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In the previous chapter we finished studying Jesus' final words of teaching and exhortation before His suffering and death (The Passion). In His teaching and prayer:
- He promised to send the Holy Spirit to comfort and empower the Apostles in His absence.
- He prays that God will go through with the plan to save mankind through His death and that this action glorify them both.
- He expresses love for His Apostles because of their faith and prays that God protect and enable them to do the mission they have been entrusted with.
- He prays that the love and unity between Themselves based on the Word will extend to the Apostles and all future disciples because of that same Word.
Once completed, Jesus will go across the valley to pray alone in the Garden of Gethsemane and this is where we begin.
Judas' betrayal – 18:1-11
Vs. 1-2 – When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples. Now Judas also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met 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 very deep or long, about 1 mile and a half) to take the road that led to Bethany on the other side. Bethany is where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived and where Jesus normally stayed when He was in Jerusalem.
The Garden of Gethsemane was a place where travelers stopped to rest before pushing on the final mile to Jerusalem. You could see the holy city from the garden.
So far it would be normal for the Lord 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.
Vs. 3-9 – Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, "Whom do you seek?" They answered Him, "Jesus the Nazarene." He said to them, "I am He." And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. So when He said to them, "I am He," they drew back and fell to the ground. Therefore He again asked them, "Whom do you seek?" And they said, "Jesus the Nazarene." Jesus answered, "I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way," to fulfill the word which He spoke, "Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one."
Note that John does not give any details concerning Jesus' prayers and dialogue with the Apostles in the garden. These are well covered in Matthew, Mark and Luke. John describes in the simplest of terms Jesus' betrayal and arrest. Judas was accompanied by a mix of Roman soldiers and temple security guards and went to the garden knowing he would find Jesus there. They had lanterns to search the area since it was dark in the garden.
Note that Jesus is the one who steps forward and takes them by surprise by asking them to name who they seek. They are so startled that in backing away they trip and fall. Note also that even in this episode Jesus is asking them to confess who they believe Him to be and they answer, "Jesus the Nazarene," which is this purely human name. They show Him no respect as a teacher or a prophet, certainly not the Lord and Messiah, just Jesus, the man from Nazareth.
Jesus repeats that He is the man they seek and demands that they let the Apostles go, not just for safety's sake but also to fulfill what He Himself had promised them in the past. During His ministry Jesus promised that none except Judas would be lost among His Apostles (John 6:39; John 17:12). That they escape now is fulfillment of that promise.
Vs. 10-11 – Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave's name was Malchus. So Jesus said to Peter, "Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?"
Peter, showing his misunderstanding of the moment, is ready to fight, ready to start the revolution to usher in the new kingdom, the new order of things. Jesus commands him to stop and in a reference to His prayer in the garden about the cup of suffering He has agreed to take, Jesus reaffirms His willingness to go to the cross because this is the Father's will. Oh yes, there will be a revolution and a great change, but it will be accomplished by His death and resurrection, not through civil war.
John does not mention it, but in Luke 22:51, Luke says that Jesus touched the man's ear and healed him.
Jesus before the Priests – vs. 12-27
There were three sessions before the High Priests but John reports only one.
- There is the session before Annas who was the former High Priest and father-in-law to the present High Priest, Caiaphas. John describes this one. Annas had retired but as in many situations with leaders, he kept the title of High Priest and its influence long after he was not officially in power. (I.e. Ex-Presidents still called Mr. President)
- Annas sent Jesus to his son-in-law Caiaphas, the official High Priest that year, and along with the other leaders of the Sanhedrin, they question Jesus in the late night.
- Caiaphas convened another early morning meeting at which Jesus was condemned.
- Jesus was taken to Pilate who at first sent Him to Herod and then later questioned and sent Him to His death on the cross.
In his gospel John only describes the session with Annas and Pilate with a brief mention of Caiaphas.
Vs. 12-14 – So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people.
Between the lines we are made to understand that Annas has been charged with making a preliminary examination, probably to establish charges against Jesus. John mentions Caiaphas' statement to show that the end of this trial was a foregone conclusion.
Vs. 15-18 – Simon Peter was following Jesus, and so was another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, but Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in. Then the slave-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 slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself.
John shifts the scene to the courtyard where he reveals that Peter and another disciple had followed from a distance. John is probably referring to himself here in the third person, as he has done before.
These events are taking place in spring and it would have been cold in the middle of the night. John records one of the three denials he will make concerning Jesus (again the cycle).
Vs. 19-24 – The high priest then questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching. Jesus answered him, "I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said." When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, "Is that the way You answer the high priest?" Jesus answered him, "If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?" So Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
Annas, with the title High Priest, is searching for a charge so that Caiaphas can have something to work with when the Sanhedrin is convened (70 elders who ruled with the permission of Rome). This questioning and a meeting of the leaders at night was against the law, but they went ahead with it anyways.
Jesus responds truthfully that what He has taught has been done so openly and anyone who has heard it can give Annas the information he wants. In other words, they had no right, and no need to bring Him bound to an illegal questioning because anything they needed to know was already public record.
This accusation made Annas look foolish and to protect him one of the guards strikes Jesus with his hand (the worst insult for a Jew) in order to silence Him. Note that he does not challenge what Jesus said, he only defends the position and honor of Annas. Also, it was highly irregular for a guard to strike a bound prisoner while he is making a defense. Jesus does not retaliate, He merely forces His attacker to consider his motive for striking Him. Seeing that their questioning was getting them nowhere, Annas and those with him decide to send Jesus on to Caiaphas for a more "official" hearing.
Vs. 25-27 – Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So 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 slaves of the high priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, said, "Did I not see you in the garden with Him?" Peter then denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed.
John switches back to pick up the scene in the courtyard with Peter. John records two more denials where Peter's accusers are circling closer to his true identity. With the cock crowing we have another fulfillment of Jesus' word about Peter, as well as an indication of what time it is. Peter had been the first to openly claim his faith in Jesus as the Christ and now he is one of the first to deny Christ openly when the threat of persecution is at hand.
Jesus before Pilate – vs. 28-38a
As I said, trials at night were illegal and the death sentence could not be pronounced on the same day as the trial; there had to be at least one day intervening. The leaders got around this by having an early morning session in addition to the late night one in order to officially pronounce the death penalty.
Since the Jews were not allowed to carry these out under Roman law, they brought Jesus to the Roman governor in order to convince him to execute Jesus. Roman courts were open from dawn to sunset and so in the early morning (7 – 8 AM) Jesus was brought to Pilate.
Vs. 28-32 – Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover. Therefore Pilate
went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this Man?" They answered and said to him, "If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you." So Pilate said to them, "Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law." The Jews said to him, "We are not permitted to put anyone to death," to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die.
The Jewish leaders, the guards, other followers and Jesus stand outside the governor's quarters not entering a "Gentile" abode for fear of defilement. They would be ceremoniously unclean and thus unable to participate in some of the remaining Passover activities. The leaders broke laws to condemn unjustly the Messiah but were not willing to break a ceremonial rule to eat food at the Passover.
Roman law and trials required accuser and accused to face each other before a Roman judge to argue over the validity of a charge. Pilate as governor serves also as judge and begins the proceedings with a request to know the "charge."
The Jews know that there is no way a Roman judge would consider a case based on Jewish religion so they make a generic charge against Jesus as an "evildoer."
Pilate, refusing to be manipulated, tells them to therefore judge Him according to their law… they do not need him!
Then the Jews come out with their true intention: they are looking for the "death penalty," something only a Roman judge can grant. John inserts an editorial comment here reinforcing the fact that even if Jesus is bound and silent at this point, He has already spoken about this event and foretold of its coming. In other words, Jesus controls even this situation because He called it in advance.
Vs. 33-38a – Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?" Pilate answered, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?" Jesus answered, "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." Therefore Pilate said to Him, "So You are a king?" Jesus answered, "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." Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?"
Once Pilate hears of their request for the death penalty, he takes custody of Jesus and brings Him into the Praetorium (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 sentence. To declare oneself a leader or king without Roman approval could lead to execution. Jesus tests Pilate to see if he himself really believes this accusation or if Jesus looks like one who would do this. Pilate is insulted replying that he is the governor and judge, he is not a Jew personally involved in the matter. However he sees that the Jews are out to kill Jesus and he wants to know what they are so worked up about.
The cycle continues as Jesus, this time before this pagan Roman official, proclaims His true nature and position as not being part of this physical world. He is 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 to gain favor with the Roman governor). But 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 corrects the part which is not true, He is not a secular or worldly king.
Pilate understands this, but now curious, he asks the Lord to explain more about the type of king He is. He probably expected Jesus to deny the charge, but when He does not, Pilate now wants some clarification.
Jesus proclaims His kingship more fully and in a way that would engage and challenge this pagan before Him. He makes a confession of His true person, a divine king that has come to the world to bring the truth. The invitation to Pilate is to pursue this truth: a truth that every person who seeks the truth will pursue. The question left open to Pilate is, "Are you a truth seeker?"
Pilate's response is so sad because it is missing one little word that would have made all the difference. If he would have said, "What is the truth?" this would have opened the door of his heart to let Jesus plant the seed of the kingdom. But he answered, "What is truth?" which recognized what Jesus was saying, but refused to engage in a discussion about it.
His point was like most educated Romans at the time: skeptical, suspicious and self-serving. The best truth was that which provided opportunity for self. Everybody has a "truth," but can there really be one certain truth?
In our next chapter we will continue Jesus' public Roman trial before Pilate.