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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
John 18

 

 

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Verse 1

§ 132-3.THE AGONY IN GETHSEMANE, vv. AND THE BETRAYAL, John 18:1-12.

1. He went forth—That is, as we understand it, from the supper-room on the eastern part of Mount Zion. As no other going forth is unequivocally indicated from the beginning of chapter xiii to this present clause, we are obliged to conclude that the discourse, stretching probably into midnight, was entirely uttered in the same room. The route now taken by Jesus to Gethsemane the reader will find described in our note on Matthew 26:36.

The brook Cedron—The brook Cedron, Kedron, or Kidron, (the name being derived from a Hebrew word signifying turbid,) is a winter or rain torrent, formed by the waters occasionally running from the sides of Olivet and Moriah, into what is now called the Valley of Jehoshaphat. The ravine or valley takes its origin above a mile to the northwest of the city, and, deepening as it proceeds, makes an angular turn opposite the temple. Thence southeastwardly, it passes between Siloam and the city, and thence goes toward the Dead Sea through a deep and singularly wild gorge. During the summer season, in the absence of rains, the channel is perfectly dry, so that in reality its occasional turbid stream formed a sort of gutter for the eastern margin of the city. By a bridge over the ravine the traveller still passes from St. Stephen’s gate to Gethsemane.


Verse 2

2. Jesus ofttimes resorted thither—Where, beneath shadowing olive trees, he held discourse with his followers. Hence this is the place where Judas, whom we last saw departing from the supper-table, (xiii, 30,) was again to meet his Master. At this point, according to the other Evangelists, is to be inserted the narrative of the agony of Gethsemane. By a ruthless criticism, Strauss and others infer from the silence of John and the triumphant tone of the valedictory and prayer of the previous chapters, that the agony never took place. We apprehend that the answers are ample. Why should John insert what had been so fully given by his predecessors? And who cannot see that the sorrows of Gethsemane are truly preluded by the sad undertone, mentioned in our closing note to the last chapter, both of the valedictory and the prayer? Nor are we able to conceive how a scene so wonderful in its conception, so unparalleled and mysterious in its character, so surpassing any passage of classic antiquity, could have been framed without the basis of truth, either by the genius of the Evangelists or the mind of the early Christian Church. No truly Christian heart needs any defence of this passage from a criticism so utterly uncritical.


Verse 3

3. Judas… cometh—For the train and order of events of our Lord’s betrayal and arrest, consult our notes on § 132.

Lanterns and torches—For though it was the full moon, yet his apprehenders knew that their victim might be concealed in the garden, in the houses, or in the clefts of the rocks. But to no such refuges, worthy of the guilty only, did it become the dignity of our Lord to resort.


Verse 4

4. Knowing all… that should come—John leaves to the other Evangelists to describe the humiliations of the garden and of the Judas kiss, and seizes those points in which the foreknowledge and majesty of Jesus appear rising above the inflictions he suffered. It is the same upper tone of triumph as reigns through the previous discourses, heightened to sublimity by the recollection of the degradations which the previous Gospels disclose.

John’s Gospel is therefore a supplement, not merely in external facts, but in grand views and sublime truths.

Went forth—After the traitor’s kiss, the traitor himself retreats among the band that follow him, who stand in hesitation. Jesus steps forward in firm majesty to meet the men, who appear more like culprits to be arraigned than like officers coming to arrest him.

Whom seek ye?—Not that he did not know whom they sought. Not that their leaders did not know him by the traitor’s signal. He speaks to make them confess their object, and then to show that they can attain it only by his actual permission. It is the word by which he commences the display of power exhibited in John 18:6.


Verse 5

5. Jesus of Nazareth—They have not the spirit to rush forward and seize him without a word of parley. The drill serjeant, however, mechanically answers, according to the warrant, “Jesus of Nazareth.” The Lord has compelled them to utter that memorable name, the memento of their own guilt, the emblem of divine power.

I am he—Let it be well identified, to even those ignorant of his person, who it is they seek, and by whose power they are prostrated. At the responsive word, I am he, they recoil and fall. John 18:6.

Stood with them—Probably the first clear glance that John had caught of the traitor disclosed Judas standing in the crowd. He too, doubtless, feels the overthrow from the mighty name of “Jesus of Nazareth.”


Verse 6

6. Backward, and fell—Commentators, such as Stier, who explain this fall as merely a natural accident, resulting from the personal majesty of Jesus, (as the lictor was overawed who attempted to apprehend Caius Marius,) overlook the plain evidences of a purpose and will by Jesus to give this proof that his surrender is voluntary. He first prostrates them by a stroke of unseen power; then deliberately triumphs over their impotence; then secures the escape of his disciples; then yields his person to their hands. By this miracle he sustains his declaration to Peter, Matthew 26:53; and his avowal that he himself lays down his life, John 10:17-18.


Verse 7

7. Asked he them again—By a divine irony he pushes their impotence with the same question. Strange that such commentators as Alford and Stier suppose such a question and reply to be uttered and even repeated because the officers were ignorant which was Jesus. Surely they knew after the first I am he; and so they might also know before the first I am he, from the traitor’s kiss.


Verse 8

8. I have told you—An intimation to the armed crowd what playthings they might be in his hand.

These—Pointing to the disciples; sacrificing himself, but saving others.


Verse 9

9. The saying—See John 18:12. Rationalistic commentators have pronounced this a very mistaken pretence of a fulfilment of Christ’s words. Christ spoke, say they, of preservation from final perdition, but this was preservation from bodily harm. It is a poor reply to these objectors to say, “but the bodily was typical of the spiritual.” The true reply is this: Christ was bound on his part to keep his disciples, both in body and in soul, for their future ministry. They were to be immortal until their work was done. He had preserved them not only from apostacy but from temporal death, for the future mission before them. Judas, on the other hand, perished in body and soul, and so was completely “the son of perdition.” And so now Jesus provides for their present safety, in literal fulfilment of his claim, that he had kept all and lost none—save one.


Verse 10

10. Malchus—The Greek and Latin form of Malek, signifying King. John alone mentions his name. See note on Matthew 26:51.

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Verse 13

13. To Annas first—This Annas is mentioned in Luke 3:2 as being high priest, together with Caiaphas, at the opening of John the Baptist’s ministry, his name occupying the prior place to that of his colleague. He is pronounced by Josephus as the most fortunate man of his time in Judea; for he was high priest himself for fourteen years, having been so appointed by Cyrenius as far back as the taxing mentioned by Luke before our Saviour’s birth; and he had four sons who filled that office, besides his son-in-law Caiaphas. His venerable age, his great abilities, his ancient title to the priesthood, rendered him perhaps the most important Jew in the capital.

The people, animated by a strong national feeling, doubtless regarded him as the permanent high priest. Both Herod and the Romans had capriciously changed the high priest, so that it had almost become an annual office. It is probable that he was the prime mover in the crucifixion of Jesus, and that in this, as in many other measures, Caiaphas was but the organ of his decisions.

High Priest that same year—In apparent contrast with Annas, who was popularly held as the permanent rightful high priest.


Verses 13-27

§ 133.JESUS BEFORE ANNAS AND CAIAPHAS, AND THRICE DENIED BY PETER, John 18:13-27.

Matthew 26:57-75; Mark 14:53-72; Luke 22:54-62.


Verse 14

14. Caiaphas… gave counsel—John here doubtless refers to the counsel of Caiaphas, to show that he was fully prepared to carry out whatever orders Annas might give for the destruction of Christ.

Peter’s first denial, 15-18. Compare notes on Matthew 26:69-75.


Verse 15

15. Another disciple—Beyond all question John himself.


Verse 16

16. Her that kept the door—It is customary, even at the present day, in the East, for the doors of the wealthy to be superintended by a portress, who receives a fee for her services from the visitors.


Verse 18

18. Made a fire of coals—The square court (Vol. i, pp. 121, 326) enclosed within the structure of an Eastern house, lying under the open air, is often paved, and furnishes the proper basis for a coal fire. It is not unfrequent that at the Passover period the weather is cold enough in Jerusalem to render a fire desirable.


Verse 19

19. The high priest—Which high priest? Annas or Caiaphas? It is clear that Jesus is not sent to Caiaphas until John 18:24, upon which see our note. It is also clear that at John 18:13 Jesus is led to the high priest Annas. It is also clear that this is a different examination from the one given by Matthew, as taking place before Caiaphas. We hold, therefore, decidedly with those who maintain that the high priest of this verse is Annas. That Matthew (Matthew 26:57) omits the leading to Annas, does not contradict the fact. But in fact the ancient opinion that both high priests had office in the same extended palace may be considered as solving the whole difficulty. Peter went to the house of the high priest; he denied Christ while Christ was before Annas; and Christ was sent from one part of the palace to the other, by Annas to Caiaphas.

Asked Jesus—Before this venerable dignitary, who was high priest before the prisoner was born, the youthful Jesus presents himself in bonds. During his repeated visits to Jerusalem, his teachings in the streets and preaching in the temple, probably Jesus had never been recognized by either high priest; while Jesus probably had seen them both in the exercise of their public office. Yet his name, his teachings, his miracles, and his popularity could not have been unknown to either; for, in fact, the beloved disciple, John, (John 18:15,) was known to the high priest. Annas was a Sadducee; a sect which, denying future punishment, endeavoured to deter from crime by severity of judgment in the present world. Before this haughty magistrate the Saviour stands, with little reason to expect mild dealing.

Asked Jesus of his disciples… doctrine—The first thought of Annas is, Who are the disciples, the supporters, the party, of this insurgent. He doubtless had lately heard of their ushering Jesus, with triumphal procession and great popular commotion, into the capital. How strong a party can he rally? And what are their real doctrines, as by him explained, religious or political? Have they a powerful secret combination to destroy the temple, abolish the priesthood, and overthrow the state?


Verse 20

20. Jesus answered—Jesus, though before a magistrate, is not before a legitimate court, and so he might deny the jurisdiction and refuse to answer. He does answer, by at once refusing any specific account, and yet asserting his own openness and innocency.

Openly… synagogue… temple—He has said nothing in his teachings which all the honest world might not hear. His preaching has been in the regular public sacred places, the synagogue and the temple.

In secret… nothing—He has no conspiracy, no secret society. On the contrary, whatever confidential utterances he has made among his friends, his actual doctrines he would have all the world hear and receive.


Verse 21

21. Ask them which heard me—He hereby refuses, as is his right, to enter into any detail. Nay, he checks his inquisitor, in language of perfect respect as a venerable ruler, but with decided repulse as an illegitimate judge.


Verse 22

22. One of the officers… struck Jesus—Flattering the high dignitary by a forward and unbidden avenging of his slighted dignity. In truth the very fact that Annas was not a regular official may have rendered his adherents and retainers more jealous for his honour and authority.

With the palm—It is uncertain from the Greek whether the blow was with the hand or a staff.


Verse 23

23. Jesus answered him—Though a mere retainer, Jesus as a man addresses him as a man, in the language of universal justice and reason. If I am wrong, demonstrate that wrong; if right, withhold violence.


Verse 24

24. Annas had sent him—The pluperfect had sent, and the parentheses enclosing this verse, are supplied by our translators, to indicate that Jesus was sent by Annas immediately at the close of the 14th verse. Thereby the high priest of John 18:19 is Caiaphas, and the examination which follows is before him. But the Greek for had sent is not pluperfect, and there are no good grounds for so rendering it. The plain reading of the Greek declares, that Annas now sent Jesus to Caiaphas at the close of this preliminary examination.


Verses 25-27

Peter’s second and third denial, John 18:25-27.

The position of this part of the narrative of Peter’s denials, which seems to be separated purposely from the first denial, confirms the supposition that the whole took place during the stay of Jesus in the hall of Annas. We may add, that the clear accordance of the narratives of these denials in the different Evangelists, which discloses itself amidst apparent discrepancies, forms a striking demonstration of the truth of the history. The discrepancies show intuitively that the narratives are perfectly artless and independent, while the ultimate agreement shows that the respective authors wrote from common fact.


Verse 28

28. From Caiaphas—For the examination before Caiaphas, compare our notes upon Matthew 26:57-68.

The hall of judgment—The praetorium of Pilate, the procurator. For our account of Pilate, and the arraignment of Jesus before him, see our notes on Matthew 27:1-30.

That they might eat the Passover—But, according to all the first three Evangelists, Jesus had eaten the paschal lamb the night before, namely, the evening closing Thursday. Were, then, these Jews yet to eat the paschal lamb upon the evening of the present day, namely, Friday? This has been a memorable difficulty among commentators for centuries. Sceptics have maintained that there is a contradiction between the first three Evangelists and John, inasmuch as the former represent the lamb as eaten on Thursday evening and he on Friday evening. To solve this difficulty, various theories have been proposed. Some have maintained that Jesus ate the lamb the evening before the Jews did generally; others have maintained that there were two Passover evenings allowed by the Jews themselves. The simplest and most satisfactory solution, however, is found in the different meanings of the word Passover. It no doubt did often signify simply the paschal lamb. But it also had a more extensive meaning, so as to include the entire festival of the Passover week. Such is the obvious meaning in John 2:13; John 2:23; John 6:4; John 11:55; John 12:1; John 13:1. So also in 2 Chronicles 30:22 : “They did eat the feast seven days, offering peace-offerings.” Now during the Passover week there was to be upon each day a burnt-offering, two young bullocks, one ram, and seven lambs; also a meat-offering, and one goat for a sin-offering. Unleavened bread was to be eaten through the week. There was also the chigagah, which was a festive thank-offering made by private individuals and families. To partake of these during any day of the festival was to keep or eat the Passover. That John did not disagree with the other Evangelists in holding the supper on the night of his betrayal to be the Passover, we have good historical proof. For his disciple Polycarp, in a discussion of the question occurring in his day, expressly declared that John himself celebrated the Easter Supper on the fourteenth of Nisan, the time of the Jewish Passover.


Verse 29

29. Pilate then went out—Taking the diagram of a Jewish house in our commentary on Matthew (vol. 1, 326) to represent Pilate’s pretorium, let us suppose that at the “street” there is a wide area in front of the palace where this multitude, headed by the priests, presents itself. Pilate, when thus called upon by the dignitaries of the nation, sustained by the people, promptly went out unto them, standing in the portico with the multitude before him. The conversation that ensues is so natural and so suitable to the respective parties as to contain proof of its own genuineness. Pilate’s first business is to call for the accusation.


Verse 30

30. If… not a malefactor—Uttered in a sarcastic tone, this reply would be of a very irritating character. Uttered, however, in a tone of courteous sauvity, it apologizes for troubling Pilate, assuring him that nothing but the fact that they had a malefactor could have brought them there.

Their real purpose, under either meaning, is to precipitate Pilate into the slaying of Jesus. They first wished to do this, if possible, by making Pilate execute him in implicit compliance with their judgment. Or, failing in that, they will accuse Jesus of treason, and induce Pilate to condemn and crucify. And failing in that, they will boldly threaten Pilate himself, and compel him to execute whether he condemn or not. Pilate, after availing himself of every possible subterfuge, finally yields to their last master-stroke.


Verse 32

32. That… might be fulfilled—This singular fact of the loss by the Jewish nation of the right of inflicting death, brings about the great result foreseen and accepted in the divine plan, that Jesus should accept death from Gentile hands. Had the Jews inflicted death upon him on their charge of blasphemy, the method would have been by stoning; a death they came near inflicting upon him in a burst of passion, (John 8:58,) and did inflict upon Stephen.


Verse 33

33. Entered into the judgment hall—While the multitude is in the front area, facing Pilate at his threshold, Jesus has been sent into the hall. Pilate was, therefore, alternately with Jesus within, and with the multitude without.

Art thou—This question presupposes, as the other Evangelists state that Jesus had treasonably claimed to be a king. It is to be noted that Luke makes Jesus declare himself a king without explanation, and yet makes Pilate clear him of fault. His account alone would be liable to the charge brought by rationalistic commentators against it, of being mysterious. John, in the present chapter, interposes the explanation, by which it is shown that Jesus so defined his royalty as to exculpate him from all fault in the eyes of Pilate. Pilate asks the present question in a tone of the utmost seriousness, as if to learn both what Jesus claimed to be, and what he was.


Verse 34

34. Of thyself—Does Pilate ask the question after the royalty of Jesus in a Roman, or a Hebrew sense? If the former, then Jesus claims not to be a king: that is, a political king. If in the Hebrew sense, then he asks, “Are you the Messiah?” the Anointed Prince of the realm of holiness? then truly he is a king; a king of whom all earthly kings are but a shadow.


Verse 35

35. Am I a Jew?—Pilate replies in a tone of irritated pride at the suspicion that he makes any nice distinctions in a Jewish quarrel.

Thine own nation He has taken the case as he finds it, and cannot afford to meddle in Jewish niceties.

What hast thou done?—Dismissing all talk of royalty, what are the facts? Pilate here acts in the same spirit with which Gallio (Acts 18:17) subsequently acted: the Roman spirit of evading the religious quarrels of the subjected people so long as their own political supremacy was secured.


Verse 36

36. My kingdom—Jesus, in words, evades Pilate’s last question, and returns to the topic of his royalty; and yet in so doing he answers Pilate’s question, what he has done. He has performed the part of a heaven-sent king.

Not of this world—My kingdom is not one of the political nations of the earth. It is not an organism like the Roman empire, founded upon physical force, sustained by military establishments, defended by fortifications and entrenched in capitals.

Then would my servants fight Alluding, doubtless, to the scene of his arrest, when he bade Peter put up his sword. Well would it have been if the pretended successors of St. Peter had kept the sword put up.


Verse 37

37. Was I born—Alluding to his human birth.

Came I into the world Alluding to his origin from God.

Bear witness unto the truth—The truth that overlies all earthly and political truth; the truth verified by the highest intuitions of the human soul; the truth of God and eternal life.

Bear witness—Confirm its reality as revealed in the Old Testament, and as written on the heart of man, both by reassertion and new revelation, demonstrated by miracle and by the perfection of my own character.

Every one that is of the truth—Wherever there is a human spirit anxious to attain to the possession of truth and righteousness, let his eye be directed to me.

Heareth my voice—Such an earnest, convicted inquirer will at once feel that my voice answers his inquiries. Wherever, in all lands and in all ages, there is a human soul that aspires to holiness, my voice will be to him a divine response; and thus my subjects are attracted to me from all the world by a secret power that has nothing to do with warlike force. And thus I am truly a Divine King, ruling in the realm of truth over countless millions of true-hearted subjects; and this kingdom, immaterial and invisible, pervades and overlies all other kingdoms. It exerts a mighty power over them, and, perhaps, will yet dissolve them all into one universal kingdom of truth. But for all this the Roman had but little ear. Such a kingdom for him is but a phantasm; and true, genuine imperial power is the only fact that is fact. Inasmuch as this kingdom of righteousness is over all, it condemns all wickedness, whether of individuals, of princes, of administrations, or of political parties. Sin is sin, and condemned by the laws of Christ’s kingdom, whether committed by a single man, by a government, or by a people. The Church and the ministry have indeed nothing to do with purely secular measures, involving no moral question. But whenever an administration or party adopts sin into its platform or its measures, it is none the less the duty of the Christian Church to “bear witness to the truth.”


Verse 38

38. What is truth?—Pilate supposes that he had now applied a finisher. All the philosophy of the age in which he lived had decided that man could know but this: that nothing could be known. That higher truth is undiscoverable, that in fact there is no absolute truth, no difference between ultimate truth and falsehood, were the conclusion at which highest human thought had arrived. And what the philosophers thus taught, political and military men readily accepted. It was, therefore, readily and generally agreed that visible and tangible things, things of sense and of the present world, were all. Talk to such a man in high strain of philosophic, religious, or divine truth, and his reply is: “Bah! What is truth? I understand positive science; but as for your higher truth, it is a chimera.”

He went out—He waited for no answer, because his very question was intended to deny the possibility of all answer. He is ready to return to the Jews with the full feeling that it would be a real murder to take the life of so harmless an abstractionist. He again takes his stand in front and pronounces his finding in him no fault. This announcement to the people drew forth murmurs of disapprobation, in which their utterance of the word Galilee (Luke 22:5) suggested to Pilate his first method of rescuing Jesus by sending him to Herod. After his return, the second expedient, his attempt to release Jesus instead of Barabbas, next occurs, as is related in the following verses and in the parallel sections of the other Evangelists.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 18:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/john-18.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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