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BETRAYED AND ARRESTED
The Son of God goes calmly, steadily on to the great conquest of Calvary, each step of the way perfectly measured by divine wisdom. The fact of His going into the garden of Gethsemane is mentioned, and His disciples being with Him, but nothing is said here of His prayer of agony in the garden, being prostrate in supplication "with strong crying and tears." For that prayer belongs to the lowliness of His spotless Manhood, not to the sublime glory of His deity. In John we see Him as perfectly in control of all the circumstances that faced Him, His way being in every moral respect the triumphal march of a Conqueror.
How pathetic is the deceitful treachery of Judas! How grossly deceived by Satan is the poor, blinded "son of perdition!" How totally is he a stranger to the pure grace and truth of the heart of the Son of God! In the callous ignorance of unbelief he fulfills scripture. Judas knew well the Lord's accustomed practices, but knew nothing of His heart. He could not find the Lord as his Savior, but it was no difficulty for him to find Him in order to betray Him to His enemies! He brings the soldiers and officers, well equipped with lanterns, torches and weapons (v.3), a formidable array to accomplish the arrest of a Man whom they knew was no revolutionary or rabble-rouser! All of this on their part was vain folly, for it was demonstrated to them that their show of strength was abject weakness in His presence, without His showing the least resistance, physically speaking.
Observe in verse 4 that He knew all things that should come upon Him. All the power of the enemy was being concentrated now; religious leaders, the Jews, the Gentiles and their rulers would all unite in vicious hatred against the Son of God; a true disciple would deny Him, a false disciple was betraying Him, all would forsake Him; and far more than this, that He would suffer the awesome judgment of God against sin on the cross of Calvary. Yet in calm, blessed dignity He went forth. Wondrous, adorable Son of God!
Face to face with this militant band He asks simply, "Whom are you seeking?" Their answer is "Jesus of Nazareth." Because Nazareth was a place despised by the Jews (cf. John 1:46), their speaking in this way was intended to belittle Him. But He says only "I Am." This is His name as the eternal, self-existent One (cf. Exodus 3:14), whose glory is infinite. (Note that it is stated at this point that Judas stood with them, on the side of those who defied the living God.) But it is no wonder that at the words "I Am" they immediately all drew back and fell to the ground (v.6). Powerless, they are prostrated at His feet.
Again He asks them the same question. If it is necessary for the Son of God to ask the same question a second time, it is evident that the first answer was deficient. Indeed, their being humbled to the dust ought to have changed their attitude toward Him; but they answer again in the same slighting way. Such is the blinding power of Satan.
He firmly insists that He has told them that "I Am." If they seek Him, then as to the disciples He says, "let these go their way" (v.8). He will bear full responsibility, alone. For His word must be fulfilled: He would lose none of those His Father had given Him.
How little does Peter understand this! Though he had seen the power of his Lord's word in prostrating His enemies, he seems to think it appropriate that he should be the defender of the Lord of glory! Evidently the soldiers had been allowed to stand again, and Peter uses his sword on the servant of the high priest, apparently aiming at his head, but only severing his ear from his head.
But there is no further action. The word of the Lord prevails: His own presence stops all violence. We read in Luke 22:51 that He touched the servant's ear and healed him, but in John the power of His word, rather than His gracious action, is emphasized. He presses the fact that it was from His Father's hand He would receive the cup: He would not shrink from the cross, nor fight with men who were only tools to accomplish His Father's will, ignorant of this as they were. How beautifully He fulfills all that of which the burnt offering speaks, glorifying the Father by the complete devotion of Himself in willing sacrifice.
Only "then" (v.12), after the Lord speaks of drinking the cup His Father had given Him, are His enemies allowed to bind Him. Having seen His power so calmly exercised over them, it is almost amazing that they would dare now to take Him in this way. But neither shame nor fear moves them from the blind folly of their way. These of course are not Roman soldiers, but Jewish, and in the employ of the Jewish authorities.
IN THE COURT OF THE HIGH PRIEST
They take Him to Annas, father in law to the high priest, Caiaphas. The Romans had made a practice of requiring a change in the high priesthood frequently, a totally unscriptural thing, Annas had been high priest at a previous time, and possibly the Jews still desired to give him this place, though they could not do so officially. In verses 19 and 22 he is even spoken of as the high priest, for the hearing before Ann as continued till verse 24, which is properly translated, "Annas therefore sent Him bound unto Caiaphas." Only John speaks of this hearing, and does not give any account of the hearing before Caiaphas, as do the other Gospels. It may have been that both of them were occupying the palace of the high priest. But it was Calaphas who had urged the death of the Lord.
Verse 15 assures us that Simon Peter followed Jesus, thoughLuke 22:54; Luke 22:54 speaks of his following "afar off." He was true, but faltering, as is sadly the case with too many of us who are believers. Another disciple (evidently John, the writer of this book) followed and went with Jesus into the palace of the high priest. He was known to the high priest, who evidently therefore knew of his identification with Christ . Before this all the disciples had forsaken Him (Matthew 26:56), but grace had apparently recovered John, so that he went calmly in, and later also stood by the cross of Jesus while others stood afar off (John 19:25; Luke 23:49).
Through John's influence Peter is allowed inside (v.16), and the girl at the door naturally asks him if he was not also (as was John) one of Christ's disciples. We may wonder at the fear of one so naturally bold, but in the things of God one cannot depend on his own strength, and this was his downfall: words come from his lips that must have torn his inmost soul, "I am not."
Therefore he does not evidently stand with John, but with the servants and officers who were warming themselves at a fire. Before Peter is questioned a second time, however, attention is drawn back to the Lord by the questioning of Annas (v.19). Peter was given a little time to think of the previous warning of the Lord as to his denying Him three times, but it seems that Peter's fear had practically paralyzed him.
Verse 19 demonstrates that the Jews had no charge to lay against the Lord. This was not a trial, but an inquisition in which they were seeking to find an accusation. The Lord answers in perfect truth, and becomingly. He had spoken openly to the world, teaching in the synagogues and in the temple, and having nothing to hide. There is no reason whatever therefore that He should be on the defensive in seeking to explain His teaching to the high priest: others had heard this: if witness was required, it was not He Himself who should be such a witness. Testimony could easily be obtained from anyone who had heard Him. Certainly these plain words were a reproof of to the high priest's manifest lack of judicial sense, and he is made to feel that he is under the tribunal of the Son of God rather than the reverse.
But immediately a gross violation of justice occurs in the court, under the eyes of the high priest, who does not so much as reprimand it. An officer struck the Lord with the palm of his hand because he was irritated that the Lord had discerned the high priest's violation of judicial order. But evil could not draw from the Lord of glory any resentful, bitter response. Rather, He asks, if He had spoken evil, then let the officer bear witness of the evil, as is the only proper procedure in court, but if He had spoken well, why this violence? Again, only the Lord acts with the calm, judicial fairness of a righteous judge.
Annas was defeated, and very likely fearful of being more humiliated, he sends the Lord Jesus bound to Caiaphas, as verse 24 tells us. Caiaphas is evidently more adamantly determined that Christ must die.
To observe the Lord's calm, faithful witness to the truth has not awakened Peter out of the weakness of his fear. He is asked again as to his being a disciple of the Lord Jesus, and again denies it (v.25). But of course he is in the wrong company, warming himself at the world's fire. If our hearts are cold, we may no doubt try this, but it is no substitute for the warming of the Lord's near presence. He is pressed a third time by a relative of the servant whose ear Peter had cut off, and who had seen him in the garden. At Peter's third denial, the cock crew. Luke adds to this the Lord's look at Peter, and Peter's going out and weeping bitterly (Luke 22:61-62). He was not there to see any more of the Lord's faithful and true witness. What agony of soul must have been his from that time until meeting the Lord in resurrection!
BEFORE THE ROMAN JUDGE
For the hearing before Caiaphas we must compare Matthew 26:57-68; Matthew 27:1, for John is silent as to this. But these two hearings occupied the whole night, so that it was early in the morning when the Lord was led to Pilate's hall of judgment (v.28). How intent were the Jews upon His destruction with no delay! For evil cannot afford to wait for the due processes of sober, careful, deliberate judgment, lest it should be exposed.
They would not enter the judgment hall themselves, for they religiously considered this a defiling thing: yet they would require the Lord Jesus to enter. They themselves would remain outside and clamor loudly for the death of the innocent victim! They knew the eating of the Passover did not allow of outward defilement, but the Lord had told them that the evil coming from their own hearts is that which defiled them (Matthew 15:11). They had tried to avoid taking Him on the feast day (Matthew 26:5), But God had decreed that the Lord Jesus should be sacrificed on the day of the Passover, and it was this day that Judas found convenient to betray Him.
Pilate, the Roman judge, must go out to the Jews to inquire as to their accusation against Christ. In answer they have no accusation whatever, but haughtily tell Pilate that he should consider Christ a malefactor simply because they brought Him to Pilate (v.30)! Had Pilate then only acted justly, he should have declared that the prisoner must be set free, for there was no specific charge against Him. But not at all being qualified as a just judge, he desired to slip out from any responsibility, an attitude he continued to maintain until he had enmeshed himself in the folly of history's most dreadful injustice.
Pilate tells the Jews to judge the Lord Jesus according to their law, for he knew well that the whole matter was one of religious prejudice, not a major criminal case, which the Romans did not allow the Jews to handle. But they had already determined, before any trial, that He was to be put to death, and they could not legally do this themselves; therefore they demanded that Pilate should condemn Him to death. More than this, the Lord Himself had foretold that His death would be that of crucifixion (v.32), the Roman means of capital punishment, rather than that of Jewish stoning.
Certainly Pilate ought to have immediately refused this, but he returned into the judgment hall and asked the Lord a question that had nothing to do with judging the case. But he was evidently afraid that there was some substance to the report that He was King of the Jews. He asks as to this, and the Lord in reply asks him a pertinent question (v.34), as to whether he had personal concern about this, or was it something reported to him that was really of little consequence? For Christ had certainly not laid claim to Israel's throne.
Pilate was quick to disclaim all responsibility, by questioning, "Am I a Jew?" But why had he then asked his first question? Of course it was true, as he said, that the Lord's own nation and their rulers had delivered Him to Pilate. But Pilate's responsibility was to judge righteously as regards any charge brought against the Lord. Yet no charge had been laid. He asks the Lord, "What have You done?" This again was no question for a judge to ask: it was for the accusers to lay the charge as to what He had done, and the judge was to consider strictly this charge.
The Lord Jesus therefore ignores his question and tells Pilate something to give serious concern to his conscience. His kingdom is not of this world: if it had been so, his servants, according to worldly principles, would fight for His protection (v.36), and Pilate knew that neither He nor His servants had clamored for authority on earth. His kingdom was from another source. Pilate understands nothing of this, but asks if then Jesus is a king. The Lord's positive answer leaves Pilate with an uncomfortable conscience. In pure reality He is a king, being born and coming into the world, not to reign, but to bear witness to the truth (v.37). Here is true moral kingly character proven in lowly grace and rejection before the time of His reigning as King of kings. This bearing witness to the truth of God amidst evil has in it an exquisite royal dignity and beauty that will attract every honest heart. The Lord further declares that everyone (not only Jews) who is of the truth hears His voice, for in Him is absolute truth.
Pilate, fearing to find himself exposed under the searching light of this uncomfortable and searching "truth," again slips out of responsibility by lightly affirming (rather than asking) "What is truth"? He wanted no answer, since he moved in an atmosphere accustomed to ignoring the truth. He went out and tried again to give the Jews the responsibility of setting the prisoner free, for he himself, though he found no fault in the Lord, wanted no responsibility either in freeing or condemning Him.
Therefore he resorts to a political move. A custom among the Jews allowed that they could secure the release of a prisoner at the time of the Passover. Pilate suggests to them therefore that they should accept the release of the Lord. This was morally wrong, of course, for He was entitled to release altogether apart from this: He was not guilty. Likely Pilate was shocked by the Jews' demand instead for the release of Barabbas, a notorious robber (also a rebel and a murderer -Luke 23:19; Luke 23:19).
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on John 18". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26