From: Busy Person’s Guide to John 11 to 21 Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2019
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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:
Quickly Understanding John
(Volume 2: Chapters 16 to 18)
Jesus Warns Them of Coming Persecution So They Will Be Prepared for It When It Occurs (John 16:1-4): 1 “I have told you all these things so that you will not fall away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogue, yet a time is coming when the one who kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 They will do these things because they have not known the Father or me. 4 But I have told you these things so that when their time comes, you will remember that I told you about them. I did not tell you these things from the beginning because I was with you.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
16:1 “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. Jesus had already warned them of the coming dangers (-23) and here He explains why: so that when they occurred they would not “stumble” in their discipleship. However much animosity they had endured previously, the main target was always Jesus; now it would be aimed clearly and unquestionably at them personally.
“Stumble” implies losing one’s balance and being in danger of falling--with the implication of falling away from the truths, loyalty, and dedication they had previously known. Hence some translations render along the line of “turn away” (CEV), “give up your faith” (GNT), and “lose your faith” (GW).
16:2 They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. It was unquestionable that they would pay a stiff price for continued loyalty. They would be kicked out of synagogues when their loyalties became known. (Disciples were already being treated that way: John ; ). Some would think that even killing them represented a kind of “service” for God.
are doing this out of a misled sense of loyalty to God, the suggestion of some
commentators that “offers God service” carries the idea of providing the
equivalent of a temporal “sacrifice” to God has an appeal. To them it is as “devout” an offering to God
as if they had offered an animal in the
The ancient Syriac and Gothic translations explicitly use that imagery in their renderings: “ ‘The time shall come when the killing you will be thought a part of the worship of God, and equally meritorious and acceptable with the offering of sacrifices.’ Archbishop Leighton’s observation on the passage is, that ‘the servants of Christ should be considered not only as sheep for the slaughter, but as sheep for the altar too.’ ” (Benson Commentary)
“A Rabbinic comment on Numbers 25:13 is, ‘Whosoever sheddeth the blood of the wicked is as he who offereth sacrifice.’ The martyrdom of Stephen, or Paul’s account of himself as a persecutor (Acts 26:9; Galatians -14), shows how these words were fulfilled in the first years of the Church’s history, and such accounts are not absent from that history’s latest page.” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)
16:3 And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. Such behavior would grow out of their fundamental failure to “know” (= understand, grasp, embrace) either the Father or the Divine Son. Today we would say they would become “collateral damage” because nothing could be done against their real target since Jesus was no longer on the earth.
Within their own intellectual limits such persecutors might even be sincere. But that would not change in the least the fact that what they are doing is evil and that it furthers Satan’s agenda and not that of God.
16:4 But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you. It is true that Jesus had previously warned them that life threatening dangers would come to them because of their loyalty (Matthew -26). It is quite likely that they had interpreted those teachings as ones to be fulfilled while Jesus was still on earth with them. Where they would have His presence to reassure and guide them. Indeed here He tells them that He had declined to press such matters as hard as He could have for that very reason--because “I was with you.” He was there to personally encourage them whatever happened. But that is about to change and they need these points reinforced so they will not panic. “Forewarned is forearmed.”
Even Though It Saddened Them to Hear He Was Leaving, There Was Still an Important Gain to Come—They Would Be Able to Receive the Holy Spirit, Who Would Provide Them a Complete Revelation of the Divine Will (John 16:5-15): 5 “But now I am going to the one who sent me, and not one of you is asking me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Instead your hearts are filled with sadness because I have said these things to you.
7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment— 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come.
14 “He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. 15 Everything that the Father has is mine; that is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. --New English Translation (for comparison)
16:5 “But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ Although Jesus was departing none of them felt comfortable in pursuing and insisting upon an answer as to where it would be. Since the question itself had already been asked in passing ( and 14:5), the emphasis here seems to be on the lack of persistence in seeking a more detailed answer. The Pulpit Commentary offers this alternative explanation: “Peter’s question (13:36) had obviously turned the whole matter back upon himself, and the way in which the Lord’s departure affected his own duties and position; and the same may be said of Thomas (14:5). They had both lost sight of the ‘whither’ in the pain and anguish of the departure. Our Lord had great difficulty in inducing them to realize the blessedness that would befall themselves from His own exaltation, and even now, after all that He had said about this great power and glory which awaited him. . . .”
16:6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Even though they weren’t quite sure where He was heading, the ominous overtones that were inherent in the prediction produced an emotional backlash in the “sorrow” that had overcome them. Past separations--such as their being sent out to share the joy of the coming kingdom (Luke 9:1-6)--were temporary and they knew they would be back with Jesus in a limited amount of time. Here there was no indication that the separation would be relatively brief; “sorrow” was the inevitable result. They were concentrating on their loss and it drove out all other thoughts. Hence He promptly stresses that they need to center on their gain. . . .
16:7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. However much it might disturb them, there was an “advantage” to Jesus leaving (“benefit,” Holman; “best for you,” CEV): only by doing so would the Helper be sent to them. Jesus personally would not be there, but the Holy Spirit would continue His work by helping them and encouraging them in their spiritual insight and actions.
16:8 And when He has come, He
will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: The divine Helper would teach
about three broad areas: (1) “sin,” (2)
“righteousness” (= how to be counted right with God and what constituted truly
moral behavior), and (3) the coming “judgment” all would face for their earthly
actions. The Greek for “convict” also
covers the related ideas of “expose” and “reprove.” The Spirit will expose what is really sin
(even when it contradicts secular delusions), will “reprove” (criticize and
condemn no matter who is doing it) and will “convict” (declare us guilty if we
practice such acts). All are sinners not
because they simply exist but because of how they act and think. The Final Judgment is not in the Spirit’s
hands; but if we listen and heed what the Spirit has taught, then the
“disposition of our case” on that great day will be one that will please us.
16:9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me; The Helper Spirit would teach of sin because the world was guilty of the sin of disbelief in Christ. Not to mention a wide variety of corrupt and bent behavior. It needed instruction on both subjects. Truth be told, most of the world was neck deep in self-destruction before Jesus even arrived to show a way out for both Jew and Gentile alike. Far too many people refused to believe in Jesus and what He had to say; through the teaching of the Spirit they would have a second chance to set their lives right.
Sidebar: For the Spirit inspired message rebuking those who passively allowed the crucifixion to occur (even if they were not actively involved) see Acts 2:1-4, 34-38.
In regard to the fact that the Spirit also inspired the moral teaching of the apostles as well, this can be seen in the fact that what they taught will be our standard of judgment: “God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel” (Romans 2:16). Paul also speaks of how “my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ” were based on “the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest” (Romans -26).
16:10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; The Spirit would have to instruct them in varied aspects of right behavior because Jesus would be no longer there to tell them what they needed to know. This would be especially true as they had to deal with the new experiences of taking a pagan world their redemptive message. The challenges could be deep even when dealing within the cultural confines they were raised in; they would be even greater when they stepped beyond these and dealt with those with thoroughly different roots.
of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. Some of these judgments had already begun: By rejecting Jesus the “ruler” of our world (= Satan) had been judged defective and condemned. Rabbinic Jewish thought spoke of the “world” as the Gentile world and its “ruler” as the Devil; in contrast their Jewish one was under the rule of God. But in insisting upon the unjustified death of Jesus, they proved that both “worlds” were under the same Satanic influence.
Divine judgments in the current life are inevitable for us mortals as well; the only question is when and in what form we will encounter them. Not to mention the Final Judgment in which this world will be rolled up like a well used scroll and its inhabitants evaluated on the basis of their personal behavior.
“I still have many things to say to you, but you
cannot bear them now. Such
future teaching was essential because Jesus still had “many things” He
wanted to convey to them but they were not in the right frame of mind to be
able to “bear them now” while He still remained. “They are
His friends (John 15:[14-]15), and there is nothing
which He wishes to keep back from them; He would give them His entire
confidence. But it would be useless to
tell them what they cannot understand; cruel to impart knowledge which would
only crush them. ‘Now’ is emphatic: at Pentecost they will receive both
understanding and strength. The word
here used for ‘bear’ appears again in John 19:17 of Christ bearing
the Cross.” (
High on the list of “hard things” for them to bear at the moment would be their (now still unexpected) work among Gentiles--men and women with very different social customs and behaviors--ones that would tax their emotional resources considerably: They would have to learn to distinguish between what can be embraced, what should be handled with caution and precaution, and what can only be rejected. They knew this already about the culture in which they moved, but not about the broader world. Hand-in-hand with this would be the startling concept that henceforth being “God’s people” would have nothing to do with ethnicity and ancestry, but solely with consistently obeying the Lord’s will.
16:13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. The Holy Spirit would complete the teaching that Jesus had only begun; the Spirit would guide the apostles into “all truth.” The reason He would be able to do this lay in the fact that He would not invent teaching on His own initiative, but would strictly teach that which He had been given to share. That included predictions of future events--but note that this is presented as a virtual “add on” to the sentence; the central thrust of the Spirit’s teaching was to be about other matters--matters of the “here and now:” moral integrity, new spiritual insights they needed to learn, and the most constructive ways to function in an expanded church that would encompass those with no Jewish roots at all. There are some things we simply can’t handle without someone to “guide” us: The same Greek word is used in regard to the Ethiopian eunuch recognizing he needed help in understanding Old Testament prophecy (Acts 8:31).
He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. The Spirit would give “glory” (= honor and praise) to Jesus by taking of His teaching to share with the apostles. The Spirit’s role emphatically was not that of invention or teaching that which was contrary to Jesus’ own message. He would complement it; not contradict it.
Jesus has already spoken of how they had not heard all that needed to be heard (verse 12); the rest was what God had reserved for the Spirit to reveal to them rather than Jesus personally. Hence the relevance of 1 Corinthians 2:10 to this principle: “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.” Or if you wish a more colloquial rendering that brings out the point well, “God has shown these things to us by his Spirit. The Spirit understands everything, even the things that God has kept secret” (Worldwide English New Testament). These verses have obvious direct relevance to the next verse as well.
All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. All the teaching Jesus would give to the Spirit came from the Father. Hence both Son and Spirit functioned as faithful and reliable “relayers” of the Divine will. They all shared the Divine truth; they did not invent it.
“It should be noted that in these verses (14 and 15) there is an implication of the following doctrinal truths. They are implied, let us remember, in the words of our Lord Himself, and that they are implied and not stated increases the force of their meaning:—(1) The divinity of the Son: ‘He shall glorify Me;’ ‘All things that the Father hath are Mine.’ (2) The personality of the Holy Ghost: ‘He shall receive of Mine.’ . . . (3) The Trinity in Unity, and Unity in Trinity: ‘the Father;’ ‘I;’ ‘He.’ ” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)
Jesus’ Departure from Them Would Sadden Them, But It Would Ultimately Produce Great Joy for Them As Well (John 16:16-24): 16 In a little while you will see me no longer; again after a little while, you will see me.” 17 Then some of his disciples said to one another, “What is the meaning of what he is saying, ‘In a little while you will not see me; again after a little while, you will see me,’ and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they kept on repeating, “What is the meaning of what he says, ‘In a little while’? We do not understand what he is talking about.”
19 Jesus could see that they wanted to ask him about these things, so he said to them, “Are you asking each other about this—that I said, ‘In a little while you will not see me; again after a little while, you will see me’? 20 I tell you the solemn truth, you will weep and wail, but the world will rejoice; you will be sad, but your sadness will turn into joy.
21 “When a woman gives birth, she has distress because her time has come, but when her child is born, she no longer remembers the suffering because of her joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.
23 “At that time you will ask me nothing. I tell you the solemn truth, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive it, so that your joy may be complete.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” Once again Jesus returned to the theme that in a short time they would no longer see Him. (He would be crucified the next day.) But the death caused separation would only involve a short duration (a “little while” = three days in the tomb). Afterwards would be the resurrection and ascension to the Father and then they would see Him during a period lasting forty days. Then would come the Ascension recorded in Acts 1 and the last time they would ever see Him on earth. In contrast, for the unbelieving world there would be no second opportunity at all: “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me” (John )
-18 Then some of His disciples said among themselves, “What is this that He says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” 18 They said therefore, “What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is saying.’ ” Certain of the disciples discussed among themselves what Jesus meant by the temporary departure and the equally strange assertion that, while away, He would “go to the Father.” Would we have done any better if we had lived then and been in their shoes? Hardly likely! Yet none of them had the courage to outright ask the Lord for the answer (verse 19). Perhaps they dreaded that their worst imagination might not be as extreme as the actual reality would be.
Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, “Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’? Knowing that they “desired” to ask this question—though they ran from doing so directly—Jesus forced them to confront the matter by enquiring as to whether they were discussing it. Of course, He could have said “I know you were talking about this,” but the indirect approach put them on the spot and forced them to be aware (yet again) that He was conscious of thoughts they had not even taken the time to share with Him.
Sidebar: Jesus could know whatever He needed miraculously if He wished or needed to, but this is one of those cases where He seems to have known simply by the way the apostles were acting and conspicuously avoiding asking Him what--logically--would be the appropriate follow up questions. John 5:6 and have been suggested as additional cases of this phenomena.
16:20 Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. He elaborated on His previous remarks to this extent: the time was soon coming when they would “lament” and the world “rejoice.” Yet thereafter, the world’s pride in triumph over Jesus would turn to sorrow as His cause not only did not vanish but actually prospered. Their own sorrow—at Jesus’ death—would quickly turn “into [thoroughly unexpected] joy” through the resurrection. Neither they nor their opponents expected this scenario to occur--but it would nonetheless.
A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. He assured them that even if their pain were as severe as that of a woman giving birth, that when it was all over they would forget the anguish in the triumph of joy. What began as despair would be transformed into jubilation.
This childbirth imagery is “a common Old Testament image of sorrow issuing in joy. See Isaiah 21:3; 26:17; 66:7; Hosea 13:13; Micah 4:9-10.” (Vincent’s Word Studies)
Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. When He saw them again they would gain a joy that no one and nothing would ever be able to steal from them again. They might have good times and bad times, but through it all they would triumphantly recognize that their Lord had conquered death.
“And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. When that day arrived that Jesus left earth permanently, they would be able to ask in prayer whatever they wished of the Father and He would freely grant it. Jesus would no longer be present to help them as in the past, but the Father would be just as desirous of their welfare and well being.
Sidebar: “The word αιτησητε, rendered, ye shall ask, in this latter clause, is different from that used in the former, and properly signifies, to present a request, as the other word does to make inquiry, or ask questions.” (Benson Commentary)
Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. Prior to this they had asked nothing in prayer “in My name;” they had simply addressed God directly without invoking the authority of Jesus in their petitions. In the future they both could and should do so. Both as His disciples and because after the resurrection He would be “Lord of Lord and King of Kings”--per the Father’s plan. Invoking the fact that you were praying according to what He wished was a way of saying “I realize these are the kind of things He would have me pray.” This would cause their joy to increase and “be full” as their various prayers were then granted.
Jesus Promises That the Day Is Coming When He Will Explain Things to Them in Straightforward Language and Not in the Obscure Expressions He Was Currently Using (John -33): 25 “I have told you these things in obscure figures of speech; a time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in obscure figures, but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 At that time you will ask in my name, and I do not say that I will ask the Father on your behalf. 27 For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and entered into the world, but in turn, I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”
29 His disciples said, “Look, now you are speaking plainly and not in obscure figures of speech! 30 Now we know that you know everything and do not need anyone to ask you anything. Because of this we believe that you have come from God.”
31 Jesus replied, “Do you now believe? 32 Look, a time is coming—and has come—when you will be scattered, each one to his own home, and I will be left alone. Yet I am not alone, because my Father is with me. 33 I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage—I have conquered the world.”
--New English Translation (for comparison)
16:25 “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. Jesus conceded that He had been speaking in non-literal language but that the time was coming when such obscurity would be removed. At that point, He would speak frankly and “plainly about the Father”--in a way that they would clearly grasp what was being driven at. In its fullness and completeness.
There has been considerable controversy about how much “these things” cover. Some begin it at verse 19; others push it as far back as beginning at 15:1. He is clearly speaking of a period of invoking this kind of language. There were, however, other precedents for doing so: There was language that the audience in general did not understand but the apostles did (Matthew ) and others, even in this gospel, that went “over the head” of the apostles themselves (John ).
Sidebar: The connotation of “figurative language” (“figures of speech,” ESV; “figurative language,” NASB; “proverbs,” KJV) is aptly defined by the Pulpit Commentary: “παροιμίαι, condensed word-utterances, in which words stood for higher things than in their ordinary usage.”
16:26 In that
day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the
Father for you; That would
be the time when they would no longer need Jesus’ prayers on their behalf. Because of their great trust and reliance
upon the Lord this had to be more than a little startling so He immediately
explains why this would be the case--the all encompassing “love” God had for
them made it no longer necessary (verse 27).
They had vindicated their loyalty and the Father would never forget it.
Sidebar: In a very real sense we might ask how else--logically--could it be than that the prayers would cease? Jesus prayed to God because He was on earth and the Father was in heaven; after His ascension He would also be in Heaven. Anything that needed to be said could be said “face to face.” There would not be silence, but intervention.
Hence we find Jesus being described as being “even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Romans ). “He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews ). “We have an advocate with the Father” when we sin (1 John 2:1). Our interests are fully protected. So long as we remain faithful, might we call the Lord “our defense lawyer in heaven”?
for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. They had manifested love and loyalty to Jesus during His personal ministry and already accepted that the Father had provided to Him His earthly mission and goals. In other words, they had laid the foundation where they could take their own prayers to God. The personal impediments had been removed. They had fully embraced the Lord’s cause.
I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” Just as He had entered the world “from the Father,” it was time for Jesus to “leave the world” and return to Him. He was never intended to stay on earth indefinitely or permanently. Hence it was essential for His earthly ministry to come to an end. As the Messianic King, He would reign eternally--but from a heavenly throne and not an earthly one.
His disciples said to Him, “See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! Although still not quite explicit--because the sometimes horrifying details of betrayal and crucifixion are omitted--it was still clearly far more so than anything He had said earlier in this discussion. Hence they speak of how He is now “speaking plainly” and avoiding the “figure[s] of speech” that had confused them. He was now talking in language where they could grasp the point being made.
Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.” His abandoning obscurity for (at least relative) clarity assured them that He had indeed come from God. A polite way of saying that the ambiguous rhetoric that only made sense afterwards simply did not represent the kind of language that they expected from a true prophet of God.
Clearly they would not have appreciated the later Gnostic virtual equating of obscure teaching with truth! To them truth went best with clarity and preciseness. But though that is true, there are times when the listener is not prepared to deal with painful and difficult subjects that fly in the face of their assumptions. Especially if their assumptions are erroneous--as Messianic thinking of the time was in its earthly monarch assertions.
Barnes’ Notes suggests a different but overlapping explanation: “When, by His answers to them (verses 20-28), He showed that He clearly understood their doubts; and when He gave them an answer so satisfactory without their having inquired of Him, it satisfied them that He knew the heart, and that He assuredly came from God. They were convinced that there was ‘no need that any man should ask Him,’ or propose His difficulties to Him, since He knew them all and could answer them.”
Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Rhetorically, Jesus asked whether this was really true. In one sense it certainly was. But He also knew (though they didn’t) just how emotionally and spiritually challenging the next 24 hours would be to them. Since they clearly did not, He is determined to provide a forewarning (verse 32). It wouldn’t stop their horrified reactions, but it would eventually give them solace that even on this painful topic the Lord was far more aware of how things would work out than they.
16:32 Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. It has clearly not dawned on them that anything could happen to Jesus that would be so startling and shocking that they would be “scattered” in flight from what was happening. They saw themselves as the proverbial “steadfast warriors” for the Lord--not realizing that even a stout soul has a breaking point.
Sidebar: The image of being innocent yet abandoned is one that those familiar with the Psalms would recall: “Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness; I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.” (69:20). Zechariah 13:7 had spoken of such abandonment happening to the Messiah: “Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” The purpose of these forewarnings and encouragements was to assure their ultimate peace of mind. Temporally, the future would unquestionably bring them “tribulation” and difficulty because of their continuing loyalty to the Lord. Even so they would be able to look back at Jesus and recognize that He had “overcome the world” in spite of all the pain and anguish that came His way. Providing conclusive evidence that they could as well--for His example had proved it was possible for the innocent to triumph over injustice and oppression. Indeed through Jesus’ victory theirs was assured.
Jesus Asks the Father to “Glorify” Him As He Himself Had Done the Father (John 17:1-5): 1 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he looked upward to heaven and said, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify you— 2 just as you have given him authority over all humanity, so that he may give eternal life to everyone you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life—that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.
4 “I glorified you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory I had with you before the world was created.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
17:1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount are often, misleadingly, called “the Lord’s Prayer.” That, however, was an instructional guideline for disciples. Here we encounter the text of an actual prayer of His own and the many omissions of elements found in the Matthewean prayer are obvious. Hence prayer can properly vary from time to time and place to place according to the needs of the moment and the identity of the prayer. The immediate purpose of the prayer in John 17 is to reassure the apostles and to pray on their behalf because of the coming crisis they were all going to face. In that context, mention of daily food and such like is obviously not required.
Jesus began with the petition that God might “glorify” Him so that He might do the same for the Father. This restoration of His own “glory” would occur after the resurrection. Then He would be fully restored to the nature He had in heaven before first coming to earth (verse 5). The glorification would also include His being crowned King of Kings and Lords of Lords after His resurrection (Acts -33).
17:2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. God had given the Son supreme authority over the human race: “all flesh” rather than some. Although the apostles surely did not think of it at the time, no mention is made of either gender or ethnicity; hence, logically, Jesus is claiming a world wide and universal power. The apostles’ sharing His message throughout the world grew out of this wide ranging supremacy (Matthew 28:18-20).
Within the scope of His authority is that of providing “eternal life” (= our ultimate redemption). Why then can anyone seriously believe that it can be obtained without meeting the Lord’s criteria? Hence the Lord has “given” Jesus all who are willing to be obedient to that Divine Law. “No one else need apply.”
17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. The preconditions for “eternal life” were rooted in recognition of God as the one and true deity and Jesus Christ as the One whom God had specially sent to earth. With that comes the concept that Jesus was specially commissioned by the Father and that anyone who claims to “listen to God” had better listen, heed, and obey what Jesus instructed or the claim is proved to be nothing but empty words.
The first assertion (“the only true God”) was a critique of Gentiles and one totally meaningless to Jews for they already embraced that truth. The second assertion (Jesus’ unique mission from the Father) would be the direct challenge to both groups of sinful earthlings.
17:4 I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. Throughout His ministry, Jesus labored in word and action to “glorify” (= honor and praise) God in act and doctrine: Nothing was done or said that did not meet that criteria of “glorification.” That work of revelation and teaching was now completed. Things could now move to the final stage--His own sacrificial death.
17:5 And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. In spite of all the earthly respect and deference that Jesus sometimes received, what He had in heaven was vastly superior. There He had a “glory” (honor, recognition, very nature) that neither would nor could ever be equaled or matched on earth.
“Glory” must surely be taken as carrying with it the idea of His own supernaturalness and deityship since the idea of His eternal existence is clearly asserted: “I had with You before the world was,” i.e., even prior to the creation account in Genesis 1. This recalls the introductory words to this gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:1-3). Both “separateness” from the Father and yet a matching Deityship are clearly asserted. Or as Paul put it, though “being in the form of God, [He] did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Philippians 2:6).
Jesus Prays for the Spiritual Well Being of His Apostles After He Has Returned to the Father (John 17:6-19): 6 “I have revealed your name to the men you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they understand that everything you have given me comes from you, 8 because I have given them the words you have given me. They accepted them and really understand that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying on behalf of them. I am not praying on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those you have given me, because they belong to you. 10 Everything I have belongs to you, and everything you have belongs to me, and I have been glorified by them.
11 “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one. 12 When I was with them I kept them safe and watched over them in your name that you have given me. Not one of them was lost except the one destined for destruction, so that the scripture could be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I am saying these things in the world, so they may experience my joy completed in themselves.
14 “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but that you keep them safe from the evil one.
16 “They do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Set them apart in the truth; your word is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. 19 And I set myself apart on their behalf, so that they too may be truly set apart.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
17:6 “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Since they “have kept Your word,” it is only natural to take the fact that Jesus “manifested” to the apostles God’s “name” as carrying the connotation that this was done through His teaching and instruction about what God now desired from the human race. As Creator, He had the inherent right to create such criteria and demand conformity to it. And it was Jesus’ goal for mankind that it embrace those requirements.
“He says here, ‘Thy word,’ not ‘My word,’ because the thought of these verses (verses 6-8) is that they were originally and were still the Father’s. They had been given to the Son, but this was only the completion of the revelation of the Father to them. Christ’s word was that of the Father who sent Him. (Compare John ; -49.)” [Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)
17:7 Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. Unlike His critics in the contemporary religious “establishment,” His apostles had rightly come to the firm conclusion that all the teaching He gave came from the Father (John ). For that matter all the miracles He worked did as well (John )--none of them coming from any earthly or demonic source. They had seen enough of Him to fully recognize that there was no “hidden evil side” to Him in either doctrine or practice. What could be found to (unjustly) criticize at all, He avowed quite obviously rather than hide it.
17:8 For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. Jesus had shared with the disciples that message (“the words”) which God had provided Him to teach and, in response, the apostles had recognized that He had been sent on a special and unique mission from the Father. Even when His claims may have seemed a tad outlandish to their minds, what else could one believe when He so clearly and repeatedly performed so many miracles?
17:9 “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. Jesus’ prayer this night was centered on the apostles because they were the ones God had “given” Him and they belonged to both of Them. Hence their best interests had to be important to both Jesus and the Father. The surrounding “world” had had its opportunity to join in but had spurned it. They had not been ignored; but they had been openly rejective.
Sidebar: Jesus is not laying down a blanket claim that He never prayed for outsiders. He is describing what He is currently saying in the prayer and what the apostles are hearing. Later in this prayer (verse 21) He indirectly prays for the world as He also does on certain other occasions. “Against any limitation of the prayer of our Lord, see John , 23, and His own prayer for His enemies, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’ (Luke ). Compare also His command to His disciples to pray for ‘them which despitefully used them’ (Matthew ).” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers). His dominant interest is, of course, this committed cadre that He will use to bring thousands of others to discipleship as well. They are present; they need the reassurance in light of what they are about to go through.
And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Not only did the apostles belong to both Father and Son, their attitudes and beliefs “glorified” Jesus as well--gave Him the honor and respect and reverence He was due. This terminology of “dual ownership” by Father and Son is quite logical since Jesus is God’s proxy and representative on earth. What they gave the Son they were simultaneously giving the Father. That the apostles would give such glory is a natural outgrowth of their function on earth as faithful disciples: To testify of God’s will, to bring others to the Lord, and ultimately to prepare His people for the grand consummation of history at the Second Coming.
Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. In a very real sense Jesus was no longer “in the world.” True, He was physically still alive, but not for much longer. His ministry had, effectively, come to an end.
The apostles were going to remain behind and hence He prayed that they might enjoy an unity as close as that enjoyed between Jesus and His Father. The language “refers not to a union of nature, but of feeling, plan, purpose. Any other union between Christians is impossible; but a union of affection is what the Savior sought, and this He desired might be so strong as to be an illustration of the unchanging love between the Father and the Son. See John 17:21-23.” (Barnes’ Notes) That was especially important in the bad times that could and would come.
While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. He had faithfully protected them throughout His ministry. And none had been lost except one and he in order to fulfill the prediction of ancient Scripture. (Someone was going to betray Jesus; it was Judas’ sin that he let that broad “someone” become embodied in himself. Prediction guaranteed that betrayal would unquestionably occur; free will decided which individual would carry it out.)
Sidebar: The label applied to Judas. “The term ‘son of perdition,’ is a well-known Hebrew idiom, by which the lack of qualitative adjectives is supplied by the use of the abstract substantives, which express that quality. A disobedient child is, e.g., ‘a son of disobedience;’ other common instances are ‘children of light,’ ‘children of darkness.’ A ‘son of perdition’ is one in whose nature there is the quality expressed by ‘perdition.’ The phrase is used in Isaiah 57:4 to express the apostacy of the Israelites (in English version, ‘children of transgression’). It occurs once again in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, of the ‘man of sin.’ . . . In the present passage it is difficult to express the meaning in English, because we have no verb of the same root as the abstract substantive ‘perdition,’ and no abstract substantive of the same root as the verb ‘perish.’ No exact translation can therefore give in English the point of our Lord’s words, ‘And none of them perished except him whose nature it was to perish.’ ” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers) Other efforts to translate the idiom: “the one doomed to destruction” (NIV); “the one destined for destruction” (NET).
But now I come to You, and
these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in
themselves. Jesus spoke this
prayer in order that His own joy might find completeness in the apostles. “The joy
here thought of is that which supported Him in all the sorrow and loneliness of
His work on earth, and came from the never-failing source of the Father’s
presence with Him. (Compare . . . John
16:32.)” (Ellicott’s Commentary for
English Readers) “Christ is praying aloud in order that His words may
comfort them when they remember that He Himself consigned them to His Father’s
keeping. Compare John [And I know that You
always hear Me, but because of the people who are
standing by I said this, that they may believe that You
I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Jesus had fulfilled His duty to provide God’s word to them. Yet the religious world of His land hated the apostles because they were following God’s will rather than the doctrines and practices of the religious status quo. Although those foes were oblivious to it, humanly invented practices and doctrines had taken the place of full loyalty to Jehovah. They defined such loyalty by what their contemporaries decided rather than by conformity with Divine revelation.
17:15 I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. Jesus did not pray for their removal from the temptations and dangers of the world but their protection from evil while in the world. If they were removed from the world, how could they possibly carry out the responsibility to fully share the gospel throughout it (verse 18)? Even so Satan’s power was great and they needed protection from it (cf. John ; ).
They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Their basic mindframe, goals, and aspirations were not those the world shared just as those of Jesus were not. We will share much with the world--a shared history, language, culture. But these spiritual and moral things we will not.
Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. He prayed that the apostles might be set apart to God’s service (“sanctified”) by the Divine truth that lay in God’s revealed “word”--the “word” Jesus had been teaching and sharing with them throughout His earthly ministry. They had been obeying this word previously (verses 6-8) and is was essential for them to continue to do so since through that behavior they continued to be set apart from the unbelieving world.
In other words they were set apart from it by how they believed and acted as 1 Thessalonians 5:23 points out: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Hence sanctification is produced and exhibited in the moral excellence reflected in one’s life. Similarly 1 Corinthians 6:8-10 lists various popular sins (both then and today) and stresses that their being “sanctified” involved separating themselves from such a lifestyle (verse 11).
As You sent Me into the world,
I also have sent them into the world. Jesus
had come into the world on a Divine mission--quite literally, since He left His
home in heaven. In a parallel way, the
apostles were to be sent “into the world”--in their case from their comfortable
spiritual home in geographic
The latter, of course, is the concept underlying the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. Even without that Commission being quoted in this gospel the point seems clearly present both here and in the appearance after the resurrection found in John 20:21: “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Intent can also be deduced from actions: They went; therefore they were sent.
And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. Jesus maintained His own purity not just because it was inherently right, but so that the apostles also would be encouraged to be set apart (“sanctified”) by God’s “truth” as well. In other words, that His behavior might be normative for them as well.
Others suggest that this self-sanctification of the Lord refers to Him consciously setting Himself apart for crucifixion and death, but the point of the verse is not what He is sanctified to do but what He is sanctified by: He specifies “by the truth”--which fits our approach much better. That is, His behavior throughout His life was holy because He continually obeyed God’s law; His prayer for the apostles is that they may also be steadfast in doing the same.
Jesus Expands His Prayer to Include the Well Being of Those the Apostles Convert (John -26): 20 “I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, 21 that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.
22 “The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they can see my glory that you gave me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25 Righteous Father, even if the world does not know you, I know you, and these men know that you sent me. 26 I made known your name to them, and I will continue to make it known, so that the love you have loved me with may be in them, and I may be in them.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; Here were barely over two handfuls of apostles; whatever their strengths, that was still a small number. Yet even though they were so few, the disciples they would attract to the Jesus movement would be immense. Hence the need to pray not just for them but for whoever later chose to believe in Jesus due to their preaching and teaching.
Sidebar: Some translations, adopting a different Greek text, render it “who believe” rather than “who will believe,” thereby making it a plea for the broader believing community that had already begun to exist as well. We know, for example, that there were roughly 120 in Jerusalem when the apostles chose a substitute for Judas less than two months later (Acts 1:15) and they were surely already believers at this earlier date. What already “is” in miniature represents all the vastness that will ultimately grow out of this humble beginning.
17:21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. What Jesus prayed for both the apostles and those they converted was that they would be united together justly as firmly as Jesus and the Father themselves were. This would encourage yet others in the surrounding world to embrace belief in Jesus’ Divine mission.
“Christians are all redeemed by the same blood, and are going to the same heaven. They have the same wants, the same enemies, the same joys. . . There are no ties so tender as those which bind us in the gospel. There is no friendship so pure and enduring as that which results from having the same attachment to the Lord Jesus. . . . On the ground of this union they are exhorted to love one another, to bear one another's burdens, and to study the things that make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another, Ephesians 4:3; Romans 12:5-16.” (Barnes’ Notes)
17:22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: Jesus had received a “glory” from God and He had shared it with the apostles to help them stay united. He does not tell us what glory He has specifically in mind. There is, however, an inherent “glory” (= honor) in faithfully serving--by being united with Him by obeying the truth; by conforming ourselves to it (verses 17, 19). Unity with God is thereby maintained.
Our “glory” consists of all of us being united with Jesus in obeying the Father’s will. And treating each other right while doing so. How many times Jesus could have given them a tongue lashing if He had desired to! Yet He resorted to strong words with His disciples only as the last resort--not verbal “brass knuckles” at just minor annoyances!
Hence to take this idea a little further, this “glory” could easily be the shared honor and respect that comes from visibly doing what one knows is the right thing to do and not being needlessly divisive with others trying to meet the same standard. Jesus had set this example in His own life and they were to do the same.
17:23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. This unity based upon the divine oneness would encourage the world not only to believe in Jesus but also to believe that God shared with them the deep love He had toward His Son as well. In other words this unity was not merely urged for utilitarian purposes but because it was the means to give greater honor to God Himself.
“It is worthy of remark here how entirely the union of his people occupied the mind of Jesus as he drew near to death. He saw the danger of strifes and contentions in the church. He knew the imperfections of even the best of men. He saw how prone they would be to passion and ambition; how ready to mistake love of sect or party for zeal for pure religion; how selfish and worldly men in the church might divide His followers, and produce unholy feeling and contention; and He saw, also, how much this would do to dishonor religion.” (Barnes’ Notes)
17:24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. Jesus prayed that the day would come when they would share in heaven with Him the sight of His pre-earthly “glory.” What they had and could see now was but a shadow of the fullness that mere earthly eyes could not comprehend. Then “we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Indeed He was leaving, in part, “to prepare a place for you;” this implied that He would ultimately return with the purpose of bringing them to it (John 14:2-3).
O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. The world had not “known” (= understood, accepted) God but Jesus had and, in the reverse of the world, the apostles had fully “known” that Jesus had been sent to earth by His Father. To the world, the idea was beyond comprehension (= acceptance); to the apostles it was the very opposite, beyond challenge.
And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus would continue to declare God’s “name” to them and all that it stood for so that the Divine love that was already in Jesus might also be in them. Knowledge and love walk hand in hand. The greater the knowledge, the greater the love. The greater the love, the greater the knowledge. Each reinforcing the other.
Jesus Arrested in the Garden After
Judas Leads Them to Him (John 18:1-11): 1 When he had said these
things, Jesus went out with his disciples across the
4 Then Jesus, because he knew everything that was going to happen to him, came and asked them, “Who are you looking for?” 5 They replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He told them, “I am he.” (Now Judas, the one who betrayed him, was standing there with them.) 6 So when Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they retreated and fell to the ground.
7 Then Jesus asked them again, “Who are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” 8 Jesus replied, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, let these men go.” 9 He said this to fulfill the word he had spoken, “I have not lost a single one of those whom you gave me.”
10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, pulled it out and struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his right ear . (Now the slave’s name was Malchus.) 11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath! Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” --New English Translation (for comparison)
18:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over
the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He
and His disciples entered. After
the prayer in the previous chapter, Jesus went with the apostles to a
It seems far wiser to take as meaning “prepare to leave” and that the actual departure is delayed by the extra things He has to say first. “A party of twelve could not conveniently talk together on the street.” (Expositor’s Greek Testament) And these were words Jesus wanted to assure they all heard and paid attention to. That was far easier while still within the upper room.
Sidebar on the role in Israelite history of the brook Kidron and its surrounding geography: “The Kidron is the brook over which David passed, barefoot and weeping, when fleeing from Absalom (2 Samuel -30). There King Asa burned the obscene idol of his mother (1 Kings ). It was the receptacle for the impurities and abominations of idol-worship, when removed from the temple by the adherents of Jehovah (2 Chronicles 29:16); and, in the time of Josiah, was the common cemetery of the city (2 Kings 23:6). In the vision of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 47:5-7) he goes round to the eastern gate of the temple, overhanging the defile of Kidron, and sees the waters rushing down into the valley until the stream becomes a mighty river.” (Vincent’s Word Studies)
Sidebar on the physical description of the Kidron: “The
name is formed from a Hebrew word which means ‘black.’ The torrent was the ‘
18:2 And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples. Jesus had often gone there in the past and therefore Judas was well aware of it. What he would not have been aware of prior to that day, would be rather Jesus planned on returning to that site on the present evening. Without that knowledge he could not be absolutely certain where to lead the arresting party. The fact that Jesus could freely use the location argues that it was owned by a friend or disciple.
18:3 Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. Because of his previous acquaintance with the location, Judas knew where to lead the arresting party of soldiers and religious officials. Being night they carried “lanterns” and “torches.” Passover was the time of a full moon and it could be that the evening was unusually cloudy or that they wanted to be able to check possible hiding places if it became necessary. They were covering all contingencies that might arise. Being an arresting party they quite naturally carried unspecified “weapons” as well. Matthew 26:55 and Mark 14:48 are more specific: “with swords and clubs.”
the types of individuals involved in the arrest: “The other
Gospels tell us of a ‘great multitude’ (Matthew), or a ‘multitude’ (Mark and
Luke). John uses the technical word for
the Roman cohort. It was the garrison
18:4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?” Recognizing what was happening Jesus seized the initiative, approached the crowd, and challenged them with the words, “Who are you seeking?” Hardly the reaction of a guilty individual who, as soon as seeing the mob, would have taken off running in flight!
chronology: “went forth -- From what?
(1) from the shade into the light; (2) from the
circle of disciples; (3) from the depth of the garden; (4) from the garden
itself. It is impossible to say which of
these suggestions is right; the last is not contradicted by John 18:26. The kiss of Judas is by some placed here, by
others after John 18:8.” (
18:5 They answered Him,
18:6 Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. This candor and self-assurance startled them and they moved backward and some even “fell to the ground”--stumbling due to the moving crowd? Awed by the sense of something unique in their experience happening? Some expect the use of Divine power to warn them that this unjust arrest would only take place with Him being willing.
18:7 Then He asked
them again, “Whom are you seeking?” And
they said, “Jesus of
18:8 Jesus answered, “I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way,” What He puts first is a gentle rebuke--that they already knew who He is because He had freely confessed it. Implied: If you are serious in arresting Me, why haven’t you? A thoroughly rational question and one that kept them on the psychological defensive. Making it even more likely that they won’t give trouble over what He asks for next. Here is revealed what is at the heart of His concern: “If it is Me you seek, then let these depart on their own. You have no warrant to do anything to or about them since by your own response you are only authorized to arrest Me.”
18:9 that the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, “Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.” In this intervention was fulfilled His obligation for the welfare and safety of those under His charge. Literally “saving” them from arrest, mistreatment, and quite possible death.
In Jesus’ extended prayer in the previous chapter He had said, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (). He had preserved them throughout His ministry and even now at His arrest.
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. Simon Peter, nearly destroying the opportunity Jesus had made, drew the sword he was carrying and hacked at a servant of the high priest. Omitted from here--but found in Luke 22:49-51--is how Jesus miraculously healed the wounded servant.
The Roman troops do not immediately retaliate. In part surely due to Jesus’ prompt healing of the wound. But also quite possibly because they weren’t at all thrilled at being mustered out of their barracks “in the middle of the night” for this intra-Jewish dispute in the first place. It had only happened to one of the “well deserving” idiots who had caused their unwanted assignment. He wasn’t one of theirs. Rather the servant was part of the Jewish contingent; let them deal with it themselves if they wished!
the impact of this action on whether the Lord’s Supper was established during
an official Passover celebration: This
was “probably one of the two produced in
misunderstanding of Christ’s words at the end of the supper (Luke ). To carry
arms on a feast-day was forbidden; so that we have here some indication that
the Last Supper was not the [official] Passover.” (
So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” Jesus rebuked Peter for his violent intervention. This approaching “cup” of death had to be drunk; His Father had given Him the responsibility. Neither of them might like it, but it was still something that was essential to do. He had the raw power to summon over twelve legions of angels to protect Himself (Matthew 26:52-54)--but that would have been to subvert the purpose of having a sacrificial death to redeem mankind. That goal had to have priority.
The First Place that Jesus Was Taken Was Annas, Former High Priest (and Still Very Influential) and the Father-in-Law of the Current High Priest, Caiaphas (John 18:12-14): 12 Then the squad of soldiers with their commanding officer and the officers of the Jewish leaders arrested Jesus and tied him up. 13 They brought him first to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 (Now it was Caiaphas who had advised the Jewish leaders that it was to their advantage that one man die for the people.) --New English Translation (for comparison)
Then the detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him. Binding a prisoner to assure he did not escape was a quite logical action. They would likely have done this routinely. But anyone considered by their superiors as so potentially dangerous that they needed to be arrested long before sunrise, was one where this treatment would have been regarded as even more important.
And they led Him away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year. Caiaphas, with a heavy overtone of sarcasm, is referred to as the “high priest that year” since the Romans felt free to depose the current occupant whenever they wished. Truth be told, Annas was the legitimate high priest for life and Caiaphas ruled only due to his having been ousted years earlier (14 A.D.) by the Romans.
Hence although Caiaphas had Roman power behind him, it was always wise to be courteous and respectful to the man everyone knew should be occupying the post. We have no way of knowing the kind of relationship Caiaphas had with his father-in-law, but common prudence argued that he provide every appropriate attention to assure it stayed a stable relationship on that grounds as well.
Of what was said or done there at this time, none of the gospels provide us any hint. This would suggest that it had no impact upon what was done in the rest of the hearings. On the other hand, there is no reason to assume any dramatic difference on policy between the two priests either: In Luke 3:2 they are mentioned, together, as high priest; in Acts 4:6 the title is granted by the same author only to Annas though Caiaphas is mentioned as part of his family group. This argues that they more or less routinely had counsel together on matters that might arise before the Sanhedrin, especially those which might be controversial.
Now it was Caiaphas who advised the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people. He had made his own sentiments known by advising his fellow leaders that it was good that one man be sacrificed for the welfare of the nation (). There was regional prejudice involved (Jesus was a Galilean); there was doctrinal hostility (Caiaphas was a believer that there was no survival after physical death); there was intense political fear (that Jesus would voluntarily become a revolutionary or be coerced into it by His followers); there was institutional dread (that the Sanhedrin and even the Temple would be destroyed by angry Romans due to Jesus’ movement).
Peter Denies to the Doorkeeper That He Is a Disciple of Jesus (John -18): 15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed them as they brought Jesus to Annas. (Now the other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, and he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard.) 16 But Simon Peter was left standing outside by the door. So the other disciple who was acquainted with the high priest came out and spoke to the slave girl who watched the door, and brought Peter inside.
17 “The girl who was the doorkeeper said to Peter, “You’re not one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” He replied, “I am not.” 18 (Now the slaves and the guards were standing around a charcoal fire they had made, warming themselves because it was cold. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.)
--New English Translation (for comparison)
And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. Two of the apostles discretely followed the arresting party. The one known by members of the high priest’s household, was quickly permitted into the courtyard of the high priest’s residence itself.
This man is traditionally and reasonably identified as John the apostle. John and Peter had jointly worked on making arrangements for the Passover (Luke 22:8). After the resurrection they are twice mentioned as working together in Jerusalem (Acts 3:1; 4:13) and for being sent together to the Samaritans when word was received that the gospel was being embraced there as well (Acts 8:14).
On the other side of the coin, three times in this book John is identified as “the disciple whom He loved” (; ; ), making this the description we would most anticipate here if he were the apostle under consideration. The only case in which “distancing rhetoric” like in this verse is clearly applied to John, we find that it is immediately followed with that other language as well: “Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved” (20:2).
But Peter stood at the door outside. Then the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to her who kept the door, and brought Peter in. Being admitted, John investigated what was happening inside the compound and whether it was safe to bring Peter in as well. If they were breathing the proverbial “fire and brimstone” of outrage and anger at the followers of Jesus, it might be extremely dangerous for either of them to be there. Presumably he judged these men simply tired from their work rather than anything more dangerous. So he felt it safe to intervene with the girl taking responsibility for the gate.
Sidebar: We are given no hint of why John “was known to the high priest” and, by implication (since he is freely admitted) to a number of his household staff. It has reasonably been speculated that as a fisherman, his household may well have been a regular supplier for this household.
Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Whether the large crowd was actively outraged at the moment or not, the entire situation surrounding the arrest had clearly generated considerable paranoia within the household for she challenged Peter--who she did not know--whether He might be one of Jesus’ followers. This he bluntly and emphatically denied.
This question and answer did not occur immediately at the door itself, however, as the other accounts inform us: “ ‘When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him and said’ (Mark 14:67). Luke is more graphic (Luke )—She ‘beheld him as he sat by the fire (literally, ‘the light’), and earnestly looked on him (fixed her gaze upon him), and said.’ ‘His demeanor and timidity, which must have vividly showed themselves, as it so generally happens, leading to the [suspected] recognition of him [as a disciple]’ [Olshausen].” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary) By his very act of trying to make himself inconspicuous he had made himself more conspicuous by his quiet and reserve.
Now the servants and officers
who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed
themselves. And Peter stood with them
and warmed himself. It was a
chilly night and “a fire of coals” was maintained in the courtyard, around
which Peter and others tried to keep themselves warm while the proceedings
against Jesus were carried out.
Jesus Declines to Get Into a Discussion of His Teaching with Annas Since It Was a Matter of Public Record (John 18:19-24): 19 While this was happening, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus replied, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I always taught in the synagogues and in the temple courts, where all the Jewish people assemble together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said. They know what I said.”
22 When Jesus had said this, one of the high priest’s officers who stood nearby struck him on the face and said, “Is that the way you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus replied, “If I have said something wrong, confirm what is wrong. But if I spoke correctly, why strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him, still tied up, to Caiaphas the high priest. --New English Translation (for comparison)
The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine. Annas asked for information about both Jesus’ “disciples and His doctrine.” Perhaps he was after specific names for later prosecution; perhaps he was seeking out their numbers as part of an effort to reassure Himself of the safety in aggressively pursuing Jesus. Or of the need to do so because of their very large numbers! Or even to remove concern that this may not have been as wise a decision as it had been presented to him by Caiaphas. The questions need not have had only one single purpose. It was not merely a desire for information but for information that could be used to justify the “guilty” decision that the critics had already decided to make.
Although Jesus is still within the part of the complex that was Annas’ the reference to “high priest” could be to either him or Caiaphas since the latter is the one that John has already acknowledged as currently the official one (verse 13). However verse 24 refers to how “Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas.” Hence it is hardly likely that he was present for this portion of the examination at all--even as a silent observer. Hence the reference is to the one who by right--rather than Roman interference--was the proper occupant of the office.
Jesus answered him, “I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing. As to the “doctrine” (verse 19), that was an odd enquiry to make. After all, Jesus had spoken candidly both in the temple and in many synagogues and there had been multitudes of witnesses. If Annas did not already know what Jesus taught, then the accusers had done a lousy job of research. Furthermore, there was nothing that He said in private (“secret”) that He had not taught openly.
This is a slight exaggeration for there was sometimes an explicitness on matters such as His Messiahship because of fear that if it were presented to a broader audience that it would be misunderstood and misrepresented. Yet even here He had said sufficient even in public that one could come to the conclusion that He was the Messiah (-26, 31; -33). The same restraint surely lay behind what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration: the event itself was limited to only three apostles and those who had heard and seen the things were instructed not to share it with anyone until after the resurrection (Matthew 17:1-9).
However for someone suspected of having nefarious plans, “in secret” carried a far more ominous subtext: “If His doctrine had tended to excite sedition and tumult, if He had aimed to overthrow the government, He would have trained His friends in secret; He would have retired from public view, and would have laid His plans in private. This is the case with all who attempt to subvert existing establishments. Instead of that, He had proclaimed His views to all.” (Barnes’ Notes)
Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said.” Jesus declined to say more. All they needed to do was to call those who had heard Him teach. This was so logical it should have been beyond any challenge--except among those who knew that he was “guilty” and that the only real question was of what. In that kind of setting, genuine truth seeking is a waste of time. Getting an excuse for condemnation was all that mattered.
Especially in this context of it being essential to getting Him dead before the end of the next day lest the Sabbath be defiled--or the execution delayed. Then concerned individuals would wonder whether they should act to stop it from happening at all. The officials had locked themselves into a rigid time frame for action in which normal delay could cause the very popular explosion they knew it was essential to avoid.
18:22 And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, “Do You answer the high priest like that?” This refusal to say anything more caused one of the arresting officers to slap Jesus for speaking in that manner to the high priest. The mentality was clearly that even legitimate responses are insulting if it delays the intended results: The high priest must get his desired results now. Innocence should in no way impede providing evidence for conviction.
Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?” Jesus challenged: If there was any evil in what I have just said, what was it? The words themselves had been within the bounds of judicial courtesy. The accused had simply refused to do the prosecution’s work for it.
Furthermore His critics faced the fundamental problem of finding an accusation that both rival parties in the Sanhedrin could agree to and Jesus was “daring” not to help them find a way out of their dilemma! “Dr. Farrar (Life of Christ) has pointed out with great force that the chief priests and Pharisees, from their intestine animosities, had great difficulty in formulating any specific charge. The Pharisaic party, if they made a point of His doctrine and practice concerning the Sabbath, would have been foiled by the Sadducean latitudinarians; and the priests did not dare to call in question His imperial cleansing of the temple, knowing that the Pharisees would immediately have justified the act. Consequently, Annas limited his inquiries to the supposed esoteric character of some private teachings to his initiated disciples--a charge that was refuted by the continual publicity and openness of all His teaching.” (Pulpit Commentary)
Then Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. Washing his hands of the matter, he sent Jesus on to the official who now occupied Annas’ former position of high priest. One would be fascinated to know what verbal or written message was sent as well since it would be difficult to believe that, having taken time to interview Jesus, that Annas would not have sent something. If he was inclined toward skepticism about his son-in-law, one could easily imagine his private feeling being: “I wonder if he really is up to handling this situation in the limited time we have available?”
Peter Denies Two More Times That He Is a Follower of Jesus (John -27): 25 Meanwhile Simon Peter was standing in the courtyard warming himself. They said to him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?” Peter denied it: “I am not!”
26 One of the high priest’s slaves, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the orchard with him?” 27 Then Peter denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed. --New English Translation (for comparison)
Now Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. Therefore they said to him, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not!” As Peter warmed himself by the fire, he was again challenged as to his discipleship and again denied such. John had already recorded his first denial (verse 17) and we now pass on to the second two--three rejections just as Jesus had not many hours before warned him would occur (13:38).
“The words are repeated to draw attention to the fact
that he was standing in the court at the time when Jesus was sent from Annas unto Caiaphas, that is,
from one wing of the quadrangular building across the court to the other. In Luke 22:61 it is said that ‘the Lord
turned and looked upon Peter.’ ” (Ellicott’s
Commentary for English Readers) “A
look of sympathy and distress [showed] on Peter’s face, as His Master appears
bound as a criminal, and perhaps with the mark of the blow (John 18:22) on His
face, provokes the exclamation, Surely thou also art
not one of His disciples?” (
One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” Most alarmingly one of the relatives of the servant whose ear he had cut off raised the challenge as well. If any one’s image was likely to be engraved on the memory of the man, it was that face in particular! Some think the fact that he doesn’t mention that act argues he had not observed it. On the other hand he might hesitate at throwing this serious a charge and first want to know if he had been present since the similarity struck him so hard.
“The other Evangelists make his detection to turn upon
his dialect. ‘After a while . . . came
unto him they that stood by and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of
them, for thy speech betrayeth thee’ (Matthew
26:73). ‘Thou art a Galilean, and thy
speech agreeth thereto’ (Mark 14:70; and so Luke ). The Galilean
dialect had a more Syrian cast than that of
Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed. After Peter again emphatically denied the charge the accuser did not pursue it. But then a rooster did its morning crowing. John doesn’t mention Peter’s horror but, in a man of such clear-cut pride, the psychological reaction was quite logical and surely inevitable. But the quickness of it was surely caused by Jesus looking at him as He was passing through the courtyard from Annas’ part of the complex to that of Caiaphas (Luke 22:60-62). This last denial had been about an hour later than the previous one (Luke ).
the crowing: “[Not] the cock
crew] rather, a cock crew. In
none of the gospels is there the definite article which [the KJV, ASV, ERV]
translation inserts. This was the second
crowing (Mark 14:72). A difficulty has
been made here because the Talmud says that fowls, which scratch in dunghills,
are unclean. But (1) the Talmud is
inconsistent on this point with itself; (2) not all Jews would be so scrupulous
as to keep no fowls in
Jesus Transferred to Pilate’s Court and the Governor Tries to Avoid Getting Involved in the Case At All (John 18:28-32): 28 Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the Roman governor’s residence. (Now it was very early morning.) They did not go into the governor’s residence so they would not be ceremonially defiled, but could eat the Passover meal. 29 So Pilate came outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They replied, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”
31 Pilate told them, “Take him yourselves and pass judgment on him according to your own law!” The Jewish leaders replied, “We cannot legally put anyone to death.” 32 (This happened to fulfill the word Jesus had spoken when he indicated what kind of death he was going to die.) --New English Translation (for comparison)
Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover. Finishing with Jesus—the details of the Sanhedrin’s trial is passed over—Jesus was then led to the Roman Praetorium in the early hours. The highest religious authorities refused to enter lest they be ritually “defiled” and not be able to “eat the [approaching] Passover.” Murder by proxy is quite acceptable; entering the Roman command center is not.
on the nature of the Praetorium: “The meaning
of praetorium varies
according to the context. The word is of
military origin; (1) ‘the general’s tent’ or ‘head quarters.’ Hence, in the provinces, (2) ‘the governor’s
residence,’ the meaning in Acts : in a sort of metaphorical sense, (3) a ‘mansion’ or ‘palace’ (
Sidebar on the chronology: “It is quite evident that John does not
regard the Last Supper as a Paschal meal.
Compare John 13:1; 13:29. It
is equally evident that the synoptic narratives convey the impression that the
Last Supper was the ordinary Jewish Passover. . . . Whatever be the right solution of the
difficulty, the independence of the author of the Fourth Gospel is
manifest. Would anyone counterfeiting an
Apostle venture thus to contradict what seemed to have such strong Apostolic
authority? Would he not expect that a
glaring discrepancy on so important a point would prove fatal to his
pretensions? Assume that John is simply
recording his own vivid recollections, whether or not we suppose him to be
correcting the impression produced by the Synoptists,
and this difficulty at any rate is
avoided. John’s narrative is too precise
and consistent to be explained away.” (
Pilate then went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” Although it was a technical insult to Roman dignity to be unwilling to present the case inside, Pilate recognized the sensibilities of the local population and met the accusers outside. First and immediately, of course, he demanded the “accusation” on which Jesus was being charged. He had presumably personally authorized--rather than through a trusted subordinate--the sending of Roman soldiers to assist in the arrest and now he wants a justification for interrupting his night time rest to have done so.
His words clearly argue that nothing has come to his own attention to merit either the arrest or such a pre-dawn meeting as this one and if Jesus were that dangerous he should have already received at least a vague report of why he was such. Perhaps growling a bit over the ridiculously early hour tribunal (before ), he demanded an explanation of what was so important that it had to be handled now.
Some have believed that this was simply the formality that was supposed to begin such a proceeding. After he was being twice bothered in the same night, it was hardly likely to be regarded by him as simply another formality to go through!
legal game playing being engaged in by the top Jewish religious authorities: The Greek word πρωΐ· (prōi) is typically rendered as “early morning” or
the equivalent in this verse. “In Mark
the word stands for the fourth watch . . . which
lasted from to A Roman court might be held directly after
sunrise; and as Pilate had probably been informed that an important case was to
be brought before him, delay in which might cause serious disturbance, there is
nothing improbable in his being ready to open his court between 4 and The hierarchy were in a difficulty. Jesus could not safely be arrested by
daylight, and the Sanhedrin could not legally pronounce sentence of death by
night: hence they had had to wait till
dawn to condemn Him. Now another
regulation hampers them: a day must
intervene between sentence and execution.
This they shuffled out of by going at once to Pilate. Of course if he undertook the
execution, he must fix the time; and their representations would secure his
ordering immediate execution. Thus they
shifted the breach of the law from themselves to him.” (
They answered and said to him, “If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.” Avoiding the implied censure of potentially wasting his time, they responded that if He had not been an “evildoer” they would not have brought Him in the first place. The odds, however, were that, if such had been the case, Pilate would already have received a brief summary. And they would have provided a pointed and concise explanation: “He has plotted insurrection; He has murdered; etc.” But they’ve got precious little to work with to justify Roman intervention--and they know it.
officials could get downright violent against those trying to get them involved
in internal Jewish religious controversies--as happened when Paul was dragged
before the Roman proconsul in Corinth and the accusers were chased out (Acts
They, however, being at the top of the Jewish religious system probably felt that their prestige would be sufficient to gain automatic deference on one of their “internal matters.” That they weren’t prepared for such a response shows in the incredible vagueness of their charge of being “evildoer” without the least specification of how, when, and in what manner.
Then Pilate said to them, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law.” Therefore the Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,” Recognizing that they legally had a weak case or they would not have hidden behind such vague language of Jesus merely being an “evildoer” in the first place, Pilate tries to throw the case back into their hands: They unquestionably had their own legal system; let them judge Him by it. They responded that they could not since this was a death penalty case.
That they couldn’t do so was legally correct; it had been removed a few years earlier based on the Talmud’s chronology; some push it even earlier in the century. That this prohibition could be “bent” by stoning someone to death for heresy, think of the case of Stephen. He had been hauled from the synagogue by some of it members. They took him for trial and judgment to the Sanhedrin (Acts ). In a hearing presided over by the high priest (7:1), his defense so angered the crowd that he was hauled out of the city and stoned to death (7:54-60). And this with the active involvement of both Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin!
the Sanhedrin members participated or not in the actual execution, we are not
told. On the other hand, if it did not
have at least their passive approval how could the persecution of one man
quickly escalate into a city wide assault on all the Christian community
(8:1-3)? The action of the high priest
in approving carrying the active suppression even to distant
But they couldn’t in this case because there was no anti-Jesus mob handy to carry out the killing. Trying to raise one was far more likely to create a mob aimed at themselves! Furthermore they wanted to “insulate” themselves from direct responsibility for the death. Hence they desperately needed to be able to blame the Romans. They wanted, if you will, the triumph without the responsibility. And they feared that if they personally acted during a major festival with the tens of thousands of outsiders present there would be a dangerous and massive riot (as Matthew 26:5 notes). Or, to be more exact, a dangerous and massive riot aimed at them.
that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die. In insisting upon a Roman trial and execution they unintendingly fulfilled Jesus’ warning to the apostles that He would die by being “lifted up,” i.e., by crucifixion—the Roman form of death.
Sidebar on Jesus’ repeated reference to a Roman death: “The manner of the death had been foretold by our Lord. In John 3:14 he spoke of being lifted up (ὑψωθήαι), in John 8:28 He charged the Jews with the intention of so lifting Him up to die (ὅταν ὑψώσητε), implying a method of capital punishment which was contrary to their ordinary habits; and in John 12:32 He declared that this lifting up of the Son of man would create part of His sacred and Divine attraction to the human race. In the Synoptists He is said to have repeatedly spoken of his σταυρός [i.e., crucifixion] (Luke ; Mark ; Matthew ; Matthew ); but in Matthew He had clearly predicted His crucifixion by the Gentiles (cf. Luke -23).” (Pulpit Commentary)
Pilate Finds Nothing to Justify Death under Roman Law and Tries to Divert Their Blood Lust to Someone Deserving of Execution (John 18:33-40): 33 So Pilate went back into the governor’s residence, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34 Jesus replied, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or have others told you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own people and your chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”
36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
37 Then Pilate said, “So you are a king!” Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world—to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked, “What is truth?”
When he had said this he went back outside to the Jewish leaders and announced, “I find no basis for an accusation against him. 39 But it is your custom that I release one prisoner for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?” 40 Then they shouted back, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” (Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.) --New English Translation (for comparison)
Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Pilate re-entered the government complex where he resided and ordered Jesus to be brought inside as well. There he challenged Him with the question of whether He was really “the King of the Jews.”
“In all four Gospels these are the first words of
Pilate to Jesus, and in all four there is an emphasis on ‘Thou.’ The pitiable appearance of Jesus was in such
contrast to the royal title that Pilate speaks with a tone of surprise (compare
John ). v The question may mean
either ‘Dost Thou claim to be King?’ or, ‘Art Thou the so-called King?’ The royal title first appears in the mouth of
the wise men (Matthew 2:2), next in the mouth of Pilate.” (
Jesus answered him, “Are you
speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” How
to respond hinged, at least in part, on whether Pilate himself was inclined to
believe the charge (because of having heard it through trusted informants) or
whether the clerical accusers had caused him to raise the matter. Hence Jesus wanted to know from whom the
charge came. Who it came from shaped the
meaning that was intended by the words.
With one of Pilate’s background it would be taken as claiming earthly
power--in competition with
In Luke 23:2 we read of the Jewish leaders and their mob and how they insisted upon inventing a political interpretation of such claims: they “began to accuse Him, saying, ‘We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar [an outright lie], saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.’ ” Jesus’ query here makes best sense only if the words in this verse were spoken before what Luke has recorded for Jesus obviously would have known that that accusation came from others.
Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?” Pilate was first dismissive of the accusers, “Am I a Jew?”--which roughly translates into “How am I supposed to understand these things? I knows it’s an argument about Jewish religious beliefs.” Then, more ominously, “what have You done” to be “delivered” to the Roman government? The charge of claiming to be King might be erroneous, misunderstood, or exaggerated, but surely there was something that encouraged the Sanhedrin to lodge the charge. What was it?
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” Jesus responded that the nature of His kingdom was not worldly. If it were, His servants would already have fought to prevent Him being delivered to His Jewish priestly accusers.
Now this was something Pilate could understand. Anyone with temporal aspirations would have fought. How could he avoid it when his liberty was at stake? Hence the most powerful evidence that Jesus was not a threat to Roman rule lay in what He and His movement had conspicuously not done when they had the opportunity.
might or might not know it, there had been “followers” who wanted to
force Jesus into a kingship role (John )
but Jesus promptly acted to keep it from happening. On His Passover season entrance into
Vague word of one or more of these events would likely have reached Pilate’s ears for his supporters would have been alert to signs of potential instability. If so they would have been predisposed to believe that whatever Jesus’ rhetoric, He was far from a security threat to the Empire. He had done nothing to undermine it or challenge its ongoing right to earthly rule.
“not of this world:” “Has not its origin or root there so as to draw its
power from thence.” (
Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” In a sense the regal accusation was valid, but not in the sense enemies would take it: His destiny in life was to be a ruler but one that was concerned strictly and exclusively with “truth” rather than political power. This might make Him seek to be head of a religious movement or even of a group of philosophers (if it were a Greek cultural setting), but it is conspicuously not the language of someone desiring or wishing the power to launch legions of soldiers into violent empire building. That was the kind of “king” that Romans considered dangerous.
Note the self-description “for this cause I have come into the world.” That implies pre-existence before coming into the world. (For John’s own “commentary” on this idea see 1:1-5.) Jesus had referred to this earlier to the apostles: “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father” (John ).
Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all. Pilate had faced enough thorny controversies in his day to despair of ever knowing what was really truth. An approximation, perhaps, but rarely more. But if Jesus refused to use temporal means to gain power and if His sole preoccupation was the pursuit of “truth,” then in whatever sense He claimed “kingship,” it had nothing to do with the issues of control and authority that were his responsibility as governor. Hence Pilate responded to the accusers that he could find no convictable behavior in Jesus.
“But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” The governor wished to throw a “bone” to the mob to give them some contentment for failing to get what they wished: They could assure that an extremely dangerous felon would die that day. Whatever Jesus might or might not be, He certainly was not in that category!
He had an established custom of releasing one prisoner at Passover. From the Roman standpoint, this “executive clemency” was a useful public relations tool. One prisoner rarely meant all that much to the Romans and it represented a token of respect for their often neglected local preferences. Would they rather have him release non-violent Jesus or someone that was diametrically the opposite? The conclusion seemed inherently obvious.
But not if you are the key religious leaders who have arranged the mob--through, probably, all four of these sources: (1) extreme religious loyalists who are convinced that your position means you have to be obeyed; (2) zealots who believe you intellectually are right because Jesus is so “destabilizing” an influence; (3) well placed bribes for known malcontents and (4) those of your own servants who have been ordered or “requested” to be there--and who know full well they had better be.
In fairness to the crowd, however, it must be conceded that there was at least some wavering and the leading priests intervened to assure that it did not grow (Mark ).
Then they all cried again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber. So intense was the hostility to Jesus that they preferred the “robber” Barabbas to the release of Jesus. It did not require a political genius to recognize that the hostility to the Lord had reached the level of irrationality and that if Pilate did not yield on the irrational choice that there might be unrest, indeed—but from factions supporting the priestly leaders doing the accusing.
It was no secret that he had been involved with others in revolt against the government: he “was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion” (Mark 15:7). John’s Greek word for “robber” refers to a person willing to use even extreme violence and bloodshed. That such an individual would become wrapped up in such a revolt--to try to “morally justify” his own excesses--makes a great deal of sense. “Thus by a strange irony of fate the hierarchy obtain the release of a man guilty of the very political crime with which they charged Christ—sedition. . . . Barabbas had done, just what Jesus had refused to do, take the lead against the Romans.” (Pulpit Commentary)