John 18 – Jesus’ Arrest and Trial
A. Betrayal and arrest in the garden.
1. (1-3) Jesus enters the garden, followed by Judas and his troops.
When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered. And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples. Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.
a. Over the Brook Kidron: When Jesus went from the city of Jerusalem, and crossed the Brook Kidron. This small stream was the drainage from the temple, and would be reddish from the blood of thousands of Passover lambs. This would have been a vivid reminder to Jesus of His soon sacrifice.
i. “From the altar there was a channel down to the brook Kedron, and through that channel the blood of the Passover lambs drained away. When Jesus crossed the brook Kedron it would still be red with the blood of the lambs which had been sacrificed.” (Barclay)
ii. “The very brook would remind him of his approaching sacrifice, for through it flowed the blood and refuse from the temple.” (Spurgeon)
b. There was a garden: John did not name this as the Garden of Gethsemane, but the other Gospel writers did (Matthew 26:36 and Mark 14:32). Jesus often met there with His disciples, perhaps to sleep for the night under the shelter of the olive trees or in a nearby cave.
i. Luke 21:37 says that during this Passover week, Jesus spent the nights with His disciples on the Mount of Olives. Yet, probably not only during that week but they often met there. This “would be a curious way of referring to Jesus’ custom on the present visit only. It probably indicates that He had been in the habit of using the garden through the years.” (Morris)
ii. It was a familiar place. “It is plain that, having consecrated himself for the impending sacrifice, he now made no attempt to hide from his enemies, but went to the place where Judas would normally expect to find him.” (Bruce)
iii. “St. John mentions nothing of the agony in the garden; probably because he found it so amply related by all the other evangelists.” (Clarke)
c. Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops: Judas came to the garden with team of soldiers to seize and arrest Jesus. He led both a detachment of troops (a large number of Roman soldiers), and officers from the temple security force. Why they came with such force is not directly answered; the religious leaders or the Romans must have expected or feared some kind of battle or conflict.
i. Lanterns, torches: “With these they had intended to search the corners and caverns, provided Christ had hidden himself; for they could not have needed them for any other purpose, it being now the fourteenth day of the moon’s age, in the month Nisan, and consequently she appeared full and bright.” (Clarke)
ii. This detachment of troops was well armed with swords and clubs, and Jesus noted how unnecessary it was: Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me (Matthew 26:55).
iii. Detachment: “That word, if it is correctly used, can have three meanings. It is the Greek word for a Roman cohort and a cohort had six hundred men. If it was a cohort of auxiliary soldiers, a speira had one thousand men, two hundred and forty cavalry and seven hundred and sixty infantry. Sometimes, much more rarely, the word is used for the detachment of men called a maniple which was made up of two hundred men.” (Barclay)
iv. “The article in τὴν σπεῖραν [detachment] points to the battalion which garrisoned the Antonia fortress in Jerusalem. The ‘officers’ (ὑπηρέτας) are members of the Temple police, a body of men drawn from the tribe of Levi.” (Trench)
v. This shows that Judas misunderstood the nature of Jesus and at the same time underestimated His power. Had Jesus been of the nature to physically battle against Judas and the devil driving the betrayer, the detachment of troops was not enough.
vi. A sinless Man in an appointed garden was about to do battle with Satan’s representative (Luke 22:3). The first time this happened, the sinless man failed. The Second Adam would not fail.
2. (4-6) Jesus speaks to Judas and the detachment of troops.
Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?” They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am He.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
a. Jesus, therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him: Judas hoped to catch Jesus by surprise, but this was impossible. Jesus’ entire life was prepared for this hour, and He was ready for it.
b. Whom are you seeking: Taking the lead, Jesus said this for at least two reasons. He wanted any potential violence to be directed to Him and not to His disciples, so He wanted to identify Himself. Jesus also wanted Judas and the detachment of troops to announce their evil intention.
c. Jesus of Nazareth: This was the common name that Jesus was known by. Jesus wasn’t normally identified by His role as a rabbi or a carpenter, and not by His apparent parentage (Jesus ben Joseph). Jesus chose and received the title that identified Him with Nazareth.
i. “They called him Jesus of Nazareth by way of reproach. He takes it upon him, and wears it for a crown. And should not we do likewise?” (Trapp)
d. I am: Jesus answered them with this curious phrase, two words in both English and in the original language (ego eimi). It is curious because Jesus didn’t say I am He, but simply I am – the He was added by the translators and is not in the original text. With this Jesus consciously proclaimed that He was God, connecting His words to the many previous I am statements recorded in the Gospel of John, especially in John 8:58 (but also John 6:48, 8:12, 9:5, 10:9, 10:11-14, 10:36, 11:25, 14:6).
i. “The soldiers had come out secretly to arrest a fleeing peasant. In the gloom they find themselves confronted by a commanding figure, who so far from running away comes out to meet them and speaks to them in the very language of deity.” (Morris)
ii. “The Greek ego eimi rendered I am he might well suggest divinity to those familiar with the Greek Bible, for it is the rendering in the LXX for the sacred name of God (see Exodus 3:14).” (Tasker)
e. Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground: When Jesus declared His divine identity (in the words I am), Judas and soldiers all fell back. There was such a display of divine presence, majesty, and power in those two words that the enemies of Jesus were powerless to stand against Him.
i. “Here our Saviour let out a little beam of the majesty of his Deity, and 500 men fell before him.” (Trapp)
ii. This shows that Jesus was completely in control of the situation. As a practical matter, Jesus did not have to go with this arresting army led by Judas. With God’s power expressed through His words alone, Jesus could have overpowered them and easily escaped.
iii. “Our Lord chose to give them this proof of his infinite power, that they might know that their power could not prevail against him if he chose to exert his might, seeing that the very breath of his mouth confounded, drove back, and struck them down to the earth.” (Clarke)
iv. “The question on the miraculous nature of this incident is not whether it was a miracle at all (for it is evident that it must be regarded as one), but whether it were an act specially intended by our Lord, or as a result of the superhuman dignity of His person, and the majestic calmness of His reply.” (Alford)
v. “Wherever in our Lord’s life any incident indicates more emphatically than usual the lowliness of His humiliation, there, by the side of it, you get something that indicates the majesty of His glory.” (Maclaren)
· Jesus was born as a humble baby, yet announced by angels.
· Jesus was laid in a manger, yet signaled by a star.
· Jesus submitted to baptism as if He were a sinner, then heard the Divine voice of approval.
· Jesus slept when He was exhausted, but awoke to calm the storm.
· Jesus wept at a grave, then called the dead to life.
· Jesus surrendered to arrest, then declared “I am” and knocked all the troops over.
· Jesus died on a cross, but in it He defeated sin, death, and Satan.
3. (7-9) Jesus willingly goes with the arresting army.
Then He asked them again, “Whom are you seeking?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way,” that the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, “Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.”
a. He asked them again: Jesus didn’t want the soldiers to panic and injure the disciples. Jesus called their attention back to Him, and asked them again a question they were probably hesitant to answer.
b. I have told you that I am: Jesus said the same words as before (I am, ego eimi) yet Judas and the troops did not fall to the ground as before. This shows that these were not magic words, but previously they all fell at the conscious display of God’s power.
c. If you seek Me, let these go their way: After the display of power described in John 18:6, Jesus did not continue to oppose His arrest. Jesus willingly gave Himself up to protect His disciples. This was the same sacrificial love that would find its ultimate peak at the cross. It also shows why Jesus knocked the soldiers to the ground; the show of power was to protect the disciples, not Jesus Himself.
i. Let these go their way: “These words are rather words of authority, than words of entreaty. I voluntarily give myself up to you, but you must not molest one of these my disciples. At your peril injure them. Let them go about their business. I have already given you a sufficient proof of my power: I will not exert it in my own behalf, for I will lay down my life for the sheep; but I will not permit you to injure the least of these.” (Clarke)
ii. “In a sense, he sacrificed himself for their safety. He had promised the Father that he would protect them (John 17:12) and he fulfilled the guarantee of the voluntary surrender of his life.” (Tenney)
iii. The disciples took the words let these go their way as their signal to leave. They probably left as fast and as quietly as they could.
d. Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none: In doing this, Jesus fulfilled what He had already said at John 6:39 and John 17:12.
4. (10-12) Peter attacks one among the party arresting Jesus.
Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” Then the detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him.
a. Simon Peter, having a sword: The disciples apparently sometimes carried swords, and Luke 22:38 indicates that they had at least two on this occasion. Having a sword made sense when there were robbers and violent men to consider.
b. Drew it and struck the high priest’s servant: Each of the other Gospel accounts mention that one of the disciples did this, but John is the only Gospel writer to say that it was Simon Peter who made this attack. Peter wanted to fulfill his previous promise to defend Jesus at all cost: Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You! (Matthew 26:35).
i. “It is exceedingly thoughtless in Peter to try to prove his faith by the sword, while he could not do so by his tongue.” (Calvin, cited in Morris)
ii. “But it was a sad omen (saith a noble and renowned writer, Lord Brook) that Peter’s sword should cut off the ear of Malchus, which signifies a king or kingly authority. How the pope hath lifted up himself…above all that is called Augustus, or emperor, is better known than that it need be here related.” (Trapp)
c. And cut off his right ear: It has been noted (but not proved) that this meant Peter, holding the sword in his right hand, must have attacked the high priest’s servant from behind, because it would be near impossible to cut off his right ear if he was facing the servant Malchus. It is entirely possible that Peter deliberately chose a non-solider, and attacked him from behind. This was not a shining display of courage.
i. It may be significant that John alone mentioned the high priest’s servant by name, Malchus. This is another piece of evidence that John had connections to those in the household of the high priest (John 18:16). It may also indicate that Malchus later became a Christian, because often people in the Gospels and Acts are named because they were known among the early Christian community.
d. Put your sword into the sheath: Jesus did not praise Peter for what he did; He told him to stop. This was to protect Peter as much as to protect those who came to arrest Jesus. Most of all, it was that Jesus could drink the cup the Father gave to Jesus, the measure of suffering and judgment He would endure.
i. “Peter’s impulsive action was more likely to get himself and his companions into serious trouble than to do his Master any good, but even if it had a better chance of success, Jesus would allow nothing to stand in the way of his bringing to completion the work which his Father had given him to do.” (Bruce)
ii. John the Gospel writer named Peter as the offender, but did not tell that Jesus miraculously healed the cut-off ear of the high priest’s servant (Luke 22:51).
e. The captain and officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him: This describes two different groups. The captain was the Roman commander and the officers of the Jews were the temple security force.
i. The captain: “The ‘commander’ (chiliarchos) was the officer in charge, possible the executive of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem (cf. the use of the same term in Acts 22:24, 26, 27, 28; 23:17, 19, 22). The technical expression strengthens the impression that the Romans supported the action of the Jewish hierarchy.” (Tenney)
f. And bound Him: They regarded Jesus dangerous enough to send many soldiers after Him, so in custody they bound Jesus, treating Him as if He were a threat. Yet Jesus remained bound only because He surrendered to His Father’s will; hands that healed the sick and raised the dead could certainly break bonds.
i. We could say that in spiritual application, there were two ways that Jesus was bound.
· Jesus was bound with the cords of love.
· Jesus was bound with our bonds.
ii. “This was done as Irenaeus hath it, while the Deity rested; for he could as easily have delivered himself as he did his disciples, but this sacrifice was to be bound with cords to the altar; he was pinioned and manacled, as a malefactor.” (Trapp)
iii. “I do not find any indication that His bonds were unloosed by Annas, or that he had even a moment’s relief or relaxation granted to him; but, with the cruel ropes still binding him fast, he was sent across the great hall into the other wing of the palace in which Caiaphas resided.” (Spurgeon)
B. Jesus’ trial before Annas; Peter’s denial.
1. (13-14) Jesus is lead away to Annas.
And they led Him away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year. Now it was Caiaphas who advised the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.
a. They led Him away to Annas first: Annas was not the official High Priest but as father-in-law to Caiaphas, he was the one who put Caiaphas in office.
i. “Annas was the power behind the throne in Jerusalem. He himself had been High Priest from A.D. 6 to 15. Four of his sons had also held the high priesthood and Caiaphas was his son-in-law.” (Barclay)
ii. “There is a passage in the Talmud which says: ‘Woe to the house of Annas! Woe to their serpent’s hiss! They are High Priests; their sons are keepers of the treasury; their sons-in-law are guardians of the Temple; and their servants beat the people with staves.’ Annas and his household were notorious.” (Barclay)
iii. “At any rate, the Lord is led to Annas first, and we feel sure that there was a motive for that act. Annas, in some sense, had a priority in the peerage of enmity to Jesus; he was malignant, cruel, and unscrupulous enough to be premier in the ministry of persecutors.” (Spurgeon)
b. It was Caiaphas who advised the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people: This unknowing prophecy of Caiaphas is recorded in John 11:49-53. Without knowing, Caiaphas spoke the truth that it was good for Jesus to die for the people.
i. In that unknowing prophecy Caiaphas spoke logically (the good of the many outweigh the good of the one) but not morally (it was wrong to put an innocent Man, God’s Messiah, to death).
ii. One reason John reminds us of what Caiaphas said in John 11:49-52 is to show that the judgment against Jesus was already decided. It would not be a fair trial. “Jesus might expect little from such a judge. Here was no idealist ready to see that justice was one, but a cynical politician who had already spoken in favor of Jesus’ death.” (Morris)
2. (15-16) Peter and John follow Jesus to the house of the high priest.
And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door outside. Then the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to her who kept the door, and brought Peter in.
a. Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: Peter embarrassed himself at the Garden of Gethsemane with his sword and the ear of the high priest’s servant. Hoping for a second chance to show his loyalty, he followed Jesus to where He was held. Most believe that the other disciple was John himself, who had previous connections with the high priest and his household (was known to the high priest).
i. “It may be that the family had connections with the priesthood, either by business relationships or possibly by marital ties.” (Tenney)
ii. “Perhaps for that he and his father Zebedee were wont to serve the fat priests with the best and daintiest fish (for this other disciple was John, who had first fled with the rest, and now came sculking in to see what would become of his master).” (Trapp)
b. Spoke to her who kept the door, and brought Peter in: John’s connection to the high priest and his servants explains how Peter and John had any access to the property of the high priest on such a night.
3. (17-18) Peter denies his relationship to Jesus the first time.
Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves. And Peter stood with them and warmed himself.
a. You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you: A simple servant girl who minded the door to the courtyard of the high priest’s house questioned Peter. This first test of Peter’s loyalty seemed easy; he could have answered nothing, mumbled something, or said, “I know Him.”
i. You are not also one of this Man’s disciples: The also means that John was already known to her as a disciple of Jesus. “The servant-girl presumably knew the ‘other disciple’ to be a follower of Jesus, and when she saw him bringing in Peter, she said, in effect: ‘Oh no, not another!’” (Bruce)
ii. This Man’s disciples: “This man’s in the Greek is contemptuous, more akin to ‘this fellow’s’ or ‘this person’s’.” (Tasker)
iii. “A silly wench is too hard for this stout stickler.” (Trapp)
b. I am not: Peter responded to her negative statement with a negative of his own. Instead of being loyal to Jesus, he denied being His disciple. This seems to have happened at the door and may have been a quick exchange that Peter did not give much thought to, yet even that was a clear denial of association with Jesus.
i. “The first denial was to all appearance rashly and almost inadvertently made, from a mere feeling of shame.” (Alford)
c. Peter stood with them and warmed himself: The sense is that Peter was there not only because it was cold and he wanted warmth. Peter also wanted to blend into the small crowd so that he would not stand out and want to be noticed. It was dangerous to be noticed, because he was a disciple of the man arrested and in serious trouble.
i. Peter stood: “Luke is quite definite that they and Peter were sitting: so too Matthew as to Peter. John seems to speak of them and Peter as standing: but these words used by John are so frequently idiomatic to mean merely ‘to be stationary,’ ‘to continue,’ ‘to be there,’ ‘to be,’ exactly like the Italian stare, that the standing cannot be pressed — no more here than e.g. in the other nineteen places where they occur in John’s gospel.” (Trench)
4. (19-21) Annas interrogates Jesus.
The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine. Jesus answered him, “I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said.”
a. The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine: Annas wanted to know about Jesus’ disciples, perhaps because of fear or jealousy. Then he wanted to know about His doctrine, what Jesus taught that might be of concern to the religious establishment.
i. Annas basically brought the prisoner before him and asked, “Tell us all what You’re guilty of and everyone who is with You.” In His reply, Jesus did not mention His disciples at all. He protected them in every way possible.
ii. “Annas bore a very promising name, for it signifies clement or merciful, yet he was the man to begin the work of ensnaring the Lord Jesus in his speech, if he could be ensnared.” (Spurgeon)
b. I spoke openly to the world: Jesus told Annas that He did not have secret doctrine or teaching that could be revealed under interrogation. His teaching was open, in synagogues and in the temple. Jesus could even say, in secret I have said nothing.
i. “Truth is bold and barefaced; when heresy hides itself, and loathes the light.” (Trapp)
c. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them: In saying this, Jesus wasn’t being uncooperative, only asserting His legal right. There was to be no formal charge against the accused until witnesses had been heard and been found to be truthful.
i. It was the high priest’s duty to call forth the witnesses first, beginning with those for the defense. These basic legal protections for the accused under Jewish law were not observed in the trial of Jesus. “Jesus therefore claimed that, if his teaching was in question, evidence should be heard in the normal way.” (Bruce)
ii. “For the Talmud states, Sanhedrin. C. iv. S. 1, that-’Criminal processes can neither commence not terminate, but during the course of the day. If the person be acquitted, the sentence may be pronounced during that day; but, if he be condemned, the sentence cannot be pronounced till the next day. But no kind of judgment is to be executed, either on the eve of the Sabbath, or the eve of any festival.’” (Clarke)
5. (22-24) The end of Jesus’ appearance before Annas.
And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, “Do You answer the high priest like that?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?” Then Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
a. One of the officers who stood by: This anonymous official began the physical abuse of Jesus that would end in His crucifixion. In His deity, Jesus knew his name; but as one of those who did not know what they did against God’s Messiah (Luke 23:34), his name was graciously not recorded.
b. Struck Jesus with the palm of his hand: His name was not recorded, but his crime was. Without warning he strongly slapped Jesus with the palm of his hand and accused Him of disrespect to the high priest.
i. “This blow was a signal for the indignities which followed.” (Alford)
c. If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil, but if well, why do you strike Me: Jesus asked both the unnamed official and Annas to justify this physical abuse. Jesus exposed the shameful truth, that they did not follow their own standards and practice of justice with Jesus of Nazareth.
d. Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest: Annas had nothing to answer to Jesus. He sent Jesus on to a more official trial to the man who held the actual office of high priest, and sent Jesus bound as if He were a dangerous criminal.
6. (25-27) Peter denies Jesus twice more.
Now Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. Therefore they said to him, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not!” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed.
a. Peter stood and warmed himself: Watching Jesus from a distance at the house of Annas, Peter hoped to mix into the small crowd and remain unnoticed. Yet because Peter was with them, therefore they noticed him.
i. Luke 22:61 indicates that Peter could see Jesus, probably at a distance. Peter likely saw the hard slap unexpectedly put upon Jesus, and understood that this whole incident was going to be more violent and messy than he had thought. The shock of this sight increased the level of stress and panic for Peter as he stood and warmed himself.
b. You are not also one of His disciples, are you: This unnamed one at the fire asked the same question as the servant girl at the door (John 18:17), even placing it in the negative as she did. For a second time, Peter said I am not and denied any association with Jesus.
i. You are not also one of His disciples: For a second time we see that there was another disciple present – John, no doubt. Peter knew John was present and known as a disciple of Jesus, but he didn’t want to be known.
c. One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off: This is the kind of thing that John would know, having connection with the high priest and his household (John 18:15-16).
d. Did I not see you in the garden with Him: The relative of Malchus would pay special notice of the man who attacked his kin. Even in the light of the night fire in the courtyard he though he recognized Peter as the man who attacked Malchus with a sword from behind.
i. Did I not see you: “The ‘I’ is emphatic in the original: as we say, Did I not see thee with my own eyes?” (Alford)
e. Peter then denied again: Matthew 26:74 tells us that Peter denied this third time with cursing and swearing, hoping that this would make them think even more that he was not associated with Jesus. We could say that at this point it was not the faith of Peter that failed, but his courage.
f. Immediately a rooster crowed: This fulfilled what Jesus said in John 13:38, and must have immediately reminded Peter of the prediction Jesus made in the upper room.
C. Jesus is brought before Pilate.
1. (28) Jesus is brought to the Roman leader.
Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.
a. They led Jesus from Caiaphas: After interrogation, Annas sent Jesus to Caiaphas (John 18:24) for a trial in two parts. The first was a hastily gathered assembly of the council recorded in Matthew 26:57-68. The second was the official, daylight meeting of the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66).
i. The Gospel of John mentions only that Jesus was sent to Caiaphas, and then Caiaphas sent Jesus on to Pilate. John focused on the appearance of Jesus before the Roman leader, Pontius Pilate.
b. To the Praetorium: This word described the headquarters of Pilate in Jerusalem, likely at the Roman Fortress Antonia, where Pilate held court and conducted public business.
i. “The term ‘praetorium’ denotes the headquarters of a Roman military governor (as the governor of Judea was). In a Roman camp, the praetorium was the commander’s headquarters in the centre of the camp.” (Bruce)
ii. “Philo tells us that on one occasion Pilate hung up shields in Herod’s palace (Leg. Ad Gai., 299). Some years later Florus when governor lodged in the same palace (Josephus, Bell. Ii, 301, 328). The evidence is not enough to prove that Pilate must have lodged there and the whole matter must be regarded as uncertain.” (Morris)
c. They themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled: John used an ironic touch to expose the hypocrisy of the Jewish rulers. They refused to break relatively small commands regarding ceremonial defilement, but broke much greater commands in rejecting God’s Messiah and condemning an innocent Man to death.
i. “The examination began therefore in the open air in front of the building.” (Dods)
ii. “Putrid hypocrisy! they stand upon legal defilements, and care not to defile their consciences with innocent blood. What is this, but to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel?” (Trapp)
iii. “Westcott conjectures that John may well have entered the Praetorium and this have been in a position to observe what was going on.” (Morris)
d. That they might eat the Passover: This statement introduces a controversy, namely this – was the Last Supper a Passover meal, and was Jesus crucified on the Passover or the day following? This statement in John 18:28 seems to indicate that Passover was the coming day, the day Jesus would be crucified and that the Last Supper was the day before Passover. Yet several passages seem to indicate that the Last Supper was a Passover meal (Matthew 26:18, Mark 14:12, 14:16, Luke 22:15). The best solution to this difficult chronological problem seems to be that Jesus was crucified on the Passover, and the meal they had the night before was as Passover meal, held after sunset (the start of the day in Jewish reckoning). We can speculate that Passover lambs were sacrificed on both days, a necessity due to the massive number of lambs sacrificed in Jerusalem at the temple on Passover (later described by Josephus as being more than 200,000).
i. “Bishop Pearce supposes that it was lawful for the Jews to eat the paschal lamb any time between the evening of Thursday and that of Friday. He conjectures too that this permission was necessary on account of the immense number of lambs which were to be killed for that purpose.” (Clarke)
ii. Tasker suggested another possibility: “It may be, however, that by the passover in this verse the whole Passover festival, which lasted seven days, is meant; and that the expression eat the passover refers not to the main Passover meal which may have already taken place, but to the remaining meals that would be taken in the Passover season.”
2. (29-32) The religious leaders explain the matter to Pilate.
Pilate then went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” They answered and said to him, “If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.” Then Pilate said to them, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law.” Therefore the Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,” that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die.
a. Pilate then went out to them: The religious leaders had reason to expect a favorable result as they brought Jesus to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. Secular history presents Pilate as a cruel, ruthless man, completely insensitive to the moral feelings of others.
i. Pilate had married a granddaughter of Caesar Augustus. “If it were not for his influential connections through marriage, he would never have come even to the relatively insignificant post he held as procurator of Judea.” (Boice)
ii. Philo, the ancient Jewish scholar from Alexandria, described Pilate: “His corruption, his acts of insolence, his rapine, his habit of insulting people, his cruelty, his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never-ending gratuitous and most grievous inhumanity.” (Barclay)
iii. “He was a weak man who tried to cover up his weakness by a show of obstinacy and violence…his period of office was marked by several savage outbreaks of bloodshed (cf. Luke 13:1).” (Bruce)
b. What accusation do you bring against this Man: Consistent with Roman character, Pilate spoke directly to the matter at hand. He demanded to know the accusation. John recorded their evasion of the question: If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.
i. “They had had his cooperation in making the arrest. Now they apparently expected that he would take their word for it that the man the Romans had helped to arrest was dangerous and should be executed.” (Morris)
ii. “So they did not wish to make Pilate the judge, but the executor of the sentence which they had already illegally passed.” (Clarke)
iii. “‘We have condemned Him; that is enough. We look to you to carry out the sentence at our bidding.’ So the ‘ecclesiastical authority’ has often said to the ‘secular arm’ since then, and unfortunately the civil authority has not always been as wise as Pilate was.” (Maclaren)
c. You take Him and judge Him according to your law: Pilate responded to their evasion by telling them to resolve the matter themselves. If they would not bring Pilate an accusation that mattered to him, then they would have judge Him according to their own law and not bother the Romans.
i. John does not record it, but eventually the religious leaders did give a more specific answer to Pilate’s demand for an accusation: We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King (Luke 23:2).
d. It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death: Without yet answering Pilates demand for a specific accusation, the religious leaders explained why they did not want to judge Him according to their own law. They wanted Jesus dead, and the Romans did not allow them to execute the guilty under their own law.
i. “Josephus tells us, that it was lawful to hold a court of judgment in capital cases, without the consent of the Procurator.” (Alford)
ii. There were times when the religious leaders risked the disapproval of the Roman authorities and executed those they considered guilty without permission. Acts 7:54-60 records one such execution by stoning. When the Jewish leaders did put someone to death in this unauthorized way, it was generally by stoning.
iii. The religious leaders may have, in part, pressed for crucifixion to bring the curse of Deuteronomy 21:22-23 upon Jesus. He did bear that curse, to redeem us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13).
iv. “The power of life and death was in all probability taken from the Jews when Archelaus, king of Judea, was banished to Vienna, and Judea was made a Roman province; and this happened more than fifty years before the destruction of Jerusalem.” (Clarke)
e. That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled: Their demand that Jesus die a Roman death of crucifixion would fulfill Jesus’ own words (if I be lifted up, John 3:14). If the Jews had put Jesus to death, He would have been stoned to death and this prophecy about the manner of His death would not have been fulfilled.
i. John pointed to the answer of a question: If the enemies of Jesus were among the Jewish religious leaders, then why did He die a Roman death of crucifixion? John described much opposition to Jesus, but none of it from the Romans. The series of events leading to His death by crucifixion was somewhat strange and interesting.
3. (33-35) Pilate questions, Jesus clarifies.
Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?”
a. Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again: John combined two appearances of Jesus before Pilate, separated by an appearance of Jesus before Herod Antipas (Luke 23:8-12). Pilate hoped to give this problem to Herod because he ruled over Galilee, where Jesus was from. Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate, and this is the likely start of the second appearance.
b. Are You the King of the Jews: Pilate was already involved in this case, having sent a detachment of many Roman troops to arrest Jesus (John 18:3). This was his first look at the Man the religious leaders claimed was dangerous. Yet, Pilate’s question revealed doubt.
i. Pilate had seen wild revolutionaries who claimed to be kings. “Speaking of the anarchy in Judea which followed Herod’s death in 4 BC, Josephus says: ‘Any one might make himself king by putting himself at the head of a band of rebels whom he fell in with.’” (Bruce)
ii. He asked this question because Jesus didn’t look like a revolutionary or a criminal. These were the only types who would be foolish enough to claim to be the King of the Jews in the face of Roman domination. Pilate had seen these kinds of men before, and knew Jesus was not like them.
iii. “Pilate had expected to meet a sullen or belligerent rebel and met instead the calm majesty of confident superiority. He could not reconcile the character of the prisoner with the charge brought against him.” (Tenney)
c. Are you speaking for yourself: Jesus wanted to know if Pilate really wanted to know or if he asked the question on behalf of those who already condemned Jesus. The answer could be different depending on where his question came from.
i. “If Pilate asked it of himself, the question would have meant, ‘Art thou a political King, conspiring against Caesar’! If he had asked it of Caiaphas’ prompting, it would have meant, ‘Art Thou the Messianic King of Israel?’ The answer to the first question would have been ‘No’. The answer to the second question, ‘Yes.’” (Pilcher, cited in Morris)
d. What have You done: Pilate said that he, as a Roman, had no interest in Jewish spiritual or social ideas. Pilate simply understood that if the religious leaders wanted Jesus dead, He must have done something wrong and he wanted to find out what that was.
i. Jesus could have given a wonderful answer to the question, what have You done?
· He was without sin, never doing wrong against God or man.
· He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, calmed the storm, walked on the water, fed the multitude, defeated demons, and raised the dead.
· He taught the truth so clearly and powerfully that it astonished His listeners.
· He fearlessly confronted corruption.
· He poured His life into a few men who were destined, in God’s plan, to turn the world upside down (or right side up).
· He did not come to be served, but to serve – and to give His life a ransom for many.
ii. “Strange to ask the Prisoner what He had done! It had been well for Pilate if he had held fast by that question, and based his judgment resolutely on its answer!” (Maclaren)
4. (36) Jesus explains His kingdom to Pilate.
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
a. My kingdom is not of this world: Jesus plainly told Pilate that He was a king and could say, My kingdom. He also plainly told Pilate that His kingdom was not a rival political kingdom; it was and is not of this world.
· In contrast to the kingdoms of this world, the kingdom of Jesus originates in heaven (My kingdom is not of this world).
· In contrast to the kingdoms of this world, the kingdom of Jesus has peace for its foundation (If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight).
i. “There is no denial that His Kingdom is over this world; but that it is to be established by this world’s power.” (Alford)
b. My kingdom is not from here: We may imagine that Pilate was relieved and satisfied to hear that the kingdom of Jesus was not from here. Pilate may have concluded that Rome therefore had nothing to fear from Jesus and His kingdom.
i. Romans thought they knew about kingdoms and their might; that armies, navies, swords, and battles measured the strength of kingdoms. What Jesus knew was that His kingdom – though not of this world – was mightier than Rome and would continue to expand and influence when Rome passed away.
ii. My kingdom is not from here: Augustine observed from this verse that earthly kingdoms are based upon force, pride, the love of human praise, the desire for domination, and self interest – all displayed by Pilate and the Roman Empire.
iii. The heavenly kingdom, exemplified by Jesus and the cross, is based on love, sacrifice, humility, and righteousness – and is to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Gentiles foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:23).
iv. “The obvious inference from his words would be that he came in to the world from another realm, that whoever did not listen to him would not be characterized by truth, and that if Pilate really wanted to know what truth was, he would give Jesus his earnest attention.” (Tenney)
5. (37-38) Jesus and Pilate discuss truth.
Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all.”
a. Are You a king then: This was the statement that interested Pilate. He didn’t mind religious leaders among the Jews, even crazy ones, as long as they kept the peace and did not challenge the rule of Rome. A rival king might challenge, and Pilate wanted to investigate this.
i. “The word thou, in Pilate’s question, is emphatic and sarcastic. ‘Art THOU, thus captured, bound, standing here as a criminal in peril of thy life, A KING?’” (Alford)
ii. “The question could scarcely have been more sarcastic. Pilate, in his heart, despised the Jews as such, but here was poor Jew, persecuted by his own people, helpless and friendless; it sounded like mockery to talk of a kingdom in connection with him.” (Spurgeon)
b. You say rightly that I am a king: Jesus did not deny that He was a king. He insisted that He was born a king, and to be a different kind of King. He came to be a King of Truth, that He should bear witness to the truth.
i. “He made an appeal to Pilate, not for acquittal or mercy, but for recognition of truth.” (Tenney)
ii. “It is by truth alone that I influence the minds and govern the manners of my subjects.” (Clarke)
c. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world: Decades after this, Paul urged young Timothy with these words: Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate (1 Timothy 6:13). The good confession of Jesus was that He was a king, His kingdom came from heaven, and that it was a kingdom of eternal truth in contrast to earthly power.
i. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world: “‘I,’ is both times emphatic, and majestically set against the preceding scornful thou of Pilate.” (Alford)
ii. “Our Lord implies that He was born a King, and that He was born with a definite purpose. The words are a pregnant proof of an Incarnation of the Son of God.” (Alford)
iii. “Both statements can be paralleled elsewhere, but the combination us unusual, and in such a situation, unexpected.” (Morris)
d. What is truth: Pilate’s cynical question showed he thought Jesus claim to be a King of Truth was foolish. Probably, Pilate did not mean that there was no truth, but that there was no truth in the kind of spiritual kingdom Jesus represented. For Pilate, soldiers and armies were truth, Rome was truth, Caesar was truth, and political power was truth.
i. “Pilate knew his business, and to discuss the nature of truth formed no part of it. So he broke off the interrogation with the curt dismissal.” (Bruce)
ii. “It was a way of dismissing the subject. Pilate has learned what he wants to know. Jesus is no revolutionary. He represents no danger to the state. He may be safely released, and indeed He ought in common justice to be released.” (Morris)
iii. What is truth: Many in our day ask Pilate’s question, but from a different perspective. Noting that many things are true only on the basis of personal preference or perspective, they think all truth is personal, individual. They think there is no true truth about God; there is only my truth and your truth and one is as good as the other. Though this thinking is strong in our day, it denies the One who said: For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.
e. I find no fault in Him at all: Pilate spoke to the religious leaders who wanted Jesus dead and clearly told them that Jesus was not guilty. Pilate went far beyond saying that Jesus was not guilty of a crime worthy of death; he found no fault in Him at all. Pilate knew Jesus was innocent.
6. (39-40) Pilate tries to release Jesus, but the crowd cries for Barabbas.
“But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” Then they all cried again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.
a. You have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover: Judging there was something different – and innocent – about Jesus, Pilate hoped this custom of releasing a prisoner might help deliver this Man whom Pilate knew was innocent.
i. “Of which we have no information elsewhere; although Josephus (Antiquities 20.9,3) relates that at a passover Albinus released some robbers.” (Dods)
ii. “Nothing relative to the origin or reason of this custom is known. Commentators have swam in an ocean of conjecture on this point. They have lost their labour, and made nothing out.” (Clarke)
b. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews: Pilate phrased the question this way to appeal to the Jewish crowd. He thought they would want a Man named as their own King to be spared death by crucifixion.
i. “Like all weak men, he was not easy in his conscience, and made a futile attempt to get the right thing done, yet not suffer for doing it.” (Maclaren)
c. Not this Man, but Barabbas: The crowd rejected Jesus and chose Barabbas instead. Pilate hoped they would spare Jesus, but the crowd instead condemned Him.
i. Matthew 27:20 says that this was not a spontaneous response from the crowd, but one deliberately promoted by the religious leaders: But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus (also Mark 15:11).
ii. When the crowd chose Barabbas instead of Jesus, it reflected the fallen nature of all humanity. The name Barabbas sounds very much like son of the father. They chose a false, violent son of the father instead of the true Son of the Father. This prefigures the future embrace of the ultimate Barabbas – the one popularly called the Antichrist.
iii. People today still reject Jesus and choose another. Their Barabbas might be lust, it might be intoxication, it might be self and the comforts of life. “This mad choice is every day made, while men prefer the lusts of their flesh before the lives of their souls.” (Trapp)
d. Barabbas was a robber: Mark 15:7 tells us he was one of several insurrectionists, who had committed murder in the insurrection. The Romans would have thought of Barabbas as a terrorist and many Jews would think of him as a freedom fighter.
i. “It would seem that Barabbas was a member of the local resistance movement. Because of his opposition to the Romans he would be a hero to many of the Jews.” (Morris)
ii. “He uses the term almost certainly to denote (as Josephus habitually does) a Zealot insurgent. In Mark 15:27 (cf. Matthew 27:38) the same word is used of the two men who were crucified along with Jesus.” (Bruce)
iii. “Quite likely Barabbas was a guerrilla ‘resistance fighter’ who had been captured by the Romans and was being held for execution.” (Tenney)
iv. Barabbas was accused of at least three crimes: Theft (John 18:40), insurrection (Mark 15:7), and murder (Mark 15:7). “You and I may fairly take our stand by the side of Barabbas. We have robbed God of his glory; we have been seditious traitors against the government of heaven: if he who hateth his brother be a murderer, we also have been guilty of that sin.” (Spurgeon)
v. If anyone knew what it meant that Jesus died in his place, it was Barabbas. He was a terrorist and a murderer, yet he was set free while Jesus was crucified. The cross Jesus hung upon was probably originally intended for Barabbas.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission