Part 7 – John Chapter 18, verses 1-40

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PART SEVEN

Jesus Finishes His Ministry on the Cross

Jesus is arrested and taken to Annas

John Chapter 18, verses 1-3

When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it.

Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Commentary

At the close of his prayer, Jesus led his disciples across the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane. They often gathered in the olive grove, so Judas the traitor knew to look for him there.

The plot was already in progress. Judas had gathered a company of soldiers (as many as six hundred men) plus some of the temple guards employed by the chief priests and Pharisees. This time Jesus’ enemies meant business. They came with torches, lanterns, and weapons.

They came overstaffed and overarmed. Jesus’ time had come, and he was ready to go.

John Chapter 18, verses 4-9

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

“I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”

Commentary

Jesus knew all the events in store for him and made no attempt to avoid them. Having finished praying in the garden (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:40-46), Jesus went out to the armed band.

Before Judas moved to betray Jesus with his kiss (Matthew 26:47-50; Mark 14:43-46; Luke 22:47,48), Jesus asked the band, “Whom are you seeking?” Imagine their astonishment. They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth,” and he responded, “I am he.” But more than astonishment affected this armed band. At his words they drew back and fell to the ground. There was no mistaking who really was in charge of the situation. At the force of Jesus’ words, they fell helpless.

Jesus’ response was the same Greek phrase that we have noted several times before, “I AM.” Whether or not he intended the same impact as his other I AM statements, at his words the men reacted as if God (Yahweh) had spoken.

As the enemies of Jesus tried to regain their composure, he asked again whom they wanted and told them he was the man. Only this time he added, “If you are looking for me, take me, but let these men go.” Jesus cared for his disciples even in this cruel hour. He intended that his promise given previously would be kept and he would not lose one of his disciples, which the Father had given him (6:39; 17:12).

At this point, it appears, Judas stepped forward and betrayed the Savior with a kiss.

John Chapter 18, verses 10-11

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Commentary

The ever-impetuous Peter was not going to let the enemy capture Jesus without a fight. Suddenly he drew a short sword and struck the high priest’s servant, who apparently moved to take Jesus. The blow just missed splitting the man’s head, but cut off his right ear. Immediately, Jesus rebuked Peter and told him to put away his sword. To fight to help Jesus escape was to oppose the will of the Father for the world’s salvation. “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” asked Jesus. He was ready.

John is the only gospel writer who identifies Peter as the disciple who drew his sword and Malchus as the servant who was struck. John was no doubt close enough to see it all happen. Also, he apparently was familiar with the high priest and his household (18:15). Luke 22:51 tells us that Jesus quickly healed the servant’s ear.

John Chapter 18, verses 12-14

Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people.

Commentary

The soldiers recovered from their swoon, arrested Jesus, and bound him. He offered no resistance. They took him to Annas, former high priest and father-in-law of the acting high priest, Caiaphas. The Romans had deposed Annas in A.D. 15, but he was still called high priest.

Annas still had influence and had a significant part to play in the plot against Jesus. With the arrest at night, it would take a while for Caiaphas to gather the Jewish council (the Sanhedrin) for a trial. So he had Jesus brought to Annas for a pretrial hearing.

Actually, no legal trial took place according to Jewish law. Everything was fixed and hurried so they could succeed before any opposition could be mounted. It was illegal to hold court at night and illegal to try and convict a prisoner in the same day he was captured. But that didn’t matter to Jesus’ enemies, who made a show of legal proceedings anyway, with a predetermined outcome.

Shortly, Annas would turn Jesus over to Caiaphas, who had already advised the Jews that it would be to their benefit that one man die for the people (11:49,50). The scene was set. Caiaphas did not have a fair trial in mind.

Peter denies Jesus

John Chapter 18, verses 15-18

Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

“You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter.

He replied, “I am not.”

It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.

Commentary

At Jesus’ arrest the disciples all fled, but Peter and John (it’s generally conceded that the unnamed disciple was John) turned back to follow the band and see, if they could, what would happen to Jesus. John was acquainted with Annas in some way and so gained access to the courtyard where they brought Jesus. But Peter stood outside at the door.

Then John came out and told the doorkeeper to let Peter in. When the girl let Peter in, however, she suspected who he was. She asked, “Aren’t you one of this man’s [Jesus’] disciples?” Why else would such a stranger arrive at that moment? It’s not clear whether she knew John was a disciple. If she did, she made no issue of it as she did with Peter.

Peter lied in response, “I am not,” as he joined the servants and members of the temple guard who were warming themselves by a fire from the cold of the night. This was Peter’s first occasion to deny Jesus. He would deny him two more times before the night was out, just as Jesus predicted (13:38).

What had happened to the brave Peter who boasted he would die with Jesus and so recently wielded the sword to back up his claim? Now, confronted by a servant girl, he panicked at being found out. Now, tested for true honesty and courage, with no defense, he lied and denied knowing Jesus.

And John—why did he tell this part of the story of Peter’s denial, how he had gotten Peter inside the palace grounds? Did he want us to know that he was as guilty as Peter in what transpired? Did he want us to see how dangerous it really is when we get too close to Jesus’ enemies? It easily leads to compromise and denial.

Jesus testifies before Annas

John Chapter 18, verses 19-21

Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.

“I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”

Commentary

The questioning began with Annas apparently probing for some weakness in Jesus. We can imagine Annas challenging Jesus: “Who are your disciples? Where are they now? What is their business? What are you teaching them? What are you trying to do with your teaching?”

Annas would have liked nothing better than to trap Jesus into saying something that could be used against him in the ensuing trial. But Jesus saw through the ploy and gave a ready answer.

“My teachings are not secret,” Jesus explained. “I have spoken openly for everyone to hear. I have taught in synagogues and the temple. Why ask me? Ask those who heard me speak. They know what I said.”

In a sense, Jesus’ answer was a first-century example of pleading the Fifth Amendment. However, it was also good sense. What Jesus taught, he taught publicly. In truth, even members of the Jewish council had heard him. If he had been teaching anything worthy of prison or death, the authorities would have no trouble finding witnesses. Jesus’ answer exposed the duplicity of Annas’ question.

John Chapter 18, verses 22-24

When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.

“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.

Commentary

What today we call police brutality and harassment has a long history. Jesus faced it. A guard standing nearby struck Jesus in the face for answering as he did. “How dare you answer the high priest that way!”

Jesus was neither haughty nor disrespectful, however. He simply and calmly spoke the truth. So he asked the man to explain what he, Jesus, had said wrong. If nothing, then why did he strike Jesus?

Jesus spoke little during his trials. When he did, his plain truth stood unwavering alongside the sinister intent of his captors.

Getting nowhere fast, Annas at last sent Jesus to Caiaphas.

Peter denies Jesus two more times

John Chapter 18, verses 25-27

As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?”

He denied it, saying, “I am not.”

One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

Commentary

Meanwhile, Peter’s trial, though less formal, was also taking some menacing turns. As Peter warmed himself by the fire, those around him identified him as one of Jesus’ disciples. They recognized he was a Galilean (Luke 22:59), and one man, who was related to the man whose ear Peter had cut off, felt sure he had seen Peter in Gethsemane.

Peter’s responses were nothing like those of the Lord Jesus. Peter lied every time. He denied his Lord openly and emphatically. Then he heard the rooster crowing, a reminder that Jesus had predicted Peter’s shameful conduct (13:38).

Pilate judges Jesus innocent but sentences him to crucifixion

John Chapter 18, verses 28-32

Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

“If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.

Commentary

John leaves to the other gospels the details of Jesus’ trials before Caiaphas. The Jewish leaders continued the charade with a show of legality, gathering the council a second time, at daybreak, to “validate” the illegal night trial and secure the death sentence (although a day was supposed to intervene before pronouncing the death sentence).

The Jewish leaders wasted no time, then, in sending Jesus to the governor’s palace, because only the occupying Romans could carry out the death sentence. But the Jewish hypocrites did not go into the Roman Gentile’s house because that, according to rabbinical law, would make them unclean for the remaining time of the seven-day Passover festival. They made a show of following the letter of their traditions while heartlessly pursuing the unjust death penalty against Jesus.

The governor, Pilate, came out prepared to hold court. “What charges are you bringing against this man?” he asked. But Jesus’ enemies didn’t want a new trial, just a confirmation of their death penalty. They argued that they wouldn’t have brought Jesus to him if he had not done evil.

“Try him by your own laws, then,” responded Pilate.

Only then did the Jewish leaders clarify their intent. They wanted Jesus executed, so they had to come to Pilate. Had they attempted to execute Jesus themselves, they would have stoned him to death according to Jewish custom. But in coming to Pilate, they subjected Jesus to being crucified according to the Roman custom—exactly as Jesus had predicted earlier in the week (12:32,33).

John Chapter 18, verses 33-36

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Commentary

Pilate could not simply turn Jesus over to the Jewish leaders, so he brought Jesus into the palace for private questioning. He did not try to establish the charges for which the Jewish council had declared Jesus guilty of death, however. They found Jesus guilty of blasphemy because he called himself the Son of God. Such a religious reason probably would not impress the Roman governor.

Luke tells us, however, that these Jews quickly invented reasons that Pilate should find Jesus guilty under Roman law, arguing particularly that Jesus opposed Caesar and declared himself to be a king (Luke 23:2). So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate likely was incredulous. He had no reason to think of Jesus as a rival king to Caesar.

Jesus once again probed the truth and exposed the sham of the moment. He asked Pilate whether he himself was concerned about the matter or asking only because others had told him about Jesus’ claiming to be king.

Until then, Pilate really didn’t care but had been pushed by the Jewish leaders to pursue the matter. He told Jesus: “Your own people brought you to me. What have you done?”

Jesus’ answer must have taken Pilate aback, as Jesus suddenly spoke of having a kingdom. But Jesus claimed no ordinary kingdom. He pointed out that a king on this earth would not be arrested so easily. His servants would fight against his enemies. No, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

Jesus’ spiritual kingdom never did make sense to the hostile Jews. Now the pagan Gentile Pilate was confronted with it.

John Chapter 18, verses 37-38

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked.

Commentary

This time Pilate asked for himself, “Are you a king, then?”

Jesus answered directly, “I am, as you say, a king.” All appearances to the contrary, Jesus was a king. Little did Pilate imagine the splendor of Jesus’ kingdom in glory. Little did he realize the depths of Jesus’ rule in grace.

Jesus explained that his kingdom was the rule of truth. He came into the world “to testify to the truth.” Everyone who is of the truth listens to Jesus’ voice and follows him as king, just as the sheep follow the shepherd (10:27).

There is only one truth, one reality, namely, the truth embodied in Jesus Christ. As the Word from eternity, he created all that we see as real. As the one sent from the Father, he came to restore the truth of God’s love and salvation for all. As the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), he came to bring us into God’s kingdom and to send his Spirit of truth to keep us in his way. And notice again how we learn this truth and become part of Jesus’ kingdom: we listen to Jesus.

Pilate, then, asked the one question that unbelievers—atheists, agnostics, philosophers, skeptics—have asked throughout the centuries: “What is truth?”

In our human wisdom we cannot comprehend absolute truth in the person of the Word made flesh. Left to ourselves, we must always doubt we have the truth and scoff at those who claim they do. But in Christ Jesus, through his Word and Spirit, we become convinced. Still some, like Pilate, refuse to acknowledge truth even when it comes into their homes.

We believe and live.

John Chapter 18, verses 38-40

With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”

They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.

Commentary

Perhaps Pilate still wondered philosophically, “What is truth?” but he knew the truth that Jesus was not guilty of any crime. He announced his finding to the crowd that had gathered outside with the Jewish leaders.

Then Pilate tried a ploy by which he felt he could save face and still set Jesus free. As was the custom at the Passover, he offered to set one prisoner free, and he gave the people a choice between Jesus and a notorious rebel and murderer named Barabbas. But the Jewish leaders enticed the crowd to oppose Jesus (Matthew 27:20). So defying logic and denying the Logos (Word), they shouted back to Pilate not to let Jesus go, but Barabbas. So Pilate set Barabbas free.