Noted as one of the best starting places in the Bible, the Gospel of John is a first-hand account of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ from one of his most trusted friends and disciples. This book is necessary reading for the believer as its detail and insight is beyond anything one might cross as they seek out knowledge of this good Word. For this reason, I have decided to embark on a multi-part study on the Gospel of John to give not only in-depth analysis of the entire book; but, also background on it's creation and the man that wrote it. Today we continue our study as we move along to part seventeen of this series and discuss John Chapter Eighteen!
Last study was focused the time just before Jesus’ Passion. Let’s review what He has done in His teaching and final prayer:
Jesus promises the Holy Spirit
Jesus prays to complete His mission
Jesus expresses His love (for the Apostles because of their faith)
Jesus prays for unity (to extend to the Apostles and all of the disciples in the future)
John 18:1-2: "After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees. Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples."
Having ended the supper, the group leaves the safety of the Upper Room. It would be normal for Jesus to leave the city and cross the valley of Kidron (not a very a very deep valley. About a mile and a half from top to bottom and the top on the other side) and on the other side of the valley was the road to Bethany (this is where Jesus normally stayed when He went to Jerusalem; with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus). When you leave the city of Jerusalem and take that road through the valley, the Garden of Gethsemane is immediately on the right. There were a lot of olive trees here and many travelers would stop here to rest before their reached Jerusalem. They would make the long journey and before the final push down into the valley and up the final hill to the city, they would stop here. So, it would be normal for Jesus and the Apostles to stop and rest at this halfway point between Jerusalem and Bethany. Perhaps this is why Judas knew where to find Jesus.
John 18:3-9: "The leading priests and Pharisees had given Judas a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons, they arrived at the olive grove. Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked. “Jesus the Nazarene,”they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.) As Jesus said “I am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground! 7 Once more he asked them, “Who are you looking for?” And again they replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.” “I told you that I am he,” Jesus said. “And since I am the one you want, let these others go.” He did this to fulfill his own statement: “I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.”
Note that John does not give any details of Jesus’ prayers and dialogue with the Apostles in the Garden (you can find these in Matthew, Mark, and Luke). John describes in the simplest of terms, Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. So Judas was accompanied by a mixture of Roman soldiers and temple security guards and he went to the Garden of Gethsemane knowing that Jesus would be there. They had lanterns to search the area (due to it being nighttime and there was no light). Note that Jesus is the one that steps forward and takes them by surprise, asking them to name who they are looking for. They are so startled that in backing away, they trip over and fall over each other (small but interesting detail). Note also that even in this episode, Jesus is asking them to confess who they believe Him to be. And did you see what they answered with? “Jesus the Nazarene” which is purely His human name. Not even the respect of a teacher or prophet, and certainly not the respect of the Messiah. So, Jesus repeats that He is the man they seek and orders them to let the Apostles go, not just for safety sake but also to fulfill what He Himself had promised them in the past (none except Judas would be lost among his Apostles John 6:19). That they escape now is fulfillment of that promise.
John 18:10-11: "Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave.11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”
Peter showing his misunderstanding of the moment, is ready to fight. He is ready to start the revolution to usher in the Kingdom and the new order of things. Jesus commands him to stop and in reference to His prayer in the Garden about the cup of suffering, Jesus affirms His willingness to go to the cross because that is what the Father’s will is. There will certainly be a revolution but it will come in the wake of His death and Resurrection, not civil war. John doesn’t mention it but in Luke 22:51, Luke says that Jesus touched the man’s ear and healed him. So now we will go to the episodes where Jesus is before the priests. There were three sessions before the High Priests but John only records one of those sessions.
Jesus before the Leaders (order of what took place):
Former High Priest
Father-in-Law of present High Priest Caiphas (kay-i-phus)
John describes this one
Annas had retired but kept title and influence after he left power
Annas then sent Jesus to His Son-in-Law
Caiphas – 1
Official High Priest that year
Along with the other Sanhedrin, they questioned Jesus late into the night
Then Caiphas held another meeting
Caiphas – 2
Early morning meeting
Jesus was condemned here
Caiphas then sent Jesus to Pilate
Pilate – 1
Pilate sent Him to Herrod
Pilate – 2
Sent him to His death on the cross
In his gospel, John only discusses Jesus’ meetings with Annas and Pilate with only a brief mention of Caiphas.
John 18:12-14: "So the soldiers, their commanding officer, and the Temple guards arrested Jesus and tied him up. First they took him to Annas, since he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest at that time. Caiaphas was the one who had told the other Jewish leaders, “It’s better that one man should die for the people.”
Between the lines here, we can understand that Annas has been charged with making a preliminary examination, probably to establish the charges that will be brought against Jesus. John mentions Caiphas’ earlier statement to show that the conclusion of the trial was already decided. They knew what they wanted to do they just had to work their way through the charges and sentencing to do it.
John 18:15-18: " Simon Peter followed Jesus, as did another of the disciples. That other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, so he was allowed to enter the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus. Peter had to stay outside the gate. Then the disciple who knew the high priest spoke to the woman watching at the gate, and she let Peter in. The woman asked Peter, “You’re not one of that man’s disciples, are you?”“No,” he said, “I am not.” Because it was cold, the household servants and the guards had made a charcoal fire. They stood around it, warming themselves, and Peter stood with them, warming himself."
John shifts the scene to the courtyard where he reveals Peter and another disciple had followed from a distance (John is probably referring to himself here in the third person). These events are taking place in the Spring and it would have been cold in the middle of the night. John records one of the three denials Peter will make regarding Jesus.
John 18:19-24: "Inside, the high priest began asking Jesus about his followers and what he had been teaching them. Jesus replied, “Everyone knows what I teach. I have preached regularly in the synagogues and the Temple, where the people gather. I have not spoken in secret. Why are you asking me this question? Ask those who heard me. They know what I said.” Then one of the Temple guards standing nearby slapped Jesus across the face. “Is that the way to answer the high priest?” he demanded. Jesus replied, “If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?” Then Annas bound Jesus and sent him to Caiaphas, the high priest."
So Annas, with the title “High Priest”, is searching for some kind of charge so that Caiphas will have something to work with when the Sanhedrin (70 Jewish elders, who ruled with the permission of Roman. Like a ruling council.) is convened. The interesting thing is this questioning and the meeting of leaders at night was against the law, but they went ahead with it anyway. Jesus answers truthfully saying that He had done His teaching openly and anyone who had heard Him teach could have give Him the answers he wants. In other words, they had no right or need to bring Him bound to an illegal questioning because they already knew what He taught, it was just common knowledge. This accusation makes Annas look foolish and in order to protect Him a guard strikes Jesus with his hand, to shut Him up. This is a terrible insult to Jews. Note that the Guard does not challenge what Jesus said, but instead just tries to protect the position and name of Annas. It was also highly unusual for a guard to strike a prisoner while making a defense. Jesus doesn’t retaliate, He simply makes His attacker consider his motive for attacking Him. Seeing that their questioning is going nowhere, Annas decides to send Jesus to Caiphas for the “official” questioning.
John 18:25-27: "Meanwhile, as Simon Peter was standing by the fire warming himself, they asked him again, “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it, saying, “No, I am not.” But one of the household slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Didn’t I see you out there in the olive grove with Jesus?” Again Peter denied it. And immediately a rooster crowed."
It's interesting, John keeps switching from the courtyard to the room, back and forth. This time he focuses back on the courtyard and records the second and third time Peter denied Jesus that night and in doing so fulfilling the word from Jesus ("you will deny Me three times before the rooster crows"). Also an indication of the time of day, it is now early dawn. So Peter had been the first to openly claim his faith in Jesus as the Christ and here we see him completely denying Him in the face of danger to self; one of the first to do so.
Now we move on. John does not record the questioning of Jesus by the other leaders, as this had already been done in the other Gospels.
So in Jewish law, like was said, it was illegal for these men to meet at night. Also, the death sentence could not be pronounced on the day of the trial, there had to be at least one day in between (a time of reflection). These leaders got around this by having a morning session immediately after the night one in order to pronounce the death sentence. The thinking here is that they had two sessions, one one day and one the next. Since the Jews were unable to carry out a death sentence under Roman law (they had no legal right), they brought Jesus to the Roman Governor in order to convince Him to execute Jesus. Roman Courts were open from sunrise to sunset so in the early hours (7-8am) Jesus was brought to Pilate.
John 18:28-32: "Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Then he was taken to the headquarters of the Roman governor. His accusers didn’t go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate the Passover. So Pilate, the governor, went out to them and asked, “What is your charge against this man?” “We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal!” they retorted. “Then take him away and judge him by your own law,” Pilate told them. “Only the Romans are permitted to execute someone,” the Jewish leaders replied. (This fulfilled Jesus’ prediction about the way he would die.)"
The Jewish leadership, guards, followers, and Jesus stand outside the governor’s quarters; not entering a “gentile abode” for fear of defilement. The thinking is they will be ceremoniously unclean if they had and would not be able to participate in the rest of the Passover traditions and activities. How hypocritical! They broke the law to condemn the Messiah who was innocent but would not break CEREMONIAL law. They just didn’t get it at all! So Roman law required the accuser and the accused to face each other and debate in a Roman court in front of a Roman judge. Pilate as governor also serves as judge so he starts the proceedings with a request “whats the charge?” Now the Jewish leaders know that the Roman courts would not consider a case based on Jewish religion, so they make a sort of generic charge against Jesus, they say He is an evil-doer, not a good guy. Pilate, refusing to be manipulated, says “you know, if He is not a good guy according to your laws, judge Him yourself! Why do you need me??” hen the Jews come out with their true intention, they are looking for the death penalty. Something only a Roman Judge could grant. Note that they haven’t brought a charge yet, they have only brought the penalty. So John inserts here a little editorial comment, re-enforcing the fact that even if Jesus is bound and silent now, He has already spoken of this event and He has already foretold of its happening. In other words, Jesus controls even THIS situation, because He called it in advance.
John 18:33-38a: "Then Pilate went back into his headquarters and called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him. Jesus replied, “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” Pilate said, “So you are a king?”Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked."
Once Pilate hears their request of the death penalty, he takes custody of Jesus and he brings Him into the Praetorium, which is a courtyard inside the government complex of buildings. He officially begins the trial with the questioning of Jesus. Pilate begins with the accusation that could potentially carry the death penalty. It was against Roman law to declare oneself a King or leader without Roman approval. Pilate is insulted and replies that he is the governor and the judge and NOT a Jew. He is not personally involved in the matter but he sees that the Jews want to kill Jesus and he wants to know what they are so worked up about. Here Jesus is proclaiming His true nature and as not part of this physical world. He’s very logical. If He were a king of this world, there would be fighting and civil war, which the Jews accuse Him of stirring up and trying to cause in order to gain favor. So, Jesus is saying “Yeah, I am a King, but not of this world.” Jesus knows that Pilate has not had any such reports about Him. The Lord acknowledges the part of the accusation that is true, He is a King and He corrects the part which is not true He is not a secular King (worldly King). Pilate understands this but he is now curious and asks the Lord to explain more about the type of King that He is. Pilate probably expected Jesus to deny the charge, but when He doesn’t, Pilate now wants clarification. Jesus proclaims so fully and in a way that would challenge this Pagan governor before Him. Jesus is not looking to save His skin, He is looking to reveal Himself to everyone who has even the slightest ability to believe. Jesus makes a confession to Pilate of His true divine person. Jesus is drawing Pilate in little by little and extends an invitation for Pilate to seek this truth. The question left open to Pilate is: "Are you a truth seeker?" Pilate’s response here is so sad because it is missing one little word that would make a HUGE difference. If he would have said “what is the truth?” this would have opened the door to his heart for Jesus to plant the seed of the truth. Instead, he said “what is truth?” which acknowledges what Jesus is saying but closes off all discussion about it. His point was like most educated Romans at the time: skeptical, suspicious, and self-serving. Pilate was thinking, “Everyone has their own truth. Could this guy have THE truth?” Pilate answers basically “Could there really be ONE truth?”
John 18:38b-40: "Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime. But you have a custom of asking me to release one prisoner each year at Passover. Would you like me to release this ‘King of the Jews’?” But they shouted back, “No! Not this man. We want Barabbas!” (Barabbas was a revolutionary.)"
Pilate really believes that Jesus innocent of the charges and not subject to death, but he doesn’t release Him either. This is a concession to the Jewish leaders who are pressing him for some sort of action. The other gospel writers provide us for information that at this point, Pilate (learning of Jesus’ origins in Galilee) decides to send Jesus to be questioned by Herrod the tetrarch (A Greek term. In the Roman Empire this was the governor of one of four divisions of a country or province) of the Northern region where Galilee is located. Now Herrod was one of the sons of Herrod the Great, and Herrod the Great was the King when Jesus was born (remember He sent the Wisemen to find Jesus and come back to him to tell him of Jesus’ location so he could kill Him). When Herrod died, his kingdom was split up among his sons and “Herrod Jr” received the land in the Northern region around Galilee. So Jesus meets with Herrod but nothing is found to Pilate’s advantage so Jesus is returned to the Roman governor for further questioning. So this is when Pilate attempts to set Jesus free by use of a Jewish tradition to minimize the impact that this might have. He was kind of looking for a way out of this problem. What he should have done was simply let Jesus go because as the judge, he found no guilt in Him. But he doesn’t do that. He instead tries to appease Jewish leadership. So the custom was to present two prisoners in front of the people at this time, and let them choose one for freedom (this was usually done during the Passover). Now the insult to the Jews is that Jesus is innocent and He is put up against a man who is a convicted thief and murderer (Matthew 27; Mark 15). Pilate is confident at first that the people will choose Jesus. How could they not? He’s the innocent one! He is good and has done miracles, in fact! That is justice, after all, to choose the innocent man over the murderer. However, that is NOT what they do. The problem is, Pilate can’t help provoking the Jewish leaders by offering Jesus up as “their King”. You can imagine the laughter of the Jewish soldiers, the anger and resentment of the Jewish leaders and people when called upon to choose between “their King” or this guy over here, Barabbus. To Pilate’s surprise, the people call upon the him to save Barabbus. So, frustrated to not be able to free Jesus in this way, Pilate is going to try another way.