Standing for the Truth
Sunday School Lesson for February 2, 2003
Background Passage: John 18:1-40
The Arrest of Jesus (18:4-5)
Following our Lord’s prayer of intercession and consecration (John 17), the scene quickly shifts to the events immediately preceding His crucifixion. The opening line of the chapter—“When he had finished praying”—highlights the reality of Christ’s commitment to fully carry out the Father’s eternal plan of redemption. His passionate desire to “give eternal life” to all those given to Him by His Father (17:2) is now manifested in terms of actual sacrifice.
Verses 1-3 set the location of the drama across the “Kidron Valley” in an “olive grove.” We know this place as the Mount of Olives and, more specifically, the Garden of Gethsemane (so named in the synoptic Gospels). John notes that, following the last supper together, Jesus and the disciples made their way to this garden where they immediately encountered Judas “guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees” (v.3). The presence of both the armed Roman cohort (typically 1000 soldiers) and Jewish officials (the temple police) makes it evident that there had already been some agreement between the two regarding the capture and interrogation of Jesus.
With the arrival of the soldiers and police accompanied by Judas, John records that Jesus boldly took command of the situation with a question—“Who is it you want?” Christ’s utter fearlessness and perfect confidence amidst such a disturbing scene rested in the fact that, as the divine Son of God, He “knew all that was going to happen to him.”
In answer to Jesus’ question a spokesman for the mob replied that “Jesus of Nazareth” was the object of their search. With this, Jesus declared, “I am he.” While this answer could be interpreted in the normal sense as simply a common personal identification, most New Testament authorities agree that, given the reaction described in verse 6, the words of Christ should be understood as “the equivalent of the God of Israel’s self-identifying affirmation ‘I am He’” [F. F. Bruce, 341]. That is, Jesus, at this most critical hour in redemptive history, fully asserted both His Messianic identity and authority as the incarnated Second Person of the Trinity.
The Appearance of Jesus Before the High Priest (18:19-23)
Following Christ’s arrest by the soldiers and Peter’s initial denial by the charcoal fire (vv. 12-18), He was led to appear before “Annas,” the former high priest of Israel (A.D. 6-15) and “father-in-law of Caiaphas.” This makes it apparent that, even though Caiaphas was “the high priest that year” (v. 13), Annas still “wielded considerable high priestly power” at this time [Kostenberger, 160]. John records that Annas intensely questioned Jesus “about his disciples and his teaching.” This fact reveals the informal, if not illegal, nature of the inquisition since Jewish trials normally involved only the examination of the witnesses, not the accused.
Jesus replied to Annas that His teaching was always conducted in the open—“in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together” (v. 20). Jesus’ claim that He had “said nothing in secret” may be a veiled reference to passages from the prophet Isaiah (45:19; 48:16). If so, this would be yet another direct Messianic claim made by the Lord. In verse 21, Jesus exhorts Annas to form his opinion after properly interrogating those who actually listened to His teachings—“Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”
In response to Jesus’ pointed words directed toward Annas one of the temple guards, perhaps motivated by the words of Exodus 22:28, struck Him “in the face.” Jesus protested the actions of the guard as unjustified given the fact that He had only spoken the truth. F. F. Bruce explains that Jesus had
used no insulting language in addressing the emeritus high priest; he had made a straightforward declaration of right. Hence, instead of apologizing, he protests against the temple policeman’s rude action. If he had spoken amiss, then a formal charge of contempt of court should have been lodged against him; if there was nothing wrong with what he said, then the slap in the face which he received was an unjustified assault. .
Verse 24 indicates that following the assault upon the Lord, Annas bound Him and dispatched Him to “Caiaphas, the high priest.” We may conclude from this that Annas’ attempt to discover evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Jesus had miserably failed.
The Appearance of Jesus Before Pilate (18:28-40)
After the Lord’s appearance before Caiaphas, He was taken by the Jewish leaders to the “palace of the Roman governor,” Pontius Pilate (ruled Judea from A.D.26-37). Since it was typical for Roman officials to begin their day early and finish by mid-morning, Jesus was taken to Pilate around 6 AM (the meaning of “early morning”). John notes that Pilate himself met the Jewish entourage outside the royal residence and enquired as to why “this man” had been brought by force to the Herodian palace—“What charges are you bringing . . .?” Bruce observes the irony present in the fact that, while the chief priests scrupulously maintained their ceremonial purity by not entering the royal palace, “they were incurring incomparably greater moral defilement by their proceedings against Jesus” .
In response to Pilate’s inquiry the Jews replied that it had been determined that Jesus was a “criminal” worthy of capital punishment (v. 30). From the initial reaction of Pilate—“judge him by your own laws”—it is obvious that he wanted no involvement in Jewish religious affairs, yet, when pressed further, he agreed to interrogate Jesus himself. Again, it is quite apparent that the Jewish leaders had no interest in truth or justice. Their one aim was the death of Jesus on the charge of blasphemy. Their protest, “we have no right to execute anyone” (v. 31), comports with the fact that under Roman rule the Jewish Sanhedrin had no authority to carry out capital punishment.
In verse 32, John highlights the critical point that the Lord was in no way a mere victim of circumstance. All of these events had occurred in perfect accord with the Father’s eternal plan that Jesus had revealed earlier to the disciples. Specifically, Jesus indicated to them “the kind of death he was going to die.” This apparently is a reference to His words in 12:32 to the effect that He would be “lifted up from the earth” in order that men from every nation and tribe might be drawn to the saving mercies of God (see 18:11—“Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?”).
At this point, Pilate “summoned Jesus” and personally examined him by raising the question, “are you the king of the Jews?” (v. 33). Kostenberger explains that the Roman law, unlike that of the Jews, made provisions for the “detailed questioning of persons charged with crimes, whether they were Roman citizens or not” . Here, Pilate’s concern was strictly political. If Jesus was indeed a “king,” He might be a threat to the power of the Roman government that Pilate should quickly eliminate. Yet, as Jesus often did to those who were hostile to Him, he posed His own question to the governor in response—“is that your own idea . . . or did others talk to you about me?” (v. 34). Pilate, however, countered with another direct question—“What is it you have done?” (v. 35).
With this challenge before him, Jesus returned to the original question posed by Pilate (v. 33) and declared that His kingdom was of a radically different nature than that overseen by the Roman governor. His kingdom “is not of this world.” It is a spiritual kingdom, eternal, transcendent, and divine in character. There is, therefore, no need for anyone to “fight” for it in the conventional way (note 18:10-11 and Jesus’ rebuke of Peter—“Put your sword away!”). To Pilate’s declaration in verse 37—“You are a king then”—Jesus affirmed it as a correct observation, yet redefined the concept of “king” in terms of “the truth.” Those who are “on the side of truth”—of which Jesus is the perfect embodiment—are the members and subjects of His kingdom.
Major Themes for Reflection and Application
One: Christ’s perfect faithfulness as our Savior—Our lesson passage powerfully displays the many ways in which Jesus proved to be “a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God” (Heb. 2:17). See if you can identify the specific ways this was accomplished. Hint: Check out the following verses:
Two: A study in contrasts: Jesus’ faithfulness and Peter’s denial—Why do you think John has threaded the record of Peter’s three-fold denial (18:15-18, 25-27) into the fabric of his account of Christ’s betrayal, arrest, and trial? Before we condemn Peter for his cowardice we should ask how this detail serves the redemptive thrust of the passage. For example, consider the following questions: