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Bible Commentaries
John 18

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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There are several features that distinguish John’s account of Jesus’ passion from the ones in the Synoptic Gospels. First, the Romans feature slightly more prominently in John’s Gospel, but they do not constitute such a large presence that they overpower the other characters who opposed Jesus. Second, John pictured Jesus as more obviously in control of His destiny. For example, John did not record Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane. This is in harmony with His emphasis on Jesus as God’s divine Son. Third, John included material that the Synoptics omitted. This, too, reflects emphases that John wanted to make in view of his purposes for writing. What these emphases were will become clearer as we consider what he included.

"Man will do his worst, and God will respond with His very best. ’But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound’ (Romans 5:20)." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:372.]

Verse 1

"These words" evidently refer to all of what Jesus had said in chapters 13-17 all of which He may have spoken in the upper room. The Kidron Valley formed the eastern boundary of Jerusalem. The Kidron was also a wadi or dry streambed that contained water only when it rained hard. The Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane lay across the Kidron to the east. John only mentioned Gethsemane as the site of Jesus’ arrest. He did not record Jesus’ praying there (cf. Matthew 26:30; Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:26; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). The verbs that John used to describe Jesus entering and leaving Gethsemane suggest that it may have been a walled garden (cf. John 18:13).

"The present Gethsemane is only some seventy steps square, and though its old gnarled olives cannot be those (if such there were) of the time of Jesus, since all trees in that valley-those also which stretched their shadows over Jesus-were hewn down in the Roman siege, they may have sprung from the old roots, or from the odd kernels." [Note: Edersheim, 2:533.]

The parallels between Jesus’ experiences and David’s at this point are striking. Both men crossed the Kidron having been rejected by their nation and betrayed by someone very close to them, and hangings followed both incidents (cf. 2 Samuel 15; 2 Samuel 18:9-17; Matthew 27:3-10; John 18:1-3).

Verses 1-11

A. Jesus’ presentation of Himself to His enemies 18:1-11 (cf. Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-53)

Verse 2

John apparently recorded this detail because it shows that Jesus was not trying to avoid arrest. Instead He deliberately went to a place where Judas evidently anticipated that He would go (cf. Luke 21:37; Luke 22:39).

"This probably means that he and the disciples used to bivouac, sleeping in the open air, and probably in this very garden." [Note: Morris, p. 656. See Wiersbe, 1:372, for contrasts between what happened in the Garden of Eden and the Garden of Gethsemane.]

Verse 3

Only John mentioned the presence of Roman soldiers. A Roman cohort (Lat. cohors) normally consisted of 600 soldiers. However sometimes the Greek word speira, translated "cohort" or "detachment," referred to a smaller group of only 200 men. [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 577.] John did not use a precise term to describe the number of soldiers that Judas brought, and it is possible that less than 200 soldiers were present. The Romans stationed troops in the Fortress of Antonia during the Jewish feasts. It stood just north of the temple. Normally these troops resided in Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, the Roman provincial capital.

The officers of the Jewish temple police accompanied the Roman soldiers. Thus John presented both Gentiles and Jews as playing a part in Jesus’ arrest. They carried lanterns and torches to find Jesus. Apparently they thought He might try to hide. Passover always took place when the moon was full. They also had weapons to restrain anyone who might oppose their plan to arrest Jesus. Judas served as their guide. He had no authority over them.

Verse 4

John noted that when Jesus approached the leaders of the soldiers He knew their intentions (cf. John 10:14; John 10:17-18). He consistently presented Jesus’ death as a voluntary self-sacrifice. Earlier in His ministry Jesus had withdrawn from conflict with officials because His hour had not yet come (John 10:40; John 11:54), but now His hour had arrived (John 17:1).

Verses 5-6

Perhaps John chose not to record the fact that Judas identified Jesus by kissing Him to strengthen the force of Jesus’ question. He mentioned Judas’ presence nonetheless since He was a primary figure in Jesus’ arrest. John stressed Jesus’ complete control of the situation.

Jesus responded with the clause, "It is I" (Gr. ego eimi). As we have noted elsewhere, this was a claim to deity when Jesus uttered it in certain situations (e.g., John 8:24; John 8:28; John 8:58). However it was also a normal way to answer the soldiers here (cf. John 9:9). Some interpreters have concluded that John’s description of the soldiers’ response to Jesus’ identification of Himself indicates that they viewed His words as a claim to being God (cf. Psalms 27:2). However on other occasions when Jesus’ hearers understood that He was claiming to be God they tried to stone Him. Here they momentarily fell backward, stood up again, and proceeded to arrest Him. Perhaps John was hinting to his readers that the soldiers responded better than they knew by falling backwards. However, it seems unlikely that they took Jesus’ words to be a claim to deity in this context. They probably fell back because they could not believe that the man they had come out expecting to have to hunt for was virtually surrendering to them. Rather than having to hunt down a fleeing peasant they found a commanding figure who confronted them boldly. [Note: See Edersheim, 2:543.]

"It may well be that in John 18:5-6 John recorded an incident in which the opponents of Jesus recoiled from surprise or abhorrence of what they perceived to be blasphemy. But for the reader of the gospel, who already knows who Jesus is and that His claim to identification with God is true, the reaction of the enemies is highly ironic. The betrayer Judas himself fell down at Jesus’ feet before the soldiers led Him away to His trial and crucifixion" [Note: Harris, p. 182.]

Verses 7-9

Jesus seems to have been more intent on protecting His disciples than on making a claim to be God. He made sure that His disciples would be safe before He allowed His captors to lead Him away (John 17:12; cf. John 6:38-39; John 10:28). This was a preview of His work for them on the cross.

Verse 10

All the Gospels record this incident, but John is the only one that names Peter and Malchus. The mention of their names makes the story more concrete. John was an eyewitness of Jesus’ sufferings, so it is not unusual that He would mention these names. The small sword (Gr. machaira) that Peter used was probably little more than a dagger. His action was foolish, but it illustrates his courage and commitment to Jesus (cf. John 13:37).

Verse 11

Jesus’ response, as John recorded it, focuses the reader’s attention on Jesus. The Cross was necessary, and Jesus had committed Himself to enduring it. Peter’s brave though misdirected act showed that He still failed to realize that Jesus’ death was necessary. Zeal without knowledge is dangerous. Therefore Jesus rebuked Peter even though this disciple showed remarkable loyalty to His teacher. The cup to which He referred was the symbol of His lot in life (cf. Matthew 20:22-23), which in this case involved bearing God’s wrath (cf. Psalms 75:8; Isaiah 51:17; Isaiah 51:22; Jeremiah 25:15; Ezekiel 23:31-33; Matthew 26:42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42; Revelation 14:10; Revelation 16:19).

"Peter had a sword in his hand, but our Lord had a cup in His hand. Peter was resisting God’s will but the Saviour was accepting God’s will." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:374.]

John’s account focuses on Jesus’ presentation of Himself to His enemies. This was an essential step in His voluntary self-sacrifice for the sins of humankind. It was not surrender as such since that word implies that the person surrendering is guilty. It was not a request for arrest either since that would have removed some of the guilt for His death from His captors.

Verse 12

The commander (Gr. chiliarchos, cf. Acts 22:24; Acts 22:26-28; Acts 23:17; Acts 23:19; Acts 23:22) in view was the officer in charge of the Roman soldiers. He was evidently the person with the most official authority on the scene. However the Jewish officers (i.e., temple police) also played a part in Jesus’ arrest. Perhaps John noted that they bound Jesus in view of Isaiah’s prophecy that Messiah’s enemies would lead Him as a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). Jesus’ disciples abandoned Him when His enemies took him into custody (cf. Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50).

Verses 12-14

1. The arrest of Jesus and the identification of the high priests 18:12-14

John began his account of Jesus’ trials with a brief description of His arrest and by identifying the chief religious leaders who examined Him.

Verses 12-27

B. Jesus’ religious trial 18:12-27

John is the only evangelist who recorded Jesus’ interrogation by Annas. It was preliminary to His appearance before Caiaphas and then before the Sanhedrin (John 18:24).

Jesus’ Religious Trial
Before AnnasJohn 18:12-14; John 18:19-24
Before CaiaphasMatthew 26:57-68Mark 14:53-65Luke 22:54; Luke 22:63-65
Before the SanhedrinMatthew 27:1Mark 15:1Luke 22:66-71
Jesus’ Civil Trial
Before PilateMatthew 27:2; Matthew 27:11-14Mark 15:1-5Luke 23:1-5John 18:28-38
Before Herod AntipasLuke 23:6-12
Before PilateMatthew 27:15-26Mark 15:6-15Luke 23:13-25John 18:39 to John 19:16

Verse 13

The soldiers evidently led Jesus to the residence of the high priest. The location of this building is uncertain, though the traditional site is in the southern part of old Jerusalem just west of the Tyropoeon Valley. [Note: See the map "Jerusalem in New Testament Times" at the end of these notes.]

Both high priests evidently occupied the same building. One was Annas, the former high priest whom the Jews still regarded as the legitimate high priest since the high priesthood under the Mosaic Law was for life. He served as the official high priest from A.D. 6 to 15 when the Roman procurator Valerius Gratus deposed him. Five of Annas’ sons plus his son-in-law, Caiaphas, succeeded him in this office. [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 20:1:9.] Consequently it was natural that the Jews regarded Annas as the patriarch and the true high priest and that he continued to exert considerable influence throughout his lifetime. The other high priest was Caiaphas, Annas’ son-in-law whom the Romans had placed in the office in A.D. 18 where he remained until A.D. 36. Annas was the first of the two men to interview Jesus.

"That year" refers to the fateful year of Jesus’ death (i.e., A.D. 33).

The High Priests of Israel(ca. A.D. 6-36)
Annas (ca. A.D. 6-15)Unofficial high priest with Caiaphas during Jesus’ trial (Luke 3:2; John 18:13; John 18:24)Unofficial high priest who, with Caiaphas, tried Peter and John (Acts 4:6)
Eleazar (ca. A.D. 16-17)Son of Annas whose name does not appear in the New Testament
Caiaphas (ca. A.D. 18-36)Son-in-law of AnnasOfficial high priest during Jesus’ earthly ministry (Luke 3:2; Matthew 26:3; Matthew 26:57; John 11:49-50)With Annas tried Peter and John (Acts 4:6)

Verse 14

John doubtless identified Caiaphas as he did here to remind his readers of the prediction of Jesus’ substitute sacrifice (11:50), not just to identify Caiaphas. This identification also makes unnecessary a full recording of the deliberations that led to the Sanhedrin’s verdict. That record was already available in the Synoptics and was therefore unnecessary in John’s Gospel.

Verses 15-16

Evidently Peter and another disciple had followed the arresting party from Gethsemane back into Jerusalem to the high priests’ palace (Gr. aule, "court" or "courtyard," cf. 10:16).

Traditionally commentators have understood the "other disciple" to have been John, the "beloved disciple" (cf. 13:23; 19:26-27; 20:2-9; 21:1, 20-23, 24-25). However because John described this "other disciple" as someone who had a close relationship with the high priest (Gr. gnostos, cf. 2 Kings 10:11; Psalms 55:13; Luke 2:44) many modern interpreters question the traditional view. It has seemed incredible to some of them that a fisherman from Galilee would have had the close relationship with the high priest (i.e., Caiaphas, John 18:13) that this passage presents. Nevertheless it is entirely possible that John as the son of a supposedly prosperous fisherman (cf. Mark 1:19-20) did indeed have such a relationship.

"Salome, the mother of John, was a sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother (cf. John 19:25 with Mark 15:40), and would have been equally related to Elizabeth, whose husband, Zechariah, was a priest (Luke 1:36)" [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 172.]

Moreover the New Testament presents Peter and John as having the close relationship that this passage describes (e.g., 13:23-24; 20:2-10; 21:20-24; Acts 3:1; Acts 3:11; Acts 4:13; et al.). Therefore the traditional view may be correct. [Note: Cf. Frans Neirynck, Evangelica: Gospel Studies-Etudes d’Evangile. Collected Essays, pp. 335-64.] The correct identification of the "other disciple" is not essential to a correct interpretation of the events, however.

Verses 15-18

2. The entrance of two disciples into the high priests’ courtyard and Peter’s first denial 18:15-18 (cf. Matthew 26:57-58, 69-70; Mark 14:53-54, 66-68; Luke 22:54-57)

As the other evangelists, John alternated his account of the events surrounding Jesus’ religious trial. He described what was happening in the courtyard (John 18:15-18), then what was happening inside (John 18:19-24), then what happened outside again (John 18:25-27). This literary technique contrasts Jesus with Peter.

Verse 17

The servant girl recognized the "other disciple" as one of Jesus’ disciples. She asked Peter if he was one too, expecting a negative reply, as the Greek text makes clear. Her question reflected some disdain for Jesus. Peter succumbed to the pressure of the moment and denied his association with Jesus (13:37). Peter denied that he was one of Jesus’ disciples, not that Jesus was the Messiah. Perhaps what he had done to Malchus made him more eager to blend into his surroundings.

Verse 18

Peter not only denied Jesus, but He also stood with Jesus’ enemies as they warmed themselves in the courtyard of the high priest’s large residence. The detail that the fire was a charcoal (Gr. anthrakia) one will feature later in John’s narrative (21:9). Such a fire would not have generated much light or heat, so those who wanted to stay warm had to stand close together.

Verse 19

Clearly Annas was the (unofficial) high priest who conducted this initial informal inquiry (cf. John 18:24). He probably asked Jesus about His disciples to ascertain the size of His following since one of the religious leaders’ chief concerns was the power of Jesus’ popularity. Annas’ interest in His teachings undoubtedly revolved around who Jesus claimed to be (cf. 7:12, 47; 19:4). Both subjects were significant since many of the Jews suspected Jesus of being a political insurrectionist.

Verses 19-24

3. Annas’ interrogation of Jesus 18:19-24

John’s version of Peter’s denial is quite similar to those of the other Gospel writers, but His revelation of Jesus’ interrogation by Annas is unique. None of the other evangelists mentioned it.

Verses 20-21

Jesus affirmed that He had always taught openly. He had not promoted sedition secretly. He had no secret teaching to hide. Obviously He was not denying that He had taught His disciples privately. He was assuring Annas that His teachings were not subversive. He did not have two types of teaching, a harmless one for the multitudes and a revolutionary one for his disciples. [Note: Morris, p. 670.] He invited Annas to question His hearers, not just His disciples, to determine if He had indeed taught anything for which someone might accuse Him of being disloyal. The testimony of witnesses was an indispensable part of any serious trial in Judaism.

Verses 22-23

The officer (Gr. hypereton) who struck Jesus was probably one of the Jewish temple police (cf. John 18:3). He interpreted Jesus’ response as discourteous and used it as an excuse to strike Him. The Greek word rhapisma translated "blow" (NASB) means a sharp blow with the palm of the hand. Jesus’ response to this attack was logical rather than emotional or physical. He simply appealed for a fair trial (cf. Acts 23:2-5). The man who stuck Him was not treating Him fairly. This was a case of police brutality. Jesus had shown no disrespect for Annas. [Note: See Laurna L. Berg, "The Illegalities of Jesus’ Religious and Civil Trials," Bibliotheca Sacra 161:643 (July-September 2004):330-42.]

Verse 24

Annas could not produce anything for which the Sanhedrin could condemn or even charge Jesus. Therefore he sent Jesus to Caiaphas. The descriptions of Jesus’ hearings in the Gospels alternate between Jesus’ interrogations and Peter’s denials. It seems clear therefore that Annas and Caiaphas lived and interviewed Jesus in different parts of the same large residence or palace. Caiaphas had to interview Jesus to bring charges against Him before the Sanhedrin since Caiaphas was the current official high priest. John noted that Jesus remained bound as a criminal even though He had done nothing to warrant physical restraint.

John did not record what happened when Jesus appeared before Caiaphas and, later, before the Sanhedrin (cf. Matthew 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:66-71). Perhaps he omitted these aspects of Jesus’ religious trial because the earlier Synoptic Gospels contained adequate accounts of them. Maybe John considered the meeting of the Sanhedrin that he described in 11:47-53 as Jesus’ official condemnation.

Verse 25

Under pressure again, Peter denied for a second time that he was one of Jesus’ disciples as the "other disciple" was (cf. Matthew 10:33; Luke 12:9). The person who voiced the question was another girl (Matthew 26:71; Mark 14:69).

"John has constructed a dramatic contrast wherein Jesus stands up to his questioners and denies nothing, while Peter cowers before his questioners and denies everything." [Note: Brown, 2:842.]

Verses 25-27

4. Peter’s second and third denials of Jesus 18:25-27 (cf. Matthew 26:71-75; Mark 14:69-72; Luke 22:58-62)

John took his readers back to the courtyard where Peter stood warming himself with the high priest’s servants and officers (John 18:18).

Verses 26-27

The third questioner was a relative of Malchus whose ear Peter had cut off in Gethsemane (John 18:10). Only John recorded the relationship. This fact supports the view that the "other disciple" was John. He knew the relationships of people within the high priest’s household.

The accuser also identified Peter as a Galilean (Matthew 26:73; Mark 14:70; Luke 22:59). His question expected a positive answer in contrast to the former two that expected a negative answer. It posed the greatest threat to Peter’s security. Peter responded by uttering his most vehement denial. Immediately a cock crowed (for the second time, Mark 14:72) fulfilling the prediction that Jesus had spoken just hours earlier (13:38). John also omitted Peter’s oaths and curses (cf. Matthew 26:74; Mark 14:71), Jesus’ convicting look (Luke 22:61), and Peter’s bitter tears of contrition (cf. Matthew 26:75; Mark 14:72; Luke 22:62). The effect is that the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction receives the emphasis.

The encouraging record of Peter’s restoration to fellowship and usefulness follows in chapter 21.

C. Jesus’ civil trial 18:28-19:16

John reported much more about Jesus’ trial before Pilate than did any of the other Gospel writers. He omitted referring to Jesus’ appearance before Herod Antipas, which only Luke recorded (Luke 23:6-12). He stressed Jesus’ authority, particularly His authority as Israel’s King (cf. John 18:36; John 19:11; John 19:14). John seems to have assumed that his readers knew of the other Gospel accounts of Jesus’ passion. This supposition by John supports the view that this was the last Gospel written. The other Gospels stress the legal aspects of this trial. John presented it more as an interview between Jesus and Pilate similar to His interviews with Nicodemus (ch. 3), the Samaritan woman (ch. 4), and the blind man (ch. 9). [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 174.] It proceeded as Pilate asked four questions: "What accusation do you bring against this man?" (18:29), "Are you the King of the Jews?" (18:33), "Do you want me to release the King of the Jews?" (18:39), and "Where are you from?" (19:9).

Verse 28

"They" (NASB) refers to all the Jewish authorities (cf. Matthew 27:1-2; Mark 15:1; Luke 23:1). They led Jesus from Caiaphas in the sense that he was the head of the Sanhedrin that had passed sentence on Jesus (cf. Matthew 27:1-2; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66-71). The Sanhedrin had condemned Jesus for blasphemy (Matthew 26:63-66; Mark 14:61-64), which was a capital offense in Israel (Leviticus 24:16). However the Sanhedrin could not execute the death sentence for this offense without Roman agreement, and there was little hope of Pilate giving it. Therefore the Jewish leaders decided to charge Jesus with sedition against Rome.

The word "Praetorium" transliterates the Latin praetorium that identified the headquarters of the commanding officer of a Roman military camp or a Roman military governor’s headquarters. [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 587.] Pilate was such a governor. The Gospels use the generic term "governor," though technically Pilate was the prefect of Judea, not its procurator, as the historian Tacitus identified him. [Note: Tacitus, Annals 15:44:4.] Pilate’s normal headquarters were at Caesarea, the capital of the Roman province of Judea. However during the Jewish feasts Pilate came to Jerusalem with Roman troops to discourage uprisings. His headquarters in Jerusalem was either in Herod’s former palace on the western wall of the city or in the Fortress of Antonia immediately north of the temple enclosure. The traditional site is the Fortress of Antonia, the beginning of the Via Dolorosa or "way of sorrow" that Jesus traveled from the Praetorium to Golgotha. However most modern commentators believed Pilate probably interviewed Jesus in Herod’s former palace. [Note: See, e.g., Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 1957 ed., s.v. "Pretorium," p. 881; and Edersheim, 2:566.]

It is not clear just when Jesus first appeared before Pilate on Friday morning. John said that it was "early" (Gr. proi). This may be a reference to the technical term that the Romans used to describe the night watch that began at 3:00 a.m. and ended at 6:00 a.m. Probably it is just the normal use of the word that would not necessarily require a time before 6:00 a.m. It would have been early nonetheless, perhaps between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. Roman officials customarily began their work around sunrise and often finished their day’s business by 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. [Note: A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, p. 45.] John wrote that Jesus was still in Pilate’s presence later in the morning (19:14).

The Jews who brought Jesus to Pilate stayed outside the Praetorium because they wanted to avoid ceremonial defilement. The Jews thought that merely entering a Gentile’s dwelling made them ceremonially unclean (cf. Acts 10:28). [Note: Mishnah Oholoth 18:7, 9. See also Dan Duncan, "Avodah Zarah, Makkoth, and Kerithoth," Exegesis and Exposition 3:1 (Fall 1988):52-54.] This was because the Gentiles did not take precautions to guarantee kosher (i.e., proper) food as the Jews did. Specifically, Gentiles might have yeast in their homes that would have made participation in the Passover feast unlawful for a Jew (cf. Exodus 12:19; Exodus 13:7). [Note: Bruce, p. 349.]

Ironically these Jews were taking extreme precautions to avoid ritual defilement while at the same time preparing to murder the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (cf. 2 Samuel 11:4).

". . . they are anxious to avoid external defilement in order to observe a festival whose real significance was that, as well as reminding God’s people of the ancient deliverance from Egypt, it pointed forward to the true Passover Lamb, whose sacrifice would bring to an end all distinctions between what was ceremonially clean and unclean, and effect an inward cleansing; and it was the death of that true Passover Lamb that the Jews at this moment are anxious to bring about." [Note: Tasker, pp. 200-1. Cf. Beasley-Murray, p. 328; and Edersheim, 2:565.]

These Jews’ superficial commitment to the Mosaic Law resulted in it becoming more difficult for them truly to obey that Law. Their punctiliousness separated themselves from Jesus. Pilate had to shuttle between the Jews outside his headquarters and Jesus inside as his examination proceeded.

We have already drawn attention to the evidence that Jesus ate the Passover with His disciples in the upper room on Thursday evening (cf. 13:1, 27). [Note: Morris, pp. 684-95, discussed this issue quite fully.] Why then were these Jews concerned that entering Pilate’s Praetorium might preclude them from eating the Passover? Had they too not already eaten it the night before? The "Passover" was the name that the Jews used to describe both the Passover proper and the entire festival that followed it including the feast of Unleavened Bread (cf. Luke 22:1). Evidently it was their continuing participation in this eight-day festival that these Jewish leaders did not want to sacrifice by entering a Gentile residence.

Verses 28-32

1. The Jews’ charge against Jesus 18:28-32 (cf. Luke 23:1-2)

John began his version of this civil trial by narrating the initial public meeting of Pilate and Jesus’ accusers. [Note: For helpful background material on this trial, see R. Larry Overstreet, "Roman Law and the Trial of Christ," Bibliotheca Sacra 135:540 (October-December 1978):323-32.]

Verse 29

Pilate evidently addressed the Jews who had assembled outside his headquarters, or perhaps in its courtyard, from a balcony or overlook. He wanted to know their formal charge against Jesus. Pilate probably knew something of Jesus’ arrest since Roman soldiers had participated in it (John 18:3; John 18:12). Moreover Jesus was a popular figure in Galilee and Jerusalem. The high priest may well have communicated with Pilate about Him before Jesus appeared on Pilate’s doorstep.

Verse 30

The spokesmen for the Jews eventually evaded Pilate’s question. Luke recorded that they initially charged Jesus with misleading Israel, with forbidding the Jews to pay their taxes to Caesar, and with claiming to be Israel’s king (Luke 23:2). However they could not impress Pilate with those charges sufficiently.

They hesitated to bring the charge of blasphemy against Jesus because Pilate might dismiss it as unworthy of his consideration (cf. Acts 18:12-16). They evidently did not accuse Him of treason because this too would have incited His many followers, and they would have had difficulty proving it. Consequently they did not name the charge but assumed that it was serious and implied that Pilate should trust them and "rubber stamp" their decision. Perhaps the fact that Pilate had provided troops to arrest Jesus encouraged them to think that he had already judged Jesus guilty. They did not appreciate Pilate’s question since it suggested that they would have to go through a formal trial from beginning to end.

"It is possible that they were taken by surprise at Pilate’s indication that he would try the case himself. They had had his cooperation in making the arrest; now they apparently expected that he would take their word for it that the man the Romans had helped to arrest was dangerous and should be executed." [Note: Ibid., p. 676.]

Pilate realized that the Jewish leaders had determined to do away with Jesus (cf. Matthew 27:18), but he had no evidence that Jesus had done anything worthy of death.

Verse 31

Since the Jews did not charge Jesus formally there was nothing that Pilate could do except hand Him back to them for discipline in their courts. The Jews’ response explained why that was an unacceptable alternative. They wanted Jesus executed, but they did not have the authority to execute Him themselves. [Note: See ibid., pp. 695-97, for a fuller explanation of the Jews’ right to inflict the death penalty.]

"The Pilate disclosed in the [ancient] historical documents almost certainly acted like this not so much out of any passion for justice as out of the ego-building satisfaction he gained from making the Jewish authorities jump through legal hoops and recognize his authority." [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 591.]

Verse 32

John noted that the Jews’ admission that they could not put anyone to death was in harmony with the sovereign plan of God. Jesus had predicted that He would die by crucifixion, not by stoning (cf. 12:32-33). The Romans were the only ones who could condemn a person to death by crucifixion. The Jews did stone people to death for blasphemy (e.g., Acts 6:11; Acts 7:58), but these seem to have been instances of mob violence rather than independent legal action. They probably wanted Jesus crucified too because the Mosaic Law regarded such a death as proof of God’s curse (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

"Ironically, the death that the Jewish hierarchy regarded as a final negation of Jesus’ claims became the means of justification apart from the law (Galatians 3:13)." [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 175.]

"It was necessary for three reasons for Jesus to be crucified by the Romans at the instigation of the Jews: (a) to fulfill prophecies (e.g., that none of His bones be broken; cf. 19:36-37); (b) to include both Jews and Gentiles in the collective guilt for the deed (cf. Acts 2:23; Acts 4:27); (c) by crucifixion, Jesus was ’lifted up’ like ’the snake in the desert’ [3:14] . . ." [Note: Blum, p. 337.]

Verse 33

The Jews’ accusations motivated Pilate’s question. He asked Jesus if He was claiming to be the King of the Jews. Messianic expectation was running high in Jesus’ day, and many people were saying that Jesus was the Messiah. The Jewish leaders had charged Jesus with claiming to be this king (Luke 23:2). Now Pilate wanted to hear if Jesus Himself claimed to be this king.

Verses 33-38

2. The question of Jesus’ kingship 18:33-38a (cf. Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3)

Having heard the Jews’ charges, Pilate returned to the inside of his headquarters and began interrogating Jesus. His questioning centered on the issue of Jesus’ kingship.

Verse 34

The Synoptics reported that Jesus replied, "It is as you say" (Gr. sy legeis, Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3). John also recorded that Jesus gave that answer (John 18:37), but he included additional conversation first. This added material included Jesus’ explanation of the nature of His kingship (John 18:36).

Jesus asked Pilate His question to determine how He would answer him. If his question had arisen from his own understanding and curiosity, Jesus presumably would have dealt with Him as a sincere inquirer. If he was merely trying to clarify the essence of the Sanhedrin’s charge, Jesus would need to answer differently. If Pilate meant, "Are you a political king conspiring against Caesar?" the answer would have been, "No." If he meant, "Are you the messianic king of Israel?" the answer would have been, "Yes." The object of interrogation, Jesus, became the interrogator temporarily. The fact that Jesus questioned Pilate at all was pure grace in that it allowed Pilate to explain his motivation and possibly reduce his culpability.

Verse 35

Pilate’s reply clarified that he had no personal interest in Jesus’ kingship, and he was indignant that Jesus would suggest such a thing. He simply wanted to understand what Jesus was claiming in view of the Sanhedrin’s accusation. Beyond that, he wanted to discover why the Jewish leaders were so intent on doing away with Jesus. His question, "Am I a Jew?" sarcastically denied that Jewish matters such as Jesus’ kingship were of any interest to him personally. Ironically Jesus was Pilate’s King. [Note: Cf. P. Duke, Irony in the Fourth Gospel, pp. 129-30.] Pilate’s comment about Jesus’ own people handing Him over to him confirmed John’s statement that Jesus came unto His own, but His own did not receive Him (1:11).

Verse 36

Jesus explained that He was indeed a king, as He claimed. However, His kingdom was not the type of kingdom that would compete with Pilate’s kingdom by waging war. Jesus was not denying that His kingdom was an earthly kingdom. He was not saying it was only the spiritual rule of God over the hearts of His people. He was not saying that His kingdom had nothing to do with this world either. [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 331.] This should be clear from Jesus’ other references to His kingdom as being an earthly kingdom. His point was that He and His kingdom were not a present threat to Rome (cf. 18:10-11). The reason was that God had postponed the messianic kingdom due to Israel’s unbelief, though Jesus did not explain this to Pilate.

Jesus’ kingdom is "not of this realm" or "from another place" (Gr. ouk enteuthen, lit. not from this place) in another sense. It will come down from heaven to the earth rather than originating from the earth. It will begin when Jesus comes down from heaven to earth at His second coming.

Verse 37

Pilate did not understand the distinctions between Jesus’ kingdom and his own that Jesus was making. He did understand that Jesus was claiming to have a kingdom. Consequently he next tried to get Jesus to claim unequivocally that He was a king. Jesus admitted that He was a king, but He needed to say more about His reign if Pilate was to understand the nature of His kingship. Jesus had defined His kingdom negatively (John 18:36). Now He defined His mission as a king positively.

The main reason Jesus had come into the world was to bear witness to the truth. By this He meant that He came to reveal God (cf. 14:6). Jesus made subjects for His kingdom by revealing God, by calling on people to believe on Him, and by giving them eternal life. This prepared them to participate in His kingdom. Everyone who truly wanted the truth followed Jesus because His teachings had the ring of truth. Jesus’ words were an invitation for Pilate to listen to Him and to learn the truth. Jesus showed more interest in appealing to Pilate than in defending Himself. This desire for the welfare of others marks all of Jesus’ interviews in the fourth Gospel. [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 177.]

Verse 38

Pilate returned to the Jews who had assembled outside his headquarters and announced his verdict. Jesus had done nothing worthy of punishment by Rome (cf. Luke 23:14). He was guiltless of any activity that constituted a threat to Rome. Apparently Pilate concluded that Jesus was not a king in the normal sense but simply an idealist. This witness to Jesus’ innocence was another important testimony in view of John’s purpose in this Gospel (20:30-31).

Verses 38-40

3. The Jews’ request for Barabbas 18:38b-40 (cf. Matthew 27:12-21; Mark 15:3-11; Luke 23:4-19)

John condensed the scene in which Pilate declared Jesus innocent, the Jews accused Jesus further, Jesus replied nothing, and Pilate marveled at Jesus’ silence (Matthew 27:12-14; Mark 15:3-5; Luke 23:4-6). He simply related Pilate’s verdict (John 18:38 b). John also omitted the account of Jesus’ appearance before Herod Antipas that followed this verdict and preceded Pilate’s offer to release Barabbas in Jesus’ place (Luke 23:6-12). The result of this selection of material is that John kept the focus of the reader’s attention on Jesus and Pilate.

Verse 39

"Having displayed a lack of interest in truth, Pilate then revealed a lack of commitment to justice. He lacked the courage of his convictions. If Jesus was innocent of all charges, then Pilate should have set Him free. Instead, Pilate began a series of compromising moves to avoid dealing with an inconvenient truth in a difficult circumstance. First, when Pilate found out Jesus was from Galilee, he sent Him to Herod (Luke 23:6-7). Second, Pilate tried to appeal to the crowd (John 18:38), hoping to bypass the desire of the chief priests and elders." [Note: Blum, p. 338.]

Why did Pilate refer to this custom rather than simply releasing Jesus? Apparently he referred to it to draw attention to his generosity in releasing Jesus. He wanted the Jews to realize that He was being good to them by honoring this custom. However, Pilate made a horrible mistake by referring to it. He opened the door to the possibility that the Jews did not want him to release Jesus. They would not accept Jesus as the prisoner whose release would make it possible for Pilate to honor their custom. By referring to Jesus as the King of the Jews Pilate was further insulting the Jewish leaders. They had rejected the idea that Jesus was their King. His own ill advised question set himself up for rejection.

About this time Pilate’s wife warned him to have nothing more to do with Jesus because He was a righteous man (Matthew 27:19).

Verse 40

John described Barabbas as a robber (Gr. lestes, lit. one who seizes plunder). However, Barabbas seems also to have participated in bloody insurrection as a terrorist and guerrilla fighter (cf. Mark 15:7). The chief priests normally had nothing to do with Zealots and other freedom fighters who sought to overthrow the Roman yoke violently. However here they preferred such an individual to Jesus who had not actively opposed Rome but whom they regarded as a threat to their security. The irony of their decision is obvious to the reader and must also have been obvious to Pilate. Evidently Barabbas had a popular following among the people, as Jesus did, but for different reasons.

The release of a proven enemy of Rome, which John did not record, showed Pilate’s poor judgment. This decision would not have stood him in good stead with his superiors. Evidently it was the pressure of the Jewish mob that encouraged him to act against his own as well as Jesus’ interests.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 18". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/john-18.html. 2012.
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