After finishing His prayer, Jesus left with His disciples and crossed the Kidron valley. Here, there was a garden where Jesus would often meet with His disciples. Judas, who knew about this place, brought with him the chief priests and Pharisees, along with a detachment of soldiers to the garden where Jesus and the disciples had gathered. The soldiers were brought to stop a possible riot that could ensue when the Pharisees and chief priests arrested Jesus. They were armed with weapons and carried torches and lanterns perhaps to correctly identify the rogue Rabbi in the dark of the night. Jesus asked them who is it that they wanted. To which they replied “Jesus of Nazareth”.
When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.John 18:6
As soon as Jesus said I am He, they fell to the ground. Such was their hatred for Jesus that even a supernatural intervention from God did not deter them from their mission to hang Jesus on the cross. Jesus asked the Pharisees and the chief priests the reason for their late-night arrest as they could have easily arrested him openly in broad daylight when He was teaching in their synagogues and in their crowded market places. The Pharisees did not respond to Jesus but it was obvious that they wanted to save face with the Jews who had already started putting their faith in Jesus.
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear.John 18:10
Peter’s exuberance is puzzling as in just a short while he denies even knowing Jesus when being confronted by the relative of the very same man whose ear he had cut off. In the Gospel of Luke, we read Jesus preparing His disciples for every eventuality and asking them to carry swords. Peter perhaps misinterpreted Jesus’ metaphor to buy a sword as His desire to retaliate when being captured. But Peter misunderstood Jesus’ statement as He was only warning His disciples about the upcoming persecution that they would face and that it would be better to carry a sword along with all other necessities.
Anything that hinders the plan of God is the human mind, guided by the devil. Anything that accomplishes the purpose of God is the human mind but led by the Holy Spirit. God revealed the sufferings that Paul had to undergo at Jerusalem through Prophet Agabus. But his companion tried to stop him from going to Jerusalem. By the grace of God, Paul determined to fulfil the will of God said
“Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”Acts 21:13
We have been given the word of God which is our double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). But often, like Peter, we also misinterpret the meaning of His word. We use our swords to win arguments with our fellow believers and even secular friends. We feel that God has given us His word as our sword so that we can defend Him and His name. If we see that His name is being tarnished we immediately draw our sword and get into heated arguments with our fellow beings and even start to hate them. Jesus did not ask Peter to carry the sword for cutting someone’s ear off and Jesus did not give us His word for us to give someone an earful. Such confrontations do not depict the love of Christ but only sows seeds of hatred in our hearts.
Peter again reveals his immaturity by acting in this rash way and interfering in the cup that God had chosen for Jesus. This has happened before also when Peter in his overzealousness rebuked Jesus when He spoke about this very day as He would be captured and hung on the cross. And that time Jesus compared Peter to satan and commanded him to get behind him and not prevent Him from completing His Father’s work. In the same way, Jesus sets the actions of Peter aside and heals the servant’s ears so that the men can proceed with their mission.
A Case of Two High Priests
They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.John 18:12-14
While it was Caiaphas who had prophesied about Jesus’ death (John 11:49-51) (although he did not know the meaning of the word he spoke), the chief priests and the Pharisees first took Jesus to the house of Annas, the former high priest. Annas was deposed as the high priest by the Romans almost two decades ago. But the Jewish laws considered the position of the high priest to be a lifetime appointment. The detachment that was sent to capture Jesus was probably authorised by Annas and that is the reason why they probably took Jesus to his place first. Both men were trying their best to please their people but it was only one of them that was their high priest. Seeing that God used Caiaphas to prophesy regarding His redemption plan for the world (John 11:49-51), it is clear that the mantle had been passed to the new High Priest. People always want to hold on to their leaders because of their sentimental attachment to them and do not realise that the purpose of God is accomplished through the next generation.
Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.John 18:19
During His ministry, Jesus was constantly bombarded with countless questions to judge His legitimacy and His loyalty to the Jewish community. The Pharisees were slowly building up their case against Him as Jesus did not fit their mould and was causing trouble for them by educating the common folks about the heart of God. This trial was just a formality as they had already made up their minds to kill Jesus. But being the self-preserving hypocrites that they were, they did not want to cause an upheaval by killing another man sent from God. If John the baptist would have been stoned by the Jewish leaders instead of being killed by Herod, surely there would have been nationwide revolts. Similarly, the Jewish leaders wanted to avoid the fallout and have the Roman government do their dirty work. Hence, they were trying to gather evidence of sedition against Jesus that they would then take before Pilate to have an airtight case against Jesus.
Ritualistically Clean, Morally Corrupt
Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.John 18:28
It will be weird to us if a political leader fulfils all his election manifestos. If he did not evoke his manifestos, then it attributes to their trait. Likewise, the Pharisees have contradicted their religious teachings and kept up their traits to become the best leaders ever. It is not weird at all that they would behave in this hypocritical way.
It is ironic that they would celebrate by eating the Passover meal that day as they did not recognise the Passover Lamb that God was providing for them and their sins. It was like Abraham finding the ram in the bushes only to still stab his son on the altar in order to fulfil his commitment to God. The Pharisees became the upholders of traditions and manmade festivals rather than the observers of the law. This is exactly what Jesus pointed out when He criticised their hypocrisy in ruling the people with an iron fist without having an understanding of the law.
As the governor of the region, Pilate also had a responsibility to maintain harmony in the land. He did not want to revolt at his hands by killing an innocent man who was adored by the masses. There was another aspect to his reluctance which we know because of Matthew’s account. His wife had told him about Jesus’ innocence as she had suffered through nightmares about Him. Pilate did not know what to make of it but knew that he did not have a straightforward case on his hands.
Our Expections from the Messiah
But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”John 18:39-40
They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.
The Jewish expectations from the Messiah were vastly different from what Jesus brought to the table. They expected freedom, not from the clutches of sin and its wages, but from the Roman government and their taxes. The picture of Jesus, the servant king, riding humbly on a donkey didn’t fit the bill for what they had come to expect from the promised Messiah. By this time, countless seditious groups were also trying their best to cause an uprising against the Roman government. Even among Jesus’ disciples, members of such groups were present. That is why perhaps the Jews expected the dethronement of the Roman government as the final sign through which Jesus would prove himself.
God sent His Son to die on the cross and to buy back the freedom of His people but the people had other plans. The Jewish faith was shifting away from God and was being misplaced on zealots like Barabbas. In that moment, the Jews rejected the gift from God in exchange for a freedom fighter and for temporary peace. We also have our own expectations of how God should help us. What we do not realise is while we are focusing on the problem in front of us, God is working on clearing our paths ten steps ahead of us. Let us not reject His gift and blindly hold on to our expectations from Him.
V11: What has taken over Peter?
V14: Why did they not take Jesus directly to the High Priest Caiaphas but to his father-in-law first?
V19: What is the purpose of this interrogation if they already have made up their minds about him?
V28: Is it strange that the Pharisees believe that entering the palace of a Gentile will make them unclean but murdering a man of God won’t?
V31: Why is Pilate reluctant to crucify Jesus?
V39: Why did the Jews want the release of a convicted terrorist over the non-violent travelling healer?