So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples. Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. (John 11:53-57)
Throughout his gospel, John gives us points of reference as to the time of year in which we encounter Jesus and His disciples. For example, John 10:22 says, “Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter.” John is referring to the Jewish feast known as Hanukkah.
We do not specifically know what time of year it was when Jesus journeyed to the small town of Bethany in order to raise His friend Lazarus from the dead. However, as John 11 comes to a conclusion in vs, 53-57 we read that the Passover of the Jews was at hand. It was coming and soon. That would place us in the spring season of the following year.
What was Jesus doing between the time when He raised Lazarus and the Passover? John 11:53-54 says, “So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.”
The phrase “So from that day on they made plans to put him to death” indicates the resolute perspective of the Pharisees and Sadducees of seeking to put Jesus to death in order to protect their political power in Israel while under the authority of Rome. Because of this settled opposition, and because it was not the Father’s will at that time for Jesus to be crucified, the text says that Jesus deliberately no longer walked openly among the Jewish religious leaders as before. Rather, He went from Bethany to a region near the wilderness. Once there, He settled for a period of time with His disciples in a town called Ephraim. It became of time of preparation for His eventual journey to Jerusalem.
One commentator writes about the town of Ephraim by stating that, “This probably refers to the OT city of Ephron (see 2 Chron. 13:19). Its modern village name is Et-Taiyibeh, and it is located 4 miles northeast of Bethel and about 12 miles from Jerusalem. The location was far enough away for temporary safety until the time of Passover (John 11:55).
When John mentions the Passover, this would be the third time the apostle refers to this Jewish feast (2:13; 6:4). It would be the last Passover of Jesus’ earthly ministry in which He, the spotless Passover Lamb, would be offered (John 18-19). . Detail about Jesus’ eventual arrival into Jerusalem for the Passover can also be found in Luke 17:11 to 19:28; Mark 10:1–52; and Matthew 19:1–20:34. John simply assumes the other gospel’s narrative and gives us a picture of things in and around Jerusalem just before the Passover (11:56 and 57).
They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. The Jews had looked for Jesus prior to the Feast of the Tabernacles (7:11). Now they really mean to arrest and kill Him.
Dr. R. C. Sproul writes that, “Jesus’ withdrawal to Ephraim tells us two things. First, it indicates that our Savior did not put His fate in the hands of men. Christ came to die (3:14), but He would die at the time and place of His choosing. Though evil men would put Him to death, ultimately His destiny was in His own hands. He would lay down His life at the appropriate moment, and no one would take it from Him before then (10:18).”
Dr. Sproul continues by stating, “Second, Jesus’ retreat to Ephraim helps us think more critically about the issue of martyrdom and being willing to die for Christ. In church history, some people have sought out martyrdom or invited persecution. Certainly, we must be willing to die for our Savior if we are ever called upon to recant our faith, but that does not mean martyrdom is something we should purposefully seek. If even Jesus could seek to escape those who wanted to kill Him, that means we should not think there is inherent virtue in looking for martyrdom. It can be appropriate to flee persecution. In short, we are called to be faithful to Christ and His gospel. If that brings suffering, we must be prepared to endure it, but that does not mean we must go out of our way to find it.”
There is no inherent virtue in seeking suffering. Jesus didn’t and neither should we, as His disciples. If suffering comes, then we should trust in God to see us through it but we should never seek it. If life is going well for you at this moment, it may be that God is preparing you for a time of suffering. Pray that you will utilize this time of comfort to prepare for whatever God permits to occur.
Soli deo Gloria!