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VII. Betrayal, Trial, Crucifixion, and Death (John 18:1–19:42)


VII. Betrayal, Trial, Crucifixion, and Death (18:1–19:42)

18:1-2 At the conclusion of Jesus’s discourse and prayer, he and his disciples went across the Kidron Valley (which lay between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives) to a garden (18:1). But Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place (18:2). So, clearly, Jesus wasn’t hiding from his enemies. He went to a location where he knew Judas could find him. Jesus was ready to complete his mission in obedience to the Father.

18:3 Judas showed up with a company of soldiers and some officials from the Jewish religious leaders. The latter were willing to work together with their Roman overlords to deal with Jesus.

18:4-6 Once again, John makes clear to his readers that nothing caught Jesus by surprise. He knew everything that was about to happen to him. After all, he’s the Son of God. When Jesus asked whom they were looking for, they said, Jesus of Nazareth (18:4-5). (His disciples had fallen asleep; see Luke 22:45-46.) When he merely replied, I am he, they all fell to the ground (18:5-6). Jesus’s words sure do pack a punch!

The Greek words behind the translation “I am he” can simply be rendered as “I am”—the divine name, the self-designation that God revealed to Moses (see commentary on 8:56-58). Jesus is no mere man. He’s the God-Man. He’s the Word who was with God, was God, and became flesh (1:1, 14). Jesus spoke the divine name using the same voice that had spoken the world into existence. And it knocked the betrayer and his accomplices off their feet.

18:7-9 When he asked them again and they gave the same reply, Jesus again said, I am he, and told them to let the disciples go (18:7-8). John tells us that Jesus said this to fulfill the words he had just prayed: I have not lost one of those you have given me (18:9; see 17:12). When Jesus intervenes to protect you, his intervention is always effective.

18:10-11 At that moment, Simon Peter took his sword and cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant (18:10). Yet Jesus didn’t praise Peter for his zeal but rebuked him for stepping between Jesus and God’s will: Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given me? (18:11). Though John doesn’t tell us anything further about the servant’s injury, we learn in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus healed his ear before they led him away (see Luke 22:51).

18:12-14 Since the soldiers and Jewish officials (18:12) had been knocked over by Jesus’s mere words and then watched him reattach a severed ear, you might assume that they would be rethinking their plans to arrest him. But apparently they were so determined to do evil that it didn’t matter. They led him to Annas. Though Caiaphas was the high priest, Annas was Caiaphas’s father-in-law and the former high priest (so he retained the title) (18:13). John reminds us that Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews on the expediency of killing Jesus so that the Romans wouldn’t punish them for the disturbance Jesus was causing (18:14; see 11:49-53).

18:15-18 Simon Peter was following at a distance, along with another disciple. This unnamed disciple was John, the author of the Gospel. John never identifies himself by name but typically calls himself “the disciple Jesus loved” (see 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; also see the introduction). Since John knew the high priest, he was able to get himself and Peter into the high priest’s courtyard (18:15-16). Earlier, Peter had declared emphatically that he would lay down his life for Jesus but Jesus predicted that he would, in fact, deny him (see 13:36-38). This was the time of reckoning. A servant girl saw Peter and asked if he was one of Jesus’s disciples (18:17). He denied it. John then tells us that the servants in the courtyard were warming themselves by a charcoal fire (18:18). The Greek word translated “charcoal fire” appears only one other time in John’s Gospel. When it shows up in 21:9, it will be significant.

18:19-21 The scene switches to Jesus standing before the high priest Annas, who asked him about his disciples and about his teaching (18:19). He wanted Jesus to tell him what he had been doing to get everyone so riled up. But Jesus wasn’t about to recount everything he’d done and said. He had spoken openly both in the synagogue and in the temple. He had done nothing in secret, nor did he lead any secret organization (18:20). Why didn’t the high priest simply ask the people who heard him (18:21)?

18:22-24 For his response to the high priest, Jesus received a slap in the face (18:22). But he was unfazed. If he had spoken wrongly, he demanded that they give evidence about the wrong. Otherwise, the slap was an unjust assault (18:23).

If this trial were to be legitimate, they would have to bring forward witnesses to testify about what he had done wrong. Jesus requested that the high priest do so. Instead, someone simply hit him! When they refused to answer his query and instead sent him bound to Caiaphas (18:24), they merely confirmed that they had no interest in justice. They wanted blood.

18:25-27 The scene returns to Peter outside in the courtyard warming himself by the fire (18:25). He had denied a direct question about whether he was a disciple of Jesus (see 18:17). Here he denies twice more having any relationship with Jesus. One of those who accused him of being with Jesus was a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off (18:26; see 18:10). Surrounded by the stares of an inquisitive crowd, Peter was asked in essence, “Aren’t you the one who drew my kin’s blood?” In spite of his former boasting that he would die for Jesus, Peter wasn’t ready to put his life on the line. And immediately after his third denial, a rooster crowed (18:27)—just as Jesus had predicted (see 13:38).

18:28 Next they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. However, the Jewish officials refused to enter this Gentile arena because it would make them unclean and unable to eat the Passover. They had rejected God’s Messiah and were seeking to put to death an innocent man, but they were worried about being ceremonially unclean! They couldn’t see that their wicked actions had already made them filthy.

18:29-31 Pontius Pilate (18:29) was the Roman governor over Judea. Typically, he governed in Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean Sea. But during the Passover when large crowds were present in Jerusalem, Pilate was on the scene to squelch any Jewish disturbances. He was a ruthless man with no affection for the Jews, and they had no fondness for him either. But since the Romans alone had the power of execution, the Jewish leaders needed Pilate to condemn Jesus. When Pilate insisted that they judge Jesus themselves according to their own law, they made their intentions clear: It’s not legal for us to put anyone to death (18:31). Importantly, it was necessary for the Romans to be involved so that the Gentiles would be included in the guilt of the matter (see Acts 2:23; 4:27).

18:32 Again John interrupts his narrative (see 18:9) to let us know that these actions were fulfilling Jesus’s words. He had foretold the kind of death he was going to die. Previously, Jesus had spoken of being “lifted up” to indicate the kind of death he would die (see 12:32-33). The Old Testament teaches that a person under God’s curse was to be displayed by hanging on a tree as a sign of divine judgment on sin (see Deut 21:23; Gal 3:13). Clearly, Jesus was not a victim of fate; he is the sovereign Lord who proceeded toward his death according to plan.

18:33-35 Apparently, the Jews had told Pilate that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah and a king in opposition to Caesar, because when Jesus stood before him, he asked, Are you the King of the Jews? (18:33). Jesus asked Pilate if he wanted to know the answer himself or if he were asking because his accusers put him up to it (18:34). Pilate sounds disgusted with the whole thing: I’m not a Jew, am I? . . . Your . . . chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done? (18:35). He wasn’t interested in this religious squabble. He just wanted to get the case over with.

18:36 So Jesus answered Pilate’s question about whether he was a king: My kingdom is not of this world. Or, “Yes, I’m a King. But not from here.” Was he the King of the Jews? Of course. He was also King of the Romans. In fact, he is King of the entire world. But the source of his kingship and authority is in heaven.

If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight. Actually, one of them (Peter) tried! And Jesus scolded him and healed the man he attacked (18:10-11; Luke 22:51). But those were earthly methods—not the methods of Jesus’s kingdom. This is a good reminder that if you’re going to be a kingdom disciple, you’ve got to use kingdom methods—not the methods of this world. Earthly means won’t work when your source is spiritual.

18:37-39 Pilate followed the logic. If Jesus claimed to have a kingdom, then he must be claiming to be a king. Jesus affirmed his response: I was born for this. Indeed, he had come into the world . . . to testify to the truth. In fact, he said, Everyone who is of the truth listens to me (18:37). This was Jesus’s way of saying, “If you want the truth—if you care about the truth—then you’ll listen to me, too.” But Pilate brushed Jesus’s assertion aside by asking, What is truth? (18:38).

Sadly, Pilate’s question is repeated by this fallen postmodern world today. Many in our culture reject the notion of absolute truth. “Truth” to them is relative—that is, what’s true for one person isn’t necessarily true for another. But this is preposterous. Truth is the absolute standard by which reality is measured. It’s not something that changes based on feelings or perspective. A person can deny that gravity is true, but if he decides to jump off a building to prove it, he’s going to find that truth doesn’t care about his feelings or perspective. Truth exists whether you embrace it or not.

So Pilate told the Jews that he found no grounds for charging Jesus with a crime (18:38). The Roman governor concluded that he wasn’t worthy of death, so he reminded them of the custom in which he would release one prisoner during the Passover. Then he proposed releasing the King of the Jews (18:39).

18:40 But the Jewish leaders would have none of it: Not this man, but Barabbas! As it turned out, Barabbas was a revolutionary. He was an insurrectionist who had created havoc for Rome because he wanted the Jews out from under Roman rule. Whatever his specific crime was, he had earned the death penalty.

Don’t miss that the leaders preferred a criminal who had fought for physical deliverance from Rome because that’s all they cared about. They wanted political deliverance from Gentile rule, when what they needed was spiritual deliverance from sin.

19:1-3 Seeking to pacify the Jewish leaders, Pilate had Jesus flogged (19:1). Flogging involved the use of a whip of leather strips with bits of bone or metal tied to the ends. The resulting vicious beating would rip the skin from the victim’s back. The soldiers then mocked Christ’s claim to be a king by putting a crown of thorns on his head, dressing him in a purple robe, and shouting, Hail, King of the Jews! (19:2-3). Then they slapped him in the face (19:3). Though Pilate and the soldiers no doubt thought they were merely exercising the might of Rome over a simple Jew, they were actually fulfilling biblical prophecy about the Messiah in detail (see Isa 50:6; 53:5).

19:4-6 Pilate then put Jesus on display for the Jews to see. He had found no grounds for charging him (19:4). Nevertheless, he had thoroughly humiliated him and inflicted great pain on him. Here is the man, he said (19:5). Pilate surely thought they would be satisfied with the brutality and humiliation that Jesus had experienced. But only one thing would satisfy them. The chief priests and the temple servants called out, Crucify! Crucify! (19:6).

19:7 Jesus had done more than claim to be a mere human Messiah. He had made claims that only God could make. The Jews therefore accused him of blasphemy, saying, “You—being a man—make yourself God” (10:33). They demanded death and gave their reasoning: He ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.

19:8 Hearing this, Pilate was more afraid than ever. What would make Pilate fearful? Jesus had told Pilate that he ruled a kingdom that was “not of this world” (see 18:36). Now the Jews were telling Pilate that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. In Matthew 27:19 we learn that Pilate’s wife told him she had dreamed about this “righteous man” and that he should have nothing to do with him. Pilate was a brutal ruler, but he was probably also a superstitious pagan who feared the gods. He was perhaps thinking, “Who is this guy standing before me?”

19:9-10 Pilate asked Jesus, Where are you from? Now clearly Pilate knew the answer to that question; Jesus was “from Galilee” (see Luke 23:5-7). But, given Pilate’s rising fear, he was essentially saying, “Where are you from, really?” However, Jesus refused to answer (19:9), fulfilling Scripture yet again (see Isa 53:7). Pilate, probably with a mixture of anger and dread, demanded that Jesus say something: Don’t you know that I have the authority to release you and the authority to crucify you? (19:10). But when someone insists on shouting, “Don’t you know that I’m in charge here?,” it usually means he’s uncertain himself.

19:11 Finally, Jesus spoke. Pilate had no authority except what had been given to him from above. God grants authority and takes it away. Two important truths are wrapped up in Jesus’s statement. First, if a person exercises any authority on earth, ultimately that authority has been granted by God. So, will that authority be wielded for his kingdom purposes or not? How you answer that question has serious consequences because you will one day be called to give an account for your own use of authority. Second, remember to maintain a heavenly perspective: God is your ultimate authority. Anyone who seeks to rule over you illegitimately will not have the final say. He may be a boss, but he isn’t the boss.

The one who handed me over to you has the greater sin. God would hold Pilate accountable for his gross violation of justice. Like a coward, he delivered Jesus over to be crucified. But at least Pilate acknowledged that Jesus wasn’t guilty. The sin of the Jewish high priest was much worse since he had the Scriptures available to him and was aware of Jesus’s teachings and miracles, yet closed his eyes to the truth.

19:12 Pilate kept trying to release Jesus. Pilate was nervous (see 19:8). But the Jews wouldn’t let him off the hook: If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Anyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar. With that statement, the Jewish leaders had won because they had pitted Pilate against the Roman emperor. What would Caesar think if he heard one of his governors was setting free some would-be revolutionary who claimed to be a rival king in the Roman Empire? Caesar didn’t mind religion—as long as it didn’t compete with his absolute authority.

19:13 So Pilate sat down on the judge’s seat to proclaim his verdict. One day every Christian will stand before the judgment seat of Christ so that he may render a verdict, not regarding salvation, but regarding each person’s service and faithfulness to him. What will he say to you?

19:14-15 It was the preparation day for the Passover (19:14). When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, God had commanded them to slaughter a lamb and place its blood on the doorposts of their homes. Then, when he struck down the firstborn of Egypt, he “passed over” the homes with a blood covering. By means of this, God rescued his people from slavery (see Exod 12:1-28). Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29) was about to shed his blood so that all those who believe in him would be saved from slavery to sin. His death at this particular moment wasn’t due to chance, then, but due to the sovereign timing of God.

Though the Jewish leaders had gotten their way, Pilate got in one last dig at them: Here is your king! (19:14). But they wanted nothing to do with Jesus: Take him away! Crucify him! Again Pilate referred to Jesus as their king. But they rejected any such notion: We have no king but Caesar (19:15). Notice that they didn’t say, “We have no king but God.” Their hatred of Jesus was so great that they were willing to disregard their divine ruler and align themselves with a pagan king. Placing human government above God never ends well.

19:16-18 Pilate handed him over to be crucified (19:16). Crucifixion was a horrific form of execution that the Romans had perfected. It was typical for the condemned to carry the crossbar for his own cross, as Jesus was made to do. The place of crucifixion was called Place of the Skull, which meant Golgotha in Aramaic (19:17). The Latin translation is Calvaria, from which we get the English rendering Calvary. There they crucified him between two others (19:18), criminals according to Luke (see 23:33).

19:19-22 Pilate had a sign hung on Jesus’s cross that said, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. It was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, so that everyone could read it (19:19-20). Thus, the sign displayed the charge for which he was put to death. But it made the chief priests furious. Pilate had made the sign read as a title, a fact. The Jewish leaders wanted it to clearly indicate that this was merely Jesus’s claim (19:21). But Pilate rebuffed them, saying, What I have written, I have written (19:22). He meant for the sign to sting the Jews. But, in his sovereignty, God meant it to declare to the world the truth about his Son.

19:23-24 As Jesus writhed in agony above them, the soldiers pitilessly divided his clothes among them and gambled to see which of them would get to keep his tunic. John tells us that this too fulfilled Scripture, quoting Psalm 22:18 (19:24).

19:25-27 Standing by the cross were four women who had followed Jesus, including his mother Mary (19:25). Jesus saw the disciple he loved—that is, John the son of Zebedee, the author of the Gospel (see the introduction), and told his mother that John was now her son, and he told John that Mary was now his mother (19:26-27). And from that hour the disciple took her into his home (19:27). Even as he hung dying on a cross, then, Jesus fulfilled his obligation to care for his widowed mother.

Jesus entrusted the well-being of his mother to John rather than to one of her biological sons because they had not yet believed in him (see 7:5). Spiritual relationships are to take precedence over biological and physical relationships (see Matt 12:46-50).

19:28-30 When Jesus knew that his mission was complete, that everything was now finished that the Scripture might be fulfilled, that he had endured the wrath of God and fully atoned for the sins of the world, he said, I’m thirsty (19:28). So they put a sponge full of sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it up to his mouth (19:29). Hyssop was the very plant used to brush lamb’s blood on the doorposts during the Passover (see Exod 12:21-23). As the apostle Paul says, “Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7). Then Jesus declared, It is finished (19:30). His work of atonement for sin was done. The demands of the law had been met. The debt for sin had been paid in full.

Jesus had proclaimed, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down on my own” (10:18). Here the truth of that claim was verified: Bowing his head, he gave up his spirit (19:30). Jesus was not robbed of his life; he voluntarily laid it down. “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends” (15:13).

19:31 It sometimes took crucifixion victims days to die. Normally, then, the Romans would have left the men on the crosses. But since it was the preparation day for the Passover, the Jews did not want the bodies to remain on the cross on the Sabbath. Moreover, for a cursed man to remain hanging on a tree overnight would defile the land (see Deut 21:22-23). So they requested that Pilate have the men’s legs broken so that they would die and could be buried. Victims hanging on a cross had to put weight on their legs in order to lift themselves to breathe. Without the use of their legs, they would die of asphyxiation.

19:32-37 When the soldiers arrived to break Jesus’s legs, they found him already dead (19:33). Therefore, a soldier pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out (19:34). This indicated that his heart was no longer beating.

In the early years of the church, a heresy arose claiming that Jesus was totally divine and only pretended to be human (see 1 John 4:1-2). But John wants his readers to know that such talk is a complete lie. As sure as Jesus was fully God, he was fully human: he bled and died on a Roman cross. In fact, John himself was an eyewitness to this, and his testimony is true (19:35). All that happened, John tells us, was fulfillment of biblical prophecy. He quotes from Psalm 34:20 and Zechariah 12:10, proving it was no accident that Jesus was pierced rather than having his legs broken. Our sovereign God was fulfilling his Word.

19:38-42 Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple of Jesus because he feared the Jews. The other Gospels inform us that he was wealthy and a prominent member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (see Matt 27:57; Mark 15:43). In spite of his fears, he boldly went forward to ask Pilate if he could bury Jesus’s body (19:38). Joining Joseph was Nicodemus, another secret disciple who had previously spoken with Jesus at night (19:39; see 3:1-13). He also came into the light to assist Joseph with his task.

They prepared the body and laid it in a new tomb in a garden near the place of his crucifixion (19:39-41). No one had yet been placed in the tomb (19:41). This is a very significant detail because later, when Jesus’s body was gone, no one was able to point to any bones in the tomb to claim them as Jesus’s remains. His was the first corpse to lie there.