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.” John 11:47-48In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in a bit of a truth war these days. Not just in any one country, mind you, rather it is a global phenomenon. It has become increasingly difficult, if not altogether impossible, to determine who is lying and who is telling the truth and about what. Those in positions of power and authority, traditionally trusted for their expertise – whether rightly or wrongly, have instilled a healthy level of skepticism in the people rather than confidence. What Scripture and history show us, however, is that those in positions of power have frequently tried to control truth in order to maintain their authority.
In the passage cited above, we have a clear instance of when those in positions of power and authority attempted to suppress the truth and control the narrative of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Immediately after calling Lazarus forth from the grave and commanding the linens to unbind him, we read the duality between, “many believed,” and “some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.” We shouldn’t easily dismiss this. The dual response is of course what always happens with the truth of God goes forth, some hear and believe, some are hardened and militant towards it. The truth is not validated by those who believe nor is it discredited by those who dismiss it. It is truth – God’s truth, it is absolute and needs no affirmation.
In our passage those who dismiss it do not simply go home, rather they see this as an opportunity to give a report to those in power and authority – in this case the chief priests and the Pharisees. Showing their hand of allegiance towards the establishment, these people report what they have just witnessed. It’s remarkable that the Scriptural record does not say that they disbelieved what they had seen, after all how could it be denied that Lazarus was indeed raised from the dead. No, instead they had other motivations.
Upon hearing the news, the chief priests and the Pharisees convene the council of the Sanhedrin and pose the following question, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.” Note here again that there is not an explicit denial of the truth, indeed they recognize that Jesus has performed many signs, culminating in this particular one by raising Lazarus from the dead. It is nearly incomprehensible that such an event could take place and there would be those, especially in positions of power, who would not only dismiss, but actively work to suppress the truth of the sign which of course would prove Jesus as the Christ. Yet that is exactly what this group does as we read of the possible scenarios they put forth, “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.”
Unbelievable. Note well their thoughts, if we keep letting Him (Jesus) go on like this, i.e. performing miracles and signs, everyone will believe in Him. It sounds as though their initial motivation is jealousy followed closely by self-preservation as we will see. Imagine this. The Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ has literally just raised a dead man from the grave. This particular sign He had already said would be done to glorify the Son of God and that many would believe which is precisely what happened. Rather than proclaiming the miracle, and more importantly that Jesus was the Christ, these supposed religious leaders wanted to suppress the truth and prevent people from believing in Him.
As to their motivation of self-preservation, their concern is both religious and political, “the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” The chief priests, Pharisees, and council of the Sanhedrin wanted to maintain control over their “place,” a clear reference to the Temple. This isn’t a noble effort to maintain the place of worship of God. No, by this time the temple had long been a den of robbers and it was this den – as a source of income and power, that they wanted to preserve. Secondly, note their political motivations to keep the nation in their hands and not fully given over to Roman control. If ever there was a group who fought to maintain the status quo it was these men.
Suppressing truth for the purpose of maintaining religious and political power – in this case withholding the truth of Christ from the people. Is this an isolated moment in time or is it instead a pattern that we can observe throughout history?
The short answer is yes it is indeed a pattern, and we needn’t travel far in history. In fact, we needn’t even leave Scripture. After the resurrection of our Lord, we find another suppression of the truth
11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. Matthew 28:11-15Again, a clear example of suppressing truth in order to maintain the status quo of authority and power. The real conspiracy in this case wasn’t questioning the truth, it was hiding and withholding the truth. The greatest that the world has ever known – the resurrection of the Son of God.
Turning briefly to history we have only to observe the translation of God’s Word restricted to Latin, thus preventing it from being able to be read in the common language of the people. Why? So that the religious leaders could maintain their control and domination of the people. And what of the Reformation? The Anabaptists? The Church of England? The Great Ejection? And on we go down to this very day to see that the heart of men has not changed. Indeed it always has a desire, sometimes out of jealousy, sometimes out of self-preservation to withhold or suppress truth in order to maintain power, authority, and thereby control.
What then should our response be or how are we to know what truth is? Sometimes in the moment of history that we are living in, it is difficult to discern properly truth from lies, especially if their is a mixed element of each within the other. Therefore, let us hold fast to God’s word, knowing that His Word is Truth and that His Son has prayed that we might be sanctified in this truth (John 17:17).