Gospel of John 18:1-27
18 1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Cedron valley to a place where there was a garden, and they went into it together. 2 Judas who betrayed him knew the place, for Jesus often met his disciples there. Phillips
Completing the three-part prayer, Jesus leads the Eleven out of Jerusalem and into the garden on the Mount of Olives. Cedron is the correct transliteration of the Greek, but Americans generally prefer the Kedron spelling. Notice that John adds that they—twelve in number—entered together. This might suggest that the Eleven are one with Jesus; no more bickering or doubting.
As the name suggests, olive trees covered the Mount in Jesus’ day. But mixed in were numerous gardens owned by the wealthy people living in Jerusalem. There was no room for a pleasant garden, so they built them outside the city. William Barclay explains: Some wealthy citizen—an anonymous friend of Jesus whose name will never be known—must have given Him the key of the gate and the right to use it when He was in Jerusalem.
But evil is not far away. John told us in 13:27; As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. ESV Up to that point, Judas was still protected by God, but Satan saw that protective shield disappear and made his move. Judas could say no to Satan from then on, but Judas was in the dark and did not know it.
We need to remember that chapters 13 to 18 occur within a few hours of one another, and chapter 18 moves us into the next morning.
There are some translation issues with verse 3, so let us look at the literal version.
3 Therefore Judas, receiving the band, and from the chief priests and the Pharisees officers, comes there with torches and lamps and weapons. Interlinear Bible
The word ‘receiving’ is important. Judas did not raise his own army, it was given to him. We can conjecture that the Temple authorities arranged for some Roman soldiers to accompany the Temple guards, the High Priest, leading Priests, and leading Pharisees to follow Judas to the garden. They needed Judas to guide them to the specific garden as many were among the trees.
I think it is reasonable to assume the authorities arranged the arrest and the trial before they set out. The Jewish authorities arranged for the Roman soldiers to provide the protection, no doubt telling the Romans that Jesus and his gang were dangerous.
The Romans had to be notified of the plan because only they could issue a death sentence. Also, only Roman soldiers could take Jesus into Roman buildings. Matthew 27 27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. NIV From this verse, we should understand that the soldiers who made the arrest were Roman. Some English translations of John include ‘Roman’ even though it does not appear in the Greek of verse 3.
The word ‘band’ refers to a small group of soldiers—in modern terms, a squad. The word ‘cohort’ is found in several translations, but that refers to nearly five hundred soldiers—the size of a modern battalion. I think we can assume a band of twenty or thirty, perhaps even fifty. In fairness, you should know that many of the best commentators believe the crowd to number five to six hundred.
John mentions weapons, but Matthew and Mark specify swords and clubs. John alone mentions phanos kai lampas, lanterns and torches. As a historian, I missed knowing that lanterns existed in the first century. I learned they could be found a thousand years before the first century.
4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. ESV
Again, John alone includes this exchange. The Synoptics have Judas initiate the action by kissing Jesus, but John places Jesus in charge. Judas is standing with the men holding the weapons. This is the last time John mentions the traitor.
Notice the ways Jesus takes charge. He steps forward and meets the band, offering protection for the disciples. He speaks first, asking an off-putting question. It seems to stop Judas as the leader answers. Jesus proudly claims to be the one they came for. Then, a fantastic thing happens, the band falls back and drops to the ground. Why?
The question is difficult to determine. I like William Barclay’s comment; In that moment power radiated from Jesus. There flowed from Him an authority which in all His loneliness made Him stronger than the might of His enemies. We read in several places that a crowd was upset with Jesus and attempted to grab him, but he simply disappeared. Here, he chooses seizure, but lets them know he is not just another victim. Jesus is the Son of God.
7 So Jesus asked them again, “Who are you looking for?” And again they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 “I have told you that I am the man,” replied Jesus. “If I am the man you are looking for, let these others go.” 9 (Thus fulfilling his previous words, “I have not lost one of those whom you gave me.”) Phillips
If the whole business were not so grim, this could be a small comedy act. ‘Well, how many times do I have to tell you?’
In seriousness, Jesus continues to protect the Eleven. ‘Let them go.’
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?” NET
Simon Peter, man of action! Some Christians are surprised to learn that any disciples carried swords, but it was common practice when traveling around the country. Bandits were abundant along the highways, so travelers were always armed. Yes, bandits hid among the olive trees too. Passover brought a million people to the city and they all had money.
We should respect Peter because he looked at the large and well-armed group and was still willing to go on the attack to protect his Master. His bravery should not be in question. We will see soon that he also follows Jesus after the arrest.
This story is found in all Four Gospels, but the Synoptics record that ‘one of them’ pulled the sword. Scholars believe that Mark traveled with Peter for some years and recorded Peter’s stories. Peter likely failed to mention a name in this event. Or possibly, Mark did not want to embarrass him.
All four include cutting the ear of the High Priest’s slave, but Luke and John specify the right ear. Matthew alone includes this: 52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” NIV John does write the ‘Am I not to drink’ speech. In Mark, Jesus has no response to the cutting. Luke has Jesus say, ‘No more of this!’ Luke also records that Jesus healed the ear. John records the name of the slave, Malchus, possibly because he was well known in the early church.
People opposed to Christianity argue that an event significant enough for all to record it should have been more similar. This kind of argument ignores the reality of the first century. People shared information orally, doing it from memory. It takes different shapes after sharing a story through thousands of people over thirty years. They could not look it up in the Jerusalem News to double-check the facts.
12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people. NIV
John alone says Jesus was tied up. He is also alone in saying they took Jesus to Annas. Matthew says Caiaphas, Mark says the High Priest, and Luke says the High Priest’s house. This is another account that has the ring of an eyewitness.
Annas was the power behind the throne. He, his sons, and in-laws held the High Priest post for over two decades, becoming rich. Annas held the office from 6 to 15 CE, and the others took turns for the next 16 or 19 years. [Jesus’ crucifixion was in 30 or 33 CE.]
It is no accident that God selected this year for Jesus’ arrest. Annas’ family had too much to lose to risk letting anyone like Jesus stir up the people and risk the Romans cracking down.
15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in. NIV
We see Peter following his Master. The other disciple is the still-unnamed John. I admit that many modern scholars do not accept John as this disciple. One recent book [The Beloved Disciple by James Charlesworth] discusses several candidates for the beloved disciple. I have not read the book but report from Karen H. Jobes’ commentary. When Charlesworth gets to this passage, he trots out Judas. His suggestion is not as absurd as it first seems. He needed to return to get his promised silver. Peter might not have known of his betrayal—based on John’s Gospel. After all, Judas could have wandered in with the armed band accidentally.
I’m not fond of Judas for this passage. No one likes a traitor and I do not believe Caiaphas would have granted Judas free access to the palace. I am sticking with John.
That said, there is a big problem. The other disciple is well known to the High Priest. How can a fisherman from Galilee be best buds with the HP?
One possible suggestion is that the Zebedees were priests. About 190 CE, Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus, made several claims about the Apostle John. William Barclay relates Polycrates’ beliefs this way: he never doubted that John wrote the gospel and that John was the beloved disciple, but he says a very curious thing about John. He says that John was by birth a priest, and that he wore the petalos, which was the narrow gold band, or ziz, inscribed with the words, “Holiness unto the Lord,” which the High Priest wore upon his forehead. If that is so, John was actually of the High Priest’s family and kinship. Barclay adds that it is difficult to believe.
At the time Polycrates wrote about John, he was sixty-five years old. He was the eighth member of his family to be Bishop of Ephesus, the city where John is said to have written the gospel and his letters, and where he was buried. As a historian, I give Polycrates high marks as a source. He was born thirty to forty years after John’s death, but would have heard from people who had known John personally. Likely all of the preceding bishops would have known John personally, including Polycrates’ father. After doing more research, I am liking this idea.
Another possibility is that the Zebedee family had a thriving salt fish business. There was a small market for fresh fish, limited to the small communities on the lake shores. Most fish was salted and sold in the rest of Galilee and Judea. William Barclay writes this: H. V. Morton [a British travel writer] tells us that to this day [Barclay published his volume in 1955] there is in the back streets of Jerusalem a little building which is now an Arab coffee house. In it there are certain stones and arches which were once part of a very early Christian church. The Franciscans believe that that old Christian church stood on the site of a house which belonged to Zebedee, John’s father. The family, so the Franciscans believe, were fish merchants in Galilee with a branch office in Jerusalem, and they supplied the household of Caiaphas the High Priest with salt fish, and that was why John had the entry into the High Priest’s house.
What if John was both a priest and a salt fish merchant? It was quite possible.
It is clear in the Fourth Gospel that the unnamed disciple had access to the inner courts and Peter did not. If it was not John, it is not easy to imagine who else it could have been. We have no indication that any one of the Twelve besides Judas or John could have had access to Caiaphas.
There are two possibilities to consider, just for the record. John uses the word disciple eighty-one times in the gospel. There are very few times when it is possible to read it as more than the Twelve. He certainly never mentioned any names. Yet, one of the other followers could have been the one with access. John does name obscure characters, so why not this one?
The other possibility is John’s older brother, James. He may have been the one who sold the fish in the city.
I am sticking with John as the one Jesus loved and as the man with access. We often see him and Peter in the other Gospels and Acts. With James and sometimes Andrew, they made up the inner circle.
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.) NET
Once past the gate, John seems to move inside the palace where he can overhear Caiaphas questioning Jesus. I say that to get us ready for verse 19. At any rate, he leaves Peter to fend for himself.
As they enter the inner court, Peter is challenged but claims not to be a disciple. The Greek has the question as curiosity only. She is not accusing him, as this NET rendering and most English translations suggest.
I think it likely that John hurried on. If he had stayed with Peter, he would have heard the reply and may have questioned Peter quietly. But John doesn’t need to wait to hear Peter deny Jesus three times; Peter would have told all the others later. It was more important that John eavesdrop on Caiaphas. With John gone inside, Peter remained close and warm.
However, as J. Ramsey Michaels points out; Peter, having just denied his relationship with Jesus, now stands “with them,” that is, on the other side, with Jesus’ enemies, just as surely as Judas Iscariot stood “with them” at Jesus’ arrest. Michaels then shows that Judas’ story is over but Peter’s involves salvation.
19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” 24 Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. ESV
With verse 19, we bump into another problem with no firm solution. It is clear from the NT and other sources that Caiaphas was the High Priest that year. Yet, verse 13 tells us that Jesus was first taken to Annas. Verse 24 reports that Annas sends Jesus to Caiaphas.
The problem is that verse 19 clearly reads, ‘the high priest then questioned Jesus.’ Can Annas be called the High Priest, or is the questioning in 19 being done by Caiaphas? Personally, I think the weight of history is on the side of Annas. He became High Priest in 6 CE and held the post for nine years. After that, five of his sons had the job, and finally, his son-in-law, Caiaphas, took the position. The Romans selected non-family during that time, but Annas remained the power behind the throne. His wealth and influence were too great for even the Romans to challenge.
There are only a few ways that John could know about the questioning of Jesus by the High Priest. He could have received the account from the ‘other disciple,’ whoever he was. He could have spoken later with servants of the High Priest who heard the exchange. Or he, John, could have been the other disciple and heard it in person. You know my choice.
We do not know the questions Annas put to Jesus, but his response is on record. Jesus takes pains to show that his ministry has been public, often in Synagogues. ‘I have nothing to hide. Ask the thousands of people who listened to me.’ Verse 23 seems to end the interrogation. If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong. The keyword is witness. John even managed to slip in his favorite ‘proof’ of the Son of God as the Son of Man. It is also a legal rebuff to the High Priest. It was not legal under Jewish law to torture a confession from a prisoner. Two witnesses were required for conviction. None appeared against Jesus in this setting, so Annas sent him to Caiaphas.
25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed. ESV
We are back to Peter, who wants to be as close to Jesus as possible. He knows there is probably nothing he can do for him, but he needs to be there. He also knows he is in enemy territory, so he tries to stay ‘under the radar.’ I know, not a very first century image.
The second question does not seem very aggressive. Again, it seems mere curiosity. Understand that Peter was standing in the High Priest’s courtyard in Jerusalem, Judah. He would have been the only one there (except John) wearing the country clothes of a Galilean. It would have been like sitting around the campfire in 1876 Montana with all the chiefs of the Sioux and Cheyenne, plus one man in a blue uniform. The men thought, ‘we know you are from Galilee, so you must be a follower of Jesus.’
In Matthew 26:73, we read; After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away. ESV In Matthew 26:74 and Mark 14:71, we read nearly the same words. Here is Mark’s version. He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” ESV We see Peter’s nerves shatter; he can no longer control his fear.
We church people generally avoid cursing when we are around each other, but curses are a part of our lives whether we say the words or not. We often use polite euphemisms like darn, dang, dagnabit, son-of-a-gun, etc. My new favorite is expletive deleted.
With this verse, we should never shy away from Peter’s dirty mouth; but more importantly, his anger. Had he been on the street, he could have left after the first or second questioner, but he was trapped, so his fear fueled his anger, and he exploded. He had had all he could take.
We know what happened next, but we do not know what Peter did next. Did he run for the exit? Did he cry for shame? We do not see Peter again until 20:2 when Mary Magdalene tells him that Jesus’ body has been moved.
I quote William Barclay so often because he points out important details that express compelling matters. Here is his closing comment on Peter in the arrest sequence. The tremendous thing about Peter was that his failure was a failure that could only have happened to a man of superlative courage. True, Peter failed; but he failed in a situation which none of the other disciples even dared to face. He failed, not because he was a coward, but because he was a brave man.
Of course, John (I believe) was also there and should receive the same credit. When Mary Magdalene came rushing down the path to tell Peter that Jesus was gone, John was also there. This relationship of the two disciples in this all-important execution and resurrection leads me to believe that John refused to place his name in the Gospel because he did not want to take anything away from Peter and the others. It is about Jesus, not John.
Now for another Barclay quote regarding the rooster. After pointing out that ritual law banned them inside the city, he writes about the Roman army. But the Romans had a certain military practice. The night was divided into four watches—6 pm to 9 pm, 9 pm to 12 midnight, 12 midnight to 3 am, and 3 am to 6 am. After the third watch the guard was changed and to mark the changing of the guard there was a trumpet call at 3 am. That trumpet call was called in Latin gallidinium and in Greek alektorophonia, which both mean cockcrow. It may well be that Jesus said to Peter: “Before the trumpet sounds the cockcrow you will deny me three times.” The times given are modern times.
The whole point of this passage is that God said it is time to be crucified. Jesus threw out the final bait and reeled in the Jewish officials. They did God’s work by executing the Son of God, and the disciples went into hiding. But we know they will all come out soon.
Be Righteous and do Good