John 18
John 18 Kingcomments Bible Studies


With this chapter, the history of suffering begins. Each Gospel treats the history of suffering in its own special way, but nowhere in the midst of suffering do we see the greatness of the Lord Jesus so much as in this Gospel. In the midst of all kinds of suffering, whereby nothing is spared Him, the Son of the Father shines in an unsurpassable way.

After His conversations with His disciples (John 13-16) and His prayer to the Father for them (John 17), He goes forth. We see in the simple words “He went forth”, how exalted He is. We see these words several times (Jn 18:1; 4; Jn 19:5; 17). He goes forth to surrender Himself into the hands of sinners. No one forces Him, but He goes willingly. No one takes Him captive, but He allows Himself to be taken captive. He takes the initiative, as everywhere before in this Gospel, but very particularly in the next few hours.

Judas Comes to Take the Lord Captive

The Lord crosses the ravine of the Kidron with His disciples. No doubt He will have thought of David who also once crossed that brook. David then, also as a suffering king, was fleeing from his son (2Sam 15:23). The Lord Jesus is not fleeing. He is going the way of the Father.

He comes into a garden, which we know from the other Gospels is the garden of Gethsemane. However, we hear nothing here about His struggling in prayer and sweating great drops of blood. He is here the Son Who, in perfect surrender until the end of His life on earth, performs the work of glorifying the Father.

Against this perfect devotion, John places a man who also performs a work in perfect devotion, but the work of the devil. Judas uses his knowledge of the place where he knows that the Lord often meets there with His disciples. He has always been there too. He also comes there, this time not to listen to Him, but with the devil’s plan to capture Him.

Judas takes a large number of people with him because he and his supporters fear the power of Christ. Satan does not want to have his instruments do half a job. They want to make things as certain as possible. The cohort and the officers come with lanterns and torches to seek Him Who is the light of the world. They also have weapons with them, as if He were a great criminal, although He has never struck a blow at anyone. Judas does not know the Son any more than those whom he leads. That is how blind man is!

The Lord Asks Whom They Do Seek

With the perfect knowledge He has, the Son knows what will happen. He is the Almighty and the Omniscient. All light falls on His Divine glory. It is not Judas who comes to Him to give Him the betrayer’s kiss, but He Himself goes forth again to meet His enemies. There is only One here who plays the leading role; all the others are mere extras. Before they can say a word, He asks Who they are looking for. He knows what they are up to and Whom they seek, but He asks it to discover them to themselves and also to protect His disciples.

His question is one with authority to which they are obligated to answer. They may not immediately recognize Him in the dark of night. The Lord Jesus is not a particularly conspicuous Man. He is not surrounded by a halo that gives Him a special radiance that is seen by all. To His question, they answer that they seek “Jesus the Nazarene”, the humble Man from despised Nazareth (Mt 2:23). His answer, however, is full of Divine glory. It consists in pronouncing His Name, “I am” (Jn 18:5; Exo 3:13-14). He makes Himself known as Yahweh.

To paint the contrast, the evangelist John informs us that Judas, of whom he mentions again “who was betraying Him”, is among Christ’s enemies. Only a few hours ago, John was together with Judas present at the Paschal meal. Now Judas finds himself among the enemies of the Lord. The whole company, led by Judas, stands in the presence of Almighty God, the “I Am,” without being consumed by Him.

Something else happens, though. The word that makes clear to them Who it is Whom they are seeking takes away all their power to grasp Him. They draw back as if held back by a mighty hand. They also fall to the ground. It does not say whether they fall backward or forward. I suppose they, including Judas, fell forward as a forced acknowledgment of His majesty after speaking His Name (cf. Phil 2:10). Just as easily He could have consumed them, but the hour of His surrender has come.

It is as if He is giving them another chance to come to their senses by asking them one more time Who they are seeking. Despite the revelation of His Name and the power expressed in it, forcing them to fall down before Him, they stick to their plan. Their answer again is that they seek “Jesus the Nazarene”. To this He replies that if they then seek Him, they must let His disciples go their way. He must, like the ark at the Jordan, enter the waters of death alone, that the people may go their way. Here the Shepherd puts His life before the sheep.

His request for a free retreat for His disciples is at the same time an unobjectionable command which is obeyed. This fulfills the word He said in His prayer to the Father (Jn 17:12). Already earlier He has also said with regard to His sheep that no one can snatch them out of His hand (Jn 10:28).

Sword and Cup

Not only the multitude and Judas are revealed in the presence of the “I am” in their utter nothingness. The best of His disciples is also revealed in His presence. Just as weapons do not make any impression to take Him captive, Peter’s sword does not make the slightest impression to defend Him. A sword used unasked for in His service only inflicts damage.

Peter’s overzealous and therefore wrong action gives the Lord an opportunity to show that He is in complete agreement with the Father’s thoughts. He accepts the cup of suffering from His Father’s hand, although the religious leaders as His determined opponents lay their hands on Him.

The other Gospels describe a cup of which, in the midst of the fiercest soul struggles, He asks the Father to let it pass from Him. Here He has that struggle behind Him and only sees the way of the Father before Him. What else could He do but accept the cup from the Father’s hand? Because He drank this cup, we can take the cup of salvation or redemption (Psa 116:13) as a cup of blessing or praise (1Cor 10:16).

To Annas

In what follows we see both the humility and dignity of the Son and His infinite exaltation over all who surround Him, whether His friends or His enemies. We see His utter submission and His undiminished power. He, in that infinite exaltation, allows evil men to arrest and bind Him. It is a scene of the greatest possible contradictions, as we shall see many more of them.

We see man, led by satan, arresting and binding the Son of God as if He were a criminal. They arrest Him Who only did good to them and made His Father known to them, so that they might also come to know Him as He knows Him. They bind Him Who by the simple utterance of His Name has caused all to fall to the ground, the Almighty.

It appears as if man can do as he pleases, but faith sees here that the Son submits Himself to man in order to fulfill the Father’s counsels. Therefore, He lets them take Him wherever they want to go. They first take Him to the religious leaders with Annas at the head of them.

Actually, Caiaphas is high priest, but it seems that Annas is in overall charge. For quite some time the high priesthood has been in great decline and utterly deviated from God’s original intent (Lk 3:2a). Thus there are more high priests who are in charge together or alternately (Acts 4:6). This goes against what God has said, that a high priest should hold that office throughout his life and only be succeeded by his son at his death (Num 20:28).

How serious is the deviation from God’s original thoughts and how great is the confusion in religious terms as a result. Human arbitrariness and political considerations came to determine the appointment of the high priest. Both Annas and Caiaphas were appointed by the representatives of the Roman rulers. When a man begins to deviate from God’s Word, the result is that he takes the Son of the Father to court and declares Him guilty of crimes He never committed. This does not mean that it is out of God’s control. On the contrary, it is proceeding as God intends.

John reminds us that God is in control by pointing again to the prophecy that Caiaphas uttered (Jn 11:50). God is directing events, allowing even a wicked high priest to say things that prove this. The man of prophecy also becomes the man who carries out his prophecy, so that what they plot in their wickedness results in God’s praise (Psa 76:10).

First Denial by Peter

While the faithful Witness is carried away and mistreated because of His faithfulness to the Father, our attention is also frequently drawn to the disciple Peter. We see alternately the faithful Lord and the unfaithful Peter. Both scenes are intertwined. The Son’s perfection shines brighter and brighter, while Peter’s unfaithfulness leads him further and further in the wrong direction.

Peter at first fled, but is returned to be with his Lord. For doing so, he goes a way that he cannot go. He follows the Lord on a road that the Lord has to go alone. In his love for Him, he wants to stay with Him, but does so in his own strength. He also uses the familiarity of “another disciple” – possibly John – with the high priest to enter his court. So, the other disciple has also returned from his fleeing to be with the Lord Jesus.

No value judgment is made here about what the other disciple does, neither in an approving nor a disapproving sense, but about Peter’s behavior and words it is made. What may be permissible for the other disciple, is in any case not true for Peter. The other disciple has no problem in this history; no questions are asked of him.

It says so tellingly that the other disciple “entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest”. He too would like to be where his Lord is. Yet it seems that he too has not entered as a disciple of the Lord, but because the doorkeeper knows him. And on the basis of his intercession, Peter too is allowed to enter. The slave-girl knows the other disciple, but not Peter.

That she has not been unfamiliar with the discipleship of the other disciple is evident from her question to Peter whether he is not “also” one of the disciples of “this Man.” Peter immediately denies this with the powerful statement “I am not”. What a huge contrast this denial is to what the Lord has truthfully said. The Lord has truthfully said “I am”; Peter speaks falsehood when he says “I am not.

The enemies of Christ are cold and so they have made a fire. There they stand warming themselves. Peter is also cold and joins them. He must have been doubly cold: cold because of the temperature outside, but also cold because of the temperature inside him. His first denial has not yet awakened him. He remains in the environment where the enmity against the Lord is tangible, which will inevitably lead to his next fall.

The Lord Jesus Before Caiaphas

While Peter has denied the Lord and is standing with His enemies warming up, the Lord Jesus is questioned by Caiaphas about His disciples, and about His teaching. First, He is asked about His disciples and then about His teaching. What someone teaches is reflected in His disciples. What should He have answered when asked about His disciples, one of whom betrayed Him, another of whom was in the process of denying Him, while all the others fled from Him?

The Lord does not answer the question about His disciples. The reason is not that He would be ashamed of them. He brought them to His Father in the previous chapter as those who believed Him and kept the Father’s word. He does not answer that question because, as we have seen at the time of the capture, He said to the crowd: “Let these go their way.”

He does answer the question about His teaching. His answer is exalted and clearly addressed to the conscience in order to convince the high priest of the sin he is in the process of committing. He places him in the full light by His answer. His answer, therefore, is not a defense. He has no reason to defend Himself, because everything He has said and done is completely public and transparent. He is a Man Who really has nothing to hide.

His answer is a counter-question. This question proves the inadequacy of the high priest’s question. In doing so, He expresses His disapproval of the authority and validity of the inquiry. He does this not in a formal way, but peacefully and in an exalted manner. If the high priest wants to know anything about His disciples and His teaching, he should just go and ask the people who heard Him speak. They know what He said.

The meek and just answer leads an overzealous servant of the high priest to slap Him in the face. There is no one to stop or punish this servant. Godlessness and mercilessness are the motives behind this trial. What a process! Nor does the Lord stop the hand of the servant. What a Lord!

The servant believes he must strike Him because of His answer to the high priest. He is part of an ungodly system that lacks any sense of what is right before God. He feels that the Prisoner is answering the highest authority in the religious field brutally and that a slap in His face will call Him to order, their order.

The Lord Jesus does not need to apologize. He knows that He has done nothing wrong or let Himself go somewhere. Later, when His great servant Paul finds himself in a similar situation, he does have to apologize (Acts 23:5). The Son is perfect in all circumstances. He is unjustly struck. Yet He does not threaten, but rebukes with impressive dignity and perfect calm as He endures the insult. He does not acknowledge the high priest in any respect, though at the same time He does not oppose him. He leaves him to his own depraved incompetence and incapacity.

The Son here is perfect in dignity and exaltation. What a huge contrast to the failing Peter. He then asks to testify to the wrong He has spoken. From His entire life, can they cite even one example of a wrong statement? On the contrary, it was testified of Him by the officers who wished to take Him captive that never a man spoke like this Man (Jn 7:46). Not only is there a witness missing to testify to the wrong, but there are witnesses enough to testify to the good that He has spoken. And then, if He has spoken rightly, the question of why the slave strikes Him is also legitimate. It is a probing question to which there is no answer.

Since the Lord Jesus is brought to Annas (Jn 18:13), but the questioning takes place by Caiaphas, John mentions that the Lord has now been transferred from Annas to Caiaphas. He does so only after the interrogation by Caiaphas in order to determine to his readers that Annas is the actual leader of this whole action.

Peter’s Second and Third Denial

Again, our attention is shifted for a moment from the Lord to Peter. While the Lord Jesus is questioned and beaten and testifies to the truth, Peter is still warming up in the circle of mockers. He too is questioned, for the second time. Like the first time, he is asked if he is not also one of the Lord’s disciples. Again he denies it, saying “I am not”.

Then a third time Peter is asked about his connection with the Lord. Now it is someone who believes that he saw Peter in the garden where they captured the Lord. Peter then emphatically drew attention to himself by using the sword. The man who thinks he recognizes him is a relative of the man whose ear Peter cut off. He will not have harbored warm feelings for him. His question will have sounded threatening. If this is indeed the man who has so mistreated his family, now is the time for retribution. Peter again denies that he belongs to the Lord. It is impossible for the man to have seen Him in His company when He was taken captive.

At that moment, the rooster crows. We know from the other Gospels that at that moment Peter’s conscience fully awakens. John does not speak of this. At the end of his Gospel he will write about Peter’s restoration, a restoration that takes place at another charcoal fire.

Pilate and the Jews

The Lord has been condemned by religious authority; now He is to taken to civil authority. Everywhere He is an object of mockery. Thus they make the measure of their sins full, and all the more so as the longsuffering of God continues. After being busy with Him the whole night, early in the morning they bring Him to the Praetorium, Pilate’s official residence.

Again we see the great hypocrisy of the Jews, this time in their refusal to enter the Praetorium. They experience it as defilement to enter this building of a heathen, while at the same time they are intent on murder and seek false witnesses against the Son of God. What deeds the religious flesh is capable of! They are full of zeal for the purity that belongs to their ceremonies, but indifferent as to justice. They do not have the faintest notion that they are putting the true Passover to death. Nor do they realize that they are thus fulfilling in guilty unbelief the voice of the law to their own destruction, whatever the plans of God may be concerning the death of Christ.

When they have brought Him to the Praetorium, Pilate comes out to them. He has to, for they, in order not to defile themselves, do not want to go in. To know why they are bringing the Prisoner, he asks about the accusation. In any case, in order to convict someone, an accusation is needed. The Jews do not answer Pilate’s question, but attack his question itself. In hypocritical indignation they argue that surely they are not so unjust as to bring someone who would not be an evildoer. Surely Pilate should know better.

In the altercation that follows between Pilate and the Jews, each wants to impose on the other the responsibility of putting the Lord Jesus to death. Pilate gives them permission to judge Christ according to their law, but the Jews have no desire to do so. It’s not that they don’t want to or don’t dare, but they want an official verdict so that later its legal validity cannot be questioned. Therefore, they shift the responsibility back to Pilate by pointing out to him that Roman law does not allow them to carry out a death sentence themselves. It proves their cunning. As soon as it suits them, they appeal to the authority they hate.

However, neither Pilate nor the Jews determine the manner in which the Lord Jesus will die. He will not receive the Jewish death penalty, which is carried out by stoning. He will have to die on the cross, the death penalty applied by the Romans. He Himself foretold this (Jn 3:14; Jn 8:28; Jn 12:32-33). As a result, Jew and Gentile will be guilty of His death (Acts 4:27-28).

The Good Confession

John omits many details from Pilate’s interrogation that we find in the other Gospels. He mentions only those words and events that show certain aspects of the glory of the Son. Pilate interrogates Him again and asks about His kingship over the Jews. This questioning takes place in the Praetorium, that is, without the Jews being present. For Pilate as Roman governor the important question is whether he indeed has to do with Someone Who presents Himself as the King of the Jews.

Here the representative of world power stands opposite Him Who governs the universe and Who, as God’s King, rules over everything and will rule publicly. God’s King will put an end to all worldly power by crushing as a stone those world powers (Dan 2:34). The Lord Jesus responds to Pilate’s question with the same calmness and submission as He did when questioned by the high priest. Here again He turns the situation around and becomes from the One being questioned, to the Interrogator. He questions Pilate in a way that confronts Pilate with the truth.

Pilate thinks he is dealing with ‘a case’, but is suddenly confronted with the truth by the Lord’s questions. The question forces him to think about his attitude toward Him. Pilate avoids the question. He does not want to answer it and evades it by saying that the question does not concern him because he is not a Jew. In his voice a certain contempt for the Jews can also be heard. Although he himself has asked about the kingship of the Lord Jesus, by the Lord’s asking him personally, he suddenly makes his question about kingship a typically Jewish matter. In addition to saying that he is not a Jew, he points out to the Lord Jesus that He has been handed over to Him by His own people and their religious leaders.

Then, when the Lord does not answer the question whether He is a King, His next question is what He has done, what is the reason for them to deliver Him to him. To the question “what have You done?” we can say that every word of His and every act, yes, His entire way is one great testimony of Who God is in love and mercy to man. He has placed man in the presence of God and with that also their sins. They cannot escape the testimony of that, except by rejecting Him, they think.

The Lord also does not enter into the question of what He has done. He only reacts on what Pilate has said that He was handed over to him. Pilate must not think that He is now in his power. He has to do with One Who possesses a kingdom. Only it is not a kingdom of this world, just as He is not of this world (Jn 8:23; Jn 17:14; 16) nor do His own belong to it (Jn 17:14; 16). It is a kingdom established in the hearts of those who have accepted Him as their Lord (Rom 14:17).

If His kingdom did belong to the world, and if as King He asserted His power in and over the world, He would have commanded His servants to fight for Him (Mt 26:53). Then He would not have been handed over, neither to the Jews nor to Pilate. But now was not the time for such action. That time will surely come, but first the whole work of the Father must be accomplished. That means He must first go the way of suffering and rejection and death (Lk 24:26).

With what the Lord says here, He testifies the good confession before Pontius Pilate (1Tim 6:13). Paul insists to Timothy – and to us as well – that this is also his and our task. Fulfilling that task means that in our lives we consider and speak of a Lord Who determines our lives. We are subject to Him and not to human powers. If we submit to human institutions, it is because it is the Lord’s will (1Pet 2:13; Rom 13:1). He is that other King than the emperor (Acts 17:7). This King is not visible now, but we do submit to Him. In doing so, He also determines our place on earth.

The kingdom to which we belong is still not from here. Therefore, it is also against God’s thoughts to in any way establish a kingdom on earth anyway or even to influence the government with the goal of establishing a government that applies God’s standards. All such efforts are rejected by God’s Word, as we can read, among other things, in Paul’s admonitions to the Corinthians on this subject (1Cor 4:8-9).

Testimony to the Truth

Pilate believes that he has now received an answer to his earlier question about the kingship of the Lord Jesus, although he now asks if He is “a” King, that is, King in a general sense. The Lord confirms his conclusion.

He adds that His birth and His coming into the world do not have as their sole purpose that He will be King. That He has been “born” indicates that He became Man; that He “has come into the world” indicates His existence before He came into the world. The great, so to speak, overarching purpose of His birth and His coming into the world is to bear witness to the truth. He became Man to testify to men about the Father from Whom He came and Whom He knows eternally as the eternal Son.

Through His testimony of the truth, His kingdom is expanded. Truth means that the true character of something or someone is seen in His light, with His eyes. Then it becomes visible Who God is, but also who man is and likewise what the authority of a government is. Everything the Lord has said and done is one great testimony of the truth. To hear His voice, one must be “of the truth” (1Jn 3:19).

Earlier He said that His sheep hear His voice (Jn 10:16). To be “of the truth” means that a person has come to new life by acknowledging the truth and thus has become one of His sheep. One who is of the truth has first acknowledged the truth about himself as a sinner. He has heard and believed the word of truth, the gospel of his salvation (Eph 1:13) and has been given new life. This also enables such a person to receive every truth that the Son makes known.

As a Roman judge, for Pilate to find out the truth is the same as pursuing a mirage. For Pilate, there is no such thing as truth. It makes it clear that he does not want the Son as the truth and rejects Him. Yet he wants to justify himself by pretending to the Jews that he finds no guilt in the Lord Jesus.

Not Him, but Barabbas

To escape from this difficult situation, Pilate makes another proposal to the Jews. He reminds them of their custom of releasing someone at the Passover. He also suggests who he would like to release. John does not speak of a choice he is presenting to the people, as we read in the other Gospels. Pilate has made the choice for them. He proposes to release the Lord Jesus of Whom He speaks as “the King of the Jews”. All attention is focused on Him.

The people’ s reaction is instantaneous. They don’t need time to think. In fact, it is not even right to speak of a choice. They are inspired by only one thing – the death of the Lord Jesus. They want to get rid of Him. Whatever or whoever they get in His place is always better than Him. By their words they express their radical rejection of the Lord.

Significant is the name of the robber which they choose and which they also call out. They want “Barabbas”. Barabbas means ‘son of the father’. It is clear who his father is. He is a true son of his father, the devil (Jn 8:44). Barabbas “was a robber.” That is the great characteristic of the devil who has robbed the glory of God. Here the son of the father, the devil, stands next to the Son of the Father.

In choosing a robber, who is also a rebel and murderer (Mk 15:7), they have determined their history. Their history has been marked by the fact that, over the centuries, they have been perpetually prey to robbers, murderers and rioters in terrible ways. In the ways of God’s government they have reaped what they have sown.

© 2023 Author G. de Koning

All rights reserved. No part of the publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

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