Week Four: March 6 – 12, 2016
Read John 18
Super Tuesday just took place on March 1. 24 states held elections or caucuses for presidential candidates to win delegates to the national conventions. Super Tuesday arrives every four years in presidential election years in February or March. After the wheels of state elections just get rolling from the Iowa caucus to New Hampshire and a couple other states here comes big Tuesday. The races become a lot clearer after Super Tuesday. There is a lot on the line and the candidates who remain and their ground game have worked tirelessly for this critical moment.
When we flip from the political scene which dominates our daily news to John 18, we encounter a crucial series of events in the last hours of Jesus life. In John 13-14 we read the original story of Jesus and the final meal and conversation with his disciples. John 15-17 were added to expand Jesus teachings. While these five chapters all based around a meal may have felt cumbersome, repetitive and loaded with dogma, chapters 18-19 are a fast moving, rapid scene shifting and familiar trial and crucifixion drama.
John 18 begins with five scene changes that tell the story of the arrest, denial and questioning of Jesus by the religious authorities (18:1-27). Followed quickly on its heels is the seven scenes of Jesus trial before Pontius Pilate (18:28-19:16a).
Scene 1: The betrayal and arrest of Jesus (18:1-12).
Immediately to the East of the walled city of Jerusalem the landscape drops into a valley called the Kidron valley. Continuing eastward the elevation begins to climb and the hillside is covered with olive trees called the Mount of Olives. At the top of the hill was a garden frequented by Jesus and his disciples whenever they came to festivals in Jerusalem called in the other three gospels the garden of Gethsemane.
In John 18:1 the garden is not named and there is no mention of Jesus going there to pray following the meal with his disciples. Jesus and his disciples are in the garden when Judas arrives with a cohort, a detachment of six hundred soldiers, with police, Pharisees, the chief priests all armed with torches, lanterns and weapons (v. 3). It is unlikely that all 600 soldiers are in the garden to arrest this unarmed Galilean rabbi as this seems like over kill. Reacting to the commotion, Jesus asks who they are looking for to which they say “Jesus of Nazareth” (v. 5).
It is a divine revelation when Jesus replies that “I am” (the name of Yahweh as revealed to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3) the one for whom you are looking. While Moses was instructed to take off his sandals as this was a holy moment when the holy name of God was revealed (I am), when Jesus said “I am” they all feel to the ground! This was a moment of power in the presence of Jesus. The power of a cohort of 600 soldiers paled in comparison to the power of the one called Jesus! Even in this moment, Jesus protected his followers by interceding for their release (vv. 8-9; see John 17:12).
The primary prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane is included by John in this first scene of his arrest following the action of Peter when he cuts off the ear of a slave in defense of Jesus (vv. 10-11). In response, Jesus asks Peter, “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me (v. 11)?
Scene 2: Jesus delivered to Annas the former High Priest (18:13-14).
There are problems in chronology of events as recorded by John in 18:13-24. C. K. Barrett in his commentary: The Gospel According to John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, Second Edition, 1978, p. 524, quotes the observation of another scholar named Sin who reorganizes these verses: 18:13, 24, 14-15, 19-23, 16-18. This reorganization helps to smooth out the confusion around Annas who had been High Priest for the Jews (6-15 A.D.) and his son-in-law Caiaphas the acting Jewish High Priest.
Scene 3: Simon Peter denies being a follower of Jesus (18:15-18).
The identity of the other disciple who obviously had a relationship with the family of Caiaphas is unnamed. It could be John, the disciple Jesus loved.
Scene 4: The High Priest questions Jesus (18:19-24).
This is the only mention of the Jewish interrogation of Jesus. The claims against him in the other three gospels: that he claimed to be the messiah and the charge of blaspheme do not appear anywhere in this line of questioning. Compare this story with the account in Mark 14:55-59.
Scene 5: A second & third denial of being Jesus disciple by Peter (18:25-27).
Note how v. 18c and v. 25a serve as a repeated fact with the questioning of Caiaphas inserted between them to create a second and third denial story by Simon Peter. This fulfilled what Jesus said at the table in 13:36-38. Peter could not follow Jesus until after Jesus death. As v. 36 adds, then Peter can follow.
The Seven Scene Trial of Jesus by Pontius Pilate (18:28-19:16a)
- Jesus delivered to Pilate (18:28-32).
- Pilate asks for the charge against Jesus as brought by the Jewish Sanhedrin, the highest tribunal in Judea. They dodge the question and simply levy a judgement of guilty against Jesus and expects Pilate to issue a sentence. It is clear that the Jewish council thought that Jesus deserved death.
- If we consider the movement of Pilate in the remainder of the story, it is more likely that Pilate interrogates Jesus in Herod’s Palace rather than Antonia, the governor’s residence in Jerusalem. The primary residence for the governor was a two days journey to the north in a seaside capital city of Caesarea Maritima, built between 25-13 B.C. by Herod the Great. Pilate would have come to Jerusalem three times a year for the major Jewish festivals: Pentecost, Passover and Tabernacles. For this reason Pontius Pilate was in Jerusalem for Passover when Jesus had been arrested. Cockcrow is past and this narrative takes place during the last two Roman watches of the night, sometime before 6 a.m.
- Pilate interrogates Jesus (18:33-38a).
- The line of questioning that Pilate pursues pertains to Jesus’ status: are you the King of the Jews (v. 33, 37). Jesus does go on say that his kingdom is not from this world (see 8:23; 19:11). While this dual way of thinking is familiar to Christians from the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” it must have sounded unnerving to Pilate. It is this loyalty to another kingdom that would lead to Pilate’s sentence to death for treason against the Roman Empire.
- The release of Barabbas (18:38b-40).
- Discussion Questions:
- While it appears that Pilate is hopeful that when he presents the King of the Jews to the crowd that they may verify that they too want Jesus released. Out of the blue, the crowd calls for the release of a bandit named Barabbas. Pilate is left to deal with Jesus who has been handed over to him from the Jewish Sanhedrin.
- The next scene of the trial has Pilate stepping outside to speak to the gathered Jewish crowd. According to the gospels, there was a Jewish Passover tradition where the governor released a prisoner prior to this festival as an act of good will between the Roman Empire and their Jewish subjects. It is interesting to note that there is no other record of this tradition outside of the testimony of the gospels.
- When you read and ponder the story of the arrest and betrayal of Jesus (18:1-12), what if anything did you notice that you may not have seen before? As you imagine this scene unfolding before your mind’s eye, where do you see yourself in this story? Now try and imagine yourself in another role. What did you notice?
- As you think about Jesus before the Jewish High Priest (18:13-14, 19-24), what do you think of Jesus responses and reaction? What grabs your attention in this account?
- Peter’s denial of being a follower of Jesus (18:15-18, 25-27) is often an easier story for me to wrap my head around. I understand the natural reaction to deny guilt to stay out of trouble. Do you? How about lying three times? Is this the same Peter who said he would lay down his life for Jesus just a few hours ago (13:36-38)? The rooster crowed. Ouch!
- In the trial of Jesus before Pilate, there were no rights to be read to Jesus. Despite the fact that Pilate went before the Jewish crowd and said he had no case against Jesus (v. 38), Pilate could not assert his leadership and counter the cry of the crowd calling for the release of a bandit named Barabbas. When it comes to the witness of your faith in Jesus, are you stronger than Judas or Peter when the pressure is on you? What do you take away from chapter 18 of John? How is God calling you to respond to this chapter?