasion required, the word of decision. In this particular of their function they were identical with the prophets. Consciously or unconsciously, they declared the right (jus) of God.5 Even if their judgments did not in the sense of human duty hit the right, yet they behoved still in the sense of Divine Providence, to bring forth the right, the predestined. From the better of them it might be expected, that on the solemn occasion of their pronouncing a sentence of decision, they would with the deepest feeling of earnestness recollect themselves, and that thus, with the help of the prayers offered by the truly devout among the people, they would reach the elevation of prophets, and become sacred and self-conscious organs to which the Spirit of God might entrust a genuine utterance of God. But even the worst of them in such cases could not help, though unconsciously, uttering some oracle in which a secret of Divine Providence betrayed itself. For if in their own personal volition they at this time were minded to yield themselves organs of the spirit of malignity, yet it was at that precise crisis in the affairs of the theocracy when the counsel of God was on the point of condemning the sins of men by means of their last, most decisive sin; of bringing to nought the purposes of malignity by means of a masterstroke of malignity; of bringing forth out of their seeming triumph their overthrow, out of the seeming downfall of what was good educing a salvation beyond all anticipation. And this twofold aspect of their high-priestly action could not fail then also, unconsciously to themselves, to come forth into view in the form of their solemn judgments. The double-aspect of their life and the double-aspect of their doing could not but show its impress in the double-aspect of their word. An irony of the divine justice mocking at the unprincipled contradiction in their life lay couched in the fact, that they nevertheless were compelled to express a sentence out of the secrets of God, whilst in their own moral consciousness they were making themselves prophets of Satan.6 This phenomenon might very well occur in Israel more frequently about this time, when the ‘high priests of the year’ made their appearance, mere creatures of the Romans, who often owed their elevation to the high priest’s chair to motives of a very worldly character. In them the symbolical high-priesthood appeared in its deepest deterioration, in its lowest features; while the essential high-priesthood, the eternal in contrast with the high-priesthood of the year, had already begun to develop its spirit and its life. Now Caiaphas was just the man in whom the self-dissolution of the symbolical high-priesthood might be expected to perfect itself. And the very sentence which he now uttered in the Sanhedrim we may regard as the word decisive of this self-dissolution.7 As the high priest of that decisive year, he prophesied as was suitable to such a position of anti-high-priest as he held. According to his subjective consciousness, he prophesied as an organ of Satan—as a Moloch’s priest, who advised to offer a violent sacrifice of a man for the deliverance of the people. Thereby he had, according to the legislation of Israel, not only distinctly and absolutely forfeited his office and life, but also desecrated and disgraced the symbolical high-priesthood itself. But as the officially constituted high priest of Israel, he unconsciously prophesied out of the spirit of his office, which for the last time was now hovering around him in its most exalted character with a distinct influence over the framing of his expressions; so that, viewed in the luminous aspect which was given to it by the course of Divine Providence, it became an expression of the New Testament doctrine of atonement—an unconscious announcement of the atonement. He pointed to a new, real sacrifice, the sacrifice of a human life, which alone could bring deliverance to the people. Thereby before God, according to the theocratic law, the symbolical high-priesthood was extinguished, and the priestly dignity transferred from the high priest of the year to the eternal High Priest, who was now prepared to give up His own life as a sacrifice for the people. In this double shape, his sentence became an ironical utterance, in which the sovereignty of Divine Providence over the miserable obduracy under which he laboured, might be seen to mirror itself. ‘For the true purpose of annihilating Jesus was through His death—which was here resolved upon, and which in another sense than Caiaphas meant proved a death of One for the people—utterly frustrated; inasmuch as Jesus by His death overcame death, and established His kingdom. And the coming of the Romans, which was pleaded as a pretext, was not averted, but, on the contrary, according to the divine judgment (Deu 28:49 ff.), was brought about simply through the rejection of the Anointed One.’8

The sentence of Caiaphas found concurrence with most of the members of the Sanhedrim. There were, it is true, individual adherents of Jesus in the college who kept from joining, in this decision.9 But after the first utterances to this effect, they would hardly dare to suffer themselves to be seen in the assembly under its present fanatical excitement. From this time there took place repeated deliberations, which tended to the conclusion of bringing the Lord to trial upon some capital charge.

Jesus soon learnt how matters stood. He knew that now He could not any more make His appearance in public without drawing upon Him His execution. No doubt, at this time His enemies would have been very glad to get rid of Him as quickly and as secretly as possible. But to Jesus Himself it was a clear point, that He should die in the midst of His people, and, in fact, at the rapidly approaching Passover. He knew what the slaughtering of the Passover-lamb signified for Him. He therefore considered it necessary to withdraw Himself for the present from the treacherous designs of His enemies, and to wait for the pilgrim-train going up to the Passover, in order then to attach Himself thereto. With this view He betook Himself with His disciples to the town of Ephraim, which lay several hours north of Jerusalem by Bethel, in the vicinity of the desert of Judea. He here lived in retirement, in the midst of an agreeable and fruitful district, which, by lonely and deserted valleys, and by bare stony heights, offering lofty views of far-distant scenery, was connected with the neighbouring rocky range called the Quarantana. Here He might pass the days undisturbed amongst a small circle of intimate disciples and friends, or else as a lonely anchorite in the wilderness. He was able thus both to withdraw Himself from the reach of His enemies, and at the same time, through the great road to Galilee which passed near, to remain in connection with His larger community of disciples and with the people. In addition to this, He had here a quiet watch-tower, on which He could wait for the Passover pilgrim-train from Galilee, and it may be also from Perea, which came above Jericho, to go out to meet it when the proper time should arrive.

But He had not many more days left for this retirement. That the feast of the Passover was near, might be seen in the advanced detachments preceding the proper pilgrim-trains which already were beginning to flock onward in considerable numbers. These ordinarily consisted of persons who had to attend to a sacrifice of purification in the temple: they had already at their own homes obtained from the priests a preliminary absolution from some form of Levitical defilement which they had incurred; but they needed, according to the prescription of the law, to have such absolution solemnly sealed in the temple. In this way they would qualify themselves to take part in the general celebration of the Passover by the whole people. These pilgrims of the Passover, however, seemed to busy themselves more with Jesus and the issue of His cause than with the rites of their purification. Knots of them would stand together in the temple, expressing their anxious expectation whether He would come to the feast or not; and the apprehension that He would not come was also expressed, as it should seem, in a very lively manner. It is very conceivable, that among these purified persons there were some who had been relieved of leprosy by the miraculous help of Jesus. At all events, their tone of feeling seems to have been friendly to the Lord. But, however, His enemies likewise were looking out for Him with the utmost excitement of feeling. They had, therefore, already issued an order, that any one who knew where He was staying should report it, in order that He might be apprehended. Amidst this excitement of men’s minds it was that the decisive feast of the Passover drew on.



The differences in the determination of the position of Ephraim, which we find between Jerome and Eusebius in ancient times, and again recently between (e.g.) K. von Raumer and Ebrard (see Ebrard, p. 360, note), evidently, at least in the case of the moderns, who do not hold by the simple statements of geographers, proceed from a presumption of mistaken exegesis; namely, the following, that Jesus in going from Ephraim must have proceeded to Jerusalem in a direct continuous route through Jericho. But there is no sufficient ground for maintaining this. On the contrary, it plainly appears from the course of the Gospel narrative, that Jesus, from His asylum near the wilderness, i.e., from Ephraim, went as far as the city of Jericho to meet the pilgrim-train, and that after joining it He then journeyed to Jerusalem. Ephraim surely lay not far from Bethel, since it is more than once in the statement of historical occurrences mentioned in connection with Bethel. (See K. V. Raumer’s Palestine, p. 187.) In respect to the site of Bethel, Robinson (i. 449) believes that he recognized it in the ruins of Beitīn. ‘Bethel (he says) was a border city between Benjamin and Ephraim; at first assigned to Benjamin, but conquered and afterwards retained by Ephraim. According to Eusebius and Jerome it lay twelve Roman miles from Jerusalem, on the right or east of the road leading to Sichem or Neapolis (Nābulus). From Beitīn to el-Bireh we found the distance to be forty-five minutes, and from Bireh to Jerusalem three hours, with horses. The correspondence therefore in the situation is very exact; and the name affords decisive confirmation. The Arabic termination īn for the Hebrew el is not an unusual change.’ In this neighbourhood Robinson finds the proper hill-country of Ephraim, ‘about el-Bireh, and farther north.’ Not far from Bethel, eastward, Robinson passed a night in the village of Taiyibeh. Here the vicinity of the desert was plainly marked. ‘Two or three nights before, robbers had entered the village and stolen several sheep. The desert towards the Dead Sea was said to be full of them’ (i. 446). Sepp (iii. 153) is disposed to discover in this el-Taiyibeh the site of the ancient Ephraim. And yet, according to the passages which he has himself quoted, Ephraim lay in the valley, while Taiyibeh ‘crowns a conical hill’ (Robinson, p. 444). What Sepp adduces from Jewish writings respecting the extraordinary fertility of Ephraim certainly suits the neighbourhood of Bethel (comp. Robinson, i. 444-447). If we look for Ephraim eastward of Bethel (as we are induced to do by the notice of Josephus (De Bello Jud., iv. 9, 9), according to which Vespasian, marching from Cesarea into the hill-country, first took possession of the toparchies of Gophna and Acrabatene, then of the little towns of Bethel and Ephraim, and then betook himself towards Jerusalem), we approach the foot of the rocky hills which run out from the rocky mountain-range of Quarantana by Jericho in a north-eastwardly direction (see Robinson, i. 555). As far back as in the neighbourhood of Taiyibeh we find beginnings of the desert; e.g., a ravine ‘overgrown with heath-like plants and with sage, intermingled with the fragrant Za’ter’ (see Robinson, i. 444). A description of the desert itself as seen between Jericho and Taiyibeh, see in i. 572.



1) Comp. 2 Mace. v. 19, and Lücke, ii. p. 481. Even if ὁ τόπος is to be understood of the temple, yet in this connection it appears as the type of the city and country of the holy people, the locality of God s heritage. Comp. Heb. xi. 8. There is an intimate mutual relation between τὸ ἔθνος and ὁ τόπος. The first denotes the people, the second the district merely, in the highest sense, i.e., the imperial people, and the seat of empire.

2) See John iv. 5; John iv. 43; John y, 2, with the author's remarks upon these passages, These and similar indications, showing the intimate conversancy of the fourth Evangelist with the popular life of the Jews at the time of Christ, throw ridicule upon the pitiable enterprise of the sham ‘criticism’? which will fain make the Gospel come into being in the post-apostolic period. On the expression now Lefore us, ef. Schweizer’s Das Evany. Joh. p. 178.

3) Josephus relates (Antiq. xviii. 2, 2) that Valerfus Gratus, the fifth governor of Judea, took the high-priesthood from Ananus (Annas) and transferred it to Isumael; that soon after he set Ismael aside and made Eleazar, Ananus’ son, his successor; that a year after he made another change, and now Simon became high priest; that when Simon had been a year in office, he compelled him to resign it in favour of Josephins surnamed Caiaphas. It is manifest how easily such desecrations of the pontificate might give rise among the Jews to the derisive appellation, The High Priest of the year. And although Caiaphas served the office for a longer time, in fact during the whole period of our Lord’s ministry (see Wieseler, p. 184), yet St John might very well have continued to give him the designation, originating at first in the popular indignation, on account of its inward significancy,

4) The first is λαός, the second ἔθνος.

5) Compare Lücke, ii, p. 486.

6) It is a general truth, that the highest schemes of the satin ic spirit upon earth are, under God s permission and guidance, ever overruled to bring on a decisive overthrow of evil, an especial furtherance of the kingdom of God. But most especially is this the case when the highest officials in the external institutions of that kingdom convert themselves into servants of the kingdom of darkness. And this cannot fail, in that case, to be marked also in sentences which they formally and officially pronounce.

7) See Ebrard, 359.

8) So Ebrard, ut supra.

9) See Luke xxiii. 50, 51