John 11:45-56 (NRSVCE)
Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead. This has gained him many followers, which makes Jesus a much bigger threat to the safety of Israel. Not because Jesus intends a revolt or anything, but because the Romans will see it that way. They will see a man amassing a huge number of followers, who is being called “King,” and who is directly opposing the Jewish priests (who are only allowed to be in power because they are cooperating with the Romans). Crowds like this are dangerous, and if Rome suspects a threat, they will come down on Jerusalem with their legions and raise it to the ground. This is the fear of the priests. They need to find a way to deal with Jesus to stave off the fire and fury of Rome.
Caiaphas, the high priest, sees a simple solution to the problem. Kill Jesus, and his followers will disperse. They will go home, and all will be as it was. Rome will just see another lowly rabble-rouser who was dealt with, and everything will be fine. It is not good to kill an innocent man, but “it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” Caiaphas knows Jesus has done no wrong, and means no harm. He knows Jesus does not deserve to die. But he is willing to kill Jesus anyway, because he fears Rome more than he fears God.
After Caiaphas announces his plan, we’re told that this was actually unknowingly prophetic. “Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God.” This is John referencing what is our first reading for today, where Ezekiel prophesies that God will “make them one nation upon the land, in the mountains of Israel, and there shall be one prince for them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.” (Ezekiel 37:22) John is telling us that Jesus is that one prince who will unite the two divided kingdoms. God has made his dwelling place among the people of God, just as Ezekiel foretold, and this is new, everlasting covenant of peace. (Ezekiel 37:26-28)
But who are these two kingdoms which are divided, but will be united by this prince? To a Jewish reader, it seems only logical that Ezekiel was talking about the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel, the Jews and the Samaritans. But Jesus has made clear that his people encompass much more than merely the Jews. The people of God, under Jesus, will include all peoples. Paul says in Galations, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galations 3:28) The two divided kingdoms that Jesus will unite, by his salvific act on the cross, are Jews and Gentiles. Jesus’ Church extends to all nations, and his offer of salvation to all peoples. Out of fear, we had him killed. But out of love, he comes as the Prince of Peace, establishing the new, everlasting covenant with the world.