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.
A garden. This is the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36) located on the flanks of the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39).
Now Judas also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with His disciples.
(a) Judas; see entry for John 13:2.
(b) Knew the place. It was his knowledge of Jesus’ habits that made Judas a valuable informant for the chief priests.
Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons.
(a) A Roman cohort is one-tenth of a legion or about 500 soldiers. This cohort was garrisoned in the fort or Tower of Antonia on the edge of the temple precinct. The large number of armed men sent to arrest Jesus suggests the chief priests were wary of fanatical followers who may have been with him (Luke 22:6).
(b) The officers were armed Levites who formed the temple guard. Interestingly, this wasn’t the first time they had been sent to arrest Jesus (John 7:32). On that earlier occasion they came away impressed by Jesus’ teaching (John 7:46). The Pharisees mocked the officers and suggested they had become disciples of the man they had been sent to arrest (John 7:47). This may explain why the chief priests sent Roman soldiers to arrest Jesus on this occasion.
(c) From the chief priests. In three gospels, it seems the mob was sent from the chief priests while they stayed behind, but in Luke’s account we learn that some of the chief priests and the elders were present when Jesus was arrested (Luke 22:52).
(d) Lanterns and torches were necessary because it was the middle of the night, but there was also the shock and awe element associated with 500 illuminated soldiers charging across the dry Kidron Brook into the garden.
(e) The weapons born by the soldiers included swords and clubs (Matt. 26:47).
They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am He.” And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them.
Jesus the Nazarene. A Nazarene was someone from Nazareth, a town of little consequence. In calling Jesus a Nazarene, his enemies were fulfilling a prophecy (see Matt. 2:23).
So when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
(a) I am. The Son of God reveals himself as the great I Am in the same way that God the Father revealed himself to Moses (Ex. 3:14). At this stage of the story, the world does not know Jesus’ true identity. He had been dropping hints (John 8:58), but his true identity would not be widely revealed until he was lifted up on a cross (see John 8:28). But these soldiers got an early glimpse.
(b) They drew back and fell. When Jesus revealed his identity, the soldiers and chief priests fell under the power of God. In doing so they fulfilled another prophecy (see Ps. 27:2).
By acknowledging that he was from Nazareth, a town of no consequence, Jesus was, on the face of it, saying, “I am someone of little importance.” But the manner in which he spoke, and the power that emanated from his words, left these men in no doubt that they were dealing with the great I Am and the Son of God. They could not lay a hand on him except that he allowed himself to be taken.
Therefore He again asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
Jesus the Nazarene; see entry for John 18:5.
Jesus answered, “I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way,”
(a) If you seek Me. Jesus is reminding the soldiers that they came for him and no other.
(b) Let these go their way or “let my disciples go their way.” Jesus is not asking for a favor as much as he is protecting his disciples. The soldiers have been knocked off their feet by the overwhelming power of God. If they wish to avoid another knocking down, they will do what Jesus says.
To fulfill the word which He spoke, “Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.”
Fulfill the word. Jesus has been fulfilling Old Testament prophecies all night long, but here he is fulfilling a prophecy that he himself said just a few hours earlier (see John 17:12).
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.
Peter had boasted that he was ready to die for Jesus (Luke 22:33), and now he delivers on that promise. Attacking 500 armed men with a single sword was a suicide mission. Peter would have been cut down, except Jesus intervened to save his life.
So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”
(a) Put the sword into the sheath. Peter had a sword because Jesus told him to bring one (see entry for Luke 22:36). Jesus wanted the disciples to be armed and dangerous so that he might be numbered among the transgressors, as prophesied by Isaiah (see Luke 22:37). It is never the Lord’s desire for us to use violence and aggression to advance his kingdom. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, and the weapons of our warfare are not worldly (Eph. 6:12, 2 Cor. 10:4).
(b) Shall I not drink it? Jesus rebuked Peter for using his sword before healing the injured servant (Luke 22:51). Jesus wasn’t looking for a fight, but an arrest.
So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him,
(a) The Roman cohort that arrested Jesus would have numbered nearly 500 men (see entry for John 18:3).
(b) The commander or centurion in charge of the cohort garrisoned in Jerusalem was probably better acquainted with Jesus and Jerusalem politics than the governor visiting from Caesarea.
(c) The officers of the Jews; see entry for John 18:3.
And led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.
(a) Annas. At the time of John the Baptist, Annas had been co-high priest alongside Caiaphas in a dubious and unlawful arrangement (Luke 3:2). By the time of Jesus’ trial, Caiaphas was the sole high priest, yet Annas retained the title and still the leader in the Sanhedrin (John 18:22, Acts 4:6). In the preliminary hearing he had with Jesus, Annas did nothing to release Jesus from his bonds (John 18:24).
(b) Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest, was a member of the Sadducees, and the prime mover behind the plot to eliminate Jesus (Matt. 26:65). A persecutor of the church, he also participated in the trial of Peter and John (Acts 4:6).
(c) The high priest was the supreme religious leader of Israel who oversaw the Sanhedrin. The high priest was meant to be a signpost to Jesus our great high priest (Heb. 5:5), but the New Testament high priests were typically corrupt men appointed by Rome.
Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people.
Caiaphas had prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation (John 11:51).
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,
(a) Simon Peter was following. The eleven disciples deserted Jesus in the garden (Matt. 26:56), but two of the disciples followed the Lord to the house of the high priest.
(b) Another disciple. Some suspect the other unnamed disciple was John, but why would a Galilean fisherman be known to the high priest? Of the twelve, there was only one disciple from Judea who had a known link to the high priest. His name was Judas Iscariot.
When Jesus was condemned to die, Judas learned the news quickly (Matt. 27:3). This suggests he was present at the trial or nearby. So if Judas is the other disciple, why is he not named? Perhaps it was because the traitor had become persona non grata to his former friends.
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.
(a) The other disciple; see previous verse.
(b) This doorkeeper is about to create trouble for Peter (see next verse).
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.”
(a) The slave-girl who kept the door recognized Peter on account of his association with the other disciple (John 18:15). This humble girl became the downfall of the proud man.
(b) I am not; see entry for Luke 22:57.
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.
The officers standing there did not recognize Peter as a disciple of Jesus, but one of the servants eventually made the connection (John 18:26).
The high priest then questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching.
(a) The high priest. Annas was a former high priest, but he was the real power in the Sanhedrin and he retained the title of high priest (John 18:22, Acts 4:6). Caiaphas, the current high priest, was apparently not present at this meeting (John 18:24).
(b) Questioned Jesus. On the face of it, this seems like a genuine inquiry by a retired high priest, but there was nothing remotely legal about the manner in which Jesus was arrested and tried (see entry for Matt. 26:57).
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.
(a) I have spoken openly… in the temple. The Old Testament prophet Malachi spoke of two messengers; a messenger who would clear the way and a messenger of the covenant who would come to the temple (Mal. 3:1). The messenger who cleared the way was John the Baptist; the new covenant messenger who came to the temple was Jesus. Jesus is both the message and the messenger of the new covenant, and he spoke publicly in the temple on many occasions.
(b) I spoke nothing in secret. False messiahs led their followers into the wilderness for secret meetings, and this made the political and religious leaders understandably wary. But Jesus was not a false messiah operating in the shadows. Much of his ministry was conducted in public view for all to hear.
“Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.”
Why do you question Me? Annas is treating Jesus as though he were a false Messiah. Jesus reminds him that his teachings are on the public record and that he has nothing to hide.
When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?”
(a) The officers; see entry for John 18:3.
(b) The high priest. Annas was not the high priest, but he acted like he was.
Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?”
Jesus might have replied that Annas was the law breaker since the old man was usurping the office of the high priest (John 18:13) while conducting an unlawful hearing in the middle of the night (see entry for Matt. 26:57). Instead he calmly and reasonably asked the guard what he did that was worthy of such a low blow. Jesus is a picture of grace in the face of injustice.
So Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
(a) Annas had a private audience with Jesus. If his aim was to satisfy his curiosity about Jesus’ teachings, he was no doubt left disappointed.
(b) Caiaphas. The trial of Jesus took place in Caiaphas’s house (Matt. 26:57; Mark 14:53). At the conclusion of the trial, the Sanhedrin judged Jesus to be guilty of the capital crime of blasphemy (Mark 14:64).
(c) The high priest; see entry for John 18:13.
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.”
I am not; see entry for Luke 22:58.
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?”
The one whose ear Peter cut off was Malchus, a servant of the high priest (John 18:10).
Peter then denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed.
(a) Denied it again. For a third time, Peter denied all association with Jesus, and this time he did it by making oaths and invoking curses (see entry for Matt. 26:74).
(b) A rooster crowed and Peter, remembering what the Lord had said (John 13:38), went outside and wept bitterly (see entry for Matt. 26:75).
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.
(a) The Praetorium was the hall or residence of the governor when he was visiting Jerusalem. Sometimes called Pilate’s palace (Mark 15:16), this residence could have been part of Herod the Great’s massive palace or it may have been part of the fort or Tower of Antonia where the Roman soldiers were barracked.
(b) It was early. The chief priests and elders held their trial in the small hours of the morning (Mark 15:1). Sometime after the rooster crowed, and probably as soon as it was light enough to see, they led Jesus to Pilate. Further reading: “Good Friday Timeline.”
(c) Did not enter. The Jews would have assumed Pilate’s house had not been cleared of leaven as required for the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12:15). In addition, the rabbis taught that it was unlawful for Jews to associate with Gentiles (Acts 10:28).
(d) Passover meant different things to first-century Jews and this can be confusing to modern readers. Traditionally, Passover referred to the annual feast celebrated in the home since the first Passover. Passover also referred to the temple-based sacrifices instituted by Hezekiah and Josiah (2 Chr. 30:1, 35:1). Both Passovers took place on the 14th day of the first month as stipulated in the law (Ex. 12:6). But since the Jewish day starts at sundown, home-based Passovers typically took place on Thursday evening, while the temple-based observances occurred during the daylight hours of Friday. This is why Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover privately on the Thursday night (Luke 22:11, 15), while the chief priests and the elders celebrated it the next day.
Whether the Jews celebrated at home or at the temple, Passover was always observed by sacrificing lambs. However, this Passover would be the Passover to end all Passovers as it would culminate in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?”
Pontius Pilate was the procurator of the Roman province of Judea. Normally resident in the coastal town of Caesarea, he came to Jerusalem for the festivals to keep the peace and administer justice.
They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.”
An evildoer. At first, the chief priests are vague. They don’t say what Jesus has done to warrant a special trip to the governor. Perhaps they are still considering their options. If they present Jesus as a blasphemer, then Pilate will say, “Judge him yourselves.” They need to portray Jesus as a direct threat to Rome, and this they eventually do.
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,”
(a) Judge Him according to your law. At this stage, Pilate believes this is a religious matter. He has not yet been told that Jesus is a king and a potential rival to Rome.
(b) We are not permitted. This was not entirely accurate. The Sanhedrin could put people to death for religious crimes. They stoned Stephen (Acts 7:58), they discussed stoning a woman caught in adultery (John 8:5), and they had tried before to stone Jesus (John 10:31). But on this occasion they had a good reason for making Rome a partner in their plot to kill Jesus.
If the religious leaders stoned Jesus and his followers rioted, Rome could bring the hammer down on both the Sanhedrin and the nation (John 11:47-48). But if the Romans killed Jesus, then they would have to deal with any consequences that might arise.
To fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die.
Jesus knew in advance that he would not be stoned to death but lifted up on a cross (John 3:14, 12:32).
Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”
(a) The Praetorium; see entry for John 18:28.
(b) Are You the King of the Jews? Finally the chief priests have found a charge to interest the governor. If Jesus could be portrayed as a political player and a threat to stability, Rome would regard him as a threat.
Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?”
In other words, “Pilate, are you aware that you are being played like a fiddle?” Jesus has given Pilate no reasons to suspect him of being an anti-Roman rebel. Any concerns Pilate might have are second-hand, and Pilate acknowledges this.
Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?”
In other words, “I know nothing of Jewish Messiahs, but evidently you’ve done something to upset the religious leaders. Tell me what that is.”
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.”
Pilate may not have appreciated the spiritual significance of these words, but he soon realized he had nothing to fear from Jesus (John 18:38).
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.”
(a) I am a king. Jesus is not just any king; he is the King above all kings (Rev. 19:16).
(b) I have come into the world. Jesus had told the disciples he was not of this world (John 8:23, 17:16), but few others got this revelation as plainly as Pilate. “My kingdom is not of this world.”
(c) To testify to the truth. For a world that had lost its way, Jesus came to lead us back to the Father. Jesus is the true signpost by which all lost children find their way home.
This is a defining moment for Pilate. The king of heaven has revealed his identity and mission. The Jews outside had been waiting for the Messiah for centuries and here he was, inside with the Roman. What will Pilate do? Will he fall to his knees in worship?
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 guilt in Him.”
(a) What is truth? Pilate’s question reveals his refusal to see the Answer standing in front of him. It’s as though Pilate was saying, “This Jesus is an interesting character. I don’t think he’s a criminal, but nor do I recognize him as a king.”
(b) I find no guilt in Him. How could Pilate come to any other conclusion? The Jews had brought no evidence and no witnesses, and Jesus’ followers had participated in no rebellion. Their ploy of portraying Jesus as a threat to Rome had come to nothing.
“But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?”
(a) You have a custom. Contrary to what Pilate says, this custom seems to have been a Roman innovation. The practice of releasing criminals is not recorded in the Law of Moses and seems contrary to the demands of justice. More likely the Romans introduced the practice when they colonized Judea, perhaps as a conciliatory gesture towards those who felt they had been mistreated by harsh Roman law.
(b) Passover; see entry for John 18:28.
So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.
(a) Barabbas or Bar-Abbas means son of the father. This unusual name leads to all sorts of speculations. Was Barabbas a nickname for an illegitimate or fatherless child? Was he the son of a Rabbi? Was his name an evil parody on the true Son of the Father?
Some Church Fathers noted that in early manuscripts Barabbas’s first name was identified as Jesus. If so, his name may have been removed by Christian copyists who were unwilling to honor a murderer with the same name as the Savior of the world (source: Adam Clarke).
Since there were two Jesuses being considered for release, Pilate identifies the rebel by referring to his last name. So one way to read his words in Matthew 27:17 would be; “Do you want me to release Jesus who is called Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”
(b) A robber. Barabbas was no petty thief but a notorious criminal who led an insurrection where some people were killed (Matt. 27:16, Mark 15:7). Pilate would not have wanted to release him.
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- John 18:1
- John 18:2
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