ARREST AND TRIAL John 18
“[Pilate] went out again to the Jews and said, ’I find no basis for a charge against Him’ ” (John 18:38).Knowing what is right, and doing what is right, are all too often different things.
Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested (18:1–11). He was taken to Annas and then to Caiaphas (vv. 12–14). While outside Peter disowned Jesus (18:15–18, 25–27), Christ was interrogated by the high priest (vv. 19–24). Early in the morning Jesus was taken to Pilate, the Roman governor, for preliminary questioning (vv. 28–40).
Understanding the Text
“Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant” John 18:1–11. John gives us more details of Peter’s attempt to defend Jesus. Disregarding the odds, Peter struck out at “the” high priest’s servant. The definite article here suggests that this servant was an important official, perhaps even in charge of the mob that came out to arrest Jesus. Peter’s act, and the implied rebuke by Jesus, who quickly healed the injury Peter caused, remind us of a principle suggested several times in this passage: Loyalty may be commendable, but God’s battles cannot be won with man’s weapons! The ultimate example is, of course, Christ’s own death on the cross. The world tries to conquer with swords and spears, with bombs and machine guns. Christ conquers with a cross. Victory is not found in superiority, but in sacrifice. Conquest is not killing, but making alive. We make a terrible mistake if we take up the world’s weapons to fight our spiritual battles. “Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas” John 18:12–14. The two men mentioned here were the respected leaders of Jewish religion and the chief arbiters of Jewish Law. They possessed political power. Again we see the contrast. Two men standing at the pinnacle of worldly power looked down on a bound and apparently helpless Jesus. Yet Jesus was the Victor. In the end the two who judged Jesus did not condemn Him, but themselves. “He replied, ’I am not!’ “ John 18:15–18 Peter illustrates the danger of reliance on force. Peter was brave to take up a sword and attack the mob that approached Jesus. But in doing so he committed himself to war with the world on its home ground. Later, when Peter was threatened, he realized his vulnerability and, in fear, disowned his Lord. Paul says that “the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world” (2 Cor. 10:4). If we intend to battle the people of the world, let’s do so on our own ground, not theirs. “I have spoken openly to the world” John 18:19–24. The high priest and the Sanhedrin had already determined Jesus must die. But they had no charges that would stand examination in a Roman court. The interrogation by the high priest was intended to find some charge that could be brought against Jesus. Christ didn’t bother to answer. He had spoken openly, preaching publicly in the temple and synagogue. All He stood for was well known; many witnesses could be found to tell the court what He had said. Openness and utter honesty are the most powerful spiritual defenses we possess. If we are open and honest, the only charges others can bring against us will be false charges. “The Jews led Jesus . . . to the palace of the Roman governor” John 18:28–40. John gives us the most thorough account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. Again notice that Jesus refused to rely on any but spiritual resources. Christ admitted His kingship, but affirmed that “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight” (v. 36). The real conflict was not between Jesus and the Jews who accused Him, but between the forces of evil and of God. Spiritual warfare only appears to be fought on earthly battlegrounds. And spiritual victories are never won using mankind’s destructive weapons. There was another battle taking place in Pilate’s judgment hall: a battle between Pilate and his own conscience. Pilate shrewdly realized that the Jewish leaders were jealous of Christ’s religious influence, and wanted to use him to get rid of One they saw as a rival. Pilate also knew that Jesus had committed no capital offense. At the same time Pilate wanted to avoid trouble during the ever-volatile festival season. And research has shown that Pilate himself was politically vulnerable at this time. So Pilate too fought a battle; a battle between his conscience and his political instincts. Not surprisingly, his political instincts won out. Being used to worldly ways of thinking, he made a worldly decision—and condemned Jesus to death. The spiritual man ignores political considerations to follow his conscience as that conscience is informed by the Word of God. Let’s not take Pilate’s course, and let worldly concerns dictate our decisions. Moral weakness wins no spiritual battles. “What is truth?” John 18:38 We have no way of knowing Pilate’s tone of voice as he spoke these words. Was he scoffing? Or did he perhaps speak with longing, or despair? We do know that truth is discovered only by those who abandon worldly moral compasses, and chart a course by the Word of God. Only those willing to do God’s will can know it, and only those who do God’s will discover truth. Again the spiritual battlefield is defined. Let’s set our course in life by the compass of God’s Word, and ignore the advice and the “wisdom” of mere men. Use this map to locate the events of Jesus’ last day, listed below. 1. Last Supper with disciples (John 13–16) 2. Arrested at Gethsemane (John 18:1–11) 3. Pretrial hearing by Annas (John 18:19–24) 4. Examination by Caiaphas (Matt. 26:57–68) 5. Official Sanhedrin trial (Matt. 27:1–2) 6. Examination by Pilate (John 18:28–40) 7. Sent to Herod, ruler of Galilee (Luke 23:6–12) 8. Returned to Pilate for sentence (John 19:1–16) 9. Taken to execution hill and crucified (John 19:17–37) 10. Buried in Joseph’s new tomb (John 19:38–42)
“Free Barabbas!”(John 18:28–40)
The word that John used to describe Barabbas is lestes. It does not mean thief, but outlaw: an insurrectionist. In our day we’d probably call Barabbas a “freedom fighter.” He was one of those people who chafed under Roman rule, found a contributor or two, and with freshly armed companions set out to cause as much trouble as he could. It would be a shame if a few innocent bystanders got killed. But the cause was just. What are a few lives measured against advancement of the cause? So Pilate made a grave miscalculation when he asked the crowd to choose between Jesus, the miracle worker and healer, and Barabbas, the terrorist. The crowd shouted for Barabbas, and undoubtedly the TV cameras and reporters crowded around, and Barabbas was invited to speak to the United Nations, firmly gripping his swords and knives. What amazes me is the number of Third World movements that pass themselves off as Christian—and are lauded by churchmen. Have you ever noticed that, when Christians cry out against injustice, all too many shout for the release of Barabbas rather than Jesus? They call for the sword and spear, the arming of the oppressed, rather than the spiritual armory of Jesus. Real victories are never achieved by Barabbas, who mutilates and kills. Real victories, of the spirit over the flesh, of love over hate, of patient faith and goodness over brutality and evil, are won as Jesus won His victory over Satan. By taking up the cross; by bearing witness; by dying if need be. And by resurrection.
When faith adopts unbelief’s weapons, evil has already won.
“What will it profit a man if he gains his cause, and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of His presence is made!”—John Newton