Jesus Arrested (18:1-14)
(Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-53)
1-11 See Mark 14:43-52 and comment.
12-13 Jesus was arrested by a detachment of Roman soldiers and some Jewish officials. There was also a crowd with them, which had been sent by the Jewish leaders (Mark 14:43). After His arrest, Jesus was taken first for informal questioning by Annas, who was a former high priest. Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was the high priest at that time.
14 See John 11:49-52 and comment.
Jesus Before Annas and Peter’s Denial (18:15-27)
(Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62)
15-18 See Mark 14:66-68 and comment.
19 Among the Gospel writers, only John describes the questioning of Jesus by Annas. In verse 19 John calls Annas the high priest. He had been the high priest previously and had been deposed by the Romans. According to Jewish law, however, the high priest received his office for life. Therefore, many Jews still called Annas the “high priest.”
The Jewish leaders first brought Jesus to Annas, because according to Jewish law, it was not legal to question and condemn a person on the same day. In order to pass sentence on someone, it was necessary to wait until the following day after questioning him. Therefore, because the Jews didn’t want to wait an extra day, they brought Jesus to Annas that same night for questioning. Thus the next morning they could legally take Him before the Sanhedrin and sentence Him (see verse 24).
John reports that Annas questioned Jesus. This was itself illegal. According to Jewish law, the judge or chief court official could not directly question the defendant. Witnesses were supposed to be called to testify, some who would testify for the defendant and others who would testify against him.
20-21 Because Annas was proceeding illegally, Jesus did not answer his question directly. Instead, He said that all of His teaching had been done in public places. Many had heard Him. Therefore, let those who had heard be called as witnesses. “I said nothing in secret.116 Why question me? Ask those who heard me,” Jesus said.
22 Then an official, angered by Jesus’ words, struck Him.
23 Jesus told the official that if he didn’t like what He had said, he should have testified against it. Hitting a defendant was highly illegal.
24 Annas saw that there was no advantage to be gained in continuing to question Jesus, so he sent Him to Caiaphas, the regular high priest at that time. It is probable that both these meetings with Annas and Caiaphas took place in different buildings of the Jewish temple. The second meeting was a formal meeting of the Jewish Sanhedrin, over which Caiaphas, being the high priest, presided. This meeting is described in Mark 14:53-65.
25-27 See Mark 14:69-72 and comment.
Jesus Before Pilate (18:28-40)
28 After the Sanhedrin had condemned Jesus to death for blasphemy (see Mark 14:63-64 and comment), Jesus was led away to the palace of the Roman governor, whose name was Pilate (see Mark 15:1 and comment).
Since it was the week of the Passover festival, the Jews did not want to enter Pilate’s palace, because he was a Gentile. If a Jew went into a Gentile’s house, he became unclean for seven days and could not take part in any religious festival during that time. Therefore, if the Jews had gone inside Pilate’s palace, they would not have been able to eat the Passover; that is, they would not have been able to eat any of the main Passover meals during Passover week (see Mark 14:12 and comment).
Notice that the Jews thought it was more important to avoid ceremonial uncleanness than it was to avoid causing the murder of an innocent man! They kept their bodies clean, but their hearts were unclean! (see Matthew 23:28).
29 Since the Jewish leaders would not go into Pilate’s palace, Pilate came out to them. He wanted to keep the Jews happy; he wanted to keep peace in the province over which he was governor. He asked the Jews what the charge against Jesus was.
30 The Jews had condemned Jesus for blasphemy (Mark 14:64). But that charge didn’t mean anything to Pilate. That was a local Jewish religious matter. The Romans usually did not involve themselves in the religious affairs of their provinces. They only cared about political and military matters, and about keeping the peace (see Acts 18:12-16).
Therefore, the Jews did not at first answer Pilate directly. They could not prove any charge against Jesus that would make Jesus worthy of the death sentence according to Roman law. Yet their chief desire was to get Pilate to sentence Jesus to death. So they said to Pilate, “You don’t need to ask what the charges are. You can be sure Jesus is guilty. We would not have brought Him to you otherwise. Just accept our judgment.” At the Jews’ request, Pilate’s soldiers had helped arrest Jesus (verse 12); now the Jews wanted Pilate to render a judgment according to their wishes also.
31 But Pilate knew that the charge against Jesus involved a religious matter, so at first he refused to pass judgment on the case.
But the Jews wanted Jesus executed, and according to Roman law, only the Roman officials had authority to execute criminals.117
32 The Jews had an additional purpose in bringing Jesus to Pilate. They wanted Jesus to be killed by crucif ixion (the Roman method of executing people), and not by stoning (the Jewish method). In the Old Testament it is written: … anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse (Deuteronomy 21:23). This referred to hanging the bodies of condemned criminals on a tree after they had been executed in order to let everyone see their terrible fate and be warned by it. The Jews wanted to kill Jesus by hanging Him on a cross, so that He might be utterly disgraced in the eyes of the Jewish people. But only the Romans could crucify criminals, and that was another reason why the Jews had brought Jesus to Pilate.
John tells us of yet another reason—God’s reason—why Jesus was to be crucified. It fulfilled the prophecy that Jesus Himself gave concerning the kind of death He was to die (see Matthew 20:19; John 12:32 and comments).
Therefore, at this point the Jews told Pilate the “special charge” they had decided to bring against Jesus: namely, the charge that Jesus had tried to make Himself the king of the Jews. Pilate would have to look into such a charge, because it was a crime against the Roman emperor for any man to set himself up as another king (see Mark 15:1; John 19:12 and comments). In the Romans’ eyes there could be only one king, and that was the Roman emperor. The Romans considered anyone who tried to make himself a king to be an insurrectionist and an enemy of the emperor.
33 When Pilate heard this charge, he took Jesus aside and asked Him, “Is this charge true? Are you the king of the Jews?” (see Mark 15:2). Jesus certainly didn’t look like someone trying to make himselfa king! Pilate must have thought the charge was absurd.
34 Jesus asked Pilate if this idea about His being a king was his own idea or whether the idea had been put in his mind by the Jewish leaders. If it was Pilate’s idea, Pilate would be thinking of a political king. Jesus was not that kind of king. But if the charge was the idea of the Jews, then they would be thinking of a religious “king,” the Messiah. And Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Therefore, Jesus couldn’t give a simple “yes” or “no” answer to Pilate’s question: “Are you the king of the Jews?” Because the answer depended on what kind of king Pilate was asking about.
35 Pilate answered Jesus, “Do you think I am a Jew? Why would I think up something like this? This idea came from your own leaders.”
Pilate wondered what Jesus had done to get the Jewish leaders so angry at Him. He had to make sure Jesus had not broken a Roman law. “What is it you have done?” he asked.
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He admitted that He was a “king,” but not the kind of king Pilate thought. If He had been an earthly king, He would have fought the Romans by force, in the manner of earthly kings. But His kingdom was a spiritual kingdom, not an earthly kingdom. He did not need to fight with earthly weapons. Jesus’ kingdom was the kingdom of God (see Mark 1:15 and comment).
How silly it was for Pilate to suppose that He was the earthly king of the Jews. Would the Jews be trying to arrest and kill their own king? of course, not.
Indeed, Jesus had been sent by God into the world to testify about this kingdom. The kingdom of God is the true kingdom; it is the only kingdom that will last forever. This is the truth that Jesus came to testify about. Those who are of the truth—that is, those who are on the side of truth—listen to Jesus and believe Him (see 1 John 4:6).
38 “What is truth? How can a man know the truth?” Pilate wanted to know. One man says one thing; another man says another. Who can say what the “truth” is?
Jesus could say what the truth was! Jesus Himself was the truth (John 14:6). He was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). And He spoke the word of God, which is the truth (John 17:17). Unbelieving man says: “I cannot accept God’s word, because I cannot know the truth.” Jesus says: “Believe in me. Then you will know the truth” (John8:32).
Pilate didn’t think he could learn the truth from questioning Jesus, so he ended the interview. But he had decided that Jesus was innocent of wrongdoing. “I find no basis for a charge against him,” he said to the crowd of Jews outside his palace.
39-40 Then he suggested that he release Jesus. At each Passover festival it was the custom that the Roman governor release one Jewish prisoner as a sign of friendship toward the Jews. But the crowd, under the influence of the chief priests (Mark 15:11), demanded that another prisoner, Barabbas, be released instead. John tells us that Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.120 Barabbas had led a revolt against the Romans. He was probably popular among the Jewish people. Let Barabbas be released, and let Pilate crucify Jesus! The Jews preferred an outlaw to the Son of God! (see Mark 15:6-14 and comment).
Think of how false and hypocritical the Jews were. They demanded the release of a man who had committed the very crime that they had falsely accused Jesus of—the crime of rising up against the Roman emperor!