John 18:1–24: Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus, Jesus Faces Annas and Caiaphas, Peter Denies Jesus, The High Priest Questions Jesus
This passage (covering multiple ESV section headings) covers the beginning of Jesus’ trial before the Jewish religious authorities.
It starts with Jesus and the disciples (aside from Judas) going to a particular garden, where Jesus often met with his disciples. But Judas knows the place, too, so he brings a band of soldiers there, along with some officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, who descend on Jesus in full-on mob mode: lanterns, torches, and weapons. (No mention is made of pitchforks, but one can easily picture it.) However, Jesus isn’t caught by surprise, he was expecting this, so he does his best to keep things from getting out of hand:
Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (verses 4–11)
I always feel duty-bound to mention that Jesus healed Malchus’ wounded ear (though John doesn’t mention it), but I don’t remember all of this back-and-forth about, “Whom do you seek? No really, whom do you seek?” being reported in the other Gospels either1.
Now having Jesus in hand, the soldiers bring Jesus to Annas, who is the father-in-law of the high priest Caiaphas. Why did they bring Jesus to the high priest’s father-in-law? I don’t know. The ESV Study Bible notes indicate that Annas is a former high priest himself, and still holds some power:
Under the Roman procurators three wealthy priestly families largely controlled the extremely important position of high priest. Annas (also known as “Ananus”) was the patriarch of one of these powerful families of high priests (cf. Acts 4:6). He served as high priest during A.D. 6–15, and the high priesthood was subsequently held by five of his sons, including his son-in-law Caiaphas (see note on John 18:24). Annas’s past stature merited his continued designation as “high priest” (Acts 4:6), and even after his deposition he retained significant control over his family’s exercise of this position (so that Luke 3:2 can speak of “the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas”). Josephus mentions a monument of Annas (Jewish War 5.506), which has been plausibly identified with a highly decorated tomb found near the Kidron Valley.
So I get that Annas, as a former high priest and as the head of a “family” of high priests, still holds some power. But to the point that Jesus would be brought to him, instead of to Caiaphas seems odd to me nonetheless.
Regardless, Annas questions Jesus about his teachings, and Jesus simply refuses to answer him.
Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” (verses 20–21)
I don’t think Jesus’ point was to be rude to Annas, but the point was that Jesus is not leading some secret rebellion. Everything he’s taught has been taught publicly, in front of everyone.
However, one of the officers present for the questioning doesn’t like this answer, so he strikes Jesus, asking him if this is how he should answer the high priest. But Jesus answers that officer, in verse 23, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”
After this, Annas sends Jesus on to Caiaphas, who, as mentioned, is the actual high priest at the time.
In between Annas’ questioning of Jesus, there is an aside to mention that Peter is in Annas’ courtyard, along with “another disciple.” (Whenever John mentions “another disciple” like this in his Gospel, the commentators always assume he’s talking about himself. I see no reason to disagree with them, so I’ll assume it’s John too.) That other disciple happens to be known to Annas, so he talks to the servant girl who’s at the door, and gets Peter and himself in. The girl asks Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” (verse 17), but Peter answers that he’s not. Peter then goes and warms himself by a fire that they have going in the courtyard, but no mention is made of whether the “other disciple” is there as well.
I had two main thoughts on this set of passages, one theological and one logistical:
- Jesus has to drink the cup the Father has given him, and
- I didn’t realize there was another disciple there with Peter!
“Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
There’s a point that Jesus makes to Peter that still needs to be made in the 21st Century, because a lot of people don’t understand Jesus’ death on the cross. When Jesus was crucified, it wasn’t an accident, or God coming down to save us and then finding out that we were even more sinful than He’d thought. It wasn’t unexpected to Him in the least. It was the very purpose for which Jesus came to this world. It wasn’t Plan B, it was Plan A.
Jesus didn’t come to be a good teacher (though he was), he came to die for our sins. He didn’t come “and then” die on the cross, He came to die on the cross.
If Peter had stopped them from arresting Jesus, I wouldn’t be able to have a relationship with God: I’d be too sinful, and have no way of accessing Him without being utterly destroyed by His Holiness.
Peter and the “Other Disciple”
I have obviously not been reading the book of John closely enough when I came to this section in the past, because it never fully hit me until this reading that there was another disciple with Peter in the courtyard—and not just any disciple, it was probably John!
This brings up additional questions, for me. For example, the servant girl’s question to Peter is, to me, ambiguously worded:
“You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” (verse 17)
The way her question is worded I can’t tell if she knows that John is a disciple of Jesus or not. Did John admit that he’s a disciple, and then Peter denied it (which makes Peter seem worse)? Or did Peter and John both deny it (which makes Peter seem not so bad since he’s not the only one)? I don’t know!
And then we get to verse 18:
Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. (verse 18)
But… where was John? Was he there with Peter? Or was he gone? (And if he’d left, where did he go?) Because the same questions raised above will be raised again: when Peter denies Jesus again, a little later, will John be there beside him, also denying that he knows Jesus? Or will John be admitting that he knows Jesus while Peter is denying it?
None of this has any theological implication to me; it doesn’t change things one way or the other if John was there beside Peter denying just as vehemently or if he wasn’t. It’s a logistic that I literally hadn’t thought about until writing this blog post, and I’m surprising myself with my own ignorance. 🙂
It would be easy enough to look up, but it’s not an important point so I’m not bothering… ↩︎