Betrayal and Arrest
18:1 When he had said these things, Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley. There was an orchard there, and he and his disciples went into it. 18:2 (Now Judas, the one who betrayed him, knew the place too, because Jesus had met there many times with his disciples.) 18:3 So Judas obtained a squad of soldiers and some officers of the chief priests and Pharisees. They came to the orchard with lanterns and torches and weapons.
‘Many scholars have noted that this military contingent is described in a manner much like Roman cohorts (so NASB). Nevertheless, the same language was equally used of Jewish units, and this unit is undoubtedly Jewish-the temple guard. (Roman troops would not be used for a routine police action like this one, and Romans would not have taken Jesus to the house of Annas-18:13-whom they had deposed.) A full cohort in the Roman sense could have involved eight hundred soldiers, but a detachment from the cohort is all that John need mean here. Both the temple police and Romans carried torches (two kinds are mentioned here) at night, although only a few need have carried them, especially since the moon would be nearly full at Passover.’ (NT Background Cmty)
18:4 Then Jesus, because he knew everything that was going to happen to him, came and asked them, “Who are you looking for?” 18:5 They replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He told them, “I am he.” (Now Judas, the one who betrayed him, was standing there with them.) 18:6 So when Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they retreated and fell to the ground.
This exchange was probably carried out in Greek.
On Jesus’ knowledge of the future, see Mk 8:31; Lk 9:21-22; 12:49-53; 22:35-37; 24:1-7; Jn 3:11-14; 6:63-64; 13:1-11; 14:27-29; 18:1-4; 19:26-30.
‘We should notice, in these verses, the exceeding hardness of heart to which a backsliding professor may attain. We are told that Judas, one of the twelve apostles, became a guide to those who took Jesus. We are told that he used his knowledge of the place of our Lord’s retirement in order to bring His deadly enemies upon Him, and we are told that, when the band of men and officers approached his Master in order to take Him prisoner, Judas “stood with them.” Yet, this was a man who, for three years, had been a constant companion of Christ, had seen His miracles, had heard His sermons, had enjoyed the benefit of His private instruction, had professed himself a believer, had even worked and preached in Christ’s name! “Lord,” we say, “what is man?” From the highest degree of privilege down to the lowest depth of sin there is but a succession of steps. Privileges misused seem to paralyze the conscience. The same fire that melts wax hardens clay.’ (Ryle)
“I am he” – What Jesus is actually recorded as saying is, “I am.” ‘This can mean “I am he (whom you seek),” but it can also allude to Exodus 3:14, translated literally. A Jewish tradition, purportedly pre-Christian (attributed to the early *Diaspora Jewish writer Artapanus), said that when Moses pronounced the name of his God, Pharaoh fell backward. (If Jesus’ hearers had thought he was pronouncing the divine name, they might have also fallen back in fear, because magicians were said to try to cast spells in that name.).’ (NT Background Cmty)
18:7 Then Jesus asked them again, “Who are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” 18:8 Jesus replied, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, let these men go.” 18:9 He said this to fulfill the word he had spoken, “I have not lost a single one of those whom you gave me.”
18:10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, pulled it out and struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his right ear. (Now the slave’s name was Malchus.) 18:11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath! Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
The high priest’s servant – Why the definite article, since the high priest certainly had more than one servant (cf. v26)? Perhaps this man was the senior member of the arresting party. He is mentioned again in John’s account of Peter’s third denial, v26.
The slave’s name was Malchus – John is the only evangelist who names this man. Moreover, he knows that another of the servants of the High Priest is a relative of this man. This provides supporting evidence that John knew Jerusalem well.
Jesus Before Annas
18:12 Then the squad of soldiers with their commanding officer and the officers of the Jewish leaders arrested Jesus and tied him up. 18:13 They brought him first to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 18:14 (Now it was Caiaphas who had advised the Jewish leaders that it was to their advantage that one man die for the people.)
Caiaphas – See Mt 26:57n.
Peter’s First Denial
18:15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed them as they brought Jesus to Annas. (Now the other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, and he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard.) 18:16 But Simon Peter was left standing outside by the door. So the other disciple who was acquainted with the high priest came out and spoke to the slave girl who watched the door, and brought Peter inside. 18:17 The girl who was the doorkeeper said to Peter, “You’re not one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” He replied, “I am not.” 18:18 (Now the slaves and the guards were standing around a charcoal fire they had made, warming themselves because it was cold. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.)
Another disciple – This unnamed disciple may well be the ‘Beloved Disciple’, and his close association with Peter suggests that he is one and the same person as John the disciple. Lest is be thought that a Galilean fisherman would not be allowed access to the court of the high priest (just a a fishmonger would not be allowed unquestioned entry to the waiting room of the prime minister) we must be careful not impose our own social model on the situation. John’s family was quite well-to-do (they owned at least one boat and also had servants), and even rabbis were expected to have a skilled trade apart from their teaching. See the discussion in Carson & Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. We might add that there is a scattering of evidence that John knew (and was well known in) Jerusalem, and that he may have had a dwelling there.
The slave girl who watched the door…the girl who was the doorkeeper – Although it seems surprising for there to have been a female doorkeeper, something similar is also attested in Acts 12:13.
“I am not” – ‘Why Peter should deny any association with Jesus at this point is hard to explain. After all, it seems the other disciple was known to be a disciple and was admitted without any problem, and he was the one bringing Peter into the courtyard. Perhaps Peter felt guilty and vulnerable because he had attacked the high priest’s servant with a sword (10).’ (Kruse)
Jesus Questioned by Annas
18:19 While this was happening, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 18:20 Jesus replied, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I always taught in the synagogues and in the temple courts, where all the Jewish people assemble together. I have said nothing in secret. 18:21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said. They know what I said.”
18:22 When Jesus had said this, one of the high priest’s officers who stood nearby struck him on the face and said, “Is that the way you answer the high priest?” 18:23 Jesus replied, “If I have said something wrong, confirm what is wrong. But if I spoke correctly, why strike me?” 18:24 Then Annas sent him, still tied up, to Caiaphas the high priest.
Peter’s Second and Third Denials
18:25 Meanwhile Simon Peter was standing in the courtyard warming himself. They said to him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?” Peter denied it: “I am not!” 18:26 One of the high priest’s slaves, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the orchard with him?” 18:27 Then Peter denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed.
‘Against the background of John’s account of the events in Gethsemane, we recognize that Peter is afraid of being identified not just as a disciple of Jesus but as the one who assaulted the servant of the high priest.’ (Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses).
Jesus Brought Before Pilate
18:28 Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the Roman governor’s residence. (Now it was very early morning.) They did not go into the governor’s residence so they would not be ceremonially defiled, but could eat the Passover meal. 18:29 So Pilate came outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 18:30 They replied, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”
‘They hold fast to the ceremonial law while they seek the execution of the promised Deliverer of Israel, the Son of God and Saviour; and in their zeal to eat the Passover lamb they unwittingly help to fulfil its significance through demanding the death of the Lamb of God, at the same time shutting themselves out of its saving efficacy.’ (Beasley-Murray)
Barclay makes a similar point: ‘Now see what the Jews were doing. ‘They were carrying out the details of the ceremonial law with meticulous care; and at the same time they were hounding to the Cross the Son of God. That is just the kind of thing that men are always liable to do. Many a church member fusses about the sheerest trifles, and breaks God’s law of love and of forgiveness and of service every day. There is even many a church in which the details of vestments, furnishings, ritual, ceremonial are attended to with the most detailed care, and where the spirit of love and fellowship are conspicuous only by their absence. One of the most tragic things in the world is how the human mind can lose its sense of proportion and its ability to put first things first.’ (DSB)
18:31 Pilate told them, “Take him yourselves and pass judgment on him according to your own law!” The Jewish leaders replied, “We cannot legally put anyone to death.” 18:32 (This happened to fulfill the word Jesus had spoken when he indicated what kind of death he was going to die.)
‘Discovered by Grenfeld in Egypt in 1920, the “John Rylands Papyrus” yielded the oldest known fragment of a NT manuscript. This small scrap from John’s Gospel (Jn 18:31–33, 37–38) was dated by papyrologists to 125 a.d., but since it was so far south into Egypt, it successfully put an end to the then-popular attempt to late-date John’s Gospel to the second century rather than to the traditional first century date of a.d. 85–90.’ (Kaiser, in The Apologetics Study Bible)Jesus had predicted that he would delivered into the hands of the Gentiles and crucified, Mt 20:19; Lk 18:32,33.
Pilate Questions Jesus
18:33 So Pilate went back into the governor’s residence, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 18:34 Jesus replied, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or have others told you about me?” 18:35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own people and your chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”
18:36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 18:37 Then Pilate said, “So you are a king!” Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world—to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 18:38 Pilate asked, “What is truth?”
“My kingdom is not of this world” – Lit. “My kingdom is not from (ek) this world”. It has no army and no geographical location. It is given by God and not won either through human struggle or popular vote.
Carson stresses that Jesus is not saying that his kingdom has nothing to do with this world: ‘John certainly expects the power of the inbreaking kingdom to affect this world; elsewhere he insists that the world is conquered by those who believe in Jesus (1 Jn. 5:4). But theirs is the sort of struggle, and victory, that cannot effectively be opposed by armed might.’
‘Extending Christ’s kingdom by military means is clearly not part of the ideal of the NT. ‘My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight’ (Jn. 18:36) was the principle enunciated by our Lord when he stood before Pilate. And his words to Peter as recorded in Mt. 26:52 cast a certain shadow on the use of force whatever the circumstances may be. But the Christian is a citizen of two worlds and has duties to both; tension between the conflicting demands is inevitable, especially since the secular powers have been ordained by God and do not ‘bear the sword in vain’ (Rom. 13:4). Paul availed himself not only of Roman citizenship but also of the protection of Roman troops, as when his life was threatened in Jerusalem (Acts 21). Piety was not regarded as incompatible with the pursuit of a military career, moreover, and those soldiers who inquired of John the Baptist as to their higher duty were not encouraged to desert (see Acts 10:1-2; Lk. 3:14). We are to assume, on the other hand, that the cause which bound together Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot in the original Twelve required both to abandon their erstwhile occupations. In the early church a military career for the Christian was generally frowned upon; Tertullian is representative in his view that the two callings were incompatible, though he made allowances for those already committed to military service before conversion.’ (NBD)
‘The pitiable and miserable character of Pilate, the Roman governor, begins to come into clear light from this point [in John 18.37-40]. We see him a man utterly destitute of moral courage, knowing what was right and just in the case before him, yet afraid to act on his knowledge: knowing that our Lord was innocent, yet not daring to displease the Jews be acquitting Him; knowing that he was doing wrong and yet afraid to do right. “The fear of man brings a snare” (Proverbs 29.25). Wretched and contemptible are those rulers and statesmen whose first principle is to please the people, even at the expense of their own consciences, and who are ready to do what they know to be wrong rather than offend the mob! Wretched are those nations which, for their sins, are given over to be governed by such statesmen! True godly rulers should lead the people and not be led by them, should do what is right and leave consequences to God. A base determination to keep in with the world at any price and a slavish fear of man’s opinion were leading principles in Pilate’s character. There are many like him. Nothing is more common than to see statesmen evading the plain line of duty and trying to shuffle responsibility on others rather than give offense to the mob. This is precisely what Pilate did here. The spirit of his reply to the Jews is: “I had rather not be troubled with the case. Cannot you settle it yourselves without asking me to interfere?”’ (J.C. Ryle)
“My servants would be fighting” – Michaels says that this is not the usual word for disciples, or for servants. It is rather, a word used for officials. It is thus being used in an ad hominem sense.
Undesigned coincidence. Earlier in this chapter, we read that Simon Peter did fight, maiming Malchus in an attempt to prevent the arrest of Jesus. Why, based on this chapter alone, would Jesus make the present argument, and why would Herod not have used it against him? The answer is found in Lk 22:51, which says that Jesus had healed the man’s ear. Clearly, John’s and Luke’s account are independent, yet complementary. (McGrew, Hidden in Plain View, p56f.)
‘The kingships of this world preserve themselves by force and violence; if Jesus’ kingship finds its origin elsewhere, it will not be defended by the world’s means. And if it resorts to no force and no fighting, it is hard to see how Rome’s interests are in jeopardy.’ (Carson)
“For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world—to testify to the truth” – This statement concerning his origin and destiny links back to chapter 1, and also to Jn 8:14.
When he had said this he went back outside to the Jewish leaders and announced, “I find no basis for an accusation against him. 18:39 But it is your custom that I release one prisoner for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?” 18:40 Then they shouted back, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” (Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.)
- By Judas, Mt 27:3f.
- By Pilate’s wife, Mt 27:19.
- By Pilate, Mt 27:24.
- By Herod, Lk 23:15.
- By Pilate, Jn 18:38.
- By the thief, Lk 23:41.
- By the centurian, Lk 23:47.
“What is truth?” – Was this asked cynically, wistfully, in jest, in bewilderment, or in earnest enquiry?
Milne wonders if there might be a wistful element in the question. It is asked ‘from a lifetime’s struggle as a professional politician, steeped in the daily compromises, the prudential balancing of forces, the application of ruthless power, that half-light world of greys and polka dots where people grope wearily for truth and the soul shrivels and dies. Did Pilate, as his destiny for a fleeting second hung in the balances, catch a glimpse in Jesus of a truer, purer, brighter world? We cannot be sure. What is certain is that if the moment came it also passed. The forgiving moment slipped by as Pilate turned on his heel to report his decision to the Jewish leaders.’
‘This question was probably asked in contempt, and hence Jesus did not answer it. Had the question been sincere, and had Pilate really sought it as Nicodemus had done (Jn 3:1), Jesus would not have hesitated to explain to him the nature of his kingdom. They were now alone in the judgment-hall (Jn 18:33), and as soon as Pilate had asked the question, without waiting for an answer, he went out. It is evident that he was satisfied, from the answer of Jesus (Jn 18:36,37), that he was not a king in the sense in which the Jews accused him; that he would not endanger the Roman government, and consequently that he was innocent of the charge alleged against him. He regarded him, clearly, as a fanatic-poor, ignorant, and deluded, but innocent and not dangerous. Hence he sought to release him; and hence, in contempt, he asked him this question, and immediately went out, not expecting an answer. This question had long agitated the world. It was the great subject of inquiry in all the schools of the Greeks. Different sects of philosophers had held different opinions, and Pilate now, in derision, asked him, whom he esteemed an ignorant fanatic, whether he could solve this long-agitated question. He might have had an answer. Had he patiently waited in sincerity, Jesus would have told him what it was. Thousands ask the question in the same way. They have a fixed contempt for the Bible; they deride the instructions of religion; they are unwilling to investigate and to wait at the gates of wisdom; and hence, like Pilate, they remain ignorant of the great Source of truth, and die in darkness and in error. All might find truth if they would seek it; none ever will find it if they do not apply for it to the great source of light-the God of truth, and seek it patiently in the way in which he has chosen to communicate it to mankind. How highly should we prize the Bible! And how patiently and prayerfully should we search the Scriptures, that we may not err and die for ever!’ (Barnes)
Barclay, however, takes a different view: ‘There are many ways in which a man might ask that question. He might ask it in cynical and sardonic humour. Bacon immortalized Pilate’s answer, when he wrote: “What is truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.” But it was not in cynical humour that Pilate asked this question; nor was it the question of a man who did not care. Here was the chink in his armour. He asked the question wistfully and wearily.’ (DSB)