51 Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.
In verses 51 and 52, John added his own remarks about Caiaphas’ pronouncement. He saw deep irony in the remark by the ruler of the Sanhedrin. John viewed these words as prophesy and that God spoke through Caiaphas without his knowledge.
Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation,
John here gave commentary that Caiaphas did not recognize the predictive impact of his own words. He unwittingly gave a genuine prophecy. That is the point of the phrase “this he did not say on his own authority.” God gave a meaning to Caiaphas’ words that he did not intend to give—that Jesus would die for the nation. Caiaphas thought strictly in terms of Israel, but God divinely designed it as a prophecy.
Caiaphas declared that Jesus had to be killed, but God intended that his unintentional words would become a prophecy of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement. Even the prophets often did not understand what they wrote (1 Pe 1:10-12). Caiaphas’ prophecy was correct. Jesus would indeed die for the nation. However, his understanding of how that would happen was incorrect. Although Caiaphas used sacrificial language, he did not use it in the Christian sense of the word. He meant that the Sanhedrin would use Jesus’ death as a scapegoat for the nation.
The rejection of Jesus did not ultimately resolve Israel’s problem with Rome. Caiaphas’ prophecy came true when Israel went to war against Rome in the years AD 66-70. This did indeed destroy the nation. Expediency did not work. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman general Titus in AD 70. Pure irony can be found here, because after the death of Jesus the gospel spread throughout the world. John wrote about AD 90. Jesus died but Israel lost its national autonomy anyway.
and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad [Gentiles].
Jesus’ death was not only for Israel but also for the world in general, for Gentiles as well as Jews. This made Jew and Gentile “one children of God.”
Justice sacrificed to expediency ends in futility.
God often uses people as a strict mouthpiece for His purposes. He did this with Balaam’s ass. God used Caiaphas to prophesy that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation. This was substitutionary language. Caiaphas thought in political terms; John thought in the biblical sense of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29).
The apostle John understood the irony in Caiaphas’ statement, but the high priest did not understand the ramifications of his own statement. Caiaphas intended one meaning but God another. God providentially overruled his words and actions.
Divine concursus was fully operative in this case. Caiaphas was free to say and do what he wished, but God put parameters around his volition. There is no capriciousness under God’s sovereignty. Jesus would indeed die for the nation and the world. God used a scoundrel to declare a prophecy. We may wonder why bad things happen to us, but God can use them for His purpose (Ro 8:28).
God uses the wrath of man to praise Him (Ge 50:20). God used Caiaphas’ ruthless murder for a political end to accomplish His purpose. Jesus’ death paid for the sins of the world. We do not have to pay for our sins: Jesus paid it all; all to Him we owe.