We are sinners and criminals who have broken God’s holy law. Like Barabbas, we deserve to die. But Jesus died in our place, for our sins, and we have been set free. We don’t have to be “very important people” to accept our freedom in Christ. In fact, thanks to Jesus, God adopts us all as his own sons and daughters and gives us the right to call him Abba or “daddy”
This and other *Life Applications are in today’s reading.
Jesus Is Betrayed and Arrested / 18:1-11
After arriving in Gethsemane, Jesus sat his disciples down and told them to wait for him while he went and prayed. Then he took Peter, James, and John aside, expressed his great distress to them, and asked them to stay awake with him. How touching that Jesus, in this great hour of distress, sought human companionship from his closest friends—just someone to stay awake and be with him.
18:1 To get to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus and the disciples had to cross the Kidron Valley, a ravine that starts north of Jerusalem and goes between the hill where the Temple is built and the Mount of Olives, then moving on to the Dead Sea. During the rainy season, the valley filled with water torrents, but at this time it was dry.
18:2 Though Judas had left the group while they were still in the upper room (13:26-31), he calculated that Jesus would go to Gethsemane with his disciples because that seemed to be a favorite place for Jesus and the disciples to get away from the crowds when they were in Jerusalem (see Luke 21:37).
18:3-4 Judas acted as a guide to two groups: (1) a battalion of Roman soldiers (about 600 men), and (2) Temple guards who were Jewish Temple police. The Jews were given authority by the religious leaders to make arrests for minor infractions. The soldiers probably did not participate in the arrest but accompanied the Temple guard to make sure matters didn’t get out of control. The leading priests and Pharisees may have asked the Romans for help in arresting Jesus because their ultimate intention was to obtain assistance in executing Jesus. The police and the guards were prepared to meet violent resistance, for they carried blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons. It was still night—Judas’s departure into the night to go and betray Jesus had occurred only hours earlier (13:30). John did not record Judas’s kiss of greeting (Matthew 26:49; Mark 14:45; Luke 22:47-48), but the kiss marked a turning point for the disciples. They ran away (Matthew 26:56).
Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion transpired according to the prearranged, divine plan—he fully realized what was happening. The betrayer, Judas Iscariot, had been selected by Jesus. He knew from the beginning that Judas was a devil and would be his betrayer (see 6:64, 70). The time of his arrest was predetermined; it would happen during Passover, not before or after. The method of execution (crucifixion) was predetermined, so Jesus knew that he would be lifted up on the cross (see 12:32-33).
18:5-6 Jesus’ response is literally only “I am.” With these words, he declared his deity (as in 8:58; see Exodus 3:14). The reaction this utterance produced in those who were there to arrest him (including Judas) indicates that Jesus’ words startled this mass of armed men, for they all fell backward to the ground. Because some Temple guards were among the Roman soldiers, quite possibly they understood the significance of Jesus’ claim. Or perhaps they were overcome by his obvious power and authority. Among them may have been some of those who earlier (7:46) had concluded that, “We have never heard anyone talk like this!” The response of the guards shows that Jesus could have exercised his power to thwart his arrest, but chose not to.
18:7-9 Jesus was willing to turn himself over to the soldiers, but he asked them to let these others go, referring to the eleven disciples who were with him. By this action, he fulfilled his own statement, “I have not lost a single one of those you gave me.” Jesus was referring to words recorded in 6:39 and 17:12. Jesus was the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for the sheep (10:11).
18:10-11 Peter had promised to die for Jesus (Matthew 26:33-35), and he wasn’t going to let Jesus be taken without a fight. Peter’s sword was probably a dagger. Luke mentions that the disciples had two swords among them (Luke 22:38). Peter slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant. Luke added that Jesus then healed the servant’s ear (Luke 22:50-51).
Jesus was determined to do his Father’s will. (This is the only mention of the cup of suffering in John’s Gospel. See Mark 14:36.) In the Old Testament, the “cup” often referred to the outpouring of God’s wrath (see Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15; Ezekiel 23:31-34). For Jesus, the cup meant the suffering, isolation, and death that he would have to endure in order to atone for the sins of the world. Peter may have shown great loyalty, but he missed the point. All that was happening was part of God’s plan.
Immediately after the same reference to the cup of suffering, both Matthew and Mark mention that all the disciples deserted Jesus and fled (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50).
*LIFE APPLICATION: IT MAY BE BETTER NOT TO GET OUR WAY
Trying to protect Jesus, Peter pulled a sword and wounded the high priest’s servant. But Jesus told Peter to put away his sword and allow God’s plan to unfold. At times it is tempting to take matters into our own hands, to force the issue, or at least try to dictate the direction. Most often such moves lead to sin. Instead we must trust God to work out his plan. Think of it—if Peter had had his way, Jesus would not have gone to the cross, and we still would be dead in our sins.
Annas Questions Jesus / 18:12-24
Once the religious leaders had Jesus in their power, the events began to move with planned precision. Since the point of the effort was to kill Jesus, determining his guilt or innocence was a mere formality. To the leaders, the issue of timing the death was more important than asking whether Jesus deserved to die.
18:12-13 The Jews and the Romans arrested Jesus and tied him up like a common prisoner. Jesus was immediately taken to the high priest’s residence even though it was the middle of the night. The religious leaders were in a hurry—they wanted to complete the execution before the Sabbath and get on with the Passover celebration. First they took him to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Both Annas and Caiaphas had been high priests. According to Jewish law, the office of high priest was held for life. But the Romans didn’t like such concentration of power under one person, so they frequently changed the high priest. However, many Jews still considered Annas to be the high priest and still called him by that title. But although Annas retained much authority among the Jews, Caiaphas made the final decisions.
18:14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for all (see 11:49-52). Caiaphas said this because he feared the Romans. The Jews had limited religious freedom so long as they kept the peace. The Jewish leaders feared that Jesus’ miracles and large following would cause Rome to react and clamp down on them. So better that Jesus die than that many be endangered by an uprising.
*LIFE APPLICATION: AMBITION
Both Caiaphas and Annas cared more about their political ambitions than about their responsibility to lead the people to God. Though religious leaders, they had become evil. As the nation’s spiritual leaders, they should have been sensitive to God’s revelation. They should have known that Jesus was the Messiah about whom the Scriptures spoke, and they should have pointed the people to him. But when deceitful men and women pursue evil, they want to eliminate all opposition. Instead of honestly evaluating Jesus’ claims based on their knowledge of Scripture, these religious leaders sought to further their own selfish ambitions and were even willing to kill God’s Son, if that’s what it took, to do it.
18:15-18 Although all the disciples had fled when the soldiers arrived, two of them returned and decided to follow Jesus. So these two disciples followed Jesus to Annas’s house. This house was more like a compound surrounded by walls with a guarded gate. Only one disciple was identified: Peter; the other was apparently a disciple who was an acquaintance of the high priest. This other disciple only entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest.
Some scholars think the other disciple was John because of similar references to himself in 20:2 and 21:20, 24. But many scholars argue that John, the son of Zebedee from Galilee, would not have been known by Annas. Whoever this disciple was, he secured permission for Peter to enter the courtyard.
Immediately Peter was put on the defensive. Just as he entered, the woman who was watching the gate (actually a servant) asked Peter, “Aren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?” In striking contrast to Peter’s earlier declaration that he would lay down his life for his Lord (13:37), Peter denied it: “I am not.”
It was a spring evening, and the city of Jerusalem sits 2,500 feet above sea level. The charcoal fire kept the cold at bay. Peter’s story continues at 18:25.
18:19 Meanwhile the high priest wanted to know what Jesus had been teaching his followers. If a rebellion was feared by the authorities, Annas may have wanted to know how many disciples Jesus had gathered so as to estimate the force of their retaliation. Or Annas may have wanted to question the disciples about what Jesus had taught them. Jesus said nothing about his disciples, so as to protect them (as in 18:8), but was willing to talk about his teaching.
*LIFE APPLICATION: THE FAILURE
This would not be Peter’s only denial, for there in the courtyard he would deny even knowing Jesus two more times (18:25-27), just as Jesus had predicted (13:37-38; see also Matthew 26:33-35; Mark 14:29-31). Peter’s three denials were not merely instant responses to an immediate threat, but were intentional lies spoken at different times. We can learn from Peter’s experience:
1. Moments of peace allow us to recover from past troubles and prepare for the next. Peter and the other disciples had slept in the Garden of Gethsemane when they should have been praying (as Jesus had asked them to do). Instead of being prepared with the armor of God (see Ephesians 6:10-18), they were left with nothing but a short, human sword.
2. Moments of confusion and pressure require that we imitate Jesus. The disciples were out of sync with Christ—attacking when they should have been still; then running when they should have stood their ground. Claiming God’s protection means little until the time of trial comes. Depending on our own resources means that we have turned away from God’s help.
3. Moments of doubt and challenge should be met with honest estimates of our own strength. Instead of seeking Jesus’ help when told he would deny his master, Peter impulsively claimed more courage than he possessed. When we don’t admit our weaknesses and fears, we keep ourselves from recognizing God’s strength.
18:20-23 Jesus was not the leader of a cult or secret organization. He was not planning a religious coup. Instead, Jesus noted that everything he taught had been taught in public. Even the quiet and private talks with his disciples included no secret or subversive teachings. Everything he said to the disciples was told to the crowds, but they refused to understand. If Annas wanted to know the substance of Jesus’ teachings, he could ask anyone who had heard Jesus speak on several occasions. Interrogating the disciples would not be necessary. So Jesus turned the questioning back to Annas: “Why are you asking me this question? Ask those who heard me. They know what I said.”
This incited anger. One of the Temple guards, seeing Jesus’ answer as a sign of contempt for the high priest, struck Jesus on the face (probably a good hard slap). Jesus defended himself, for he had been slapped unjustly. This incident is similar to that recorded in Acts 23:2-5, where Paul was struck for not answering the high priest “correctly.” Jesus denied that he said anything wrong.
18:24 After being interrogated by Annas, Jesus was sent on to Caiaphas, the ruling high priest. Mark records that this questioning before Caiaphas included the entire Jewish council (Mark 14:53-65). The religious leaders knew they had no grounds for charging Jesus, so they tried to build evidence against him by using false witnesses.
*LIFE APPLICATION: HAVE YOU DENIED HIM?
We can easily get angry at the Jewish council for their injustice in condemning Jesus, but we must remember that Peter and the rest of the disciples also contributed to Jesus’ pain by deserting and disowning him (Matthew 26:56, 75). While most people are not like the religious leaders, we are all like the disciples, for all of us have been guilty of denying that Christ is Lord in vital areas of our lives or of keeping secret our identity as believers in times of pressure. Don’t excuse yourself by pointing at others whose sins seem worse than yours. Instead, come to Jesus for forgiveness and healing.
Peter Denies Knowing Jesus / 18:25-27
While Jesus was countering the questions of Annas (see 18:19-24), who was trying to gather information against the disciples, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Jesus displayed his great moral character by not disowning his disciples, even though they had denied him. John captured the pathos of the moment by merely reporting that Peter’s final denial was made with the rooster crowing in the background.
18:25 These verses are a continuation of verses 15-18. Peter was still in the courtyard of Annas’s house and was standing beside a fire with several other people. Again Peter was asked: “Aren’t you one of his disciples?” Peter denied it saying, “I am not.” The vehemence of Peter’s denial may have caught the attention of several others who were gathered around the fire. To at least one of them, Peter looked very familiar.
*LIFE APPLICATION: ON TRIAL
What situations might cause you to deny knowing Jesus? Strength and help are only sought when we recognize our weaknesses. What would be your response to:
- Intimidation from being alone and surrounded by hostile unbelievers?
- l Possible rebukes, punishment, or death for standing up for Christ?
- l Embarrassing circumstances when exposed as one who loves and follows Jesus?
- l Entanglements from habits or relationships that tie you too closely to the enemies of Christ?
Most of us will probably never face as intense a trial as Peter did. But moments of truth occur almost every day. We know the feeling of being paralyzed by surprise, fear, or possible shame. We must pray for God’s instant help so that when the ambushes come, we rely on his strength and Word for our response.
18:26-27 This, the third denial, happened exactly as Jesus had predicted (see 13:38; Mark 14:30). The other three Gospels say that Peter’s three denials happened near a fire in the courtyard outside Caiaphas’s palace. John places the three denials outside Annas’s home. This was very likely the same courtyard. The high priest’s residence was large, and Annas and Caiaphas undoubtedly lived near each other. This time a household servant who happened to be 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?” But for the third time, Peter denied it. A crowing rooster and the piercing look of Jesus (Luke 22:61-62) made Peter realize how quickly he had abandoned his Lord.
*LIFE APPLICATION: GREAT SIN
Imagine standing outside while Jesus, your Lord and Master, is questioned. Imagine watching this man, whom you have come to believe is the long-awaited Messiah, being abused and beaten. Naturally Peter was confused and afraid. It is a serious sin to disown Christ, but Jesus forgave Peter (21:15-19). No sin is too great for Jesus to forgive if you are truly repentant. He will forgive even your worst sin if you turn from it and ask his pardon.
Jesus Stands Trial before Pilate / 18:28-37
The same rooster that announced the third denial of Peter also welcomed the day that Jesus was to be crucified. John gives us none of the details of Jesus’ further questioning before Caiaphas, since the two parts of the preliminary “trial” were perfunctory and repetitious. The faces changed, but the false accusations remained the same. Early morning found Jesus and his accusers at Pilate’s gate demanding an audience. Pilate quickly concluded that the charges against Jesus were groundless. But he was also clearly puzzled that Jesus refused to defend himself. The imperial representative of Rome found himself uncomfortably pressed between a rock and a hard place.
18:28-29 By now it was the early hours of Friday morning. This headquarters was also called the Praetorium, where the Roman governor resided when he was in Jerusalem. By Jewish law, entering the house of a Gentile would cause a Jewish person to be ceremonially defiled. As a result, a Jew could not take part in worship at the Temple or celebrate the feasts until he or she was restored to a state of “cleanness.” Afraid of being defiled, Jesus’ accusers stayed outside the house where they had taken Jesus for trial. They kept the ceremonial requirements of their religion while harboring murder and treachery in their hearts. Because the Jews were outside, Pilate went out to them and asked, “What is your charge against this man?”
Pilate was in charge of Judea (the region where Jerusalem was located) from a.d. 26–36. Pilate was unpopular with the Jews. He resided in Caesarea, but came to Jerusalem during the major feasts in order to handle any problems that could arise with so many people in the city during the festival. Passover was a very important feast to the Jews as they remembered their freedom from bondage in Egypt.
*LIFE APPLICATION: THE EARLIEST MANUSCRIPT
Here is an interesting historical fact about this section in John’s Gospel: the earliest extant manuscript of the New Testament is dated a.d. 110–125. This papyrus manuscript, containing John 18:31-33 on one side and 18:37-38 on the other, must have been one of the very earliest copies of John’s Gospel. This manuscript testifies to the fact that the autograph of John’s Gospel must have been written before the close of the first century.
To go to Pilate, these Jewish leaders must have been really desperate to get rid of Jesus. Normally, the Jews would never turn one of their own people over to the hated Romans.
18:30-31 Pilate realized that something wasn’t normal about this case. He must have sensed the jealousy of the Jewish leaders who brought this popular teacher to him. Pilate certainly had seen or at least had heard about Jesus’ glorious entry into Jerusalem only a few days earlier, so he understood the motives of these religious leaders. Therefore, Pilate demanded that they provide a bona fide legal charge against Jesus. The Jewish leaders answered as vaguely as possible: “We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal!”
But Pilate, uninterested in the constant squabbling among the Jews, was satisfied that this potential troublemaker was in custody. He had no reason to push the trial any farther, so he tried to dismiss them: “Take him away and judge him by your own laws.”
But the Jewish leaders persisted and gained Pilate’s attention by insinuating that they had already found reasons in their own law for Jesus’ execution. But the Jews needed Pilate to give Jesus a trial because only the Romans were permitted to execute someone. Being under Roman rule, the Jews were not permitted to carry out the kind of execution they were planning without the sanction of the Roman government. It seems that “spontaneous” executions like the stoning of Stephen or the woman taken in adultery were overlooked by the Romans. But in the eyes of the Jewish leaders, Jesus needed to be executed publicly. Thus, the Jews needed the Romans to execute Jesus for them.
18:32 Jesus knew all along that his would be a Roman execution, for he had predicted that he would die on a cross. Capital punishment for the Jews was by stoning and for the Romans by crucifixion. Jesus had always foretold his death in terms of crucifixion, not stoning (Matthew 20:19).
*LIFE APPLICATION: IT HAD TO BE A CROSS
Jesus sacrificial death was an inevitable necessity for our salvation. But the very means of that death was designated by God in order to accomplish several detailed purposes of God. Among the reasons for the Crucifixion are the following:
- The Crucifixion preserved the accuracy of long-standing messianic prophecies, that none of Jesus’ bones would be broken, whereas stoning broke bones (Exodus 12:46) and that piercing would occur (Zechariah 12:10).
- The Crucifixion combined the Jews and Gentiles in a conspiracy of death. The responsibility and guilt for the death of Jesus was thereby placed upon the world (Acts 2:23; 4:27).
- The Crucifixion actualized another Old Testament image, the serpent lifted on a pole as a sign of salvation (John 3:14).
- The cross also represented God’s commanded form of death for anyone who was under divine curse. He was to be hanged from a tree in judgment for his sin (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13).
God used the cross of Jesus to work out every detail of his eternal plan to accomplish our salvation!
18:33-34 Since Jesus’ enemies had accused him of sedition against Rome (Luke 23:1-2), Pilate asked Jesus if he really was the King of the Jews. Jesus then asked Pilate where the question came from. If Pilate was asking this question in his role as the Roman governor, he would have been inquiring whether Jesus was setting up a rebel government. But the Jews were using the word “king” to mean their religious ruler, the Messiah. Israel was a captive nation, under the authority of the Roman Empire. A rival king might have threatened Rome; a Messiah could have been a purely religious leader.
18:35-36 Pilate’s response indicates that his interrogation was motivated by the Jews. The impression is that he was merely performing his task. Jesus explained that he was not a threat to Rome because he was not an earthly king. Instead, his Kingdom was not of this world. Jesus was referring to all he had done and would do as God’s Son and all that is under his authority. When believers are born again, they become subjects of this Kingdom—a spiritual Kingdom.
*LIFE APPLICATION: NOT FROM THIS WORLD
Jesus’ claim to the throne and his reign are beyond the limitations of this world. The goals, principles, and methods of Christ’s kingdom come from heaven. They are not the invention of evolving people or even of prophets and wise men. The way the kingdom affects our lives demonstrates that it is not rooted in this world. For instance, citizens of the kingdom hold all of life in such high regard that they are ready to lay down their own lives in obedience to Christ for the sake of other lives. Jesus’ kingship requires, not a choice of options for action, but real obedience to a wise Savior-King.
18:37 Pilate tried to get his original question answered (see 18:33): “You are a king then?” Jesus explained that he was indeed a king, and born for that purpose. But he was the king of a different realm, a king who had come to bring truth to the world. Jesus did not enter the world for any political purpose; instead, he came to testify to the truth. There seems to have been no question in Pilate’s mind that Jesus spoke the truth and was innocent of any crime. It also seems apparent that while recognizing the truth, Pilate chose to reject it. It is a tragedy when we fail to recognize the truth. It is a greater tragedy when we recognize the truth but fail to heed it.
*LIFE APPLICATION: YOU MUST DECIDE
Pilate made four attempts to deal with Jesus:
(1) he tried to put the responsibility on someone else (18:31);(2) he tried to find a way of escape so he could release Jesus (18:39); (3) he tried to compromise with having Jesus flogged rather than handing him over to die (19:1-3); and (4) he tried a direct appeal to the sympathy of the accusers (19:15). Everyone has to decide what to do with Jesus. Whatever desire Pilate had to free Jesus was negated by his refusal to do so. Pilate let everyone else decide for him—and in the end, he lost.
18:38 Pilate was cynical; he thought that all truth was relative—it could be whatever Rome wanted it to be. To many government officials, truth was whatever the majority of people agreed with or whatever helped advance their own personal power and political goals. When there is no basis for truth, there is no basis for moral right and wrong. Justice becomes whatever works or whatever helps those in power. In Jesus and his word we have a standard for truth and for our moral behavior.
At that point, Pilate had the power and authority to simply set Jesus free because Jesus was not guilty of any crime. But he lacked the courage to stand by this conviction in the face of opposition from these Jews and a possible ensuing riot. Problems like that could mean that Pilate would be removed from his position because of being unable to keep the peace. So Pilate tried first to pass Jesus off on Herod, who was ruler of Galilee, the region of Jesus’ hometown (Luke 23:6-7). But Herod only mocked Jesus and then sent him back to Pilate.
18:39-40 Pilate hoped to escape passing judgment on Jesus by allowing the Jews to determine Jesus’ fate. As a custom, Pilate had released someone from prison each year at Passover. He hoped they would ask for the King of the Jews.
The screaming Jewish officials demanded that a convicted rebel, Barabbas, be pardoned instead of Jesus. Barabbas was a rebel against Rome (Mark 15:7), and although he had committed murder, he was probably a hero among the Jews. Barabbas, who had led a rebellion and failed, was released instead of Jesus, the only one who could truly help Israel.
*LIFE APPLICATION: WHO WAS BARABBAS?
Jewish men had names that identified them with their fathers. Simon Peter, for example, is called Simon son of Jonah (Matthew 16:17). Barabbas is never identified by his given name, and this name is not much help either—bar-abbas means “son of Abba” (or “son of daddy”). Barabbas, son of an unnamed father, committed a crime. Jesus died in his place, so this man was set free. We too are sinners and criminals who have broken God’s holy law. Like Barabbas, we deserve to die. But Jesus died in our place, for our sins, and we have been set free. We don’t have to be “very important people” to accept our freedom in Christ. In fact, thanks to Jesus, God adopts us all as his own sons and daughters and gives us the right to call him Abba—”daddy” (see Galatians 4:4-6).