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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. And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples. Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground. Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. 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. 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. 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? 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. Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.
We come now to consider the closing hours of our blessed Lord’s life upon this earth. All through the time of His sojourn in this scene He had been looking forward to that hour when He was to give Himself a ransom for our sins upon the cross.
Now He had enjoyed a season of hallowed fellowship with the little company whom He had called out of the world to be the companions of His lonely life. They had heard Him lift His heart to God in intercessory prayer, and now they walked over the brook Cedron, crossing by a small bridge, and then up the slope of the Mount of Olives to a garden, the garden of Gethsemane. Gethsemane is said by some to mean “oil press.” The olives were thrown into the press that the rich, golden oil might be expelled from them. It was there that our blessed Lord, the Son of God, was to go through the oil press, as it were, the awful pressure that was to be put upon His heart and mind in view of the coming sacrifice He was about to offer on Calvary.
The three Synoptic writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all tell us that at this point, in the great agony that He went through in the Garden, His prayer was, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39; see also Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42).
Luke tells how, under that awful pressure, the blood burst from the pores of His forehead and fell in great drops to the ground, and how an angel came and strengthened Him. We do not have a word of that from John. Why not? John was one of the three who went with Him into the garden. He left eight of them by the gate of the garden and took Peter, James, and John deeper in. And He went forward a little farther and fell on His face, and endured that awful period of anguish of soul. And yet John does not say a word about it. Why?
Oh, in this, as all else, we see the perfection of Holy Scripture. The four Gospels are not mere human records, they are divinely-given accounts of the Lord’s life and death and resurrection. Each presents Him from a special viewpoint, according to the Spirit. It has often been noticed, as we have stated before, the subject of Matthew is Christ as the King of the Jews. The object of Mark is to present Him as the great Servant-Prophet, doing the will of the Father at all times. Luke presents Him in all the perfection of His Manhood, the Son of Man who gave Himself for us. But John’s special object is to present His Eternal Sonship. He brings Him before us as the Divine One. And so in this gospel there is no scene of agony in the garden, for it was not the Deity of Christ that was concerned in that scene. But on the other hand, neither is there any account of the transfiguration, because in John’s gospel the glory is shining out all the way through. So here we have the agony omitted. But it is well for us to think of it and remember what the other Gospels tell us.
What was really involved in that prayer of His? “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” What was that mystic cup of which He speaks? As we turn back to the Old Testament (and we must remember that our blessed Lord, as Man, was nourished on the Old Testament-it was His Bible), we find some very solemn references to the cup of judgment.
In Psalms 11:6 we read, “Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.” In Psalms 75:8, we find these solemn words, “For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them.” In these passages we read of a cup, a cup of divine judgment, a cup filled with the wrath, the indignation of God against sin. And when we come to the last book of the Bible, that great prophetical book, we read of those who worship the Beast and his image, “If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:9).
We are safe in saying that it was that cup of wrath that our Lord Jesus saw before Him as He prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Either you and I had to drink that cup, or He must take it in our stead. And that cup involved His being made sin upon the cross. It involved God dealing with Him as though He were guilty of all the sin, all the wickedness, all the corruption that men and women have been guilty of all down through the millenniums. All our sins were to be laid upon Him, and He was to bear, in His own body and His own spirit there upon the cross all that those sins deserved. This was the cup from which He shrank. He could not have been the absolutely Holy One if He had not dreaded the drinking of this awful cup. And so the three Synoptics tell us how He agonized, how His body was so racked with pain as He faced this time, that the sweat fell to the ground as great drops of blood.
But He was not bearing sin there in Gethsemane. He was not made sin there. All this was before Him. He was anticipating this and looking forward to it. Only on the cross did He settle the sin question. And so we hear Him say at last, “Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (Matthew 26:42). And from that moment the struggle was over. He prepared, in perfect calmness, to meet His enemies and to face Judas, the traitor, and then to go on to the judgment hall and to death.
And so we see that this entire scene of His agony comes in between the first and second verses of this eighteenth chapter. “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” (v. 1). And the agony immediately followed.
Now we read, “And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples” (v. 2). He had often been there to pour out His heart in prayer in fullest, happiest communion with the Father. Now He went through a very different experience. In deepest distress of soul He poured out His heart to the Father, but with no rebellion. When there was no other way, He accepted the cup with perfect submission.
“Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons” (v. 3). Christ had arisen from His knees and had come back to the three, Peter, James, and John, and gently rebuked them for sleeping. And then He said to them, “Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand” (Mark 14:42). Then they met the officers and Judas coming to take Him.
“Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?” (v. 4). Nothing took Him by surprise. He knew all that was coming and went forth voluntarily to meet them, asking, “Whom seek ye?” And the answer came, “Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he” (v. 5a). Really, what He said was this, “I am.” He used the very name of Deity, “I am,” as He had so often before.
We read, “And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them” (v. 5b). Judas, who knew Him so well; Judas, who had been with the company for those three-and-a-half years, and yet whose conscience had never been really reached; Judas who had never truly yielded his heart to Christ. It shows how possible it is for people to keep company with those who are God’s children and frequent the house of God, and yet never open the heart to the Savior.
“As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground” (v. 6), bowing at His feet. Then as they rose, He turned again and said, “Whom seek ye? And [once more] they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way” (vv. 7-8). His heart went out to His disciples. He would not have them arrested with Him. He would not have them go through a martyr’s death at this time. He undertook to protect His own. He had said to His Father, “Those that thou gavest me I have kept, none of them is lost” (17:12). And if He can keep their souls for eternity, He can keep their lives in this world. And so He says, “Let these go their way.”
But, then, at this moment activity began among them. It was very fleshly activity. “Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear” (18:10). What a foolish thing to do, flashing about without any commandment from the Lord! And after all, just injuring a poor servant who was not responsible for what went on. We are not told the sequel here, but if we turn to the other Gospels we learn that Jesus healed the wounded man. Somebody has said, “How often we are like Peter. How busy we keep the Lord putting on ears that we cut off.” We do not mean to do it, perhaps, but we go around saying such unkind, foolish things that we injure people instead of helping them. I am sure that Peter would have had great difficulty in leading Malchus to Christ after cutting off his ear! Don’t cut people’s ears off and then expect them to hear your message. Peter forgot that grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. He was going to fight for His Lord, but it was in a very carnal way. It got him into trouble afterward, for it added to his difficulties when the time of testing came.
“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?” (v. 11). Before, in His agony, He prayed, “Let this cup pass,” and later, “If this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” Now He goes forth in perfect serenity of spirit. The battle is over; the victory is won. He says, “I am going out to take that cup, not from man, but from the hand of My Father.” In the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah we read, “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief” (v. 10).
I am afraid sometimes we have a very shallow conception of the work of the cross. It was not merely the physical sufferings of Jesus which made atonement for sin. He did suffer in His body more than anyone, for as He hung upon that cross, every nerve, every fiber of His being must have been affected, but it was not that which settled the sin question. It was when Jehovah made His soul an offering for sin; when it pleased God to bruise Him. In other words, it was not what Jesus suffered at the hands of man that made atonement for sin, it was what He suffered at the hands of God. It was God who put to His lips the cup of judgment. He received that cup from the Father’s hands and drained it to the dregs.
Death and the curse were in that cup,
Oh Christ, ’twas full for Thee;
But Thou hast drained the last dark dregs,’
Tis empty now for me.
And this is what we remember when we gather at the table of the Lord. We think of Him, our blessed Savior, going to that cross and draining the cup of judgment to the dregs. If that cup had been placed at our lips, it would have taken all eternity to empty it, but He drank it all in those three hours of darkness on the tree. “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”
He put Himself into their hands and allowed them to take Him captive. “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” (John 18:12-13). Such a midnight session of the Sanhedrin was absolutely unlawful, but they did not stop to consider that. “Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people” (v. 14). And, thank God, the words he spoke were blessedly true. It was necessary that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation perish not. This he said indicating that Jesus should die not for the nation only, but for the whole world. Through that death all who will may have life everlasting and “peace with God” (Romans 5:1).
We remember Him today as the One who died for us. We, who have a saving interest in His blood, who have trusted Him as our Savior, will never have to drink the cup of judgment, for He took it for us, and gives to us the cup of salvation.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
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. 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. 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. The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine. 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. 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? Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me? Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest. 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. 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? Peter then denied again: and immediately the cock crew.
In this section we have two narratives enfolded together in a very striking way. The apostle Peter’s great failure, his denial of his Lord, and our Lord’s trial- His mock trial-before the high priest, Caiaphas.
First, we are concerned with the apostle Peter. What a wonderful man Peter was! As we read all that the Word tells us of him, and then add some few instances that have come down to us through what seems to be reliable church history, we cannot help but be filled with admiration for this bold, energetic man who loved his Lord so loyally and yet who failed so terribly at times, but who eventually became the most outstanding of all the apostles until Saul of Tarsus was converted and given his special ministry to the Gentiles.
We last considered the scene in the garden, closing with the arrest of our blessed Lord and His being taken away to Annas and Caiaphas. The Lord Jesus had foretold that Peter would forsake Him, but Peter declared, “Although all [men forsake thee], yet will not I” (Mark 14:29; see also Matthew 26:33). But Jesus said to him, “Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not… The cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me” (Luke 22:31-32; Luke 22:34Luke 22:34).
This is a very interesting statement: “Satan hath desired [it is literally, demanded^ to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” Satan, then, is the sifter of God’s wheat. In other words, when some of God’s children need to have the chaff and the wheat separated, the Lord turns them over temporarily to Satan. You remember in 1 Corinthians 5:0 we read of a man who was delivered “unto Satan, for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:5). This man, a professing Christian, had failed so terribly and had brought such grief and dishonor upon the name of the Lord that the Spirit, through the apostle Paul, commanded the church at Corinth to refuse to have any further Christian fellowship with him. They were to put him back into the world from which he once professed to be separated, and there he would be in Satan’s realm, who would put him through a course of trouble and sorrow. We know what the result was: the man broke down before God and confessed his sin and failure. He no more thought himself worthy of Christian fellowship and would not have come back had not the people of God been careful to show him special grace and favor. Paul wrote again urging them to this in 2 Corinthians 2:4-11.
We have often heard people ask, “Why does God not kill the Devil?” Well, God has use for him. When God no longer has use for him, He will do away with him in the lake of fire. But until that time, God not only makes the wrath of man to praise Him, but there is a certain sense in which He even makes Satan to serve His purpose. When He sees pride and self-sufficiency in believers, He permits Satan to sift them, even to causing some grievous fall that they may be awakened and brought to their senses. Jeremiah says, “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee” (Jeremiah 2:19). God allowed Israel to fall so grievously that they would realize as never before how far from Him they had wandered and how they needed to get right.
And so in Peter’s case the Lord permitted the failure to take place that he might be corrected, and He has related it here that it might be a warning and an encouragement for us at the same time.
We read, “And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest [This ‘other disciple’ is undoubtedly John himself. He used this expression as a means of keeping himself in the background.], “and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door without” (John 18:15-16a). There he was in the place of danger. If he had been inside with John and Jesus, he would have been safe. How was it he chose to stay there instead of definitely identifying himself with Christ? Backsliding is never a matter of a moment. Sometimes one whom we have esteemed as a Christian seems to suddenly fall into some grievous sin. We throw up our hands and say, “What a shame, that that one should have suddenly stumbled so terribly!” We are wrong in thinking of it in that way. It is never sudden. Backsliding is always a gradual declension.
Now with Peter, his backsliding really began immediately following one of his greatest experiences. Often when God has dealt with us in some special way, it proves to be the time of the greatest danger. Sometimes with a servant of God when the Lord gives him special victory and uses him in an unusual way for the salvation of souls, that is the time when he is in the greatest peril. There is the danger of spiritual pride, the danger of self-occupation, the danger, in other words, of confidence in the flesh.
In the sixteenth chapter of Matthew we hear the Lord saying, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” (v. 13). They answer, “Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias” (v. 14). Jesus then said, “But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (vv. 15-16).
That was a wonderful confession. Up to that moment no one else had ever made such a fervent and complete confession. The Savior turns to Peter and says, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (v. 17). If Christ is ever made known to any human soul as the Son of the living God, it is not simply through the intellect. It must be a divine revelation. That is why you cannot convince men of the Deity of Christ by argument. You may marshal Scripture after Scripture and down all their objections, and yet if the Spirit of God does not reveal the Deity of God, people will go away just as unbelieving as before. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to make the truth real to the hearts and consciences of men. So the Lord Jesus says, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”
Then the Lord said, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock [the great truth that Christ is the Son of the living God] I will build my church” (v. 18). Now do not misunderstand the Lord there. Strange that anybody would think that our Lord meant He would found His church on a mere man. Not Peter, but Christ is the “Rock.” Peter agrees with this, for in his first epistle he speaks of Christ as the living stone, and of himself and all believers as living stones who have come to Christ and are built upon Him.
And so the Lord says, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (v. 19). That was a wonderful honor, which many have misunderstood. You have often seen pictures-have you not?-of Peter with a key at the gate of heaven. But Jesus did not give Peter the keys of heaven. Jesus gave to Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not heaven, it is that sphere on earth where Christ is owned as Lord. On Pentecost Peter used the keys to open the door of the kingdom of heaven to the Jews. In the house of Cornelius he used them to open the door to the Gentiles.
In Matthew 18:0 we learn that all the disciples were given the power of binding and loosing. That is, they were authorized to go to men in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and say, “If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are loosed from your sin, and if not, your sin remains upon you.” That commission is given to all of Christ’s servants.
That was indeed a wonderful revelation which the Father gave to Peter, and the Lord recognized it in a very special way. But it is a remarkable fact that in the same sixteenth chapter of Matthew you hear the Lord say a little later to that very man, Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan:… for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (v. 23). He had been telling them of His coming trial and crucifixion, and Peter turned to Him and dared to counsel the Son of God, as though he were wiser than He. He said, “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee” (v. 22). And Jesus said, “Get thee behind Me, Satan.” What does this mean? Why, Peter was so carried away, so lifted up and self-exalted, he became spiritually proud and dared to rebuke the One whom but a short time before he had confessed as the Son of God.
Suppose the Lord had acted on that, and said, “Well, I won’t go out and die.” What a condition Peter would have been in! Jesus realized it was the Devil speaking through Peter. We trace the record of Peter from that time on, and find that every time he opens his mouth he says the wrong thing. It was on the Mount of Transfiguration that he said, “Let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias” (Matthew 17:4; see also Mark 9:5; Luke 9:33). And God then said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5; see also Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). Then when Jesus said to His disciples, “All ye shall be offended because of me” (Matthew 26:31; see also Mark 14:27). Peter said, “[Oh, no, Lord, not I.] Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended” (Matthew 26:33; see also Mark 14:29). This man did not really know his own weakness. He loved his Lord and meant to be true to Him. But he failed his Master in the garden. He slept when he should have prayed. He used the sword in fleshly energy when he should have been quiet. He followed afar off when he should have been close to the Lord. Backsliding always begins with neglect of prayer. If you want to be kept from backsliding, then you want to be sure you spend much time in secret with God.
We read that “Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple … and spake unto her that kept the door” (John 18:16). Now he is just inside on the porch. And the girl took a good look at Peter and said, “Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples? He saith, I am not” (v. 17). He never meant to say that, but when he thought of all the people looking on when this girl challenged him, suddenly his courage failed him and out came the lie-he who had said, “Though all men forsake Thee, yet will not I forsake Thee.” How good that God did not take him at his word! God knew Peter and allowed him to go down deeper yet.
The servants and the officials stood there who had made a fire of coals. Remember that fire of coals. When you come to Peter’s restoration it is at a fire of coals. And Peter stood with them-stood with the world, stood with the enemies of His Lord-and instead of speaking up for Christ, he was silent. And the high priest asked Jesus of His disciples and His doctrine. “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” (v. 20). Everything with Christ was like an open book. He had nothing to hide, nothing that could only be whispered in dark places, but everything was open and above board: “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. 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?” (vv. 21-22).
But on the part of the Lord Jesus there is no anger, no retaliation, but perfect lowliness. “Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me? Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest. And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. They said therefore unto him, Art not thou also one of his disciples?” (vv. 23-25). There was something strange about this man, Peter. He might be one of the company, but they felt that after all, there was something different about him. So they asked again, but “he denied it, and said, I am not.” What an opportunity! He could have said, “Yes, I am one of His, and if need be, I am ready to die for Him.” But he had not the courage for it now in the hour of testing. He denied and said, “I am not.”
Now there was another in the crowd who was particularly interested in Peter, for it was this man’s relative whose ear Peter had cut off in the Garden. Jesus had said when He took Peter, James, and John into the garden with Him, “Sit ye here, and watch and pray,” and He went on. Then He bowed before God in that time of agony. Then He came back and found them sleeping for sorrow. There they were prayerless when they should have been alert. Then when the Lord so quietly put Himself into the hands of the soldiers, Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. That was the activity of the flesh, and now that comes back to him. The relative of this man said, “Did I not see thee in the garden with him?” (v. 26). Now Peter is down to the very lowest depth the Lord will allow him to go. Three times he denied his Lord, and, as other Gospels tell us, even with oaths and curses (see Matthew 26:74; Mark 14:71).
But there is a great difference between a backslider and an apostate. A backslider is really a child of God who has failed and eventually the Lord will restore him. An apostate is one who is never reborn at all. Judas was an apostate; Peter was a backslider.
Oh, if there is any backslider reading this today, let me say to you that He who restored Peter is waiting to restore you. He says, “Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you” (Jeremiah 3:14). If you confess your backsliding, you can be sure He will restore. He did it for Peter, He will do it for you.
In another gospel we are told that the Lord turned and looked on Peter, and Peter went out and wept bitterly. Those tears indicated the beginning of his restoration, and in the last chapter we shall see how wonderfully the Lord restored him.
Return, O wanderer, return,
And seek an injured Father’s face;
Those warm desires that in thee burn
Were kindled by reclaiming grace.
Return, O wanderer, return,
And seek a Father’s melting heart;
His pitying eyes thy grief discern,
His hand shall heal thine inward smart.
Return, O wanderer, return;
Thy Savior bids thy spirit live;
Go to His bleeding feet, and learn
How freely Jesus can forgive.
Return, O wanderer, return,
And wipe away the falling tear;’
Tis God who says, “No longer mourn”;’
Tis mercy’s voice invites thee near.
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. Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man? They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee. 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. Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? 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. 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. 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. 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? Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.
And so, we have read the first half of the greatest trial, or mock trial, that ever took place in human history, when before Pontius Pilate our Lord witnessed a good confession.
Some very striking things are brought to our attention in this passage, and first of all we observe how very punctilious men may be in regard to the outward observance of what they call religion, while utterly bereft of any true spirituality and definite knowledge of relationship to God. We read here that the accusers of our blessed Lord led Him from the judgment hall of Caiaphas, the high priest, unto the Roman hall of judgment. While they had their own court to deal with cases that had to do with their own religion and their own customs and traditions, yet they were denied the right to deal with cases that involved crimes against the government or to carry out the death penalty. The Jewish way of executing capital punishment was by stoning to death, but they were not permitted to deal thus with their criminals. The Roman method was by crucifixion.
So, having decided on perjured evidence that our Lord Jesus Christ was guilty of blasphemy, the chief priests took Him before Pilate that He might be condemned to death. They led Him there early in the morning but they, themselves, went not into the judgment hall lest they should be defiled, that they might eat the feast of the Passover. If they went two steps over the threshold of a Gentile hall on the Passover day, they were unclean ceremonially and could not participate in that annual service of the Jewish congregation. And these men who were bent upon the murder of the Son of God were so punctilious about the little things of the law that they did not dare pass over the threshold of Pilate’s hall lest they should be defiled. And yet, there before them stood the One of whom every Passover lamb that had ever been sacrificed, from that first Passover in Egypt right down to their own day, was a type. We read, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
For fifteen hundred years, except for occasional times when they were out of the will of God or away from their land, the Jewish people had been faithful in the observance of the Passover. As those lambs were slain year by year, they pictured “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). As their blood was shed, it pictured the precious blood of Christ that cleanses from all sin those who put their trust in Him. God declared in Egypt on the night of the first Passover, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13). This was a gospel type. The blood over the lintel that night secured Israel’s safety. The destroying angel could not enter in.
And so today, those, whether Jew or Gentile, who put their trust in this true Passover Lamb, our Lord Jesus, will find shelter beneath His precious blood and be absolutely secure from judgment. The Lord Jesus, Himself, has said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). Notice that expression condemnation. I like the Catholic rendition of that verse. Listen to it, “Amen, amen, I say to you, He who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life and comes not into judgment, but is passed out of death into life.” That is from the Douay Version. What a wonderful statement that is! That is the declaration of the Son of God that all who trust in Him are forever shielded from judgment. And those who thus trust Him know that the destroyer shall never touch them.
But here, you see, were people who were very conscientious about the outward things of the law and yet failed to recognize the One of whom the type of the law spoke, the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so they did not pass over the threshold of this court room lest they should become ceremonially defiled, and yet, in a little while we hear them demanding the death of the Son of God. Of course, we hasten to say what Scripture affirms, they did not know He was the Son of God. Peter said after Pentecost, “Brethren, I [know] that through ignorance ye did it” (Acts 3:17). And because of that, a city of refuge had been opened to them. God will deal with them not as murderers but as unwitting manslayers, if they will flee to the refuge He has provided- but that refuge is found in the same Savior whom they crucified.
But let not us who are Gentiles think we are any less guilty in the crucifixion of the Son of God. The Gentiles, too, were linked with that solemn event, but even there God shows mercy. The apostle Paul says, “Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). So here, you see, Jews and Gentiles united in their ignorance and misunderstanding to reject the One who came to save.
Well, here is the crowd waiting, and Pilate graciously concedes to their demand. Recognizing their conscientious scruples, he went out to them and said, “What accusation bring ye against this man?” (John 18:29). Instead of presenting any very definite accusation, they said, “If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee” (v. 30). They meant, “The fact that we brought Him declares that He is deserving of judgment.” “Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law” (v. 31a). But they said, “No, we cannot do that. ‘It is not lawful for us to put any man to death’ (v. 31b). He deserves to die, but the Roman government has taken the power of life and death away from us.” But all this was done “that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die” (v. 32). For on many occasions our blessed Lord had foretold His death. He had forewarned His disciples of what was coming. He said, “The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day” (Mark 9:31).
Nothing was unforeseen. He knew exactly what was before Him when He came from heaven as the Son of God and in divine grace was born as a Child here on earth. He came, saying, “I delight to do thy will, O my God” (Psalms 40:8), and He knew that the doing of that will meant going to the cross of Calvary. All through His life that was before Him. He was the only Israelite growing up in that land who knew the exact meaning of the Passover. He was the only Israelite who knew to what all those sacrifices of the temple referred. He knew that He was the One who was to fulfill them all and offer Himself, without spot, to God. But He never hesitated, and when at last this ministry of grace was coming to an end, we read, “He set His face like a flint to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51, author’s paraphrase). He was steadfast in that which He came to do. Even in Gethsemane’s Garden, when His holy humanity shrank from the awfulness of becoming the great Sin-bearer, yet He said, “My Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (Matthew 26:42).
So here He stands in Pilate’s judgment hall, led as a lamb to the slaughter. He made no effort to clear Himself. He was ready to die, ready to go to the cross in order that we might live.
Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus to him and said unto Him, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33). They had brought this charge against Him, that He had declared Himself to be the King of the Jews. Pilate was used to different ones rising up with claims to be the Messiah. They had been dealt with very severely by the Roman Government.
“Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?” (vv. 33-34). As much as to say, “Are you asking this question because of a sincere desire to know the truth, or is it simply a rumor that has come to you and you want to trace it down?” You see, whenever men honestly wanted to know the truth, the Lord Jesus was ready to clarify it but never to satisfy some indifferent questioner. So, I say to you, if you really wish to know if Jesus is the Son of God, if you are saying to yourself, “I wish I knew if He is really the Messiah of Israel. I wish I knew if He is really the promised King who is to bring in blessing for this poor world,” let me tell you how you may know. “If any man will to do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (7:17). If you honestly desire to know, if you will go to God, take your place before Him as a sinner, confess your sin and guilt and cry to Him for the way of deliverance and look to Him to give you light, He has pledged Himself to do so.
Oh, if Pilate had only been in earnest that day! But we see him convicted as a trifler with eternal verities. He is not really interested to know if Jesus is King. In Pilate’s eyes He is just some queer, fanatical Jew who has done nothing particularly worthy of death but is some sort of a public nuisance and must be dealt with in a way that will quiet the people.
So Pilate asks contemptuously, “Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?” (18:35). In other words, “Tell me now, what is your error? What is your misdemeanor? What have you done?” One can readily imagine the scornful curl of his lip as he asked these questions.
Jesus looked up quietly and said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (v. 36a). that is, “It is not of this order,” or, “I do not pretend to be a King in the sense that those who fill the thrones of earth are kings. My kingdom is not of this universe, but of another order altogether. My kingdom is of heaven.” That is really what He meant. He left Pilate to inquire, if he were earnest enough to do so. “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” (v. 36b).
He is not denying that some day His kingdom is going to be set up in this world. Some day all the prophecies regarding Him will be fulfilled. But when that day comes, His kingdom will not be of this earthly order. It will be a heavenly kingdom set up here on earth.
So He disclaims all suggestions of expecting to overthrow Roman power. Pilate looks at Him contemplatively and says, more to himself than to Jesus, “Art thou a king then?” (v. 37a). Oh, there was something so striking about this lowly Carpenter from Nazareth as He stood there unafraid and looked into the face of the representative of the greatest power on earth, and talked about a kingdom that is not of this world. Pilate wonders who this strange mysterious Man could be. “Art thou a king then?”
Then Jesus answered and said, “Thou sayest that I am a king” (37b). He was indeed a King-a King without a kingdom here, a King without a host of subjects to acknowledge His authority, but the One of whom God, the Father, had said, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion” (Psalms 2:6). “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth” (v. 37c), or, “that I might be a martyr to the truth.” And some have said that that is all that Jesus was, simply dying as a martyr to the truth. He did so die, but that was not all. He died as the great sin offering, yielding Himself without spot unto God for our redemption.
But there He stands in Pilate’s judgment hall, a witness to the truth. He was, Himself, truth incarnate. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6). So now He says, “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (18:37d). Do you see the challenge in that sentence? He is practically saying, “Every honest man and woman will listen to Me when they hear Me.” Don’t say, “I wish I knew whether Jesus was the Son of God,” and then turn away and refuse the test that He gives in the Word, for everyone who is absolutely honest in seeking to know will know. “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”
“Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?” (v. 38b). And there you have the question of the cynic. His restless mind and heart had not found satisfaction in anything. He had come to the place where he feels that no one knows where we came from or where we are going. “Who can tell?” “What is truth?”
Oh, if Pilate had but been in earnest in asking that question! There stood One who could have told him, One who could have opened up all the things that were perplexing him. Lord Bacon wrote: “‘What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate, and waited not for an answer.” Oh, that is the pity of it! He might have had the answer. But this man was a trifler. This man was not in earnest. This man did not really want to know the truth. O God, give us to be honest and in earnest, and if we are, we shall soon find ourselves at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews” (v. 38a-b). He does not wait for an answer to his question, and so he is left in doubt and in darkness. He said to the Jews, “I find in him no fault at all” (v. 38c). In other words, “I see no reason to put this Man to death.”
Then it occurred to him that there was a way by which he could placate the people and yet save Jesus from death. It had been arranged some years before that some prisoner of state should be set free at each Passover season in order that the people might feel that Rome was considerate of their national prejudices. It came to his mind that he might put up the name of Jesus, and they would let Him go free. So he said, “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?” (v. 39). (Listen to the irony in this question.) But at this they cried out, “Not this man, but Barabbas” (v. 40). Barabbas was a robber in the eyes of the law, it is true, but he was a Jewish patriot. The very thing they charged against Jesus was true of Barabbas. He was an insurrectionist. They would let Barabbas go free and let Jesus be crucified. “Not this man, but Barabbas.” And that has been the voice, not only of the Jews, but of the world down through the centuries. They have chosen the robber and the murderer. The world has been dominated by the robber and the murderer, and Jesus is still rejected.
Have you made your choice? Are you saying in your heart, “Not this man, but Barabbas?” “Not this man, but-” What are you putting in the place of Jesus in your heart? Oh, that you might reverse your decision.
Some years ago in an eastern city, a well-known Jewish merchant had a warmhearted Christian friend. These two businessmen used to meet together at lunch-time and talk things over together, and the Christian frankly put forward the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ. His Jewish friend would listen politely but never make any comment. By and by, this Jewish merchant was taken very ill, and word came that he was dying. The Christian friend wanted to go to see him but was told he could not do so. Word came that he could not live much longer, and his friend made another effort to see him. The doctor said, “Let him in. He cannot do him any harm now.” He promised not to talk to him, and went into the room, slipped to the bedside, and knelt there, taking his friend’s poor, thin hand in his own. Silently he lifted his heart to God on behalf of the dying Jewish merchant. Then as the sick man lay there with closed eyes, breathing heavily, there was a change. His eyes opened, turned to his friend, and looked kindly upon him. Then the lips parted, and he said just before he slipped into eternity, “Not Barabbas, but this Man.”
See what that meant. He had reversed the sentence of his people in Pilate’s judgment hall. What would you say? “Not this Man, but Barabbas”? What would you say? “Not any other but this Man, Christ”?
Have you any room for Jesus,
He who bore your load of sin;
As He knocks and asks admission,
Sinner, will you let Him in?
Room for pleasure, room for business,
But for Christ the crucified,
Not a place that He can enter,
In the heart for which He died?
Have you any room for Jesus,
As in grace He calls again?
Oh, today is time accepted,
Tomorrow you may call in vain.
Room and time now give to Jesus,
Soon will pass God’s day of grace;
Soon thy heart left cold and silent,
And Thy Saviour’s pleading cease.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on John 18". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11