Jesus passes the brook Cedron, and goes to the garden of Gethsemane, John 18:1. Judas, having betrayed him, comes to the place with a troop of men to take him, John 18:2, John 18:3. Jesus addresses them, and they fall to the ground, John 18:4-6. He addresses them again, and Peter smites Malchus, John 18:7-11. They seize him and lead him away to Caiaphas, John 18:12-14. Peter follows to the palace of the high priest, John 18:15-18. The high priest questions Christ concerning his doctrine, and Jesus answers, and is smitten, John 18:19-23. Peter denies his Lord twice, John 18:24-27. Jesus is led to the judgment hall, and Pilate and the Jews converse about him, John 18:28-32. Pilate converses with Jesus, who informs him of the spiritual nature of his kingdom, John 18:33-37. Pilate returns to the Jews, and declares Christ to be innocent, John 18:38. He seeks to discharge him, and the Jews clamor for his condemnation, John 18:39, John 18:40.
When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples.Over the brook Cedron - Having finished the prayer related in the preceding chapter, our Lord went straight to the garden of Gethsemane, Matthew 26:36, which was in the mount of Olives, eastward of Jerusalem. This mount was separated from the city by a very narrow valley, through the midst of which the brook Cedron ran: see 1 Maccabees 12:37; Joseph. War, b. v. c. 2, s. 3. xii. 2. Cedron is a very small rivulet, about six or seven feet broad, nor is it constantly supplied with water, being dry all the year, except during the rains. It is mentioned in the Old Testament: 2 Samuel 15:23; 1 Kings 15:13; 2 Kings 23:4. And it appears the evangelist only mentions it here to call to remembrance what happened to David, when he was driven from Jerusalem by his son Absalom, and he and his followers obliged to pass the brook Cedron on foot: see 2 Samuel 15:23. All this was a very expressive figure of what happened now to this second David, by the treachery of one of his own disciples. This brook had its name probably from קדר Kadar, he was black; it being the place into which the blood of the sacrifices, and other filth of the city, ran. It was rather, says Lightfoot, the sink, or the common sewer, of the city, than a brook. Some copyists, mistaking Κεδρων for Greek, have changed του into των, and thus have written των Κεδρων, of cedars, instead of του Κεδρων, the brook of Cedron: but this last is undoubtedly the genuine reading.
A garden - Gethsemane: see on Matthew 26:36 (note).
The Jewish grandees had their gardens and pleasure grounds without the city even in the mount of Olives. This is still a common custom among the Asiatics.
St. John mentions nothing of the agony in the garden; probably because he found it so amply related by all the other evangelists. As that account should come in here, the reader is desired to consult the notes on Matthew 26:36-47 (note). See also Mark 14:30-36 (note), and Luke 22:40-44 (note).
And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples.Judas - knew the place - As many had come from different quarters to celebrate the passover at Jerusalem, it could not be an easy matter to find lodging in the city: Jesus therefore chose to pass the night in the garden with his disciples which, from this verse, and from Luke 22:39, we find was his frequent custom, though he often lodged in Bethany. But, as he had supped in the city this evening, Judas took it for granted that he had not gone to Bethany, and therefore was to be met with in the garden; and, having given this information to the priests, they gave him some soldiers and others that he might be the better enabled to seize and bring him away.
Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.A band - Την σπειραν, The band or troop. Some think that the spira was the same as the Roman cohort, and was the tenth part of a legion, which consisted sometimes of 4200, and sometimes of 5000 foot. But Raphelius, on Matthew 27:27, has clearly proved, from Polybius, that the spira was no more than a tenth of the fourth part of a legion. And as the number of the legion was uncertain, and their divisions not at all equal, no person can tell how many the band or spira contained. See many curious particulars in Raphelius on this point, vol. i. p. 351, edit. 1747. This band was probably those Roman soldiers given by the governor for the defense of the temple; and the officers were those who belonged to the Sanhedrin.
With lanterns and torches - With these they had intended to search the corners and caverns, provided Christ had hidden himself; for they could not have needed them for any other purpose, it being now the fourteenth day of the moon's age, in the month Nisan, and consequently she appeared full and bright. The weapons mentioned here were probably no other than clubs, staves, and instruments of that kind, as we may gather from Matthew 26:55; Mark 14:48; Luke 22:52. The swords mentioned by the other evangelists were probably those of the Roman soldiers; the clubs and staves belonged to the chief priest's officers.
Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?Jesus knowing all things, etc. - He had gone through all his preaching, working of miracles, and passion, and had nothing to do now but to offer up himself on the cross; he therefore went forth to meet them, to deliver himself up to death.
They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.Jesus of Nazareth - They did not say this till after Judas kissed Christ, which was the sign which he had agreed with the soldiers, etc., to give them, that they might know whom they were to seize: see Matthew 26:48. Though some harmonists place the kiss after what is spoken in the ninth verse.
As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.They went backward, and fell to the ground - None of the other evangelists mentions this very important circumstance. Our Lord chose to give them this proof of his infinite power, that they might know that their power could not prevail against him if he chose to exert his might, seeing that the very breath of his mouth confounded, drove back, and struck them down to the earth. Thus by the blast of God they might have perished, and by the breath of his nostrils they might have been consumed: Job 4:9.
Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way:Let these go their way - These words are rather words of authority, than words of entreaty. I voluntarily give myself up to you, but you must not molest one of these my disciples. At your peril injure them. Let them go about their business. I have already given you a sufficient proof of my power: I will not exert it in my own behalf, for I will lay down my life for the sheep; but I will not permit you to injure the least of these. It was certainly the supreme power of Christ that kept the soldiers and the mob from destroying all the disciples present, when Peter had given them such provocation, in cutting off the ear of Malchus. There were probably no other disciples with Christ than Peter, James, and John, at this time. see Matthew 26:37; Mark 13:33.
That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none.
Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus.Having a sword - See the note on Luke 22:36.
Cut off his right ear - He probably designed to have cloven his scull in two, but God turned it aside, and only permitted the ear to be taken off; and this he would not have suffered, but only that he might have the opportunity of giving them a most striking proof of his Divinity in working an astonishing miracle on the occasion: see the notes on Matthew 26:51-56 (note).
The other three evangelists mention this transaction; but neither give the name of Peter nor of Malchus, probably because both persons were alive when they wrote; but it is likely both had been long dead before St. John published his history.
Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?The cup which my Father hath given me - The cup signifies, sometimes the lot of life, whether prosperous or adverse: here it signifies the final sufferings of Christ.
Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him,The captain - Χιλιαρχος, The chiliarch, or chief over one thousand men - answering nearly to a colonel with us. See the note on Luke 22:4. He was probably the prefect or captain of the temple guard.
And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year.To Annas - This man must have had great authority in his nation:
1. Because he had been a long time high priest;
2. Because he had no less than five sons who successively enjoyed the dignity of the high priesthood; and,
3. Because his son-in-law Caiaphas was at this time in possession of that office.
It is likely that Annas was chief of the Sanhedrin, and that it was to him in that office that Christ was first brought. Some think that Annas was still high priest, and that Caiaphas was only his deputy, though he did the principal part of the business, and that it as because of this that he is called high priest. But see the notes on Matthew 2:4, and Luke 3:2.
That same year - The office was now no longer during life as formerly. See the note on John 11:49.
What is related in the 24th verse, Now Annas had sent him bound to Caiaphas, comes properly in after the 13th verse. One of the Vienna MSS. adds this verse here; the later Syriac has it in the margin, and St. Cyril in the text.
Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.Caiaphas was he which gave counsel, etc. - Therefore he was an improper person to sit in judgment on Christ, whom he had prejudged and precondemned: see on John 11:50-52 (note). But Christ must not be treated according to the rules of justice: if he had, he could not have been put to death.
And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest.And - another disciple - Not That other disciple, for the article is omitted by AD, two others; some editions; Syriac, Persic, Gothic, and Nonnus. So the Vulgate is to be understood. There are many conjectures who this disciple was: Jerome, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Nonnus, Lyra, Erasmus, Piscator, and others, say it was John. It is true John frequently mentions himself in the third person; but then he has always, whom Jesus loved, as in John 13:23; John 19:26; John 21:7, John 21:20, except in John 19:35, where he has plainly pointed out himself as writer of this Gospel; but, in the place before us, he has mentioned no circumstance by which that disciple may be known to be John. To this may be added that John being not only a Galilean, but a fisherman by trade, it is not likely that he should have been known to the high priest, as it is here said of that disciple who followed Jesus with Peter. See Bishop Pearce and Calmet. The conjecture of Grotius is the most likely: viz. that it was the person at whose house Jesus had supped. St. Augustin, Tract. 113, speaks like a man of sound sense: We should not decide hastily, says he, on a subject concerning which the Scripture is silent.
But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter.
Then saith the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, Art not thou also one of this man's disciples? He saith, I am not.The damsel that kept the door - Caezarius, a writer quoted by Calmet, says this portress was named Ballila. It is worthy of remark that women, especially old women, were employed by the ancients as porters. In 2 Samuel 4:6, both the Septuagint and Vulgate make a woman porter to Ishbosheth. Aristophanes, in Vespis, v. 765, mentions them in the same office and calls them Σηκις, Sekis, which seems to signify a common maid-servant: -
Ὁτι την θυραν ανεῳξεν ἡ Σηκις λαθρα.
And Euripides, Troad. brings in Hecuba, complaining that she, who was wont to sit upon a throne, is now reduced to the miserable necessity of becoming a porter, or a nurse, in order to get a morsel of bread. And Plautus, Curcul. Act. i. sc. 1, mentions an old woman who was keeper of the gate: -
Anus hic solet cubitare custos janitrix.
Why they, in preference to men, should be pitched upon for this office, I cannot conceive; but we find the usage was common in all ancient nations. See the notes on Matthew 26:69.
And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals; for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself.Servants and officers - These belonged to the chief priests, etc.; the Roman soldiers had probably been dismissed after having conducted Christ to Annas.
The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine.Asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine - He probably asked him by what authority, or in virtue of what right, he collected disciples, formed a different sect, preached a new doctrine, and set himself up for a public reformer? As religion was interested in these things, the high priest was considered as being the proper judge. But all this, with what follows, was transacted by night, and this was contrary to established laws. For the Talmud states, Sanhed. c. iv. s. 1, that - "Criminal processes can neither commence not terminate, but during the course of the day. If the person be acquitted, the sentence may be pronounced during that day; but, if he be condemned, the sentence cannot be pronounced till the next day. But no kind of judgment is to be executed, either on the eve of the Sabbath, or the eve of any festival." Nevertheless, to the lasting infamy of this people, Christ was judicially interrogated and condemned during the night; and on the night too of the passover, or, according to others, on the eve of that feast. Thus, as I have remarked before, all the forms of justice were insulted and outraged in the case of our Lord. In this his humiliation his judgment was taken away. See Acts 8:33.
Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.I spake openly to the world - To every person in the land indiscriminately - to the people at large: the τῳ κοσμῳ, here, is tantamount to the French tout le monde, all the world, i.e. every person within reach. This is another proof that St. John uses the term world to mean the Jewish people only; for it is certain our Lord did not preach to the Gentiles. The answer of our Lord, mentioned in this and the following verse, is such as became a person conscious of his own innocence, and confident in the righteousness of his cause. I have taught in the temple, in the synagogues, in all the principal cities, towns, and villages, and through all the country. I have had no secret school. You and your emissaries have watched me every where. No doctrine has ever proceeded from my lips, but what was agreeable to the righteousness of the law and the purity of God. My disciples, when they have taught, have taught in the same way, and had the same witnesses. Ask those who have attended our public ministrations, and hear whether they can prove that I or my disciples have preached any false doctrines, have ever troubled society, or disturbed the state. Attend to the ordinary course of justice, call witnesses, let them make their depositions, and then proceed to judge according to the evidence brought before you.
Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.
And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?One of the officers - struck Jesus - This was an outrage to all justice: for a prisoner, before he is condemned, is ever considered to be under the especial protection of justice; nor has any one a right to touch him, but according to the direction of the law. But it has been observed before that, if justice had been done to Christ, he could neither have suffered nor died.
Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?
Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest.Now Annas had sent him, etc. - It has been observed before that the proper place of this verse is immediately after the 13th; and, if it be allowed to stand here, it should be read in a parenthesis, and considered as a recapitulation of what had been before done.
And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. They said therefore unto him, Art not thou also one of his disciples? He denied it, and said, I am not.
One of the servants of the high priest, being his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off, saith, Did not I see thee in the garden with him?
Peter then denied again: and immediately the cock crew.And - the cock crew - Peter denied our Lord three times: -
Peter's First Denial.
I. This took place, when he was without, or beneath, in the hall of Caiaphas's house. He was not in the higher part where Christ stood before the high priest; but without that division of the hall, and in the lower part with the servants and officers, at the fire kindled in the midst of the hall, John 18:16, John 18:18; and the girl who kept the door had entered into the hall, where she charged Peter.
Peter's Second Denial.
II. This was in a short time after the first, Luke 22:58. Having once denied his Master, he naturally retired from the place where his accuser was to the vestibule of the hall, Matthew 26:71, and it was the time of the first cock-crowing, or soon after midnight. After remaining here a short time, perhaps an hour, another girl sees him, and says to them who were standing by in the vestibule, that he was one of them. Peter, to avoid this charge, withdraws into the hall, and warms himself. The girl, and those to whom she had spoken, follow him; the communication between the two places being immediate. Here a man enforces the charge of the girl, according to Luke; and others urge it, according to St. John; and Peter denies Jesus vehemently.
Peter's Third Denial.
III. He was now in the hall, and also within sight of Jesus, though at such a distance from him that Jesus could not know what passed, but in a supernatural way. And, about an hour after his second denial, those who stood by founded a third charge against him, on his being a Galilean, which St. Luke says, Luke 22:59, one in particular strongly affirmed; and which, according to John, John 18:26, was supported by one of Malchus's relations. This occasioned a more vehement denial than before, and immediately the cock crew the second time, which is eminently called αλεκτοροφωνια. The first denial may have been between our twelve and one; and the second between our two and three.
At the time of the third denial, Luke 22:61 proves that Jesus was in the same room with Peter. We must farther observe that Matthew, Matthew 26:57, lays the scene of Peter's denials in the house of Caiaphas: whereas John, John 18:15-23, seems to intimate that these transactions took place in the house of Annas; but this difficulty arises from the injudicious insertion of the particle ουν, therefore, in John 18:24, which should be omitted, on the authority of ADES, Mt. BH, many others; besides some versions, and some of the primitive fathers. Griesbach has left it out of the text. See Bishop Newcome's Harm. notes, p. 48.
The time of Peter's denials happened during the space of the third Roman watch, or that division of the night, between twelve and three, which is called αλεκτοροφωνια, or cock-crowing, Mark 13:35. Concerning the nature and progress of Peter's denial, see the notes on Matthew 26:58, Matthew 26:69-75.
Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.The hall of judgment - Εις το πραιτωριον, To the praetorium. This was the house where Pilate lodged; hence called in our margin, Pilate's house. The praetorium is so called from being the dwelling-place of the praetor, or chief of the province. It was also the place where he held his court, and tried causes.
St. John has omitted all that passed in the house of Caiaphas - the accusations brought against Christ - the false witnesses - the insults which he received in the house of the high priest - and the assembling of the grand council, or Sanhedrin. These he found amply detailed by the other three evangelists; and for this reason it appears that he omitted them. John's is properly a supplementary Gospel.
Lest they should be defiled - The Jews considered even the touch of a Gentile as a legal defilement; and therefore would not venture into the praetorium, for fear of contracting some impurity, which would have obliged them to separate themselves from all religious ordinances till the evening, Leviticus 15:10, Leviticus 15:11, Leviticus 15:19, Leviticus 15:20.
That they might eat the passover - Some maintain that το πασχα here does not mean the paschal lamb, but the other sacrifices which were offered during the paschal solemnity - for this had been eaten the evening before; and that our Lord was crucified the day after the passover. Others have maintained that the paschal lamb is here meant; that this was the proper day for sacrificing it; that it was on the very hour in which it was offered that Christ expired on the cross; and that therefore our Lord did not eat the Paschal lamb this year, or that he ate it some hours before the common time. Bishop Pearce supposes that it was lawful for the Jews to eat the paschal lamb any time between the evening of Thursday and that of Friday. He conjectures too that this permission was necessary on account of the immense number of lambs which were to be killed for that purpose. When Cestius desired to know the number of the Jews, he asked the priests how he might accomplish his wish? They informed him that this might be known by the number of the lambs slain at the passover, as never less than ten partook of one lamb, though twenty might feast on it. On this mode of computation he found the lambs to be 256,500; εικοσι πεντε μυριαδας ηριθμησαν, προς δε ἑξακισχιλια και πεντακοσια. See Josephus, War, b. vi. c. 9. s. 3.
That Jesus ate a passover this last year of his life is sufficiently evident from Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-18; Luke 22:8-15; and that he ate this passover some hours before the ordinary time, and was himself slain at that hour in which the paschal lamb was ordered by the law to be sacrificed, is highly probable, if not absolutely certain. See the note on Matthew 26:20, and at the conclusion of the chapter, where the subject, and the different opinions on it, are largely considered.
Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man?Pilate then went out - This was an act of condescension; but, as the Romans had confirmed to the Jews the free use of all their rites and ceremonies, the governor could not do less than comply with them in this matter. He went out to them, that they might not be obliged to come into the hall, and thus run the risk of being defiled.
They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee.If he were not a malefactor - So they did not wish to make Pilate the judge, but the executor of the sentence which they had already illegally passed.
Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:It is not lawful for us to put any man to death - They might have judged Jesus according to their law, as Pilate bade them do; but they could only excommunicate or scourge him. They might have voted him worthy of death; but they could not put him to death, if any thing of a secular nature were charged against him. The power of life and death was in all probability taken from the Jews when Archelaus, king of Judea, was banished to Vienna, and Judea was made a Roman province; and this happened more than fifty years before the destruction of Jerusalem. But the Romans suffered Herod, mentioned Acts 12:1, etc., to exercise the power of life and death during his reign. See much on this point in Calmet and Pearce. After all, I think it probable that, though the power of life and death was taken away from the Jews, as far as it concerned affairs of state, yet it was continued to them in matters which were wholly of an ecclesiastical nature; and that they only applied thus to Pilate to persuade him that they were proceeding against Christ as an enemy of the state, and not as a transgressor of their own peculiar laws and customs. Hence, though they assert that he should die according to their law, because he made himself the Son of God, John 19:7, yet they lay peculiar stress on his being an enemy to the Roman government; and, when they found Pilate disposed to let him go, they asserted that if he did he was not Caesar's friend, John 18:12. It was this that intimidated Pilate, and induced him to give him up, that they might crucify him. How they came to lose this power is accounted for in a different manner by Dr. Lightfoot. His observations are very curious, and are subjoined to the end of this chapter.
That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die.That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled - Or, thus the word was fulfilled. God permitted the Jews to lose the power of life and death, in the sense before stated, that according to the Roman laws, which punished sedition, etc., with the cross, Christ might be crucified, according to his own prediction: John 12:32, John 3:14.
Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?Art thou the king of the Jews? - St. Luke says, expressly, Luke 23:2, that when the Jews brought him to Pilate they began to accuse him as a rebel, who said he was king of the Jews, and forbade the people to pay tribute to Caesar. It was in consequence of this accusation that Pilate asked the question mentioned in the text.
Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?Sayest thou this thing of thyself - That is, Is it because my enemies thus accuse me, or because thou hast any suspicion of me, that thou askest this question?
Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?Am I a Jew? - That is, I am not a Jew, and cannot judge whether thou art what is called the Christ, the king of the Jews. It is thy own countrymen, and their spiritual rulers, who delivered thee up to me with the above accusation.
What hast thou done? - If thou dost not profess thyself king over this people, and an enemy to Caesar, what is it that thou hast done, for which they desire thy condemnation?
Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.My kingdom is not of this world - It is purely spiritual and Divine. If it had been of a secular nature, then my servants would have contended - they would have opposed force with force, as the kingdoms of this world do in their wars; but as my kingdom as not of this world, therefore no resistance has been made. Eusebius relates, Hist. Eccles. lib. iii. c. 20, that "The relatives of our Lord were brought before Domitian, and interrogated whether they were of the family of David; and what sort the kingdom of Christ was, and where it would appear? They answered, that this kingdom was neither of this world, nor of an earthly nature; that it was altogether heavenly and angelical; and that it would not take place till the end of the world."
Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.Thou sayest - A common form of expression for, yes, it is so. I was born into the world that I might set up and maintain a spiritual government: but this government is established in and by truth. All that love truth, hear my voice and attend to the spiritual doctrines I preach. It is by truth alone that I influence the minds and govern the manners of my subjects.
Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.What is truth - Among the sages of that time there were many opinions concerning truth; and some had even supposed that it was a thing utterly out of the reach of men. Pilate perhaps might have asked the question in a mocking way; and his not staying to get an answer indicated that he either despaired of getting a satisfactory one, or that he was indifferent about it. This is the case with thousands: they appear desirous of knowing the truth, but have not patience to wait in a proper way to receive an answer to their question.
I find in him no fault - Having asked the above question, and being convinced of our Lord's innocence, he went out to the Jews to testify his convictions and to deliver him, if possible, out of their hands.
But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?But ye have a custom - Nothing relative to the origin or reason of this custom is known. Commentators have swam in an ocean of conjecture on this point. They have lost their labor, and made nothing out: see the notes on Matthew 27:15; Luke 23:17.
Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.Barabbas was a robber - See Matthew 27:16. The later Syriac has in the margin, αρχιλῃστης, a chief robber, a captain of banditti, and it is probable that this was the case. He was not only a person who lived by plunder, but shed the blood of many of those whom he and his gang robbed, and rose up against the Roman government, as we learn from Luke 23:19. There never existed a more perfidious, cruel, and murderous people than these Jews; and no wonder they preferred a murderer to the Prince of peace. Christ himself had said, If ye were of the world, the world would love its own. Like cleaves to like: hence we need not be surprised to find the vilest things still preferred to Christ, his kingdom, and his salvation.
1. It is not easy to give the character of Pilate. From the manner of his conduct, we scarcely can tell when he is in jest or in earnest. He appears to have been fully convinced of the innocence of Christ; and that the Jews, through envy and malice, desired his destruction. On this ground he should have released him; but he was afraid to offend the Jews. He knew they were an uneasy, factious, and seditious people; and he was afraid to irritate them. Fiat justitia, ruat caelum! was no motto of his. For fear of the clamors of this bad people, he permitted all the forms and requisitions of justice to be outraged, and abandoned the most innocent Jesus to their rage and malice. In this case he knew what was truth, but did not follow its dictates; and he as hastily abandoned the author of it as he did the question he had asked concerning it. Pilate, it is true, was disposed to pity - the Jews were full of malice and cruelty. They both, however, joined in the murder of our Lord. The most that we can say for Pilate is, that he was disposed to justice, but was not inclined to hazard his comfort or safety in doing it. He was an easy, pliable man, who had no objection to do a right thing if it should cost him no trouble; but he felt no disposition to make any sacrifice, even in behalf of innocence, righteousness, and truth. In all the business Pilate showed that he was not a good man; and the Jews proved that they were of their father, the devil. See John 19:8.
2. As Dr. Lightfoot has entered into a regular examination of when and how the Jews lost the power of life and death in criminal cases, it may be necessary to lay before the reader a copious abstract of his researches on this subject, founded on John 18:31.
"It cannot be denied that all capital judgment, or sentence upon life, had been taken from the Jews for above forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, as they oftentimes themselves confess. But how came this to pass? It is commonly received that the Romans, at this time the Jews' lords and masters, had taken from all their courts a power and capacity of judging the capital matters. Let us superadd a few things here. Rabh Cahna saith, When R. Ismael bar Jose lay sick, they sent to him, saying, Pray, sir, tell us two or three things which thou didst once tell us in the name of thy Father. He saith to them, A hundred and fourscore years before the destruction of the temple, the wicked kingdom (the Roman empire) reigned over Israel, fourscore years before the destruction of the temple, they (the fathers of the Sanhedrin) determined about the uncleanness of the heathen land, and about glass vessels. Forty years before the destruction of the temple, the Sanhedrin removed and sat in the Taberne. What is the meaning of this tradition? Rabbi Isaac bar Abdimi saith, They did not judge judgments of mulcts. The gloss is, Those are the judgments about fining any that offered violence, that entice a maid, and the price of a servant. When, therefore, they did not sit in the room Gazith, they did not judge about these things, and so those judgments about mulcts or fines ceased. Avodoh Zarah. fol. 82. Here we have one part of their judiciary power lost; not taken away from them by the Romans, but falling of itself, as it were, out of the hands of the Sanhedrin. Nor did the Romans indeed take away their power of judging in capital matters; but they, by their own oscitancy, supine and unreasonable lenity, lost it themselves, for so the Gemara goes on: Rabh Hachman bar Isaac saith, Let him not say that they did not judge judgments of mulcts, for they did not judge capital judgments either. And whence comes this? When they saw that so many murders and homicides multiplied upon them that they could not well judge and call them to account, they said, It is better for us that we remove from place to place; for how can we otherwise (sitting here and not punishing them) not contract guilt upon ourselves?
"They thought themselves obliged to punish murderers while they sat in the room Gazith, for the place itself engaged them to it. They are the words of the Gemarists, upon which the gloss. The room Gazith was half of it within, and half of it without, the holy place. The reason of which was, that it was requisite that the council should sit near the Divine Majesty. Hence it is that they say, Whoever constitutes an unfit judge is as if he planted a grove by the altar of the Lord, as it is written, Judges and officers shalt thou make thee; and it follows presently after, Thou shalt not plant thee a grove near the altar of the Lord thy God, Deuteronomy 16:18, Deuteronomy 16:21. They removed therefore from Gazith, and sat in the Taberne; now though the Taberne were upon the mountain of the temple, yet they did not sit so near the Divine Majesty there as they did when they sat in the room Gazith.
"Let us now in order put the whole matter together.
"I. The Sanhedrin were most stupidly and unreasonably remiss in their punishment of capital offenders; going upon this reason especially, that they counted it so horrible a thing to put an Israelite to death. Forsooth, he is of the seed of Abraham, of the blood and stock of Israel, and you must have a care how you touch such a one!
"R. Eliezer bar Simeon had laid hold on some thieves. R. Joshua bar Korchah sent to him, saying, O thou vinegar, the son of good wine! (i.e. O thou wicked son of a good father!) how long wilt thou deliver the people of God to the slaughter! He answered and said, I root the thorns out of the vineyard. To whom the other: Let the Lord of the vineyard come and root them out himself. Bava Meziah, fol. 83, 2. It is worth noting, that the very thieves of Israel are the people of God; and they must not be touched by any man, but referred to the judgment of God himself!
"When R. Ismael bar R. Jose was constituted a magistrate by the king, there happened some such thing to him; for Elias himself rebuked him, saying, How long wilt thou deliver over the people of God to slaughter! Ibid. fol. 64, 1. Hence that which we alleged elsewhere: The Sanhedrin that happens to sentence any one to death within the space of seven years, is termed a destroyer. R. Eliezer ben Azariah saith it is so, if they should but condemn one within seventy years. Maccoth, fol. 7, 1.
"II. It is obvious to any one how this foolish remissness, and letting loose the reins of judgment, would soon increase the numbers of robbers, murderers, and all kinds of wickedness; and indeed they did so abundantly multiply that the Sanhedrin neither could nor durst, as it ought, call the criminals to account. The law slept, while wickedness was in the height of its revels; and punitive justice was so out of countenance that as to uncertain murders they made no search, and against certain ones they framed no judgement. Since the time that homicides multiplied, the beheading the heifer ceased. Sotoh, fol. 47, 1. And in the place before quoted in Avodah: When they saw the numbers of murderers so greatly increase that they could not sit in judgment upon them, they said, Let us remove, etc., fol. 8, 2. So in the case of adultery, which we also observed in our notes on John 8:3-11. Since the time that adultery so openly advanced, under the second temple, they left off trying the adultress by the bitter water, etc. Mainaon. in Sotoh, cap. 3.
"So that, we see, the liberty of judging in capital matters was no more taken from the Jews by the Romans than the beheading of the heifer, or the trial of the suspected wife by the bitter waters, was taken away by them, which no one will affirm. It is a tradition of R. Chaia, from the day wherein the temple was destroyed, though the Sanhedrin ceased, yet the four kinds of death (which were wont to be inflicted by the Sanhedrin) did not cease. For he that had deserved to be stoned to death, either fell off from some house, or some wild beast tore and devoured him. He that had deserved burning, either fell into some fire, or some serpent bit him. He that had deserved to be slain (i.e. with the sword) was either delivered into the hands of some heathen king, or was murdered by robbers. He that had deserved strangling, was either drowned in some river, or choked by a squinancy.
"This must be observed from the evangelists, that when they had Christ in examination in the palace of the high priest all night, in the morning the whole Sanhedrin met that they might pass sentence of death upon him. Where then was this that they met? Questionless in the room Gazith - at least if they adhered to their own rules and constitutions: Thither they betook themselves sometimes upon urgent necessity. The gloss before quoted excepts only the case of murder, with which, amongst all their false accusations, they never charged Christ.
"But, however, suppose it were granted that the great council met either in the Taberne, or some other place, (which yet agreed by no means with their own tradition), did they deal truly, and as the matter really and indeed was, with Pilate, when they tell him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death? He had said to them, Take ye him and judge him according to your laws. We have indeed judged and condemned him, but we cannot put any one to death. Was this that they said in fact true? How came they then to stone the proto-martyr Stephen? How came they to stone Ben Sarda at Lydda? Hieros. Sanhed. fol. 25, 4. How came they to burn the priest's daughter alive that was taken in adultery? Bab. Sanhed. fol. 52, 1, and 51, 1. It is probable that they had not put any one to death as yet, since the time that they had removed out of Gazith, and so might the easier persuade Pilate in that case. But their great design was to throw off the odium of Christ's death from themselves; at least among the vulgar crowd; fearing them, if the council should have decreed his execution. They seek this evasion, therefore, which did not altogether want some color and pretext of truth; and it succeeded according to what they desired. Divine Providence so ordering it as the evangelist intimates, John 18:32, That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake signifying what death he should die: that is, be crucified according to the custom of the Romans. While I am upon this thought, I cannot but reflect upon that passage, than which nothing is more worthy observation in the whole description of the Roman beast in the Revelation, Revelation 13:4. The dragon which gave power to the beast. We cannot say this of the Assyrian, Babylonish, or any other monarchy; for the Holy Scriptures do not say it. But reason dictates, and the event itself tells us, that there was something acted by the Roman empire in behalf of the dragon, which was not compatible with any other, that is, the putting of the Son of God to death. Which thing we must remember as often as we recite that article of our creed, 'He suffered under Pontius Pilate,' that is, was put to death by the Roman empire,"