Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

John 18

Verses 1-11

John 18 f. The Arrest, the Trial, and the Passion.

John 18:1-11. The Arrest.—Jesus leaves the room, or the city, and crosses the Kedron (cf. 2 Samuel 15:23) to a garden where He often went, so that the place was known to Judas. Contrast the careful arrangements for secrecy in the preparation of the upper room. Judas guides hither Roman and Jewish soldiers. In Mk. Roman soldiers are not mentioned till after the condemnation. As the Jews represent Jesus' influence over the people as a serious political danger, there is nothing improbable in the use of Roman troops to prevent disturbance at the arrest. The word used, speira, is the usual description of the cohort, but it is also used more generally. Jesus, knowing what His action means, comes out from the garden or His place of retirement in it, and asks whom they seek. The traitor is disconcerted. His plans for identification are not needed, and he stands by with nothing to do. There is momentary confusion, and the soldiers fall back in surprise at the unexpected behaviour of the "dangerous criminal." Some fall down. If the author has exaggerated the incident, he has hardly made it the "miracle of omnipotence, that puts its predecessors into the shade," of which we read in some commentaries. Jesus repeats His question. If they want Him, let the rest go. So it comes about that His saying that none should be lost was literally fulfilled. Again the incident is natural, even if the author uses it for apologetic purposes. In the incident of Peter and Malchus the names are given by Jn. alone. Such additions may indicate either true knowledge, or the later love of supplying the names of places and persons, so that its bearing on the historical character of the account is inconclusive. The words of the Lord (John 18:11) seem to presuppose acquaintance with the Synoptic account of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42 and parallels).

Verses 12-27

John 18:12-27. The Preliminary Examination. Peter's Denial.—Jesus is brought to Annas, the father-in-law of the actual High Priest "of that year" (John 11:51). This preliminary stage, known only to our author, is not in itself improbable. Peter and another disciple, generally and naturally identified with the Beloved Disciple, follow. The latter has acquaintances in the household and gains admission at once. When he tries to gain the same for Peter, the portress is doubtful what to do, and asks Peter if he is a follower of the accused. Apparently his denial gains him admission, and he seeks obscurity among the crowd of servants. It must be noticed that this account of the first denial rises quite naturally out of the circumstances. In the Synoptic account it is unexplained. The High Priest (a term which is not confined to the actual holder of the chief office) examines Jesus as to His disciples and teaching, clearly with intent to extort evidence of sedition. Jesus answers that His teaching has always been open and public. Contrast Mark 14:49, where He addresses a similar remark to His captors. One of the attendants, thinking the answer insolent, strikes Jesus on the face. Again cf. Mark 14:65, where the buffeting is general. Failing to get the evidence he wants, Annas decides to send the prisoner on to Caiaphas, the ruling High Priest. Probably Jesus passes through the court, and the servants see, with the result that Peter is again questioned. His second denial is followed by a question which might prove serious, as it comes from a kinsman of his victim in the garden, who had seen him there. According to the Synoptists this third denial was accompanied by an oath. Again we find in the Johannine account satisfactory motives for the several incidents in the denial.

The proceedings before Caiaphas, recorded in the other gospels (Mt. and Mk.) are mentioned here but not described. This, and the difficulty of the mention of "the high priest" in John 18:19, were early recognised and led to a rearrangement in the Sinaitic Syriac, which presents the following order: John 18:12-13; John 18:24; John 18:14-15, John 18:19-23, John 18:16-18, John 18:25-27, thus getting the "trial" before Caiaphas as in the Synoptic account, and making the record of Peter's denial continuous. But the reasons for the transpositions are obvious, and individual phrases in the version betray its secondary character (cf. Moffatt, INT, pp. 557f.). Except the silence of the other gospels there is nothing suspicious in the preliminary questioning by Annas, who had been High Priest, and is known to have exercised great influence during this period.

Verses 28-40

John 18:28 to John 19:16. The Trial before Pilate.—From Caiaphas Jesus is brought to the Prætorium, the governor's residence, either Herod's palace in the W. part of the city, or the Antonia, near the Temple, to the NW. To avoid defilement the Jews remain in the open. The Passover has still to be eaten, in contrast with the Synoptic view of the Last Supper. Pilate, to respect their scruples, transacts his business with them outside. In itself this concession to religious scruple is far from improbable in the light of what is known of Roman practice, however we may judge the frequent going backwards and forwards between the prisoner and His accusers. The governor naturally asks first for a definite charge. The Jews endeavour to get his recognition of their decision without going into detail, demanding the sentence which it is beyond their power to inflict. Pilate replied that in that case they must be content with the punishment which lies within their competence. They urge that nothing but the death penalty will meet the case, and this they cannot inflict. So, the author adds, it came about that the Lord's prediction of the manner of His death was fulfilled. If they could have put Him to death, it would have been by stoning. Pilate leaves them and interrogates the prisoner, in words which assume that the Jews have made a more definite charge than has been stated. Jesus asks in what sense Pilate uses the term King? He is no claimant to an earthly sovereignty; Messianic claims He has, which the rulers of His people will not allow. Pilate is scornful; is he a Jew, to be interested in such matters? The leaders of the nation have accused Him of dangerous sedition. Jesus replies that He has put forward no claims which are dangerous from the Roman point of view. If His claims had been political His supporters would have acted accordingly. Pilate presses Him further, and receives the answer that His aim is to set up the kingdom of truth, the true knowledge of God. His subjects are those who will listen to that. He cannot rest on force. Such claims have no political menace, and with a half scornful "What is truth?" Pilate closes the examination. Convinced of the prisoner's innocence, he tries to persuade the Jews to accept a compromise, condemnation and release according to a "custom of the feast." In Mk. the demand for the release of Barabbas comes from the people. The custom is not otherwise known, but is in accordance with known methods of administration. An interesting parallel is supplied by the Florentine Papyri (A.D. 85), which contain the protocol of a process before C. Septimius Vegetus, the Governor of Egypt, who says to one Phibion, "Thou art worthy of scourging . . . but I give thee to the people."

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on John 18". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.