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John 18

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John 18:0 Gethsemane, Jesus Is Arrested and Tried (John 18:0 ).

Jesus, The Suffering Messiah.

Having reached the height of revelation in chapter 17, we are immediately brought back to earth in chapter 18. What is glorious in Heaven must be worked out on earth. But even here the glory of Heaven shines through, for when the soldiers arrive to arrest Jesus He reveals Himself as the ‘I am’, and they fall back before Him (John 18:6). John clearly intended this event to be seen as essentially significant. That having occurred, however, (demonstrating that Jesus was still in control of events), the arrest goes on as normal, and Jesus is borne away for trial, where it is made clear that the charges against Him are unjustified (John 18:23). The interweaving of the trials with Peter’s denials bring out Jesus’ total forsakenness (John 18:12-27). All have forsaken Him, both the religious leaders on the one hand (exemplified in Annas the High Priest), and His own disciples on the other (exemplified in Peter). The Lamb of God (John 1:29), having been shown to be without blemish (something which will be even more drawn out in the trial before Pilate), is being set apart for death.

But even His trial emphasises Who He is. For Pilate asks Him concerning the charge that He is the King of the Jews, that is, the Messiah (John 18:33), something which leads on to the revelation that Jesus’ kingship (and thus His Messiahship) is not of this world (John 18:36). Jesus then goes on to indicate that in fact His kingship on earth, which He admits to, has been fulfilled in accordance with the purpose for which He was born, and for which He came into the world, namely in His bearing witness to the truth (John 18:37). The chapter ends with Pilate declaring that Jesus is the King of the Jews (John 18:39).

The Emphasis of John.

John’s account of the events described in John 18:0 onwards differs to some extent from that of the Synoptics in a number of ways. Firstly he emphasises the complete sovereignty of Jesus as He undergoes what takes place. It is made repeatedly obvious that He is completely in control of the situation. Nothing that happens to Him is seen as happening by accident or outside His control, and there is the distinct impression that if He chose to do so He could put a stop to the process at any moment.

Not that we must overemphasise this difference of presentation, for each writer sees Jesus as in control, and has little doubt that, had Jesus wished to do so, He could have avoided what was to come, as indeed He Himself stated elsewhere (Matthew 26:53). But the point is that John makes it the underlying basis of his presentation.

Secondly, there are many details included in the Johannine account which are not recorded in the Synoptics. They demonstrate that the writer had inside knowledge through his relationship with the High Priestly family which the disciples as a whole would not have had access to (John 18:16).

The purpose of some of the detail is not so much dramatic effect as theological significance, which is why the writer draws it out, and the remainder comes from his unique perspective.

Almost every detail which John records about the crucifixion of Jesus, for example, has some symbolic and theological meaning. If we accept John’s Gospel as representing eyewitness testimony, and there are many reasons why we should do so and no good reason not to do so, the divergences from the synoptic accounts can be best explained as resulting from theological perspective, a different memory of events and alternative sources of information.

Thirdly there is said to be significant emphasis on the role of the Jewish leaders ("the Judaisers") as perpetrators of the plot to execute Jesus, with less stress on the role of the Roman authorities. Some would attribute this to an apologetic tendency on the part of the writer. But this is very subjective, and the opposite position could equally be argued. He gives no detail, for example, of Jesus’ examination before Caiaphas which was damning for the Jewish authorities.

Any interpretation of the exact role of the Jewish authorities in the affair will be influenced to some extent by our view of them and by our understanding of the different ‘trials’. Jesus' examination before Annas, for example, in John 18:13-24 appears to have been more of a preliminary enquiry than an actual trial in itself. This was followed by a more detailed and formal, but unofficial, examination before Caiaphas and selected members of the Sanhedrin recorded by Matthew (Matthew 26:59-68) and Mark (Mark 14:55-65), which took place later during the night, this latter being something which John only refers to briefly (see John 18:24; John 18:28).

The purpose of the Jewish leadership in both these enquiries was to try to find good grounds for presenting a case to the official Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council) which would produce a result satisfactory to the conspirators, that is, would bring about the condemnation of Jesus. For not all Sanhedrin members were in agreement with the Chief Priests and the more extreme Pharisees concerning Jesus and they would not be willing to condemn Him without good evidence.

But no details of Jesus' examination before Caiaphas are given in John’s Gospel which argues against an attempt to pin the blame mainly on the Judaisers. For that preliminary trial above all brought the leadership out in a bad light. That this meeting was mainly of antagonists to Jesus comes out in their behaviour towards Him during the examination, behaviour which an official Sanhedrin would not have authorised or allowed. This behaviour is mentioned also as being preliminary to the main official trial in Luke 22:63-65.

But neither of the above enquiries, being held at night, would have been looked on as strictly legal if intended as a trial, and the impression gained is that they are attempts to build up a case against Jesus rather than actual official trials as such. They are especially eager to find the ‘two witnesses’ required to convict a man before the Sanhedrin (see Mark 14:55-59). Thus the final ‘trial’ when it ‘became day’ (Luke 22:66 on, compare Mark 15:1), when the ‘elders of the people (members of the laity), the chief priests and the scribes’ are mentioned specifically together, (although not for the first time), is probably the official one before the officially convened Sanhedrin, a trial which was brief because the case had already been carefully examined previously and the final approach decided, with Jesus’ own words (as interpreted by them) being used to convict Him.

Later Mishnaic (Pharisaic) law on trials can be mainly ignored except as providing background to later Jewish thought, for this trial was carried out under Sadducean law of which we know little. It is, however, clear from the course of events that the testimony of two witnesses was required for a verdict, and it is equally certain that the court had to meet during daylight. This would explain the number of examinations, the need for one at daylight and the efforts to find agreeing witnesses.

It is also probably the case that while the High Priest could solemnly ‘adjure’ witnesses before God on certain occasions, he had no right to adjure the accused himself in that way. In this case, however, he was frustrated and thus lost his patience and went further than was technically allowed. But it would be seen as a technicality that could be overlooked once the charge of blasphemy was proved. Without more detail we cannot in fact know what traditions and regulations were breached at all, but if such did happen this would not be the first, nor the last, time in history when legal bodies have ridden roughshod over justice.

The conclusions that these examinations reached in their desperate attempt to find something to charge Jesus with were, 1) He perverts our nation, 2) He forbids us to give tribute to Caesar, and 3) He says that He Himself is the Messianic king. This was not much to go on as far as Pontius Pilate was concerned, once he discovered that He was non-belligerent, but his fear of a complaint against him being put to Caesar was sufficient in the end to sway him into condemning Jesus.

Verse 1

“When Jesus had spoken these words He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron where there was a garden into which he and his disciples entered.”

Having given His last words to His disciples and having made His final prayer Jesus went out to fulfil His destiny. His disciples were probably apprehensive as a result of what He had been saying, but they were probably not unduly alarmed. They would not be expecting anything to happen that night, and they had been in alarming situations before and had always come out of them. Jesus, however, knew exactly what lay before Him.

‘Went out.’ That probably signifies ‘went out from the Upper Room’. However those who see a departure at the end of chapter 15 see it as meaning went out of the city, following dissertation and prayer somewhere en route.

‘The Brook Kidron’. They crossed the wadi (cheimarrou) Kidron, in the Valley of Kidron. ‘Cheimarrou’ means ‘flowing in winter’ demonstrating that the particular stream bed only contained flowing water in the rainy season and was a dry river bed in the summer. This is another of the author’s reminiscences not mentioned in the other Gospels. But it may well be that John was remembering the occasion when the earlier David had crossed the brook Kidron at a time when his life too was in danger, only to finally return triumphant (2 Samuel 15:23). He might thus be seen as stressing that here was the greater David following in the pathway of His predecessor.

‘Where there was a Garden.’ After crossing the wadi they came to a Garden, identified in Matthew 26:36; Mark 14:32 as Gethsemane. This would be located somewhere on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives.

Verses 1-12

The Arrest (John 18:1-12 ).

Leaving the Upper Room Jesus led His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. The fact that Judas knew where to find Him suggests either that this was pre-arranged (Judas would need to know where he was to meet up with the disciples after ostensibly purchasing food and wine), or that it was a place where the group regularly spent time together when they were in Jerusalem, or both. It was not far from Bethany. Jesus went there knowing full well what was about to happen.

Verse 2

‘Now Judas also, who betrayed him, knew the place, for Jesus often went there with his disciples.’

This important piece of information explains why Judas was able to find him so easily and why he was needed in order to obtain the arrest. They had tried to arrest Jesus in official places when people were present and had been unable to do so. Judas provided them with the opportunity of finding Him comparatively alone in a private and secluded place.

The fact that this was a regular rendezvous ties in with Luke 21:37 where we are told that Jesus taught in the Temple by day, and by night would go to the Mount of Olives. It is quite possible that some provision of accommodation was made for Him there. Alternately they may have slept in the open air or in tents.

Verse 3

‘Judas then, having received a cohort, and officers from the Chief Priests and the Pharisees, come there with lanterns and torches and weapons.’

The word ‘cohort’ indicates a group of ‘Roman’ soldiers. A cohort was nominally a body of six hundred, although could be somewhat less, but in this case it was commanded by a Chiliarch or Tribune, and thus, if it was made up of auxiliaries, would have been larger, possibly double the size. As far as we know only one cohort was stationed in Jerusalem at the time, made up of non-Jewish local auxiliaries, although Pilate, whose centre of authority was Caesarea, may well have brought a further cohort with him for the Passover.

However the number of soldiers taken on this assignment would depend on the officer in charge, the Chiliarch or Tribune, who would not necessarily call on the whole cohort. Many may have been held back in reserve to enjoy their sleep while a contingent was sent which was as large as was deemed necessary. They were there to guard against trouble and to give some kind of official backing to the enterprise rather than to perform the actual arrest.

This would not have been possible without permission from ‘high places’, and Matthew 27:18 suggests that Pilate already had prior knowledge of the case. Tension was always high around the time of the Passover and mention of a revolutionary leader who had ridden into Jerusalem with considerable support would be enough for him to be willing to provide a strong force. He was not noted for under-reaction, and we must probably recognise that he was told a slightly exaggerated tale.

That this was in line with his propensities came out later when he took alarm at a gathering of armed men at the foot of Mount Gerizim. It was in fact a pilgrimage in response to the claims of a ‘prophet’ that the sacred vessels would be revealed there, but he saw it as a threat and sent in his troops with a resulting massacre. This was what finally resulted in his being removed from his office and sent to Rome to give account.

There were also Temple Police with them, ‘officers of the chief priests and the Pharisees’. Had the ‘Romans’ been performing the arrest they would not have allowed the Temple police to take such a prominent part. Thus it is clear that the Temple police were there to make the arrest and the ‘Romans’ were there as a precaution against trouble. But the presence of the Romans indicates that the Jewish leaders were trying to implicate the Romans with regard to events. As these Temple police were Jews it is clear how urgent the situation was seen to be, for they had had to leave their families during the Passover meal, but this was something that was permitted under cases of extreme urgency.

John remembers the scene vividly, the dark, the oil lanterns, the flaming torches, the weapons, enough to frighten any small group of religious adherents at night. We should remember that when Judas went out ‘it was night’ (John 13:30). Now he comes back and it is still night, and the only light now left to him is the artificial light of oil lanterns and flaming torches. This was his hour and the power of darkness (Luke 22:53). He has deserted the light of the world.

It will be noted that John excludes much of the detail of the time in the garden contained in the other Gospels. This was already known in the churches and he does not wish to repeat it once again. Nor, presumably, did it fit in with his purpose. But John 18:11 demonstrates that he was aware of it.

The ‘Roman’ soldiers are not mentioned in the other Gospels so that they clearly kept well to the back. As suggested above this shows that they did not see the arrest as directly their affair. The attention of the other Gospels was concentrated on the Temple Police who headed the action and were more readily noticeable in the gloom. It was John with his inside knowledge who obtained the full details of the arresting party.

Verses 4-6

‘Jesus therefore, knowing all the things that were coming on him, went up and says to them, “Who are you looking for?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth”. Jesus says to them, “I am.” And Judas also who betrayed him was standing with them. When therefore he said to them, “I am” they went backward and fell to the ground.’

‘Knowing all things that were coming on Him.’ It is being underlined that He acted with full knowledge of the situation. Indeed He was waiting for it. All was known to Him and had He wished He could have called on twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26:53). Then where would the Roman cohort have been? But He was ready for what was to happen, for His hour had come.

‘They answered’. The response comes from a number, from ‘they’. The Roman Tribune (the Chiliarch) stayed in the background. He and his men were not going to be directly involved unless there was trouble.

‘Who are you looking for?’ Unafraid of what was to happen Jesus asked the men for whom they were looking. To the reader, and those to whom the words were read, the question would have a double meaning. They knew Who it was. It was the Lord of glory. Jesus was the calmest person there. The contrast in John is deliberate and startling. If only the arresting party had known the real answer to the question. But they thought it was simply a man, ‘Jesus of Nazareth’. The reply was a police-like reply. The formal name of the man to be arrested was given. Jesus indicated that He was that man by declaring, ‘I am He.’

However, while this reply was apparently also commonplace it certainly had a significance for John, for the words ‘ego eimi’ could also indicate the ‘I am’, the living God, as we have previously seen (John 8:58).

Something about Him at that moment caused the intruders to back away. They would know Jesus’ reputation as a prophet. and miracle worker, and they knew what had happened to people in earlier days who had arrested prophets. It would not have been the first time that fire came down from Heaven and destroyed an arresting party (2 Kings 1:9; 2 Kings 1:12). So they were no doubt apprehensive. Besides it was dark among the trees, even though there was a full moon, and the advance of Jesus out of the darkness of the trees, approaching them so calmly, had been unexpected. Furthermore He had a reputation for escaping arrest as a prophet, and in the darkness that was probably working on their minds. They would remember what God had done when men went to arrest Elijah by sending down fire from Heaven. Indeed the very presence of Roman soldiers revealed to them the general uneasiness of their leaders. So it would seem that even their leaders were expecting trouble.

‘They fell to the ground.’ Did someone trip in the darkness as he backed away so that others fell over him? If so John sees it as highly symbolic. Or was it the direct result of a moment of supreme divine disclosure? John does not tell us but either way it is clear that John links it with the use of ‘I am’. In his eyes it was the divine name revealed which could only bring obeisance.

‘Judas -- was standing with them.’ Another thing that John could not forget was the sight of his erstwhile companion and friend standing with the enemy. It was one thing to learn indirectly of his intentions to in some way betray Jesus. It was another to see him face to face aligned with the enemy. We are judged by the company we keep.

Verses 7-9

‘Again therefore he asked them, “Who are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth”. Jesus replied, “I have told you that I am he, if therefore you are looking for me let these go their way.” That the word which he spoke might be fulfilled, “of those whom you have given me I lost not one”.’

Jesus’ concern for His disciples shines through in these words. He was trying to extricate His disciples from their predicament. His point was that as it was Him Whom they were seeking let them take Him and leave the others alone

‘That the word which He spoke might be fulfilled.’ It is clear from this that John views the words of Jesus as on a parallel with the Old Testament Scriptures. The verb is used elsewhere in the Gospel to describe the fulfilment of OT passages (John 12:38; John 13:18; John 15:25; John 17:12; John 19:24 and John 19:36). The phrase parallels John 17:12.

But John does not quote this just as a pedantic fulfilment of Jesus’ words taken literally. He is rather saying that it was actually necessary for Jesus to protect His disciples. In their state at that time they may not have been able to cope with beatings and torture and may have turned back. So He delivered them from it. He will not allow us to be tempted above what we are able (1 Corinthians 10:13). Besides it was necessary for them to survive in order to fulfil the task for which they had been chosen.

Verses 10-11

‘Simon Peter therefore, having a sword, drew it, and struck the High Priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. Now the servant’s name was Malchus. Jesus therefore said to Peter, “Put the sword into the scabbard. The cup which the Father has given me, shall I not drink it?”

John alone gives us the names of the swordsman and of the servant. Luke tells us that Jesus then healed the man, but this is surely what we would have expected. (In those slightly less sophisticated days the loss of an ear would not have been looked on as too serious. Only Luke, as a doctor, thought the healing important). It is typical of Peter that he should be one of the two who had a sword (Luke 22:38), and it was a sign of their bravery that with so few weapons they were ready to fight (Luke 22:49). It may be that having seen what He had done before, they felt that this might be the moment when He would reveal Himself as the fighting Messiah. Or perhaps it was simply the spontaneous action of a gallant man.

The reaction of Peter was typical of the man. Surprised at the approach of this crowd of Jesus’ enemies, aware that this time they meant trouble, and finally drawing his sword without a thought of the consequences and immediately striking at the nearest opponent.

Later, when he knew better, Peter was clearly not proud of what he had done for his participation is not mentioned in the earlier Gospels. The thing that the world would have applauded was elsewhere told anonymously, indeed it could have been dangerous evidence against Peter. We can contrast how his later denial of Jesus was made clear in all the Gospels for on that he did not want to hide the truth. But by the time John was writing Peter was beyond the danger of either the plaudits of men or the executioner’s sword.

“Put the sword into the scabbard. The cup which the Father has given me, shall I not drink it?” Peter had drawn a sword in order to resist, but in contrast Jesus showed no form of resistance and commanded the sheathing of the sword, and accepted His cup in order to drink it. It was complete submission. There was to be no resistance to the Father’s will. In his haste to act Peter was acting against God. Let him recognise once and for all that swords have no place in the service of God’s kingly rule. It is a reminder that God’s purposes are fulfilled through suffering.

It is noteworthy that John reveals examples of inside knowledge throughout the narrative and the knowledge of the servant’s name is but one of them. It would appear that he had connections with a priestly family of some importance (see John 18:16).

‘The cup which the Father has given me, shall I not drink it?’ These words show a knowledge of Matthew 26:42, see also Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42. It is from them that we learn how hard a cup it was for Him to bear. Drinking the cup clearly had the endurance of suffering in mind. It was a regular Old Testament picture (Psalms 75:8; Isaiah 51:17; Isaiah 51:22; Jeremiah 25:15; Ezekiel 23:31-33). But it was a cup given to Him by His Father, so He was satisfied. It was only through His drinking that cup that His work could be accomplished and we could partake of Him. Note how death is here thought of in terms of drinking wine. Compare John 6:52-56.

It should be noted that throughout this whole passage the emphasis is continually on Jesus’ control of events. He goes deliberately to the garden across the Kidron, He knows all that is coming on Him. He advances boldly on the arresting party. He questions them. He declares Who He is to their discomfort. He takes charge of who will be arrested. He rejects the idea of any resistance. He declares that this cup comes from His Father and that He will drink it by choice. This is the impression John wishes his readers to have which helps to explain some of his omissions.

Verse 12

‘So the cohort and the Chiliarch and the officers of the Judaisers seized Jesus and bound him.’

The Roman soldiers now immediately stepped in. They had watched the chaos among the Temple police at Jesus’ approach and had now seen a sword drawn in anger. This was why they were there. So they arrested Him and bound Him. Peter’s resistance had not been good for Jesus and only Jesus’ words and actions had saved Peter from arrest.

John deliberately brings out the strength of the force that was required to seize Him, and shares the blame equally between the Jews and the Romans. The Chiliarch was a technical term meaning ‘leader of a thousand’ and was used of the Tribune who commanded the cohort. Thus he had come himself with a section of his cohort rather than send a deputy. Given that Jesus did not resist only two or three people would actually have needed to touch Him, but they did not take any chances, for they ‘bound him’ in spite of his non-resistance.

Verses 13-14

‘And led him to Annas first, for he was father-in-law to Caiaphas who was High Priest that year. Now Caiaphas was he who gave counsel to the Judaisers that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.’

Annas had previously been High Priest but he had been replaced by the Romans with Caiaphas. However as far as the Jewish people were concerned he was still seen as the High Priest for the office was until death (Numbers 25:25). He was thus in the ideal position to carry out a preliminary examination as he was recognised by the people as having authority and yet not officially involved. It is apparent all through that what the people of Jerusalem would think counted much with the tribunal. While certain niceties may be ignored (and this probably only happened through desperation) they knew that the verdict must be seen to be ‘just’.

In the time of Jesus Israel saw themselves as a pure theocracy, ruled over by the Sanhedrin over which presided the High Priest, although final authority lay with the Romans. Much of the High Priest’s influence derived from his priestly office, especially his role on the Day of Atonement, so until 45 AD, when the Emperor Claudius ordered their release, the High Priestly robes were kept in custody in the tower of Antonia, being released only for the Feasts. This was so in the days of Herod the Great, and then of Archelaus, and then the Roman governors, in order to maintain control over him and the people. But the High Priest was also seen as the leader on religious and associated matters of world-wide Jewry, and was treated as such by the Romans.

We must differentiate between the official High Priest and those who could use the title. On the occasions when someone had to stand in for the High Priest on the Day of Atonement because of illness or defilement, a rare occurrence, that person also retained the title of ‘High Priest’ from then on, but not the powers going with the title. Indeed we know from Acts that the title could be applied in the plural to members of the chief priestly families (Acts 4:6).

Thus from the point of view of the Jews the official High Priesthood was for life, even though it was not so viewed by the external politics of the day in view of his powerful influence on things. So while Annas was deposed from the position in 15 AD, something religiously impossible, and was replaced, he remained High Priest as far as Israel was concerned. In 18 AD his son-in-law Caiaphas became High Priest. (Intermarriage among the chief priestly families was common). Five of Annas’s sons would also be High Priests.

Thus he retained a strong grip on the hearts of the people who still looked on him as High Priest, and resented Roman interference. Indeed he bore the title, along with some of its influence, for life. Thus Luke could say ‘the High Priest was Annas and Caiaphas’ (Luke 3:2), with a deliberate use of the singular because they were looked on by the people as sharing the office even though not officially. The application of the title especially applied when presiding over the Sanhedrin.

‘High Priest that year’. This is not suggesting yearly appointment but pointing to his being High Priest in that particular never to be forgotten year, the year of Jesus’ crucifixion.

‘Caiaphas was he who --’. Having already declared the things that he previously had, Caiaphas was clearly biased. Certainly the readers would recognise the bias. It was as though the judge has given his verdict before the case. The inference may therefore be that the intention was to have an independent view from Annas. But it may alternately have been that Caiaphas was not there, simply because he had gone to arrange things to their satisfaction with Pilate.

Verses 13-27

The Messianic Lamb Is Examined Before the High Priest - Peter Denies Jesus (John 18:13-27 ).

Just as the Passover lambs had to be examined by the priests before being sacrificed, so now Jesus, God’s Passover Lamb, was to be examined. It had to be made apparent that He was holy and without blemish.

Verse 15

‘And Simon Peter followed Jesus and so did another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the High Priest and entered in with Jesus into the court of the High Priest.’

In view of the writer’s particularity about names, even to the naming in this very chapter of the servant of the High Priest, the failure to give a name to this disciple throughout the Gospel stands out, especially in view of his prominence. It is extremely probable therefore that we must identify this ‘other disciple’ with the deliberately anonymous ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’, who was at Jesus’ right hand at the Last Supper and that he must be John, one of the ‘inner three’ who is never mentioned in the Gospel. If this unknown disciple is John, as seems almost certain, then it explains fully his knowledge of things not known to the other Apostles.

‘Entered into the court of the High Priest with Jesus.’ The large houses in those days were built around a central courtyard protected by a gate. He clearly had access to the court of Annas’ house and was able to witness some of what went on. The large house was probably the home of the extended family with Annas and Caiaphas both having their own set of rooms in different parts of the house. There are no real grounds for arguing that such a position was unlikely for ‘a Galilean fisherman’. We know that John’s family owned their own fishing business and had ‘hired servants’ to help in the boat, and we have no way of knowing how wealthy they were. Nor do we know what his background was, or what kind of situation intermarriage may have produced. He may well have been the nephew of someone who had married into Chief Priestly circles. Thus all such judgments are highly subjective and based simply on surmise, not fact. The one clear fact in the case is the description here. Connection with the High Priestly family was hardly something for a Christian to boast of, so that this may even be seen as evidence of his humility.

Verse 16

‘But Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple went and spoke to the woman who guarded the door, and brought in Peter.’

The reminiscences are clear and natural, suggesting one who was there. There is really no reason to doubt them. This disciple had bravely followed closely behind the group who held Jesus, along with Peter, and had had no difficulty in getting in because he was known. But then he realised that Peter had been left behind and he realised why. He had been refused entrance. So he went back and obtained entrance for him by vouching for him. It was after all a private residence.

Verses 17-18

‘The maid therefore who guarded the door says to Peter, “Are you also one of this man’s disciples?” He says, “I am not”. Now the servants and the officers were standing there having made a fire of charcoal, because it was cold. And they were warming themselves. And Peter was with them as well standing and warming himself. ’

Mark 14:66 confirms that she spoke to him once he had settled himself at the fire (John 18:18). She suggested that he had been with ‘the Nazarene Jesus’ and then asked him if he was a disciple. Servant’s gossip would have quickly spread something about the events taking place and her words may well not have been accusatory. One can possibly imagine the girl’s excitement at being so close to someone who may be an insurrectionist. And indeed the question expects a negative reply. She fears she will be disappointed. But Peter’s nerves have been stretched to breaking point and he panics. In Mark his denial is even more fervent. But Mark had the story directly from Peter who did not try to hide anything.

‘I am not.’ This is in direct contrast to Jesus’ twice repeated ‘I am’ (John 18:5-6).

Verses 19-21

‘The High Priest then asked Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the Temple where all the Judaisers come together, and I spoke nothing in secret. Why are you questioning me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them. Behold, these know the things that I said.”

There is no hint here of a court scene. It was merely a preliminary investigation. The haughty Annas had had Him brought in in order to subject Him to questioning. ‘About his disciples’ may suggest that he was looking for information about the possibility of an insurrection, or he may simply have been trying to imply the fact. But Annas was not really seeking truth. He was trying to build up a case against Jesus by careful questioning.

Aware of this Jesus replied indirectly, in a way that threw the accusations back at Annas. He had hidden nothing, He pointed out, and He had always taught openly because He had nothing to hide. There were no secret meetings or instructions. Everything was open and above board. Annas had only to ask these people themselves, and he would learn what had been said. There was no need to question Him. There were plenty of witnesses. So the unblemished Lamb opened Himself up for examination.

Verses 22-23

‘And when he had said this one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Do you answer the High Priest in this way?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken evil testify in what way it is evil, but if well, why do you hit me?”

An officer who stood by struck Him. This behaviour was typical of arrogant authority. This man did not like Jesus making a confident reply. The purpose of this hearing was in order to bring Him to submission, not so that He could defend Himself. Bullies will always take advantage of situations to make themselves look important and win appreciation from their superiors. Annas could have demonstrated his character by intervening. But his aim too was subjection. His character was shown to be lacking. The brutal and unreasonable nature of the examination is clearly brought out.

And Jesus quietly made them all aware of their guilt. It was not His supposed evil they were concerned with but their own self-aggrandisement.

Verse 24

‘Annas therefore sent him bound to Caiaphas the High Priest.’

The continued emphasis on the fact that Jesus was bound must be seen as significant. God bound by man. The world was doing what it could to restrain Him, even though He has seemingly submitted Himself to their will. For a while the one whom Jesus has bound (Satan) is himself binding Jesus (Mark 3:27). This is part of His humiliation. But it is only introductory to His greater triumph. He Who will break man’s bonds must Himself first be bound.

We note here confirmation of Jesus’ examination before Caiaphas. But John is aware that details of that examination were well known and adds nothing further.

Verses 25-27

‘Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They said therefore to him, “Are you also one of his disciples?” He denied and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the High Priest, who was a kinsman of the one whose ear Peter cut off, says, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter therefore denied again and immediately the cock crew.’

While Jesus was being dragged around bound, Peter, although apprehensive, was free and enjoying his freedom. But while the bound man showed Himself truly free by His replies, the free man showed himself a slave by his replies.

Twice again Peter denied that he was a disciple of Jesus and this was followed by cock crow as morning approached. The words of Jesus in John 13:38 had been fulfilled. John, who knew something of the High Priest’s household, identifies the final questioner specifically. It is thus clear that John witnessed at least a part of Peter’s humiliation.

‘I am not’. This is again the opposite of Jesus’ firm statement, “I am” (John 18:5-6).

There is nothing that we can say about Peter’s humiliation, except to say that it should be a warning to all about over-arrogance. How little Peter realised the weakness of his own human nature. How little we realise of ours. He who had been so brave, and had drawn his sword to fight, and had followed the arresting party at a distance, and had even entered the courtyard of the High Priest’s house, discovered that when tired and shaken and put under great unexpected pressure, he was weaker than he had realised. He had stretched himself too far. It demonstrates the intensity of his feelings at that moment. But happily he recovered to give hope to all that one failure is not necessarily the end.

And what a contrast with Judas. Peter left and wept bitterly, and was restored. In contrast Judas’ heart was set cold. He had deliberately set his mind against Jesus over a period of time, because it had never come home to him what Jesus had really come to do. And his tears, if there were tears, were tears of hopelessness, as he realised that what he had hoped for would never be, for his hopes were set in the wrong direction. There was much remorse but no repentance. It was different with Peter. He truly repented. The distinction is important.

Verse 28

‘And it was early. And they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium in order that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.’

They knew that to enter a Gentile residence might bring them in contact with something that defiled them. It was therefore necessary for them not to do so for they had clearly not eaten the Passover, and if they were defiled they would not be able to do so. This comment by John is intended to bring out how ludicrous the situation was. These men were planning legal murder and yet were fussy about religious niceties. As Jesus says in another place, they ‘pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin and ignore the weightier matters of the Law, judgment, mercy and faith’ (Matthew 23:23; compare Luke 11:42).

Among other things a Gentile residence would not have been cleared of leavened bread and there was always the possibility of the remains of dead matter being in the drains. Gentiles were not particular.

There are a number of possible explanations as to why these men may not have eaten the Passover when Jesus clearly had. We will mention but three. 1). That they had been disturbed during the Passover meal before actual participation in the Passover lamb with news of the possibility of Jesus’ arrest and the need for dealing with the matter urgently. They had thus left prematurely and needed to remain ceremonially clean so as to complete the eating of the Passover. 2). That some of them celebrated the Passover on a different day. Passover was determined by the new moon and attempts were sometimes made to ‘fix’ the first observance of the new moon so that the Passover fell on the day that the Sadducees wanted. But this sometimes led to disputes between the Pharisees and the Sadducees and a dual observance of the Passover. 3). That ‘eating the Passover’ referred here to the participation in the joyous feast of the Chagigah (sacrificial meal) on the day (which was treated as a Sabbath) following the actual sacrifice of the Passover. The whole eight day feast was often called ‘The Passover’. Each of these positions has been strongly defended.

Verses 28-40

Jesus Before Pilate (John 18:28-40 ).

Jesus’ examination before Caiaphas is summed up in two sentences, ‘Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas’ and ‘they lead Jesus from Caiaphas’. To John that examination had nothing important to add. He had already established Jesus’ innocence. Unmentioned also is the brief meeting of the Sanhedrin in the early morning once it was light (Luke 22:66).

Verses 29-30

‘Pilate therefore went out to them and says, “What charge do you bring against this man?” They answered and said to him, “If this man were not an evildoer we would not have delivered him up to you.”

Pilate’ is better known as Pontius Pilate. He was the fifth praefectus, later to be called procurators, of Judaea since Archelaus was deposed in 6 AD. The use of this title of Pilate is evidenced in an inscription discovered in the Roman theatre of Caesarea. The term praefectus demonstrates the military nature of the post. These prefects/procurators were of equestrian rank and had semi-independence although being subject to limited oversight from provincial governors, in Judaea’s case from the governor of Syria who was of senatorial rank. They were put in control of countries which were seen as particularly likely to be troublesome, in Judaea’s case because of their extreme religious feeling and subsequent turbulent nature.

Pilate was a mixture. He was a brutal man as his wider exploits clearly show, and he disliked and despised the Jews who only caused him trouble. He had no desire to please them. Yet he had reason to know that they would not hesitate to go to the Emperor if they felt that they had a case.

He also seemingly had a modicum of fairness. It was not such, however, to resist strong pressure when his own self-interest came first. Thus in many ways he was the average selfish man partly brutalised by being a soldier, the methods of the age and the fear of consequences. In other countries his methods may have worked but here he was dealing with emotions that he never really understood.

‘Went out to them’. Pilate yielded to their religious requirements. He was not generally a conciliatory man but he had learned how stubborn these people were when it came to their religion and was prepared to make slight concessions. And Judaism was an officially allowed religion.

When he quite properly asked for the grounds for charging Jesus they were evasive. It was possible they were even taken aback. Having obtained his consent to the arrest they perhaps thought he would give them authority to carry the thing through without interference. Alternately it may be that they said little because they preferred that he find out for himself. Then they could not be accused of anything. So they simply stated that He was obviously a criminal, which was why He was there. There is a strong hint here that, having tried Him, they expected Pilate to ratify their decision without looking at the matter too closely.

Verses 31-32

‘Pilate therefore says to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Judaisers said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death”, that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled which he spoke signifying by what manner of death he would die.’

Pilate did not want to deal with the case. He recognised evasion when he saw it and realised that what was going on was very much connected with their peculiar religious ideas. They had their own court and laws, let them get on with it, he suggested. He did not want to get involved with questions of Jewish law.

‘It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.’ It is not certain whether this applied strictly in all cases or whether in cases of open blasphemy they did have such a right. For example a Gentile entering the inner courts of the Temple was immediately to be put to death. But their right was certainly very limited. Both positions have been argued but if the latter is the case this is a clear statement that they do not want the charge to be that of blasphemy. Either way it indicates the seriousness of the charge that should be brought. It deserves a death sentence.

As we learn later there were a number of men waiting to die by crucifixion, so why should Pilate not include this one with them? That way they would be cleared of all blame for killing a recognised ‘prophet’, and it would make little difference to him. It is also quite possible that they wanted Him to be crucified because that would result in His being looked on as cursed (Deuteronomy 27:26).

‘That it might be fulfilled ---.’ Again Jesus words are referred to as though they were Scripture. The reference is to John 12:32-33. John has no doubt that God is in control even of this.

Verse 33

‘Pilate therefore entered again into the Praetorium and called Jesus and said to Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” ’

This statement demonstrates that more had been said than John has revealed. But this after all is what we would expect. What is therefore clear is that the Judaisers had pointed out that their bringing Him to Pilate was on the basis that He had been claiming to be the King of the Jews (compare Luke 23:2). They hoped that that was something that would make Pilate sit up, for they knew that he would be aware, vaguely, of the Jewish idea of a King Messiah who would remove the Romans. And to claim royal authority without Roman permission was a serious matter. So Pilate put the question, ‘are you the king of the Jews?’ in order to see what reaction he would receive so that he could judge for himself. No doubt he expected a ranting reply or sullen silence from this bound sad-looking figure.

Verse 34

‘Jesus answered, “Do you say this of yourself, or did others tell it to you about me?”.

Jesus’ replied with a question. His reply was not direct because a direct reply would not have been the truth, for while He was the Messianic king He was not a king in the way meant by Pilate. So He asked, Was it Pilate who was saying so, or someone else?

This set Pilate aback. He could see that this was no belligerent pretender but a calm, self-assured, rational person and he was a little disconcerted. He had been expecting an easy time from a belligerent brigand. Now he was faced with something else. He did not want to get involved with Jewish internal quarrels. He did not understand them. So he took the same approach, expressing his clear contempt for the Jews in his question.

Verse 35

‘Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the Chief Priests delivered you to me. What have you done?” ’

‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate’s reply indicated his real disinterest. This was an internal matter in which he was not really interested. Why then should he have made such a suggestion? It was the prisoner’s own nation, and his own leaders, who had made the claim.

Jesus’ reply had awakened Pilate to the fact that his informers must have an ulterior motive in what they had done, and Pilate did not like it. He was puzzled. Jesus had been handed over by the leaders of the Jews, and it appeared that the Chief Priests had been prominent in this. Yet this man was making no ranting claims. Pilate has been used to fanatics shouting at him in defiance while he judged them. He had been used to surly hatred. But this man revealed neither. So he made another attempt. “What have you done?” Perhaps this could be established.

Verse 36

‘Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world. If my kingship were of this world my servants would then be fighting so that I would not be delivered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not now from there”.’

Jesus now made quite clear that He had done nothing to worry Pilate. The very fact that no followers had tried to deliver Him should have demonstrated that. Then He stressed that although in a way He was a king, the kingdom over which He ruled was not of this world. He was not seeking to rule over an earthly kingdom. This was made quite clear. He was not postponing such a kingdom, for He had not come to be the king of an earthly kingdom. He was pointing out that His kingly rule out was outside of the earthly sphere completely. This was a heavenly matter.

‘My kingship is not of this world.’ Those who come under His rule are those who are raised into heavenly places (Ephesians 1:19 to Ephesians 2:6). They walk with Him and share His glory, and the world cannot touch them. It may destroy their bodies but it cannot touch them. For like Him they are above the world. It is a spiritual kingdom. To them the world is not worth fighting for. Neither He nor they are trying to gain any territory or defeat anyone. They are not interested in earthly power or gain.

Verses 37-38

‘Pilate therefore said to him, “Are you a king then?” Jesus answered, “It is you who says I am a king. This is why I have been born and this is why I have come into the world, so that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate says to him, “What is truth?” ’

Pilate was even more puzzled. The man was claiming to be a king and yet not a king. So he put a further question, ‘Are you a king, then?’

Jesus’ reply was enigmatic. Pilate could decide how he took it for himself. It could be a ‘yes’, or it could be a ‘that is the way you put it’ or a ‘what do you think?’

Then He informed Pilate that the reason that He was born and the reason that He had come into the world was in order to bear witness to what was true and to reveal the truth. Yes, He was a king, the king of truth. He emphasised that those who were of the truth, those who responded to truth, listened to what He had to say and accepted His kingship. So Jesus even sought to convert His judge.

This conversation was the bright star against a dark background. He, the light Who lights all men, had come as a light into the world. He had shone forth revealing the truth as never before, and those who were of the truth had heard His voice. And they had found truth and had been delivered from darkness. And now He was offering that truth to Pilate. But most men loved darkness rather than light and that is why Jesus was where He was.

So a cynical Pilate replied, “What is truth?” Pilate was not open to truth. He had no interest in religion and philosophy. Had he been interested the conversation could have continued, but he was not interested in truth. He and his friends had no doubt discussed the question of truth and had dismissed it. All religions were the same and you picked the one you preferred. The impression John gives is of a man to whom truth was not important. What mattered was expediency.

But the reply made Pilate recognise that this was all to do with the Jewish religion which he had never understood anyway. They did not think like others thought. So he went back to the Jewish leaders.

Verse 38

‘And when he had said this he went out again to the Judaisers, and says to them, “I find him guilty of no crime.”

Pilate went out and told the Jews that he found nothing against Jesus as far as Roman law was concerned. And that should have been the end of the matter. An innocent man acquitted. Thus from now on Pilate was also guilty. From now on it would not be a question of guilt or innocence, of right or wrong. It would be a matter of jealousies, of religious persecution, of men protecting their own positions at any cost, of a statesman acting against himself for the sake of his own position and to prevent problems that could be inconvenient. It would all be based on deceit and lies.

For Pilate knew that however in the right he was, truth could be twisted. He had done it himself to others. So he felt he must protect his back. The princes of this world were all facing their judgment, and he was one of them (John 16:11)

The other Gospels tell us that at this point Pilate tried to rid himself of the problem by sending Jesus to Herod. He was not convinced of the man’s guilt, and possibly felt that Herod might better understand the nature of the problem, which was clearly connected with the Jewish religion. It was only when He was returned from Herod that Pilate tried the counsel of despair.

Verse 39

“But you have a custom that I should release to you someone at the Passover. Do you wish me therefore to release to you the King of the Jews?”

Pilate had an inspiration. He saw a wonderful get out. There was custom of releasing someone at the Passover. What about him releasing this man whom they call the King of the Jews? This, however, was a sign that he was weakening and now they knew that they had him. Whoever had heard of offering to pardon an innocent man?

The question with regard to freeing someone was addressed to the crowd gathered for the trial. It was hardly therefore a neutral crowd, especially on the morning after the Passover. It would have consisted mainly of those who supported the revolutionaries or of those who were against Jesus and supported the Jewish leadership. The former would have gathered hoping to obtain the release of one of their number, the latter in order to support the chief priests.

Verse 40

‘They therefore cried out again, saying, “Not this man but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a brigand.’

Pilate’s desperate attempt had failed, as it had to. How could he even think that the leaders would allow the people to call for the freedom of the man they were determined to see die. He was clearly in a bemused state.

So they cried for Barabbas instead. And John says firmly and succintly, ‘now Barabbas was a brigand’. This did not exclude the fact that he was a revolutionary. Revolutionaries often also act as brigands. The main stress is on the fact that his behaviour was such that it was outside the law, and violent.

John has summarised the matter very quickly. His concern has been to show that an innocent peaceful Jesus was unfairly treated by the justice of Rome, by a man who had later himself been deposed from office by Rome itself. And that He was in fact totally innocent, and acknowledged by the judge as being so. And that His conviction was unfair. That indeed He was more than innocent. That he was the bringer of truth from God. And that the one they had chosen was in contrast, a brigand, a murdering, thieving no-good who would continue to be so.

As we will continue to see in the following chapter it is Jesus’ innocence that is being stressed. The main reason for this is in order to demonstrate that He was the unblemished Lamb (Exodus 12:5 and often). But a secondary purpose may well have been to assure readers, and indeed the Roman Empire itself, that Jesus was no enemy of Rome and was not guilty of any criminal offence, and that the Romans had no need to be afraid of Christians.

It was surely in God’s purpose that the brigand had the name that he had. Bar-abbas means ‘son of Abba’, ‘son of a father’. John’s Gospel knows two fathers. One the Father, the other ‘your father the devil’. They asked for the release of the son of the devil and demanded death for the Son of the Father. How better could they show which side they were on?

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on John 18". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/john-18.html. 2013.
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