Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. 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 Jesus said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground. Then Jesus 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.’
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.”
John 18:13, “And they led Jesus away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year.”
In order to avoid any confusion moving forward I should explain a little bit about the political structure in Judea during this time period. Being a descendent of Aaron this man “Annas” was appointed High Priest in 6 AD. According to tradition this appointment would last for the duration of his life. Which is where things start to get complicated.
In 15 AD Annas fell out of favor with Rome. So in a bold attempt to maintain his power, he voluntarily steps aside and appoints his oldest son to be High Priest. Well, this only lasted for two years before Annas has to appoint another one of his sons to take his place — this also only lasted for a whopping two years. In the end, Annas eventually placed his son-in-law “Caiaphas” into the position of High Priest who ends up serving from 18-36 AD.
This reason this is important is that within John’s Gospel you will find both Annas and Caiaphas being referred to as High Priest. From the Roman perspective Caiaphas officially held the office. That said, Annas was not only the man behind the man, but because of his original lifetime appointment he was formally recognized by the religious establishment.
As we dive into this chapter you should keep in mind this family was extremely wealthy, well-connected, powerful, corrupt, and feared by the Romans. Historically, they operated like an organized crime family enriching themselves by turning the Temple into a cash-cow. The Jewish Talmud went so far as to state, “Annas made the High Priest a den of thieves.”
Aside from their power over religious affairs, Annas and his family proved to be a continual a thorn in the side of all the local Roman officials. If fact, we’re going to see this play itself out in their interactions with the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. These men played dirty!
For the benefits of a large Roman audience unfamiliar with these internal affairs, in verse 14 John provides some commentary about Caiaphas… John 18:14, “Now it was Caiaphas who advised the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.”
Back in John 11:46-53 in response to Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus we were told that “some of eyewitnesses went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, ‘What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.’
And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.’ (John adds) Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death…”
Let’s get back into the scene… As Jesus is being “arrested and bound” by this “detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews” Matthew and Mark tell us it was at this moment “all the disciples forsook Jesus and fled.” Then as “they led Jesus away to Annas first” Peter and John circle back around in order to see what happens to Jesus.
John 18:15-16, “And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Now that disciple (and for clarity this other disciple was John) 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.”
Jesus is led from the Garden of Gethsemane back across the bloody Kidron and into the city of Jerusalem — specifically to the home of Annas where He’ll be interrogated. Because John “was known to the high priest” he’s allowed to go “with Jesus into the courtyard.” John then uses his connections to schmooze the gal “who kept the door” to get Peter inside.
Earlier this very evening Peter made a bold proclamation that if it came to it he was willing to “lay down his life for Jesus’ sake.” And to his credit, as Jesus was being arrest, Peter pulled out a sword and jumped into the fray attacking a servant boy and cutting off his ear.
Sadly, this act of bravery didn’t exactly work out as Peter imagined. Instead of an “Attaboy!” his actions garnered him a stern rebuke from Jesus. “Peter, put your sword into the sheath! I have a plan and you’re getting in the way!” Then Jesus picks up the ear and heals Malchus.
In last Sunday’s study I noted how Peter’s fundamental problem centered on two core misconceptions: (1) That Jesus needed his help (his failure in the garden quickly corrected this notion), and (2) That he needed to somehow prove himself able to Jesus.
As we examine the next few verses it’s important you keep in mind that for Jesus to accomplish His ultimate work in Peter’s life this stubborn man need to come to an all-important realization… He wasn’t able! If left to his own strength, he’d fail miserably.
And yet, most gloriously, Jesus knew Peter was not able and He didn’t care! In fact, in response to Peter’s declaration that he was willing to “lay down his life for Jesus’ sake” Jesus immediately turned and said to him (John 13:38), “Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.” “Peter, you think you have what it takes? Let me tell you — this very night you’re going to deny me three times before sunrise!”
For Peter to realize his relationship with Jesus had to be centered on Christ’s ability and not his own, he first had to be stripped of this self-sufficiency. In his pride Peter declared, “I am able to follow Jesus.” He’s soon about to learn he had greatly overestimated himself.
Let’s return to the scene… A bound and shackled Jesus has been brought into the courtyard of Annas’ home. John uses his connections to not only get himself inside, but he gets Peter in as well. Now as Peter is making his way into the home, John records in verse 17… John 18:17, “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.’”
Notice she asks Peter, “Are you not also one of this Man’s disciples?” The idea behind this statement is that she’s already identified John as a disciple of Jesus. Meaning… Since John hadn’t been arrested, there was no reason for Peter to feel overly nervous or unsafe. And yet, likely caught off-guard by the question itself, Peter denies being a disciple anyway.
John 18:18-19, “Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold (it’s early Spring), and they warmed themselves. And Peter stood with them and warmed himself. (Peter and John are watching from a distance.) The high priest (Annas in this context) then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine.”
Right from the beginning you need to consider how everything about this was illegal and improper. Aside from the fact this was all happening in the middle of the night, according to Scripture and Hebrew tradition, you had to be charged with a crime in order to be arrested.
In this situation Jesus is first arrested then brought before Annas — who’s questioning “about His disciples and doctrine” was designed to find a crime they could charge Him with. Everything about the way this goes down was backwards and inappropriate! Annas is seeking probable cause to justify Jesus’ arrest and create a legal framework for His death.
John 18:20-21, “Jesus answered Annas, ‘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.’”
Annas has arrested Jesus without a charge and now he’s wanting Jesus to testify against Himself. In response Jesus points out that according to the Jewish system of justice a crime had to be substantiated with outside witnesses. In so many words Jesus is actually challenging the legality of the trial itself. “I spoke openly… I always taught in the synagogues and in the temple. If I’ve committed a crime bring forth the necessary witnesses.”
John 18:22, “And when Jesus 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?’” I can imagine for Peter and John who were watching from a distance this would have been a shocking moment. Not only is Jesus rebuked for making a fair legal argument, but He gets sucker-punched in the process. This trial would not be fair. Jesus is being set up!
John 18:23-24, “Jesus answered him (it would seem Jesus is addressing Annas who gave the nod for Him to be punched), ‘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.”
This word Jesus uses when He asks, “Why do you strike Me?” literally means to flay or break the skin. The idea is that Jesus took such a strike to the face by this officer that He’s now bleeding. Jesus’ reaction is reasonable… “Where are those who will “bear witness” against Me, and if they don’t exist why would you punch Me in the face for no apparent reason?”
Since Annas doesn’t exactly have an answer, he decides to “send Jesus bound” to the home of “Caiaphas the high priest.” Again, all of this is happening under the cover of darkness.
Keep in mind, while John only records the specifics of this trial before Annas, a harmonizing of the four Gospel narratives reveals that Jesus will in fact undergo two additional trials before being handed over to Pilate. The second will occur at the home of Caiaphas before a small portion of the elders. Note: During this trial Jesus will be mocked and beaten.
Then according to Luke 22 the final trial will take place at daybreak before an official gathering of the Jewish Sanhedrin. It will be during this trial that many false witnesses will be presented and Jesus ultimately charged with the crime of blasphemy against God.
As you study these things there are two details that will help simplify the timeline: (1) It’s likely Annas and Caiaphas lived in the same complex and shared a courtyard, and (2) As High Priest the Sanhedrin likely had official meetings in or near the home of Caiaphas.
As all of this is happening John shifts the scene… John 18:25, “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!’ (According to Matthew 26:72 in this second denial Peter “denied with an oath, ‘I do not know the Man!’” “I’ll be damned if I know this man!”)
John 18:26-27, “One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off (Malchus was also a servant of the high priest), said, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with Him?’ Peter then denied again (Matthew 26:74, “Then Peter began to curse and swear, saying, ‘I do not know the Man!’”); and immediately a rooster crowed.”
In Luke 22:61-62 we are given an important detail that the very moment this rooster crowed “Jesus turned and looked at Peter. Then he remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ So Peter went out and wept bitterly.” Imagine the moment a bloody, swollen Jesus made eye-contact with Peter?
To say Peter had failed to live up to his own standard would have been an understatement. At one point he’s ready to die for Jesus. Then a few short hours later Peter denies being a disciple. Ultimately, Peter ends up cursing out a servant girl as he brazenly denies have any relational association with Jesus at all! And then in that moment the “rooster crowed” and his eyes met Jesus. Proud Peter was utterly devastated and runs off to weep!
John 18:28, “Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium (the home of Pilate), and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium (Gentiles were unclean), lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.”
What a tragic irony… These religious leaders wouldn’t enter Pilate’s home fearing they’d defile themselves, but they had no problems illegally railroading their Messiah Jesus! Damian Kyle said, “Man’s capacity for self-deception is profound in the realm of religion.”
Because the religious leaders who’d sent Jesus to Pilate refused to go into his home… John 18:29, “Pilate then went out to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this Man?’” For starters, it’s likely this was not the first time Pilate had heard of Jesus. In fact, Pilate would have had to sign off on a “detachment of troops” being used to arrest Him.
The one thing Pilate didn’t anticipate was Jesus turning up on his doorstep “early morning!” This statement “what accusation do you bring” was akin to asking, “What is He doing here?”
John 18:30-31a, “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.’”
Pilate wants to know why Jesus is being brought to him — the accusation. “How has He violated Roman law necessitating my involvement?” Notice their response was a total dodge. “We wouldn’t be waisting your time if He wasn’t guilty.” Since they fail to provide a reason, Pilate doesn’t see why he’s needed — “Take Him and judge Him according to your law.”
Now the truth comes out… John 18:31b-32, “Therefore the Jews said to him, ‘It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,’ (John’s commentary) that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die.” Weeks earlier… Matthew 20:17-19, “Jesus, going to Jerusalem, took the disciples aside on the road and said, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.’”
While the religious leaders have formally convicted Jesus of blasphemy in their own court of law — which was a crime punishable by death via stoning, the problem was the fact the Romans had revoked the Jews ability to enact capital punishment around 5 AD. If they were to put Jesus to death, Pilate had to be involved and crucifixion would be the method.
John 18:33-34, “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 asks Jesus a rather forward question trying to get to the heart of the matter, “Are You the King of the Jews?” In fact all four Gospel writers record this as being Pilate’s first question to Jesus. In the original language the emphasis is on the word “You.” It’s as though Pilate, sizing Jesus up, asks, “Are You really a King — the King I should be afraid of?”
And yet, Jesus’ response is telling. He asks, “Are you asking because You want to know the truth or are you simply trying to confirm what others have told you about Me?” In this back and forth with the Roman governor it will become clear Pilate is actually the one on trial.
John 18:35, “Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?’”
This reply, “Am I a Jew?” was an honest reaction to Jesus’ question. “Jesus, because I’m not a Jew I don’t care if you’re the King of the Jews or not. All I care about is figuring out if you are a political threat to Rome! What have You done that is so egregious the leaders of your own nation what me to put you to death?” Again, they haven’t given Pilate a straight answer.
John 18:36, “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.’”
In this statement, “My kingdom is not of this world” Jesus is admitting two things to Pilate: (1) Because He has a kingdom, He is a King! And (2) Because His kingdom was not of this world, Pilate had nothing to worry about. Force was not how His kingdom would advance.
John 18:37, “Pilate therefore said to Jesus, ‘Are You a king then?’ (Honest question.) 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 (He’s speaking of His pre-existence), that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’” (His point is that the vehicle by which the Kingdom of God advances was not force, but truth!)
John 18:38, “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.’”
In Luke 23:5-9 we’re told, in response to Pilate’s “not guilty” verdict, the religious leaders “were the more fierce, saying, ‘He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place.’ When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean. And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.”
Though Pilate thought he had an out by sending Jesus to King Herod knowing he had jurisdiction over the region of Galilee, it didn’t take long for Herod to grow board and send Jesus back to Pilate. By this point in the process Pilate knows three things with certainty.
First, Pilate is confident Jesus is innocent! Following Jesus’ return from Herod, in Luke 23:13-15 we are told “Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, said to them, ‘You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him.’” Again, “I find no fault in this Man!”
Secondly, Pilate knew Jesus was being set up by the religious establishment. In both Mark 15:10 and in Matthew 27:18 we are told that by this point in the scheme Pilate had come to the realization “the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy.”
Finally, Pilate had been warned something deeper was at work. In Matthew 27:19 we are provided a behind the scenes detail that “Pilate’s wife sent to him, saying, ‘Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.’”
There is no question Pilate finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place. He knows Jesus is innocent, but he’s also aware of the political repercussions that were likely if he were to toe the line, obey his conscience, and rule against Annas and Caiaphas.
Hoping to find a way out of this mess Pilate now comes before the people who were starting to amass that morning outside the Praetorium with a proposal… John 18:39-40, “‘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!’ (John then adds that) Barabbas was a robber.” Mark 15:7 and Luke 23:19 gives us a more complete picture that this Barabbas “was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion.”
While for the sake of time we have to stop our travels through the Gospel of John with the close of chapter 18 (I hope you’ll come back Sunday as we continue this narrative), I do want to share a few final thoughts this Good Friday evening about this man Barabbas.
First and foremost, this man Barabbas was the anti-Jesus! His name “Barabbas” or “Bar Abbas” means “son of the father” while Jesus was the Son of God — the Father. Though Jesus was an innocent man, Barabbas was absolutely guilty. He was a “robber” and a “murder” who’d been caught in his “rebellion.” Not only were the “wages of his sin” death, but that very morning three cross has been erected for Barabbas and his two co-conspirators.
Barabbas awoke that morning a condemned man. His fate a certain death sealed. There is no question Barabbas had earned his cross on Mount Calvary. The crucifixion was the just punishment for his crimes. Imagine the moment Barabbas stood there before the mob side-by-side with Jesus. His guilt and sin exacerbated by Jesus’ righteousness and holiness.
It’s true the mob cried out for Barabbas to be released and undeniable Pilate issued his pardon. But don’t miss the fact he was freed because Jesus took his place. Jesus would die on a cross meant for Barabbas. He was set free because a Substitute took his place.
In a profound sense we are all Barabbas! We are all guilty of rebellion. We all stand condemned in our sin. Everyone of us is destined to death as a result. And like this man Barabbas there is nothing we can do to avoid this inevitable fate on our own.
Barabbas didn’t do anything to deserve his pardon. In fact, Barabbas was saved for only one reason — Jesus took his place. Friend, what a picture of the love of Christ in that while we deserved death Jesus died in our place so that we might have life and that more abundantly!
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