118- Gospel of John Chapter 18
Jesus and His disciples had entered into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray with His disciples. Judas came into the garden leading the Temple police and an undetermined amount of Roman soldiers. The usual size of a Roman Cohort was six hundred men. It is hardly likely that the Romans would have needed a force that large to arrest one unarmed man and eleven followers. They may have feared the Jesus had a private army secreted away outside of the city or others would simply spring to the cause. Whatever the actual number was it was certainly more than was needed.
Judas is not to be thought of as an inhuman monster, neither is he an innocent and misguided enthusiast, as some modern writers interpretation of Judas is. Judas was undergoing a normal and natural development which constitutes the solemnity of the warning to professed followers of Jesus. Judas is an illustration of a man who cherishes a common sin that many Christians have to battle. But Judas gave up the battle, or never fought it, and yielded to an evil passion. He did so in the warning and in spite of abundant light over the past three years with Jesus. At last Judas totally surrenders to his and like so many comes to hate the light rather than be draw to it and takes the side of the enemies of Christ. Judas provides the example of the triumph of selfishness. No one who follows Jesus is incapable of a traitorous thought, and who need not be on their guard against sinful deeds which may impede the cause of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In contrast to Judas stands Jesus in all of His divine majesty and the loyalty of His love. In spite of being arrested by so many Jesus remains in control of the events happening around Him. Jesus voluntarily offers Himself up for arrest to His enemies. Jesus knew of their murderous plans and His one thought is for the safety of His followers. When the soldiers said they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth He answered, “I am He. “I AM” is the special title that God used when telling Moses who he should say to Pharaoh that sent him. It is the same title that Jesus used in John 8:24,28,58. Upon hearing this the Roman soldiers fell back and onto the ground. Perhaps the power of this name caused them to fall down, or perhaps the overwhelming power of the deity of Jesus caused them to become slain in the spirit.
This hesitation gives Jesus the opportunity to agree to be arrested on the condition that they let His disciples have their liberty. Jesus feared that they might share in His fate and that their faith might fail them. Our Lord never allows us to be tempted beyond what we can bear. Peter is not willing to give up so easily and picks up his sword and swings at the servant of the High Priest. Swinging wildly in the dark it is suspected that Peter was aiming for the head but missed his mark and cut off the ear of his victim. Violence was not the method for the cause of Jesus and He rebukes Peter.
The words Jesus uses to rebuke Peter are full of deep significance, showing the voluntary character of His attaining death. “The cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” What is this “cup”? The cup is a symbol of Jesus’ death as the bearer of the sin of the world. Jesus dreaded the cup, not merely of physical death but of death in the place of sinners. Jesus did not back away from being “made to be sin” for us, He did pray to the Father if it was possible that the cup be passed from Him. Only for a brief hour and now the victory is His, Jesus steps forth to meet the traitor and his murderous band with a calm that is majestic and divine.
The Captain of the Roman Cohort had Jesus bound and they took Him before Annas who was the former High Priest. Annas had been the High Priest but was disposed by the Romans. Still he was a man of considerable power, much like former Presidents and Prime Ministers. Annas had five sons and one son-in-law named Caiaphas. Caiaphas was now the standing High Priest. John does not say in this Gospel exactly where Jesus is taken to meet Annas. It is however implied that Jesus was taken to the residence of the High Priest Caiaphas in which Annas probably also had quarters. John’s Gospel only records Jesus’ meeting with Annas who is also addressed as the High Priest much like today people of former positions keep their address in speech. The High Priest Caiaphas earlier in this Gospel had said that one man should die to save the nation. Even as this prophecy was spoken for political purposes he had unwittingly spiritual truth towards all nations of the world.
Jesus did not arrive at the residence of the High Priest alone. Most of the disciples had scattered when Jesus was arrested but Peter and an unidentified disciple had followed. The unidentified disciple, which it is assumed was John, knew the High Priest and was allowed entry into the residence. This disciple went back and made possible for Peter to enter into the garden at the residence. Peter was questioned by the doorkeeper, a slave girl, in such a way that it would have been easy to give a simple yes or no answer. “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” Peter answered the slave girl that he was not. It is obvious that the slave girl had doubts as to who she was letting into the garden. Peter answered the question in the simplest way although it was an untruthful way and a denial.
It was a cold night and the officers and the servants had built a fire to warm themselves. Peter joined the crowd around the fire to warm himself also and to bury himself in the crowd.
In the preliminary hearing of Jesus before Annas Jesus was questioned on towo issues, his disciples and his teachings. There was political concern about the movement that Jesus was causing with the people. The power that the Romans had given to the Jewish leadership was politically sensitive to any disturbance of the Jewish people. If a movement of the Jewish people especially viewed as political, in opposition to the Roman rule, the Romans would quickly send in their soldiers to quell any believed uprising. Therefore Annas was interested in the number of followers that Jesus had. There were religious concerns as well as to the number of followers in regards to the departing of their orthodox teachings and worship. Annas then had the concerns that he did not want Roman authorities suppressing the few freedoms they had and did not want an uprising in the Jewish belief system.
Annas also wanted to know what Jesus was teaching. Is His message different in public from what He spoke privately? Another obvious reason for this pretrial was for the Jewish leadership to formulate the charges that they would use against Jesus to justify their case against Him.
Jesus’ reply to Annas was an implication that Annas did not need to ask the questions he had been asking. Jesus stated that he taught openly in the Temple and the synagogues, there were not two sets of teachings. Jesus’ words are the truth and the truth cannot be presented in two different ways. Jesus said that all He taught had been open to the world to hear.
Jesus then corrected their legal procedures in this hearing. By Jewish law a person is not required to incriminate himself. A case against a person is to be established by witnesses but Annas was asking Jesus to witness against Himself. If Annas really wanted to know what Jesus was teaching then he should ask the witnesses to His teachings. This statement was recognition the case against Jesus was prejudiced from the start.
One of the officers felt that this reply of Jesus was imprudent and possibly arrogant. Striking Jesus to show that he felt this was not the way one should speak to the High Priest. In spite of the insult Jesus remained in control of Himself and the situation, Jesus asked the officer why he had hit Him. Jesus questioned that if He had spoken wrongly that they should have produced witnesses to disprove what He had said. That if there was no such witness then why would the officer hit Him. His point being that violence would not serve to change His answer or disprove His position.
Neither Annas nor the officer were really interested in justice, as the verdict had already been decided long before this preliminary hearing. What Annas was searching for was the argument they would use and how they would present it. After this hearing Annas turned Jesus over to the High Priest Caiaphas who would conduct the next phase of the trial. John’s Gospel does not give us detail of that portion of the trial. The other Gospels will have to be consulted to learn what happened there.
While Peter is warming himself around the fire the question of if he was one of the disciples came up again. Some of those around the fire had probably heard the question of the gatekeeper who was a slave girl. Again the question is presented to Peter in such a way that it was expecting of a negative answer. “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” again Peter answered that he was not.
One person in the gathering was not willing to let this question pass by without further being pursued. This slave in the crowd was a relative to the Malchus who Peter had cut of his ear in the Garden of Gethsemane. This slave probably thought he recognized Peter, even though in the Garden of Gethsemane the light of the lanterns were not bright and the light from the fire in the garden was also dim. Still he may have thought he recognized Peter as the man who had wielded the sword. The slave asked Peter directly if he had been in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus. Again Peter answered with a denial, and the roster crowed.
Peter had shown physical courage in the Garden of Gethsemane when he tried to protect Jesus by hacking away at the ear of Malchus. Now Peter shows his lack of moral courage by denying Jesus three times in the garden at Caiaphas’s residence. There is a contrast here in the reaction of Judas and Peter to their actions. After the betrayal of Jesus Judas fell into despair and took his own live. (Acts1:18) After his denial of Jesus Peter was moved to repentance and returned to Jesus.
The detail of Jesus before Caiaphas is not recorded in John’s Gospel and after His trial by Caiaphas Jesus was taken to the Praetorium. The Praetorium refers to the entire complex of the Roman governor’s residence. It would also include the military barracks and the judgment hall. There may have been a connection with the Tower of Antonio just beyond the Temple area and connected to Herod’s palace. There is some thought that the governor, Pilate, may have stayed at Herod’s palace during the time of the Passover Feast. The Roman governor actually lived at the Praetorium in Caesarea.
The legalism of the Jewish leaders was shattered by their procedures of the arrest and trial of Jesus but obeyed their own rules of being clean before the Passover Feast that they would not enter into the Praetorium because that evening they expected to eat the Passover Feast. It would be religious contamination for them to enter a Gentile building, yet they thought nothing of demanding the death of an innocent man.
Because they would not come into the building Pilate came out to meet them. Pilate had only one question for the Jewish leaders, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” Apparently the Jewish leaders had yet to form a correct accusation against Jesus and answered, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.” Pilate had cooperated in the arrest of Jesus by providing soldiers to accompany them. By Pilate doing this the Jewish leaders assumed that he would also cooperate in sentencing Jesus as well. They could not charge Jesus with blasphemy before Pilate because there was no Roman law against that, so it would not hold up in a Roman court. The Jewish leader’s argument would have to be of political overtones and they settled on treason as their charge against Jesus.
Pilate thinking it was some religious dispute or a Jewish matter he told them to judge Jesus on their own. The Romans allowed a lot of flexibility in matters of religious context among the people they ruled.
This was not the answer that the Jewish leaders wanted to hear and they replied that were not allow to pronounce a sentence of death. The method of execution for the Jews was death by stoning. The Roman method of execution was by crucifixion. Jesus’ death by crucifixion would completely discredit Jesus, and their rejection of Him would be justified.
John the writer of this Gospel indicated that this fulfilled the prediction that Jesus had made about the way that He would die. In Chapter 12:32 Jesus had said that He would be lifted up, which is an indication that He would be crucified. Jewish law in Deuteronomy stated that one hanged on a tree would be cursed. This is the way that Caiaphas believed that Jesus would be completely discredited. John saw it as the way that Jesus took away the sin of the world.
Pilate asked Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?” The question and its answer was a concern to Pilate because he was assuring himself that if Jesus was a King was he a threat to the Roman empire? Jesus did not look like a King but He answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” By Jesus answering with a question He creates a shift in power in that the questioned become the questioner. Jesus has taken the initiative out of the hand of Pilate and now it is assumed by Jesus, who is supposed to be the one on trial. Jesus wanted to know the source of the question. Was it a question from the conclusion of Pilate weighing the evidence against Him? Or was it a trumped up charge that had been suggested to Pilate from the Jewish leaders?
Pilate became a little contemptuous in his rely to Jesus, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” Of course Pilate was not a Jew and therefore could not answer questions that concerned Jewish matters of Jewish kingship. Pilate then confirmed to Jesus that is was the High Priest that derived Jesus to him. So Pilate asked what Had Jesus done to have caused them to have done this.
Jesus again did not give a direct answer to Pilate’s question but adverted to the topic of His Kingship. “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” Jesus made the point that if He were a king as the world’s kings then He would have an army as worldly kings do and they would be fighting to rescue Him.
Pilate saw in this answer that maybe there was some validity in the charges that the Jewish leaders were bringing against Him. Pilate said to Jesus, so you are a king. The Answer that Jesus replied with again turned the decision back onto Pilate. “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Jesus’ answer says that it was Pilate that had said He was a king but His answer went on to say that He came into the world to testify of the truth.
Perhaps with a shrug Pilate wistfully or possibly jestingly asked, “What is truth?” This ended the questioning by Pilate and he did not wait to get an answer from Jesus. The answer would come from Jesus on the cross and by the empty tomb, by this God’s truth was seen. Pilate did not really want to know the answer, as this was his way of dismissing the subject and ending the interview with Jesus.
After realizing that Jesus was not a revolutionary and a threat to the Roman throne, Pilate went out of the Praetorium to address the crowd that had gathered. It is speculated that the crowd that had gathered was brought together by the Jewish leaders. Pilate addressed the crowd and not the Jewish leaders and declared that he had found no guilt in Jesus.
There is a custom that we find nowhere else in the bible except in the Gospels that during the Passover a criminal could be released. Pilate maybe had thought calling Jesus a criminal would satisfy the Jewish leaders and by offering to release Him as was the custom at Passover, it would not be he that released Him but the demand of the people. If they had chosen another to be released, which Pilate did not anticipate, he would not have personally pronounced the sentence on a man that he had said was innocent. Pilate then asked, “But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?”
The people cried for Pilate to release Barabbas rather than Jesus. It is noted that Barabbas was a robber. The word used indicates that Barabbas was an insurrectionist, a rebel, an outlaw more than a petty thief. If this was true, he may have been a local hero for leading resistance against the Romans and was being held for execution. The irony of this is that in Pilate’s cowardly stand upon what he believed to be true, there was not guilt in Jesus, that in an effort to placate both sides of the issue by giving the people the choice, a true revolutionary was released and a man who posed no threat to the Roman Empire, Jesus, was crucified.
Another irony is that Barabbas means “son of the father.” One who was simply called son of the father was being released while the One who is the true Son of the Father would go to His death.
First the Jews had asked Pilate to confirm Jesus to a death sentence without a trial and Pilate refused to do this. Pilate appears to be noble in contrast to the Jewish leaders. Their hypocrisy in that they would not enter the palace of Pilate for fear of defilement before the Passover Feast, but their hearts are filled with murderous hate, as they ask Pilate to condemn an innocent man. They will not go into Pilate and he has to come out to them. Then Pilate has to go back in to speak with Jesus and return outside to speak with the Jews.
Secondly the Jewish leaders accuse Jesus of a political crime: He has called Himself a King. After Pilate’s investigation he views Jesus as either a fanatic or a prophet, either way Pilate sees no guilt in Jesus of a capital crime and determines to release Him. Pilate still has a problem with the Jewish leaders in that he wishes to maintain their favor as well, so he attempts a compromise. When Pilate goes back out he addresses the Jewish people and not the leaders. He offers them a deal in which he believes that Jesus could be freed by their demands. It backfires on Him in that the Jewish leaders had anticipated this and told the people to cry for the freedom of Barabbas and not Jesus. Pilate is disappointed the rulers had persuaded the people to cry for Barabbas, as now he had to release a true criminal.
Luke 22:51, Acts 1:18, Deuteronomy 21:23