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John 18

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This chapter records the betrayal and seizure of Jesus (John 18:1-11), the arraignment before Annas (John 18:12-14), Peter’s first denial (John 18:15-18), questioning by Annas (John 18:19-24), Peter’s second and third denials (John 18:25-27), Jesus’ appearance before Caiaphas and before Pilate (John 18:28-32), Pilate’s questioning of Jesus (John 18:33-38) and vain efforts of Pilate to release Jesus (John 18:38-40).

John emphasized the regal bearing and demeanor of the Lord even in the hours of his humiliation; and from this some have alleged that he omitted the agony in the garden as unbecoming the impression of Jesus he wished to portray, but that view is illogical in the light of his record of the Lord’s being slapped by an officer in the presence of Annas. The logical and obvious reason for the many omissions of details like the agony is found in the widespread knowledge of such details already recorded in the synoptics.

Another alleged difficulty derives from Peter’s denial having occurred before Annas in John, and in the palace of Caiaphas in the synoptics. This is fully resolved by the fact that Annas and Caiaphas occupied the same palace, and the courtyard where Peter denied the Lord was in front of both apartments, that of Annas and that of his son-in-law, Caiaphas. (See my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 26:57.)

That Annas and Caiaphas occupied the same palace, or different portions of the same edifice, solves the chief difficulty. Annas held his preliminary unofficial inquiry in his department of the building. H. R. Reynolds, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), Vol. 17, II, p. 385.

The other difficulty, not the "chief" difficulty mentioned by Reynolds, regards the use of the title "high priest" for Annas (John 18:19); but this is not a difficulty at all in view of the prevailing prejudice of the Jews who still regarded Annas as the real high priest. John’s acquaintance with the high priest (Annas) which surfaces in this chapter would certainly have inclined him to use this title in speaking of him; and this also explains the somewhat derogatory designation of Caiaphas as "high priest that year" (John 18:13). The officer who struck Jesus (John 18:22), being one of Annas’ retainers, would certainly not have referred to his boss otherwise than as "high priest." Thus, like all so-called difficulties in the Bible, these alleged problems disappear in the light of a little study.

Verse 1

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Kidron, where was a garden which he entered, himself and his disciples.

These words … refer to the entire farewell discourse just concluded.

The brook Kidron … This was a "winter torrent" (English Revised Version margin), meaning that it was dry most of the year. It flowed by the southeast wall of the city, and between it and the Mount of Olives. William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1961), II, p. 375. It was down this little valley that David fled from the rebellion of his son Absalom (2 Samuel 15:23); here Asa burned the abominable image (1 Kings 15:3); and near here, Josiah caused the idolatrous vessels to be burned (2 Kings 23:4). In the reign of Hezekiah, the Levites carried the unclean things to this valley (2 Chronicles 29:16); and Jeremiah called it "the valley of the dead bones and of the ashes" (Jeremiah 31:40), adding that this valley should be "holy unto the Lord."

There was a garden … It was in the garden of Eden that Paradise was lost, and now it would be recovered in another garden where Jesus was strengthened through tears and blood to pay the price of human redemption. There an angel helped him to prepare for the ordeal of Calvary (Luke 22:43). Contrasting with the garden in Eden, this one was situated in the valley of Kidron with its overtones of shame and uncleanness; but this one was "holy unto the Lord," for here he found supernatural help through the angelic messenger who aided him to overcome through tears and blood.

Verse 2

Now Judas also, who betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus oft-times resorted thither with his disciples.

There were doubtless several places to which Jesus might have gone that night if he had wished to hide; but this choice of a place Judas knew well showed his willingness to suffer.

Verse 3

Judas then, having received the band of soldiers, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.

Band of soldiers … The word means "cohort," indicating a contingent of several hundred men. The soldiers were a part of the garrison of the tower of Antonio, headquarters of the Roman military presence in the city.

Officers from the chief priests and Pharisees … The soldiers were accompanied by a detachment of the temple guard. This marshaling of a military expedition against Jesus for the purpose of arresting him was as ridiculous as it was unnecessary.

Lanterns and torches … Matthew and Mark mentioned the weapons but not the lanterns and torches. Despite the moon’s being full (it was the Passover), the arresting party came prepared to search the dark recesses of the garden with its olive trees.

Verse 4

Jesus therefore, knowing the things that were coming upon him, went forth, and saith unto them, Whom seek ye?

Large as that company of his apprehenders was, Jesus, and not they, had complete control of the sequence of events; and Jesus at once moved effectively to prevent the arrest of any of his disciples. If he had not done so, it seems certain that the apostles also would have been arrested.

Verse 5

They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, who betrayed him, was standing with them.

John did not bring himself to mention the dastardly kiss, but his placement of Judas on the side of the Lord’s enemies corroborates the synoptics.

Was standing with them … suggests that John could still remember, over the gulf of years, the traitor, standing there in the flickering torchlight, his very presence with the Lord’s enemies stabbing the hearts of them who had been his friends.

Jesus of Nazareth … was the designation promoted by the Pharisees who ignorantly thought that no prophet came out of Galilee. What his enemies intended as a slander, however, the Lord accepted as a crown of glory, identifying himself from heaven as "Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 22:8).

I am (he) … It will be noted that "he" is not in the Greek. Therefore, what Jesus said here was "I AM," thus making it another assertion of his Godhead (see Exodus 3:14 and under John 8:58).

Verse 6

When therefore he said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.

This remarkable outflashing of Jesus’ power explains why the arresting party so readily consented to permit the apostles to leave without being arrested. It was perfectly clear to that entire company that Jesus could do anything, and therefore they allowed his arrest upon his own terms, not theirs. Can there be any other possible explanation of why the whole group was not arrested? It will be further noted that Jesus referred to his prevention of their arrest as a fulfillment of his prophetic words in the great prayer (John 17:12); and from this the deduction stands that if the apostles had been arrested they might have been killed also. See the next verse.

Verse 7

Again therefore he asked them, Whom seek ye? And they said Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I told you that I am he; if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way: that the word might be fulfilled which he spake, Of those whom thou hast given me I lost not one.

If the arrest had not been prevented, some, perhaps all of them would have been lost.

Whom seek ye … ? The shock of what had just happened was still upon them all; and, under the circumstances, they readily agreed to Jesus’ request of exemption from arrest for his apostles. John 18:9 strongly suggests that this miracle, like all the others, was not for Jesus’ personal benefit, but for the benefit of others.

Verse 10

Simon Peter therefore having a sword drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. Now the servant’s name was Malchus.

This rash action by Peter required another miracle to prevent his arrest and possible execution. Peter never knew until long afterward how thin the ice was upon which he skated that night.

Peter was intent on making good his boast of being willing to follow the Lord to prison and to death. This was the only blow struck in Jesus’ defense, and one cannot help but admire Peter; wrong as he was, for striking it. For fuller exegesis of this incident and Peter’s denials, see my Commentary on Matthew, under Matthew 26:51ff.

His right ear … is another inadvertent touch of the eyewitness writer.

The servant’s name was Malchus … Both Peter and Malchus are named by John, but not in the synoptics. Fear of reprisal by the authorities probably led to the omission of Peter’s name in early Gospels. The miracle of healing Malchus’ ear is not recorded here, but the necessity for such a thing is revealed. Can the fact of Peter’s not being arrested even after his assault with a sword upon the arresting officers be explained in any way, except in the light of the miracles wrought during the progress of the seizure?

Verse 11

Jesus therefore said unto Peter, Put up the sword into the sheath: the cup which the Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?

Put up the sword into the sheath … There are two swords in this narrative: Peter’s, and that of the civil authority. Jesus submitted to the latter, even when that authority was being abused by lawless and sinful men. The sword of civil authority is God-ordained. See my Commentary on Romans, Romans 13:1ff. For discussion of the related problem of a Christian’s service in the police or military establishment, see my book on the Ten Commandments, chapter 8.

The cup which the Father giveth me … is a clear reference to the cup of agony (Matthew 26:39).

The synoptics dwell upon the agony; and, from this, some critics allege that Jesus approached the arrest as a whimpering, cowering individual, completely crushed by the onset of events. Such a view is totally wrong. To be sure, there was agony; but Luke explained that an angel from heaven came and strengthened Jesus (Luke 22:43); and in John, the God-Man appears in his true strength, far more than able to cope with every situation. It is not a "different Jesus" which John presents, but the same Jesus, after the heavenly strengthening. The same "cup" appears both here and in the synoptics.

Verse 12

So the band and the chief captain, and the officers of the Jews, seized Jesus and bound him.

The chief captain … The Greek word here is [chiliarch] meaning the commander of a thousand men; but this does not necessarily mean that a full cohort of one thousand men was present, but that an officer of that rank was present. The importance the Pharisees attached to this arrest is seen in the employment of such a ranking military figure in the achievement of it. The mention of the chiliarch shows that the Gentiles were represented in the sufferings of Jesus, a fact he had prophesied (Matthew 20:19).

And bound him … This was part of the unmerited sufferings of Jesus, there having been no need at all to bind him, as if he should have tried to escape! He had voluntarily identified himself, commanded his apostles not to resist, and had willingly accompanied the cohort; but satanic instigation in wicked hearts made sure that every possible humiliation would be executed upon the Saviour.

Verse 13

And led him to Annas first: for he was father-in-law to Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.

Annas had been deposed from the office of high priest by the Romans for putting a young sabbath-breaker to death, contrary to Roman law; but the Jews continued to recognize Annas as the true high priest. That accounts for the arraignment here before Annas.

Who was high priest that year … is alleged by some as an "error" on John’s part, supposing that John thought they changed high priests every year! The over-eagerness of critics to find something wrong is apparent in such a view. Certain]y, John neither said nor implied that any such annual change occurred in the high priesthood.

That year … - that awful year of our Lord’s crucifixion, was the thought in John’s mind as he named the man who was legal high priest THAT YEAR. Caiaphas was only one of six sons and sons-in-law of Annas who held the office throughout Annas’ long life after his deposition by Tiberius. F. N. Peloubet, Peloubet’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: The John C. Winston Company, 1925), p. 35. See under John 19:11.

Verse 14

Now Caiaphas was he that gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.

For discussion of this unintentional prophecy of Caiaphas, see under John 11:49,50. John’s mention of this was to show what a biased and unprincipled judge would preside over the Lord’s trial in the Sanhedrin.

Verse 15

And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Note that disciple was known unto the high priest, and entered in with Jesus into the court of the high priest.

Simon Peter followed … The synoptic version is that he did so "afar off" (Mark 14:54), still smarting, perhaps, from Jesus’ command to put up his sword. See my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 26:58, for an outline of the seven contributing causes of Peter’s denial.

And so did another disciple … This refers to John, the author of this Gospel. As Barnes said:

John mentions this circumstance of his being known to them, to show why he was not questioned as Peter was. … The questions asked Peter were not asked by those in authority, and his apprehensions which led to his denial were groundless. Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1954), p. 362.

The court of the high priest … was an imposing structure with apartments, a courtyard, stalls for guards, and the usual accouterments of a palace. It is likely that both Annas and Caiaphas lived there. The sending of Jesus bound to Caiaphas involved nothing more than leading him across the courtyard.

Verse 16

But Peter was standing at the door without. So the other disciple who was known unto the high priest, went out and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter.

The circumstance of John’s being favorably known to the high priest was that which provided this eyewitness account and also resulted in Peter’s admittance to the theater of his triple denial. Thus the question left dangling in the synoptics as to how Peter happened to be at the trial, or near it, is cleared up by this circumstance, as is also the status of the "damsel" who questioned Peter.

Verse 17

The maid therefore that kept the door saith unto Peter, Art thou also one of this man’s disciples? He saith, I am not. Now the servants and the officers were standing there, having made a fire of coals; for it was cold; and they were warming themselves: and Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.

Art thou also … indicates that John was openly known as a disciple of Jesus, and there is no evidence that Peter would have suffered any inconvenience by an open admission of his discipleship. However, it should be remembered that Peter had cut off Malchus’ ear a little earlier; and, if his identity as the perpetrator of that act had been known, there would have been solid grounds for his arrest. If this entered into Peter’s thinking, it would show how one wrong act inevitably leads to another wrong act. For full discussion of Peter’s denials, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 26:58.

Warming himself … at the devil’s fire was another circumstance in the chain of events leading to the denial.

Verse 19

The high priest therefore asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his teaching.

The high priest … It is a moot question if this was Annas or Caiaphas, for it might have been either. There is hardly any doubt that Caiaphas was in his father-in-law’s house, or apartment in the palace, when Jesus was arraigned there; but the view maintained in this commentary is that Annas is referred to here. Annas was deposed in 14 A.D. by Tiberius, but the Jews still honored him as the rightful high priest; and, if Annas was the one who knew John, it would have been perfectly natural for the apostle to have called him "high priest." Annas, in this verse, is represented as engaging in what lawyers call a "fishing expedition." Jesus did not cooperate with him.

Verse 20

Jesus answered him, I have spoken openly to the world; I ever taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and in secret I spake nothing.

Jesus well knew that the wily old hypocrite, Annas, was merely on a fishing expedition and quite properly refused to tell him anything. Besides that, Annas was not the legal high priest; and Jesus had already decided to make his formal testimony concerning his Messiahship before the Sanhedrin in formal assembly. In addition, the Pharisees’ spies had been following Jesus diligently for months; and everything that Jesus had publicly stated was, in all probability, already known to Annas, as was also Caiaphas’ determination to put Jesus to death.

Verse 21

Why askest thou me? ask them that have heard me, what I spake unto them; behold these know the things which I said.

In the circumstance, Jesus’ reply was the equivalent of "Look if you wish a report on my disciples and teaching, just read the report of your own spies!" Jesus was rightful lord of the temple and head of the theocracy, being none other than the divine Son of God; and, in view of the unmitigated evil that was resident in the soul of Annas, the Lord’s words here were remarkably mild. Yet even this mild rejection of Annas’ demand was resented by his retainers, one of whom lifted his hand against the Prince of Life and struck the Lord in the face.

Verse 22

And when he had said this, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?

With his hand … The Greek word from which this is translated can mean either one of two things: (1) a stroke with a rod, or (2) a blow by the hand to the ear, or face, the latter "being the current punishment for a word supposed to be insolent." H. R. Reynolds, op. cit., II, p. 387. This was the beginning of that vulgar and brutal mockery which was the lot of the holy Saviour on that dreadful night.

The high priest … This proves that Annas enjoyed the title, even though he was no longer in possession of the office of high priest. His retainers and servants of course knew this; and Jesus might have pointed it out but refrained from doing so.

Verse 23

Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?

The plain truth Jesus had spoken to Annas was the only defense such words needed; but the hour of darkness had arrived, and the Son of God was delivered into the hands of lawless men.

Verse 24

Annas therefore sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest.

As noted above, this does not imply any certain distance and was probably nothing more than moving Jesus from one side of the palace to the other, from the apartment of Annas to the more commodious chambers of the legal high priest. In the meanwhile, the events were moving to their climax in the matter of Peter’s denials.

Verse 25

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They said therefore unto him, Art thou also one of his disciples? He denied and said, I am not. One of the servants of the high priest, being a kinsman of him whose ear Peter cut off, saith, Did not I see thee in the garden with him? Peter therefore denied again: and straightway the cock crew.

The additional element provided by John in this episode is that of the introduction of an eyewitness of Peter’s association with the Lord in the garden. The synoptics mention the Galilean accent; but, in the circumstance of one of Malchus’ kinsmen having actually seen him with Jesus, there was hardly any way Peter could deny it. Therefore, he did so with an oath, which has ever been the support of lame propositions. John softened the account of Peter’s denial by leaving out any mention of the oath.

This account sheds light on the identity of Peter’s questioners, whether "a damsel," another "maid," or "they," as here - all such questions resolve in the fact of a number of questioners, especially the last and unanswerable one in the person of a kinsman of Malchus.

Verse 28

They led Jesus therefore from Caiaphas into the Praetorium: and it was early; and they themselves entered not into the Praetorium, that they might not be defiled, but might eat the passover.

This and John 18:24 are John’s only reference to the formal trial in the Sanhedrin. He also omitted the all-night examination before Caiaphas, and the trial before Herod. Of the six trials before: (1) Annas, (2) Caiaphas, (3) the Sanhedrin, (4) Pilate, (5) Herod, and (6) Pilate; John mentioned (1), (4) and (6).

That they might not be defiled … What a perverse inconsistency marks the behavior of men! They were willing to suborn testimony to effect the judicial murder of the Son of God, but were unwilling to put foot in a Gentile’s house on the day of the Preparation. This is the classical demonstration of the manner in which the strictest observance of religious ceremonies can exist in the behavior of wicked men at the very time when they are engaged in the blackest criminal activity. Pilate, who was certainly inconvenienced by having to go down at such an early hour and outside his palace to keep from defiling THEM (!), must surely have resented the necessity of participating in such an affair.

That they might eat the passover … In the light of this, there is no way to make the last supper of the previous evening to have been the Passover.

Verse 29

Pilate therefore went out unto them, and saith, What accusation bring ye against this man? They answered and said unto him, If this man were not an evil doer, we should not have delivered him up unto thee.

The Sanhedrinists were strongly opposed to giving out the real charge on which they wished to execute Jesus, i.e., that he had testified under oath to being the divine Messiah. Their first ploy, therefore, was to avoid if possible naming any charge at all. Pilate understood the character of his petitioners far too well, however, to allow them any such presumption of fair-dealing, with the charges kept secret. No. They would have to spit it all out in open court before Pilate would yield; and even then, he would yield reluctantly.

Verse 31

Pilate therefore said unto them, Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law. The Jews said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.

Take him yourselves … This was the first effort of Pilate to avoid sentencing Jesus. It was the equivalent of his saying, "This case is not under my jurisdiction; handle it yourselves."

Not lawful for us to put any man to death … According to Clarke, the Jews had the right of putting to death in matters of a wholly ecclesiastical nature. He wrote:

The power of life and death was taken from the Jews, as far as it concerned matters of state … They only applied to Pilate to persuade him that they were proceeding against Christ as an enemy of the state, and not as a transgressor of their own laws. Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible (London: Mason and Lane, 1837), Vol. 5, p. 645.

Clarke was surely wrong in this opinion. See John 19:7.

Verse 32

That the word of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying by what manner of death he should die.

In Matthew’s third prophecy of the Passion (Matthew 20:17-19), Jesus had foretold that he would be crucified at the hands of Gentiles. The apostle here called attention to the movement of events toward the accomplishment of that prophecy,

The duplicity of Jesus’ accusers is seen in the contrast of their real reason for condemning Jesus and the far different reason they alleged before Pilate. God so ordered the events of the day that their hypocrisy and deceit were fully inscribed upon the pages of sacred history.

The next six verses (John 18:33-38) give the conversation between Jesus and Pilate, which is an invaluable supplement to the synoptic records, clearing up several things which could never have been known without this paragraph.

Verse 33

Pilate therefore entered again into the Praetorium, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered, Sayest thou this of thyself, or did others tell it thee concerning me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?

From this, it is clear that the chief priests had charged Jesus with wanting to be a secular king over Israel, a charge they knew to be false, their motives being inspired by no other consideration than political expediency; for they fancied that Pilate would believe their false charge. Pilate did have the grace to ask Jesus plainly about it.

Verse 36

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.

This persuasive answer concerning the spiritual and other-worldly nature of Jesus’ kingdom convinced Pilate of the falsity of the Pharisees’ charges; and, in the light of that knowledge, he made at least seven efforts to procure Jesus’ release - only with the final reservation that he would not incur any political risk to release him.

Then would my servants fight … The word of Jesus’ non-resistance against the civil sword was already known to Pilate, and the disclaimer in Jesus’ words was proof enough that Jesus was not any kind of threat to the secular throne of the Caesars.

However, Jesus’ mention of a "kingdom" aroused Pilate’s curiosity. Such a kingdom as Jesus meant had never been heard of by such a man as Pilate. Manson said of it:

He meant that it is not, as all the other world Empires are, the product of human skill, or courage, or ingenuity, or wickedness. It is not a human institution at all, but a divine gift. T. W. Manson, On Paul and John (London: SCM Press. 1963), p. 153.

Verse 37

Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

Pilate did not understand what Jesus meant, but one thing was crystal clear: here was no seditionist.

Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice … This had its personal application to Pilate, who was not of the truth. His life-style, habits, political posture as Caesar’s representative in that city, his willingness to sacrifice even the innocent to avoid any political damage to himself - all such things in Pilate prevented his acceptance of the Saviour’s words in their higher context or meaning. Despite this, his inherent cunning and political astuteness enabled him to see at a glance how crooked and groundless were the false charges of the Pharisees.

Verse 38

Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find no crime in him.

Thus, Pilate terminated the interview, not waiting for a reply. He needed no reply, because the truth was of no particular concern to him. He was far more interested in what was politically expedient. This, of course, was exactly the attitude of Caiaphas (John 11:50); and both Pilate and Jesus’ foes stood on that principle together, political expediency being the common ground upon which they agreed at last to crucify the Lord.

This was a verdict of innocence. At that moment, Pilate should have dismissed the hearing and ordered the legions in the tower of Antonio to disperse the mob; but he wilted before the venomous hatred of the mob demanding Jesus’ death. The announcement of a verdict of innocence was another effort to release Jesus.

Verse 39

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? They cried out therefore again, saying, not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.

This was Pilate’s third attempt to release Jesus, as more fully detailed in the synoptics; but it was thwarted by leaders who stirred up the people to demand Barabbas instead of Jesus. The unmitigated duplicity of the priests was glaringly evident in this. Their choice of a known revolutionary instead of Jesus was impossible of reconciliation with their avowed loyalty to Caesar (Mark 15:7). For more on Barabbas. see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 27:17. The numbering of these efforts to release Jesus refers to their order of appearance in John, and not to their chronological sequence. For a discussion of seven efforts of Pilate to avoid sentencing Christ, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 27:14-25.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 18". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/john-18.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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