“So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and were saying, ‘What are we going to do since this man is doing many signs? 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.’ One of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all! You’re not considering that it is to your[d] advantage that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish.’” (John 11:47-50)
God’s Word, the expression of who He is and what He wills, is the core of our lives as our Father and King intended it to be. Think back to the three commands of the Creation Covenant in Eden – “tame the earth, expand the workforce, do it My way” (paraphrased). It wasn’t Adam and Eve’s refusal to do their job or start building the human family that wrecked them. It was their refusal to follow God’s word.
Later, God called Israel to the same three tasks – “tame your land, multiply, and do it My way” (paraphrased). They failed. But through Israel, God revealed the blueprint for a prototype of the person who would do His will. This man would become Israel’s Guide (Prophet) and Leader (King) who would establish God’s dominion over humanity again, Jesus.
As we’ve seen, God’s viceregents must obey their King’s commands. Jesus is our prototype who modeled an obedient life perfectly. It was also paramount that Israel’s Prophet-Like-Unto-Moses and King Messiah embrace God’s word and obey it.
But when Jesus arrived on the scene, some opposed Him because Jesus didn’t live up to their understanding of God’s word and what constituted obedience. This different understanding set the stage for a battle for dominion between those who held sway over the nation, many of Israel’s spiritual leaders, and the One they viewed as a threat to their domain, Jesus.
In this next part, we’ll examine further Jesus’ clash with the Jewish leaders over His claims as Israel’s Prophet, King, and Messiah.
Torah Compliance and Observance: Jesus as the Prophet
As I wrote, a big factor influencing whether the Jerusalem religious leaders accepted Jesus legitimately from God was how He taught and practiced the Torah. The questions they asked Him and the challenges they presented were, in a sense, asking Jesus for His qualifications and credentials. When Jesus’ kingdom signs confirmed Him and His Torah teaching, He rose in the people’s estimation to the status of a prophet (Luke 7:16). As the significance of His signs, miracles, and wonders grew, so did His reputation and renown. The Jews began to see Jesus as not just a prophet but as the Prophet “like (Moses)” (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18).
In Deuteronomy 13 and 18, Moses addressed the topic of prophets appearing among the Israelites. Deuteronomy 13 addresses how the Israelites were to evaluate someone who claimed to be a prophet of Yehovah. The proof of their authenticity was not in any sign or wonder but whether that prophet steered the people toward God or away from Him. The second reference, Deuteronomy 18, was crucial for the Israelites. Within chapter 18’s warning for the people to stay away from occult practices for divination, God promised to raise up a prophet like Moses who would truthfully and reliably deliver God’s word to His people (Deuteronomy 18:18). Furthermore, because this Prophet’s words came directly from God, the people had to listen and obey the Prophet for God Himself would hold each hearer accountable to the Prophet’s words.
The possibility that Jesus was a prophet grew as His teaching spread and His signs increased in number and noteworthiness. When Jesus drove out demons, healed everyone who came to Him (Luke 4:40), and even raised the recently dead to life (Luke 7:11-17), He grabbed His listeners’ attention. The people began to suspect that Jesus might be the promised Prophet (John 6:14, 7:40). If Jesus were indeed the Prophet like Moses, He would also accurately teach and obey God’s Torah, leading people to God, not away from Him.
However, by Jesus’ day, there was a problem regarding what constituted God’s word and what didn’t. As mentioned before, Jewish leaders agreed upon the Written Torah as authoritative. However, some leaders – the Pharisees and scribes – accepted the Oral Torah as God’s word through Moses in addition to the Written Torah. For many of the Pharisees and scribes, since the Oral Torah was indeed God’s word, they expected the Moses-like Prophet to affirm the authority of the Oral Torah and obey it as they did.
Jesus indeed affirmed the Written Torah but often clashed with the Pharisees and scribes over the Oral Torah, especially when their interpretation or application took precedence over the Written Torah (Mark 7:13). And even though Jesus fully embraced the Written Torah (Matthew 5:17-18), the leaders rejected Jesus because they claimed dominion over God’s word regarding interpretation and application, and Jesus defied their authority. Despite disagreements even among themselves, the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees acted as the gatekeepers for God’s word (Matthew 23:13). In their eyes, they saw Jesus repeatedly “abolishing” the Torah (Written and Oral) via wrong interpretations and applications (which were indeed the most correct).
Again, the Subdue and Rule Mandate is about control. In its religious version, the corrupted form of subdue and rule, Conquer and Dominate, often seeks control over people via the “proper” understanding of God’s Word and how to live it. This type of religious control is well-known in history. The Church held sway over the Bible for centuries until it was translated into the vernacular and widely circulated via the printing press.
From the leaders’ perspective, by opposing their acceptance of the Oral Torah and their rulings, Jesus broke the entire Torah, thus disqualifying Him as a prophet in general and the Prophet like Moses specifically. When Jesus challenged their authority for living Torah “their” way and openly defying “their” authority, His actions provoked the leader’s extreme Conquer and Dominate response.
Torah Compliance and Observance: Jesus as the King
Like the qualification for the “Prophet like Moses,” any person claiming to be Israel’s king must uphold God’s Torah. He would need to comply with the Torah’s commands dictating God’s qualifications for kingship (the would-be king must be an Israelite, Deuteronomy 17:15) and follow God’s guidelines (don’t acquire many horses, wives, or much wealth, Deuteronomy 17:16-17), the would-be king must also affirm a faithful adherence to God’s Torah.
According to the Torah, every Israelite king was commanded to write a personal copy of the Torah to read, learn God’s commands, and observe them throughout his life (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). Therefore, as part of the leaders’ Conquer and Dominate-motivated examination of Jesus, questions about His lineage and faithfulness to the Torah were crucial.
We see examples of this when Jesus went to Jerusalem to participate in the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7-8). Jesus’ lineage and commitment to the Torah became the leaders’ litmus test for His qualifications. While in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus began to teach halfway through the week-long festivities (John 7:14-15). His teaching, combined with His signs (John 7:31), made such an impact on his hearers, people began to wonder if Jesus was indeed Israel’s anointed king (John 7:26). After all, Israel’s king would have to handle the Torah excellently, which Jesus did.
However, the sticking point for the leaders was pinning down Jesus’ lineage, for they knew He was from Galilee and no Messiah was prophesied to come from that region (John 7:27, 41, 52). They knew the prophecy that declared Israel’s king would be born in Bethlehem, David’s city (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:4-6). Errant facts lead to errant conclusions.
The crowd’s enthusiastic interest in Jesus drew the leaders’ attention to Him (John 7:32), and the authorities sought to arrest him (John 7:44) lest the situation spiraled out of their control. On the last day of the Feast (the 7th day, Hoshana Rabbah, “the Great Hosanna”), Jesus made His famous living water declaration (John 7:37-38) during the Temple water pouring ceremony. Jesus’ connecting an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, signaling the start of God’s kingdom on earth, caused many more people to consider Jesus as a candidate for king or the promised Prophet. And yet, his lineage remained in question (John 7:40-41).
Jesus came into the Temple courts the next day to continue His teaching. The leaders examined Jesus by questioning His faithfulness to the Torah and family lineage. Regarding the Torah, the leaders objected to Jesus on the basis that He bore testimony to Himself, for they knew the Torah demanded a minimum of two witnesses to establish a matter (Deuteronomy 19:15). Regarding Jesus’ lineage, the leaders pressed him, “Where is your Father?” (John 8:19) and “‘Who are you?” (John 8:25). Although the leaders were not able to understand Jesus’ response, “Many people who heard him say these things trusted in him” (John 8:30). This further provoked the leaders’ Conquer and Dominate response.
As the interrogation progressed, the leaders began to slander Jesus’ pedigree, “We weren’t born of sexual immorality,” they said. “We have one Father—God” (John 8:41), a statement intended “as a sneer as if to say, ‘We are not illegitimate children, but you are.’” (NKJV Study Bible). From there, the frustrated interrogators responded, “Aren’t we right in saying that you’re a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48), an obvious smear against both Jesus’ genealogy, His qualification as a Davidic king, and spiritual fitness for the office.
Their accusations were their attempt to Conquer and Dominate Jesus by painting Him as disqualified for Israel’s throne. Jesus’ response not only affirmed His spiritual fitness, “I do not have a demon,” but also verified the truth of His divine pedigree, “On the contrary, I honor my Father…” (John 8:49a). Jesus’ lineage claim went far beyond the Abrahamic claim His opponents made for themselves. Jesus’ claim to an eternal existence as God Himself (“before Abraham was, I am,” John 8:58) was too much for the leaders to hear, for it not only grossly violated their understanding of the Torah but to accept a human being’s blasphemous claim would be to admit Jesus’ superior position over them. Jesus’ reply provoked the most extreme Conquer and Dominate response from the chief priests and Pharisees, i.e., ending another person’s life, and they attempted to stone Him.
Let’s look more closely at the leaders’ problem with Jesus’ claim to divine pedigree and why it provoked such a vehement Conquer and Dominate response from the leaders who heard it.
Jesus’ Claims About his Relationship with the Father Rejected
The leaders rejected Jesus’ messianic claims because of what He testified about His relationship with His Father. Declaring that He was one with the Father forced the leaders to confront Jesus’ claim to absolute dominion over Israel and all humanity. Blasphemy aside, to accept Jesus’ claim meant the leaders must submit to Him rather than Jesus submit to them.
Remember, people were never meant to subdue and rule other people. The right to subdue and rule people was God’s alone. But as part of the Godhead, Jesus shared that right with His Father, although while He lived as a human being on earth, He refrained from exercising dominion over other people. Part of Jesus’ mission was to model what it meant to be the Father’s perfect human viceregent.
As Jesus drew closer to His appointment with the cross, He revealed more about Himself than the Jewish leadership wanted to hear. The Torah is clear about idolatry. “Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4) and “I am the Lord your God…Do not have other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:2-3). When Jesus revealed His unique relationship to his Father with two definitive statements, the leadership understood precisely what He said, as seen by their hostile reactions (John 8:59, 10:31).
Jesus’ first provocative statement was, “Truly I tell you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), and the second was, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). In both instances, the leaders knew Jesus was making Himself equal to God. Was this impossible? Not necessarily. By Jesus’ day, a divine-human was a well-known theological concept. The Jews accepted the idea of a divine-human Messiah based on Daniel’s revelation about the Son of Man drawn from Daniel 7 (Boyarin).
Daniel revealed the Son of Man would act as God’s agent to initiate God’s reign on earth by bringing judgment (John 5:27, which is why Jesus, as Son of Man, could forgive sins) and then rule over Israel (Daniel 7:14). However, the divine-human Son of Man was someone separate from God and not God Himself (Daniel 7:13). As Boyarin puts it, “Jesus, when he came, came in a form that many, many Jews were expecting; a second divine figure incarnated in a human. The question was not “Is a divine Messiah coming?” but only “Is this carpenter from Nazareth the Son of Man we’re expecting?” Not surprisingly, some Jews said yes, and some said no” (Boyarin).
But it was too much for the leaders to accept Jesus’ shocking claim that He was Daniel’s divine-human Son of Man and equal to God. Additionally, Jesus’ refusal to submit to the leaders’ authority proved to them that Jesus was disqualified as Israel’s Messiah. An insane man, probably, but not the Messiah.
With the growing threat of the people following an unqualified (and uncontrollable) imposter, the leaders’ Conquer and Dominate drive began to push them to eliminate Jesus. In the spring, not long after His December Feast of Dedication discussion with the leaders (John 10), Jesus performed His most significant sign – raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Jesus’ mighty and stunning miracle, coupled with His words, “I am the resurrection and the life,” revealed His absolute dominion over both the spiritual world by restoring Lazarus’ spirit to his mortal body and the physical world by raising Lazarus’ dead body to life, completely restored from death’s decay. Jesus’ display of God’s dominion via His Father-granted subdue and rule authority, and power caused many Jews who were present at Lazarus’ raising from the dead to believe in Jesus (John 11:45).
You might ask at this point, “If the Subdue and Rule Mandate was not supposed to be exercised over people, then why did Jesus exercise His dominion to raise Lazarus? Shouldn’t Jesus have left him alone in the grave?” Where did Jesus get the right to mess with Lazarus’s dead body? Good questions.
First, Jesus worked in line with His Father’s purpose “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4) and “so that they may believe you sent me” (John 11:42). God alone has dominion over people since He is their Creator. Since Jesus was His Father’s perfect viceregent who followed only His Father’s will, He acted on His Father’s behalf. Jesus didn’t raise Lazarus by His own initiative. By following His Father’s will, Jesus became His Father’s perfect proxy to perform His Father’s work to bring His Father glory.
Secondly, Jesus is also God in human flesh. Therefore, Jesus stands in the unique position between the Father and His human children. Jesus’ divine nature as God qualifies Him to subdue and rule people as His divine right, but as a human being, Jesus submits Himself to His Father’s rule (1 Corinthians 15:28). Because Jesus was aligned with His Father’s will, He could exercise His Father’s dominion over Lazarus’ dead body and command him to live.
However, that’s not how the leaders saw it. To them, Jesus was an existential threat. After such a powerful display of authority and power, they knew that Jesus must be Conquered and Dominated to the extreme to maintain their place, the Temple, and their position as leaders. Not only did they plan to eliminate Jesus as a threat to their dominion, but the evidence of Jesus’ dominion must also be erased. Hence, the plot to kill Lazarus (John 12:9-10).
Conquer and Dominate: The Plot to Kill Jesus
We see an exceptionally vivid example of using the Conquer and Dominate drive to maintain control in the plot to kill Jesus after He raised Lazarus from death (John 11:45-53). In light of that miracle, let’s not miss the significance of the leaders’ situation because the resurrection of the dead was closely associated with God’s future kingdom on earth and genuine prophets.
The resurrection of the dead is one of the hallmarks of the end of the age and the arrival of God’s kingdom along with His Messiah (Isaiah 26:19-21; Daniel 12:1-3). Judaism maintains that same belief today, “Resurrection of the dead — t’chiyat hameitim in Hebrew — is a core doctrine of traditional Jewish theology. Traditional Jews believe that during the Messianic Age, the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, the Jewish people ingathered from the far corners of the earth and the bodies of the dead will be brought back to life and reunited with their souls.” (myjewishlearning.com/article/jewish-resurrection-of-the-dead). Therefore,
Prophets from ancient times raised people from the dead (1 Kings 17:22; 2 Kings 4:32-35). By doing the same thing and preaching God’s word, Jesus proved His qualification as a prophet. By correctly teaching and applying the Torah with authority and performing works like Moses, Jesus qualified as the long-awaited Prophet. Jesus also proved His qualifications as Israel’s King-Messiah by His devotion to the Torah and revealing His identity as the Son of Man.
Best of all, raising Lazarus from the dead was the capstone of the declaration Jesus began at His baptism, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).
After receiving word of Jesus’ miracle, the chief priests and Pharisees had had enough. They convened the official Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, because of the growing numbers of people believing in Jesus and following Him. How dare this backwater teacher encroach, infringe, and usurp their authority! Rather than voice their concern for the people possibly following a false messiah to their spiritual detriment, their focus was on what they would lose if “the Romans…will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48). They would lose the center of their power structure, the Temple, and the nation, the extent of their rule. In short, they would lose their “domain.”
The magnitude of their potential loss led Caiaphas to propose murder, the ultimate Conquer and Dominate maneuver. Why is killing a person the ultimate form of Conquer and Dominate? I hate to be Captain Obvious here, but there’s no coming back from death, right? According to Caiaphas, it was better to kill one’s competition than lose all (John 11:50, 53).
By conquering and dominating Jesus through death, the leaders’ dominion, their sphere of control, would remain securely under their control.
But Jesus already knew this would happen. He revealed their intent through His Parable of the Vineyard Owner (Luke 20:9-19). The leaders were the tenant farmers in the parable who usurped the vineyard’s fruit, the people of Israel, from the owner, God. Just as the tenant farmers exercised their dominion drive and rejected the owner’s dominion over his property, the Jewish leaders did the same. They rejected God’s dominion over His people, hoping to preserve their dominion over the nation. When the owner sent his representatives, the tenant farmers beat and wounded them and sent them away. Likewise, over Israel’s history, God sent His prophets to the wicked shepherds of Israel who had usurped His nation. In classic Conquer and Dominate manner, the wicked shepherds of Israel beat the prophets, treated them shamefully, and “sent them away.” Finally, the owner decided it was time to send his son, whom the farmers would surely respect and honor by handing over the vineyard’s fruit. But they refused. They killed the son to retain their usurped domain, believing that the owner would surrender his vineyard for good since there was no heir. In parable form, that was the plan Caiaphas and the other leaders adopted. They would Conquer and Dominate Jesus by killing Him, believing that would perpetuate their place and position over “their” people.
The upshot is Jesus knew what was in their hearts (Jeremiah 17:10), He knew what they would do (Luke 20:9-19), and most importantly, Jesus knew His Father’s plan (Matthew 20:18).
When our Subdue and Rule Mandate separates from God’s will, and we reject His standards which keep our dominion drive in check, it morphs into the wicked drive to Conquer and Dominate to gain as much control as possible, no matter who gets in the way. Counter to God’s original intent, Conquer and Dominate doesn’t hesitate to harm anyone in any way to take and maintain control.
For Caiaphas and the Jewish leaders, Jesus was not the Way.
He was in their way.
Boyarin, Daniel. The Jewish Gospels, The Story of the Jewish Christ
NKJV Study Bible
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts