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21. Exegetical Commentary on John 18


      3 B The Passion: the arrest, trials, death, and burial of Jesus (18:1-19:42)

        1 C Jesus is arrested in the garden (18:1-11)

        2 C Jesus is interrogated by Annas (18:12-27)

          1 D Jesus is brought before Annas (18:12-14)

          2 D Peter gains entry to the courtyard of the high priest and denies Jesus for the first time (18:15-18)

          3 D Annas questions Jesus and sends him to Caiaphas (18:19-24)

          4 D Peter denies Jesus for the second and third times (18:25-27)

        3 C Jesus is brought before Pilate (18:28-19:16a)

          1 D The Jewish leaders present their accusation to Pilate (18:28-32)

          2 D Pilate questions Jesus concerning his kingship (18:33-38a)

          3 D Pilate seeks to release Jesus but the crowd cries out for Barabbas instead (18:38b-40)


Billings, J. S., “Judas Iscariot in the Fourth Gospel,” Expository Times 51 (1939/40): 156-57.

Bligh, J., The Sign of the Cross: The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus according to St. John (Slough: St. Paul Publications, 1975).

Borgen, P., “John and the Synoptics in the Passion Narrative,” New Testament Studies 5 (1958/59): 246-59.

Brown, R. E., “The Passion According to John: Chapter 18 and 19,” Worship 49 (1975): 126-34.

Buse, I., “St. John and the Marcan Passion Narrative,” New Testament Studies 4 (1957/58): 215-19.

Buse, I., “St. John and the Passion Narratives of St. Matthew and St. Luke,” New Testament Studies 7 (1960/61): 65-76.

Church, W. R., “The Dislocations in the Eighteenth Chapter of John,” Journal of Biblical Literature 49 (1930): 375-83.

Curtis, K. P. G., “Three Points of Contact Between Matthew and John in the Burial and Resurrection Narratives,” Journal of Theological Studies 23 (1972): 440-44.

Daube, D., “Three Notes having to do with Johanan ben Zaccai,” Journal of Theological Studies 11 (1960): 53-62.

Fenton, J. C., The Passion According to John (London: SPCK, 1961).

Fortna, R. T., “Jesus and Peter at the High Priest’s House: A Test Case for the Question of the Relation Between Mark’s and John’s Gospels,” New Testament Studies 24 (1977/78): 371-83.

Harvey, A. E., Jesus on Trial: A Study in the Fourth Gospel (London: SPCK, 1976).

Howard, J. K., “Passover and Eucharist in the Fourth Gospel,” Scottish Journal of Theology 20 (1967);329-37.

Jaubert, A., “The Calendar of Qumran and the Passion-Narrative in John,” in John and Qumran, ed. J. H. Charlesworth (London: Chapman, 1972), 62-75.

Lindars, B., “The Passion in the Fourth Gospel,” in Gods Christ and His People: Studies in Honour of Nils Alstrup Dahl, ed. J. Jervell and W. A. Meeks (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1977), 71-86.

Mahoney, A., “A New Look at an Old Problem (John 18, 12-14, 19-24),” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 27 (1965): 137-44.

Mein, P., “A Note on John xviii. 6,” Expository Times 65 (1953-54): 286-87.

Neirynck, F., “The ‘Other Disciple’ in Jn 18, 15-16,” Ephemerides theologicae lovanienses 51 (1975): 113-41.

Robinson, B. P., “Gethsemane: The Synoptic and Johannine Viewpoints,” Church Quarterly Review 167 (1966): 4-11.

Sabbe, M., “The Arrest of Jesus in Jn 18, 1-11 and its Relation to the Synoptic Gospels. A Critical Evaluation of A. Dauer’s Hypothesis,” in Lvangile de Jean. Sources, rdaction, thologie, ed. M. de Jonge, Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 44 (Gembloux: Duculot; Louvain: University Press, 1977): 203-34.

Stanley, D. M., “The Passion according to St. John,” Worship 33 (1959): 210-30.

Winter, P., On the Trial of Jesus, Studia Judaica 1 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1961).

Winter, P., “Marginal Notes on the Trial of Jesus, II,” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 50 (1959): 221-51.

Winter, P., “The Trial of Jesus and the Competence of the Sanhedrin,” New Testament Studies 10 (1964): 494-99.


      3 B The Passion: the arrest, trials, death, and burial of Jesus (18:1-19:42)

Introduction. The Johannine Passion narrative is found in chapters 18 and 19. Several matters of emphasis distinguish the account in the Fourth Gospel from the parallels in the synoptics. (1) The complete sovereignty of Jesus as he undergoes these events, his complete control of the situation, is repeatedly evident. Nothing that happens to him happens by accident or outside of his control, and one gets the distinct impression he could put a stop to the process at any moment if he so chose. Jesus comes across not so much the willing victim as the Orchestrator of events. (2) There are many details included in the Johannine account which are not recorded in the synoptics, and this has caused many critical scholars to regard these details as non-historical fabrications of the Evangelist for dramatic effect. Upon closer examination, however, it seems more likely that the purpose of such detail is not so much purely dramatic effect as theological significance. Almost every detail which John records about the crucifixion of Jesus, for example, has some symbolic and theological meaning. If as we believe the Fourth Gospel represents eyewitness testimony, the divergences from the synoptic accounts are better explained as resulting from selectivity than from originality. (3) There is significant emphasis on the role of the Jewish leaders (“the Jews”) as perpetrators of the plot to execute Jesus with less stress on the role of the Roman authorities, which some would attribute to an apologetic tendency on the part of the Evangelist. One’s view of the exact role of the Jewish authorities will be influenced to some extent by one’s understanding of Jesus’ “trial” before Annas in John 18:13-24. This appears to have been more of a preliminary inquiry than an actual trial per se. The more formal trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin recorded by Matthew (26:59-68) and Mark (14:55-65) would take place later in the night, between John 18:24 and 28. This trial was probably not strictly legal because it was held at night; such proceedings which involved the death penalty were not permitted to be conducted on a single day under later Mishnaic law. No details of Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas are given in the Fourth Gospel.

        1 C Jesus is arrested in the garden (18:1-11)

18:1 Tau'ta eijpwVn =Ihsou'" This appears to be a natural transition from the Last Discourse, the farewell speech of Jesus to his disciples in 13:31-17:26, including the final prayer in 17:1-26. We are told that Jesus “went out” (ejxh'lqen) together with his disciples, a probable reference to their leaving the Upper Room where the meal and discourse described in chapters 13-17 took place (although some have seen this only as a reference to their leaving the city, with the understanding that some of the Last Discourse, including the concluding prayer, was given en route, cf. 14:31). They crossed the wadi Kidron (Kidron Valley; tou' ceimavrrou means “flowing in the winter” and refers to a wadi, a stream bed which contains flowing water only in the rainy season) and came to a garden, identified in Matt 26:36 and Mark 14:32 as Gethsemane. The name is not given in Luke’s or John’s Gospel, but the garden must have been located somewhere on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives.

18:2 “Hidei deV kaiV =Iouvda" The Evangelist now gives us a parenthetical note to the effect that Judas, the one who was about to betray him, was also familiar with the place. The reason for this familiarity is also given: Jesus came there often with his disciples. This parallels Luke’s statement in 21:37 that by day Jesus taught in the Temple, but by night he would go out to the Mount of Olives.

18:3 oJ ou =Iouvda"e[rcetai Judas took no chances; he came with a large and well-armed group to arrest Jesus. Accompanying him were soldiers of the Roman cohort and the temple police.

thVn spei'ran This is a technical term for a Roman cohort, normally a force of 600 men (one tenth of a legion). It was under the command of a cilivarco" (verse 12). Because of the improbability of an entire cohort being sent to arrest a single man, some have suggested that spei'ran here refers only to a maniple, a force of 200. But the use of the word here does not necessarily mean the entire cohort was present on this mission, but only that it was the cohort which performed the task (for example, saying the fire department put out the fire does not mean that every fireman belonging to the department was on the scene at the time).

These Roman soldiers must have been ordered to accompany the temple police by Pilate, since they would have been under the direct command of the prefect or procurator. It is not difficult to understand why Pilate would have been willing to assist the Jewish authorities in such a way. With a huge crowd of pilgrims in Jerusalem for the passover, the Romans would have been especially nervous about an uprising of some sort. No doubt the chief priests and Pharisees had informed Pilate that this man Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah, or in the terms Pilate would understand, King of Israel.

ejk tw'n ajrcierevwn kaiV ejk tw'n Farisaivwn uJphrevta" The group which accompanied the Roman soldiers and Judas are literally called “the servants of the chief priests and Pharisees,” but this is a reference to the officers, who were under the orders of the Sanhedrin. In 7:32ff. these officers had made an unsuccessful attempt to arrest Jesus, and perhaps this is part of the reason why their leaders had made sure they were accompanied by Roman soldiers this time. No more mistakes were to be tolerated.

metaV fanw'n kaiV lampavdwn The mention of the lanterns and torches suggests a detail remembered by one who was an eyewitness, but in connection with the light/darkness motif of the Fourth Gospel, it is a vivid reminder that it is night; the darkness has come at last (cf. 13:30).

18:4 =Ihsou'" ou eijdwV" pavnta taV ejrcovmena ejp= aujtoVn Here again Jesus knows all the things which were coming upon him, a reference to his foreknowledge of events, a theme mentioned previously in the Fourth Gospel (6:6, 13:1). He is in complete control of his fate; he does not attempt to run away or hide, but comes forward boldly to meet the soldiers and police, asking whom it is they are seeking.

18:5 ajpekrivqhsan aujtw'/ We are not told precisely who from the group of soldiers and temple police answered Jesus at this point. It may have been the commander of the Roman soldiers, although his presence is not explicitly mentioned until verse 12. It may also have been one of the temple police. To the answer given, “Jesus the Nazarene” Jesus replies “I am” (ejgwv eijmi). Before we are told the response to Jesus’ identification of himself, the Evangelist inserts a parenthetical note that Judas, again identified as “the one who was betraying him” (cf. verse 2), was standing with the group of soldiers and temple police. Many commentators have considered this to be an awkward insertion, but in fact it heightens the dramatic effect of the response to Jesus’ self-identification in the following verse, and has the added effect of informing the reader that along with the others the betrayer himself ironically falls down at Jesus feet.

18:6 ajph'lqon eij" taV ojpivsw kaiV e[pesan camaiv Now we are told the response of those who came to arrest Jesus: when he said to them I am they retreated backward and fell to the ground. L. Morris says that “it is possible that those in front recoiled from Jesus’ unexpected advance, so that they bumped those behind them, causing them to stumble and fall.”139 Perhaps this is what in fact happened on the scene. However, the theological significance given to this event by the Evangelist implies that more is involved. The reaction on the part of those who came to arrest Jesus comes in response to his affirmation that he is indeed the one they are seeking, Jesus of Nazareth. But Jesus makes this affirmation of his identity using a formula which the reader has encountered before in the Fourth Gospel, e.g., 8:24, 28, 58. Jesus has applied to himself the Divine Name of Exod 3:14, “I AM”. This amounts to something of a theophany which causes even his enemies to recoil and prostrate themselves, so that Jesus has to ask a second time, “Whom are you seeking?” This is a vivid reminder that even in this dark hour, Jesus holds ultimate power over his enemies and the powers of darkness, because he is the One who bears the Divine Name.

18:7 pavlin ou ejphrwvthsen aujtouv" Again a second time Jesus asks the soldiers and temple police whom they are seeking, and again they reply, “Jesus of Nazareth”.

18:8 eipon uJmi'n o{ti ejgwv eijmi Again a second time Jesus replies, “I told you that I am he,” identifying himself as the one they are seeking. Jesus also adds, “If then you are seeking me, let these go.” Jesus has successfully diverted attention from his disciples by getting the soldiers and temple police to admit (twice) that it is only him they are after. Even in this hour Jesus still protects and cares for his own, giving himself up on their behalf. By handing himself over to his enemies, Jesus ensures that his disciples go free. From the perspective of the Evangelist, this is an acting out beforehand of what Jesus will actually do for his followers when he goes to the cross.

18:9 i{na plhrwqh'/ oJ lovgo" This action of Jesus on behalf of his disciples is interpreted by the Evangelist as a fulfillment of Jesus’ own word: “From those whom You have given to me I have lost no one.” It is interesting to notice that here it is Jesus own words, rather than the OT scriptures, which are being quoted. This same formula will be used by the Evangelist again of Jesus’ words in 18:32, but the verb is used elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel to describe the NT fulfillment of OT passages (12:38, 13:18, 15:25, 17:12, 19:24, and 19:36).

It is a bit difficult to determine the exact referent, since the words of Jesus quoted in this verse are not an exact reproduction of a saying of Jesus elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel. Although some have identified the saying with 6:39, the closest parallel is in 17:12, where the betrayer, Judas, is specifically excluded. The words quoted here in 18:9 appear to be a free rendition of 17:12.

18:10 Sivmwn ou Pevtro"ei{lkusen aujthVn kaiV e[paisen toVn tou' ajrcierevw" dou'lon kaiV ajpevkoyen aujtou' toV wjtavrion toV dexiovn The incident mentioned in this verse again contains details which imply eyewitness testimony. It is mentioned in all three of the synoptic gospels, but only John records that the disciple involved was Peter, whose impulsive behavior has already been alluded to (13:37). Likewise only John tells us the name of the victim, Malchus, who is described as “the servant of the high priest.” John and Mark (14:47) both use wjtavrion, a double diminutive, to describe what was cut off, and this may indicate only part of the right ear (for example, the earlobe).

18:11 eipen ou oJ =Ihsou'" tw'/ Pevtrw/ Jesus’ immediate response to Peter’s action is to rebuke him: “Put the sword into the sheath!” This was not the time for heroics.

toV pothvrion Jesus then continues with what most would take to be a rhetorical question expecting a positive reply: “The cup which the Father has given me to drink, shall I not drink it?” The cup is also mentioned in Gethsemane in the synoptics (Matt 26:39, Mark 14:36, and Luke 22:42). In connection with the synoptic accounts it is mentioned in Jesus’ prayer; this occurrence certainly complements the synoptic accounts if Jesus had only shortly before finished praying about this. Only here in the Fourth Gospel is it specifically said that the cup is given to Jesus to drink by the Father, but again this is consistent with the synoptic mention of the cup in Jesus’ prayer: it is the cup of suffering which Jesus is about to undergo.

        2 C Jesus is interrogated by Annas (18:12-27)

          1 D Jesus is brought before Annas (18:12-14)

18:12 sunevlabon toVn =Ihsou'n kaiV e[dhsan aujtoVn We are told that the cohort and the Roman commander and the temple police arrested Jesus and bound him. Why does John mention the binding of Jesus, a detail omitted by the synoptics, especially in light of the Johannine portrayal of the arrest as something that Jesus permits to take place? Surely under these circumstances there was no question of escape; everything in the account suggests that Jesus accompanies his captors willingly. It may well be that the Evangelist is suggesting an allusion to another willing victim: Isaac, who in Gen 22:9 allowed himself to be bound to the altar.

oJ cilivarco" In Greek this term literally describes the “commander of a thousand,” but it was used as the standard translation for the Latin tribunus militum or tribunus militare, the military tribune who commanded a cohort of 600 men.

18:13 proV" ”Annan They took Jesus first to Annas. Only the Gospel of John mentions this pre-trial hearing before Annas, and that Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who is said to be high priest in that year. Caiaphas is also mentioned as being high priest in 11:49. But in 18:15, 16, 19, and 22 Annas is called high priest. Annas is also referred to as high priest by Luke in Acts 4:6. Many scholars have dismissed these references as mistakes on the part of both Luke and John, but as mentioned above, John 11:49 and 18:13 indicate that John knew that Caiaphas was high priest in the year that Jesus was crucified. This has led others to suggest that Annas and Caiaphas shared the high priesthood, but there is no historical evidence to support this view. Annas had been high priest from AD 6 - AD 15 when he was deposed by the Roman prefect Valerius Gratus (according to Josephus, Antiquities 18.2.2). His five sons all eventually became high priests. The family was noted for its greed, wealth and power.

There are a number of ways the references in both Luke and John to Annas being high priest may be explained. Some Jews may have refused to recognize the changes in high priests effected by the Roman authorities, since according to the Torah the high priesthood was a lifetime office (Num 25:25). Another possibility is that it was simply customary to retain the title after a person had left the office as a courtesy, much as we continue to refer to retired ambassadors as “Mr. Ambassador” or ex-presidents as “Mr. President”. Finally, the use of the title by Luke and John may simply be a reflection of the real power behind the high priesthood of the time: although Annas no longer technically held the office, he may well have managed to control those relatives of his who did hold it from behind the scenes. In fact this seems most probable and would also explain why Jesus was brought to him immediately after his arrest for a sort of “pre-trial hearing” before being sent on to the entire Sanhedrin.

18:14 h deV Kai>avfa" This verse is an explanatory note by the Evangelist reminding the reader that Caiaphas is the same Caiaphas who counselled the Jewish authorities in 11:49-50 that it was expedient for one man to die for the nation. His prophecy is about to be fulfilled, but in a way he did not expect.

          2 D Peter gains entry to the courtyard of the high priest and denies Jesus for the first time (18:15-18)

18:15 =Hkolouvqei deV tw'/ =Ihsou' Peter and another unnamed disciple followed Jesus after his arrest. Because that disciple was known to the high priest (a reference to Annas, see the note on verse 13 above) he was allowed access to the courtyard of the high priest.

The identity of the unnamed disciple in 18:15. Many have associated this unnamed disciple with the Beloved Disciple, that is, John son of Zebedee, mainly because the phrase a[llo" maqhthv" which occurs here is also used to describe the Beloved Disciple in 20:2, 3, 4, and 8. Peter is also closely associated with the Beloved Disciple in 13:23-26, 20:2-10, 21:7, and 21:20-23. But other identifications have also been proposed, chiefly because verse 16 states that this disciple who was accompanied by Peter was known to the high priest. As Barrett points out, the term gnwstovV" is used in the LXX to refer to a close friend (Ps 54:14 LXX [55:14 English text]).140 This raises what for some is an insurmountable difficulty in identifying the “other disciple” as John son of Zebedee, since how could the uneducated son of an obscure Galilean fisherman be known to such a powerful and influential family in Jerusalem? E. A. Abbott proposed that the “other disciple” who accompanied Peter was Judas, since he was the one disciple of whom it is said explicitly (in the synoptic accounts) that he had dealings with the high priest.141 E. A. Tindall suggested the disciple was Nicodemus, who as a member of the Sanhedrin, would have had access to the high priest’s palace.142 Both of these suggestions, while ingenious, nevertheless lack support from the text of the Fourth Gospel itself or the synoptic accounts. W. Wuellner argued that the common attitude concerning the low social status and ignorance of the disciples from Galilee may in fact be a misconception.143 Zebedee is presented in Mark 1:20 as a man wealthy enough to have hired servants, and Mark 10:35-45 presents both of the sons of Zebedee as concerned about status and prestige. John’s mother appears in the same light in Matt 20:20-28. Contact with the high priestly family in Jerusalem might not be so unlikely in such circumstances. Others have noted the possibility that John came from a priestly family, some of which is based upon a statement in Eusebius quoting Polycrates that John son of Zebedee was a priest.144 For further information on possible priestly connections among members of John’s family see the discussion in L. Morris.145 None of this can be proven beyond doubt, but on the whole it seems most probable that the disciple who accompanied Peter and gained entry into the courtyard for him was John son of Zebedee.

18:16 oJ deV Pevtro" eiJsthvkei proV" th'/ quvra/ Although the “other disciple” is permitted into the courtyard, Peter was left standing outside. So the “other disciple” came back out and spoke to the servant-girl who kept the gate (the noun qurwrov" may be either masculine or feminine, but the article here indicates that it is feminine). She then permitted Peter to enter the courtyard.

18:17 hJ paidivskh hJ qurwrov" This was the maid servant to whom the “other disciple” spoke when he gained entrance for Peter into the courtyard (18:16). Her question to Peter, “You also are not one of the disciples of this man, are you?” provokes Peters first denial of Jesus. Since the question is preceded by mhv it expects a negative answer. Perhaps Peter was caught a bit off guard by the question and, since it was phrased to anticipate a negative answer, he found it easy to give one. But having given this denial, it would be hard to go back and admit the truth. It is very possible that the Evangelist wants us to contrast the response of Peter here and in 18:25, oujk eijmiv, with Jesus’ confession in the garden in 18:5 and 8, ejgwv eijmi. Jesus confessed openly who he was in order to protect his disciples (see above, verse 8), while Peter was not even able to admit openly that he was one of Jesus’ disciples.

18:18 kaiV oJ Pevtro" met= aujtw'n After the first denial Peter remained in the courtyard, warming himself near the charcoal fire with the servants and officers of the chief priests. Some of these latter (oiJ uJphrevtai) would have been members of the party that arrested Jesus and brought him to Annas’ residence. Certainly some of these might have seen Peter in the garden, but the danger might not have been as great as some have supposed, since it was dark and shadowy. Charcoal fires do not give off a great deal of light.

          3 D Annas questions Jesus and sends him to Caiaphas (18:19-24)

18:19 'O ou ajrciereuV" hjrwvthsen toVn =Ihsou'n Annas, referred to here as the high priest (cf. note on verse 13; verse 24 implies that Caiaphas was not present), interrogated Jesus in two areas: concerning his disciples and concerning his teaching. The nature of this hearing seems to be more that of a preliminary investigation; certainly normal legal procedure was not followed, for no indication is given that any witnesses were brought forth at this point to testify against Jesus. True to what we know of Annas’ character, he is more interested in Jesus’ disciples than in the precise nature of Jesus’ teaching, since he inquires about the followers first. He really wanted to know just how influential Jesus had become and how large a following he had gathered. This was of more concern to Annas that the truth or falsity of Jesus’ teaching.

18:20 ajpekrivqh aujtw'/ =Ihsou'" Jesus’ reply centered on the second line of Annas’ questioning and ignored the first. Perhaps he was still protecting his own, just as in the garden (cf. 18:8), when he directed the attention of the authorities away from his disciples.

ejjgwV parrhsiva/ lelavlhka tw'/ kovsmw/ Jesus’ reply to Annas that everything he had said had been said openly, not in secret, agrees with previous statements in the Fourth Gospel: in 7:26 the people noted that Jesus spoke openly and wondered if the authorities were giving tacit approval to what he was saying because they did nothing to stop him. 11:54 also seems to imply that Jesus’ normal procedure prior to this point near the end of his public ministry had been to walk openly among the Jews as he taught. This does not mean that there was nothing obscure about Jesus’ teaching (10:24 makes it plain that some of the Jews wished Jesus to speak more plainly about his messianic claims), but simply that Jesus did not attempt to press his messianic claims in secret. Obviously he had private conversations; the Fourth Gospel records two significant ones (with Nicodemus and with the Samaritan woman at the well). It may well be that Annas in his questioning of Jesus was really concerned with whether he was a revolutionary plotting a rebellion against the Romans. In regard to this Jesus could say that he had engaged in no secret plots; his teaching was done openly and in public for the most part, for all to hear.

18:21 tiv me ejrwta'/"… At this point Jesus becomes the questioner: he asks Annas, “Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard what I said to them; behold, these know what I said.” It may well be that Jesus is here refusing to answer a self-incriminating question and instead demanding to be tried with witnesses, as the Law provided. This may be a further indication that the interrogation by Annas was not a formal trial.

18:22 ei|" paresthkwV" tw'n uJphretw'n e[dwken rJavpisma tw'/ =Ihsou' Jesus had taken the initiative in his question to Annas in verse 21, and this was understood by one of the officers of the temple police standing by as an insult to the high priest. The officer responded by slapping Jesus across the face. The force of the officer’s question to Jesus implies a rebuke: “Is that any way to answer the high priest?” Implicit is a reference to Exod 22:28, which states: “You shall not curse God, nor curse (say something wrong about) a ruler of your people.”

18:23 ajpekrivqh aujtw'/ =Ihsou'" Jesus replied to the indignity thus: “If I have spoken wrongly, testify concerning the wrong [say what it is that I have done]; but if [I have spoken] rightly, why do you strike me?” Jesus demonstrated such an attitude toward sin in 8:46: “Which of you convicts me of sin?” Jesus knew that according to the Law he was entitled to have witnesses brought in (Deut 17:6, 19:15), and he had done nothing wrong in insisting that the Law be followed.

18:24 ajpevsteilen ou aujtoVn oJ ”Anna" Perhaps because the preliminary inquiry was getting nowhere, or because Jesus was insisting on a formal hearing with witnesses according to the Law, Annas sent Jesus bound to Caiaphas. Where was Caiaphas located? Did he have a separate palace, or was he somewhere else with the Sanhedrin? Since Augustine a number of scholars have proposed that Annas and Caiaphas resided in different wings of the same palace, which were bound together by a common courtyard through which Jesus would have been led as he was taken from Annas to Caiaphas. This seems a reasonable explanation, although there is no conclusive evidence.

          4 D Peter denies Jesus for the second and third times (18:25-27)

18:25 Hn deV Sivmwn Pevtro" Here dev could be translated “meanwhile”—the Evangelist is now returning to the events taking place outside in the courtyard while Jesus was being interrogated inside the palace by Annas. The phrase eJstwV" kaiV qermainovmeno" is repeated from verse 18 and indicates the connection with the scene of the previous denial. This time the questioners are not specified but we may presume from the bystanders mentioned in verse 18 that they were either servants of the high priest’s household or officers of the temple police who had participated in Jesus’ arrest in the garden. Again, as in the previous question by the maidservant which occasioned Peter’s first denial (verse 17), the question to Peter presupposed a negative response, which Peter quickly gave.

18:26 levgei ei|" ejk tw'n douvlwn tou' ajrcierevw" Again a third time a question is raised concerning Peter’s allegiance, and the Evangelist specifies that this time it was a relative of Malchus (whose ear Peter had cut off in the garden, cf. verse 10) who asked. Here was someone who had a real interest in Peter’s identity, since he was related to the man Peter had injured. His question, unlike the first two, is phrased with oujk so as to anticipate a positive response; he is more confident of the charge he is putting forward: “Did I not see you in the garden with him?

18:27 pavlin ou hjrnhvsato Pevtro" For the third time Peter denies his association with Jesus. This time his words are not recorded by the Evangelist, but only the statement that he denied Jesus. No indication is given of Peter’s emotional state at this third denial (as in Matt 26:74 and Mark 14:71) or that he remembered that Jesus had foretold the denials (Matt 26:75, Mark 14:72 and Luke 22:61), or the bitter remorse Peter felt afterwards (Matt 26:75, Mark 14:72, and Luke 22:62).

eujqevw" ajlevktwr ejfwvnhsen Immediately after Peter’s third denial a cock crowed. It seems most likely that this refers to a real cockcrow, although a number of scholars have suggested that this is a technical term referring to the trumpet call which ended the third watch of the night (from midnight to 3 a.m.). This would then be a reference to the Roman gallicinium (in Greek, ajlektorofwniva) which would have been sounded at 3 a.m.; in this case Jesus would have prophesied a precise time by which the denials would have taken place.146 In any event natural cockcrow would have occurred at approximately 3:00 a.m. in Palestine at this time of year (March-April) anyway.

        3 C Jesus is brought before Pilate (18:28-19:16a)

The Fourth Gospel does not deal at all with the trial of Jesus before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, but alludes to it in 18:24 and 28. Much more attention is devoted to the Roman trial before Pilate. The Evangelist goes to great lengths to point out that Pilate himself testified to Jesus’ innocence (18:38, 19:4, and 19:6) and would have freed him had it not been for the manipulation of the Jewish authorities.

          1 D The Jewish leaders present their accusation to Pilate (18:28-32)

18:28 “Agousin ou toVn =Ihsou'n ajpoV tou' Kai>avfa Who are “they” who led Jesus to Pilate from Caiaphas? Some of the officers of the chief priests, certainly; but it also appears likely that some members at least of the Sanhedrin who had been present at Jesus trial before Caiaphas must have accompanied him to Pilate to present their charges against him to the Roman governor. Their refusal to enter the praetorium lest they incur ceremonial defilement and Pilate’s accommodation in coming out to meet them both suggest that there were some influential people in the group.

eij" toV praitwvrion The permanent residence of the Roman governor of Palestine was in Caesarea (Acts 23:35). The governor had a residence in Jerusalem which he normally occupied only during principal feasts or in times of political unrest. The location of this building in Jerusalem is uncertain, but is probably one of two locations: either (a) the fortress or tower of Antonia, on the East Hill north of the Temple area, which is the traditional location of the Roman praetorium since the 12th century, or (b) the palace of Herod on the West hill near the present Jaffa Gate. According to Philo Pilate had some golden shields hung there.147 According to Josephus the later Roman governor Florus stayed there.148

i{na mhV mianqw'sin It is not precisely clear what type of ceremonial defilement was in view here. Acts 10:28 states that it was “unlawful” for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit such a person, but the exact nature of the defilement is not specified. Some have thought John to be in error here about the statement concerning the eating of the Passover on the next day since the type of ceremonial impurity the Jewish leaders would have incurred here could be removed by a bath at the end of the day. But this presumes to know the exact nature of the defilement; if it was connected to contact with a corpse, it would have lasted seven days. This may indeed by the case, since the Gentiles were suspected of burying their dead in or beneath their houses.149

18:29 oJ Pila'to" Pilate is not here identified by the Evangelist as the Roman governor for the benefit of the readers. It is reasonable to assume that from the earliest times Christians who had heard the apostolic preaching were familiar with his name.

tivna kathgorivan fevrete Pilate’s first words to Jesus’ accusers were a question: “What acccusation do you bring against this man?” In light of the fact that Pilate had cooperated with them in Jesus’ arrest by providing Roman soldiers, the Jewish authorities were probably expecting Pilate to grant them permission to carry out their sentence on Jesus without resistance (the Jews were not permitted to exercise capital punishment under the Roman occupation without official Roman permission, cf. verse 31). They must have been taken somewhat by surprise by Pilate’s question, because it indicated that he was going to try the prisoner himself. Thus Pilate was regarding the trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin as only an inquiry and their decision as merely an accusation.

18:30 h ou|to" kakoVn poiw'n The real charge which the Jewish authorities wanted to bring against Jesus was theological, not political (this comes out finally in 19:7; cf. 10:33). But this would not stand up in a Roman court, and they knew it. (Perhaps they were caught somewhat unprepared by Pilate’s announcement that he intended to try the prisoner himself, see the previous verse.) So the Jewish authorities made a general statement that Jesus was an evildoer (h ou|to" kakoVn poiw'n, a semitic idiom) without mentioning a specific crime.

18:31 lavbete aujtoVn uJmei'" kaiV kataV toVn novmon uJmw'n krivnate aujtovn We may assume that Pilate, as the chief representative of Rome in a troubled area, was in Jerusalem for the passover because of the danger of an uprising (the normal residence for the Roman governor was in Caesarea as mentioned in Acts 23:35). At this time on the eve of the feast he would have been a busy and perhaps even a worried man. It is not surprising that he offered to hand Jesus back over to the Jewish authorities to pass judgment on him. It may well be that Pilate realized when no specific charge was mentioned that he was dealing with an internal dispute over some religious matter. Pilate wanted nothing to do with such matters. As far as the Evangelist is concerned, this points out who was really responsible for Jesus’ death: the Roman governor Pilate would have had nothing to do with it if he had not been pressured by the Jewish authorities, upon whom the real responsibility rested.

hJmi'n oujk e[xestin ajpoktei'nai oujdevna The Jewish authorities raised an objection, however, when Pilate tried to give Jesus back over to them for trial: they were not permitted to carry out the death penalty. The historical background behind this statement is difficult to reconstruct. Scholars are divided over whether this statement in the Fourth Gospel accurately reflects the judicial situation between the Jewish authorities and the Romans in first-century Palestine. It appears that the Roman governor may have given the Jews the power of capital punishment for specific offenses, some of them religious (the death penalty for Gentiles caught trespassing in the inner courts of the Temple, for example). It is also pointed out that the Jewish authorities did carry out a number of executions, some of them specifically pertaining to Christians (Stephen, according to Acts 7:58-60; and James the Just, who was stoned in the 60s according to Josephus).150 But Stephen’s death may be explained as a result of “mob violence” rather than a formal execution, and as Josephus in the above account goes on to point out, James was executed in the period between two Roman governors, and the high priest at the time was subsequently punished for the action. Two studies by A. N. Sherwin-White have tended to support the accuracy of John’s account.151 He concluded that the Romans kept very close control of the death penalty out of fear that in the hands of rebellious locals such power could be used to eliminate factions favorable or useful to Rome. A province as troublesome as Judea would not have been likely to be made an exception to this.

18:32 i{na oJ lovgo" tou' =Ihsou' plhrwqh'/ Here we have a parenthetical note by the Evangelist, who sees Jesus’ trial and execution by the Romans as a fulfillment of Jesus own words concerning the nature of his death. The “word” of Jesus to which the Evangelist refers must be recorded in 12:32, because 12:33 contains exactly the same explanatory phrase found here: tou'to deV e[legen shmaivnwn poivw/ qanavtw/ h[mellen ajpoqnhv/skein. If the Jewish authorities had been able to execute Jesus themselves, they would have done so by stoning. For Jesus’ prophetic words concerning the manner of his death (being lifted up from the earth, 12:32) to be fulfilled, he would have to be executed by the Romans, not by stoning but by crucifixion.

          2 D Pilate questions Jesus concerning his kingship (18:33-38a)

18:33 Eijsh'lqen ou pavlin Pilate at this point went back inside the praetorium to question Jesus (it is not clear whether Jesus himself had been brought inside the praetorium prior to this). He asked Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?” It is difficult to discern Pilate’s attitude at this point. Some have believed the remark to be sarcastic or incredulous as Pilate looked upon this lowly and humble prisoner: “So Youre the King of the Jews, are You?” Others have thought the Roman governor to have been impressed by Jesus’ regal disposition and dignity, and to have sincerely asked, “Are You really the King of the Jews?” Since it will later become apparent (verse 38) that Pilate considered Jesus innocent (and therefore probably also harmless) an attitude of incredulity is perhaps most likely, but this is far from certain in the absence of clear contextual clues.

18:34 ajpekrivqh =Ihsou'" As with Annas (18:21) Jesus again becomes the Questioner. He asks Pilate, “From yourself do you say this, or have others spoken to you concerning me?” What is the significance of Jesus’ question? It would be important to know whether Pilate was asking from his own initiative or not, because it would determine to some degree how Jesus should reply to his question about being King of the Jews. If Pilate came up with this question on his own initiative, he was probably asking whether Jesus was a political conspirator, to which the answer would be that he was not. But if the question came to Pilate from the Jewish authorities, then it concerned whether or not Jesus was the messianic King, to which the answer would be yes.

18:35 ajpekrivqh oJ Pila'to" Pilate replied to Jesus’ question with another question of his own: “I am not a Jew, am I?” Many have seen in this reply the Roman contempt for the Jewish people. Some of that may indeed be present, but strictly speaking, all Pilate affirms is that he, as a Roman, has no firsthand knowledge of Jewish customs or belief. What he knows of Jesus must have come from the Jewish authorities. They are the ones (“Your own nation and the chief priests”) who have handed Jesus over to Pilate.

tiv ejpoivhsa"… Finally Pilate asks Jesus directly, “What have You done?” in order to get to the bottom of this. Pilate at this point really wants to know whether an offense against Roman law has taken place; then he can proceed to dispose of the case.

18:36 ajpekrivqh =Ihsou'" Jesus does not answer this last question of Pilate, but the former one, “Are You the King of the Jews?” (verse 33). He answers it affirmatively, since he does indeed have a kingdom. But Jesus qualifies his reply to make clear to Pilate that he is no political revolutionary: his kingdom is not of this world. This recalls Jesus’ prayer concerning his disciples in 17:11 and 16: both he and his disciples are in the world, but are not of the world. Jesus’ kingdom is a heavenly kingdom; it does not arise from the world but breaks in from outside the world, just as Jesus himself came down from heaven on a mission from the Father (cf. 1:14, 3:17, 16:28, etc.).

Jesus now supports his statement that his kingdom is not of this world by pointing out that if it were, he would have subjects who would have attempted to fight (hjgwnivzonto, conative imperfect) on his behalf. The absence of military resistance to Jesus’ arrest should indicate to Pilate that Jesus’ kingdom was not from here (ejnteu'qen). Actually Peter did try to resist (18:10-11), but Jesus ordered him to stop.

18:37 oujkou'n basileuV" ei su… Pilate infers on the basis of Jesus’ remarks that he is indeed some sort of king. How then are we to understand Jesus’ reply, “You say that I am a king” (suV levgei" o{ti basileuv" eijmi)? Is it to be understood as affirmative or negative? It seems best to understand it as a qualified affirmative reply. Jesus will not deny the conclusion of Pilate that he is a king, but points out, “It is you who have said it, not I”. Jesus goes on to explain his mission into the world in terms that he would prefer to use: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, in order that I might bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Jesus had affirmed similar ideas previously in his teaching (8:32, 14:6).

18:38a tiv ejstin ajlhvqeia… With his reply “What is truth?” Pilate dismissed the matter. It is not clear what Pilate’s attitude was at this point, as above at verse 33. He may have been sarcastic, or perhaps somewhat reflective. We do not have enough information in the narrative to be sure.

          3 D Pilate seeks to release Jesus but the crowd cries out for Barabbas instead (18:38b-40)

18:38b ejgwV oujdemivan euJrivskw ejn aujtw'/ aijtivan Pilate now makes his first attempt to have Jesus released. The Roman governor had satisfied himself that this man Jesus, whatever strange statements he might make about his origin and purpose, was no dangerous revolutionary. He could be released without further threat to Rome. So Pilate went back outside the praetorium to the Jewish authorities who were waiting and pronounced his judgment: “I find no case [no cause of guilt] against this man.” Pilate’s verdict of “not guilty” will be repeated two more time in 19:4 and 19:6.

18:39 e[stin deV sunhvqeia uJmi'n Pilate then offers to release Jesus, reminding the Jews that they have a custom that he release someone for them at the passover. There is no extra-biblical evidence to support the practice. It is, however, mentioned in all the synoptics, which describe it as a practice of Pilate (Mark 15:6, Luke 23:17) or of the Roman governor (Matt 27:15). These references may explain the lack of extra-biblical attestation: the custom to which Pilate refers here (18:39) is not a permanent one acknowledged by all the Roman governors, but one peculiar to Pilate as a means of appeasement, meant to better relations with his subjects. Such a limited meaning is certainly possible and consistent with the statement here, since Pilate says “You have a custom that I release one [prisoner] for you at the passover”.

18:40 mhV tou'ton ajllaV toVn Barabba'n The crowd outside the praetorium (speaking up for the first time in the context; pavlin may well have a meaning like “thereupon” here) refuse Jesus and ask for Barabbas, described by the Evangelist in a parenthetical note as a “robber” (lh/sthv"). This word is used a number of times by Josephus to describe the revolutionaries or guerrilla fighters who, from mixed motives of nationalism and greed, kept the rural districts of Judea in constant turmoil.152

oJ Barabba'" The name Barabbas itself in Aramaic means “son of abba,” that is, “son of the father” and presumably the man in question had another name (it may also have been Jesus, according to the textual variant in Matt 27:16, although this is uncertain). It is probable that for the Evangelist this name held ironic significance: the crowd was asking for the release of a man called Barabbas, son of the father, while Jesus, who was truly the Son of the Father, was condemned to die instead.

139 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 743-44.

140 Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 525.

141 E. A. Abbott, Expository Times 25 (1913/14): 149-50.

142 E. A. Tindall, Expository Times 28 (1916/17): 283-84.

143 W. Wuellner, The Meaning of Fishers of Men (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967).

144 Ecclesiastical History 3.31.3.

145 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 752, n. 32.

146 For more details see J. H. Bernard, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John, 2:604.

147 Embassy to Gaius 38 [299].

148 Jewish War 2.301; 328.

149 This practice is alluded to in the Temple Scroll from Qumran, 1st century BC; cf. Y. Yadin, BA 30 (1967): 137.

150 Antiquities 20.9.1 [200].

151 A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963), 1-47; also “The Trial of Christ” in Historicity and Chronology in the New Testament (London: SPCK, 1965), 97-116.

152 Jewish War 2.13.2-3 [253-54].

Related Topics: Easter, Crucifixion

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