John 18:25–32: Peter Denies Jesus Again, Jesus Before Pilate
I don’t know why I broke the passages in John 18 up the way I did, but… I did.
In the last passage we saw Jesus going before Annas, the former high priest (who still maintained the title of high priest), before being sent on to Caiaphas (the current high priest). In between, we also saw Peter and another disciple (probably John) entering Annas’ courtyard, with Peter denying to a servant girl on the way in that he knew Jesus.
As this section starts they are now in Caiaphas’ courtyard, warming themselves by another fire, and someone asks Peter again if he’s one of Jesus’ disciples, which he denies. Then another person—this one a relative of Malchus, the man whose ear was cut off by Peter in the garden—asks again, and Peter denies it for a third time. This time Peter’s denial is followed by a rooster crowing, and we should remember 13:21–38, when Jesus had predicted that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed. John doesn’t record Peter’s reaction to the sound of the rooster, but other Gospels record him being stricken with grief at this moment.
John doesn’t tell us anything about Jesus’ “trial” before Caiaphas1, so the next thing we know Jesus is being brought from Caiaphas’ house to Pilate’s house—Pilate being the governor (we’ll see why that’s important in a second)—so that he can be tried by the Romans. They don’t go inside Pilate’s house, not wanting to become ritually unclean (because they want to celebrate the Passover), but Pilate seems used to dealing with Jews on such matters so he comes out to them.
He asks them what Jesus is accused of, and although they answer, they don’t actually answer him:
They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” (verse 30)
Which is a classic evasive non-answer, but… what an odd way to proceed! “We want this man executed!” “Ok, but what has he done!” “None of your business—just execute him!” I assume it’s because they don’t feel they have charges that they can bring against Jesus that would make him worthy of death according to Roman law; they fully realize that the charges aren’t legitimate according to Roman law.
Which kind of leads to the next point: after the Jews tell Pilate that they’re not going to tell him what Jesus is accused of, Pilate tells them to go and judge him themselves, but they tell Pilate they can’t, because they’re not allowed to put anyone to death.
At some point they must tell Pilate that Jesus is claiming to be a king since that’s how he starts the conversation with Jesus in the next chapter—which would count as treason, so Roman law would execute him—but we’ll get to that in the next post.
I don’t have much in the way of thoughts about this passage, other than the religious leaders wanting to stay ceremonially clean for the Passover:
… They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. So Pilate went outside to them … (verses 28b–29a)
Which… I don’t think is technically wrong of them. (Although I’m not 100% sure that going into Pilate’s house would have made them unclean in the first place—but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt on that point. They believed it would make them unclean.) But even if it’s not technically “wrong,” it does rub me the wrong way. If they really felt that Jesus was committing blasphemy, and therefore worthy of death, wouldn’t that be more important than celebrating the Passover?
Especially since the Scriptures actually provide for a second date to celebrate the Passover, for exactly this reason of ceremonial uncleanness: if a Jewish person wasn’t able to celebrate the Passover because they were unclean, they could celebrate it a month later instead. (See Numbers 9.) Couldn’t the Pharisees have done that? I get that, yes, it would be nice to be able to celebrate it with everyone else. That would be optimal. But, not knowing the cultural and religious nuances of the whole thing, it just seems like a mismatch of urgencies:
- We need to execute this man Jesus right now because he’s committing blasphemy and causing others to do likewise!
- But… I also want to celebrate the Passover, so could we execute him in such a way that I don’t have to skip the celebration?
I’m not trying to diminish the importance of the Passover, it was very important for them, but given that they had that secondary date when they could have celebrated it, this “I really, really care about this, but not enough to give up celebrating the Passover on the primary date” attitude seems incongruous.
I’m putting “trial” in quotes because nobody considers this to be an actual, valid legal proceeding. ↩︎
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