Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
Joh 18:1-13. Betrayal and Apprehension of Jesus.
1-3. over the brook Kedron—a deep, dark ravine, to the northeast of Jerusalem, through which flowed this small storm brook or winter torrent, and which in summer is dried up.
where was a garden—at the foot of the Mount of Olives, "called Gethsemane; that is, olive press (Mt 26:30, 36).
And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples.
2. Judas … knew the place, for Jesus ofttimes—see Joh 8:1; Lu 21:37.
resorted thither with his disciples—The baseness of this abuse of knowledge in Judas, derived from admission to the closest privacies of his Master, is most touchingly conveyed here, though nothing beyond bare narrative is expressed. Jesus, however, knowing that in this spot Judas would expect to find Him, instead of avoiding it, hies Him thither, as a Lamb to the slaughter. "No man taketh My life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself" (Joh 10:18). Besides, the scene which was to fill up the little breathing-time, the awful interval, between the Supper and the Apprehension—like the "silence in heaven for about the space of half an hour" between the breaking of the Apocalyptic Seals and the peal of the Trumpets of war (Re 8:1)—the AGONY—would have been too terrible for the upper room; nor would He cloud the delightful associations of the last Passover and the first Supper by pouring out the anguish of His soul there. The garden, however, with its amplitude, its shady olives, its endeared associations, would be congenial to His heart. Here He had room enough to retire—first, from eight of them, and then from the more favored three; and here, when that mysterious scene was over, the stillness would only be broken by the tread of the traitor.
Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.
3. Judas then—"He that was called Judas, one of the Twelve," says Luke (Lu 22:47), in language which brands him with peculiar infamy, as in the sacred circle while in no sense of it.
a band of men—"the detachment of the Roman cohort on duty at the festival for the purpose of maintaining order" [Webster and Wilkinson].
officers from the chief priests and Pharisees—captains of the temple and armed Levites.
lanterns and torches—It was full moon, but in case He should have secreted Himself somewhere in the dark ravine, they bring the means of exploring its hiding-places—little knowing whom they had to do with. "Now he that betrayed Him had given them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He, hold Him fast" (Mt 26:48). The cold-bloodedness of this speech was only exceeded by the deed itself. "And Judas went before them [Lu 22:47], and forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, Master, and kissed Him" (Mt 26:49; compare Ex 4:27; 18:7; Lu 7:45). The impudence of this atrocious deed shows how thoroughly he had by this time mastered all his scruples. If the dialogue between our Lord and His captors was before this, as some interpreters think it was, the kiss of Judas was purely gratuitous, and probably to make good his right to the money; our Lord having presented Himself unexpectedly before them, and rendered it unnecessary for any one to point Him out. But a comparison of the narratives seems to show that our Lord's "coming forth" to the band was subsequent to the interview of Judas. "And Jesus said unto him, Friend"—not the endearing term "friend" (in Joh 15:15), but "companion," a word used on occasions of remonstrance or rebuke (as in Mt 20:13; 22:12)—"Wherefore art thou come?" (Mt 26:50). "Betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss"—imprinting upon the foulest act the mark of tenderest affection? What wounded feeling does this express! Of this Jesus showed Himself on various occasions keenly susceptible—as all generous and beautiful natures do.
Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?
4-9. Jesus … knowing all things that should come—were coming.
upon him, went forth—from the shade of the trees, probably, into open view, indicating His sublime preparedness to meet His captors.
Whom seek ye?—partly to prevent a rush of the soldiery upon the disciples [Bengel]; and see Mr 14:51, 52, as showing a tendency to this: but still more as part of that courage and majesty which so overawed them. He would not wait to be taken.
They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.
5. They answered … Jesus of Nazareth—just the sort of blunt, straight forward reply one expects from military men, simply acting on their instructions.
I am He—(See on Joh 6:20).
Judas … stood with them—No more is recorded here of his part of the scene, but we have found the gap painfully supplied by all the other Evangelists.
As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.
6. As soon then as he said unto them, I am He, they went backward—recoiled.
and fell to the ground—struck down by a power such as that which smote Saul of Tarsus and his companions to the earth (Ac 26:14). It was the glorious effulgence of the majesty of Christ which overpowered them. "This, occurring before His surrender, would show His power over His enemies, and so the freedom with which He gave Himself up" [Meyer].
Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth.
7. Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye?—Giving them a door of escape from the guilt of a deed which now they were able in some measure to understand.
Jesus of Nazareth—The stunning effect of His first answer wearing off, they think only of the necessity of executing their orders.
Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way:
8. I have told you that I am He: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way—Wonderful self-possession, and consideration for others, in such circumstances!
That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none.
9. That the saying might be fulfilled which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none—The reference is to such sayings as Joh 6:39; 17:12; showing how conscious the Evangelist was, that in reporting his Lord's former sayings, he was giving them not in substance merely, but in form also. Observe, also, how the preservation of the disciples on this occasion is viewed as part that deeper preservation undoubtedly intended in the saying quoted.
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.
10, 11. 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—None of the other Evangelists mention the name either of the ardent disciple or of his victim. John being "known to the high priest" (Joh 18:15), the mention of the servant's name by him is quite natural, and an interesting mark of truth in a small matter. As to the right ear, specified both here and in Luke (Lu 22:50), the man was "likely foremost of those who advanced to seize Jesus, and presented himself in the attitude of a combatant; hence his right side would be exposed to attack. The blow of Peter was evidently aimed vertically at his head" [Webster and Wilkinson].
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?
11. Then said Jesus—"Suffer ye thus far" (Lu 22:51).
Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?—This expresses both the feelings which struggled in the Lord's breast during the Agony in the garden—aversion to the cup viewed in itself, but, in the light of the Father's will, perfect preparedness to drink it. (See on Lu 22:39-46). Matthew adds to the address to Peter the following:—"For all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword" (Mt 26:52)—that is, 'Those who take the sword must run all the risks of human warfare; but Mine is a warfare whose weapons, as they are not carnal, are attended with no such hazards, but carry certain victory.' "Thinkest thou that I cannot now"—even after things have proceeded so far—"pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me"—rather, "place at My disposal"—"more than twelve legions of angels"; with allusion, possibly, to the one angel who had, in His agony, "appeared to Him from heaven strengthening Him" (Lu 22:43); and in the precise number, alluding to the twelve who needed the help, Himself and His eleven disciples. (The full complement of a legion of Roman soldiers was six thousand). "But how then shall the scripture be fulfilled that thus it must be?" (Mt 26:53, 54). He could not suffer, according to the Scripture, if He allowed Himself to be delivered from the predicted death. "And He touched his ear and healed him" (Lu 22:51); for "the Son of man came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them" (Lu 9:56), and, even while they were destroying His, to save theirs.
Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him,
12. Then the band … took Jesus—but not till He had made them feel that "no man took His life from Him, but that He laid it down of Himself."
And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year.
13. And led him away—"In that hour," says Matthew (Mt 26:55, 56), and probably now, on the way to judgment, when the crowds were pressing upon Him, "said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief, with swords and staves, for to take Me"—expressive of the indignity which He felt to be thus done to Him—"I sat daily with you in the temple, and ye laid no hold on Me. But this" (adds Lu 22:53) "is your hour and the power of darkness." Matthew continues—"But all this was done that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled" (Mt 26:56)—thus fulfilling His prediction (Mr 14:27; Joh 16:32).
Joh 18:13-27. Jesus before Annas and Caiaphas—Fall of Peter.
13, 14. And led him away to Annas first—(See on Lu 3:2, and Mt 26:57). (Also see on Mr 14:53.)
Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.
14. Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people—(Also see on Mr 14:53.)
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.
15-18. Simon Peter followed Jesus—Natural though this was, and safe enough, had he only "watched and prayed that he enter not into temptation," as his Master bade him (Mt 26:41), it was, in his case, a fatal step.
and … another disciple—Rather, "the other disciple"—our Evangelist himself, no doubt.
known unto the high priest—(See on Joh 18:10).
went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest.
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.
16. But Peter stood at the door without—by preconcerted arrangement with his friend till he should get access for him.
Then went out that other … and spake to her that kept the door, and brought in Peter—The naturalness of these small details is not unworthy of notice. This other disciple first made good his own entrance on the score of acquaintance with the high priest; this secured, he goes forth again, now as a privileged person, to make interest for Peter's admission. But thus our poor disciple is in the coils of the serpent. The next steps will best be seen by inverting Joh 18:17 and Joh 18:18.
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.
17. Then saith the damsel that kept the door—"one of the maids of the high priest," says Mark (Mr 14:66). "When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him and said" (Mr 14:67). Luke is more graphic (Lu 22:56)—She "beheld him as he sat by the fire (literally, 'the light'), and earnestly looked on him (fixed her gaze upon him), and said." "His demeanor and timidity, which must have vividly showed themselves, as it so generally happens, leading to the recognition of him" [Olshausen].
Art thou not also one of this man's disciples?—that is, thou as well as "that other disciple," whom she knew to be one, but did not challenge, perceiving that he was a privileged person.
He saith, I am not—"He denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest" (Mt 26:70)—a common form of point blank denial; "I know [supply 'Him'] not, neither understand I what thou sayest" (Mr 14:68); "Woman, I know Him not" (Lu 22:57). This was THE FIRST DENIAL. "And he went out into the porch [thinking, perhaps, to steal away], and the cock crew," (Mr 14:68).
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.
18. And the servants and officers—the menials and some of the "band" that "took Jesus." (Also see on Mr 14:54.)
stood there, who had made—"having made."
a fire of coals, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves—"John alone notices the material (charcoal) of which the fire was made, and the reason for a fire—the coldness of the night" [Webster and Wilkinson]. "Peter went in and sat with the servants to see the end (Mt 26:58), and warmed himself at the fire" (Mr 14:54). These two statements are extremely interesting. His wishing to "see the end," of issue of these proceedings, was what led him into the palace, for he evidently feared the worst. But once in, the serpent coil is drawn closer; it is a cold night, and why should not he take advantage of the fire as well as others? Besides, in the talk of the crowd about the all-engrossing topic, he may pick up something which he would like to hear. "And as Peter was beneath in the palace" (Mr 14:66). Matthew (Mt 26:69) says, "sat without in the palace." According to Oriental architecture, and especially in large buildings, as here, the street door—or heavy folding gate through which single persons entered by a wicket kept by a porter—opened by a passage or "porch" (Mr 14:68) into a quadrangular court, here called the "palace" or hall, which was open above, and is frequently paved with flagstones. In the center of this court the "fire" would be kindled (in a brazier). At the upper end of it, probably, was the chamber in which the trial was held, open to the court and not far from the fire (Lu 22:61), but on a higher level; for Mark (Mr 14:66) says the court was "beneath" it. The ascent was, perhaps, by a short flight of steps. This explanation will make the intensely interesting details more intelligible.
The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine.
19-21. The high priest … asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine—probably to entrap Him into some statements which might be used against Him at the trial. From our Lord's answer it would seem that "His disciples" were understood to be some secret party. (Also see on Mr 14:54.)
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.
20. I spake—have spoken.
openly to the world—See Joh 7:4.
I ever taught in the synagogues and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort—courting publicity, though with sublime noiselessness.
in secret have I said—spake I.
nothing—that is, nothing of any different nature; all His private communications with the Twelve being but explanations and developments of His public teaching. (Compare Isa 45:19; 48:16). (Also see on Mr 14:54.)
Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.
21. Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me … they know what I … said—This seems to imply that He saw the attempt to draw Him into self-crimination, and resented it by falling back upon the right of every accused party to have some charge laid against Him by competent witnesses. (Also see on Mr 14:54.)
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?
22. struck Jesus with the palm … Answerest Thou the high priest so—(See Isa 50:6; and compare Ac 23:2). (Also see on Mr 14:54.)
Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?
23. If I have spoken, &c.—"if I spoke" evil, in reply to the high priest. (Also see on Mr 14:54.)
if well—He does not say "If not" evil, as if His reply were merely unobjectionable: "well" seems to challenge more than this as due to His remonstrance This shows that Mt 5:39 is not to be taken to the letter.
Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest.
24-27. Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas—Our translators so render the words, understanding that the foregoing interview took place before Caiaphas; Annas, declining to meddle with the case, having sent Him to Caiaphas at once. But the words here literally are, "Annas sent Him [not 'had sent Him'] to Caiaphas"—and the "now" being of doubtful authority. Thus read, the verse affords no evidence that He was sent to Caiaphas before the interview just recorded, but implies rather the contrary. We take this interview, then, with some of the ablest interpreters, to be a preliminary and non-official one with Annas, at an hour of the night when Caiaphas' Council could not convene; and one that ought not to be confounded with that solemn one recorded by the other Evangelists, when all were assembled and witnesses called. But the building in which both met with Jesus appears to have been the same, the room only being different, and the court, of course, in that case, one. (Also see on Mr 14:54.)
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.
25. And Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They said therefore … Art thou not also one of his disciples?—In Mt 26:71 the second charge was made by "another maid, when he was gone out into the porch," who "saw him, and said unto them that were there, This [fellow] was also with Jesus of Nazareth." So also Mr 14:69. But in Lu 22:58 it is said, "After a little while" (from the time of the first denial), "another [man] saw him, and said, Thou art also of them." Possibly it was thrown at him by more than one; but these circumstantial variations only confirm the truth of the narrative.
He denied it, and said, I am not—in Mt 26:72, "He denied with an oath, I do not know the man." This was THE SECOND DENIAL.
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?
26. 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—No doubt his relationship to Malchus drew attention to the man who smote him, and this enabled him to identify Peter. "Sad reprisals!" [Bengel]. The other Evangelists make his detection to turn upon his dialect. "After a while ['about the space of one hour after' (Lu 22:59)] came unto him they that stood by and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them, for thy speech betrayeth thee" (Mt 26:73). "Thou art a Galilean, and thy speech agreeth thereto" (Mr 14:70; and so Lu 22:59). The Galilean dialect had a more Syrian cast than that of Judea. If Peter had held his peace, this peculiarity had not been observed; but hoping, probably, to put them off the scent by joining in the fireside talk, he only thus revealed himself.
Peter then denied again: and immediately the cock crew.
27. Peter then denied again—But, if the challenge of Malchus' kinsman was made simultaneously with this on account of his Galilean dialect, it was no simple denial; for Mt 26:74 says, "Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man." So Mr 14:71. This was THE THIRD DENIAL.
and immediately—"while he yet spake" (Lu 22:60).
the cock crew—As Mark is the only Evangelist who tells us that our Lord predicted that the cock should crow twice (Mr 14:30), so he only mentions that it did crow twice (Mr 14:72). The other Evangelists, who tell us merely that our Lord predicted that "before the cock should crow he would deny Him thrice" (Mt 26:34; Lu 22:34; Joh 13:38), mention only one actual crowing, which was Mark's last. This is something affecting in this Evangelist—who, according to the earliest tradition (confirmed by internal evidence), derived his materials so largely from Peter as to have been styled his "interpreter," being the only one who gives both the sad prediction and its still sadder fulfilment in full. It seems to show that Peter himself not only retained through all his after-life the most vivid recollection of the circumstances of his fall, but that he was willing that others should know them too. The immediately subsequent acts are given in full only in Luke (Lu 22:61, 62): "And the Lord turned and looked upon Peter," from the hall of judgment to the court, in the way already explained. But who can tell what lightning flashes of wounded love and piercing reproach shot from that "look" through the eye of Peter into his heart! "And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny Me thrice. And Peter went out and wept bitterly." How different from the sequel of Judas' act! Doubtless the hearts of the two men towards the Saviour were perfectly different from the first; and the treason of Judas was but the consummation of the wretched man's resistance of the blaze of light in the midst of which he had lived for three years, while Peter's denial was but a momentary obscuration of the heavenly light and love to his Master which ruled his life. But the immediate cause of the revulsion, which made Peter "weep bitterly," was, beyond all doubt, this heart-piercing "look" which his Lord gave him. And remembering the Saviour's own words at the table, "Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed [rather, 'I prayed'] for thee that thy faith fail not" (see on Lu 22:31, 32), may we not say that this prayer fetched down all that there was in that 'look' to pierce and break the heart of. Peter, to keep it from despair, to work in it "repentance unto salvation not to be repented of," and at length, under other healing touches, to "restore his soul?" (See on Mr 16:7).
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.
Joh 18:28-40. Jesus before Pilate.
Note.—Our Evangelist, having given the interview with Annas, omitted by the other Evangelists, here omits the trial and condemnation before Caiaphas, which the others had recorded. (See on Mr 14:53-65). [The notes broken off there at Mr 14:54 are here concluded].
Mr 14:53-65: Mr 14:61:
The high priest asked Him, Art Thou the Christ, the Son of the blessed?—Matthew says the high priest put Him upon solemn oath, saying, "I adjure Thee by the living God that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God" (Mt 26:63). This rendered an answer by our Lord legally necessary (Le 5:1). Accordingly, Mr 14:62:
Jesus said, I am—"Thou hast said" (Mt 26:64). In Lu 22:67, 68, some other words are given, "If I tell you, ye will not believe; and if I also ask you, ye will not answer Me, nor let Me go." This seems to have been uttered before giving His direct answer, as a calm remonstrance and dignified protest against the prejudgment of His case and the unfairness of their mode of procedure.
and ye shall see the Son of man, &c.—This concluding part of our Lord's answer is given somewhat more fully by Matthew and Luke. "Nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter [rather, 'From henceforth'] shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven" (Mt 26:64; Lu 22:69).—that is, I know the scorn with which ye are ready to meet such an avowal: To your eyes, which are but eyes of flesh, there stands at this bar only a mortal like yourselves, and He at the mercy of the ecclesiastical and civil authorities: "Nevertheless," a day is coming when ye shall see another sight: Those eyes, which now gaze on Me with proud disdain, shall see this very prisoner at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and coming in the clouds of heaven: Then shall the judged One be revealed as the Judge, and His judges in this chamber appear at His august tribunal; then shall the unrighteous judges be impartially judged; and while they are wishing that they had never been born, He for whom they now watch as their Victim shall be greeted with the hallelujahs of heaven, and the welcome of Him that sitteth upon the throne! Mr 14:63, 64:
Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? Ye have heard the blasphemy—"of his own mouth" (Lu 22:71); an affectation of religious horror.
What think ye?—"Say, what verdict would ye pronounce."
They all condemned Him to be guilty of death—of a capital crime. (See Le 24:16). Mr 14:65:
And some began to spit on Him—"Then did they spit in His face" (Mt 26:67). See Isa 50:6.
And to cover His face, and to buffet Him, and to say unto Him, Prophesy—or, "divine," "unto us, Thou Christ, who is he that smote Thee?" The sarcasm in styling Him the Christ, and as such demanding of Him the perpetrator of the blows inflicted upon Him, was in them as infamous as to Him it was stinging.
and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands—"And many other things blasphemously spake they against him" (Lu 22:65). This general statement is important, as showing that virulent and varied as were the recorded affronts put upon Him, they are but a small specimen of what He endured on that black occasion.
28. Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas to the hall of judgment—but not till "in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council against Him to put Him to death, and bound Him" (Mt 27:1; and see on Mr 15:1). The word here rendered "hall of judgment" is from the Latin, and denotes "the palace of the governor of a Roman province."
they themselves went not into the judgment hall lest they should be defiled—by contact with ceremonially unclean Gentiles.
but that they might eat the passover—If this refer to the principal part of the festival, the eating of the lamb, the question is, how our Lord and His disciples came to eat it the night before; and, as it was an evening meal, how ceremonial defilement contracted in the morning would unfit them for partaking of it, as after six o'clock it was reckoned a new day. These are questions which have occasioned immense research and learned treatises. But as the usages of the Jews appear to have somewhat varied at different times, and our present knowledge of them is not sufficient to clear up all difficulties, they are among the not very important questions which probably will never be entirely solved.
Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man?
29-32. Pilate went out to them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man?—State your charge.
They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee.
30. If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee—They were conscious they had no case of which Pilate could take cognizance, and therefore insinuate that they had already found Him worthy of death by their own law; but not having the power, under the Roman government, to carry their sentence into execution, they had come merely for his sanction.
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:
That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die.
32. That the saying … might be fulfilled which he spake, signifying what death he should die—that is, by crucifixion (Joh 12:32, 33; Mt 20:19); which being a Roman mode of execution, could only be carried into effect by order of the governor. (The Jewish mode in such cases as this was by stoning).
Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?
33-38. Pilate … called Jesus, and said … Art thou the King of the Jews?—In Lu 23:2 they charge our Lord before Pilate with "perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar, saying that He Himself is Christ a king." Perhaps this was what occasioned Pilate's question.
Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?
34. Jesus answered … Sayest thou this of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?—an important question for our Lord's case, to bring out whether the word "King" were meant in a political sense, with which Pilate had a right to deal, or whether he were merely put up to it by His accusers, who had no claims to charge Him but such as were of a purely religious nature, with which Pilate had nothing to do.
Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?
35. Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests delivered thee to me: What hast thou done?—that is, "Jewish questions I neither understand nor meddle with; but Thou art here on a charge which, though it seems only Jewish, may yet involve treasonable matter: As they state it, I cannot decide the point; tell me, then, what procedure of Thine has brought Thee into this position." In modern phrase, Pilate's object in this question was merely to determine the relevancy of the charge.
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.
36. Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world—He does not say "not over," but "not of this world"—that is, in its origin and nature; therefore "no such kingdom as need give thee or thy master the least alarm."
if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews—"A very convincing argument; for if His servants did not fight to prevent their King from being delivered up to His enemies, much less would they use force for the establishment of His kingdom" [Webster and Wilkinson].
but now—but the fact is.
is my kingdom not from hence—Our Lord only says whence His kingdom is not—first simply affirming it, next giving proof of it, then reaffirming it. This was all that Pilate had to do with. The positive nature of His kingdom He would not obtrude upon one who was as little able to comprehend it, as entitled officially to information about it. (It is worthy of notice that the "MY," which occurs four times in this one verse—thrice of His kingdom, and once of His servants—is put in the emphatic form).
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.
37. Art thou a king then?—There was no sarcasm or disdain in this question (as Tholuck, Alford, and others, allege), else our Lord's answer would have been different. Putting emphasis upon "thou," his question betrays a mixture of surprise and uneasiness, partly at the possibility of there being, after all, something dangerous under the claim, and partly from a certain awe which our Lord's demeanor probably struck into him.
Thou sayest that I am a king—It is even so.
To this end was I—"have I been."
born and for this cause came I—am I come.
into the world, that I may bear witness to the truth—His birth expresses His manhood; His coming into the world, His existence before assuming humanity: The truth, then, here affirmed, though Pilate would catch little of it, was that His Incarnation was expressly in order to the assumption of Royalty in our nature. Yet, instead of saying, He came to be a King, which is His meaning, He says He came to testify to the truth. Why this? Because, in such circumstances it required a noble courage not to flinch from His royal claims; and our Lord, conscious that He was putting forth that courage, gives a turn to His confession expressive of it. It is to this that Paul alludes, in those remarkable words to Timothy: "I charge thee before God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who, in the presence of Pontius Pilate, witnessed the good confession" (1Ti 6:13). This one act of our Lord's life, His courageous witness-bearing before the governor, was selected as an encouraging example of the fidelity which Timothy ought to display. As the Lord (says Olshausen beautifully) owned Himself the Son of God before the most exalted theocratic council, so He confessed His regal dignity in presence of the representative of the highest political authority on earth.
Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice—Our Lord here not only affirms that His word had in it a self-evidencing, self-recommending power, but gently insinuated the true secret of the growth and grandeur of His kingdom—as A Kingdom of truth, in its highest sense, into which all souls who have learned to live and count all things but loss for the truth are, by a most heavenly attraction, drawn as into their proper element; THE King of whom Jesus is, fetching them in and ruling them by His captivating power over their hearts.
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.
38. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?—that is, "Thou stirrest the question of questions, which the thoughtful of every age have asked, but never man yet answered."
And when he had said this—as if, by putting such a question, he was getting into interminable and unseasonable inquiries, when this business demanded rather prompt action.
he went out again unto the Jews—thus missing a noble opportunity for himself, and giving utterance to that consciousness of the want of all intellectual and moral certainty, which was the feeling of every thoughtful mind at that time. "The only certainty," says the elder Pliny, "is that nothing is certain, nor more miserable than man, nor more proud. The fearful laxity of morals at that time must doubtless be traced in a great degree to this skepticism. The revelation of the eternal truth alone was able to breathe new life into ruined human nature, and that in the apprehension of complete redemption" [Olshausen].
and saith unto them—in the hearing of our Lord, who had been brought forth.
I find in him no fault—no crime. This so exasperated "the chief priests and elders" that, afraid of losing their prey, they poured forth a volley of charges against Him, as appears from Lu 23:4, 5: on Pilate's affirming His innocence, "they were the more fierce, saying, He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place." They see no hope of getting Pilate's sanction to His death unless they can fasten upon Him a charge of conspiracy against the government; and as Galilee was noted for its turbulence (Lu 13:1; Ac 5:37), and our Lord's ministry lay chiefly there, they artfully introduce it to give color to their charge. "And the chief priests accused Him of many things, but He answered nothing (Mr 15:3). Then said Pilate unto Him, Hearest Thou not how many things they witness against Thee? And He answered him to never a word, insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly" (Mt 27:13, 14). See on Mr 15:3-5. In his perplexity, Pilate, hearing of Galilee, bethinks himself of the expedient of sending Him to Herod, in the hope of thereby further shaking off responsibility in the case. See Mr 15:6, and see on Lu 23:6-12. The return of the prisoner only deepened the perplexity of Pilate, who, "calling together the chief priests, rulers, and people," tells them plainly that not one of their charges against "this man" had been made good, while even Herod, to whose jurisdiction he more naturally belonged, had done nothing to Him: He "will therefore chastise and release him" (Lu 23:13-16).
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?
39. But ye have a custom that I should release one unto you at the passover, &c.—See on Mr 15:7-11. "On the typical import of the choice of Christ to suffer, by which Barabbas was set free, see the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus, particularly Le 16:5-10, where the subject is the sin offering on the great day of atonement" [Krafft in Luthardt].
Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.