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The Second Group of the Second Division, the Sixth of the Whole: The Sufferings, Death, and Burial of Our Lord
First, we have, in ch. John 18:1-11, His betrayal and capture.
Here also St John gives only supplementary details. He passes over the kiss of Judas, the address of Christ to the band after His capture, and also the transaction with the young man, which is peculiar to St Mark. On the other hand, he explains how Judas came to seek Jesus in this place; describes more specifically the band of the captors, according to their several elements: he first communicates—and that is the proper centre of his description—the procedure of vers. 4-9; first mentions the name of the disciple who smote off the ear of the high priest’s servant, and the name of that servant; and supplements the words addressed to the disciples according to St Matthew. All that St John has in common with the other Evangelists serves only for the introduction of what is peculiar to himself, and is therefore recorded as briefly as possible.
Ver. 1. “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which He entered, and His disciples.”—“He went out:” there was not any point of departure mentioned in the preceding chapter: we must derive it therefore from the πέραν . He went from this side Kidron to the other. As the passage of our Lord over the Kidron is immediately connected with His last discourses, ch. 15-17 (ταῦ τα εἰ πών ), these discourses must have been uttered in the neighbourhood of the border, on this side: compare the introductory remarks on ch. 14. The brook Kidron is mentioned only here, in the New Testament: χείμαρρος , flowing in winter,—a description which perfectly suits the peculiarity of Kidron. “Nine months of the year the Kidron is without water” (v. Raumer). William of Tyre says, “The brook Kidron, swollen by rains, was wont to flow in the winter months.” We have a comment on the name Kidron, troubled, in Job 6:16, where Job compares his faithless friends to brooks: “What time they wax warm, they vanish; when it is hot, they are consumed out of their place.” The reading τῶ?ν Κέδρων for τοῦ? Κέδρων sprang from the ignorance of copyists. St John, who everywhere goes back to the text of the Old Testament, cannot possibly have so written it, as the Hebrew name Kidron has nothing whatever to do with cedars. Lachmann retains τοῦ? Κέδρων , in token that the external reasons for this reading are at least of equal force with those which sustain the other; and the internal reasons are altogether in its favour. Josephus knows nothing of the brook of the cedars: he always uses ὁ? Κεδρών , or merely Κεδρών : compare the passage in Wetstein. While he declines the name χείμαρρος Κεδρώνος , Antiq. viii. 1, 5, the more Hebraizing John avoids this by inserting the article: so, in 2 Samuel 15:23, 1 Kings 15:13, τῶ?ν , instead of τοῦ? , must be attributed to the transcribers, since no one who had the original before him could have so written. And the true reading there is not destitute of all external testimony: see Holmes. St John gives prominence to the passage of the Kidron probably with some reference to 2 Samuel 15:23, where David, in his conflict with his rebellious subjects, went over the Kidron: ὁ? βασιλεὺ?ς διέβη τὸ?ν χειμάρρουν Κεδρών .
The garden, here alone mentioned, in which Jesus, according to the abundant testimony of the first Evangelists, overcame death for His people, is the counterpart of that garden in which the first Adam succumbed to death. Augustin: It was fitting that the blood of the Physician should there be poured out, where the disease of the sick man first commenced. The property to which the garden belonged is called, in Matthew 26:36, Mark 14:32, Gethsemane. St John does not mention the name (any more than St Luke), because the first two Evangelists had made it known. These give the name; St Luke designates the place as on the Mount of Olives; St John places it beyond the Kidron.
Ver. 2. “And Judas also, which betrayed Him, knew the place; for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with His disciples.”
The owner of this place must have stood in a special relation to Jesus: this is evident, not only from His free resort to the garden, but also from the narrative of the young man in Mark 14:51-52. The young man must have belonged to the family of the owner of the garden. This is plain from his clothing—in a cold night he had on only a linen garment—which did not permit him to be taken away from the place. Sympathy for Jesus, at the time of His imminent danger, must have led him suddenly from his bed into the open air. Curiosity could not have been the motive: in that case the Evangelist would not have mentioned the matter, which was worth recording only as showing that the Apostles had ground for flying. Πολλάκις , oft, cannot refer only to the few days immediately preceding the Passover. Jesus kept Himself, during the whole time between the Feast of Tabernacles and the last Passover, in Jerusalem and its neighbourhood. Yet it seems that in the last days before the Passover, Gethsemane was the special abiding-place; that He spent there the nights of Monday and Tuesday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Wednesday and Thursday; that He withdrew thither during the last two days before the festival for still seclusion; and thence sent the disciples into Jerusalem for the preparation of the Passover. If this were so, we have the reason why Judas was so sure of finding Him there. On the day of the entrance into Jerusalem, on Sunday, Jesus, according to Mark 11:11, returned with the Twelve to Bethany. In reference to the next day, we read, in Mark 11:19, “And when evening was come. He went out of the city.” It is certainly not accidental that St Mark does not here, as in ver. 11, say, “to Bethany,” but “outside the city.” St Luke gives, in ch. Luke 21:37, a general notion of the locality where Jesus spent the remaining nights after Sunday: “And at night He went out, and abode in the mount that is called the Mount of Olives.” Certainly Bethany, according to St Luke, belonged also to the Mount of Olives, ch. Luke 19:29. That we must not stop there, however, but regard him as having Gethsemane also partly in view, is shown by a comparison with ch. Luke 22:39-40. What determined our Lord to change His abode, is not clear. Probably greater nearness, probably also the household relations in Bethany.
Judas knew the place; that is, in regard to the matter now concerned, as the abode of Jesus. Jesus went designedly to the place which Judas knew. The time for hiding Himself from His enemies was past: His hour was come. He must afford the traitor an opportunity, that He might show that His surrender to death was voluntary.
Ver. 3. “Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns, and torches, and weapons.”
There can be no doubt that by the band Roman military were meant. Σπεῖ ρα is used everywhere in the New Testament only of Roman troops: comp. Matthew 27:27; Acts 10:1; Acts 27:1. Chiliarch (comp. ver. 12) is everywhere the name of a Roman military authority; and when we find the σπεῖ ρα connected with the chiliarch, a cohort with its tribune is meant: comp. Acts 21:31; and Josephus, Antiq. John 19:2-3, ἦ?σαν εἰ?ς σπείπας τέσσαρας , οἶ?ς τὸ? ἀ?βασίλευτον τιμιώτερον τῆ?ς τυραννίδος προύκειτο , καὶ? οἵ δε μὲ?ν ἀ?πῄ εσαν μετὰ? τῶ?ν χιλιάρχων , Jud. Bell. xi. 11, 1. The band is here the cohort which was employed for such purposes as the present, and during the feast was stationed in the Temple. Josephus says, in Antiq. xx. 5, 3: “When the feast called Passover was come, on which it is our custom to provide unleavened bread, and a great multitude of people from all places having come together to the feast, Cumanus feared that some insurrections might occur, and therefore gave orders that a cohort of soldiers with their weapons should be established in the court of the Temple, in order to quell any such insurrections as might arise (καταστελοῦ ντας τὸ?ς νεωτερισμὸ?ν εἰ? ἄ?ρα τὶ?ς γένοιτο ). But the same thing was wont to be done by his predecessors in the government of Judea at the feasts.” In his work on the Jewish war, he says of the Castle Antonia (v. 5, 8): “But where it was connected with the Temple, there were steps by which the watchers (there was always a legion of Romans there) went down armed, and planted themselves in the courts at the feasts, to observe the people, that no uproar might arise.” In these two passages of Josephus we have a commentary on our present text, with its article. It is otherwise with the band, ἡ? σπεῖ ρα , in Matthew 27:27, Mark 15:16: comp. John 19:2. There it is the cohort which kept watch at the Praetorium, Pilate’s residence, the earlier royal castle of Herod in the upper city. The chief station of the Roman troops, the παρεμβολή , in Acts 21:34; Acts 21:37, was the Castle Antonia. From this a watch was provided, both for the Temple at the time of the feasts, and for the Praetorium when the procurator was in Jerusalem. These circumstances are clearly stated in Josephus (de Bell. Jud. v. 5, 8: compare the remark of Reland in Haverkamp’s edition). There was always an entire legion in Antonia.
There is no reason for assuming that it was a mere detachment of the cohort which was sent. If the hierarchs would be safe, they must guard against the possibility of the matter becoming noised abroad, and a great insurrection among the people ensuing: comp. Matthew 26:5. How numerous were the dependants of Jesus, especially among the Galileans then present at the feast, was shown by the entrance into Jerusalem. A mere detachment would not have required the presence of the chiliarch. He had reason enough for taking his whole force, in order to provide for all the contingencies which, amidst a people already excited, could scarcely be foreseen. It was important to suppress all thought of opposition at the outset by an imposing display of force: once suffered to begin, there was no end to its possible effects. Time had already been when the crowds of the people took Jesus by force and would make Him a king, John 6:15.
The first three Evangelists do not give so much prominence to the part played by the Roman military. In effect it was not of extreme importance in itself. Even in St John we see that, down to the leading away of Jesus to Pilate, the Jews were the main and independent actors. But it may be shown that the earlier Evangelists do take for granted the intervention of the Roman soldiers. The double style of arms of itself hints at this: partly with swords and partly with staves, Matthew 26:47; Mark 14:43. It is improbable that the reason of this twofold equipment lay in the fact that swords fell short; in the highest degree improbable also, that the Romans would have tolerated, by the side of their militarily accoutred power, another force also in arms. To bear arms in travelling, as a defence against robbers, was permitted to individuals. But we find no trace of any Jewish force in the Temple provided with arras. More of this was not to be thought of; the first readers of St Matthew must have understood the intervention of the Roman military when the double armour was mentioned. Further, our Lord’s word concerning the twelve legions, Matthew 26:53, appears to suggest that Roman soldiers had to do with His capture: the twelve lemons of angels form a contrast with the fragment of a Roman legion. Mark 14:51 points also to Roman military: there it is said of the young man who followed Christ, καὶ? κρατοῦ σιν αὐ τόν οἱ? νεανίσκοι . This description will not suit the servants of the high priest: these were certainly for the most part old men. On the other hand, the Roman military were commonly regarded and spoken of as juvenes, juniores, juventus: see ἤ?δη ἐ?πιλελεγμένων τῶ?ν Ἀ?χαικῶ?ν νεανίσκων in Polybius, adolescens in Cic. pro Milone, and other passages in Schleussner. But we shall not trust ourselves to inquire, whether by the sinners in Matthew 26:45 we are to understand, with Grotius, the Gentiles (comp. Galatians 2:15; and ἄ?νομοι , in Acts 2:23, 1 Corinthians 9:21); or whether the κουστωδία in Matthew 27:65 was the Roman Temple watch, the use of which, in order to the watching of Jesus’ sepulchre, Pilate permitted to the Jews, and which he spoke of as standing at their disposal: “Ye have a watch.” But extremely important are the passages, Luke 22:4; Luke 22:52, where the commandants of the Temple are spoken of in the plural, the στρατηγοῖ?ς τοῦ? ἱ?εροῦ? . The Jews had only one captain, στρατηγός , of the Temple, whose position was so eminent, that in Josephus he is mentioned immediately after the high priest, and a son of a high priest was invested with this dignity: comp. Antiq. xx. 6, 2; De Bell. Jud. ii. 17, 2. In the Acts, St Luke mentions only one chief captain, whose only following were the “officers,” ch. Acts 4:1, Acts 5:24; Acts 5:26, στρατηγὸ?ς τοῦ? ἱ?εροῦ? : this excludes the notion of several captains of the temple at other times than the Passover, and of these the Acts of the Apostles speaks. How then can the plurality of captains in Luke 22:4; Luke 22:52, be otherwise explained, than that the one captain belonged to the Roman military stationed in the Temple at the time of the Passover? It will not suffice to say, that by the plural στρατηγοί is meant the Jewish commandant with his officers. Appeal may be made to Josephus, Antiq. xx. 9, 3, where, however, the secretary of the Jewish commandant is referred to: for στρατηγός always means one who in a subdivision of troops was clothed with the highest authority,—not the officer, but the chief captain; and this notion is further opposed by the concurrence between our present passage and Luke 22:4.
With regard to the high priests and Pharisees, comp. the remarks on John 7:32. Although it was full moon, the torches and lanterns were thought necessary in order thoroughly to investigate the dark spaces of the trees in the garden and the house. The most obvious matter here is the betrayal of our Lord with a kiss. St John hints at such an act, although he does not narrate it, but presupposes it to be already known. He describes Judas twice—the repetition would serve to point attention to the note of description—as he who betrayed Him, ὁ? παραδιδοὺ?ς αὐ τόν , vers. 2, 5, the participle used in the Hebrew manner: comp. on John 9:8. Thus we expect, even according to St John, an act of betrayal. The indication which he gives has its comment in Matthew 26:48-51; Mark 14:44-45; Luke 22:47-48. Further, the remark in ver. 5, “And Judas also, which betrayed Him, stood with them,” is, if we do not supplement St John from the other Evangelists, a needless and irrelevant one. It repeats only, and in an inappropriate place, what had been said already in ver. 3. It leads to the thought, that Judas had separated himself from the band, though that is not here mentioned; and it stands in specific relation to the προήρχετο αὐ τούς , “went before them,” of St John’s immediate predecessor, St Luke, ch. Luke 22:47. The words expressly intimate the fact, that the scene was already over with the kiss of Judas. Judas had first come forward from among the number of his confederates; now Jesus comes forward after Judas had gone back again into their ranks. Only from misapprehension has it been thought that vers. 4 seq. conclude the idea of Judas’ kiss having preceded. On the other hand, it is perfectly clear that we can imagine it to have taken place only before ver. 4.
Ver. 4. “Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon Him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?”—Εἰ δὼ?ς is used here as in ch. John 13:1: “as He knew,” or “although He knew.” That Jesus, notwithstanding this knowledge, presented Himself to His enemies, is made prominent to His honour. Humanly speaking, it was to Jesus perfectly impossible to evade His capture. This is quite obvious. But the Evangelist proceeds from the assumption that supernatural means were at His disposal; and it was to His glory that He did not use these supernatural resources: comp. Matthew 26:53, where our Lord Himself says, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve lesions of angels? Ἐ?ξελθών : this must refer only to our Lord’s advancing beyond the circle of the disciples, or out of His concealment. For that Jesus did not withdraw from Gethsemane, is evident from ver. 3, according to which Judas with his band entered into the garden; as also from ver. 26, where one of the servants of the high priest says to Peter, “Did not I see thee in the garden with him?” Therefore the band must have penetrated, just as here the word ἐ?ξελθών is used also in Matthew 14:14, Mark 6:34 (comp. on John 6:3).
The question, “Whom seek ye?” is uttered on account of the answer; and to that answer was to be appended the command of Christ to let His disciples go,—a command enforced by the previous miracle of Christ’s power. The express commission of the band went not beyond the taking Christ prisoner. This appeared to the high priests something so great, that they seem not to have spent a thought on the disciples. But it was obvious that the multitude, when their special duty was discharged, went beyond the letter of their function, and, in order to act in the spirit of the rulers and to deserve their thanks, laid their hands on the Apostles also.” The “rulers of the Temple” who were with them were justified by their position in acting independently thus. Jesus would now suppress that desire, the presence of which the soldiers’ treatment of the young man also reveals. The same narrative of the young man shows that it was only our Lord’s interference that saved the Apostles from imprisonment. The Apostles they durst not touch; so they would at least lay hands on one belonging to the wider circle of the Lord’s dependants.
Ver. 5. “They answered Him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am He. And Judas also, which betrayed Him, stood with them.”
The band declare their commission in the same terms in which they had received it. Although the sign which Judas gave them, and perhaps in part their own earlier knowledge (comp. John 7:32; John 7:45), assured them who it was that stood before them, yet the words “We seek thee,” by which they would have been placed in direct personal relation to Jesus, would not pass their lips. Here was the beginning of the terror which presently afterwards threw them on the ground.
In the word ἐ?γώ εἰ μι , the Lord uttered forth the dignity of His person. Accordingly He struck the multitude like a flash of lightning. Jesus thereby declared Himself to be He of whom the prophet said, “And He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked;” and who says Himself, in Isaiah 49:2, “And He hath made My mouth like a sharp sword.” This was the earnest of that which is, in Revelation 1:16, written of the exalted Redeemer, “And out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword;” as also of what, in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, is written to depict the destruction of antichrist by the Redeemer at His coming, “Whom the Lord Jesus will destroy by the breath of His mouth.” If Jesus had not tempered the power of His word, its effect would now also have been annihilating, like the word spoken in the might of God by Elijah, 2 Kings 1:10; 2 Kings 1:12; by Elisha, 2 Kings 2:24; 2 Kings 5:27; and by the Apostle in Acts 5:5 (“And Ananias, hearing these words, fell down, and gave up the ghost”),—although these were only feeble men. But the influence of our Lord’s word was precisely what the end designed required it to be. Jesus must and would be taken, but His disciples must go free. For this it was enough that His captors knew with whom they had to do. This was needful also, in order that all inferences drawn from His capture to the disparagement of His divinity should be obviated, and that the voluntariness of His surrender to death should be fully established. That which Christ here did was sufficient to show what He could do, and what in due time He will do. Augustin: “He says I am, and casts down the ungodly. What will He do as Judge who did this when judged? What will He do as reigning who did this as about to die?”
We have already observed that the notice “Judas stood” serves only for the connection of St John’s narrative with that of the first three Evangelists. We are lost in difficulty if we attempt to assign a meaning to these words without going beyond the sphere of St John’s own narrative. If with Meyer the words are regarded as merely a “tragical point in the description of this assault, without any further significance,” they could not—even apart from the fact that, according to ver. 3, they were perfectly useless—have stood here. Their position precisely where they are admits of only one explanation. They were intended to obviate the false notion that the word “I am He,” addressed to the captors, was to say anything unknown to them; and to intimate the fact that the scene with the traitor had already preceded. On that account, also, the words “who betrayed Him” are here repeated.
Ver. 6. “As soon then as He had said unto them, I am He, they went backward, and fell to the ground.”
The Evangelist speaks of the whole multitude; and Leo (Serm. i. do Passione) rightly observes: “Which word struck down that band, gathered up of all the most ferocious people, as if with a lightning stroke, so that all those fierce and terrible threatenings fell at once.” If we contemplate the whole scene aright, we shall discern no difference between Jews and Romans, between those who had already a secret dread of Jesus, and those who knew nothing about Him, or looked down upon Him with the deepest scorn. The lightning flash struck all alike, the courageous and the presumptuous as well as the fearful. If St John saw the matter otherwise, it was not worth his trouble to communicate it. “They went backward,” ἀ?πῆ λθον εἰ?ς τὰ? ὀ?πίσω ), is the נסוגו אחור which prophets and psalmists declare concerning the ungodly driven backwards by the omnipotence of God: Isaiah 42:17; Jeremiah 46:5; Psalms 35:4; Psalms 40:15; Psalms 129:5. These words, “They went backwards,” introduced as it were with the marks of quotation, are the theological description of the effect of Christ’s word; “they fell to the earth” are the natural description. We have an analogy in the various descriptions of the potion which our Lord was presented with on the cross. St Matthew describes it theologically, on the ground of the passage in the psalm, as “vinegar mingled with gall,” ch. Matthew 27:34; St Mark physically, as “wine mingled with myrrh,” ch. Mark 15:23. The falling to the ground was the form in which the retreating before Christ’s word manifested itself.
Ver. 7. “Then asked He them again. Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth.”
After His object in confounding them was attained, our Lord, the Lion and the Lamb, speaks to them in a milder tone. He Himself gives them courage to accomplish the ta.sk they had undertaken; whilst, however, what they had just experienced would restrain them from transgressing the strict limit of their commission. “Jesus of Nazareth,” they uttered in low tones. But when they found their task done, when they had bound Jesus, they give up all their fear, and are ashamed of their earlier cowardice. When the heart is far from God, the work of hardening goes on apace, so soon as the sensible impression is past, and God withdraws again into silence. This was most impressively manifested in the history of Pharaoh.
Vers. 8, 9. “Jesus answered, I have told you that I am He. If therefore ye seek Me, let these go their way: that the saying might be fulfilled which He spake. Of them which Thou gavest Me have I lost none.”—Ἵ?να πληρωθῇ? : it took place, or Jesus so acted: comp. John 15:25, John 19:36; Mark 14:49. That which our Lord, in ch. John 17:12, utters in the form of fact, referred to the whole of His life upon earth, and by anticipation included the whole space down to His death: it was in fact a prediction which, in this act of our Saviour’s preservation, found its fulfilment.
Jesus, in ch. John 17:12, spoke of His care for the salvation of His disciples’ souls. The external protection which He here vouchsafes must therefore be regarded in connection with that: the disciples were not yet strong enough to endure the internal temptations which would have assailed them in imprisonment. They could not suffer for Christ before Christ had suffered for them. The greatness of their spiritual danger we see exemplified in the example of the, most advanced of all, Simon Peter. The fall out of which he rose again might have been for the “little ones” an irreparable one. The external protection afforded by our Lord derived its main significance from the connection between their temporal danger and their spiritual. From purely external danger the Lord never protects His people. He predicted to Peter that He Himself would provide martyrdom for him.
Ver. 10. “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.”
The earlier Evangelists speak of one of the disciples: St John first mentions the name. But the other Evangelists lead us obviously to think of Peter, who, according to Luke 22:33, said, “Lord, I am ready to go with Thee to prison and to death:” comp. Matthew 26:35; Mark 14:31. Their not naming Peter appears to be accounted for by the fact that they wrote in his lifetime, which, in the case of St Mark, an ancient tradition expressly states, representing his Gospel to have been composed with the co-operation of that Apostle. St John, writing long after Simon’s death, was free from the restraint of that consideration.
That two of the disciples were furnished with swords—doubtless for protection against the robbers who made the roads very unsafe, Luke 10:30—is recorded by St Luke, Luke 22:38. The weapon which Peter bore must have been for a purpose permitted by the Lord; otherwise He would have earlier obviated the misunderstanding of His words, “And he that hath no sword, let him sell his coat, and buy one,” Luke 22:36 (compare the introductory observations to ch. 14), with a more full instruction. Peter was to fail, in order that the Lord might have occasion in rebuking him to instruct the Church of all ages; and He found an opportunity, through Peter’s act, of putting forth His miraculous power, and thus of proving that He voluntarily surrendered Himself to the hands of men.
The multitude set themselves, after Christ’s words, to seize Him, or had already laid hold on Him. This presupposal of Peter’s deed must be inserted from the other Evangelists: Matthew 26:50; Mark 14:46; Luke 22:49. Ver. 12 here records the act fully accomplished, after the obstacle of the interruption was set aside.
Peter’s act requires the preceding scene for its explanation, especially when we remember that Roman military were present. That gave him to understand the power of his Lord. It was hard for him to understand how, possessed of such power, his Master would suffer Himself to be taken. He thought that if he boldly made a beginning of the assault, the Lord would be stirred up to make a glorious end of it.
The δοῦ λος here does not belong to the ὑ?πηρέτας of ver. 3: comp. ver. 18, where a distinction is made between them. The ὑ?πηρέται are officials: accordingly, in ver. 12, they are called “officers of the Jews.” They belonged to the people. Malchus was only a private servant of the high priest, and was not therefore officially present. Simon’s stroke fell upon him probably because, though having no official warrant to be there, he was present, and made himself prominent as the officious tool of his master.
It has been assumed, probably without any reason, that Peter’s design was to cut off the head of the obtrusive servant of the high priest. His external unsteadiness, rather, made him prudently limit himself to cutting off the ear. But it was the Lord who so guided his hand that he did not become an unintentional murderer, “and suffered him to do only so much harm to the servant as was necessary in order that He might have opportunity to do good to His enemies, to instruct His disciples, and to edify all the world.”
That the ear was not quite cut off, seems evident from the fact that, according to Luke 22:51, Jesus healed him by simply touching it. St Luke alone expressly mentions this healing. But it is taken for granted in the circumstance common to all the Evangelists, that Peter was not seized, and not even his sword taken away: comp. ver. 11. Nor would Jesus have allowed it to go so far, if He had not had the healing in view.
The intimation that the ear was the right ear, is common to St John with his immediate predecessor, St Luke. St John first mentions his name. How he came to do that is explained by vers. 16 seq., where we find that he knew the high priest, and went in and out of his house. He recognised in Malchus an old acquaintance: according to ver. 26, he knew his family connections. The other Evangelists may have heard the name of the servant, but St John alone had any interest in communicating it.
Malchus means king. Josephus (Bell. Jud. i. 14, 1; Antiq. xiii. 5, 1) mentions an Arabian king Malchus. The celebrated heathen philosopher Porphyry was called Malchus; and his other name, Porphyrius, was only a translation of it, Suidas: “Porphyry, who wrote against the Christians, was called king.” Jerome (in Wetstein) says: “There was there a certain old man named Malchus, a Syrian by nation and language, whom we might call in Latin king.” Probably he was the head servant of the high priest, his chamberlain: probably called Malchus in sport, as the king of the servants—a name that then clung to him. That proper names in those days often had such a natural origin, is shown by the name Pannychis, pertaining to a concubine whom Herod gave to Archelaus (Joseph. Bell. Jud. i. 25, 6).
Ver. 11. “Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?”
St Matthew gives more copiously what our Lord said to Peter: ch. Matthew 26:52-53. John supplements it by communicating the allusion to one word which our Lord had spoken in the conflict of Gethsemane not recorded in his Gospel (comp. Matthew 26:42). This word appropriately fits the close of the Lord’s words in Matthew: “Thus it must be.” The cup which God gives is in the Old Testament the destiny which He appoints. Upon the expression which Christ on this occasion uttered, rests the practice of the collective Church of Christ in the midst of the persecutions which the authorities may inflict.
Vers. 12, 13. “Then the band, and the captain, and officers of the Jews, took Jesus, and bound Him, and led Him away to Annas first (for he was father-in-law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year).”
According to Matthew 27:2, Mark 15:1, Jesus appears not to have been bound until He was led away to Pilate. The apparent contradiction is removed by observing that the bonds were removed in order to His being examined. That it was the custom of the Jews to bind those who were brought as delinquents before the Sanhedrim, appears from Acts 9:1-2; Acts 9:14; Acts 9:21; Acts 12:6, which are quite in harmony with St John. Ver. 24 here makes it indeed probable that our Lord had already been loosed from His bonds when He stood before Annas in the preliminary examination, otherwise the δεδεμένον would be superfluous.
The reason why Jesus was first led to Annas—named by Josephus (Antiq. xviii. 2, 1) Ananus the son of Seth—is simply stated to be the circumstance that he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas. It was not, therefore, because of any official position on which he stood, but only as an expression of personal respect to him; and this leads us to infer that Caiaphas would not have so honoured him if his father-in-law had not been in office himself, and a man distinguished by competency in affairs. We are led to the same result by the fact, that even in the chambers of Annas Jesus was questioned, ver. 19, by Caiaphas,—a proof this that officially only he had to hear Jesus. In Luke 3:2, where we learn that the Baptist appeared ἐ?πὶ? ἀ?ρχιερέως Ἅ?ννα καὶ? Καϊάφα , it is not meant that Annas held any official position; all that it signifies is the considerable independent influence which, as a person in high esteem, he exerted. The singular ἀ?ρχιερέως , supported by the best MSS., is of moment, intimating that the official person who was high priest was largely influenced by another person. The personage who exerted that influence stood first. With this passage of Luke our present passage strictly harmonizes: it may be regarded as the key for its explanation. In the enumeration of the leading members of the council, Acts 4:6, Annas is named before Caiaphas: this further confirms the hint of our text, that Caiaphas, who officially preceded all others, was entirely under the influence of Annas. Only such a dominant influence could have occasioned his being mentioned first; any official position would certainly have placed him subordinate to Caiaphas. The fact of Christ being led away to Annas, shows not only the independent authority which he exercised, but also the intensity of his hatred to Christ. His son-in-law knew that he could not afford him a greater joy than by giving him some concern in this process. The hatred felt by Annas to Christ continued to burn in his son, the younger Ananus mentioned by Josephus. He perverted his high-priestly function so far as to trespass upon the Roman authority of life and death, and to bring about the destruction of James the Apostle, “the brother of Jesus, who is called Christ, and many with him;” for which abuse of authority he was displaced from his office: comp. Josephus, Antiq. xx. 9, 1.
Where was the dwelling of Annas? Doubtless chambers were assigned to him in the house of his son-in-law, in the high-priestly palace. To this we are led by a comparison with the first three Evangelists, who do not mention Annas, and place the three denials of Peter in the court of Caiaphas the high priest. Other reasons also decide for this. 1. It is of itself remarkable that St John represents Christ as led from person to person, not from place to place: they led Him to Annas, ver. 13; Annas sent Him to Caiaphas, ver. 14; they lead Jesus from Caiaphas, ver. 28. All this indicates that the locality was the same. When a change of place is referred to, it is expressly mentioned: “they led Jesus to the palace,” ver. 28. 2. “That disciple,” we read in ver. 15, “was known to the high priest:” the high priest, with the article, could only be Caiaphas. In Acts 4:6 Annas is not described as high priest; but mention is made of Annas the high priest, in contradistinction to others of the name who had not been high priests. Caiaphas is, throughout St John, always the high priest, John 11:49, John 18:24; John 18:28; and here he has just been alluded to as such, vers. 13, 14. But this disciple went with Jesus into the palace of the high priest. Thus Jesus, when He was led to Annas, was led into the palace of Caiaphas. 3. In the court of the building in which Annas dwelt stood the servants of the high priest (comp. vers. 18, 26), that is, of Caiaphas; to whom we are the rather pointed, because the relatives of him whose ear Peter cut off in all probability were in the service of the same master, and all the Evangelists say that Malchus was the servant of Caiaphas. If Annas had not dwelt in the high priest’s palace, we should have found his own establishment gathered together. 4. The body of servants, according to ver. 18, stood round a fire of coals while Jesus was with Annas. Peter went to that perilous place only because he would be near his Master; he remained there, doubtless, not a moment longer than Jesus was in the place. In ver. 24 Jesus is led away to Caiaphas; yet Peter remains near the fire, and amidst the same company. This shows that the sending from Annas to Caiaphas was only a sending from one part of the house to another. The court was common to both houses. 5. After Peter’s first denial, Jesus, according to St John, was led away to Caiaphas. According to Luke 22:61, Jesus turned, at the third denial, and looked at Peter. Thus at the third denial he was in the same place where he was before. Jesus, already with Caiaphas, is at the same time with Peter in the same place. This is to be explained only on the supposition that the court was common to the two dwellings of Annas and Caiaphas. The assertion of Baur (Kanon Evang.), “When Jesus was again led away from Annas and went over the court (of Annas), the two other acts of denial took place,” is, looking at St John alone, untenable. At ver. 24 Jesus must not merely have been on the way to Caiaphas, but must have reached his presence; for to ver. 4 is joined “they led Jesus from Caiaphas” in ver. 28.
Moreover, we cannot tell why so much opposition has been encountered by the theory that Annas lived in the high priest’s palace. According to the custom of the East, where the palaces of the great belong usually not only to the actual ruler, but to all his kin, it must always be probable in itself that in the high priest’s palace the whole ἀ?ρχιερατικόν , Acts 4:6, resided.
On the words, “who was the high priest that year,” compare what was said upon ch. John 11:49. As high priest of that year, Caiaphas was at the same time the high priest.
Chap. John 18:12-27
Jesus before Annas and Caiaphas—Peter’s Denial
With John 18:27 the narrative of our Lord’s appearance before Caiaphas is closed, without our being told what occurred in it. This is all the more remarkable, as, according to St John himself, something very decisive must necessarily have taken place there. The examination before Annas was altogether of a preliminary character, and, as Jesus declined to answer the question of the high priest, led to no result. That Jesus must have been condemned to death before Caiaphas, to whom in ver. 24 He is led away, is plain from ver. 14, where, in allusion to the event now being prepared for, it is mentioned that Caiaphas had earlier counselled the Jews that it was good for one man to die on behalf of the people. It is plain also from the transactions before Pilate, which rest upon the supposition that the Jewish verdict of death had already taken place. The rulers of the people first desire that Pilate would, without further ado, confirm this condemnation, ver. 30, and are induced, by his persistent refusal, to raise a complaint; returning afterwards, when Pilate declared their charge to be unfounded, to their original demand, that Pilate must confirm the sentence they had decreed, ch. John 19:7. We are here as good as expressly pointed back to the earlier Evangelists. We are led to expect that we shall find in them a chasm concerning the transactions before Annas, which explains why St John so particularly describes what was comparatively of less importance; as also, that we shall find in them a selected and exhaustive account of the transactions before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrim, which relieves St John’s silence of its strangeness. This expectation is found to be satisfied. The resultless appearance before Annas is entirely passed over in the first three Evangelists; on the other hand, they record the transaction before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrim with a minuteness which allows nothing to escape. But St Luke gives a point of connection for St John’s narrative in Luke 22:61, where we find our Lord with Peter once more in the court, and the “without” and the “below” cease, which, according to Matthew 26:69, Mark 14:66, had separated him from his Master. John 18:24 gives the solution of this difficulty. That St John, on the other hand, takes for granted what had been narrated by the first three is plain, apart from the other reasons we have assigned, from the fact that, while nothing had been said in vers. 12-27 of any co-operation of the Sanhedrim, but the high priest only was mentioned, in ver. 28 we are suddenly met by a plurality, ἄ?γουσι , αὐ τοί ; and in ch. John 19:6; John 19:15, the “high priests” are spoken of, the term used currently by St John as a concise description of the High Council: comp. on ch. John 7:32. From the position which the High Council everywhere in St John assumes in relation to Christ’s interests (comp. e.g. ch. John 11:47-53; John 11:57), we are naturally led to suppose, that by them with Caiaphas the matter was decided.
The denial of Peter had been thoroughly described by the first three Evangelists. But St John must return to it, because that event could not, without the communication of the events before Annas, be adjusted in its historical connection. At the same time St John, touching as lightly as possible what they had narrated, adds only a few notices. In regard to the chronological position of Peter’s denial, St Luke forms the transition to St John. While in St Matthew and St Luke the things concerning our Lord and Peter are simply narrated together, without regard to the sequence of time (the fact that Jesus is first spoken of refers not to time, but His dignity), we perceive from St Luke that the three denials of Peter had already taken place before the Sanhedrim assembled: comp. ch. Luke 22:62; Luke 22:66. “Concerning the penitence of Peter,” says Bengel, “St John presupposes what the other Evangelists write.” If his Gospel was meant to have an independent position and significance, it could not possibly have broken off here.
Ver. 14. “Now Caiaphas was he which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.”
Compare ch. John 11:50. To the unconscious prophecy which Caiaphas had uttered (compare ver. 51) St John now refers, because the fulfilment of that prophecy was now prepared for,—a fulfilment in which Caiaphas played no insignificant part. And this observation leads also to the same conclusion, that the high priest in what follows could be only Caiaphas.
Ver. 15. “And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. That disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest.”
The article before ἄ?λλος owed its origin to an unseasonable comparison of ver. 16, and probably also ch. John 20:2. The article must be given up. It would mark out this disciple as known to the readers. But how was he thus known? St John everywhere represents that only as known which had been found in the first three Evangelists. But these knew nothing of another disciple here.
It cannot be doubted that the other disciple was John: that alone gives the reason why his name was not mentioned. Peter and John elsewhere appear as united: compare on ch. John 13:24. Judging from the entire character of John and his relation to Christ, we might have expected that he, beyond all the other disciples, would, with Peter, have refused to be separated from the Lord. Under the cross we find the disciple whom Jesus loved, John 19:26. After the resurrection he runs with Peter to the sepulchre, and faster, too, than Peter. As the “other disciple” he describes himself, just as here, in ch. John 20:2-4; John 20:8. So far back as ch. John 1:35; John 1:41, he is the unknown disciple by the side of one whose name is mentioned; and the manner in which he there concealed and yet revealed himself, has much affinity with what we find here. That tendency to keep his own person as much as possible in the background which pervades the whole Gospel, culminates at its close in the οἴ δαμεν , “we know,” which has given the expositors so much trouble. We are led also to think of St John, by the circumstance that he alone, of all the Evangelists, shows any interest, in keeping with his being “known to the high priest,” about the relations of the high priest’s house: he intimates the relationship between Annas and Caiaphas, ver. 13; mentions the name of the high priest’s servant whose ear Peter smote off; refers to another among the servants of the high priest who was related to Malchus, ver. 26; speaks of the portress, ἡ? παιδίσκη ἡ? θυρωρός , where the other Evangelists mention only a maid, μία παιδίσκη παιδίσκη τίς ; and in ver. 18 specifies the fire of coals around which the servants of the high priest were gathered in the cold night.
The language speaks of acquaintanceship, not of kindred. Acquaintances and kindred are distinguished in Luke 2:44, and so also often in the Old Testament, Job 19:13; Job 42:11.
St John stood in some relation to the high priest himself, not merely to his servants. This is here expressly said; in ver. 16 it is emphatically repeated, and all is in strict harmony. St John goes without any ado into the palace of the high priest. No introduction was needed for him; he had free access. To the servants he must have been a person of some eminence. They venture to say nothing against him, nor against Peter while he was there. The maid admitted Peter at his word; and that she did this somewhat unwittingly, is plain from her subsequent attack on Peter.
How the acquaintance originated can scarcely be conjectured; human relations are manifold. But the character of St John leads to the obvious supposition that it rested on religious grounds. Searching for goodly pearls, John had earlier sought from the high priest what, after he had gone through the intervening station of the Baptist, he found in Christ. With what eyes he had formerly regarded the position of the high priest, is indicated by the fact, that as a disciple of Christ he nevertheless assigned to the word of the high priest a prophetic significance, ch. John 11:51. John, by his internally devout nature, had so attracted the good-will of the high priest, that he did not wholly cast him off even after he had gone over to the true High Priest. Nor had John entirely abandoned him. Real love cannot be so easily rooted from the heart; and it is characteristic of St John to retain, τηρεῖ?ν , a pious regard to earlier relations. In the love which hopeth all things, he might hope yet to win the high priest to Christ. Moreover, we find among the Apostles one, whose surname, ὁ? Ζηλωτής , Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13, shows that he had gone through a similar process of development. And the life of St Paul furnishes some analogies.
Ver. 16. “But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter.”
Expositors condemn Peter for having, in his weakness, ventured so much. Even Calvin says: “As Christ had declared by His own voice that He spared Peter and the others, it would have been far better to groan and pray in some obscure corner, than to go openly before the eyes of man when he was so little firm.” That may be true; but love vanquishes reasoning, and after all Peter following Christ is dearer in his denial, than if, without denying, he had remained in some obscure corner. It must have been a mighty and irresistible impulse which urged Peter to follow Christ. He had more to fear than all the others; for it was he who had smote off the ear of the high priest’s servant, ver. 26. That made his situation peculiarly dangerous; and explains how it was that he was embarrassed by addresses which under other circumstances would have been regarded as harmless mockery. At the time of the outrage, our Lord’s healing act had restrained the servants from attacking Peter. But it was very natural that the act was revived in their remembrance. Since Peter had not a good conscience in relation to that act, and had been by the Lord Himself reproved, it must have been all the more natural that he should expect to suffer for it.
What John said to the portress is not told, because it may be inferred from what she thereupon did. Genesis 4:8 is similar: “And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass when they were in the field.” What Cain said to Abel, “Let us go into the field,” is to be supplied from what follows.
Vers. 17, 18. “Then saith the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples? He saith, I am not. And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals (for it was cold); and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself.”
When was it that the maid spoke to Peter? Obviously not directly after she had admitted him,—for then her objections would rather have been urged against his entering at all,—but after John, whose person she respected, had gone away. John doubtless accompanied his Master to Annas, and records what he has concerning that interview from personal knowledge; he probably also went with Him to Caiaphas, so that the narrative of this examination which we have in the first three Evangelists was derived from his testimony. We must not connect ver. 17 with ver. 16, but with ver. 18, which is only then properly understood when it is regarded as supplying the circumstances under which the colloquy in ver. 17 took place. The fire of coals and its surroundings had a close connection with the first assault of the maid; and it was not accidental that all the assaults upon Peter took place near this fire. She was bent upon bringing the Apostle—whose entrance she could not prevent—into embarrassment before the whole company of the servants, and thus making herself also an important and interesting personage. She was in possession of a secret; she alone was aware that Peter had entered through the intercession of John, whom she knew as a follower of Jesus; whom but another disciple would he have introduced? And she might, with the official feeling of a portress, come forward (St Luke’s καὶ? ἀ?τενίσασα αὐ τῷ? , Luke 22:56, is very remarkable) to demand, as it were, a warranty after he had entered instead of before. Thus St John is in full harmony with the other Evangelists, according to whom the first attack and the first denial of Peter took place while he warmed himself.
The matter was at the outset harmless enough. Yet it is not right to say that Peter was afraid, where there was no great reason to fear. It might, in further course, have taken a very critical shape for his safety.
“Thou also,” says the maid, with allusion to John, and indicating the ground of her suspicion: “John, who brought thee in, is a disciple of this man; thou also assuredly art the same.”
The despondent spirit which led to his denial on this occasion was not inconsistent with the courage with which he cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear, ch. John 18:10. That act did not spring from the tranquil courage of faith; it was the courage of a naturally strong feeling, which had lost itself in circumstances of momentary excitement. As everything natural has its risings and fallings, so also has the merely natural feeling. Hero and coward, in the ordinary human sense, are not pure opposites. Circumstances altered the ease. Then Peter had been stimulated by a glance at his Lord, whose demonstration of miraculous power he had just witnessed in the prostration of the multitude. But now, when he saw that Lord so powerless, his courage fell. This was needful in order to his humiliation. Thus only could he become a true Peter, when his confidence in his own natural strength was utterly taken away.
The fire had been made by the servants of the high priest, in the expectation that they would have to wait out the night while the examination proceeded. Considerable time must elapse while the members of the High Council were being assembled. The co-operation of the Roman soldiers went no further than the bringing Jesus, and delivering Him up in the palace of the high priest. After that, the responsibility of watching Him rested with the Jews.
Tobler, writing from Jerusalem, says: “There are occasionally outbreaks of winter down to May. We sat in the evening trembling with the frost, wrapped up in mantles. The fact that Peter warmed himself in the palace of the high priest on the third of April, is quite in keeping with all modern observations of the weather, as well as with the customs of the inhabitants. On the third of April 1837, after sundown the temperature was +6° R.”
The servants stood: this seems to be opposed to the record of the other Evangelists, according to whom the servants were sitting, Matthew 26:58, Mark 14:54, Luke 22:55. But standing and sitting doubtless alternated; moreover, the first Evangelists also speak of the ἑ?στῶ τες , Matthew 26:73; παρεστῶ τες , Mark 14:69-70. Nor is there any contradiction between Peter’s standing in this account, and his sitting outside in the court. Matthew 26:69, when the maid came and looked at him. The standing here forms the transition to his going out into the porch in Matthew 26:71. The excitement caused by the question induced Peter to rise up.
It has been rightly observed that Peter, playing the bold man, and mixing among the soldiers as one of themselves, laid already the foundation for his subsequent denial.
Ver. 19. “The high priest then asked Jesus of His disciples, and of His doctrine.”
Not Annas, but Caiaphas, questioned Jesus. Annas presided, as it were, over the council at the examination; but the strictly judicial function could not be committed to him by Caiaphas. The greater the injustice was, the more important it became not to violate judicial forms. Caiaphas doubtless was instructed and inspired by Annas, but formally Jesus had to do with him alone.
The question concerning the disciples coincided with that concerning the doctrine; the second served to explain and define the first. We gather from the answer of Christ, that the matter in question was not that He should indicate the persons of His disciples—as a culprit might be required to name his confederates—but rather that He should show the relation He bore to His disciples. But that was one with His doctrine, and upon His doctrine that relation rested. It was of importance to provide materials for the charge to be brought before the High Council—that Jesus made Himself the Son of God and arrogated Divine authority, and in this presumption elevated Himself above all legitimate authority, gathering around Himself a crowd of disciples, who, as such, were the enemies of that authority. It was of equal importance in order to their providing material for the second charge before the Roman Forum,—that Jesus made Himself a king, and thereby set Himself up against Cesar: comp. Luke 23:2. If we regard the two questions as perfectly distinct, the answer of our Lord leads to embarrassment; for in that case it refers only to the second question.
Vers. 20, 21. “Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou Me? ask them which heard Me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.”
Jesus declines answering the high priest’s question. The reason of that refusal must not be sought in His design to withdraw from the interrogation altogether. Before the assembled Sanhedrim He at once declared Himself to be the Son of God; before Pilate He avowed His royal dignity. His silence had rather an admonitory character; it gave the high priest to understand that he was not worthy of any reply, because he did not seek but flee from the truth. It sprang from the same reason that led to the silence at the outset before the council, Matthew 26:63, Mark 14:61; the perfect silence before Herod; the refusal to answer Pilate, after he had made it plain that he desired not to serve the truth, but his own personal interest, ch. John 19:9. The high priest set out with the determination to allow no entrance to the truth. He resolved, under all circumstances, to deliver Jesus to death, ver. 14. His questions had no other design than to provide materials for accusation and sure impeachment. When the authorities assume such a position, there is, looking at them alone, no room for the duty of confessing ( 1 Peter 3:15 takes for granted a certain measure of good-will); and it would have been unworthy of our Lord’s dignity to commit Himself to a fruitless colloquy with the high priest. The duty of confession came later for our Lord; that is, when, before the Sanhedrim in open session, He was solemnly and publicly asked by the high priest whether He were the Son of God; as also by the human authority, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” Then our Lord stood before the great tribunal, and before the world. In Pilate there was a certain measure of good disposition; he had not, to such an extent as the high priest, closed the avenues of his heart against all good emotions. To have spoken to the heart of the high priest would have been perfectly vain. He had firmly resolved to give no access to the truth. The objective fact of our Lord’s teaching, however, was plain enough: it needed no confession to make that sure. For the “good confession” which our Lord had to make before His death, a more fitting place and time would come afterwards.
The words in which Jesus accounted for His silence intimate that there was no secrecy in question, and that what was public might be known in another way.
This answer of our Lord threw the high priest out of his course. The end of his investigation was to obtain material for the charge to be brought against Him in the council. Upon this he had firmly reckoned: how firmly we may gather from the fact, that the insufficiently prepared testimonies of the witnesses at the great examination led to so impotent a result. Matthew 26:59-60; Mark 14:55-59. The difficulty which the first Evangelists present—the reconciling the character of Christ’s enemies with their defect of foresight in this instance—finds in St John its explanation.
For παῤ?ῥ?ησία , see on ch. John 11:54, John 7:4; John 7:26. Ἐ?ν συναγωγῇ? : the article is wanting, because no particular synagogue was to be indicated. In itself the article would not be inadmissible for the generic noun; but here it could not have been used, since in ἐ?ν τῷ? ἱ?ερῷ? it marks out the Temple specifically. Jesus had taught in the synagogues of Galilee, as is evident from a series of passages in the first Evangelists, and John 6:59. The Galileans were then present at the feast, and it was easy therefore to ascertain certainly what Jesus had taught in their synagogues. In Jerusalem He had always repaired to the Temple. The reason of this was, that He always sought the utmost possible publicity, and everywhere, as much as in Him lay, spoke to the world. “Whither the Jews always resort:” that characterized the Temple, in contradistinction to the synagogues. In harmony with this passage, our Lord, in Matthew 23:38, speaks of the Temple as the house of the Jews. Three times in the year, according to the ordinance of the law, all the males were to appear in the Temple, in the house of “convocation,” in the place where God was wont to hold intercourse with His people, Deuteronomy 16:16. The words, “In secret have I said nothing,” point to Isaiah 45:19. There Jehovah says, in allusion to the prophecy communicated by Him, “I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth;” to the parallel clause the Lord refers in Matthew 10:27. If He sometimes taught in a narrower circle, and there unfolded “the mysteries of the kingdom of God,” Matthew 13:11, He did this only on account of the want of susceptibility in the multitude; He uttered nothing to His disciples which He did not in another form and at another time publicly teach, nothing that was by those disciples to be kept secret. This is evident from Matthew 10:27, in harmony with our present passage. Augustin: And even this, which seemed to be spoken by Him in secret, in a certain sense was not spoken in secret, inasmuch as it was not so spoken as to be concealed by those to whom it was spoken; but rather so that it might be everywhere proclaimed.
Ver. 22. “And when He had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?”
In Matthew 5:39, the verb ῥ?απίζειν occurs for striking on the cheek; the same is probably its meaning here also. The blow on the cheek, as inflicted for a supposed offence, may be compared with 1 Kings 22:24, where the false prophet Zedekiah smote the true prophet Micaiah. The servant probably had in view that passage of the law, Ex, Exodus 22:27, which St Paul quoted under similar circumstances, Acts 23:5.
Ver. 23. “Jesus answered him. If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou Me?”
According to Deuteronomy 25:2, the judge alone might inflict blows en the wicked man worthy to be beaten. Our Lord doubtless spoke these words in a low and gentle tone. It was His love that did not reckon it below His dignity to convict this servant of his evil. Quesnel: “To speak on such occasions with truth, with gentleness, and with righteousness, is much harder than to present the other cheek.” The word of Jesus to a servant, as well as that to the high priest, shows that St John’s Christ also knew how to condescend from His high dignity.
Ver. 24. “Now Annas had sent Him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest.”
Here again the high priest is Caiaphas, in contradistinction to Annas. The οὖ?ν was dropped from the text by those who thought it inappropriate, because it excluded the possibility of taking ἀ?πέστειλεν in a pluperfect sense; by others, it was expunged in favour of δὲ? or καί . Between Annas and Caiaphas, as already shown, there was locally only a courtyard; or rather Jesus was with Caiaphas as soon as he left the apartments of Annas. And while He was with Annas He was still in the palace of the high priest, Luke 22:54; indeed, in a certain sense, He was with Caiaphas himself. Matthew 26:57, Mark 14:53; not merely because he was the occupant of the house, but also because the examination was had before him. But because Caiaphas had honoured Annas by placing the prisoner before him, and caused the examination to be conducted under his honorary presidency, Jesus might be said, as in ver. 13, to have been led to Annas, so also in this verse to have been sent from Annas to Caiaphas. St John adheres to the forms of expression which Annas and Caiaphas themselves used. The δεδεμένον here indicates that Jesus was not at once led from the apartments of Annas before the Sanhedrim, but that a certain period of waiting intervened. With the present statement, which informs us that Jesus was led from Annas to Caiaphas before the second and third denial of Peter, agrees that of St Luke, who relates that on the third denial our Lord turned and looked upon the Apostle. Accordingly He was, on the third denial, with Peter in the court. Between the second and the third denial there elapsed, according to St Luke, about an hour. During this time our Lord must have remained standing in the court. Such a longer continuance in the court is also demanded, by the fact that the High Council did not assemble until it was day, Luke 22:66.
Ver. 25. “And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself: they said therefore unto him. Art not thou also one of his disciples? He denied it, and said, I am not.”
In ver. 17 τοῦ? ἀ?νθρώπου τούτου , here αὐ τοῦ? , as in ver. 26. Jesus, at the second and third denial, was in the court. The αὐ τοῦ? points to the Lord as present. The entrance of Jesus into the court probably gave occasion for the renewal of the assault upon Peter. According to St Mark, the initiative was taken again by the same maid who stirred the matter at the first. On the former occasion she had addressed Peter; now, repelled by him, she addresses the bystanders. According to St Mark, “another maid” spoke to those around, “This man also was with Jesus of Nazareth.” According to St Luke, “another” spoke to Peter on the matter, “Thou art also of them.” St John embraces the various persons introduced by the others in one εἶ πον , “they said.” Apart from the statements of the Evangelists, it is obvious that, in the midst of the idle circle, whose thoughts naturally were fixed upon the business that laid upon them this disagreeable night’s service, one word begat another, and the several scenes were hastily enacted, one being made prominent by one Evangelist, another by another.
Vers. 26, 27, “One of the servants of the high priest (being his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off) saith. Did not I see thee in the garden with him 1 Peter then denied again; and immediately the cock crew.”
The third denial was a scene composed of sundry incidents. An indifferent word spoken by Peter probably gave occasion for the beginning of the encounter. This enabled them to detect the Galilean; and the first three Evangelists agree in giving prominence to this moment. A relative of Malchus then joined in the attack; he said he saw Peter in the garden with Jesus. This is St John’s account. That many were mingled in the assault, is indicated by St Matthew and St Mark, when they speak of those who stood around.
Ver. 28. “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment-hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the Passover.”
The persons who “led,”—the rulers of the people who had condemned Jesus,—we must supplement out of the earlier Evangelists. Praetorium was originally the name of the locality in Rome where the praetors sat in judgment; then it came to signify generally the private and official residences of the high Roman officials. The Roman procurators of Palestine had their proper residence in Cesarea; but at the great feasts, and especially at the Passover, they betook themselves to Jerusalem to prevent uproars. They then occupied what was once the palace of Herod (Joseph, de Bell. Jud. ii. 19, 4; compare, on the locality of the royal castle, Lightfoot, in the Centuria chrographica Matthoeo proemissa, c. 23). It is not “into the praitorium,” but “to the praetorium.” Αὐ τοί , they, not in antithesis to Jesus, as if He had gone away, but to Pilate, who went out to them. That Jesus Himself did not enter the praetorium, but remained standing before it with the rulers, is implied in “they lead,”—not “they send,” but “they lead.” Lücke incorrectly: “The Jews sent Jesus with the soldiers into the praetorium, to show that they were come;” but the soldiers had long withdrawn, having only aided in the capture of our Lord. Not till ver. 33 does Pilate take Jesus into his palace.
Πρωΐ , the period of the morning from three till six, appears in Mark 13:35 as a part of the common sleeping-time. The Roman judicial sessions did not usually take place until nine o’clock. That Pilate was already prepared to receive the Jews, is to be explained by the supposition that he had been already notified. The Jews urged the matter with the greatest despatch, in order to leave no time for the development of the people’s excitement, and that they might be able to enjoy uninterrupted the mid-day meal, and, finally, for the reason assigned in ch. John 19:31. Pilate received the summons probably the evening before, at the same time that he received intelligence of Christ’s capture. The dream of his wife points to the same conclusion ( Matthew 27:19), occasioned as it was by what she had just heard before retiring to rest.
The care with which the Jews avoided external contamination forms a fearful contrast to the levity with which they burdened themselves with the heaviest of all sins. It may be asked what the phrase “eating the Passover” means. If it was eating the paschal lamb, John is irreconcilably at variance with the other Evangelists, his predecessors: according to them, the great feast of the Passover, which they represent as eaten by Christ at the same time with the Jews, was long over.
The phrase “eat the Passover” signifies eating the Passover in its widest extent of meaning. This, at the first feast, was the eating of a lamb, with bitter herbs and unleavened bread; for the remainder of the time it consisted of the unleavened bread and the peace-offerings, the so-called chagigah, the name of which shows that it was an essential part of the Passover-eating. The peace-offerings were presented according to legal ordinance. We read in Deuteronomy 16:16 concerning the three high feasts, “Ye shall not appear before Me empty:” and in Exodus 23:15 this is specifically said of the feast of unleavened bread. That the practice was in accordance we see in 1 Samuel 1, according to which Elkanah yearly brought at the Passover his peace-offering, and the whole family partook of the sacrificial meal thus provided. In 2 Chronicles 35:7-9 we find that oxen, as well as lambs and kids, were necessary to the feast of the Passover. According to the Mishna, those festal offerings were presented every day. But the first day of the feast, 15th of Nisan, was specially chosen for the presentation of these offerings. The chief feast of this day was, on the one hand, the chief feast of the whole festival. The character of the first meal was solemn and stately. With the feast of the 15th, on the other hand, joy was predominant, according to the characteristic Israelite view of all festivals: comp. Deuteronomy 16:14. To have been prevented from sharing this feast must have been particularly disagreeable.
Which particular portion of the paschal eating was here meant, cannot be gathered from the phrase, but must be determined by the context. If the first day is spoken of, that defines the phrase, in itself indeterminate, and including all the eating of the feast, as meaning the paschal lamb with its accompaniments; if any following day is meant, then reference is made to the eating of the unleavened loaves and the flesh of the peace-offerings, without its meaning being anywise changed. That φαγεῖ?ν τὸ? πάσχα , eating the Passover, occurs throughout the first Evangelists only in reference to the first meal, is purely accidental; the explanation being that they never had occasion to mention the other meals of the feast. In our passage the first meal cannot be referred to. We find ourselves, after John 13:1, in the domain of the ἑ?ορτὴ? τοῦ? πάσχα , the Feast of the Passover generally, which began with the eating of the paschal lamb. The night was past which followed the evening on which the whole nation were under obligation to eat the feast. We are thus introduced by the Evangelist into the general feast of unleavened bread in the narrower sense. The most obvious meal which presents itself to our consideration here is, as we have clearly seen, that pre-eminent mid-day meal so joyfully partaken of on the 15th. That the remark of Bleek—that the writer had, in what precedes, given no hint that the time of the legitimate slaying and eating of the paschal lambs was over—is altogether incorrect, is plain from the investigations entered into on ch. John 13:1.
That the phrase, “that they might eat the Passover,” may refer to the eating of the Passover generally, in all its comprehensiveness, demands no proof, being self-understood. It must be admitted that the word Passover signifies not merely the opening feast of the 14th, but the whole seven days’ feast; there is no ground for the assertion that the eating of the Passover can refer only to the meal of the 14th: it cannot be denied that the following days also, and especially the 15th, had their eating essentially connected with the nature and purpose of the feast. Nevertheless, while the admissibility of this phraseology is self-evident, we ought to expect that it would be found elsewhere. And this expectation is abundantly confirmed.
In the law itself we are furnished with a fundamental passage, all the more important because it must have contributed to mould the current phraseology. We read in Deuteronomy 16:2-3, “Thou shalt therefore sacrifice unto the Lord thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the Lord shall choose to place His name there. Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it (therein, עליו ): seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction.” Here we have, in reference to the sacrifice which ran throush the seven days, not merely the phrase sacrifice the Passover, but also that of eating the Passover: for when it is said, “Thou shalt eat no leavened bread therewith,” this means, “When thou eatest the Passover, thou shalt not eat with it leavened bread.” Keil: “As עליו can only be referred back to פסח , it is hereby plainly declared that the sacrificing and eating of the Passover should last seven days.” We must not explain ver. 2, with Lücke and Meyer, “Thou shalt sacrifice the lamb of the Passover to the Lord, and (besides that) of the flocks and the herds.” For, apart from the fact that פסח must necessarily have had the article; that, as the Passover, in the narrower sense, certainly consisted of the flock, Passover and flock could not have been thus coupled together; and, finally, that if this view were permissible, at least there would have been a copula;—apart from all this, the explanation we refer to is refuted by the suffix in ver. 3, which points back to פסח . This shows that sheep and goats could mean only the material of the Passover. If Passover, sheep, and goats were co-ordinate simply, there would have been a plural suffix. Therefore it remains certain, that in ver. 2 the Passover is spoken of in its most comprehensive sense, and in ver. 3 the eating of it, which was to last seven days.
Another important passage in the Old Testament is 2 Chronicles 30:22: “And they did eat throughout the feast (את המועד ) seven days, offering peace-offerings, and making confession to the Lord God of their fathers.” Here we have the identical language of our passage, only that instead of the Passover it is the feast they eat, according to ver. 21 the feast of unleavened bread: a difference which is of no moment, since it is admitted by all that the whole feast was also called the Passover. How much this passage troubled Bleek, we may gather from his attempt to alter the reading.
These proofs are so abundantly sufficient, that we are not disposed to cite the parallels out of the Talmud which the older expositors quote. The very name Chagigah shows that the peace-offerings were counted among the Jews as part of the paschal eating.
Movers, in his treatise on the last Passover and the day of Christ’s death, alleges, in opposition to this reference to the mid-day meal of the 15th Nisan, that, according to the Talmud (Tr. Sanhedrim, fol. 63), none of the parties to a sentence of death passed by the Sanhedrim might eat anything on the day; so that the members of the council who had condemned Jesus to death could not, if this had been the 15th Nisan, have eaten even the sacrificial offerings of the Chagigah. But Friedlieb (Archaeol. der Leidensgeschichte) asserts that there is no proof that this late tradition of the synagogue had continued to influence the practice of the Sanhedrim in Jerusalem. We are in the habit of doing too much honour to these outgrowths of Jewish fantasy, which were so abundant while the Temple still stood. It is with this imaginary custom, as with the supposed custom which forbade the keeping of cocks in Jerusalem. Granted that such a custom existed, Jewish sophistry would find it easy to remove, in this case, the burden from itself. There was no capital sentence on this occasion; that proceeded only from Pilate. “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death,” was the confession of the Jews themselves in ver. 31.
On the other hand, there is a reason which forbids us, apart from the relations of time, which do not agree with the reference to the paschal lamb, to think of the feast which commenced the Passover, Lightfoot (on John 18:28) and Bynaeus (de morte Christi) point to the fact, that the entering a Gentile house belonged to that order of defilement which lasted only until the end of the day, until sundown. Now the first paschal meal fell after sunset; it did not begin, as Lücke supposes, “between the two evenings of 14th Nisan;” that was the period for the slaying of the paschal lambs: it began rather not until evening, after darkness had fully set in (comp. on ch. John 13:1); and therefore the entering of a Gentile house had no influence on this. It follows that we can only think of a feast which was held in the course of the same day; of the feast, namely, which was the joyful mid-day meal of 15th Nisan.
This argument is an absolute demonstration. All defilements that arose from contact with unclean persons lasted, according to the law, only through the day on which they arose, and ended with the sundown, when the defiled persons washed themselves: comp. Numbers 19:22: “And whatsoever the unclean person toucheth shall be unclean, and the soul that toucheth it shall be unclean till evening.” That the defilement which resulted from entering a Gentile house belonged to this class, is obvious enough. Further, the law says nothing about defilement contracted through entering a Gentile house, or intercourse with Gentiles. This was a later Jewish ordinance, which, however, as always, endeavoured to prop itself on a definite law. What this law was, We learn from Maimonides (in Bynaeus and Reland). The ground of general defilement was, that the specific cause could not be determined. “Our customs,” says Maimonides, “have settled that all Gentiles, whether men or women, are like those who are always affected with the flux, whether the fact be known or not, when viewed in the light of purity or impurity.” Thus the Gentiles were regarded as in the same class with those who were affected with flux, and laid under the same law. But the defilement that resulted from touching such a person lasted only till evening: comp. Leviticus 15:5 seq., 19 seq. So was it with all similar defilements. Finally, we have in the book of Judith a weighty testimony to the fact, that defilement through intercourse with Gentiles had no influence upon the time of the institution of the Supper. According to ch. John 12:7-9, Judith went in the evening from the Gentile camp, and purified herself from the defilement to which she had been exposed: then she took the evening meal. After adducing all these convincing reasons, we scarcely need suggest how improbable it is in itself that defilement through commerce with Gentiles should have lasted more than one day: the defilement of one day, as things were, was felt to be a very heavy burden; but seven days’ defilement would have had the effect, that a great portion of the people would never have been undefiled.
Lücke and others have objected, that this defilement would have been a hindrance, if not to the eating, yet to the killing of the paschal lamb. But St John does not say, “that they might slay the Passover,” but “that they might eat the Passover.” The not slaying and the not eating were not necessarily connected, since the slaying might be done by a representative; and even if such a connection had existed, it was much more obvious to mention the slaying, which was a condition of the eating. We might, not content with parrying the thrust of our opponents, turn their weapons against themselves. On the morning of 14th Nisan, it would have been more natural that the Jews should avoid defilement because it would hinder the slaying the lamb, than because it hindered their eating it. Bleek (Beit. S. 113) says: “In any case, the entering a Gentile house effected a defilement, which for its removal would require particular ceremonies, with which, as may easily be supposed, the Jews would have been very loth to burden themselves on 14th Nisan.” But the burden of “particular ceremonies” consisted in one simple washing, to which the Jews were long accustomed, and the apparatus for which was everywhere at hand: comp. ch. John 2:6.
Steffert (über den Ursprung des Ev. Matthaeus, S. 137) adopts another expedient. He observes, that the paschal meal, although after sundown, and therefore at the end of the day, yet belonged, properly speaking, to the 14th Nisan. Thus he thinks, that in this exceptional case the defilement also must have gone on with it into the evening. But the conclusion is an unsound one. The Jews laid down the general rule, that in reference to holy feasts and evening prayer the evening was reckoned with the preceding day. This exception was based upon the nature of the case. The points concerned are precisely those which make the Jewish reckoning of time seem unnatural. All the preparations and concomitants of the Last Supper belong to the passing day: thus the meal itself, although really belonging to the domain of a new day, must be reckoned in the current day. No law could transform the evening supper into a morning meal. So also with evening prayer, the guilt for which pardon was sought, the benefits for which thanksgivings were offered, belonged to the day that was gone. These were the things that, according to Jewish statements, occasioned the exception to the rule, that a new day began with sundown. That defilement under any circumstances stretched into the evening, cannot be established by the slightest historical proof; nor can it be shown how this could ever have been made an exception to the rule.
Chap. John 18:28-40—Christ before Pilate
In communicating his facts concerning the interrogation in the dwelling of Annas, and the examination before Caiaphas and the High Council, St John refers back to his predecessors in the narrative, contenting himself with indicating the place where their record is to be inserted; but, in the present section, he has the material for essential supplements, so that he indeed first gives us a complete view of the whole transaction. Here also, however, he is in reality only supplementing, as is very plain from ch. John 18:28, as also from ver. 33, where Pilate’s question to Jesus, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” is based upon the charge brought by the Jews as related by St Luke; and from ver. 40, where “they cried again” refers to an earlier cry recorded only by St Mark; and from ch. John 19:2, where a comparison with St Luke alone tells us where the soldiers obtained the royal staff.
Ver. 29. “Pilate then went out unto them, and said. What accusation bring ye against this man?”
Pilate is supposed to be a personage well known, from the earlier Evangelists. The first among them describes him, when he is first introduced, in ch. Matthew 27:2, as the Roman governor, like Josephus, Antiq. xviii. 3, 1, “Pilate, the governor of Judea,” and adds his pranomen Pontius. He was the fifth in the list of the Roman procurators of Judea. Concerning the character of Pilate, Philo gives some remarkable information in the Legatio ad Caium (Opp. p. 1033). According to him, he was a proud and obstinate man: ἦ?ν τἠ?ς φύσιν ἀ?καμπής καὶ? μετὰ? τοῦ? αὐ θάδους ἀ?μείλικτος . The threat of the Jews to appeal to Caesar in a certain matter provoked him to the uttermost; for he feared that this opportunity would be taken to bring to light all the other offences of his government: the bribes he had taken, the misappropriations he had permitted, the deaths he had inflicted without law or justice, and the intolerable severity he had in many cases manifested. His unquiet conscience came into sharp conflict with his proud and wrathful nature, which made submission exceedingly hard. We have here the key to Pilate’s conduct in the matter of Jesus. The two accounts are mutually supplementary. Pilate had a great desire to decide righteously concerning Jesus, since in this case his great passions, covetousness and ambition, were not played upon. The person of Christ made upon him a deep impression. His better nature came out, when he had standing before him personal innocence and righteousness. But his energy was subdued by the consciousness of his earlier crimes, which did not permit him entirely to break with the Jews. While in the end he was obliged to give way, the energy of his character went so far as the circumstances would allow, as we see in the obstinacy with which he persisted in his attempts to save Jesus, and at last in the superscription on the cross. Pilate goes out to the rulers of the Jews. He had not been long in his office before he had occasion to learn that nothing was to be done with the Jews, unless concessions were made to their religious views. He had been obliged to yield to their petition, πηρεῖ?ν αὐ τοῖ?ς τὰ? πατρία (comp. Josephus, de Bell. Jud. ii. 9, 2, where Titus says to the Jews, “We have kept your country’s laws”), after he had received evidence of the ἄ?κρατον τῆ?ς δεισιδαιμονίας αὐ τῶ?ν (Joseph. Bell. Jud. ii. 9, 2; Antiq. John 18:3; John 18:1).
The address which Pilate made to the Jews gave them to understand at once that they would not attain their greatly desired object, to make him confirm without further ado their sentence of death. An illustration of this we have in Acts 25:16, where Festus says to the Jews, who long for judgment upon Paul: “It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him.” Pilate was previously acquainted with the cause of Jesus. He knew, according to Matthew 27:18, that the rulers of the Jews had delivered Him out of envy; that they who constituted themselves His judges were at the same time a party; and that the question was that of a judicial murder. The warnings of his wife, who doubtless dreamed about what had occupied her thoughts much before she slept, shows that, and in what sense, the cause of Jesus had been talked about in Pilate’s circle.
Ver. 30. “They answered and said unto him. If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee.”
The Jews demand of Pilate that he should make of his judicial dignity a merely formal use, relying on their integrity, and mindful of the fact, that a short time before the power of life and death was still in their hands. On κακοποιός Beza says: “Guilty, not of a vulgar crime; but what kind of crime, that is, blasphemy, for which they condemned Him, they do not say.” Together with blasphemy, they have in their eye the assumption of royal dignity: comp. Luke 23:2. On παρεδώκαμεν , comp. Matthew 27:2.
Vers. 31, 32. “Then said Pilate unto them. Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him. It is not lawful for us to put any man to death: that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which He spake, signifying what death He should die.”
Pilate refers them to the Roman law, the decision of which was, Ne quis indictâ causâ condemnetur: no man could be condemned but on the ground of a formal judicial process. If the Jews would not have that, they must judge Him according to their own law. The judging includes the execution. Since the matter was one of life and death, and criminal cases were withdrawn from Jewish authority, the answer of Pilate was in plain fact a rejection of the wishes of the Jewish rulers. That we must so regard it, is shown by a comparison with ch. John 19:6, where Pilate says to the Jews, “Take him, and crucify him.” That this must be understood with the qualification, “if ye can and dare,” is plain from the fact, that the punishment of the cross was not a Jewish but a Roman punishment. But Pilate used the ambiguous word κρίνειν , judge. It is probable he did this designedly. Probably his intention was to involve the Jews in a snare. If they took this seeming permission, he had them in his power. They lost then the advantage which they had over him. How dangerous, under certain circumstances, the independent execution of a capital sentence might be, is seen in the narrative given by Josephus (Antiq. xx. 9, 1). The younger Ananus, the son of Annas, took advantage, as high priest, of a favourable opportunity, when the governor Festus was dead, and Albinus his successor was not yet come, to put to death James and some others. But he was charged with this before Albinus, who threatened him, in an angry letter, with punishment. The result of it was, that he was deposed by King Agrippa. That the Jews, notwithstanding the passionate fury with which they were wont to be led away,—as, for instance, in the case of Stephen’s martyrdom. Acts 7:57,—made no use of Pilate’s seeming permission, but rather contented themselves with prosecuting the matter further before the Roman tribunal, is regarded by the Evangelist as the work of God’s influence, who thus brought about the accomplishment of that which Jesus had earlier spoken touching the manner and circumstances of His own death. The punishment of the cross was inseparably connected with the Roman condemnation, as stoning was with that of the Jews. To the manner of His death, Jesus had referred in ch. John 3:14, “The Son of man must be lifted up;” ch. John 8:28, John 12:32. That the Evangelist had this last passage in view, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me,” is plain when we reflect that he had there added the observation, “This He said, signifying what death He should die.” The mere hints of the passages in St John need, however, the commentary which is found in the sayings of Christ, found only in the three Evangelists: Matthew 10:38; Matthew 16:24; Matthew 20:19; Mark 8:34; Mark 10:21; Luke 9:23; Luke 14:27. On the ground of these more precise utterances, St John explains that the less distinct sayings recorded by himself refer to the crucifixion.
God so ordered all, that the word of Christ as to the manner of His death was fulfilled. But this word of Christ rested upon an actual necessity. The Gentiles must take part in the death of the Redeemer, in order that that death might be exhibited as the collective guilt of the human race, even as it was the pre-intimation of what one day the degenerate Church of the Gentiles would independently strive to do against Christ, and has already begun to do. The death of the cross has a profoundly edifying significance. It gave occasion to reveal overcoming power in its most effectual manifestation. Christ as the atoning sacrifice is therein most luminously set forth, Galatians 3:1. How the bearing of the cross was typical for the self-denial of believers, Jesus Himself had often taught.
Ver. 33. “Then Pilate entered into the judgment-hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto Him, Art thou the King of the Jews?”
Pilate had set the alternative before the Jews, either to bring a formal accusation against Jesus, or to judge Him according to their own law. They declined the latter; and we may suppose they adopted the former. St John, who brings the matter down to the point when the accusation must come forward, but does not record it, points back as certainly as if he said so to his predecessors. We find what is here presupposed in Luke 23:2, the words of which are strictly applicable here: “They began to accuse Him, saying. We found this fellow forbidding to give tribute to Cesar, saying that he himself is Christ a king.” With these last words are connected the recurring question of Pilate to Jesus, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” St Luke records only two words as to what followed the question: Jesus answered, “Thou sayest it.” St John gives the transaction fully.
Pilate repairs with Jesus into the praetorium, to avoid being disturbed in the investigation by the uproar of the Jews, the θόρυβος peculiar to them. Matthew 27:24; Acts 21:34 (“And when he could not know the certainty for the tumult, θόρυβον , he commanded him to be carried into the castle”). The ἐ?φώνησε suggests that Jesus had hitherto stood outside the praetorium, otherwise Pilate would have needed only to go in to Him. For an illustration of the “called,” we may refer to the “commanded him to be carried into the castle” in the passage just quoted. That the calling might take place through the instrumentality of others, is evident from ch. John 11:28. It appears that St John, who did not depart from Jesus, followed Him into the palace: there was no prohibition which hindered the Jews from entering; they had refused to enter only for a reason that had no force to him. The exact report which St John gives of the proceedings within the praetorium, leads to the conclusion that he was present at these proceedings. The publicity of all Roman legal procedures allowed no man to be excluded who was disposed to witness these proceedings.
As the Jews were under the necessity of bringing forward a formal charge, they could not limit themselves to the offence which had led to His condemnation in the council—that of assuming to be the Son of God; this had no force whatever in a Roman forum. It was necessary that they should have a political offence to urge; and the fact that Jesus had arrogated royal dignity, gave them some assistance in this matter. Lampe is wrong in asserting that Jesus only in consequence of the Jewish charge vindicated to Himself a kingdom. The entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem had for its end the enforcement of His kingly authority, and He exhibits Himself as a King in Matthew 20:20; Matthew 20:23; Matthew 25:34; Matthew 25:40. The word of the malefactor, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom,” shows that Jesus had earlier represented Himself as a King. The royal prerogative was inseparable from the Messianic. But the Jews degraded the kingly authority of Jesus into a lower sphere. They charged Him with political sedition, and thus, like Potiphar’s wife, laid upon Him their own sins. But Pilate knew with whom he had to do, and gave our Lord opportunity to defend Himself against the charge.
The Thou beginning the sentence certainly intimates a contrast between the appearance of Jesus and the idea of kingly dignity; but Lampe observes, in opposition to those who think that Pilate spoke in a tone of mockery, that Pilate was from the beginning seized by a holy awe, of Jesus, which effectually restrained every movement of scorn, and impelled him fundamentally to investigate the Saviour’s cause, and bring His innocence to light.
Ver. 34. “Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of Me?”
Jesus was present throughout the whole of this transaction with the Jews. The Roman law required this, and it is not only affirmed by the first Evangelists, Matthew 27:12, Mark 15:4 seq., Luke 23:14 (ἐ?νώπιον ὑ?μῶ?ν ἀ?νακρίνας ), but attested by ver. 33 here, according to which Jesus had been with the Jews all this time before the praetorium. Our Lord’s question, therefore, was not intended to give him explanation of anything that he did not know, but rather to move and awaken Pilate’s conscience. It was designed to excite within him distrust of the Jews’ accusation. Had Jesus been the King of the Jews in the sense in which the accusation had so termed him, Pilate himself must have found it out: seditious movements and insurrections could not well be concealed. But, as he must admit that nothing of that sort had come to his knowledge, he, who knew the complainants well, would attach very little importance to their assertion, but investigate the matter independently of them, and especially give attentive heed to the explanation of Jesus Himself.
Ver. 35. “Pilate answered. Am I a Jew? “Thine own nation, and the chief priests, have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?”
Pilate confesses that he has no personal knowledge of Jesus, that the matter hitherto had moved altogether in a Jewish sphere; and that there was nothing against Jesus but the allegation of the Jews. Since he is far removed from attaching final and decisive importance to the Jewish charge, he asked the Lord Himself what He had done. Thus the answer of our Lord had gained its end.
Ver. 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.”
Jesus is not speaking of the nature of His kingdom, but simply and alone of its origin. Augustin: He does not say, But now is not My kingdom here, but hence. Lampe: To be erected indeed in the world, but not of the world. To “of this world” and “hence” is opposed “of heaven:” comp. ch. John 8:23 and James 4:1, where “hence” forms a contrast to “from above,” ch. John 3:17; comp. “earthly,” ἐ?πίγειος , James 3:15. Bengel: “Whence it is, that is from heaven, He does not plainly say; but He hints it when He says that He had come into the world.” The best comment on the words of Christ is furnished by the original passages of Daniel, on which it rests. The four universal kingdoms of Daniel are followed by a fifth of absolutely heavenly origin, the Messianic kingdom, which, on account of that origin, was all-comprehensive and eternal. It is all the more obvious that we must have recourse to that passage, inasmuch as Jesus ever has it in His eyes when speaking of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. We read in Daniel 2:34-35: “Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together; . . . and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.” Again, ver. 44: “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all” these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” Finally, ch. John 7:13-14: “I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him (by the Ancient of days) dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” To the last quoted prophecy our Lord refers also in Matthew 28:18, “All power is given unto Me.” There is perhaps no passage of the Old Testament to which the Lord so frequently alludes as this (comp. my Christology, vol. iii.).
The word of Jesus, “My kingdom is not of this world,” has often been perverted in the interests of a theory which would sunder the state from the dominion of Christ. Rightly understood, the passage subserves the very opposite purpose. The kingdom that sprang directly from heaven must have absolute authority over all the earth, and it will not submit to be put into obscurity or into a corner. The necessary consequence of the saying, “not of this world, not from here,” is what we find written in Revelation 11:15: “The kingdoms of the world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Anointed; and He shall reign for ever.” In the original of Daniel, all peoples are represented as serving this kingdom. It does not occupy, by the side of this world’s kingdom, a sphere sundered from it, and not occupied by it; but it breaks that power down under itself. The fact that all the Evangelists so carefully relate the Lord’s assumption of His Kingship before human authority, is explained only on the ground that He is, as the Apocalypse styles Him, the King of kings, and that kings and states do not exist with Him, and concurrently with His kingdom, but are absolutely under His authority.
Christ does not say to Pilate, “My kingdom has nothing to do with yours;” but He intimates that His kingdom, not being of earthly origin, could not be contended for or against with earthly resources. Pilate would perfectly understand what was enough. The accusation was of political insurrection, of a course of conduct like that of the Egyptian, Acts 21:38; Theudas, Acts 5:36; and Judas the Galilean, ver. 37. If Jesus kept aloof from all such courses, if He expected the foundation of His kingdom only “from heaven,” “without hands,” then He was either a harmless enthusiast, or that for which He gave Himself out, in which case all opposition to Him would be blasphemous and vain: the word of Gamaliel would hold good, “But if it be of God, ye cannot overturn it, lest haply ye be found fighting against God.”
The reference to Pilate’s question, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” exhibits the βασιλεία , the kingdom, not In a passive, but in an active sense: meaning “My kingly power, My dominion.” So also “kingdom” is used in Revelation 1:6; Revelation 11:15; Revelation 12:10; Revelation 17:18.
“My servants,” not the angels. Matthew 26:53, for these belong to a heavenly region; but here servants, ἐ?κ τοῦ? κόσμου , are spoken of: they are rather the disciples of Christ, who, not reckoning the abortive act of Peter, never did anything of this kind; or the servants whom Christ would have in the future for such a case. The latter is better, as in the Gospels the disciples are described as the ὑ?πηρέται of Christ. It does not say, “They would have fought,” but “they would fight,” Vulg. decertarent; for the surrender to the Jews was not yet complete: it was then only perfect when Pilate fulfilled the desires of the Jews, comp. John 19:16.
Ver. 37. “Pilate therefore said unto Him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that Is of the truth heareth My voice.”
Jesus had declined to be a king in the Jewish sense; it was not His ambition to be a king. Yet He had spoken of His kingdom. This was ground enough for Pilate’s deeper investigation, although he was convinced that there was nothing politically dangerous in Christ, and that the matter Was more that of the man than of the judge. Οὐ κοῦ?ν , so, is conclusive with regard to the foregoing words: Accordingly, thou art then a king. The notion of an “ironical by-meaning” is altogether to be excluded. In all Pilate’s intercourse with Jesus, there is not the slightest trace of mockery. The impression of Christ’s person was so powerful, that such feelings could not but be suppressed.
Jesus answered, “Thou sayest it, that I am a king,” according to My own declarations: so let it be; I have nothing to oppose to this, but avow Myself freely and publicly a king. This was the “good confession” which Jesus witnessed before Pilate, 1 Timothy 6:13. Luke 22:70 is similar: “Then said they all, Art thou then the Son of God? He said unto them, Ye say that I am.” The point before on, is to be rejected in both cases. For the avoidance of ambiguity a “this” would, according to that pointing, have been necessary after “ye say,” since λέγω commonly has what is said connected with it by ὅ?τι . Certainly the formula σὺ? λέγεις of itself affirms perfectly and unambiguously; but, considering the high importance of the confession of Christ, it was proper that the object of the avowal should not be derived from what precedes, but that it should be expressly stated: Yea, I am a King.
According to the current exposition, Jesus, in the words, “Therefore was I born,” etc., defines more closely the nature of His kingdom. Bengel: To a kingdom of this world is opposed the kingdom of truth. Lücke: “Assuredly I am a King, but My kingdom is the truth.” But in fact there is not the slightest reference to the kingdom. The words refer rather to the prophetic office of Christ. Our Lord, after having avowed His royal dignity, turns the discourse from a subject which Pilate could scarcely apprehend, to another aspect of His nature and vocation which would be easier of apprehension to Pilate. It is true that the right understanding of this would serve materially to make the kingship more intelligible, and to place it in a true light. He who describes the immediate end of His mission to be the annunciation of the truth, would not be a king in the ordinary sense, in that sense in which the Jews had falsely charged Him with assuming it; nor could He condescend descend to involve Himself with mere political insurrectionary movements. The transition from the kingly to the prophetic office of Christ was all the more obvious, inasmuch as Isaiah, ch. John 4:4, described the Messiah as at once the Witness and the Leader and Lawgiver of the nations: the μαρτυρήσω here evidently refers to the witness there. So, in Revelation 1:5, Jesus Christ “the faithful Witness” distinguished from Christ “the Prince of the kings of the earth.” If we would set in a closer connection the two offices of testimony and ruling, we cannot do that without establishing the fact that the testimony paves the way for the dominion. But in the present colloquy, that would have required to be more clearly intimated. On μαρτυρήσω , comp. John 3:32-33. The words, “for this end was I born,” of themselves point beyond the common sphere of humanity. No one born in the ordinary way of mortals could ever say that he was born for any particular destiny or vocation. The other words, “for this end am I come into the world,” do the same still more emphatically: they show that the being of Christ in time and upon earth was preceded by another being. Jesus came into the world in order to bear testimony to the truth, that truth about which Gentile thinkers had made so much stir, but which could be truly known only through the communication of Him who came down from a higher sphere, and testified what He had seen and heard: comp. ch. John 3:31-32. In the words, “Every one that is of the truth,” the Lord turns, like Paul before Felix and Festus, from the judge to the man. Bengel is wrong here: “Jesus here appeals from the blindness of Pilate to the intelligence of believers.” Under the general statement we incline rather to see, “If thou art of the truth.” The very fact that our Lord entered into such close conversation with Pilate, of itself shows that he must have stood in some relation to the truth. Jesus made no answer to Herod, Luke 23:18; His answer to Caiaphas, at the first hearing in the chambers of Annas, was a refusal, vers. 20, 21; before the High Council He at first kept silence; and the answer which He at length gave, under the high priest’s adjuration, was manifestly meant only for publicity. Pilate was the only one with whom He really held discourse; and the circumstance that He afterwards denied him an answer, ch. John 19:9, shows that previously, and while He did enter into discourse with him, there was something in him yet to be worked upon. He then freely presented the side of his nature which gave a point of connection for the truth. But at the moment when he gave the preference to his own lower interest, Jesus turned away from him. The portion which Pilate had in the truth was this especially, that he did not count himself good, and did not, like the Pharisees, justify himself. He was a man of the world, but he had no desire to be or to appear anything else. He was no hypocrite: like Nathanael, he was free from guile, ch. John 1:48. Although he did not think much of the sin which he admitted, yet it sometimes enforced itself upon him: when he came in contact with personal truth, he was seized with its awe; and the desire stirred within him to unite himself with that truth, and so reach a higher element.
“Every one that is of the truth:” the truth appears as a domain from which those spring who, in any sense whatever, partake of truth. A similar kind of expression we have in “of nothing and vanity,” Isaiah 40:17; “of nothing,” Isaiah 41:24;” of vanity,” Psalms 62:10; ἐ?κ τοῦ? πονηροῦ? , of the region of evil. Matthew 5:37; ἐ?ξ ἐ?ριθείας , Romans 2:8. In 1 John 3:19, “being of the truth” refers to the full possession of truth, as that is the privilege of Christians. In our present passage, the limitation is given by the connection. It cannot mean, in this context, the full possession of truth—that could be attained only by the testimony of Christ—but only a susceptible disposition. The beginning of this was in Pilate. But in order to be of the truth, he must have released that disposition from all its entanglements, and mightily striven against the impulses which would check it. That he failed to do this was his condemnation.
Jesus speaks categorically: “Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice.” Accordingly, the man who loudly boasts of his striving after truth, and yet heareth not Christ’s voice, but glories in the free spirit of his illumination, is not of the truth, is no philosopher, but the opposite.
Ver. 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 in him no fault at all.”
That the question “What is truth?” was not uttered by Pilate in the spirit of desire to know, but that it was intended to break off the colloquy, is plain from the fact that Pilate with those words departed. He observed, like Felix, Acts 24:25, that his heart was going where he was loth to follow; and that he might easily be brought to a point where he must outrage all his dearest inclinations. The question thrown out, “What is truth?” was to serve, as it were, for a justification of his breaking off a conversation that took a disagreeable turn. Talking about truth ends in nothing; about it there must be many opinions, and so many heads so many minds. It was not the language of a theoretical sceptic—the historical character of Pilate contradicts that—but of a worldling who, entirely given up to the “real interests of life,” or to his passions, had lost the sense for truth, and had taught himself to regard it as a mere chimera. Every heart swayed by passion, or filled with avarice and ambition, asks internally like Pilate, although all are not as sincere as he was, in openly uttering their despair as to truth. Concerning truth, that holds good which is said of wisdom in Wisd. of Song of Solomon 1:4;” For into a malicious soul wisdom shall not enter, nor dwell in the body that is subject to sin.”
The three words “What is truth?” were for Pilate full of destiny. By them he put away that truth from himself which so graciously and invitingly appealed to him. By them he laid the foundation for the suicide by which, according to the report of Eusebius, who appeals to Greek historians, he ended his days under the Emperor Caius.
Pilate declined the truth. But he could not defend himself against its representative; and he who was not very scrupulous at other times about an act of injustice, more or less, strove hard to save Him, but always with the reservation that his own existence was not imperilled. Here again we see, that “being of the truth” was not absolutely far from him, and that he stood higher than Herod or Caiaphas. Doubtless he uttered the question “What is truth?” with a certain sorrow, with the consciousness that he, such a man as he was, sold under sin, was obliged to put the question, but that he was to act so contrary to it.
The words “I find no fault in him” are a point of coincidence with Luke 23:4. Between these words, and what in ver. 39 he said to the Jews, lies the sending to Herod, which St Luke alone records. St John could immediately add the “but ye have a custom,” especially as Pilate, according to St Luke, had, after He was sent back, again declared Christ’s innocence.
Ver. 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?”
The first three Evangelists had already recorded, but most copiously St Matthew, the free choice offered between Jesus and Barabbas. St John briefly touches it, and only to preserve a point of coincidence with his predecessors. It is perfectly plain that the proposal of Pilate was not free from additional wrong. Only the guilty were interceded for. In this way he would at once save Jesus, and give the rulers an opportunity of retreating honourably out of the matter. His own guilty conscience permitted him not to oppose these rulers decisively. But they were only rendered more obstinate in their demand by a proposition, the motive of which they divined. “At the Passover:” Bengel rightly observes, “Therefore that day was the Passover; and on that day the congregated people asked Pilate.” The opinion which makes Jesus to have stood before Pilate at the early morning of the day between the two evenings of which the Passover was to be slain, is altogether irreconcilable with this “at the Passover.” The earliest beginning that we can assign to the Passover was the time of the slaying of the paschal lamb, Leviticus 23:5, which must now have been already past, since we here find ourselves already in the sphere of the Passover. But, according to the first three Evangelists, who substitute feast for Passover, Matthew 27:15, Mark 15:6, Luke 23:17, we are already on the other side of the first paschal meal, for this began the feast: comp. on ch. John 13:1. To the same result we are led by the meaning of the usage. There can be no manner of doubt that the prisoner in it represented Israel. He served first of all as a remembrancer of the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt: that was the aspect which alone, as it regards the Romans, was exhibited. But with this there was connected the external aim, to express the hope that the Lord, through His redeeming grace sealed by the Passover, would one day again deliver His people from the bondage of earthly power. But the deliverance of the children of Israel, which this usage commemorated, followed on the 15th. Israel went out after the Passover was not only slain, but eaten. That fact rested upon the necessity of the case: the objective exhibition and the subjective appropriation of redeeming grace formed the root of the exodus. It formed also the basis of their hope in their future deliverance from this world’s power. This deliverance rested upon the atoning blood: comp. Zechariah 9:11, “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent out thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.” Thus there can be no doubt that the usage belonged only to the 15th Nisan, and consequently that St John, in perfect harmony with the other Evangelists, refers the examination of Jesus before Pilate to the 15th Nisan. The only possible escape from this, that Pilate in this case anticipated what properly belonged to the feast, is rendered impossible by Mark 15:8. This shows that the initiative in reference to the release of a prisoner was taken by the people. The request of the usual release of the prisoner was a parenthesis quite independent of the transaction, and of which Pilate skilfully availed himself. Pilate speaks of the King of the Jews. “His perverseness in intermingling exasperating mockery by this King of the Jews,” belongs only to the expositors. Pilate intimates to the Jews that they would act against their own interests, if they persisted to extremity against Jesus. In the eyes of the Romans He was the representative of the Messianic hope of the Jews, and this would be in Him mocked and hung upon the cross. If passion had not blinded the rulers, they would have adopted every expedient to obviate such a scandal. The scorn which the Roman soldiers afterwards would manifest against Jesus, would in His person fall upon the Jews. But in the background there lay a presentiment of Pilate, that Jesus was actually the King of the Jews, and that therefore they were outraging their most sacred treasure in delivering Him up to him for crucifixion.
Ver. 40. “Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.”
The word “again” is of no small moment in regard to St John’s relations with his predecessors. No earlier cry is mentioned by St John, nor does he give us the antecedents for any such cry. We cannot admit De Wette’s observation: “It may be referred to vers. 30 seq., where indeed no crying is mentioned, but where it may be supposed.” For there Pilate had to do only with the rulers: the people are not introduced until the transaction connected with the release of the prisoner. St John refers here specifically to St Mark: the “again” stands in a similar connection with the “again” of Mark 15:13, “They cried again, Crucify him,” and, like this, points back to Mark 15:8, the only passage where mention had been made of any loud cry of the people, “And the multitude, crying aloud, began,” etc. (Fritzsche: Πάλιν belongs to the clamour raised in ver. 8, not to the words pronounced with a loud voice.)
The πάντες of St John (comp. μαμπληθεί in St Luke, ver. 18) serves as a confirmation of the statement of St Matthew, that Pilate placed Barabbas with Jesus before the people for their choice, with the supposition that the decision would be in favour of the light, when they saw opposed to Him the utter blackness of the other. They certainly would not have been so unanimous in favour of Barabbas; the voices would have been very discordant, if this alternative had not been simply set before them. Barabbas, according to the accounts of the Evangelists, had nothing in him that could recommend him particularly to the people. Such a wretched representative of their national hope they would not have chosen, if their choice had been entirely free.
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on John 18". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany