THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN - PART XXI
THE ARREST OF
JESUS AND TRIALS BEFORE ANNAS, CAIAPHAS AND PILATE
I. The Gospel according to John presents the passion and death of Jesus in terms of Jesus fully in control of the situation and fulfilling His role as the Passover sacrifice, the King, and the new Adam. The other major figures in the narrative, by contrast, are controlled by other forces.
A. Jesus begins the passion in a garden, is buried in a garden, and, after the resureciton, first looks like a gardener, all reflecting His restoration of the communion with God that Adam and Eve enjoyed in the garden of Eden.
1. He also
takes up the thorns and death that were a part of the punishments levied
out to Adam.
brings Him out to the crowd and says, "Behold, the man," which in
Hebrew would be "Behold, Adam." While on the Cross, He says
to John, "Behold, thy mother," which in Hebrew would be "Behold,
3. At His
death, He says, "It is finished," reflecting the completion of a
new creation. See Gen. 1:2.
B. In His discourse
with Pilate, Jesus begins to claim the title of king, albeit a kingdom
that does not belong to this world. Pilate and his soldiers also
call Him "the King of the Jews," not realizing the implications
of what they saying.
C. Jesus is slaughtered just as the lambs for the Passover are being slaughtered.
1. John presents
the Passover as beginning at sunset on Friday, in contrast with the
Synoptic Gospels, which present it as going from Thursday to Friday.
It may be that the Passover was on Friday to Saturday, but Jesus moved
it a day earlier, consistent with some rabbinical practices that would
avoid a conflict between the Passover and the Sabbath.
with the requirements for a Passover lamb, none of His bones were broken.
See Ex. 12:46.
D. By contrast, the
leaders in Jerusalem increasing accept the foreign rule of Caesar, finally
saying, "We have no king but Caesar," They thus reject the prophesies
of a great and glorious king from the line of David. See, e.g., Zech.
E. The secular authority
Pilate is trapped and gives into popular opinion and threats of reports
back to the emperor.
F. Peter is also controlled by fear, although he is unlike the others, basically well intentioned.
1. He does make a clumsy effort to defend Jesus in striking the high priest's servant and cutting off his ear. And he follows Jesus to the praetorium. But he cannot follow through on his resolution to stay with Jesus even unto death.
2. However, the
Gospels will relate Peter being forgiven and giving a three-fold affirmation
of Jesus' knowledge that he loves Him, which occurs around a charcoal
fire, as the denials did.
II. The arrest in the garden demonstrates that Jesus is fully in charge.
A. John does not identify the garden itself, probably wanting to emphasize the fact of it being a garden more than anything else. He does say that it is across the Valley of Kidron, a wadi, i.e., a river bed that is usually dry but that fills up quickly after rains. There is perhaps a hint of fulfilling what Joshua did when he led the Chosen People across the Jordan Valley into the Promised Land.
- The text indicates
that Judas knows Jesus will be there, but also that Jesus fully knows
what is going to happen.
B. There are apparently
both Temple guards and Roman soldiers arresting Jesus, indicating that
the Jewish authorities have already begun bringing the pagan Romans
into their plots, either with or without Pilate's consent. If
it was a full cohort as the term (speira) suggests, there were 600 Roman
soldiers, plus the Temple guards.
C. Despite the massive
show of force against a small band, Jesus is in charge, challenging
them with a question about whom they are looking for. The soldiers
(apparently even the pagan ones) fall back in fear when Jesus says "I
am," reflecting again the divine name from Exodus. See also
D. Jesus then commands
them to let the other Apostles go. He does not wish to lose any of them,
both in the simple sense of allowing them to die before the mission
of reconstituting the Kingdom on earth has been completed, but also
in the sense of allowing them to die before they know the saving power
of Jesus' death and Resurrection. There is also a strong note
of obedience to the Father, for Jesus the text says that the Father
gave the disciples to Jesus, see also John 17:12, not simply that Jesus
chose them, although He did also do that. See John 15:16.
Jesus also soon speaks again of the cup that He must take. The
symbolism is both one of suffering, as Matthew, Mark and Luke indicate,
see Matt. 26:29; Mk. 14:36; Lk. 22:42, Ps. 11:3, Is. 51:17, 22,
Zech. 12:2, Hab. 2:15, and one of winning God's blessings. See, e,g.,
Ps. 16:5, 23:5, 116:13.
E. Peter, loyal but
still misunderstanding the situation, makes a valiant but hopeless attempt
to defend Jesus, cutting off the Malchus' ear. It would seem
from the situation that he was not trying to kill, but rather give a
warning. Jesus then indicates again that He must suffer the arrest
III. The trials before Annas and Caiphas alternate with the denials of Peter.
A. John describes the first trial before Annas with more detail.
- Anna was the former
high priest, whom the Romans deposed in 15 A.D. However, because
the Romans had no authority to do so, many people considered him to
be the high priest, or at least joint high priest with his son-in-law
B. Under Jewish law,
there was a sort of right against self-incrimination. Crimes were
supposed to be provable by other witnesses. As the other Gospels
indicates, the Sanhedrin was having trouble getting two witnesses to
agree, as required for criminal convictions under Jewish law.
See Duet 17:6, 19:15.
C. Jesus points out that none of His teachings were in secret. This approach stands in dramatic contrast to the Gnostic sects, which believed that there was a secret knowledge available only to the few. See, e.g., Rev. 2:24. Jesus' testimony is available to all. It is true that He does explains the parables only to the Apostles, see Mark 4:10-12, but even then the parables themselves were available to all.
D. The lawless violence
of the court is demonstrated by the soldier striking Jesus, in contrast
to Jesus' reasoned response.
E. The Gospel according
to John only mentions the trial before Caiaphas in passing. The
other Gospels describe Jesus plainly telling the Sanhedrin, in response
to a direct question from Caiaphas, that He is the Son of God and the
Messiah. This Gospel focuses more on Jesus identifying Himself
as the new King.
F. The denials by Peter are in all four Gospels, indicating the fame of that event. Peter is not treacherous as Judas is, nor unconcerned with truth as Pilate and the Jewish leaders are. Rather, he simply does not have enough courage to defend Jesus when the situation seems hopeless. It should be remembered that nine other Apostles were nowhere in sight, and John was partially protected both by his youth and by his contacts with the priestly family. (It seems likely that John himself, and therefore, James, were from a priestly family.)
- Peter's statements
"I am not" stand in contrast to Jesus' bold statement "I AM"
the one they are looking for.
IV. The trial before Pilate contrasts dramatically the kingship of Jesus, the cowardice of Pilate, and the fury of the crowds.
The overall structure forms a sort of chiasm, focusing on the kingship
B. The first half
of the trial goes from: (1) the Jewish authorities demanding Jesus's
death by the Romans; (2) Pilate's inquiry about Jesus and His kingdom;
(3) Pilate's declaration that Jesus is innocent and the demands of
the crowd for His death; and (4) the abuse of Jesus with a crown of
thorns and a purple cloak.
C. The central theme
"the King of the Jews," is here spoken by the soldiers in mockery,
but really meaning much more than they can imagine.
D. The second half
of the trial then goes in the reverse direction: (1) the soldiers striking
Jesus; (2) Pilate declaring Jesus innocent again and the crowds demanding
His death; (3) the inquiry by Pilate, here focusing on true power and
responsibility; and (4) the crowd demanding Jesus' death by crucifixion
E. The scene begins
with the crowds demanding Jesus' death by the Romans. They could
have assassinated Him in secret or organized a stoning, and the Romans
may well have looked the other way. See, e.g., John 7:59; 9:1-11;
Acts 7:54-50. But without the public execution and the involvement
of the Romans, they would be worried about a riot breaking out because
of the injustice. In addition, the prophesies of slaughter by
scourging and piercing the flesh had to be fulfilled. See, e.g.,
Is. 53:5, Zech. 12:10. Because they want a public execution with
the Roman's on their side, the leaders recognize and seem to accept
the fact that they have no right to execute anyone.
F. The Gospel implies that the crowds brought a charge of sedition against Jesus, for Pilate immediately asks Jesus whether He is the King of the Jews.
1. Jesus' reply suggests to Pilate that if He were really fermenting a rebellion, Pilate should have heard about it before now. It should be clear to Pilate that this charge was trumped up as a guise for the real issue, i.e. Jesus' challenge of the religious authority of the Jewish leaders.
2. Pilate in
frustration puts the blame for the situation on the Jewish leaders,
which will be a continuing theme.
3. Jesus then indicates that the term king is accurate, but not in the way that Pilate thinks. This will be a kingdom in which the stable force of truth reigns supreme, not the ups and downs of popularity or political power. Pilate's question "What is truth?" could be one of scorn or puzzlement. Either way, it is clear that he is coming from an environment of scepticism, in contrast to the truth that Jesus promotes, which alone can set His People free. See, e.g., John 8:32.
- Jesus indicates that, if His kingdom were like that of Caesar, His attendants would be fighting for Him. The angels are certainly His attendants. See Matt. 26:53. But He could also mean that if He provided monetary and political rewards and threatened violent punishments as the Romans did, He could have easily had a revolutionary army. See, e.g., John 6:15.
4. Pilate quickly
realizes that Jesus poses no political threat to the Roman Empire and
tries to release Jesus. Pilate calls Jesus the King of the Jews,
indicating to the crowds that He was very willing to give them a certain
type of king. But they call for the release of political revolutionary
(who was also a murderer, see Mark 15:7.) John focuses on the
irrationality of demanding the release of a political revolutionary
at the same time as they are rejecting their true King and accepting
G. In a desperate attempt to placate the crowd, Pilate has Jesus scourged. The soldiers add additional suffering and indignities, not realizing that their words, "The King of the Jews" are true beyond their imagining. The scene may reflect cruelty on their part and/or a mockery of the Jewish desires for their own nation.
- Pilate then brings Jesus
out, hoping to stir up pity, or at least a diminishment of the rage
against Jesus. But the attempt produces the opposite effect.
- Whether Pilate is
thinking about it or not, he is also imitating the general custom of
presenting a new king in royal robes and with his new name. Here
the robes of Christ represent His taking upon Himself the punishment
for sin, and His name (the man) indicates His restoration of mankind.
- When the crowd says that Jesus "made Himself" the Son of God, Pilate becomes afraid, possibly fearing the passions of the crowd, or possibly fearing that Jesus may in fact be divine, and that he (Pilate) has just had him scourged.
H. Pilate then asks Jesus where He is from, possibly trying to figure out where this claim to divinity come from.
- As with Herod, Jesus
at first gives no answer, for Pilate is not capable of grasping Jesus'
- Then Jesus speaks to Pilate in his own terms, saying that all his authority is from above. There is a play on words here. At the basic level, all of Pilate's authority comes from the Emperor. But on a deeper level, which Pilate may or may not have understood, all rightful authority comes from God alone. Because final authority comes from God, the religious leaders, who should represent God, are more guilty than Pilate, who is basically a worldling.
- Even now, Jesus is in full command
of the situation.
I. Pilate again wants
to release Jesus, but the crowds now up the ante and threaten to tell
the Emperor that Pilate was not worthy to be called a "Friend of Caesar."
That term was an honorific title bestowed on some of the royal officials.
Pilate either has that title or would like to obtain it. But the
crowds here are threatening that, if he releases Jesus, they will tell
the Emperor (at this time Tiberius) that Pilate is allowing Jesus to
oppose Roman rule.
J. Pilate, probably angry at the crowds for backing him into a corner, mockingly (but truthfully) sits Jesus down on a stone seat, as a judge would be seated, and says, "Behold, your king." For it is the suffering of Jesus that would test and judge the world.
- The crowd has worked itself up into such an excitement that they people now reject any idea of having their own king. Part of the idea here is that, if one will not accept Jesus as king, someone else (here the Romans) will be dominant. Independence from any power is in the end impossible. The choice is between the loving and self-sacrificing power of God and the political power of the pagans.