Passion 1: John 18:1-27
Revelation and Rejection
Did you ever have an experience of God that challenged your faith? What happened?
Once an atheist on vacation in Italy entered a small mountain chapel. He was immediately taken by the beauty of the interior. The shafts of light pouring through the windows. The musty smell of the old building mixed with the sweet aroma of the burning candles. The striking but slightly faded artwork. More important, he felt his spirit lifted beyond the time and place his body inhabited. At that moment, he knew he had touched the transcendent power people call "God." He also knew he had a choice. He turned on his heals and walked out of the chapel. His mind forever rejected the revelation of God he found in the chapel.
God shows us himself in many different ways. Even when we are confronted with his power, we can reject him. Many do. That was the picture John the Evangelist painted of Jesus in his arrest.
1 After his speech, Jesus and his followers left the house where they had dinner, went outside across the Kidron Creek, and entered a garden on the other side. 2 The traitor Judas knew the garden because Jesus often went there with his followers. 3 Judas took a group of soldiers, some of the Temple priests, and a few of the Pharisees to the garden. They carried torches, lamps, and weapons. 4 Jesus knew what would happen. So he stepped out and asked the crowd, "Who are you looking for?"
5 "Jesus the Nazorene," they answered.
6 "I am here!" Jesus replied. (The traitor Judas stood with the crowd.) 6 As he said, "I am here!" they fell backward onto the ground. 7 Again, Jesus asked, "Who are you looking for?"
5 "Jesus the Nazorene," they answered.
6 " I am here!" Jesus replied. "Let the others go!" 9 (Jesus told the crowd to let his followers go so his prayer could come true: "I haven't lost any of the followers you gave me, Father.")
7 Simon Peter took out his sword, swung it, and stuck Malchus, the High Priest's servant. Peter cut off the servant's right ear.
11 "Put your sword away!" Jesus told Peter. "Don't I have to drink the cup of suffering my Father gave me?"
12 The soldiers, their commander, and the Jewish leaders surrounded Jesus, tied his wrists, and 13 took him to Annas, the most important Temple priest. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the High Priest that year. 14 When Caiaphas met with the other Jewish leaders, he said, "It's better that one man should die for our people."
15 Peter and another follower walked behind Jesus. Because the other follower knew the High Priest, he went with Jesus into the High Priest's courtyard. 16 Peter, however, stood outside by the gate. The other follower came outside, spoke with the girl who guarded the gate, and led Peter inside the courtyard. 17 The girl asked Peter, "Aren't you that man's follower?"
"I am not!" Peter replied.
18 Since it was cold, the servants and other officials stood around a fire they made. Peter stood there with them and warmed himself.
19 Meanwhile, the High Priest asked Jesus, "Tell me about your followers and what you teach."
20 "I've spoken openly to everyone who will listen," Jesus replied. "I always taught when people gathered together in the synagogues and in the Temple. I've never had a secret teaching. So, why do you question me? Ask the people who heard what I said. They really know what I taught."
22 After Jesus spoke, one of the assistants to the High Priest slapped Jesus. "This is the way you answer the High Priest?" he said sternly.
23 "If I said something insulting, point it out to me!" Jesus replied. "But, if I spoke the truth, why did you hit me?"
24 Then, Annas had the soldiers tie Jesus' wrists. He sent Jesus to Caiaphas.
25 Outside, Simon Peter was still standing by the fire warming himself with the others. They asked him, "Aren't you one of that man's followers?"
26 "No, I'm not!" Peter replied.
26 Another servant of the High Priest was present. But this man was a relative of servant who had his ear cut off by Peter. "Didn't I see you in the garden with that man they arrested tonight?" he asked.
27 "NO! NO! NO!" Peter insisted. Suddenly, a rooster crowed.
Part One of the Passion according to John can be divided into four scenes: Jesus' arrest in the garden, the first denial of Peter, Annas' interrogation of Jesus, and the last two denials of Peter.
Scene 1: The Arrest
1 Having said these (things), JESUS went out (from there) with HIS disciples across the brook (from the winter rains) of the Kidron where there was a garden, into which HE and HIS disciples entered. 2 Judas, the one handing HIM over, had known the place, since HE often gathered together with HIS disciples there. 3 Judas, having taken a cohort and (some) from the chief priests and from the assistants of the Pharisees, arrived there with torches, lamps, and weapons. 4 JESUS, having seen (with the mind) all (the events) coming upon him, went out and said to them, "Whom do you seek?" 5 They answered HIM, "Jesus the Nazorean." HE said to them, "I AM (he)." Judas, the one handing HIM over, also stood with them. 6 Then, as HE said to them, "I AM (he)," they went into a back (motion) and fell onto the ground. 7 Again, he asked them, "Whom do you seek?" They said to HIM, "Jesus the Nazorean." 8 JESUS answered, "I said 'I AM (here).' Allow these (others) leave." 9 (This happened) so that the word which (JESUS) spoke might be fulfilled, "(Those) whom you, (Father), have given me, I have not lost (any) of them, no one.") 10 Simon Peter, having a sword, swung it and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his the right ear. The name of the servant was Malchus. 11 JESUS said to Peter, "Put your sword in its place. Should I not drink of the cup which the Father has given to ME?"
12 The cohort, the commander, and assistants to the Jewish (leaders) surrounded JESUS and bound him 13 and led him before Annas the first (among the priests). He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was chief priest that year. 14 It was Caiaphas, having taken counsel together with the Jewish (leaders), (who said,) "It is (more) advantageous that one man die on behalf of the people."
18:3 "cohort" was a unit of 600 Roman soldiers. Many biblical scholars doubt the arrest party was that large, when only 20-30 men would be sufficient. John used the unit for thematic reasons, to add emphasis to the dialogue between Jesus and the arrest party in 18:4-7.
18:9 "(Those) whom you have given me, I have not lost (any) of them, no one." The sentence used a double negative for emphasis. The term "no one" was used to convey this emphasis.
18:11 The term "cup" commonly referred to one's destiny. (See Mark 10:38-39)
18:12 "the commander" is literally "leader of the thousand" (i.e., leader of a cohort). Again, John may have exaggerated the importance of the title to heighten the drama of the scene.
Like the other gospels, the Passion according to John opened in the Garden, a place known to the inner circle. Like the other gospels, Judas became the literary vehicle to connect Jesus to his Passion. Like the other gospels, the arrest party did not recognize who Jesus was. In the Synoptics, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. In John, Judas was a bystander. It was Jesus who revealed himself in a dialogue. The word "revealed" was key to understanding the scene.
18:3 presented the audience of the dialogue, a mixture of Jews (chief priests and assistants to the Pharisees) and Gentiles (the Roman cohort). But, 18:4a presented Jesus as the subject in control with divine foreknowledge of the coming events. Then, Jesus asked the question "Whom do you seek?" John used the same verb at the beginning of his gospel when Andrew and the other disciple of John the Baptist followed Jesus in 1:38 (Jesus turned around and saw them following him. He said to them, "What do you seek?"). John used the verb "to seek" to describe those who wanted to follow the Lord. But many more times to describe those who wished to destroy Jesus (John 5:18; 7:1,11, 19, 25, 30; 8:37, 40; 11:8, 56).
It may be perverse logic to seek what someone hates, but John used it to define the evil (those who lived in the "dark"). (Isn't it interesting that atheists define themselves by a actively fighting a concept they reject? They need the concept of God to define their self-image and place in society, just like Christians.) Despite the fact the arresting party had lamps and torches to lead their way, they needed a word from the One they would reject to find him. They needed the Light to find the Light to reject the Light. John painted the arresting party as those who lived in the dark to the extent that they were truly lost.
Jesus asked the question twice, "Whom do you seek?" The arresting party answered twice "Jesus the Nazorean." Jesus identified himself twice, "I AM," the famous title for God from Exodus 3:14:
13 Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" 14 God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (Exodus 3:13-14, RSV)
In John, Jesus used the phrase to define himself as the presence of God (John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19). This was the way Jesus revealed himself to his enemies.
There were two results from the pronouncement of the phrase: the reaction of the arresting party (18: 6b) and the command of Jesus (18:8b). In the first case, the mixture of Jews and Gentiles fell backward onto the ground. The power of the Name even caused his enemies to worship (see Philippians 2:10). It also revealed Jesus as the universal Messiah, Lord of the Jews and the Gentiles. In the second case, his disciples were released to fulfill a prayer Jesus made to his Father. Twice in the scene, the revelation of Jesus had definite results.
There was a third result, however. Peter cut off the right ear of an enemy (a few scholars believe this strike was not to kill but to shame the opponent). Jesus used the incident to relate the necessity of his destiny. The arrest would lead to the fulfillment of his "hour."
In the end, Jesus was arrested and brought before Caiaphas. John used the words of the chief priest as a way to emphasize the self revelation of Jesus. The Christ would be the one to die on the people's behalf.
Scene 2: Peter's First Denial
15 Peter and the other disciple followed JESUS. That disciple was known by the high priest and he went with JESUS into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter stood outside the gate. The other disciple known by the high priest came out, spoke to the (girl) doorkeeper, and led Peter in. 17 The (girl) servant, the doorkeeper, said to Peter, "Are you not from the disciples of THIS MAN?" That (one) said, "I am not!" 18 The servants and the assistants stood (around) having made a coal fire because it was cold. Peter was standing and warming (himself) with them.
18:16 The first questioner was a girl who acted as a doorkeeper. Some scholars have questioned historical accuracy of this detail, since the culture was male dominated and gender segregated. But there is precedent for a female doorkeeper in the culture. And, all the gospels identify the first questioner as a female doorkeeper. Questioning by a doorkeeper would have been appropriate in the context.
After the arrest, Peter and the other disciple (the beloved disciple of John 13:21-26?) follow Jesus to the home of the chief priest. John used a connection between the unnamed disciple and the chief priest to open the gate for Peter and set the scene for his denials.
Peter's answer maintained the theme of revelation. But this time, Peter followed Jesus to deny him. This placed him into the camp of Jesus' enemies. "I am not!" is literally "Not I AM!" Peter's reply was not only a rejection of the girl's question, he denied Jesus' very answer to the arresting party. In this way, he rejected the divine presence of God in Jesus. He would later repent. But until that time, he would stand by the fire and warm himself with the opposition. John could not have painted a sadder picture of Peter.
Scene 3: Questioned by Annas
19 The high priest questioned JESUS about his disciples and his teaching. 20 JESUS answered him, "I have spoken openly in the world; I always taught in the synagogues and in the Temple where all the people come together; I spoke nothing in private. 21 Why do you question ME? Ask the one having heard what I said to them. Look! These people know what I said." 22 After he said these (things), one of the assistants having stood by gave a slap to JESUS, having said, "You answer in this way to the high priest?" 23 JESUS answered him, "If I spoke the wrong (way), witness about the wrong. But if I spoke in a correct (manner), why did you beat ME?" 24 Annas sent HIM, having been bound, to Caiaphas, the high priest.
18:22 We can assume the assistant hit Jesus at the order of the high priest.
18:23 When Jesus objected to his treatment, he denied the charge found in Exodus 22:28: "You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people." (RSV)
18:24 How could Annas question Jesus as the high priest when his son-in-law held the office that year? The answer to the question lay in the relationship between the two men. Annas was the patriarch of the most influential family in Jerusalem, much less among the Temple priests. Annas held the office of high priest from 6-15 A.D. Over the next fifty years, the office remained in his family. Five sons, a son-in-law (Caiaphas) and a grandson held the office. Of the high priests in the family, Caiaphas held the office the longest: 19 years.
The answer to the question about interrogation was simple. John saw it as a family affair. Caiaphas may have held the office. But Annas held the power.
In this scene, Jesus turned the table on Annas with an interrogation of his own. His questions were: "Why do you question me?" and "Why do you beat me?" Jesus taught in the open as an honorable man. He also objected to treatment as a criminal. Notice Jesus' activities were in the day time, in full public view (i.e., the Light). His interrogation by Annas was in private, at night (i.e., in the dark). John painted a scene that resonated in an honor-shame based society. How could the shameful question the honorable? Unless, of course, it was not the shameful but the evil asking the questions.
On a deeper level, John maintained the image of Jesus as the divine presence in control of the scene. The arrest began with his revelation. Now, John used honor to maintain the status of Jesus even before his inquisitors. In this sense, John painted Jesus as the true judge, condemning the actions of the court as shameful. He was the one who spoke with authority.
Scene 4: Peter's Second and Third Denial
25 Simon Peter was standing (there) and (was) warming (himself). They said to him, "Are you not out of his disciples?" That one denied it and said, "I am not!" 26 One of the servants of the High priest, being a kinsman of whom Peter cut off his ear, said "Did I not see you in the garden with HIM?" 27 Again Peter denied (it) and immediately the rooster crowed.
The second denial was almost a copy of the first. Instead of the girl doorkeeper who asked the question at the gate, now the crowd around the fire asked the question. Notice John paralleled the two revelations of Jesus ("I AM") with the two denials of Peter ("Not I AM"). Notice the reaction to the two sets of statements. Jesus had power (the Light). Peter was met with disbelief (the dark). By aligning himself with the enemies of Jesus, Peter entered the shadow world of doubt.
The third denial was most pointed. An eye witness confronted Peter. Peter said "No" to a rhetorical question that demanded a "Yes." Now, Peter had no honor. And immediately the rooster crowed. The crow of the rooster not only fulfilled Jesus prophecy about Peter's apostasy, it signaled Peter had joined the creatures of the dark. It is interesting to note that his conversion back to the Lord would also occur around a fire, but one in the light of the morning (John 21).
There's an old question: If you were ever brought up on the charge of being a Christian, would you be guilty? How? How not?
Revelation. And rejection. Times of crisis can bring out the best in people. Or they can bring out the worse in people. When God confronts us in times of crisis, how do we respond? Do we stand up alone and affirm our faith, even though we know we will suffer for our stand? Or, will we step to the back with others as we say "no" to God?
God calls. Do we say "yes" or "no?"
As these holiest of Christian days unfold, pray for the strength to accept the Lord's call, despite the cost.