John 18

Note: After the prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus and His disciples went outside the city to the Garden of Gethsemane. After arriving in Gethsemane, Jesus asked His disciples to sit and wait for Him while He went to pray (Matt. 26:36). He took Peter, James, and John with Him and asked them to stay awake and keep watch with Him (Matt. 26:37). Jesus went a little farther and agonized in prayer to the Father (Matt. 26:39; Luke 22:42-44). After spending time in prayer, Jesus said to the disciples, “Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matt. 26:46).


18:1 When [after] he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it.

18:2 Now Judas, who betrayed [to deliver over] him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.

18:3 So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers [the temple police] and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

18:4 Jesus, knowing [indicates Jesus was not caught by surprise] all that was going to happen to him, went out [did not wait to be apprehended but voluntarily confronted His enemies] and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

Prior to that night, Judas had made arrangements with the religious leaders to betray Jesus for “thirty silver coins” (Matt. 26:14-16). From that moment on, Judas began to look for an opportunity to betray Jesus (Luke 22:6). Hours earlier, Judas had left the upper room and walked into the night to set his evil plan into motion (13:30). Every intentional and hurried step that Judas took away from the upper room brought him closer to the infamy that is forever associated with his name.

Within a matter of a few short hours, Judas personally escorted “a crowd armed with swords and clubs” (Mark 14:43) to the Garden of Gethsemane, a favorite place for Jesus and the disciples (18:2). The fact that they carried “weapons” (18:3) indicates that they were prepared to meet violent resistance.

Jesus was not caught by surprise nor did He hide from those who had come to arrest Him. He already knew all that was going to happen to Him. He knew Judas was a devil and would betray Him (John 6:70). He also knew that He would be lifted up on the cross—the instrument of His execution (John 12:32-33).

Jesus did not wait to be apprehended but voluntarily confronted His enemies. He was in complete control of the situation. He confidently approached Judas and the crowd and asked them, Who is it you want?

18:5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he [literally “I am” – a declaration of His deity (as in Jn. 8:58)],” Jesus said. (And Judas [had spent three years with Jesus, yet knew very little about Him] the traitor [identified Jesus with a kiss: cf. Matt. 26:48-49] was standing there with them.)

When asked to identify who they were looking for, those in the crowd responded, without hesitation—Jesus of Nazareth. The armed mob knew they were there to arrest Jesus, the rabble-rouser (see Luke 23:2). In contrast with Judas’ deception and Peter’s denial later that night, Christ boldly identified Himself, knowing such identification would start the process of His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. I am he, Jesus confidently said. His response is literally “I am”—a declaration of His deity (see John 8:58).

God had unveiled His identity to Moses with the words, “I am who I am” (Ex. 3:14). Thus, Jesus was claiming to be God. Those who seek to follow Christ live truthfully when they openly and boldly identify themselves as His disciples.

Judas, who had spent three years with Jesus, knew so little about the one he was betraying. Identified as the traitor, Judas found himself standing there with them—with those who opposed Jesus. Earlier in his ministry, Jesus had said to the religious leaders, “He who is not with me is against me…” (Matt. 12:30a). There can be no neutrality in our relationship with Jesus. If we do not stand with Him then we stand against Him. Where do you stand in relation to Christ?

18:6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

18:7 Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

18:8 “I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”

18:9 This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost [to perish] one of those you gave me.”

18:10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

18:11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put [scabbard: here the receptacle into which a thing is put] your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

18:12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested [to seize, to take into custody] Jesus. They bound him

18:13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.

18:14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good [advantageous] if one man died for the people.

18:15 Simon Peter and another disciple [probably John] were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s [Caiaphas was the incumbent high priest; his father-in-law Annas was the high priest emeritus] courtyard,

18:16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

18:17 “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl [maidservant] at the door asked Peter [her question phrased in a way that indicated she expected a negative answer]. He replied [gave the anticipated answer], “I am not. [first denial]

18:18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire [charcoal fire] they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.

About Failure
Peter learned some very important lessons as a result of his failure. Note the contrast between Peter and Judas — two men who failed.

Peter denied Jesus
Judas betrayed Jesus

Peter wept bitter tears of repentance
Judas committed suicide

Peter accepted the judgement of God
Judas determined his own judgement

Peter made failure a new beginning
Judas made failure the end

18:19 Meanwhile [alternates scene from Peter’s denial to Jesus’ trial], the high priest [Annas, ex-high priest of the Jews] questioned Jesus about his disciples [perhaps to ascertain their number and their activity] and his teaching [perhaps to find fault with Him].

Jesus was bound (18:12) and brought to Annas, a former high priest and “the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year” (18:13). John referred to Annas as the high priest because each man who held that office was designated by that term for life. Annas was a prominent religious leader who wielded much power and was politically connected. He was in charge of the first phase of Jesus’ trial.

The fact that Annas (and Caiaphas) ignored so many of the Jewish regulations of jurisprudence indicates that they were intent on killing Jesus at any cost. These men were prepared to use anything Jesus said and didn’t say (see Mark 14:55-59) against Him.

Annas questioned Jesus about his disciples. He may have wanted to ascertain their number and potential for retaliation. Or he may have asked in order to have them arrested and questioned as well. Jesus did not say a word about His disciples in order to protect them (as in 18:8). Annas also questioned Jesus about his teaching—very likely to try to get Jesus to incriminate Himself.

18:20 [Jesus did not answer any questions about His disciples (v. 19), perhaps to protect them from those who would do them harm] “I have spoken [teachings] openly [Jesus was not the leader of a cult or secret organization; He had nothing to hide] to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple [public places and in presence of religious leaders], where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret.

Jesus answered Annas’s question about His teaching. He noted that everything He taught had been taught openly or in public. Jesus had always or habitually taught in synagogues and at the temple in the presence of religious leaders. Annas himself could have come and listened! Jesus had also taught by the sea and on hillsides, beside a well and in the streets, and in a variety of other public settings. Jesus had nothing to hide. He was not the leader of a secret organization with a subversive agenda. What He had shared with His disciples in private was consistent with everything He had shared with individuals and crowds in public settings.

18:21 Why question me? Ask those who heard [in public] me. Surely they know what I said.”

Requiring a person to testify against himself was a violation of Jewish law. The law required the substantiation of charges by the testimony of competent witnesses (Deut. 19:15). So, Jesus put the legal burden of proof on Annas’s shoulders. He asked Annas to question those who heard Him speak. Jesus’ response accentuated the fact that ample witnesses were available for questioning.

18:22 When Jesus said this, one of the officials [felt Jesus had been disrespectful to the high priest] nearby [to stand along side of] struck [a blow on the face with the flat of the hand; an illegal act since no sentence had been passed] him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded [supposing that Jesus had shown contempt for the high priest].

Jesus’ response to the high priest emeritus incited the anger of one of the officials standing nearby. The unnamed official struck Jesus in the face—an unjust act since no sentence had been passed. The question the official asked Jesus indicates he felt that Jesus had been disrespectful to the high priest. Some see this action as a fulfillment of Micah 5:1, which states “They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod.”

18:23 [Jesus defended Himself, for He had been slapped unjustly; cf. Acts 23:2-5] “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify [produce some evidence of it] as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?”

Jesus spoke up when the official struck Him. He challenged the official to provide proof that He had done or spoken anything wrong. The word strike indicates something more than a slap. What the official did was wrong.

How do you respond to wrong? Do you stand up against wrong and injustice? Jesus’ response indicates that we can and must speak out against wrong. Jesus’ words were characterized by accuracy, consistency, and purity of intent. He had spoken truthfully and did not deserve to be struck.

18:24 Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.

18:25 As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it [Peter’s second denial], saying [emphatically], “I am not.

18:26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man [Malchus (Jn. 18:10)] whose ear Peter had cut off [Jn. 18:10-11], challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove? [this question phrased in a way that an affirmative answer was expected]

18:27 Again Peter denied it [third denial; cf. Matt. 26:74], and at that moment a rooster began to crow [Jesus “turned and looked straight at Peter” (Lk. 22:61); Peter went out and wept bitterly (Matt. 26:75; Mk. 14:72; Lk. 22:60-62)].

Note: What situations might cause you to deny knowing Jesus?

18:28 Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover [not necessarily referring to the main Passover meal but the remaining meals that will be taken in the Passover season].

18:29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges [accusation] are you bringing against this man?”

18:30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

18:31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected.

18:32 This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating [signifying] the kind of death he was going to [to be about to] die would be fulfilled.

18:33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you [emphatic] the king [Jews used this term to mean their religious ruler] of the Jews [Pilate could not reconcile the character of Jesus with the charge brought against Him]?”

The religious leaders took Jesus to the Praetorium, the palace of Pilate (18:28). Pilate, the Roman governor in charge of Judea, was unpopular with the Jews. However, the religious leaders needed the sanction of Pilate and the Roman government in order to have Jesus put to death.

Pilate asked the Jews concerning the specific charges against Jesus (18:29). The Jewish leaders offered a vague response (18:30). Pilate indicated that he was not interested in their petty squabbles (18:31).

The Jews had brought three charges against Jesus (Luke 23:2). First, they accused Him of subverting their nation. Second, they accused Jesus of telling people not to pay their taxes. Third, they said Jesus claimed to be a king.

Pilate agreed to look into the charges against Jesus. Pilate began his interrogation by asking Jesus if He was indeed the king of the Jews. The Jews used the term “king of the Jews” to mean the Messiah. To Pilate, it would have meant a possible threat to the Roman emperor, thus a charge for treason. Pilate thought it incredible that the humble man standing before him could be a political threat to Rome.

18:34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked [rather than answering Pilate, Jesus challenged him], “or did others talk to you about me [not certain if Pilate was truly interested or merely following a legal procedure]?”

Rather than answering Pilate, Jesus challenged him to consider his role in the unfolding events. His question forced Pilate to consider whether he was really interested in Jesus’ identity or if he was merely repeating the charge made by others. Would Pilate render a fair judgment or be a pawn of the Jews?

18:35 “Am I a Jew [reply expressed disdain, sarcasm, indignation: literally “I am not a Jew am I?”]?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done [Pilate wanted to know what Jesus had done to arouse the hatred of His accusers]?”

Pilate’s contemptuous reply was phrased in such a way as to expect a negative answer. He defended himself by stating that he was merely performing his task as governor by investigating a matter brought to him by your people and your chief priests. He wanted for Jesus to tell him what He had done to arouse the hatred of His accusers. If Jesus was indeed the Messiah, why then did His own people not support Him? Why had they handed Him over to the Roman governor?

18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom [Jesus answered clearly, stating that He was indeed a king; kingdom refers to all Jesus had done and would do as God’s Son and all that is under His authority] is not of this world [does not originate in the world; did not have a geographic locality]. If it were, my servants would fight [they would be fighting now; but, as it was, Jesus had no militant followers ready to form an army; Jesus was a king, but no political or military threat to Roman authority] to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now [“but as it is” or “but as the case now stands”] my kingdom is from another place [a spiritual realm].”

Jesus answered clearly by stating that He was indeed “the king of the Jews” (18:33). He explained that His kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom is not geographical or political. His kingdom is first and foremost relational and consists of His spiritual reign in the hearts of believers.

Jesus further explained that if His kingdom were of this world, then His servants would fight (and would be fighting now) to prevent His arrest by the Jews. But, Jesus had no militant followers ready to form an army. The fact of the matter was that Jesus represented neither a military nor a political threat to Roman authority. His kingdom, Jesus said, is from another place—a spiritual realm.

18:37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate [perhaps bewildered]. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason [Jesus did not enter the world for any political purpose] I was born [indicates His humanity], and for this I came into [indicates His deity, that He existed before He “came into the world”] the world, [reason why Jesus had come to earth] to testify [to bear testimony] to the truth. Everyone on the side of [devoted to] truth listens to me.”

Pilate responded by stating, You are a king, then! Jesus affirmed Pilate’s conclusion and clarified for him the reason why He had entered the world. Jesus’ response indicates that He was aware of both His origin and destiny. Jesus was born, a reference to His humanity, and came into the world, a reference to His deity and preexistence. He explained that His purpose for coming into the world was to testify to the truth. Jesus used truth and not a sword to advance His kingdom. He added that everyone devoted to the truth listens to Him.

Note: Pilate drew conclusions about Christ but had no convictions about Him. What are the differences between conclusions and convictions?

18:38 “What is truth?” Pilate [closer to the truth than he realized] asked [do not know Pilate’s attitude here, but since he did not wait for an answer, it is likely he asked the question in a facetious, scornful, or cynical way]. With this [because he did not wait for an answer, Pilate lost his best opportunity to find eternal life] he went out again to the Jews and said [declared Jesus innocent of any crime], “I find no basis for a charge [Jesus had not transgressed any law that would have made Him liable to punishment] against him.

Pilate cynically asked, What is truth? Ironically, Pilate was closer to the truth than he realized. Pilate, like so many today, thought that all truth was relative. For Pilate, truth could be whatever the Roman government wanted it to be. For those who hold to a relativistic viewpoint, truth may be what the majority of people agree with or whatever helps them advance their personal agendas.

Sadly, Pilate did not wait for an answer and lost his best opportunity to find eternal life. Pilate walked away from Jesus, went out again to the Jews, and declared Jesus innocent of any crime. At that moment Pilate could have set Jesus free, but lacked the courage to do so. Pilate had drawn conclusions about Jesus but had no convictions about Him and therefore failed to take a stand for what is right. Only those armed with Christian convictions are equipped to take a stand for righteousness.

Note: In order to live in line with the truth we profess, we must consciously and intentionally do the following every day.

Choose accuracy over inaccuracy. Our lives and words are like road maps. We must make certain that when others look at our lives or hear our words they are steered in the right direction.

Choose consistency over compromise. Whenever we are tempted to do or say anything that is inconsistent with what we believe, we must choose consistency.

Choose honesty over duplicity. Imagine what life would be like if everybody was dishonest and nobody kept their promises. Don’t contribute to that nightmare.

Choose accountability over corruptibility. Build accountability into your life. Ask others to hold you accountable for how you live and what you say. Give a friend permission to wound you (Prov. 27:6) if necessary in order to keep you honest.

18:39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”

18:40 They shouted [screamed] back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.

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