Free Will Versus Predestination

One of the big theological discussions in Christianity is disagreement about whether or not people have what is called free will, or if all our choices are predetermined.

With that in mind, what do you make of these next couple of verses?

And so, many of the Judeans, those who came to Mary and who carefully and deliberately interpreted what they had seen he did, believed in him.

Yet others of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus did.

John 11:45-46

Everyone had seen a decomposing dead man brought back to life by the power of God.  

But only those who put their faith in Jesus were able to see the glory of God. Others only saw trouble and went to the Pharisees with their report.

One has got to wonder how they figured power like that could be opposed?!

Unbelief Hardened

A lesson in this is that just as belief is not static, it grows; unbelief is also not static: it becomes more hardened. Those who believe are convinced by the evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, that Jesus has the power over life and death.

Those who do not believe make a willful choice in contradiction to the evidence.

What the unbelieving Judeans saw was an emergency, things were getting out of hand, Jesus’ miracles were getting more and more amazing, more people were believing, pretty soon everyone would be following Jesus, he would be their Messiah.

Energy for the Messiah they were looking for would be all wrapped up in this spiritually-minded man who was regularly challenging them, challenging the traditions. Who was insisting all must come to him, and believe in him, and obey his word (Logos) rather than the teachings of the rabbis and the way of the Pharisees.

Personal ambition will always be on a collision course with God’s will.

One Man for the Many

But, they had an even greater fear. Once those few had come to report to the Pharisees located in Jerusalem, the Pharisees headed straight for the chief priests (one chief priest, and those who were retired from that position, as they were in the same family), and they, in turn, called a council meeting of the Sanhedrin.

The Sanhedrin was made up of Pharisees and Sadducees.

The Pharisees were the religious conservatives, the party that was all about taking the Law literally. You would think that they would have remembered it was God who protected Israel, God who kept back the Romans, and God who appointed the Messiah.

The Sadducees were the liberals, they were culturally Jewish, but did not have a strong, literal belief in God.

What are we doing, because this man is producing many signs? If we send him away, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our place and our people.

The Sanhedrin’s dilemma, John 11:47-48

Was it a genuine danger? It is hard to know, looking back two thousand years. Judea, and indeed those of Jewish faith, were the benefactors of several unusual favors from the Roman imperial government. They were not required to worship Caesar, or any of the other gods, in acknowledgement of their monotheistic religion. They were not required to pay one of the empire’s taxes, for they gave a tax to their temple that acted in the same manner, caring for the destitute and disadvantaged.

Crisis Management

Then Caiaphas stepped forward, the high priest that year.

During this time the Romans were the ones who chose the high priest. They would put the office up for bid and whoever came up with the most money could be the high priest. It was supposed to roll over every year to a new person, but Caiaphas managed to hold onto the office for eighteen years, which tells you how rich and powerful he was.

You all have not perceived anything, neither have you reasoned that [it] be expedient and profitable to you all that one person die on behalf of the people and not the whole nation be lost and destroyed.

Caiaphas to the Sanhedrin, John 11:49-50

A totally pragmatic approach without even a hint of morality or ethics.

If someone gets in the way, kill him. Even if that person is the Son of God. But John in an editorial note, explained that Caiaphas did not actually say this on his own, as though he were some Machiavellian evil genius (maybe he was, but this time, this was not his own idea). No, instead, because he was the high priest that year, it was to God’s purposes that he would prophesy Jesus’ death on behalf of the nation, and not just for Judea, or even all those of Jewish faith, but, as John put it,

In order to gather together the scattered and dispersed children of God into one.

John’s editorial note, John 11:52

Without realizing it, without seeming to involve God or have respect for God’s law, Caiaphas gave a true prophecy that he did not understand and would not have believed even if he did understand.

The council of scribes, teachers of the law, temple officials, and religious authorities did not realize they had set the goal of killing their own Messiah.

It reminds me of what I have been willing to sacrifice in order to stay in control of a situation, or in order to protect my ambition though I feared God has something else in mind for me.

Free Will and Destiny

Both free will and God’s sovereignty were at work.

Faced with the same evidence, some were moved to belief, and some were hardened in unbelief. And yet God’s purpose for Messiah still advanced. Even with free will, no person can alter God’s divine plan. As one commentator put it, Nothing people can do will thwart or alter the sovereign will of God, and nothing God does ever sets aside the free choice of people.

The Hour is Not Yet

Jesus knew it was wise to leave and kept a low profile after that event. It was not God’s timing yet for the crucifixion, which was still a couple of months away. Instead, he headed for Ephraim,  on the outer edge of Jerusalem’s satellite towns, and settled there, near the wilderness, until Passover. In the meantime, the chief priests and Pharisees had basically put a bounty out on the Lord, asking everyone to keep an eye out for Jesus so they could arrest him.

Each individual must respond to the demonstration of Jesus’ power

How can you and I interpret a situation in the right way? 

Everybody saw the same thing, they saw Lazarus raised to life.

Some people interpreted the situation rightly: God had worked powerfully through the Lord Jesus. They heard Jesus’ prayer and believed that he and the Father really were one. They put their faith in him.

Others interpreted the situation entirely differently. They did not deny Jesus had raised a dead man to life, but they felt threatened by it. They saw Jesus as a troublemaker who would ruin their whole way of life. They wanted him stopped so they could keep control of the way things were.

The difference? 

The first group was willing to acknowledge God and set aside their personal agenda. They bowed their heads to the reality of God’s active presence linked with what God had done in great power. They were able to see God’s glory.

The second group was not willing to set aside their own agenda. Instead of seeing glory, they felt threatened, and somehow thought they could oppose that great power.

How willing are you and I to be humble and teachable so we can see God’s glory?

[Sanhedrin in session | User:Wrongkind707 / CC BY-SA (]

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