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Bible Commentaries
John 18

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

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Verse 1

The brook Cedron - This was a small stream that flowed to the east of Jerusalem, through the valley of Jehoshaphat, and divided the city from the Mount of Olives. It was also called Kidron and Kedron. In summer it is almost dry. The word used here by the evangelist - χειμάῤῥου cheimarrou - denotes properly a water-stream (from χεῖρμα cheimōn, shower or water, and ῥέω reō, ῥόος roos, to flow, flowing), and the idea is that of a stream that was swollen by rain or by the melting of the snow (Passow, Lexicon). This small rivulet runs along on the east of Jerusalem until it is joined by the water of the pool of Siloam, and the water that flows down on the west side of the city through the valley of Jehoshaphat, and then goes off in a southeast direction to the Dead Sea. (See the map of the environs of Jerusalem.) Over this brook David passed when he fled from Absalom, 2 Samuel 15:23. It is often mentioned in the Old Testament, 1 Kings 15:13; 2 Chronicles 15:16; 2Ch 30:14; 2 Kings 23:6, 2 Kings 23:12.

Where was a garden - On the west side of the Mount of Olives. This was called Gethsemane. See the notes at Matthew 26:36. It is probable that this was the property of some wealthy man in Jerusalem - perhaps some friend of the Saviour. It was customary for the rich in great cities to have country-seats in the vicinity. This, it seems, was so accessible that Jesus was accustomed to visit it, and yet so retired as to be a suitable place for devotion.

Verse 2

Jesus ofttimes resorted thither - For what purpose he went there is not declared, but it is probable that it was for retirement and prayer. He had no home in the city, and he sought this place, away from the bustle and confusion of the capital, for private communion with God. Every Christian should have some place - be it a grove, a room, or a garden - where he may be alone and offer his devotions to God. We are not told much of the private habits of Jesus, but we are permitted to know so much of him as to be assured that he was accustomed to seek for a place of retirement, and during the great feasts of the Jews the Mount of Olives was the place which he chose, Luke 21:37; Matthew 21:17; John 8:1.

Verse 3

A band - See the notes at Matthew 26:47; Matthew 27:27. John passes over the agony of Jesus in the garden, probably because it was so fully described by the other evangelists.

Lanterns ... - This was the time of the full moon, but it might have been cloudy, and their taking lights with them shows their determination to find him.

Verse 6

They went backward ... - The cause of their retiring in this manner is not mentioned. Various things might have produced it. The frank, open, and fearless manner in which Jesus addressed them may have convinced them of his innocence, and deterred them from prosecuting their wicked attempt. His disclosure of himself was sudden and unexpected; and while they perhaps anticipated that he would make an effort to escape, they were amazed at his open and bold profession. Their consciences reproved them for their crimes, and probably the firm, decided, and yet mild manner in which Jesus addressed them, the expression of his unequalled power in knowing how to find the way to the consciences of men, made them feel that they were in the presence of more than mortal man. There is no proof that there was here any miraculous power, any mere physical force, and to suppose that there was greatly detracts from the moral sublimity of the scene.

Verse 8

Let these go their way - These apostles. This shows his care and love even in the hour of danger. He expected to die. They were to carry the news of his death to the ends of the earth. Hence he, the faithful Captain of salvation, went foremost into trials; he, the Good Shepherd, secured the safety of the flock, and went before them into danger. By the question which he asked those who came out against him, he had secured the safety of his apostles. He was answered that they sought for him. He demanded that, agreeably to their declaration, they should take him only, and leave his followers at liberty. The wisdom, caution, and prudence of Jesus forsook him in no peril, however sudden, and in no circumstances, however difficult or trying.

Verse 9

The saying - John 17:12. As he had kept them for more than three years, so he still sought their welfare, even when his death was near.

Verses 10-11

See the notes at Matthew 26:51-52.

The servant’s name was Malchus - His name is mentioned by neither of the other evangelists, nor is it said by the other evangelists who was the disciple that gave the blow. It is probable that both Peter and the servant were alive when the other gospels were written.

Verse 12

See Matthew 26:50.

Verse 13

To Annas first - Probably his house was nearest to them, and he had great authority and influence in the Jewish nation. He had been himself a long time high priest; he had had five sons who had successively enjoyed the office of high priest, and that office was now filled by his son-in-law. It was of importance, therefore, to obtain his sanction and counsel in their work of evil.

That same year - John 11:49.

Verse 14

Which gave counsel ... - John 11:49-50. This is referred to here, probably, to show how little prospect there was that Jesus would have justice done him in the hands of a man who had already pronounced on the case.

Verses 15-18

See the notes at Matthew 26:57-58.

Another disciple - Not improbably John. Some critics, however, have supposed that this disciple was one who dwelt at Jerusalem, and who, not being a Galilean, could enter the palace without suspicion. John, however, mentions the circumstance of his being known to them, to show why it was that he was not questioned as Peter was. It is not probable that any danger resulted from its being known that he was a follower of Jesus, or that any harm was meditated on them for this. The questions asked Peter were not asked by those in authority, and his apprehensions which led to his denial were groundless.

Verse 19

The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples - To ascertain their number and power. The charge on which they wished to arraign him was that of sedition, or of rebellion against Caesar. To make that plausible, it was necessary to show that he had made so many disciples as to form a strong and dangerous faction; but, as they had no direct proof of that, the high priest insidiously and improperly attempted to draw the Saviour into a confession. Of this he was aware, and referred him to the proper source of evidence - his open, undisguised conduct before the world.

His doctrine - His teaching. The sentiments that he inculcated. The object was doubtless to convict him of teaching sentiments that tended to subvert the Mosaic institutions, or that were treasonable against the Roman government. Either would have answered the design of the Jews, and they doubtless expected that he - an unarmed and despised Galilean, now completely in their power - would easily be drawn into confessions which art and malice could use to procure his condemnation.

Verse 20

Openly to the world - If his doctrine had tended to excite sedition and tumult, if he had aimed to overthrow the government, he would have trained his friends in secret; he would have retired from public view, and would have laid his plans in private. This is the case with all who attempt to subvert existing establishments. Instead of that, he had proclaimed his views to all. He had done it in every place of public concourse in the synagogue and in the temple. He here speaks the language of one conscious of innocence and determined to insist on his rights.

Always resort - Constantly assemble. They were required to assemble there three times in a year, and great multitudes were there constantly.

In secret ... - He had taught no private or concealed doctrine. He had taught nothing to his disciples which he had not himself taught in public and commanded them to do, Matthew 10:27; Luke 12:3.

Verse 21

Why askest thou me? Ask them ... - Jesus here insisted on his rights, and reproves the high priest for his unjust and illegal manner of extorting a confession from him. If he had done wrong, or taught erroneous and seditious doctrines, it was easy to prove it, and the course which he had a right to demand was that they should establish the charge by fair and incontrovertible evidence. We may here learn:

  1. That, though Jesus was willing to be reviled and persecuted, yet he also insisted that justice should be done him.
  2. He was conscious of innocence, and he had been so open in his conduct that he could appeal to the vast multitudes which had heard him as witnesses in his favor.
  3. It is proper for us, when persecuted and reviled, meekly but firmly to insist on our rights, and to demand that justice shall be done us. Laws are made to protect the innocent as well as to condemn the guilty.
  4. Christians, like their Saviour, should so live that they may confidently appeal to all who have known them as witnesses of the sincerity, purity, and rectitude of their lives, 1 Peter 4:13-16.

Verse 22

One of the officers - One of the inferior officers, or those who attended on the court.

With the palm, of his hand - This may mean: “Gave him a blow either with the open hand or with a rod” - the Greek does not determine which. In whatever way it was done, it was a violation of all law and justice. Jesus had showed no disrespect for the office of the high priest, and if he had, this was not the proper way to punish it. The Syriac reads thus: “Smote the cheek of Jesus.” The Vulgate and Arabic: “Gave him a blow.”

Verse 23

Spoken evil - In my answer to the high priest. If there was any disrespect to the office, and lack of regard for the law which appointed him, then testify to the fact, and let punishment be inflicted according to the law; compare Exodus 22:28.

But if well ... - While an accused person is on trial he is under the protection of the court, and has a right to demand that all legal measures shall be taken to secure his rights. On this right Jesus insisted, and thus showed that, though he had no disposition to take revenge, yet he claimed that, when arraigned, strict justice should be done. This shows that his precept that when we are smitten on one cheek we should turn the other Matthew 5:39, is consistent with a firm demand that justice should be done us. That precept refers, besides, rather to private masters than to judicial proceedings. It does not demand that, when we are unjustly arraigned or assaulted, and when the law is in our favor, we should sacrifice our rights to the malignant accuser. Such a surrender would be injustice to the law and to the community, and be giving legal triumph to the wicked, and destroying the very end of all law. In private matters this effect would not follow, and we should there bear injuries without reviling or seeking for vengeance.

Verse 24

Compare John 18:13 with Matthew 26:57.

Verses 25-26

See the notes at Matthew 26:72-74.

Verse 28

See Matthew 27:1-2.

Hall of judgment - The praetorium - the same word that in Matthew 27:27, is translated “common hall.” See the notes on that place. It was the place where the Roman proctor, or governor, heard and decided cases brought before him. Jesus had been condemned by the Sanhedrin, and pronounced guilty of death Matthew 26:66; but they had not power to carry their sentence into execution John 18:31, and they therefore sought that he might be condemned and executed by Pilate.

Lest they should be defiled - They considered the touch of a Gentile to be a defilement, and on this occasion, at least, seemed to regard it as a pollution to enter the house of a Gentile. They took care, therefore, to guard themselves against what they considered ceremonial pollution, while they were wholly unconcerned at the enormous crime of putting the innocent Saviour to death, and imbruing their hands in their Messiah’s blood. Probably there is not anywhere to be found among men another such instance of petty regard to the mere ceremonies of the law and attempting to keep from pollution, at the same time that their hearts were filled with malice, and they were meditating the most enormous of all crimes. But it shows us how much more concerned men will be at the violation of the mere forms and ceremonies of religion than at real crime, and how they endeavor to keep their consciences at ease amid their deeds of wickedness by the observance of some of the outward ceremonies of religion by mere sanctimoniousness.

That they might eat the passover - See the notes at Matthew 26:2, Matthew 26:17. This defilement, produced by contact with a Gentile, they considered as equivalent to that of the contact of a dead body Leviticus 22:4-6; Numbers 5:2, and as disqualifying them to partake of the passover in a proper manner. The word translated “passover” means properly the paschal lamb which was slain and eaten on the observance of this feast. This rite Jesus had observed with his disciples the day before this. It has been supposed by many that he anticipated the usual time of observing it one day, and was crucified on the day on which the Jews observed it; but this opinion is improbable. The very day of keeping the ordinance was specified in the law of Moses, and it is not probable that the Saviour departed from the commandment. All the circumstances, also, lead us to suppose that he observed it at the usual time and manner, Matthew 26:17, Matthew 26:19. The only passage which has led to a contrary opinion is this in John; but here the word passover does not, of necessity, mean the paschal lamb. It probably refers to the Feast which followed the sacrifice of the lamb, and which continued seven days. Compare Numbers 28:16-17. The whole feast was called the Passover, and they were unwilling to defile themselves, even though the paschal lamb had been killed, because it would disqualify them for participating in the remainder of the ceremonies (Lightfoot).

Verse 30

If he were not a malefactor - A violator of the law. If we had not determined that he was such, and was worthy of death, Matthew 26:66. From this it appears that they did not deliver him up to be tried, but hoped that Pilate would at once, give sentence that he should be executed according to their request. It is probable that in ordinary cases the Roman governor was not accustomed to make very strict inquiry into the justice of the sentence. The Jewish Sanhedrin tried causes and pronounced sentence, and the sentence was usually approved by the governor; but in this case Pilate, evidently contrary to their expectations, proceeded himself to rehear and retry the cause. He had doubtless heard of the miracles of Jesus. He seems to have been strongly pre-possessed with the belief of his innocence. He knew that they had delivered him from mere envy Matthew 27:18, and hence, he inquired of them the nature of the case, and the kind of charge which they expected to substantiate against him.

Verse 31

Judge him ... - The Jews had not directly informed him that they had judged him and pronounced him worthy of death. Pilate therefore tells them to inquire into the ease; to ascertain the proof of his guilt, and to decide on what the law of Moses pronounced. It has been doubted whether this gave them the power of putting him to death, or whether it was not rather a direction to them to inquire into the case, and inflict on him, if they judged him guilty, the mild punishment which they were yet at liberty to inflict on criminals. Probably the former is intended. As they lied already determined that in their view this case demanded the punishment of death, so in their answer to Pilate they implied that they had pronounced on it, and that he ought to die. They still, therefore, pressed it on his attention, and refused to obey his injunction to judge him.

It is not lawful ... - The Jews were accustomed to put persons to death still in a popular tumult Acts 7:59-60, but they had not the power to do it in any case in a regular way of justice. When they first laid the plan of arresting the Saviour, they did it to kill him Matthew 26:4; but whether they intended to do this secretly, or in a tumult, or by the concurrence of the Roman governor, is uncertain. The Jews themselves say that the power of inflicting capital punishment was taken away about 40 years before the destruction of the temple; but still it is probable that in the time of Christ they had the power of determining on capital cases in instances that pertained to religion (Josephus, Antiq., b. 14: John 10:0, Section 2; compare Jewish Wars, b. 6 chapter 2, Section 4). In this case, however, it is supposed that their sentence was to be confirmed by the Roman governor. But it is admitted on all hands that they had not this power in the case of seditions, tumults, or treason against the Roman government. If they had this power in the case of blasphemy and irreligion, they did not dare to exert it here, because they were afraid of tumult among the people Matthew 26:5; hence, they sought to bring in the authority of Pilate. To do this, they endeavored to make it appear that it was a case of sedition and treason, and one which therefore demanded the interference of the Roman governor. Hence, it was on this charge that they arraigned him, Luke 23:2. Thus, a tumult might be avoided, and the odium of putting him to death which they expected would fall, not on themselves, but upon Pilate!

Verse 32

That the saying of Jesus ... - To wit, that he would be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles and be crucified, Matthew 20:19. Neither of these things would have happened if he had been put to death in the way that the Jews first contemplated, Matthew 26:4. Though it should be admitted that they had the power, in religious cases, to do this, yet in such a case it would not have been done, as Jesus predicted, by the Gentiles; and even if it should be admitted that they had the right to take life, yet they had not the right to do it by crucifixion. This was particularly a Roman punishment. And thus it was ordered, in the providence of God, that the prediction of Jesus in both these respects was fulfilled.

Verse 33

Art thou the King of the Jews? - This was after they had accused him of perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, Luke 23:2-3.

Verse 34

Of thyself - From any conviction of your own mind, or any apprehension of danger. During all the time in which you have been praetor, have you seen anything in me that has led you to apprehend sedition or danger to the Roman power? This evidently was intended to remind Pilate that nothing was proved against him, and to caution him against being influenced by the malicious accusations of others. Jesus demanded a just trial, and claimed that Pilate should not be influenced by any reports that he might have heard of him.

Verse 35

Am I a Jew? - Am I likely to be influenced by Jewish prejudices and partialities? Am not I, being a Roman, likely to judge impartially, and to decide on the accusations without being blessed by the malignant charges of the accusers?

Thine own nation ... - In this Pilate denies that it was from anything that he had observed that Jesus was arraigned. He admits that it was from the accusation of others; but then he tells the Saviour that the charge was one of moment, and worthy of the deepest attention. It had come from the very nation of Jesus, from his own countrymen, and from the highest authority among the people. As such it demanded consideration, and Pilate besought him to tell him what he had done - that is, what there had been in his conduct that had given occasion for this charge.

Verse 36

My kingdom ... - The charge on which Jesus was arraigned was that of laying claim to the office of a king. He here substantially admits that he did claim to be a king, but not in the sense in which the Jews understood it. They charged him with attempting to set up an earthly kingdom, and of exciting sedition against Caesar. In reply to this, Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world - that is, it is not of the same nature as earthly kingdoms. It was not originated for the same purpose, or conducted on the same plan. He immediately adds a circumstance in which they differ. The kingdoms of the world are defended by arms; they maintain armies and engage in wars. If the kingdom of Jesus had been of this kind, he would have excited the multitudes that followed him to prepare for battle. He would have armed the hosts that attended him to Jerusalem. He would not have been alone and unarmed in the garden of Gethsemane. But though he was a king, yet his dominion was over the heart, subduing evil passions and corrupt desires, and bringing the soul to the love of peace and unity.

Not from hence - That is, not from this world.

Verse 37

Art thou a king then? - Dost thou admit the charge in any sense, or dost thou lay claim to a kingdom of any kind?

Thou sayest ... - This is a form of expression denoting affirmation. It is equivalent to yes.

That I am a king - This does not mean simply that Pilate affirmed that he was a king; it does not appear that he had done this; but it means, “Thou affirmest the truth; thou declarest what is correct, for I am a king.” I am a king in a certain sense, and do not deny it.

To this end ... - Compare John 3:11-12, etc. Jesus does not here affirm that he was born to reign, or that this was the design of his coming; but it was to bear witness to and to exhibit the truth. By this he showed what was the nature of his kingdom. It was not to assert power; not to collect armies; not to subdue nations in battle. It was simply to present truth to men, and to exercise dominion only by the truth. Hence, the only power put forth in restraining the wicked, in convincing the sinner, in converting the heart, in guiding and leading his people, and in sanctifying them, is that which is produced by applying truth to the mind. Men are not forced or compelled to be Christians. They are made to see that they are stoners, that God is merciful, that they need a Redeemer, and that the Lord Jesus is fitted to their case, and yield themselves then wholly to his reign. This is all the power ever used in the kingdom of Christ, and no men in his church have a right to use any other. Alas! how little have persecutors remembered this! And how often, under the pretence of great regard for the kingdom of Jesus, have bigots attempted by force and flames to make all men think as they do! We see here the importance which Jesus attached to truth. It was his sole business in coming into the world. He had no other end than to establish it. We therefore should value it, and seek for it as for hid treasures, Proverbs 23:23.

Every one ... - See John 8:47.

Verse 38

What is truth? - This question was probably asked in contempt, and hence Jesus did not answer it. Had the question been sincere, and had Pilate really sought it as Nicodemus had done John 3:0, Jesus would not have hesitated to explain to him the nature of his kingdom. They were now alone in the judgment-hall John 18:33, and as soon as Pilate had asked the question, without waiting for an answer, he went out. It is evident that he was satisfied, from the answer of Jesus John 18:36-37, that he was not a king in the sense in which the Jews accused him; that he would not endanger the Roman government, and consequently that he was innocent of the charge alleged against him. He regarded him, clearly, as a fanatic poor, ignorant, and deluded, but innocent and not dangerous. Hence, he sought to release him; and, hence, in contempt, he asked him this question, and immediately went out, not expecting an answer.

This question had long agitated the world. It was the great subject of inquiry in all the schools of the Greeks. Different sects of philosophers had held different opinions, and Pilate now, in derision, asked him, whom he esteemed an ignorant fanatic, whether he could solve this long-agitated question. He might have had an answer. If he had patiently waited in sincerity, Jesus would have told him what it was. Thousands ask the question in the same way. They have a fixed contempt for the Bible; they deride the instructions of religion; they are unwilling to investigate and to wait at the gates of wisdom; and hence, like Pilate, they remain ignorant of the great Source of truth, and die in darkness and in error. All might find truth if they would seek it; none ever will find it if they do not apply for it to the great source of light the God of truth, and seek it patiently in the way in which he has chosen to communicate it to mankind. How highly should we prize the Bible! And how patiently and prayerfully should we search the Scriptures, that we may not err and die forever! See the notes at John 14:6.

I find in him no fault - See Luke 23:4.

Verses 39-40

See the notes at Matthew 27:15-21.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on John 18". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/john-18.html. 1870.
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