Judeas betrayeth Jesus. The officers fall to the ground. Peter smiteth off Malchus's ear. Jesus is taken and led unto Annas and Caiaphas. Peter's denial. Jesus examined before Caiaphas: his arraignment before Pilate: his kingdom. The Jews ask Barabbas to be let loose.
Anno Domini 33.
John 18:1-2. He went forth with his disciples— When the intercessory prayer was ended, Jesus and his disciples came down from the mount of Olives into a field below, called Gethsemane. Through this field the brook Cedron ran, and in it, on the other side of the brook, was a garden, commonly called by the name of the Garden of Gethsemane; concerning which see the note on Matthew 26:36. It was the brook Cedron, which David, a type of Christ, went over with the people, weeping, in his flight from Absalom. Jesus we are told resorted to the garden of Gethsemane, which probably belonged to one of Christ's friends, and to which he had a liberty of retiring whenever he pleased: here accordingly he often used to spend some considerable time in prayer and pious converse, in the evenings or nights, after his indefatigable labours in the city and temple by day. It is indeed amazing how flesh and blood could go through such incessant fatigues: but it is very probable that Christ might exert some miraculous power over his own animal nature, to strengthen it for such difficult services, and to preserve it in health and vigour; otherwise the copious dews, which fall by night in those parts, must have been very dangerous, especially when the body was heated by preaching in the day, and often by travelling several miles on fo
John 18:3. A band of men— This band consisted of Roman soldiers; for both its name, σπειρα, a cohort, and the title of its commander, χιλιαρχος, (John 18:12.) Chiliarch, answering to our colonel, are Roman military terms. The word rendered officers, υπηρετας, properly signifies servants. They carried lanterns and torches with them, because, though it was always full-moon at the passover, the sky might be darkened by the clouds, and the place where they were going was shaded with trees.
John 18:4. Jesus knowing all things that should come, &c.— That were coming. Our Lord not only knew in general, that he should suffer death, but of course, as the God-man, was acquainted with all the particular circumstances of ignominy and horror that should attend his sufferings; which accordingly he largely foretold; (See Matthew 20:18-19 and the parallel places;) though many of these circumstances were as contingent as can well be imagined. It is impossible to enter aright into the heroic behaviour of our Lord Jesus, without carrying this circumstance along with us. The critics are in raptures at the gallantry of Achilles, in going to the Trojan war, when he knew, according to Homer, that he should fall there. But he must have a very low way of thinking, who does not see infinitely more fortitude in our Lord's conduct on this great occasion, when the present circumstance, so judiciously, though so modestly suggested by St. John, is duly attended to.
John 18:6. They went backward, and fell to the ground.— As there were scribes and priests among them, they must have read of the destruction of those companies, which came to seize the prophet Elijah, 2 Kings 1:10; 2 Kings 1:12.—a fact, which bore so great a resemblance to the present, that it is an amazing instance of the most obdurate wickedness, that they should venture to renew the assault on Christ after so sensible an experience both of his power and mercy. Nothing seems more probable, than that these men might endeavour to persuade themselves and their attendants, that this strange repulse was effected by some daemon, in confederacy with Jesus, who opposed the execution of justice upon him; and they might perhaps ascribe it to the special providence of God, rather than to the indulgence of Jesus, that they had received no further damage. The most corrupt heart has commonly its reasonings to support it in its absurdest notions and most criminal actions. However, to all unprejudiced minds, this exertion and suspension of his divine power were sufficient proofs that our Lord could not have been apprehended without his own consent, and that his death was a voluntary sacrifice.
John 18:8. If therefore ye seek me,— This was not a request, which would have been but little attended to by an inveterate multitude, but a command; for the same divine power which struck them to the ground, John 18:6 withheld their hands from seizing the disciples, even after Peter had assaulted Malchus. Who can fail remarking the extreme tenderness of our Lord towards those who had so lately neglected him, sleeping while he was in such an agony; that yet he would not suffer them to be terrified by so much as a short imprisonment. His disciples perhaps might consider this speech as an excuse for their forsaking him: but had they viewed it in a just light, it would rather have appeared a strong engagement upon them to have waited for that fair dismission, which our Lord seemed about to give them. See the parallel pl
John 18:10. Then Simon Peter, &c.— See the introductory note to this gospel.
John 18:12. Then the band, &c. took Jesus— See on John 18:3. There was a Roman guard and commanding officer, who attended near the temple during the great festivals, to prevent any sedition of the Jews; and these appear to be the band and captain here mentioned. See Acts 21:32 and Luke 22:52. They bound our Lord; but they did not reflect, that it was not the cord which held him: his immense charity was by far a stronger band. He could have struck them all dead with as much ease as he had before thrown them on the ground. Nevertheless, he patiently submitted to this and to every other indignity which they put upon him; so meek was he under the greater injuries, so ready to suffer for human salvation!
John 18:13. And led him away to Annas first,— See the note on Matthew 26:57. Caiaphas seems to have enjoyed the sacerdotal dignity during the whole course of Pilate's government in Judea; for he was advanced to it by Valerius Gratus, Pilate's predecessor, and was divested of it by Vitellius, governor of Syria, after he deposed Pilate from his procuratorship,
John 18:15. And so did another disciple:— This, as we have before observed, is supposed to have been St. John himself. See on Matthew 26:69 and Luke 22:54. Grotius however is of opinion, that this disciple was not one of the twelve, but rather an inhabitant of Jerusalem; possibly the person at whose house our Lord ate the paschal supper. Whitby likewise thinks it was not John. These authors found their opinion on this circumstance, that the twelve being Galileans, and men of mean stations, could not any of them be so well acquainted in the high-priest's family, as to procure admission for a friend at a time of so much business. However, when we consider that St. John was to write a history of Christ's life, it will appear very proper, but by no means necessary, that in the course of Providence he should have an opportunity afforded him of being an eye-witness of this most solemn scene before the council.
John 18:17. Art not thou also one, &c.— It seems the damsel, after having admitted Peter, followed him to the fire, and spake to him there in an angry tone, having been informed that it was he who had cut off her fellow-servant's ear. See John 18:26 and the parallel places.
John 18:18. A fire of coals; for it was cold— See the note on Jeremiah 36:22. Fires in winter are used but for a little while at Aleppo, which is considerably further to the north than Jerusalem; and some there make use of none at all. The fires they then use in their lodging-rooms are of charcoal, in pans; which sort of fire also is used by the Egyptians. They had no chimneys. But what seems most to have required the use of wood, and consequently chimneys, among the Jews, was the dressing the paschal lamb; for charcoal might without doubt be sufficient for their common cookery. If, however, they roasted the lambs of the passover, as Thevenot tells us the Persians do whole sheep, as well as lambs, which are not designed for sacred purposes, the use of smoky wood might be avoided; for they do it, he says, in ovens, which have the mouth open at the top; into which, after they are well heated, they put the meat, with an earthen pan underneath, to receive the fat: they roast alike on all sides, and he acknowledges that they dress them well. He subjoins anotherway of roasting a whole sheep, practised by the Armenians, by which also the use of smoky wood is avoided: for having flayed it, they cover it again with the skin, and put it into an oven upon the quick coals, covering it also with a good many of the same coals, that it may have fire under and over, to roast it well on all sides; and the skin keeps it from being burned. But however these things may be, it is certain that this account is in no wise contradicted, but rather confirmed, by what St. John says of a fire kindled in a palace at Jerusalem, to warm persons who had been out in a cold night, which it seems was a fire of charcoal, not of wood, and gives a propriety to the mentioning of this circumstance which I never observed to be remarked in any author. In like manner paschal ovens are also mentioned by Jewish writers. See the Observations on Sacred Scriptures, p. 117.
John 18:19-21. The high priest then asked Jesus— The court being duly constituted, and the prisoner placed at the bar, the trial began about break of day. See Luke 22.
66. The high priest asked our Lord, what his disciples were? for what end he had gathered them? whether it was to make himself a king? and what the doctrine was which he taught them? In these questions there was a great deal of art; for as the crime laid to our Lord's charge was, that he had set himself up for the Messiah, and deluded the people, they expected he would claim that dignity in their presence, and so, without further trouble, they would have immediately condemned him on his own confession. But to oblige a prisoner to confess what might take away hislife, being an unjust method of procedure, Jesus complained of it with reason,and bade them prove what they laid to his charge by witnesses. "I spake openly, as to the manner; ever, or continually, as to the time; in the synagogue and temple, as to place; in secret have I said nothing;—no point of doctrine which I have not taught in public."It was greatlyto the honour of our Lord's character, that all his actions were done in public, under the eye even of his enemies; because, had he been carrying on any imposture, the lovers of truth and goodness had thus abundant opportunities to have detected him. In his defence, therefore, he appealed, with beautiful propriety, to that part of his character.
John 18:22-23. One of the officers—struck Jesus— As the word ραπισμα is supposed by many etymologists to be derived from ραβδος, a staff, or stick, Beza would therefore render the passage, he smote Jesus with a staff. But the word is apparently used for any blow, and would most literally be rendered, gave Jesus a blow; though from Matthew 5:39 one would be apt to interpret it in the sense which our translators have given it. Suidas also explains it in the same sense. The meaning of John 18:23 considered as our Lord's immediate reply to the officer who struck him, is sufficiently manifest. Mr. Bonnell, however, and some other expositors, suppose that the original conveys the following more extensive sense: "If thou hast been one of my hearers, and canst say that I at any time have spoken evil, either of God or man, in the course of my preaching, thou wilt do well to bear thy testimony concerning that evil, and give it in evidence to the court; but if I have spoken well, can reason be answered by blows? or can such a sober appeal to it deserve them?" Thus our Lord became an example of his own precept, Matthew 5:44 bearing the greatest injuries with a patience which could not be provoked.
John 18:24. Now Annas had sent him bound, &c.— This verse is to be read in a parenthesis, as referring to John 18:13.
John 18:27. And immediately the cock crew.— See the note on Matthew 26:73-74 and the Inferences on this chapter.
John 18:28. Then led they Jesus—unto the hall of judgment:— When the evangelist says it was early, he points out to us the great hurry and eagerness of the Jews to have this mystery of iniquity accomplished; for it was not customary with them to judge any man before the ninth hour. See on Luke 22:66. By the law, Numbers 19:22. Whosoever touched any unclean person, was unclean; for this reason the chief priests and elders, when they came to the praetorium, would not go in, lest the pollutions that they might have contracted in the house of a heathen, should render them unfit for eating the passover, for which they had now purified themselves. See Acts 10:28. Thesame reason likewise hindered them from going into the praetorium, at the other festivals, which the governor attended for the sake of administering justice. But to make the matter easy, a kind of structure was erected, adjoining to the palace, which served instead of a tribunal, or judgment-seat. This structure, from its Hebrew name Gabbatha, seems to have been pretty high, and was called in the Greek λιθοστρωτον, being paved with little pieces of marble of divers colours, because it was generally exposed to the weather. Perhaps it was something like a stage, but larger, open on all sides, but covered above, at least when the governor was to hear causes, having a throne placed on it for him to sit on; and as it was joined to the palace wall, there was a door in the wall, by which he came out upon it from within. The people therefore standing around, in the open air, could hear and see the governor when he spake to them from the pavement, without danger of being defiled, either by him, or any of his retinue.
John 18:29. What accusation bring ye against this man?— This was the most natural question imaginable for a judge to ask on such an occasion; nevertheless the priests thought themselves affronted by it. It seems they knew the governor's sentiments concerning the prisoner, and understood his question as carrying an insinuation along with it, of their having brought one to be condemned, against whom they could find no accusation. Besides, Pilate may have spoken to them with a stern air, so as to signifyhis displeasure. The word malefactor, κακοποιος, in the next verse, implies a notorious offender. As the Jews had still the power of inflicting slighter punishments, their bringing Christ to Pilate was a proof that they judged him to besuch an offender, as to have incurred a capital sentence.
John 18:31. Take ye him, and judge him— By making this offer to them, the governor told them plainly, that, in his opinion, the crime which they laid to the prisoner's charge, was not of a capital nature; and that such punishments as they were permitted by Caesar to inflict, might be adequate to any misdemeanour with which Jesus was chargeable. One cannot suppose that Pilate could be ignorant of the case before him; for he began his government at Jerusalem before Jesus entered onhis public ministry; and besides many other extraordinary things which he must formerly have heard concerning him, he had, no doubt, received a full account of his public entrance into Jerusalem the beginning of the week; and also of his apprehension, in which the Jewish rulers were assisted by a Roman cohort, which could hardly be engaged in that service without the Governor's express permission. It seems Nicodemus, or Joseph of Arimathea, (who seems to have been personally acquainted with Pilate,—see Chap. John 19:38.) or some other friend, had told him fully of the affair, for he entertained a just notion of it. He knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy. It plainly appears, however, by his whole conduct, that he was very unwilling to engage in this cause. He seems cautious, therefore, not to enter into the full sense of what the Jewish rulers intended, when they called him a malefactor; but answers them in ambiguous language, which they might have interpreted as a warrant to execute Christ, if they found it necessary, and yet which would have left them liable to be questioned for doing it, and might have givenhim such an advantage against them, as a man of his character might have wished. Their reply shews that they were more aware of this artifice than has been generally imagined. It is not lawful for us to put any man to death. See the note on Mark 15:1. To what has been observed there, we add, that it appears both from this acknowledgment of the Jews, and from the writings of more modern rabbies (which assert, that forty years before the destruction of the temple, the power of judicature, in capital crimes, was taken away from them,) that Jewish magistrates under the Romans had not the power of inflicting capital punishments. This is manifest also from the nature and constitution of a Roman province; for, during the free state of the Romans, no freeman could be put to death at Rome, but by the suffrages of the body of the people, or by the senate, or by some superior magistrate appointed for that purpose. In the provinces, the power of capital punishments was granted to the governors by the especial commission called imperium. Upon the changeof the government, this power came into the hands of the emperors, and was by them intrusted with the praefectus urbis, the prefect of the city, at Rome; and in the provinces, with the respective governors, as before. This power could not be delegated by the governors to any other person, while they themselves were in the provinces; nor is there any instance whereby it appears, that anyother court had this power at the same time with the Roman governor, and in such places where he couldexercise it. There were indeed some free cities in the provinces dependent on the Romans, which had this power within themselves; but then the Roman governors had it not at the same time in those places;though if the inhabitants attempted any thing in a hostile manner against the Romans, the governors had it in their commission to check them, as well as any other enemies. The Roman provinces were not all settled upon the same footing; that is, the grants and privileges were not made alike to all. Civil causes and lesser crimes must necessarily either be left to the inhabitants or some inferior officers; for it was impossible that the governor himself should perform all this in person; and therefore each governor had usually several legates with him, besides his quaestor, who were capable of administering justice in different parts of the country, and seem to have had a larger power than the municipal magistrates, for they represented the governor himself: but no sufficient evidence is offered to prove, that any other court than his own had cognizance of capital crimes; nor does such a power appear at all agreeable to the scheme and maxims of the Roman government, which in this point seems to have continued uniform and consistent with itself, under the great alterations that it underwent in other respects; and, therefore, whatever other indulgences they might grant to the Jews, or other provincials, it does not thence follow that they allowed them this, or suffered their governors to sit still as idle spectators, while any other court assumed ajudicial power to take away the lives of any persons within their district, who were all equally under their protection. The case of Stephen has indeed been thought by some an instance in favour of the contrary opinion; but that this fact rather ought to be esteemed as the result of a hasty and intemperate zeal, and done in a tumultuous manner, than as the effect of a legal sentence consequent upon a judicial process, has been justly observed by Dr. Lardner, in his Credibil. Part 1: p. 112.
John 18:32. Signifying what death he should die.— According to the Jewish law, Leviticus 24:16 he would have been stoned, as his servant Stephen afterwards was, having been impiously adjudged by them to have deserved death as a blasphemer. Crucifixion was a Roman punishment.
John 18:33. Then Pilate entered, &c.— The expression used by the Jews in their accusation of our Lord, Luke 23:2. Saying, that he himself is Christ a King, may no doubt refer to the acknowledgment which Jesus made before the council of his being the Messiah. Nevertheless, to account for Pilate's asking our Lord whether he assumed the title of the king of the Jews, we must suppose, that the priests explained their accusation by telling him, that Jesus had travelled incessantly through the country, and every where gave himself out for the Messiah; and that even during his trial before them, he had been so presumptuous as to assume that dignity in open court. Without some information of this kind, the governor would hardly have put the question to Jesus, no prisoner being obliged to accuse himself. See on John 18:37. We are not to expect the sacred historian to enter into every minute particular of the trial.
John 18:34-36. Sayest thou this thing of thyself,— "Dost thou ask this question of thine own accord, because thou thinkest I have affected regal power; or dost thou ask it according to the information of the priests, who affirm that I have acknowledged myself to be a king?" Of course the omniscient God-man knew what had happened; but he spake to the governor after this manner, because, being in the palace when the priests accused him without, he had not, as man, heard what they said. Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? "Dost thou think that I am acquainted, or that I concern myself with your religious opinions, expectations, and disputes? Your own rulers have delivered you up as a seditious person; one who assumes the title of king: what have you done to merit this charge of sedition?" Jesus answered,—"Though I have acknowledged that I am a king, yet I am no raiser of sedition; for my kingdom is not of this world: had it been so, my servants would have fought. I should have endeavoured to establish myself on the throne by force of arms, and would have fought against the Jews when they came to apprehend me: but as I have done neither, it is evident that the kingdom which I claim is not of this world." It may be objected, that the number of Christ's disciples, had they all been assembled in arms, could have been no match for the Jewish and Roman power at Jerusalem: but it is to be remembered, that the populace appeared zealously on his side but a few days before; and the reason of their turning against him was, his not assuming a temporal kingdom, as they certainly expected he would have done. And we may further add, that a very small body of forces, under a leader endowed with such miraculous powers as Jesus had lately exercised, or rather under Omnipotence itself, might have been sufficient to vanquish all the Roman legions. See John 6:15.
John 18:37. Thou sayest that I am a king.— Some would read this, Thou sayest [the truth]: For I am a king. "I came into the world for this end; that by explaining and proving the truth in general, and this great and fundamental branch of it in particular, Imight impress it upon men's consciences, and make them obedient to its laws. In this consisteth my kingdom; and all the lovers of truth obey me, and are my subjects." What our Lord here says incidentally, is to be regarded as an universal maxim. All sincere lovers of truth will hear him: and accordingly, St. John, with all simplicity, dependingon the evidences which he and his brethren had given of their mission from Christ, lays down the same testimony, We are of God; he that knoweth God heareth us; 1 John 4:6. In this conference between our Saviour and Pilate we may observe, first, that our Lord being asked whether he were King of the Jews, answers so, that he denies it not, yet avoids giving the least umbrage, as if he had any design upon the government. For though he allows himself to be a King, yet, to obviate any suspense, he tells Pilate his kingdom is not of this world; and evidences it by this, that if he had pretended to any title to that country, his followers would have fought for him, had he been inclined to have set up his kingdom by force, or were his kingdom to be erected in that manner; But my kingdom, says he, is not from hence,—is not of that kind or nature: Secondly, that Pilate, by the words and circumstances of Christ, being satisfied that He laid no claim to his province, nor meant any disturbance of the government, was yet a little surprised to hear a man in that poor garb, without retinue, or so much as a servant or a friend, own himself to be a King; and therefore asked him, with some kind of wonder, and possibly with no small degree of contempt, Art thou a king then? Βασιλευς ει συ :—Thirdly, we may observe, our Saviour declares that his great business of coming into the world, was to testify and make good this important and fundamental truth,—that he was a king; or in other words, that he was the Messiah: Fourthly, that whoever were followers of truth, and got into the way of truth and happiness, would receive this doctrine concerning him, that he was the Messiah. This is what St. Paul calls thegood confession, which he tells Timothy, Jesus witnessed before Pontius Pilate. 1 Timothy 6:13. And justly does he so call it; for our Lord did not deny the truth to save his own life, but gave all hisfollowers an example most worthy of their imitation. A careful attention to, and imitation of, his good confession, will be the best proof we can give, that we love the truth, and the best method we can take to make ourselves acquainted with it: And of such infinite importance is the truth to all our best and dearest interests, that it surely deserves the attentive inquiry and zealous patronage of the greatest and the busiest of mankind.
John 18:38. Pilate saith,—What is truth?— "What is this truth which you refer to, and which you so solemnly speak of, as your business to attest?" And when he had said this, as Jesus made a pause and did not immediately make him any answer, his hurry would not allow him to wait for it: so he went out again to the Jews, and said to the chief priests, and the people assembled with them abroad, I have examined in private the prisoner you brought me; and I must freely declare that I find no fault at all in this man, nor can I perceive that he is any enemy either to the rights of Caesar, or the tranquillity and happiness of the Jews; and therefore do not see how I can with any justice condemn him to die. But his inveterate accusers, refusing to acquiesce in this, advanced a more circumstantial charge against him, which gave occasion to that examination before Herod, which St. Luke records, Luke 23:7-12.
Inferences drawn from Peter's denial of our Lord. John 18:17-27.—The fall of St. Peter would be a very melancholy instance of human infirmity, did it not likewise set before us a signal example of the divine mercy, and of the power of grace, triumphing over the weakness of human nature: St. Peter, from various striking circumstances in the gospel history, seems to have had, during our Lord's sacred ministry, the greatest share of natural courage and resolution of any of the apostles, and the fullest persuasions of faith; (Matthew 16:16-19 ch. John 13:37, John 18:10 of this chapter, Matthew 26:33-35.) and yet, in the last trying instances of his Master's temporal service, we find him fail;—an evident sign that natural courage is not the true source of confidence in spiritual trials, in which they only can conquer, whose strength is not of man, but of God.
This example of St. Peter affords many useful reflections, and many excellent instructions for our own conduct: the following seem to be those of the most importance.
And first; we learn hence, that presumption is a very unpromising sign of steadfastness and perseverance in religion. Trust in God is one thing, trust in ourselves is another; and there is reason to think they will differ as much in the success that attends them, as in the powers upon which they are founded.
There is a boldness and intrepidity natural to the temper of some men, which make them easily undertake, and often achieve great things; which give them such assurance and reliance upon themselves, that they overlook the dangers and difficulties at which others stand nerveless and amazed. But then great spirits are generally attended with great passions, which by turns usurp the dominion, and leave little room for thought or reflection; so that a cool head and a warm heart seem to be among the rarest compositions in nature, considered abstractedly from grace.
Were such spirited men once entered into the ways of holiness, it may be thought that the same warmth which presses them on to great attempts, would soon make them eminently virtuous and holy, since courage and resolution are the likeliest means to carry us to the greatest heights in religion; such indeed are Christian courage and resolution, which arise from a sure trust in God, a fear of him, and a perfect submission to his will: but when men set out upon their own bottom, they will soon be offended, and turn back: glory and success are the proper incitements of human courage; reproach and afflictions are the necessary exercises of Christian fortitude.
When Peter was surrounded with swords and staves, he was nothing dismayed; Peter had a sword too: but yet he who could fight for his religion, could not suffer for it. This shews that the courage of the Christian is very different from that of the natural man; that it arises from other considerations, and is supported by other hopes and expectations. In vain may you promise yourselves a superiority under trials and temptations, unless you lay the right foundation, by imploring the aid of God's holy Spirit, whose province alone is to confirm the faithful to the end.
Secondly, from this example of St. Peter, we learn what little reason there is to promise ourselves success against temptations which are of our own seeking. St. Peter had warning given him; he was told by One, whose word he might have taken, that he was not able to undergo the trial, which he seemed so much to despise. But try he would,—and learned to know his own weakness in his miscarriage.
Whenever we court those dangers and temptations which the Spirit of God in his word hath warned us to avoid, we fight without commission: we are no longer the soldiers of Christ; we have no pretence to expect support from him in our undertakings. The promise of the Spirit was given to comfort us in doing the work of God, and his assistance is granted to enable us to perform it. But when we step aside out of the road of duty, and form to ourselves designs not authorized by the word of God, what ground have we to look for the aid of God's Spirit?—that aid which is no where promised to enable us to effect whatever our own hearts prompt us to undertake, but only to encourage, stimulate, and produce obedience to the laws of the gospel?
In short, when we endeavour to avoid what God has commanded to be avoided, we act under the assurance and protection of his grace; but if we face about, and dare the temptation, our courage becomes contumacy and disobedience, and we have no title to the promises of the gospel.
An imagination that we are above all temptations, and may rarely venture into their company, is always a dangerous symptom, and shews that spiritual pride and presumption have got the upper hand of Christian courage and humility. Consider the argument urged by St. Paul, who admonishes all Christians to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling; for, that it is God who worketh in them both to will and to do. The consideration that our whole ability depends upon the aid of God's Spirit, is, in the apostle's esteem, an argument for fear and trembling. And surely, O Christian, if even this be a reason,—if this, which is your strength, is likewise your admonition to be cautious and wary, whence can presumption grow? If the sense of your strength in Christ Jesus must teach you to be modest and humble, and always upon your guard, what else is there that can encourage you to be bold and confident? Let no man, therefore, think that his trial is over, or that he is got beyond the power of temptation. The enemy will watch all your unguarded moments; and, like Peter's, your security will be his encouragement to attempt your ruin.
But to conclude; very great as is the instruction of the example before us to all private Christians; yet there seems to be something more general intended in the transmitting this history to all ages in the sacred writings.
The gospel was the work of God; and, though we were to receive it by the hands of men, yet was our faith to be founded, not in the strength or policy of men, but in the power and wisdom of God. For this reason God chose the weak things of the world to confound the strong. The disciples were men of no distinguished characters; their simplicity and honesty were their best commendation. These our Lord elected, well knowing that the weaker the instruments were, the more evidently would the finger of God appear in the mighty things performed by them. Among these St. Peter plainly had the greatest spirit, and the strongest resolution; his readiness and vivacity distinguished him in every step: he was the mouth of the apostles, and always ready to undertake and to execute the commands of his Lord. If there was any one of their number that might be thought capable of managing so great a design as the propagation of a new religion in the world, it was Peter.
St. Peter therefore is called to the trial:—and how able he was, of himself, to encounter the difficulties that were to attend the Gospel in every step, we have already seen.—And yet, behold, this same man, this timid apostle, not many weeks after, appears before the tribunal of the magistrates, preaches to his judges, and boldly testifies that of a truth Jesus was the Christ, and that Him whom they slew and hanged on a tree, God had raised from the dead to be a prince and a Saviour, and exalted him to the right-hand of his glory. Acts 5:29-32.
Whence this mighty difference? or to what can it be ascribed,—but to that great Spirit, for whose coming his Lord had commanded him and his companions to wait in Jerusalem, and not to enter upon their office, till they should receive power from on high. If the gospel was an imposture, and if Christ died to rise no more; if Christ rose not from the dead, and there were no power in his resurrection, what gave this fresh courage to Peter? Had he more confidence in a dead man, than in his Master whilst on earth?—What then could move him to expose himself even unto death for the sake of Christ; for whose sake, whilst alive, and while the hopes and assurance of his being the Son of God were so strong, he dared not expose himself?—This plainly shews that the hand of God was with him, and is an undeniable evidence to us, that our faith is the work of God, and not of man. And thus, whether we consider St. Peter's case as an instruction to ourselves, it affords many useful lessons, many encouragements to direct and support us in our spiritual warfare; or whether we consider it in a more general view, and as affecting his character as a minister of the everlasting gospel, it yields us a great assurance and confidence in our faith; while, through the weakness and insufficiency of man, we evidently discern the power of God, which wrought so effectually with him: so that, knowing in whom we have trusted, we need not be ashamed in every circumstance, and under every trial, to confess Christ, and him crucified. See the Reflections for other spiritual remarks on this part of sacred history.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, His hour being come, the Son of man surrenders himself into the hands of his enemies, having first given them a demonstration both of his power and his grace.
1. Having finished his discourse, he retired over the brook Cedron, to the garden whither he was wont to resort with his disciples, a place that the traitor Judas well knew, and which he judged the most convenient to betray him. A garden was the scene of the first man's rebellion and apostacy; and, in a garden, the grand sufferings of the second man, the Lord from heaven, the great atoning Saviour, began.
2. Judas, having laid the plot with the chief priests and Pharisees, now got a band of soldiers, together with the servants and officers of these inveterate enemies of Jesus, with whom also some of their masters went themselves, to make sure of their prey; and, as it was night, they took lanterns and torches, as well as weapons, that they might search him out; and, if any resistance was made, overpower his few disciples. Jews and Gentiles concur in bringing him to the accursed tree, who was ordained to reconcile both to God by the blood of his cross.
3. Jesus, far from declining the interview, or seeking to escape the danger, goes forth to meet them. He knew what was coming upon him: he had undertaken to suffer; and therefore, having asked their business, and being informed by them that they sought Jesus of Nazareth, not ashamed of that reproachful name, he saith, I am he, readily offering himself to them, Judas the traitor being at their head. Note; (1.) When duty calls, no danger must deter us from appearing boldly and openly for Christ. (2.) We must not be ashamed of any reproachful name which for the sake of Jesus we are called to bear. His reproach is our real honour. (3.) It is a dreadful change, to see a man, who was once numbered among the disciples, herding with enemies and persecutors.
4. Wonderfully powerful was the word of Jesus. No sooner had he uttered it, than, struck by an unseen hand, they went backward and fell to the ground. He that laid them thus low, could in an instant have laid them lower in the belly of hell; but this was the day of his patience; and therefore, though he would give them an evidence of his power, he will yet give them space to repent.
5. Once more he asks them whom they sought, if they dared persist in their atrocious designs; and they, with hardened obstinacy, answered, Jesus of Nazareth. He mildly replied, I have told you that I am he, ready to yield up himself, but desirous to secure his disciples from danger; if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way, do them no harm: and this he said with reference to a late declaration that he had made, of them which thou gavest me, have I lost none; and, by his present protection of them, gave them an earnest of the fulfilment of all the promises which he had made to them. Note; (1.) Hearts hardened in sin, will be restrained by no warnings, nor checked by any providences, but rush madly on to ruin. (2.) He gave himself to bear our sins, and by his bonds hath obtained our discharge. O for more faith, that all the blessings he has purchased may be realized to our souls.
6. Peter, fired at what he saw, immediately drew his sword, and, in the heat of inconsiderate rashness, smote a domestic of the high priest, whose name was Malchus, and cut off his right ear. But Jesus, displeased at the unseasonable zeal, bids him sheath the sword, and urges as a reason, the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? His resolution was fixed, his sufferings necessary; and whatever power he was possessed of to rescue himself from his enemies, he notwithstanding freely resigned himself into their hands. Note; (1.) They who are most hasty in their zeal, are not always most steady in their service. Of this, Peter's desertion and conduct afford a sufficient proof. (2.) Christ's cause is not to be maintained by the sword. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but spiritual; and, by our meekness, we should seek to disarm the madness of our foes.
7. The soldiers, with the officers of the Jews, now seized and bound the voluntary prisoner, and, as a criminal, shamefully dragged him through the streets to the palace of Annas the father-in-law of Caiaphas the high-priest that year: such sad and frequent changes were now made in that high office. This Caiaphas it was, who, in a former debate, had shewed his inveterate enmity against Christ, and determined, right or wrong, that it was better to put him to death than provoke the Romans to destroy the nation, as he apprehended would be the consequence, if Jesus was suffered to set up himself as the Messiah. Note; (1.) The bonds of Christ are significant. He was bound with cords, that we might be loosed from the chains of our sins, and that henceforth his love might bind our hearts to him in cords of gratitude. (2.) If we be in bonds for Christ, it will reconcile us to suffer joyfully, when we reflect that he was first bound for us. (3.) If one man, Christ Jesus, had not died for the sins of the world, we must all have perished everlastingly.
2nd, Annas highly approving the deed, and confirming them in their purpose, soon dispatched the innocent prisoner to Caiaphas to be condemned. Perhaps his age prevented him from attending in the council; but he wished them to proceed, and would give his sanction to their persecution. We have an account of what passed in the high priest's palace.
1. Peter denies his Master the first time.
[1.] He followed at a distance to the door of the palace, his courage having somewhat revived, and his curiosity being strong to see what would be the issue of the matter.
[2.] The first and feeblest attack quite disconcerted the self-confident disciple. Being admitted into the palace through the influence of a friend, a servant girl, that kept the door, observing probably his dejected looks, and, perhaps, recollecting his countenance among the followers of Jesus, charged him as this man's disciple, which he instantly denied; and, as if he would avoid every suspicion of belonging to Christ, he joined the servants and officers, who, it being cold, and at night, had kindled a fire in the hall, and warmed themselves. Note; (1.) We know not how weak we are, till we are tried. (2.) They who mix with worldly company, to avoid the imputation of being over-righteous, will usually, if there be any sensibility remaining in their consciences, pierce themselves through with many sorrows.
2. While Peter, instead of appearing in behalf of his Master, was basely denying him, the high-priest began to interrogate Jesus concerning his disciples and his doctrine, hoping to find some charge of sedition or blasphemy, whereon to ground an accusation against him.
3. Christ appeals to all who had heard him preach, for an answer to his interrogatories. If he had done or taught any thing criminal, there could be no want of witnesses, when many then present had often heard him, and knew the doctrines which he taught. He ever spake freely, boldly, and openly, preaching in the synagogue, and in the temple, the places of chief resort; and he advanced nothing in private different from what he avowed publicly, nor wished to conceal his sentiments from the world, but to make all men know the truth. Note; Truth neither needs nor seeks the covert; and God's ministers must boldly, openly, and uniformly declare their message to the world, whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear.
4. Just and mild as Christ's answer was to a question so malicious and captious, an insolent officer, who stood by, struck the innocent prisoner with his hand, and haughtily suggests, as if his answer to the high priest; was unbecoming. He knew, however infamous such behaviour was, that his master would countenance it, and that his insolence would recommend him. When rulers are wicked, their servants will in general readily imitate their ill examples; and the insults of such are peculiarly bitter. But to this, for our sakes, the Son of God submitted, and thus fulfilled the Scriptures, Isaiah 1:6. Micah 5:1.
5. Christ, with astonishing patience, instead of striking him dead, meekly replied, If I have spoken evil, now, or at any other time, bear witness of the evil before the court; but if well, and I have spoken nothing justly blameable, why smitest thou me? Note; (1.) When we are suffering, however unjustly, we must in our patience possess our souls, and neither entertain undue resentment nor fly into a rage. (2.) Mild remonstrances, not railing accusations, become the children of God.
6. A second time Peter is beset, and falls. As he stood at the fire, some who stood by challenged him again as a follower of Jesus: and now, sunk under temptation, he repeats the shameful lie, I am not. Note; (1.) They who are fallen under one temptation, feel themselves less able to resist the next. (2) Many who make confident profession when the cause of Christ flourishes, soon disown and renounce it when called to suffer shame for his sake.
7. One of the by-standers, a relation of him whose ear Peter had cut off, hearing him so stoutly deny all connection with Jesus, on observing him attentively recollected his face, and urged the question stronger upon him, Did not I see thee in the garden with him? So close an attack more disconcerted the unhappy disciple, and urged him more solemnly to repeat his denial: and immediately the cock crew. Note; (1.) Every sin hardens the heart, and naturally paves the way for a greater. (2.) The slightest incidents of Providence, which others disregard, God can make to us a most alarming call.
3rdly, His inveterate enemies, determined on his ruin, dragged the innocent Jesus very early in the morning, after suffering during the night the greatest insults and indignities, to Pilate the Roman governor, in order to get him legally condemned and crucified, desirous that he should suffer in the most ignominious way. And we are told,
1. The hypocritical scrupulosity of these pretended priests. They would not enter the judgment-hall lest they should be defiled by the touch and company of heathens, and thereby be rendered unclean, and be disabled from partaking of the passover feast, and the sacrifices which they offered the day after the passover. Thus strictly devout would they appear, with innocent blood upon their hands. Well was it said of them, Ye strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
2. Pilate, at whose bar Jesus was placed as a criminal, came forth to them in great complaisance, desiring to know their accusation against the prisoner. In answer to so reasonable a question, they haughtily reply, If he were not a malefactor, a person notoriously infamous, we would not have delivered him up unto thee; as if from persons of their eminent sanctity a general charge was a sufficient proof of the prisoner's crimes. Pilate, justly offended at so insolent a reply, and so unreasonable a procedure, bade them take him and judge him according to their law, desirous to rid himself of so disagreeable a cause. They replied, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death, as they had been deprived, by the Romans, of the power of capital punishments: but there was a farther view, which they undesignedly answered thereby, even the fulfilling of the prophesy of Jesus, who had signified by what death he should die (Matthew 20:19): and crucifixion being not a Jewish but a Roman punishment, it was necessary that he should be delivered to the Romans, and executed by them. Note; (1.) Many of the best of men, like Jesus, have been branded as the vilest malefactors, without one real crime proved against them. (2.) God can over-rule the wickedness of the most envenomed persecutors to his own glory, and make them, when they mean only to gratify their own malice, the means of fulfilling the prophesies of his word.
3. Pilate, having heard the treasonable accusations lodged against Jesus by his accusers, ordered the prisoner to be brought, and examined him respecting the things laid to his charge; the chief of which was, setting up himself in opposition to Caesar; and therefore he demands, if it were true that he assumed the character of King of the Jews? Jesus answered, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, under the real suspicion of the truth of the fact? or did others tell it thee of me, by whose falsehood and malice thou art influenced? Pilate, in a kind of derision at the expectation which the Jewish people formed of their Messiah, answered Am I a Jew, no: I concern myself about none of these matters: thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me as a traitor and seditious person, setting up for a king in opposition to Caesar. What hast thou done? It is to be supposed that persons of so respectable a character would not, without cause, lodge such an accusation. Note; Many think there must be something wrong, when those who are esteemed the most learned and pious condemn and persecute: but we must not take our opinions from the judgment of men, but from the word of God: otherwise, like Pilate, we shall be in danger of condemning the innocent.
4. Christ informs Pilate of the nature of that kingdom which he came to erect. Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world, promising no earthly honours nor emoluments, nor interfering with any secular affair; but is purely spiritual, consisting in a dominion over the souls of men. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but there never had been the least attempt to rescue him, nor any sedition or tumult excited by him, which must have been the case had he affected temporal authority: but now is my kingdom not from hence, it takes not its rise from earth, is not supported by the arm of flesh, nor governed by worldly maxims of human policy.
5. Pilate, beholding his mean, wretched, and low estate, could not help exclaiming at the pretensions which Jesus seemed here to advance, Art thou a king then? Yes, says Jesus, thou sayest that I am a king, and so it is; for to this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth of the gospel-word in general, and to this truth in particular, that I am that King Messiah who should come into the world. Every one that is of the truth, truly wrought upon by the Spirit of truth, heareth my voice, receives my word, acknowledges my mission, and bows to that sceptre of grace which I stretch forth to the miserable and the desperate. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? either he spoke it contemptuously, deriding his pretensions, who set himself up as the voice of truth itself; or, if he put the question curiously, seriously, or judicially, he seems not to have waited for an answer; or Jesus vouchsafed not to return one. Note; (1.) Is Christ a King? then should we yield our hearts willing subjects to his blessed government. (2.) They only know that truth which makes wise unto salvation, who hear and spiritually understand the voice of Jesus speaking in his gospel.
6. Pilate, now satisfied in his conscience with the innocence of Jesus, led him forth, and declared, that he found in him no fault at all. Willing therefore to obtain his discharge, he proposed to them, as it was an established custom at that feast to release some prisoner to them, whether it should not be this miserable object, whom, in derision of his pretensions, he calls the king of the Jews? But the multitude, instigated by their malicious priests, rejected the proposition, and demanded Barabbas, a noted murderer and robber, preferring him before the Lord of life and glory. Note; (1.) He who suffered for sins not his own, was acknowledged to be innocent even by his judge. (2.) They who, under the dictates of worldly wisdom, seek to please men, and maintain a good conscience withal, will soon find the impracticability of the attempt. (3.) The cry is ever against the cause of truth; but, though it be oppressed for a while, it shall finally prevail.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on John 18". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany