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Exposition of the Gospel of John
CHRIST IN THE GARDEN
Below is an Analysis of the passage which is to be before us:
1. Jesus and His disciples cross the Cedron, verse 1.
2. Judas’ knowledge of this place of retirement, verse 2.
3. Judas conducting the Lord’s enemies there, verse 3.
4. Christ’s challenge and their response, verses 4, 5.
5. Christ’s power and their lack of discernment evidenced, verses 6, 7.
6. Christ protecting His own, verses 8, 9.
7. Peter’s rashness and Christ’s rebuke, verses 10, 11.
The eighteenth chapter begins a new section of our Gospel. Chapter 1 is introductory in its character; 2 to 12 record our Lord’s ministry in the world; 13 to 17 show Him alone with His disciples, preparing them for His departure; 18 to 21 is the closing division, giving us that which attended His death and resurrection. Here, too, everything is in perfect accord with the distinctive character of John’s delineation of Christ. The note struck here is in quite a different key from the one heard at the end of the Synoptics. That which is prominent in the closing scenes of the fourth Gospel is not the sufferings of the Savior, but the lofty dignity and Divine glory of the God-man.
"As the last section (13 to 17) involved His death, it must take place. He has given in His record to Him who sent Him, whose counsels had determined before what was to be done, and whose prophets showed before that Christ should suffer (Acts 2:23 ; Acts 3:18 ; Acts 4:28 ); and now that must be which makes all these assertions true. Without these two chapters (18, 19), therefore, none of the precious things which have thrilled the heart in the previous chapters could be possible; nay, more, none of His own assertions as to what He would be and do, of giving eternal life, of having any of the world, of coming again for them, of sending the Holy Spirit, of preparing a place for them, of having them in the glory with Him, or of having that glory at all; there would be no assembly of God, no restoration of Israel, no gathering of the nations, no millennium, no new heavens and new earth, no adjustment in righteousness of the ‘creation of God’ of which He is the beginning, no display of grace, no salvation, no revelation of the Father all these and much more were contingent on His death and resurrection. Without these all things in this book drop out and leave a blank, the blackness of darkness" (Mr. M. Taylor).
John 18:0 opens with an account of the Savior and His disciples entering the Garden, but in recording what took place there nowhere is the presiding hand of the Holy Spirit more evident. Nothing is said of His taking Peter and James and John into its deeper recesses, that they might "watch with him." Nothing is said of His there praying to the Father. Nothing is said of His falling upon His face, Of His awful agony, of the bloody sweat, of the angel appearing to strengthen Him. Perfectly in place in the other Gospels, they are passed over here as unsuited to the picture which John was inspired to paint. In their place other details are supplied most appropriate and striking which are not found in the Synoptics.
"Into that Garden, hallowed by so many associations, the Lord entered, with the Eleven; and there took place the Agony related in the Synoptics, but wholly passed over by John. Yet he was very near the Lord, being one of the three taken apart from the rest by Christ, and asked to watch with Him. The rest were told to sit down a little way off from the Master. If any of the Evangelists then could have written with authority of that solemn time John was the one best fitted to do it. Yet he is the one who omits all reference to it! It might be thought that what the others had written was sufficient. Why, then, did he describe so minutely circumstances connected with the Lord’s apprehension! The special line of his Gospel, presenting the Lord as a Divine Person, will alone explain this. As Son of God incarnate he presents Him, and not as the suffering Son of man. We shall learn, then, from him that which none of the others mention, though Matthew was present with Him, how the Lord’s personal presence at first over-awed Judas and the company with that traitor" (Mr. C. E. Smart).
In each of the Synoptics, as the end of His path drew near, we find the Savior speaking, again and again, of what He was to suffer at the hands of men; how that He would be scourged and spat upon, be shamefully treated by Jew and Gentile alike, ending with His crucifixion, burial and resurrection. But here in John, that which is seen engaging His thoughts in the closing hours was His return to the Father (see John 13:1 ; John 14:2 ; John 16:5 ; John 17:5 ). And everything is in perfect accord with this. Here in the Garden, instead of Christ falling to the ground before the Father, we behold those who came to arrest the Savior falling to the ground before Him! Nowhere does the perfect supremacy of the Lord Jesus shine forth more gloriously: even to the band of soldiers He utters a command, and the disciples are allowed to go unmolested.
"When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron" (John 18:1 ). The "these words" refer to the paschal Discourse and the High Priestly prayer which have engaged our attention in the previous chapters. Having delivered His prophetic message, He now prepares to go forth to His priestly work. The "Garden" is the same one mentioned in the other Gospels, though here the Holy Spirit significantly omits its name Gethsemane. In its place, He mentions the "brook Cedron," identical with "Kidron," its Hebrew name, which means "dark waters" emblematic of that black stream through which He was about to pass. The Cedron was on the east side of the city, dividing Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives (Josephus). It was on the west side of the city that He was crucified: thus did the Son of Righteousness complete His atoning circuit!
What, we may ask, was our Lord’s design and purpose in entering the "Garden" at this time? First, in accord with the typical teaching of the Day of Atonement. The victim for the sin-offering (unlike the burnt offering) was destroyed "without (outside) the camp" (see Leviticus 4:12 , Leviticus 4:21 ; Leviticus 16:27 ); so the Lord Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice for sin outside of Jerusalem: "Wherefore Jesus also that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate" (Hebrews 13:12 ). Therefore, as His atoning sufferings began here, He sought the Garden, rather than remain in Jerusalem.
Second, in crossing the brook Cedron, accompanied by His disciples, another Old Testament type was most strikingly fulfilled. In 2 Samuel 15:0 (note particularly verses 23, 30, 31) we read of David, at the time of his shameful betrayal by his familiar friend Ahithophel, crossing the same brook; crossing it in tears, accompanied by his faithful followers. So David’s Son and Lord, crossed the Cedron while Judas was betraying Him to His foes.
Third, His object was to afford His enemies the more free scope to take Him. The leaders of Israel had designed to lay hands on Him for some time past, but they feared the common people; therefore, that this impediment might be removed, the Savior chose to go out of the city to the Garden, where they might have full opportunity to apprehend Him, and carry Him away in the night, quietly and secretly. In addition to these reasons, we may add, His arrest in the solitude of the Garden made it the easier for His disciples to escape.
The entrance of Christ into the Garden at once reminds us of Eden. The contrasts between them are indeed most striking. In Eden, all was delightful; in Gethsemane, all was terrible. In Eden, Adam and Eve parleyed with Satan; in Gethsemane, the last Adam sought the face of His Father. In Eden, Adam sinned; in Gethsemane, the Savior suffered. In Eden, Adam fell; in Gethsemane, the Redeemer conquered. The conflict in Eden took place by day; the conflict in Gethsemane was waged at night. In the one Adam fell before Satan; in the other, the soldiers fell before Christ. In Eden the race was lost; in Gethsemane Christ announced, "Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none" (John 18:9 ). In Eden, Adam took the fruit from Eve’s hand; in Gethsemane, Christ received the cup from His Father’s hand. In Eden, Adam hid himself; in Gethsemane, Christ boldly showed Himself. In Eden, God sought Adam; in Gethsemane, the last Adam sought God! From Eden Adam was "driven"; from Gethsemane Christ was "led." In Eden the "sword" was drawn (Genesis 3:24 ); in Gethsemane the "sword" was sheathed (John 18:11 ).
"Where was a garden, into which he entered and his disciples" (John 18:1 ). Christ did not dismiss the apostles as they left the upper-room in Jerusalem, but took them along with Him to Gethsemane. He would have them witness the fact that He was not seized there as a helpless victim, but that He voluntarily delivered Himself up into the hands of His foes. He would thereby teach them, from His example, that it is a Christian duty to offer no resistance to our enemies, but meekly bow to the will of God. He would also show them His power to protect His own under circumstances of greatest danger.
"And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place" (John 18:2 ). "Our Lord and Savior knew that He should be taken by Judas, and that this was the place appointed by His Father wherein He should be taken; for the 4th verse tells us ‘Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him,’ etc. He knew that Judas would be there that night, and, therefore, like a valiant champion, He cometh into the field first, afore His enemy. He goeth thither to choose, and singles out this place on purpose" (Mr. Thomas Goodwin).
"For Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples" (John 18:2 ). This was the Savior’s place of prayer during the last week a quiet spot to which He frequently retired with His apostles. In Luke 21:37 we read, "And in the daytime he was teaching in the temple; and at night he went out, and abode in the mount that is called the mount of olives." In Luke 22:39 we read, "And he came out, and went, as he was wont to the mount of olives; and his disciples also followed him." This was Christ’s place of devotion, and the place, no doubt, where many precious communications had passed between Him and the disciples; it is mentioned here to show the obduracy of the traitor’s heart it also aggravated his sin.
The Savior knew full well that the treacherous apostate was well acquainted with this spot of holy associations, yet did He, nevertheless go there. On previous occasions He had avoided His enemies. "Then took they up stones to cast at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple" John (John 8:59 ). These things spoke Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them (John 12:36 ). But now the hour was come; therefore did He make for that very place to which He knew Judas would lead His enemies.
"Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons" (John 18:3 ). The "band" which Judas "received" evidently signifies a detachment of Roman soldiers, which Pilate had granted for the occasion; the Greek word means the tenth part of a legion, and therefore consisted of four or five hundred men. Some have questioned this, but the words of Matthew 26:47 , "a great multitude with him" strongly confirms it. The "officers from the chief priests and Pharisees" refer to the servants of Israel’s leaders. Luke 22:52 shows that the heads of the Nation themselves also swelled the mob" Then Jesus said unto the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders, which were come to him, Be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves?" As Christ was to die for sinners both of the Jews and Gentiles, so God ordered it that Gentiles (Roman soldiers) and Jews should have a hand alike in His arrest and in His crucifixion!
"Cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons" (John 18:3 ). What an anomaly! Seeking out the Light of the world with torches and lanterns! Approaching the Good Shepherd with "weapons!" As though He would seek to hide Himself; as though He could be taken with swords and staves! Little did they know of His readiness to be led as a lamb to the slaughter. Significant too is the general principle here symbolically illustrated: attacks upon the Truth were made by artificial lights and carnal weapons! It has been thus ever since. The "light of reason" is what men depend upon; and where that has failed, resort has been had to brute force, of which the "weapons" speak. How vain these are, when employed against the Son of God, He plainly demonstrated in the sequel.
"Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him" (John 18:4 ). With this should be compared John 13:3 , which presents a most striking comparison and contrast: "Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands"; the comparison is between our Lord’s omniscience in either reference; the contrast between the subjects of His knowledge there and here. In John 13:3 Christ spoke of "all things" being given into His hands; here in John 18:4 He anticipates the moment when "all things" were to be taken from Him, when He was to be "cut off" and "have nothing" (Daniel 9:26 ). His foreknowledge was perfect: for Him there were no surprises. The receiving of "all things" from the Father’s hands was not more present to His spirit than the loss of "all things" by His being cut off. In John 13:0 He contemplates the glory; here the sufferings, and He passed from the one to the other in the unchanging blessedness of absolute perfection.
"Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him." These were the "all things" decreed by God, agreed upon by the Son in the eternal covenant of grace, predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures, and foretold, again and again, by Himself; namely, all the attendant circumstances of His sufferings and death.
"Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth" not out of the Garden as John 18:26 plainly shows, but from its inner recesses, where He had prayed alone. "Went forth," first to awaken the sleeping three (Matthew 26:46 ), then to rejoin the eight whom He had left on the outskirts of the Garden (Matthew 26:36 ), and now to meet Judas and his company. This "went forth" shows the perfect harmony between John and the Synoptics.
"And said unto them, Whom seek ye?" (John 18:4 ). Our Lord was the first to speak: He did not wait to be challenged. His reason for asking this question is indicated in the "therefore" of the previous clause "Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?" That which the Holy Spirit has here emphasized is the willingness of Christ to suffer, His readiness to go forth to the Cross. He knew full well for what fell purpose these men were there, but He asks the question so that He might solemnly and formally surrender Himself to them. Once, when they wanted to take Him by force and make Him a king, He departed from them (John 6:15 ); but now that He was to be scourged and crucified, He boldly advanced to meet them. This was in sharp contrast from the first Adam in Eden, who, after his sin, hid himself among the trees of the garden. So, too, Christ’s act and question here bore witness to the futility and folly of their "lanterns and torches and weapons."
"They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus said unto them, I am" (John 18:5 ). Why did they not answer, "Thee!"? Jesus of Nazareth stood before them, yet they did not say, "Thou art the one we have come to arrest." It is plain from this circumstance that they did not recognize Him, nor did Judas, who is here expressly said to have "stood with them." Despite their "lanterns and torches" their eyes were holden! Does not this go far to confirm our thought on the closing words of John 18:3 the Holy Spirit designedly intimated that something more than the light which nature supplies is needed to discover and discern the person of the God-man! And how this is emphasized by the presence of Judas, who had been in closest contact with the Savior for three years! How solemn the lesson! How forcibly this illustrates 2 Corinthians 4:3 , 2 Corinthians 4:4 : "But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not." Even the traitor failed now to recognize the Lord: he too was stricken with dimness of vision. The natural man is spiritually blind: the Light shone in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not (John 1:5 )! It is only as the light of God shines in our hearts that knowledge is given us to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6 )!
"And Judas, also, which betrayed him, stood with them" (John 18:5 ). Only a few hours previous he had been seated with Christ and the Eleven, now he is found with the Lord’s enemies, acting as their guide. Some have argued that there is a discrepancy here between John’s account and what we read of in the Synoptics. In the latter we are told Judas had arranged with the soldiers that he would give them a sign, identifying the One they should arrest by kissing Him. This he did, and they laid hands on Him. But here in John 18:0 he is viewed as failing to recognize the Savior, yet there is no discrepancy at all. John does not relate what Matthew and the others give us, but instead, supplies details which they were guided to omit. John tells us what took place in the Garden before the traitor gave his vile sign. If the reader will compare Luke’s account he will see that the kiss was given by Judas at a point between what we read of in John 18:0 , verses 9, 10.
"As soon then as he had said unto them, I am, they went backward, and fell to the ground" (John 18:6 ). Another reason why notice is taken of Judas at the dose of the preceding verse is to inform us that he, too, fell to the ground. Observe the words "they went backward." They were there to arrest Him, but instead of advancing to lay hands on Him, they retreated! Among them were five hundred Roman soldiers, yet they retired before His single "I am." They fell back in consternation, not forward in worship! All He said was "I am"; but it was fully sufficient to overawe and overpower them. It was the enunciation of the ineffable Name of God, by which He was revealed to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14 ). It was a display of His Divine majesty. It was a quiet exhibition of His Divine power. It was a signal demonstration that He was "the word" (John 1:1 )! He did not strike them with His hand there was no need to; He simply spoke two monosyllables and they were completely overcome.
But why, we may ask, should our Lord have acted in such a manner on this occasion? First, that it might be clearly shown He was more than "Jesus of Nazareth": He was "God manifest in flesh," and never was this more unmistakably evidenced. Second, that it might appear with absolute dearness that He voluntarily delivered Himself up into their hands that it was not they who apprehended Him, but He who submitted to them. He was not captured, for He was not to (passively) suffer merely, but to (actively) offer Himself as a sacrifice to God. Here is the ultimate reason why it is reCorded that "Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them": the traitor’s perfidy was needless and the captor’s weapons useless against One who is giving up Himself unto death and was soon to give Himself in death. If none had power to take His life from Him (John 10:18 , John 10:19 ), none had power to arrest Him. He here showed them, and us, that they were completely at His mercy helpless on the ground and not He at theirs. How easy for Him then to have walked quietly away, unmolested! First, they failed to recognize Him; now they were prostrate before Him. What was to hinder Him from leaving them thus? Nothing but His Father’s will, and to it He submissively bowed. Thus did the Savior give proof of His willingness to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin. In the third place, it left these men without excuse. Every detail in connection with our Lord’s passion had been determined by the Divine counsels, yet God did not treat those who had a hand in it as mere machines, but as responsible moral agents. Before Pilate sentenced Christ to death, God first gave him a plain intimation that it was an innocent Man who stood before him, by warning his wife in a dream (Matthew 27:19 ). So here with these Roman soldiers, who may never have seen Christ before. They cannot plead in the Day of judgment that they were ignorant of the glory of His person: they cannot say that they never witnessed His miraculous power, and had no opportunity given them to believe on Him. This exhibition of His majesty, and their laying hands on Him afterwards, makes their condemnation just!
It is very striking to observe that the Lord Jesus had uttered the same words on previous occasions, but with very different effects. To the woman at the well He had said "I am" (John 4:26 ), and she at once recognized Him as the Christ (John 4:29 ). To the disciples on the storm-lashed sea He had said, "I am" (John 6:20 see Greek), and we are told "they willingly received him into the ship." But here there was no conviction wrought of His Messiahship, and no willing reception of Him. Instead, they were terrified, and fell to the ground. What a marvelous demonstration that the same Word is to some "a savor of life unto life," while to others it is "a savor of death unto death"! Observe, too, that His Divine "I am" to the disciples in the ship was accompanied by "Be not afraid" (John 6:20 ); how solemn to mark its omission here!
Vividly does this forewarn sinners of how utterly helpless they will be before the Christ of God in a coming Day! "What shall He do when He comes to judge, who did this when about to be judged? What shall be His might when He comes to reign, who had this might when He was at the point to die?" (Augustine.) What, indeed, will be the effect of that Voice when He speaks in judgment upon the wicked!
"As soon then as he had said unto them, I am, they went backward, and fell to the ground." This was a remarkable fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy given a thousand years before. It is recorded in the 27th Psalm, the whole of which, most probably, was silently uttered by the Savior as He journeyed from the upper-room in Jerusalem, across the brook Cedron, into the Garden. "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even my enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell" (verses 1, 2). Let the reader pause and ponder the remainder of this Psalm: it is blessed to learn what comforted and strengthened the Savior’s heart in that trying hour. Psalms 27:0 gives us the musings of Christ’s heart at this time, Godwards. Psalms 35:0 recorded His prayers against His enemies, manwards: "Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt" (verse 4). Still another Psalm should be read in this connection, the 40th. That this Psalm is a Messianic one we know positively from verses 7, 8. verses 11-17 were, we believe, a part of His prayer in Gethsemane, and in it He asked, "Let them be ashamed and confounded together that seek after my soul to destroy it; let them be driven backward and put to shame that wish me evil" (verse 14). Thus was both Messianic prophecy fulfilled and prayer answered in this overwhelming of His enemies.
"Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye?" (John 18:7 ). "This second question carries a mighty conviction, a mighty triumph with it over their conscience as if He had said, I have told you I am; and I have told it you to purpose, have I not? Have you not learned by this who I am, when your hearts are so terrified that you all fell down before Me! They had been taught by woeful experience who He was, when He blew them over, flung them down with His breath; and it might have turned to a blessed experience had God struck their hearts, as He did their outward man" (Mr. Thomas Goodwin).
"And they said, Jesus of Nazareth" (John 18:7 ). They would not own Him as the Christ, but continued to speak of Him according to the name of His humiliation "Jesus of Nazareth." How striking and how solemn is this after what has been before us in John 18:6 such an exhibition of Divine majesty and power, yet their hard hearts unmoved! No outward means will soften those who are resolved on wickedness. No miracles, however awesome, will melt men’s enmity: nothing will suffice except God works directly by His Word and Spirit. Another signal proof of the desperate hardness of men’s hearts in the case of those who were appointed to guard the Savior’s sepulcher. While keeping their watch, God sent an earthquake, and then an angel to roll away the stone from the grave’s mouth, and so awful were these things to the keepers that they "became as dead men." And yet, when they reported to their masters and were offered a bribe to say His disciples stole the body of Christ while they slept, they were willing parties to such a lie. O the hardness of the human heart: how "desperately wicked"! Even Divine judgments do not subdue it. In a coming day God will pour out on this earth the vials of His wrath, and what will be the response of men? This: "They gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds" (Revelation 16:10 , Revelation 16:11 ). Nothing but a miracle of sovereign grace, the putting forth of omnipotent power, can bring a blaspheming rebel out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. Many a soul has been terrified, as were these men in the Garden, and yet continued in their course of alienation from God.
"Jesus answered, I have told you that I am" (John 18:8 ). The dignity and calmness of our Lord are very noticeable here. Knowing full well all the insults and indignities He was about to suffer, He repeats His former declaration, "I am"; then He added, "if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way." "Christ was about to suffer for them, and therefore it was not just that they should suffer too; nor was it proper that they should suffer with Him, lest their sufferings should be thought to be a part of the price of redemption. These words then may be considered as an emblem and pledge of the acquittal and discharge of God’s elect, through the surety-engagements and performances of Christ who drew near to God on their behalf, substituting Himself in their room, and undertaking for them in the counsel and covenant of peace, and laid Himself under obligation to pay their debts. Now, as there was a discharge of them from eternity, a non-imputation of sin to them, and a secret letting of them go upon the surety-engagements of Christ; so there was now an open discharge of them all upon the apprehension, sufferings, death and resurrection of Him" (Mr. John Gill).
"If therefore ye seek me, let these go their way" (John 18:8 ). In John 13:1 we are told of Christ that "having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end." How blessedly this is seen here. Christ’s first thought is not of Himself and what He was about to suffer, but of His disciples. It was the Shepherd protecting His sheep. "The tender sympathy and consideration of our great High Priest for His people came out very beautifully in this place, and would doubtless be remembered by the Eleven long afterwards. They would remember that the very last thought of their Master, before He was made a prisoner, was for them and their safety" (Bishop Ryle). And how the Savior’s majesty here shines forth again! He was about to be taken prisoner, but He acts as no helpless captive, but rather like a king. "Let these go their way" was a command. Here am I, take Me; but I charge you not to meddle with them touch not Mine anointed! He speaks as Conqueror, and such He was; for He had thrown them to the ground by a word from His lips. They were about to tie His hands, but before doing so He first tied theirs!
"If therefore ye seek me, let these go their way." There is much for us to learn here. First, it supplied another proof of how easily He could have saved Himself had He so pleased: He that saved others could have saved Himself; He who had authority to command them to let these go, had authority to command them to let Himself go. Second, Christ only was to suffer: in the great work before Him none could follow "And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement" (Leviticus 16:17 ). He was to tread the winepress alone. Third, Christ had other work for them yet to do, and until that work was done their enemies should and must leave them alone. So long as God has something for His servants to do the Devil himself cannot seize them. "Go," said Christ, when warned that Herod would kill Him, "and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out demons, and I do cures today and tomorrow" (Luke 13:32 ). I will do those things in spite of him; he cannot prevent Me. Fourth, here we see grace, as in the previous verse Divine power, exercised by this One who so perfectly "declared the Father" (verse 18). Fifth, Christ would thus show His disciples how fully competent He was to preserve them amid the greatest dangers. We have no doubt but that these Roman soldiers and Jewish officers intended to seize the apostles as well Mark 14:51 , Mark 14:52 , strongly indicates this but the Word of power went forth, "let these go their way," and they were safe. We doubt not that the coming day will make it manifest that this same word of power went forth many times, though we knew it not, when we were in the place of danger.
"That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none" (John 18:9 ). This "saying" refers not to an Old Testament prophecy but to that part of His prayer recorded in John 17:12 "While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost." Though this has a peculiar respect unto the apostles, it is true of all God’s elect, who are given to Christ, and none of them shall be lost, neither their souls nor their bodies; for Christ’s charge of them reaches to both: both were given to Him, both are redeemed by Him, and both shall be saved by Him with an everlasting salvation; He saves their souls from eternal death, and will raise their bodies from corporeal death; therefore, that His care of His disciples, with respect to their temporal lives as well as eternal happiness, might be seen, He made this agreement with those who came to take Him, or rather laid this injunction upon them, to dismiss them and which it is very remarkable they did, for they laid hands on none of them, even though Peter drew his sword and struck off the ear of one of them. Thus did Christ give another signal proof of His power over the spirits of men to restrain them; and thus did He again make manifest His Deity.
"Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus" (John 18:10 ). Peter exercised a zeal which was not regulated by knowledge: it was the self-confident energy of the flesh acting in unconsidered haste. It was the inevitable outcome of his failure to heed Christ’s word, "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation" it is failure to pray which so often brings us into temptation! Had Peter observed the ways of his Master and heeded His words, he would have learned that carnal weapons had no place in the fight to which He has called him and us. Had he marked the wonderful grace which He had just displayed in providing for the safety of His own, he would have seen that this was no time for smiting with the sword. What a fearful warning is this to every Christian for the need of walking in the Spirit, that we fulfill not the lusts of the flesh! The flesh is still in the believer, and a lasting object-lesson of this is the humbling history of Peter rash yet courageous when he should have been still; a few hours later, cowardly and base when he ought to have witnessed a good confession for Christ. But though Peter failed to act according to grace, the grace of God was signally manifested towards him. No doubt Peter struck with the intention of slaying Malchus probably the first to lay hands on the Savior but an unseen Power deflected the blow, and instead of the priest’s servant being beheaded he lost only an ear, and that was permitted so that a further opportunity might be afforded the Lord Jesus of manifesting both His tender mercy and all-mighty power. We may add that the life of Malchus was safe while Christ was there, for none ever died in His presence!
"Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear." The sequel to this is supplied by Luke: "and he touched his ear, and healed him" (Luke 22:51 )! Very striking indeed is this; it rendered the more excuseless the act of those who arrested Him, aggravating their sin and deepening their guilt. Christ manifested both His power and His grace before they laid hands on Him. This act of healing Malthus’ ear was the last miracle of the Savior before He laid down His life. First, He appealed to their consciences, now to their hearts; but once they had seized their prey He left them to their own evil lusts.
"Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath" (John 18:11 ). This was a rebuke, though mildly administered. Peter had done his best to nullify his Master’s orders, "Let these go their way." He had given great provocation to this company armed with swords and staves: he had acted wrongly in resisting authority, in having recourse to force, in imagining that the Son of God needed any assistance from him. "Put up thy sword into the sheath": the only "sword" which the Christian is ever justified in using is the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.
"The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11 ). How blessedly this entire incident brings out the varied glories of Christ: perfect supremacy and perfect subjection. He declared Himself the great "I am," and His enemies fall to the ground; He gives the word of command, and His disciples depart unmolested. Now He bows before the will of the Father, and receives the awful cup of suffering and woe from His hand without a murmur. Never did such Perfections meet in any other; Sovereign, yet Servant; the Lion-Lamb!
God’s dispensations are frequently expressed as a cup poured out and given to men to drink. There are three "cups" spoken of in Scripture. First, there is the cup of salvation: "I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord" (Psalms 116:13 ). Second, there is the cup of consolation: "Neither shall men tear themselves for them in mourning, to comfort them for the dead; neither shall men give them the cup of consolation to drink for their father or for their mother" (Jeremiah 16:7 ). To this the Psalmist referred: "My cup runneth over" (Psalms 23:5 ). Our Lord Himself used the same figure, previously when He said, "Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me" (Matthew 26:39 ). It was a dreadful cup which He was to drink of. Third is the cup of tribulation: Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest; this shall be the portion of their cup" (Psalms 11:6 ). So the prophet Jeremiah is bidden, "Take the wine cup of this fury at my hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send thee, to drink it" (Jeremiah 25:15 ; cf. Psalms 75:8 ).
"The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" "He doth not say, A necessity is laid upon Me to drink this cup. He doth not simply say, My Father hath commanded Me to drink it, but, ‘shall I not drink it?’ It is a speech that implies His spirit knew not how to do otherwise than obey His Father, such an instinct that He could not but choose to do it. Even just as Joseph said, ‘how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ (Genesis 39:9 ), so Christ here, ‘shall I not drink it?’ It implies the highest willingness that can be" (Mr. Thomas Goodwin).
"The cup which My Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" What a lesson Christ here teaches us. The Serpent was about to bruise His heel; the Gentiles were about to mock and scourge Him; the Jews cry, Away with Him. But the Savior looks beyond all secondary causes direct to Him of whom and through whom and to whom were all things (Romans 11:36 ). Peter’s eyes were upon the human adversaries; but no, He saith to Peter, there is a higher Hand in it. Moreover, He did not say, "which the Judge of all the earth giveth me," but "my Father" the One who dearly loveth Me! How this would sweeten our bitter cups if we would but receive them from the Father’s hand! It is not until we see His hand in all things that the heart is made to rest in perfect peace.
The following questions are to help the student prepare for our next lesson:
1. What types and doctrinal truths are suggested by "bound," verse 12?
2. Why is verse 14 inserted here?
3. Why has the Holy Spirit given Peter so prominent a place?
4. Why of "His disciples and doctrine," verse 19?
5. Why did Christ say nothing about His disciples, verse 20?
6. Why did Christ say verse 21?
7. What is the meaning of verse 24?
Exposition of the Gospel of John
CHRIST BEFORE ANNAS
Below is an Analysis of the second section of John 18:
1. Christ bound and led to Annas, verses 12-14.
2. Peter follows and is admitted to the palace, verses 15, 16.
3. Peter’s first denial of Christ, verses 17, 18.
4. Annas questions Christ, and His reply, verses 19-21.
5. Christ smitten and His remonstrance, verses 22, 23.
6. Annas sends Christ to Caiaphas, verse 24.
7. Peter’s second and third denials, verses 25-27.
In the passage before us John again supplies details which are not given by the other Evangelists. The Synoptics describe our Lord’s appearing before Caiaphas: in the fourth Gospel this is passed over, and in its place we have His arraignment before Annas. As in the Garden, so in the high priest’s palace, two of the Savior’s perfections are prominently displayed: His lowliness and dignity: His immeasurable superiority over all who surrounded Him, friends or foes, and His complete submission before those in the seat of human authority. As the Son of God we see Him exposing the wickedness of all with whom He comes into contact; as the Son of man He carried Himself meekly before those who acted more like fiends than humans.
The structure of our present passage is quite complex. From Christ being led away to Annas, the Holy Spirit pauses to notice Peter following and then entering the high priest’s house. After recording Peter’s first denial, he is left warming himself at the fire, and then a brief account is given of what passed between Annas and Christ. Following the announcement that Annas sent Jesus bound to Caiaphas, the Spirit returns again to Peter and describes the second and third denials. The central thing is plainly Christ’s appearing before Annas and afterwards before Pilate, but the narrative is interrupted again and yet again to tell of the apostle’s awful fall. Most vividly does this point a solemn lesson. God is not the author of confusion: it is sin which produces disorder and hinders the Spirit from taking the things of Christ and showing them unto us! It is this which is written large across John 18:0 if attention be paid to its structure and order of narrative.
But why is it that the Holy Spirit has made so prominent the sin of Simon in this portion of Scripture? Why has He broken into His account of what befell the Savior, by mentioning the threefold denial? Why, especially, after having previously recorded the same in each of the Synoptics? Ah, is it not to emphasize the need of Christ’s atoning death, by showing us the character of those for whom He died! Was it not His design to show how fearfully sin had "abounded" before He portrayed the super-abounding of grace! Was it not suitable that He should first paint a dark background, so that the perfections of the Holy One might be brought into sharper relief! What comes out so plainly all through John never more so than in these closing incidents is Christ glorifying the Father in a scene where the ruin of sin was complete and universal.
"Then the band and the captain and the officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him" (John 18:12 ). Behold here the amazing hardness of unconverted men. The company of those who arrested the Savior was made up of men of marked differences; it was composed of Gentiles and Jews, soldiers and servants of the priests and Pharisees, heathen and those who belonged to the covenant people of Jehovah. But in one respect they were all alike they were blind to the glories of Him. whom they apprehended. Both parties had witnessed a signal exhibition of His power, when by a word from His lips He had thrown them all to the ground. Both parties had witnessed His tender mercy, when they saw Him heal the torn ear of the first to lay rough hands on Him. Yet, both remained insensible and unmoved, and now proceeded to coolly carry out their odious business of binding the incarnate Son of God. Terrible indeed is the state of the natural man. Let us not wonder, then, at the unbelief and hardness of heart which we see on every side to-day; these things were manifested in the presence of the Savior, and will continue until He returns in judgment.
"Behold also the amazing condescension of our Lord Jesus Christ. We see the Son of God taken prisoner and led away bound like a malefactor arraigned before wicked and unjust judges insulted and treated with contempt. And yet, this unresisting Prisoner had only to will His deliverance, and He would at once have been free. He had only to command the confusion of His enemies, and they would at once have been confounded. Above all, He was One who knew full well that Annas and Caiaphas, and all their companions, would one day stand before His judgment-seat and receive an eternal sentence. He knew all these things and yet condescended to be treated as a malefactor without resisting. One thing at any rate is very dear: the love of Christ to sinners is ‘a love that passeth knowledge.’ To suffer for those who are in some sense worthy of our affection, is suffering that we can understand. To submit to ill-treatment quietly, when we have no power to resist, is submission that is both graceful and wise. But to suffer voluntarily, when we have the power to prevent it, and to suffer for a world of unbelieving and ungodly sinners, unasked and unthanked this is a line of conduct which passes man’s understanding. Never let us forget that this is the peculiar beauty of Christ’s sufferings when we read the wonderful story of His cross and passion. He was led away captive, and dragged before the high priest’s bar, not because Fie could not help Himself, but because He had set His heart on saving sinners by bearing their sins, by being treated as a sinner, and by being punished in their stead" (Bishop Byle).
"Then the band and the captain and the officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him." The first word ought to be translated "Therefore," not "Then:" the words of the previous verse explaining its force: "Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" Having rebuked Peter for offering resistance, He bowed to the Father’s will. "Therefore" they "took Jesus and bound him" like savage beasts they sprang upon their prey. We believe it was to this the Savior referred when, speaking by the Spirit of prophecy, He declared, "Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion... dogs have compassed me, the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me." We doubt not that they bound Him with heavy chains, for of him who furnishes, perhaps, the fullest type of Christ it is written, "Joseph was sold for a servant: whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron" (Psalms 105:17 , Psalms 105:18 ). Is not the antitype of this more than hinted at in Isaiah 53:5 , where we are told not only that He was "wounded for our transgressions" but "bruised for our iniquities"! was it not when they "bound" His wrists and ankles with handcuffs and fetters!
Why did they "bind" Him? Four historical reasons we may give: because Judas had bidden them hold Him fast (Matthew 26:48 ), this because he remembered what is recorded in Luke 4:29 , Luke 4:30 ; John 8:59 , etc.; because they would heap shame upon Him, treating Him as a lawless character; because they deemed Him worthy of death, thereby prejudicing His sentence. But behind these we may see a typical reason: God overruling for the fulfillment of it. All that befell Christ was to fulfill the types and prophecies that went before of Him. The most eminent type of Christ in His sufferings was Isaac, and the first thing that Abraham did to him, when about to offer him up as a sacrifice, was to take and bind him (Genesis 22:9 )! So it was with the animals which were offered: "bind the sacrifice with cords, unto the horns of the altar" (Psalms 118:27 ). But deeper still, there was a mystical significance to this binding of the Savior: we were sin’s captives, therefore was He theirs! Our sins were the cause of His binding, therefore did He, as our Substitute, cry, "innumerable evils have taken hold upon me; mine iniquities (ours, made His) have compassed me about" (Psalms 40:12 )! He was bound that we might be set free. "It is a certain rule that what should have been done to us, something correspondent was done to Christ; and the virtue of His person was such, though it was done to His body, it brought us freedom from the like due to our souls; and by Him being thus bound and led, He Himself afterward, when He ascended, led captivity captive" (Mr. Thomas Goodwin). How ready, then, should we be to be bound for Christ (in Hebrews 13:3 afflictions for His sake are called "bonds"!); and how little ought we to be moved by the vileness of those who persecute us, when we remember Him!
"And led him away to Annas first" (John 18:13 ). The Savior was neither "driven" nor "dragged," but led: thereby the Holy Spirit informs us, once more, of His willing submission. He offered no resistance. With infinitely greater ease than Samson of old, could He have burst His bonds "as a thread when it toucheth the fire"; but as prophecy had announced, "he was led as a lamb to the slaughter" gentle and tractable. Here also He fulfilled not only prophecy but type: each animal that was to be offered in sacrifice was first led to the priest (Leviticus 17:5 ), so Christ was first brought to Annas. The road followed from the Garden to the house of the high priest was also significant. Gethsemane was at the foot of Olivet, on the east side of Jerusalem, beyond the brook Cedron. In journeying from there to the city, the gate through which they would pass was "the sheep gate’ (Nehemiah 3:1 , Nehemiah 3:32 ; Nehemiah 12:39 ; John 5:2 , and see our notes on the last). The "sheep gate" was nigh unto the temple, and through it the sacrificial animals passed (first having been fed in the meadows adjoining the Cedron); so also went the true Lamb on this occasion! Note a striking contrast here: Adam was driven out of the Garden (Genesis 3:24 ); Christ was led!
"And led him away to Annas first; for he was father-in-law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year" (John 18:13 ). John is the only one who tells of the Savior being brought before Annas; the Synoptics describe His appearance before Caiaphas. Both Annas and Caiaphas are called "high priests." The fact that there were two high priests shows the confusion which prevailed at that time. Much has been written on the subject that provides neither information nor edification. So far as our own limited light goes, we take it that the Roman rule over Palestine supplies the key. In view of John 11:49 it seems that the Romans elected a high priest for Israel each year (compare Acts 4:6 , which mentions no less than four, all living, who had filled that office), but in the light of Luke 3:1 it is dear that sometimes they were re-elected. According to the Law of God the high priest retained his office till death (Exodus 40:15 ; Numbers 35:25 , etc.), therefore in the eyes of the Jews, Annas, not Caiaphas, was the real high priest: Caiaphas was formally acknowledged in a civic way, but Annas took precedence over him in ecclesiastical matters. This, we believe, explains why the Savior was brought first before Annas.
"Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people" (John 18:14 ). The reference here is to what is recorded in John 11:49-52 . Caiaphas apparently, was the first man to make the motion that Christ be put to death. The reason he advanced being a political one, with the evident intention of currying favor with the Romans. The callous selfishness of the man comes out plainly in his "consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people" (John 11:50 ). He was addressing the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of Judaism, and in saying "for us," rather than "for them," he shows that he cared more for his office than for his nation.
"Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people." Why is this mentioned here? To show on what ground (from the human side) our Savior was crucified: it was out of political considerations, and those imaginary at best lest perchance "the Romans take away our place and nation." The Holy Spirit has premised all the other sufferings of Christ thus, in order to show us that no equity is to be expected from all their proceedings against Him. They had resolved, before they took Him, to put Him to death, and that for State considerations, therefore they would be sure to keep to their resolutions whether He were innocent or no, whether they could convict Him or not. The judge had given his verdict and determined the sentence before the trial took place! Here then is one of the Spirit’s reasons for introducing this reference to the words of Caiaphas to show us that in what follows we must not expect to find any favor shown to the Lord Jesus, nor must we be surprised if His trial was simply a farce, a glaring travesty of justice. In addition to this, we believe that God saw to it that there should be a plain testimony from the legal head of the nation as to the purpose and character of His Son’s death: He was dying "FOR the people"!
"And Simon Peter followed Jesus" (John 18:15 ). Matthew tells us that he "followed afar off" (Matthew 26:58 ). In following Christ at all on this occasion Peter was clearly acting in the energy of the flesh, for Christ’s will as to His disciples had been plainly expressed in the "let these go their way" (John 18:8 ). "Lovingly anxious to see what was done to Him, yet not bold enough to keep near Him like a disciple. Anyone can see that the unhappy Peter was under the influence of very mixed feelings love made him ashamed to run away and hide himself; cowardice made him ashamed to show his colors, and stick by his Lord’s side. Hence he chose a middle course, the worst, as it happened, that he could have followed" (Bishop Ryle).
"And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest" (John 18:15 ). There has been much discussion and speculation as to who this "other disciple" was. A few of the old commentators and most of the modern believe that he was the writer of this Gospel; but whoever he may have been, it is almost certain that he was not John. In the first place, John was a poor fisherman of Galilee far removed from Jerusalem therefore it is most unlikely that he was on sufficiently intimate terms with the high priest as to enter his house, and have authority over the door-keeper so as to order her to admit Peter. In the second place, John, being a Galilean, would have been recognized and challenged as was Peter (Matthew 26:69 , Matthew 26:73 ). In the third place, whenever John refers to himself in this Gospel it is always as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 13:23 ; John 19:26 ; John 20:2 ; John 21:7 , John 21:20 ). Finally, Acts 4:13 makes it very plain that the high priest was not personally acquainted with either Peter or John! Who, then, was this "other disciple"? The answer is, We do not know. It may have been Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathaea, but we cannot be sure.
"But Peter stood at the door without" (John 18:16 ). How significant and suggestive is this little detail the door was shut! Was it not by God’s providence that the door was now closed? Happy for Peter had he remained on the outside. The Lord had plainly warned him to "watch and pray lest he enter into temptation." But Peter disregards His admonition, and knocks for admission why else should the other disciple have gone out? There is a practical lesson for us right here: God in His mercy put an impediment in Peter’s way, stopping him from going on to that which should be the occasion of his sin; so does He, ofttimes, with us. Therefore, when we find God, in His providence, placing some barrier in our path, it behooves us to pause, and examine well our grounds for going further along the same path we are in. If our way is warranted by the Word and our conscience is clear as to a certain line of duty, then obstacles are to be regarded only as testings of faith and patience; but otherwise they are warnings from God.
"Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spoke unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter" (John 18:16 ). Ah! says the reader, does not this conflict with what has just been said on the first part of the verse? Would not the coming forth of the other disciple, his speaking to the door-keeper (unasked by Peter), and his bringing him in, indicate that God’s providences were working in favor of Peter’s entering the palace? Did it not look as though God were calling Peter to enter? The difficulty seems real, yet it is capable of a simple solution. Peter had disregarded the warning of God the shut door; he had persisted in having his own way knocking for entrance; now God removes His providential barrier. How solemnly this speaks to us; may the Lord grant to each the hearing ear. When we disregard both the Word and warning providence of God, we must not be surprised if He then sets a snare for us. When we insist on having our own way, we must be prepared if God gives us up to our own heart’s lust (Psalms 81:12 ). Jonah chafed against God’s word, therefore when he fled from going to Nineveh and set his heart on Tarshish, he found a ship all ready for him to sail in! Here, then: is another most important practical lesson pointed out for us: the outward providences of God must not be taken for our guide when we have refused His Word and His warnings!
"Then saith the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples? He saith, I am not"
(John 18:17 ). That the door-keeper was a maid rather than a man was obviously overruled by the providence of God: He would humble the pride of Peter in this way, that his weakness might stand out as a lasting warning against self-confidence. It was neither by one of the Roman soldiers nor one of the Jewish officers that the apostle was first challenged, but by a young woman! Why she should ask him the question she did, we are not told; whether she was moved by idle curiosity, or detected that he was a Galilean, or whether his countenance bore marks of agitation and fear, or whether as is more likely she concluded from Peter being a friend of the "other disciple" that he "also" was a follower of Christ, we cannot be sure. Note how mildly she framed her question: not, Are you a follower of this Insurrectionist, this Enemy of Judaism, this Blasphemer against God, but simply, "this man"! Yet, notwithstanding the sex of his questioner, and the mild form of her question, Peter told a downright lie. He said, "I am not." "The betrayal by Judas, though more dreadful, is almost less startling than the denial by Peter. We are less prepared for the cowardice of the one, than for the covetousness of the other. That the one should turn timid seems less natural, so to say was less to be expected than that the other should prove a traitor. ‘Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fallí" (Mr. Geo. Brown).
"And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coal, for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself" (John 18:18 ). What we have here is introductory to the second and third denials, recorded in John 18:25-27 . Peter was cold. How profoundly and solemnly significant! The Christian who follows Christ "afar off" will soon be chilled and grow cold spiritually; then will recourse be had to fleshly stimulants for warmth and comfort. And the enemies of Christ the world, the flesh, and the Devil will provide their "fire" their places and means of cheer!
"And Peter stood with them." Ominous words are these. Of the traitor it was said "And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them"; now we find Simon in the same evil company! "The apostle stood among the crowd of his Master’s enemies, and warmed himself like one of them, as if he had nothing to think of but his bodily comfort; while his beloved Master stood in a distant part of the hall, cold, and a prisoner. Who can doubt that Peter, in his miserable cowardice, wished to appear one of the party who hated Christ, and sought to conceal his real character by doing as they did? And who can doubt that while he warmed his hands he felt cold, wretched, and comfortless in his own soul?" (Bishop Ryle). How true it is that "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways" (Proverbs 14:14 )! Some have pointed out that the Holy Spirit has here told us "it was cold" in order to impress us the more with the bloody sweat of Christ only a short while before!
"The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine" (John 18:19 ). The gross injustice of such a mode of procedure is glaringly apparent. Instead of preferring a charge against the Savior, and then summoning witnesses to prove it, Annas acted after the manner of the Inquisition, asking questions so as to ensnare the One before him. And this was the religious head of Israel, acting altogether against and without law, no indictment having been drawn up, no evidence brought forward to support it; nothing but a cowardly attempt to overawe the Prisoner by browbeating Him, so that he could obtain something which might be used against him.
"The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine." The fact that Annas referred here to our Lord’s "disciples" at once indicates the malevolent character of his questioning: it was an ironical reference to those who had forsaken Him and fled! The high priest "asked Jesus of his disciples" With what design did you gather them round you? Where are they? How many have you in reality now? He asked of them; he did not call for them: none were allowed to testify on His behalf! "And of his doctrine" not for edification, but to see if it were a new teaching of His own, so that they might have wherewith to accuse Him. It is plain that at this stage they were at a loss for a charge. "The disciples are mentioned as His dependents, His followers, His party, His sworn confidents; the doctrine is inquired into as novelty, heresy, dangerous misleading error; both together pointing to the two charges which afterwards were urged Insurrection against the Roman power, error or blasphemy against the Jewish" (Stier).
"Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world" (John 18:20 ). Not before, but to, "the world." Why did He not say "to the multitudes"? why "to the world"? It was the first hint of the universality of His message note how the "Jews" are referred to separately, later in the verse! "I spake openly to the world": truth is bold and fears not the light. It is the emissaries of Satan who hide the leaven in the meal (Matthew 13:33 ); it is the servants of the Prince of darkness who haunt the "secret chambers" (Matthew 24:26 ). In saving that He spake openly to the world the Lord was indirectly rebuking Annas and his co-conspirators for their injustice of refusing Him a trial in open court.
"I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort" (John 18:20 ) there is no article before "synagogue." In affirming that He taught in the established places of public worship, the Lord gave proof that He was no lawless separatist, clandestinely proselytising, but honoring the institutions of God and acting as became His Prophet. "Whither the Jews always resort." "He describes His cause and doctrine as properly national, for all the Jews. There is in the background of both question and answer, though the Lord put it directly not in words, the meaning that the main point in His teaching was the testimony to Himself as the Messiah: thus where all the Jews as Jews are assembled in their national religion to worship God, there have I testified that which applies to all the Jews, that they all should be ‘My disciples’ and ought to acknowledge and join themselves to Me!" (Stier).
"And in secret have I said nothing" (John 18:20 ). This does not mean that He had never instructed His disciples in private. The Lord was giving a general description of His public ministry. Moreover, His confidential communications to His own were but explanations or amplifications of what he had taught in the open. He had not two doctrines, one exoteric for the multitudes, and another esoteric for His intimate friends. In secret He had said nothing. In like manner, the badge by which His messengers may always be identified is described in 2 Corinthians 4:2 : "not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God." In saying "in secret have I said nothing" the Savior unhesitatingly appropriated to Himself the identical declaration of Jehovah of old "I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right" (Isaiah 45:19 ). It is also blessed to observe that while Christ here gave a full, if brief, answer to Annas concerning His "doctrine," not a word did He say about His "disciples.’’ As the Shepherd He protected His sheep! He alone was to suffer, therefore He alone assumed all responsibility!
"Why askest thou me?" (John 18:21 ). Mark the quiet dignity of Christ. So far from being cowed, He turned and challenges the judge: "Why," or better, "Wherefore askest thou me?" It was one of those questions of the Lord which never failed to pierce the heart. Why, do you, the high priest, pretend to be ignorant of what is common knowledge among the people! You have had many opportunities to hear Me yourself! You have expelled from the synagogue those who believe in Me; what meanest thou, then, by this questioning! It was the Light exposing the "hidden things of dishonesty." It was the Holy One condemning the high priest for attempting to make a prisoner incriminate himself and supply evidence to be used against him.
"Ask them which heard me what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said" (John 18:21 ). By thus appealing to those who had heard Him, the Lord still further rebuked the malicious secrecy which had induced them, through fear of the people, to take Him by night. The direction in which Christ pointed Annas is very striking. He did not say, Summon the deaf, the lame, the blind, the lepers I have healed. He did not say, Send for Lazarus of Bethany and question him! But, "Ask them which heard me." It was "the Word" challenging them! "Survey the dignity, the clearness, the gentleness, the supremely measured rightness and wisdom of this answer! In the full and perfect consciousness that He was no founder of a sect, deserving inquisition, He began with I openly, continued with I, and closed with profound feeling who He was, yet not expressing it with ‘what I have said.’ But, with the most proper discretion of one arrested and charged, more righteous than Annas and his foolish questioning: I may not and will not now, My life and doctrine lying before you, testify for Myself, or defend Myself let all be investigated! Let the testimony of all bear witness!" (Stier).
"And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by, struck Jesus with the palm of his hand (margin with a rod’), saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?" (John 18:22 ). How fearfully does this exhibit the enmity of the natural man against God, here manifest in the flesh! Meekly and mildly had our Lord replied to questions which deserved no answer, and all that He received in return was a cruel and cowardly blow. There is no hint of any remonstrance from Annas, nor have we any reason to suppose that he made any. And what shall be thought of a judge who allowed a bound prisoner to be treated in this fashion! Unable to meet the convicting and condemning truth, resource was had to force. It was might attempting to crush the right. This was the first blow which the sacred body of our Savior received from the hands of sinners, and this came not from one of the Roman soldiers, but from a Jew! The Greek word signifies "gave a blow on the face," whether with his hand or with a stick is not determined; personally, we believe it was with the latter, and thus fulfilled Micah 5:1 "They shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek."
"Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?" (John 18:23 ). There was no hot surging of the flesh here, no angry retort, no spirit of resentment. Under all circumstances the Lord Jesus manifested His perfections. But He only was "without sin": contrast the apostle Paul in Acts 23:0 . When the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to strike their prisoner in the mouth, Paul said, God shall smite thee thou whited wall. Yet it is beautiful to see how grace in him triumphed over the flesh: as soon as they asked him, "Revilest thou God’s high priest?" he answered, "I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest, for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people" (Acts 23:2-5 ). But He who is fairer than the children of men never had to retract a single word! O that we may learn of Him who was meek and lowly in heart.
"But if well, why smitest thou me?" The Savior still acted as became the Son of God: He questioned His questioner! He judged the one who had so unrighteously condemned Him. If the smiter had any sense of justice he must have felt keenly our Lord’s calm rebuke.
"Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas, the high priest" (John 18:24 ). The word "had" here is misleading and is not warranted by the Greek. It was following what we read of in John 18:19-23 that Christ was turned over to Caiaphas. Annas had heard sufficient. He saw that to prolong the uneven contest would damage himself rather than his Prisoner; so, ignoring Christ’s piercing question, the blow of the officer and our Lord’s rebuke, he sends Him bound to his son-in-law, that the specious judgment might proceed as prudently as possible, but with the "If I have spoken (not ‘done’!) evil, bear witness of the evil" ringing in his ears.
"And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. They said therefore unto him, Art not thou also one of his disciples? He denied it, and said, I am not" (John 18:25 ). The first clause here is repeated from John 18:18 so as to connect the history. The "therefore" informs us why it was that these men should challenge Peter. He was standing "with them" (John 18:18 ), as one of them, and no doubt it was the flames from their "fire" which lit up his face and caused them to recognize him. He was warming himself more concerned about his body than his soul. He was listening to their blasphemous talk about his Master, too timid to speak up and witness for Him. And it is written "Be not deceived, evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Corinthians 15:33 ). So it proved here, for when these men asked the apostle if he were one of Christ’s disciples, he denied it. This gives additional force to the "therefore": Peter’s being in the company of these enemies of the Lord was the occasion of his being challenged, and that became the occasion of his greater sinning! What a solemn warning for us to avoid the company of the ungodly! How urgently we need to heed the command! "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers"! But note it carefully that Peter did not deny that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, or the Savior of sinners which, we think, none indwelt by the Holy Spirit ever did but only that he was one of His "disciples"!
"One of the servants of the high priest, being his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off, saith Did not I see thee in the garden with him?" (John 18:26 ). What a rebuke was this! Peter was standing "with them" (John 18:18 ), and now one reminds him that, only a little while before, he had stood "with him." How this should have searched his conscience; how it ought to have opened his eyes to the place he now occupied. But poor Peter had boasted, "Although all shall be offended yet will not I . . . I will not deny thee in any wise" (Mark 14:29 , Mark 14:31 ); and so God left him to stand alone, to show him and us that except omnipotent grace upholds us we are certain to fall. Alas, what is man. What is our boasted strength but weakness, and when we are left to ourselves how our most solemn resolutions melt like snow before the sun!
"Peter then denied again: and immediately the cock crew" (John 18:27 ). "If any of his companions had been asked at what point of Peter’s character the vulnerable spot would be found, not one of them would have said, He will fall through cowardice. Besides, Peter had a few hours before been so emphatically warned against denying Christ that he might have been expected to stand firm this night at least. Perhaps it was this very warning which betrayed Peter. When he struck the blow in the garden, he may have thought he had falsified his Lord’s prediction, and when he found himself the only one who had courage to follow to the palace, his besetting self-confidence returned and led him into circumstances for which he was too weak. He was equal to the test of his courage which he was expecting, but when another kind of test was applied in circumstances and from a quarter he had not anticipated his courage failed him utterly.
"Peter probably thought he might be brought bound with his Master before the high priest, and had he done so he would probably have stood faithful. But the Devil who was sifting him had a much finer sieve than that to run him through. He brought him to no formal trial, where he could gird himself for a special effort. The whole trial was over before he knew he was being tried. So do most of our real trials come; in a business transaction that turns up with others in the day’s work, in the few minutes’ talk or the evening’s intercourse with friends, it is discovered whether we are so truly Christ’s friends that we cannot forget Him or disguise the fact that we are His. In these battles which we must all encounter, we receive no formal challenge that gives us time to choose our ground and our weapons; but a sudden blow is dealt us, from which we can be saved only by habitually wearing a coat of mail sufficient to turn it, and which we can carry into all companies" (Mr. M. Dods).
Many are the lessons which we ought to learn from this sad fall of Peter. First, in himself the believer is as weak as water. Only two hours before, Peter had partaken of the Lord’s Supper, had heard the most touching Address and Prayer that ever fell on mortal ears, and had received the plainest possible warning yet he fell!! Second, it shows us the danger of self-confidence. "It is a beacon mercifully set up in Scripture, to prevent others making shipwreck." Third, it warns us of the consequences of prayerlessness: had Peter watched and prayed when the Lord bade him, he would have found grace to help in time of need. Fourth, it reveals to us the perils of companioning with the wicked. Fifth, it shows us the disastrous influence of the fear of man "the fear of man bringeth a snare" (Proverbs 29:25 ), making us more afraid of the face of those we can see than the eye of God whom we cannot see. Sixth, it should prepare us against surprise when our familiar friends fail us in the crucial hour God often permits this to cast us back the more on Himself! Seventh, did not God permit Peter to sin more grievously than any of the Eleven because He foreknew the extravagant regard which should afterwards be paid to him and his self-styled "successors’!
"After all let us leave the passage with the comfortable reflection that we have a merciful and faithful High Priest, who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and will not break the bruised reed. Peter no doubt fell shamefully, and only rose again after heartfelt repentance and bitter tears. But he did rise again; he was not cast off forevermore. The same pitiful Hand that saved him from drowning, when his faith failed him on the waters, was once more stretched out to raise him when he fell in the high priest’s hall. Can we doubt that he rose a wiser and better man? If Peter’s fall has made Christians see more clearly their own great weakness and Christ’s great compassion, then Peter’s fall has not been recorded in vain" (Bishop Ryle).
The following questions are to help the student on the dosing section of John 18:
1. Compare the Synoptics for what happened ere Christ appeared before Pilate.
2. What does verse 30 prove?
3. What does the second half of verse 31 go to show?
4. What did Christ mean by verse 36?
5. What is the force of the last clause of verse 37?
6. Why did God cause Pilate to say verse 39?
7. What is the deeper significance of verse 40?
Exposition of the Gospel of John
Christ before Pilate
The following is an Analysis of the closing section of John 18:
1. Christ brought to Pilate’s court, verse 28.
2. Pilate demanding a formal charge, verses 29, 30.
3. Pilate seeking to shelve his responsibility, verses 31, 32
4. Pilate examining Christ, verses 33-37.
5. Pilate affirms Christ’s innocence, verse 38.
6. Pilate’s attempt at compromise, verse 39.
7. Pilate’s attempt fails, verse 39.
In our last chapter we contemplated the Lord Jesus in the presence of Annas, the real high priest of Israel: in the portion of Scripture which is for our present consideration we behold the Savior arraigned before Pilate. Much that occurred between these two things is omitted by John. In John 18:24 we read, "Now Annas sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest," and following the account of Peter’s second and third denials we are told, "Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment" (John 18:28 ). This fourth Gospel tells us nothing about what transpired when our Lord appeared before Caiaphas, the legal high priest (by Roman appointment), of Israel. For this we have to compare Matthew 26:57-68 ; Matthew 27:1 , Matthew 27:2 ; Mark 14:53 to 15:2; Luke 22:54 to 23:1. Let us briefly summarize the contents of these passages.
As was pointed out in our last, sentence of death had been passed upon Christ before He was brought to trial at all (John 18:14 ); the examination before Caiaphas was, therefore, nothing more than a horrible farce. The Savior was tried before what ought to have been the holiest judicature on earth, but was condemned by the most fearful perversion of justice and abuse of its forms that is recorded anywhere in history. The amazing contrasts presented are intensely affecting. The Friend of sinners was shackled by handcuffs and leg-irons. The Judge of all the earth was arraigned before a fallen son of Adam. The Lord of glory was treated with the foulest scorn. The Holy One was condemned as a blasphemer. Liars bore witness against the Truth. He who is the Resurrection and the Life was doomed to die.
With Caiaphas were assembled the "scribes and elders" (Matthew 26:57 ): in addition to these were the "chief priests and all the council" (Matthew 26:59 ). At this decisive crisis, when Israel’s rejection of their Messiah took its final and official form, all the leaders of the nation were solemnly convened. Their first act was to summon witnesses against the Lord, and the unprincipled character of the Sanhedrin, their utter unrighteousness, is glaringly apparent in that they "SOUGHT false witnesses against Jesus" (Matthew 26:59 ). The Sanhedrin had not the power to execute the death-penalty, therefore, some charge must be preferred against Him when they brought Him before Pilate hence the seeking of the false witnesses. There were thousands who could have testified to the genuineness of His miracles; their own agents had acknowledged that never did man speak as He did; but such testimony as this was not what they wanted. Something must be devised which would give a semblance of justice in clamoring for His execution.
For a time their iniquitous quest was fruitless: "though many false witnesses came, yet found they none" none who could supply what they wanted. But "at the last came two false witnesses" the minimum number required by the Mosaic law, just as Jezebel obtained two false witnesses to testify against Naboth (1 Kings 21:18 ). They affirmed that Christ had said, "I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days." In obedient submission to His Father’s Word, the Savior had stood by in silence while these children of the father of lies had perjured themselves. Evidently dissatisfied at the flimsiness of such a charge, and uneasy at Christ’s calm dignity, the high priest arose "and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? What is it which these witness against thee?" But Jesus held His peace. Alarmed, most probably at the dignified demeanor of his Prisoner, and fearful perhaps that His bearing might move the hearts of some in the Council, Caiaphas said, "I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God" (Matthew 26:63 ). "This was the method among the Israelites of proffering and accepting the oath; the appeal to God (and the formula of curse as the penalty of lying which, however, was not ventured on now) was made on the one side, and the answer made thereupon was received, without any repetition of the oath being regarded as necessary on the part of the respondent. I adjure Thee by the living God (in whose office I stand, under whose power we all are, before whom Thou also standest, who knowest the truth, and judgeth between us and Thee) that Thou tell us, this holy Sanhedrin now here as before God, the truth. Thus does he avow, bearing testimony against himself in this most awful abuse of the name of God, that he knows this God as a living God who will not be mocked! He testifies of His truth, even while he is aiming to get the victory by a lie; of His power and majesty, while he is pushing his opposition to the uttermost? (Stier).
Now, for the first time, Christ spoke before Caiaphas. He penetrates the meaning of His questioner, recognizes all the consequences of His affirmation, but hesitates not to answer. As an obedient Israelite, it was His duty to respond to the adjuration of the ruling power (Leviticus 5:1 ; 1 Kings 22:16 ). Made "under the law" (Galatians 4:4 ), He was submissive to the last, even when it was perverted against Him. The Savior not only replied to His judge, but, maintaining His dignity to the last, added, "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven" (Matthew 26:64 ): "Sitting" in contrast from Me now standing before you, while you sit in judgment upon Me; "power" in contrast from His then weakness (i.e., refusing to exercise His might); "Coming in the clouds of heaven" in contrast from going to the Cross! Caiaphas’ response was to rend his official robes instead of putting them off before the majesty of the great High Priest. In this act Caiaphas did, unknown to himself, but intimate that God had rent asunder the Aaronic priesthood! a garment is only torn to pieces by its owner when he has no more use for it.
Following the rending of his robes, Caiaphas said, "What further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now we have heard His blasphemy. What think ye?" He was the blasphemer. "What further need have we of witnesses?" betrayed his uneasy conscience; "Behold, now ye have heard him" was the signal that the mock trial was over. The answer he wanted was promptly given: "He is guilty of death." Elated at their fancied triumph, "then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote with the palms of their hands, saying, Prophesy unto us thou Christ, who is he that smote thee?" Thus did Israel condemn their Messiah, rebellious man his God.
"When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor" (Matthew 27:1 , Matthew 27:2 ), thus fulfilling our Lord’s prediction, "The Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him" (Mark 10:33 , Mark 10:34 ). This brings us to the first point touched upon by John, whose narrative we shall now follow.
"Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early" (John 18:28 ). "Then," following the decision of the Council, recorded in Matthew 27:1 ; "led they"; still unresisting, He went as a lamb to the slaughter. Mark tells us (Mark 15:1 ) they "bound" Him; "unto the hall of judgment," Pilate’s court-room. "And it was early": the disciples could not watch with Him one hour; His enemies had acted against Him all through that night! Alas, man has more zeal and energy, because more heart, for that which is evil than for that which is good. The same people who will listen, untired, half a day to a political discussion, or sit three hours through an opera, complain that the preacher is long-winded if he spends the whole hour in expounding the Word of God! "It was early": their one object now was to obtain from Pilate, as swiftly as possible, his confirmation of the death-sentence.
"And they themselves went not into the judgment-hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover" (John 18:28 ). The judgment-hall was Gentile property and to have entered it the Jews would be ceremonially defiled, and from that there was not time to be cleansed ere the passover feast arrived. Anxious to partake of the passover, they therefore went no further than the entrance to the praetorium. They would not enter Pilate’s hall, though they were ready to use him to further their own wickedness! What a proof was this of the worthlessness of religion where it has failed to influence the heart. Fully did they merit those awful words of Christ: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matthew 23:27 , Matthew 23:28 ).
These very men were here engaged in the vilest act ever perpetrated on earth, and yet they spoke of being "defiled"! They hesitated not to deliver their Messiah to the Gentiles, yet were scrupulous lest they be disqualified from eating the passover. So to-day there are some who are more concerned about the right form of baptism than they are of a scriptural walk; more punctilious about observing the Lord’s supper than to bring forth fruit to the glory of the Father. Let us beware lest we also "strain at a gnat and swallow a camel." "These ‘rulers of the Jews’ and the multitude that followed them were thorough Ritualists. It was their ritualism that urged them on to crucify the Son of God. Christ and ritualism are opposed to each other as light is to darkness. The true Cross in which Paul gloried and the cross in which modern ceremonialists glory, have no resemblance to each other. The Cross and the crucifix cannot agree. Either ritualism will banish Christ or Christ will banish ritualism." (Mr. H. Bonar.)
"Pilate then went out unto them" (John 18:29 ). That the whole Sanhedrin (Mark 15:1 , Mark 15:2 ), accompanied by a large crowd (Luke 23:1 ), should visit him at such a time (the passover feast), was sufficient to convince Pilate that some important matter required his attention; therefore, early morning though it were, he went out to them. That he was not taken by surprise we know, for only the previous night they had secured a cohort of Roman soldiers, which could not have been obtained without his permission. It was clear to him, then, that here was some culprit whom the Jews wished executed before the Feast began.
"And said, What accusation bring ye against this man?" (John 18:29 ). Pilate’s question here confirms what we have just said above. He did not ask them what was the object of their visit, but simply inquired what charge they preferred against their prisoner. This was in accord with the Roman law which required three things: the making of a specific indictment, the bringing of the accusers before the accused, and the liberty granted to the latter to answer for himself (Acts 25:16 ). Pilate therefore acted honorably in demanding to know the nature of the crime charged against the Lord Jesus. God saw to it that out of their own mouths they should be condemned.
"They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee" (John 18:30 ), The Jews were piqued at Pilate’s question. They were not anxious to prefer a charge, knowing full well that they had no evidence by which they could establish it. It is clear that they hoped that Pilate would take their word for it especially as they had obtained the soldiers from him so easily and condemn their Prisoner unheard. With characteristic hypocrisy they now assumed an injured air: they posed as righteous men; they would have Pilate believe that they would never have arrested an innocent man. Their "if he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee" was tantamount to saying: "See who is before you we are none other than the sacred Sanhedrin: we have already tried the case, and our judgment is beyond question: we only ask you now to give the necessary Roman sanction that He may be put to death." Their hands were forced by Pilate, for Luke tells us "they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a king" (Luke 23:2 ).
"Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him, according to your law" (John 18:31 ). The whole responsibility now rested on Pilate. He was too well acquainted with the Jews’ expectations to suppose that the Sanhedrin would hate and persecute one who would free them from the Roman yoke. Their simulation of good citizenship was too shallow to deceive him. But he did not relish the task before him, and sought to evade it. The real character of the man comes out plainly here timid, vacillating, temporizing, unprincipled. Pilate wished to have nothing to do with the case; he was anxious for the Jews to shoulder the full onus of Christ’s death. What cared he for justice, so long as he could get out of an unpleasant situation! He was anxious not to displease the Jews, therefore did he say, "judge him (sentence Him to death) according to your law."
"The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death" (John 18:31 ). This reply completely thwarted the wretched Pilate’s attempt to avoid the necessity of judging our Lord. They pressed upon the Roman governor that the legal power of passing the death sentence was no longer in their hands, therefore it was impossible for them to do as he desired. They here warned Pilate that nothing but the execution of Christ would satisfy them. But a Higher Power was overruling: "Of a truth against thy Holy servant Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done" (Acts 4:27 ,Acts 4:28 ).
"The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death." Though they were unaware of it, this was a remarkable confession. It was their own acknowledgment that Genesis 49:10 was now fulfilled "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come." The heads of Israel here owned that they were no longer the rulers of their own nation, but were under the dominion of a foreign power. He that has the right to condemn a prisoner to death is the governor of a country. "It is not lawful" they said; you, the Roman governor, alone can do it. By their consent they no longer had a law-administrator of their own stock, therefore the "scepter" had departed, and this was proof positive that Shiloh (the Messiah) had come! How unaware wicked men are when they fulfill prophecy!
"That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die" (John 18:32 ). Here again prediction was being fulfilled, all unconsciously by themselves. The refusal of Israel to take matters into their own hands, when Pilate put it there, only worked for the accomplishment of Christ’s own words: "and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify" (Matthew 20:19 ). Moreover, had the Jews still possessed the power of inflicting capital punishment for such crimes as they alleged against the Lord Jesus, the mode of execution would have been by stoning. By delivering Him to Pilate this ensured the Roman form of punishment, crucifixion, and thus did the saying of Christ come to pass: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up" (John 3:14 ); and again, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all unto me. This He said, signifying what death he should die" (John 12:32 , John 12:33 ).
"Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?" (John 18:33 ). Here we have another glaring example of the gross injustice which was meted out to the Savior. First Annas, then Caiaphas, now Pilate, displayed the fearful enmity of the carnal mind against God here manifest in flesh. Roman law required that the accused and the accusers should be brought face to face, and that the former should have an opportunity of replying to the charge laid against him (Acts 23:28 ), but this Pilate denied Christ. But what was far worse, Pilate examined Christ as the enemy of Caesar and the Jews were His only accusers! If the Lord Jesus were really opposing the authority and rights of the Emperor, why had not the Roman power taken the initiative? Where were the Gentile witnesses against Him? Were all the Roman officers indifferent to their master’s interests! Pilate knew that it was for envy (Matthew 27:18 ) the Sanhedrin had delivered Him up. He knew full well that the Savior was no malefactor: he could not have been ignorant of His public life His deeds of mercy, His words of grace and truth; yet did he refuse Him a fair trial The fact that Pilate’s objection (John 18:31 ) was so easily silenced, revealed the pitiable weakness of his character. Sent to be the Governor of these Jews, they, nevertheless, compelled him to be their slave, the executioner of their wrath.
"Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the king of the Jews?" What lay behind this question? what was the state of Pilate’s mind when he asked it? With Bishop Ryle we are inclined to say, "On the whole, the question seems a mixture of curiosity and contempt." The humble attire and lowly appearance of our Lord cannot fail to have struck the Governor. The entire absence of any signs which the world associates with One possessing a kingdom must have puzzled him. Yet tidings of His "triumphal entrance" into Jerusalem only a few days before had doubtless reached his ears. Who, then, was this strange character who attracted the multitudes, but was hated by their leaders? who had power to heal the sick, yet had not where to lay His head? who was able to raise the dead, yet here stood bound before him?
"Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?" (John 18:34 ). Our Lord was addressing Himself to Pilate’s conscience. Do you really desire to act justly? Is it information you are in quest of? or are you going to be the tool of those who delivered Me to thee? He would point out to him the injustice of any suspicions he might entertain. If you have reason to think I am a "king" in the sense in which you employ the term, then where are the Roman witnesses? If you are influenced only by what you have heard from the Sanhedrin, beware of heeding the word of those who are plainly My enemies. Christ was pressing upon him his individual responsibility of coming to some definite conviction concerning Himself. But why not have answered with a plain Yes or No? Because that, under the circumstances, was impossible? Pilate used the word "king" as a rival of Caesar, as a rebel against Rome. To have replied Yes, would have misled Pilate; to have said No, without qualification, would have been to deny "the hope of Israel." The Lord therefore presses Pilate for a definition of this ambiguous term. Admire His consummate wisdom.
"Sayest thou this of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?" "Our Lord, by this, would learn whether His claims to be king of the Jews was challenged by Pilate as protector of the Emperor’s rights in Judea, or merely upon a charge of the Jews. Upon this hung, I may say, everything in the present juncture; and the wisdom and purpose of the Lord in giving the inquiry. this direction are manifest. Should Pilate say that he had become apprehensive of the Roman interests, the Lord could at once have referred him to the whole course of His life and ministry, to prove that, touching the king, innocency had been found in Him. He had taught the rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. He had withdrawn Himself, departing into a mountain alone, when He perceived that the multitude would have taken Him by force to make Him a king (John 6:15 ). His controversy was not with Rome... and Pilate would have had His answer according to all this had the challenge proceeded from himself as representative of the Roman power. But it did not" (Mr. J. G. Bellett).
"Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?" (John 18:35 ). Here Pilate betrayed his insincerity. He evaded Christ’s penetrating question. He denied any personal interest in the matter. I am no Jew I am not concerned about points of religious controversy. "What hast thou done?" let us deal with practicaI matters. We doubt not that Pilate uttered his first question sneeringly Am I a Jew! You forget that I, a noble Roman, can have no patience with visions and dreams. It was the haughty and contemptuous language of a prominent man of affairs. "Thine own nation and the chief priests" are the ones who are interested in ceremonial rites and recondite prophecies, and they have "delivered thee to me"! What is it that they have against you? Here he speaks as the judge: let us come to the business in hand.
"Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?" "This answer of Pilate conveyed the full proof of the guilt of Israel. In the mouth of him who represented the power of the world at that time, the thing was established, that Israel had disclaimed their King and sold themselves into the hand of another. This, for the present, was everything with Jesus this at once carried Him beyond the earth, and out of the world. Israel had rejected Him, and His kingdom was, therefore, not from hence: for Zion is the appointed place for the King of the whole earth to sit and rule; and the unbelief of the daughter of Zion must keep the king of the earth away. The Lord, then, as the rejected King, listening to this testimony from the lips of the Roman, could only recognize the present loss of His throne" (Mr. Bellett). Hence Christ’s next words.
"My kingdom is not of this world’ (John 18:36 ). First, observe that He did not say "My kingdom is not in this world," but "My kingdom is not of this world." Believers are not "of" this world (John 17:16 ), yet they are "in" it! Second, observe His own qualifying and yet amplifying words at the dose of the verse: "but now is my kingdom not from hence." The "now" is explained by Pilate’s declaration in the previous verse re-read Mr. Bellett’s comments thereon. This was not said by Christ until after His final and official rejection by Israel! Third, observe His explanatory "if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight" to deliver their king. Our Lord was graciously explaining to Pilate the character of that kingdom over which He will yet preside. Unlike all the kingdoms which have preceded it, My kingdom will not originate with man, but be received from God (Daniel 7:13 , Daniel 7:14 ; Luke 19:12 ); unlike the kingdoms of man, which have been dependent upon the powers of the world, Mine will be an absolute theocracy; unlike theirs, which have been propagated by the world’s arms, Mine will be regulated by heavenly principles; unlike theirs, which have been characterized by injustice and tyranny, Mine will be marked by righteousness and peace.
In answering Pilate as He did we cannot but admire the wondrous grace and patience of our blessed Lord. The contemptuous "Am I a Jew?" of Pilate annulled his right to any further notice; his "what hast thou done?" gave the One before him the full right to maintain silence. But ignoring the insult, Christ continued to address Himself to his conscience. "My kingdom is not of this world" warned Pilate that there was another world, to which He belonged! "My kingdom," which will not be brought in by "fighting," was to assure him there was a Power superior to the boasted might of Rome, which then dominated the earth. "Now is my kingdom not from hence" intimated that His kingdom would be far otherwise than those in which violence and injustice had ever held sway, and where, after all, there was nothing obtained but the semblance of right and truth. Thus instead of furnishing a positive reply to Pilate’s "What hast thou done?" He gave a negative answer which, however, plainly showed that He was guilty of no political evil and had done nothing against Caesar.
Some have wondered why Christ did not appeal to His wondrous and benevolent works of mercy when Pilate asked Him, "What hast thou done?" But those were a part of His Messianic credentials (Matthew 11:3-5 , etc.), and therefore only for Israel. Others have wondered why Pilate did not refer to the smiting of Malchus in the garden, when the Lord affirmed "then would my servants fight." Why had not the Sanhedrin informed Pilate of Peter’s temerity? Malchus was a servant of the high priest and nothing was more natural than that he should clamor for redress. The seeming difficulty is at once removed by a reference to Luke 22:51 , where we are told that the Savior "touched his ear and healed him." "The miracle satisfactorily explains the suppression of the charge to have advanced it would have naturally led to an investigation that would have more than frustrated the malicious purpose it was meant to serve. It would have proved too much. It would have manifested His own compassionate nature, His submission to the law, and His extraordinary powers" (Mr. J. Blount).
"Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then?" (John 18:37 ). The Governor was puzzled. The quiet and dignified bearing of the One before him, the threefold reference to His kingdom, the declaration that it was not of this world, the calm assertion that though in bonds He was possessed of "servants," plus a strong hint that His dominion would yet be firmly established, though not by the sword, was more than Pilate could grasp. Pilate’s change from "Art thou the king of the Jews?" in John 18:33 to "Art thou a king then?" intimated he was satisfied there was nothing to fear politically, yet that Christ had made a claim which was incomprehensible to his mind. We believe that he had dropped his scornful tone and asked this last question half earnestly, half curiously. That He was "king" our Lord would not deny, but boldly acknowledged "to this end was I born," knowing full well what would be the cost of His affirmation. It is to this the Holy Spirit refers, "who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession" (1 Timothy 6:13 ). Though Israel received Him not, yet He was their king (Matthew 2:2 ). Though the husbandmen were casting Him out, yet He was the heir of the vineyard. Though His citizens were saying they would not have Him to reign over them, yet He had been anointed to the throne in Zion.
"To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth" (John 18:37 ). Note how the Savior here linked together His kingdom and His bearing witness unto the truth. Truth is authoritative, imperial, majestic. This was a further word for Pilate’s conscience, if only his heart were open to receive it. Christ informs him that He possessed a higher glory than His title to David’s throne, even that of Deity, for it was as the Only-begotten of the Father that He was "full of grace and truth," and His "came I into the world" distinguished from His being "born" in the previous clause was a direct hint that He was from Heaven! Moreover, the Lord would have it known that there had been no failure in His mission. The great design before Him at His first advent was not to wield the royal scepter, but to bear witness unto the truth; that He had faithfully done, yea, was doing, at that very moment. This was His answer, to Pilate’s "What hast thou done?" (John 18:35 ) I have witnessed unto, not simply "truth" but, the truth; it was as "the word" He again spoke!
"Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice" (John 18:37 ). He that is "of the truth" means, first, he that is true, honest and sincere; in its deeper meaning, he who is of God: compare John 8:47 . It is only the one who has a heart for the truth who really hears Christ’s voice, for the Author of the truth is also the Teacher, the Interpreter of it. What a word was this for Pilate’s conscience. If you are really seeking the Truth, which I came into the world to bear witness unto, you will listen unto Me! "Would any one ask how he can know that he is ‘of the truth’? The Sacred Word supplies a direct answer, leaving none in doubt. ‘Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth’ (1 John 3:18 , 1 John 3:19 ). Whoever shows himself to be a partaker of the Divine nature, evidenced by loving in deed and in truth, is of the truth, hears Christ’s voice, and will be found in His train among the armies of heaven, when He comes forth to deal with the apostate power on earth" (Mr. C. E. Stuart).
"Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out" (John 18:38 ). There has been wide difference of opinion as to the spirit in which he asked this question. Clearly it was not that of an earnest inquirer, as his at once leaving Christ without waiting for an answer shows only an awakened conscience is really desirous of knowing what is Truth. Many have thought it was more a wail of despair: What is truth?: "I have investigated many a system, examined various philosophers, but have found no satisfaction in them." But apart from the fact that everything revealed about his character conflicts with an earnest, persevering quest after light, would he not rather have said, "Truth! there is no truth!" had that been his state of mind? Personally, we regard Pilate’s words here as an expression of scorn, ending them not with a question mark but an exclamation, the emphasis on the final word "What is truth?’ It was the Light now manifesting the darkness. This expressed the settled conviction of a conscienceless politician. "Truth"! is it for that you are sacrificing your life? We think his words in John 18:39 bear this out.
"And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and said unto them, I find in him no fault" (John 18:38 ). Pilate was uneasy. The words of Christ had impressed him more deeply than he would care to admit. That He was innocent was clear; that Pilate was now guilty of the grossest injustice is equally patent. If the Roman governor found "no fault" in Christ he ought to have promptly released Him. But instead of yielding to the voice of conscience he proceeded to confer with those who thirsted for the Savior’s blood. Much is omitted by John at this point which is found in the Synoptics the chief priest’s remonstrance (Mark 15:3-12 ); Pilate sending Him to Herod; and the brutal treatment which He received at the hands of his soldiers, followed by Herod sending Him back to Pilate (Luke 23:5-18 ).
"But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the king of the Jews?" (John 18:39 ). The nature of such a proposal at once reveals the unscrupulous character of him who made it. Pilate feared to offend the Jews (feared because an uprising at that time would have brought him into disfavour with Caesar, who had his hands full elsewhere) and so sought an expedient which he hoped would please them, and yet enable him to discharge the Lord Jesus. Remembering the custom which obtained at the passover of releasing a prisoner a most striking custom it was, grace, deliverance, connected with the passover! he suggests that Christ be the one to go free. It was as though he said, Let us suppose that Jesus is guilty; I am willing to declare Him a criminal worthy of death, providing He be freed. Luke tells us that he went so far as to offer to "chastise" Christ before he released Him (Luke 23:16 ). Little did he recognize the type of men he was dealing with, still less the One above who was directing all things.
"Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber" (John 18:40 ). The Jews revealed themselves as worse than Pilate and demanded what he least expected. Thirsting for the blood of their victim, impatient or him to yield up to them their prey, they all "cried (the Greek signifies ‘shouted’) not this man, but Barabbas." Pilate’s compromise not only showed plainly that he was not "of the truth" but only drew out the extent of their enmity. "Barabbas was a robber," better "bandit" one who used force; Luke says he was a murderer, How very striking: the Jews chose Barabbas, and plunders and blood-shedders have ruled over them ever since!! In this their history is without a parallel.
"We have noticed elsewhere how strangely yet significantly this name Barabbas, ‘son of the father,’ comes in here. It was the Son of the Father just as that whom they were refusing now; but of what father was this lawless one the son? A shadow it is, surely, of the awful apostasy to come, when they will receive him who comes in his own name (the Antichrist, A.W.P.), true child of the rebel and ‘murderer from the beginning.’ Yet there is a Gospel side to this also. How good to see that here it is the question, Shall the Savior or the sinner suffer? and to remember that under the law, the unclean animal might be redeemed with a Lamb (Exodus 13:0 ), but the lamb could not be redeemed. Impossible for the Savior to be released in this way. But the sinner may" (Mr. F. W. Grant).
The following questions are to aid the student on John 19:1-11 :
1. Why did God allow Christ to wear "a crown of thorns," verse 2?
2. Why "a purple robe," verse 2?
3. How many times in the four Gospels "I find no fault," verse 4?
4. What was Pilate’s aim in "Behold the man"! verse 5?
5. What is the meaning of verse 6 in the light of John 18:31 ?
6. What made Pilate "the more afraid," verse 8?
7. Why did Jesus make no answer, verse 9?
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Pink, A.W. "Commentary on John 18". "Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent