Looking at the Light through John - Chapter 18
Preparation for Betrayal
Interpersonal relation breakdowns are some of the most challenging in the existence of mankind. Physical pain, excruciating as it often is, is often more bearable than the pain of failed relationships. Thus, in the plan of God, Jesus would have to be tempted in a major way in this way also. Judas Iscariot was recruited as a disciple by Jesus Himself, and had every opportunity to follow in the path of righteousness. But his character had a flaw, and when the pressure rose, Judas caved in and took money to relay information on the whereabouts of Jesus of Nazareth. So much had Judas’ attitude slipped that he actually left to do the betrayal during the Passover meal! So important was the time of fellowship to Jesus that He stated this to the men present: "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Luke 22:15). That Judas could be physically present to witness the sincerity of Jesus’ love of their friendship and relationship, and yet be so hard-hearted that he was plotting to leave in preparation for the Lord’s betrayal, indicates just how far his countenance had fallen, and how much he really was the son of perdition. Jesus was able to maintain His great attitude; it was not that He was blissfully ignorant of Judas’ intentions, as He mentioned, "But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Me on the table; but He moved forward in the face of such a massive turncoat action. Even in this matter, He is a great example for all who would follow in His steps.
- Crossing the Kidron - Having finished His prayer on the west bank of the Kidron, the Christ could now make His way to Gethsemane and prepare for His betrayal and crucifixion. "When Jesus had spoken these words," is the record of John, who witnessed it all, "He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, into which He Himself entered, and His disciples" (John 18:1). What thoughts must have been coursing through the mind of the Savior as He made His way down the slope and into the darkness of the thick grove of olive trees!
- Shifting the scene to Judas - It really took an apostle to betray Jesus, because no one else was so closely associated as to know the whereabouts of His evening hideaway. "Now Judas also," verified John, "who was betraying Him, knew of the place; for Jesus had often met there with His disciples" (John 18:2). Jesus, in His prophetic ministry, was not only aware of Judas’ activity at the moment, but was also aware of Satan’s involvement. "The ruler of the world is coming," He had informed them earlier, "and he has nothing in Me" (John 15:30).
- The coming of the cohort - Jesus of Nazareth was regarded as a terrorist by the governing authorities. When they therefore had enough information to go after Him, they put together the equivalent of a multi-jurisdictional force, with Roman, Pharisaical, and Sadducee-connected military police in the contingent. All this for one meek Man! But a Man whose righteousness struck as a blade into their consciences, and whose fears were magnified in the thoughts of arresting Him. Hence the need for the contingent the apostle describes. "Judas, then, having received the Roman cohort, and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons" (John 18:3).
Judas and the Jewish authorities were ready for the betrayal. They had prepared physically, and came with a "shock and awe" force with lights and weapons designed to intimidate. But Jesus also was ready. He had prepared spiritually, spending His last free hours watching and praying. Who, then, was the most prepared for the upcoming betrayal?
Entrance of the Officers
Jesus had known for years that this night would come, which the apostle Paul later described as "the night in which He was betrayed" (I Corinthians 11:23). "Let these words sink into your ears," He had exhorted the disciples, "for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men" (Luke 9:44). "It cannot be," He said in another place, "that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem" (Luke 13:33). He had known it was coming, and now it was here! And here He was in Jerusalem, ready to meet the hour instead of running to the farthest reach of the Roman Empire to avoid the suffering. Our Lord maintained a great attitude in the face of betrayal by a close friend for thirty pieces of silver, and He maintained His focus in the face of the greatest suffering that would ever be experienced by someone walking in a physical body.
- Evil cometh - Jewish gendarme combined with Roman regular this night to arrest the alleged terrorist and threat to the might of the Emperor. "Jesus," emphasized John, "knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth, and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ " (John 18:4). This One sent from heaven, who could have called twelve legions of angels to deliver Him, calm and unarmed, stepped out to meet His arrestors. The question was direct but not threatening: "Whom do you seek?"
- Bravery of the finest - This is early, in the wee hours long before dawn. These men have been roused from their quarters to go on a dangerous mission to arrest a terrorist with an unknown number of followers. It could be a trap that they were about to trigger; it could be a proverbial "wild goose chase." At His question, "they answered Him, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ " Once again the response is non-threatening and straightforward. "He said to them, ‘I am He.’ " Could it really be the One? A pretender, maybe? "And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them" (John 18:5). Judas was there to make certain that the One arrested in the darkness was positively identified to be this renegade, this challenge to the system of the Jewish hierarchy. But He was reported to be able to do awesome miracles; what would He do to those sent to arraign Him? Call down fire upon the captain and his fifty? "When therefore He said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back, and fell to the ground" (John 18:6). It was easier for the chief priests in their private quarters to order the arrest of this One rumored to be a prophet than it was for the men who had to encounter him in the midst the olive trees in the darkness of early morning!
- Presence and persistence - The Lord was in quietly in command of His emotions, and was responsible in carrying out Old Testament prophecies. "All this," was one of His comments in the thick of the commotion, "has taken place that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled" (Matthew 26:56). "Again therefore He asked them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ " He did not run, He did not hide; He simply pressed on with the heavenly agenda with presence of mind and persistence. "And they said, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am He.’ " (John 18:7,8).
It was at this point Judas planted the kiss on Jesus’ face, and the officers stepped forward to arrest Him. Our Lord, walking in the flesh, was a Man of courage and faith, and worth emulating. "While being reviled," stated Peter, who was about to experience his own failure in the face of more than he had expected, "He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously" (I Peter 2:23). Jesus trusted the Father; may we go and do likewise.
Protection of the Apostles
The entire plan of God was hinging on the faithfulness of the apostles and their carrying the message of salvation to the entire world. Jesus had watched over them in many ways of which they were unaware, a hint of which is given in Luke’s account: "And He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without purse and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?’ And they said, ‘No, nothing.’ And He said to them, ‘But now, let him who has a purse take it along, likewise also a bag, and let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one.’ " (Luke 22:35,36). The strong implication is that the Son of God had watched over them while their faith was developing, and that as they moved to the next phase of their spiritual walk, He was going to step back a little, and let them face some of their upcoming challenges more directly. "While I was with them," He had affirmed in His prayer to the Father, "I was keeping them in the name which You have given Me; and I guarded them, and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled" (John 17:12). That protection which He referenced continued in the Garden of Gethsemane.
- The Lord’s appeal - When the arresting forces indicated a second time that they were looking for Jesus the Nazarene, He responded, "I told you that I am He." Following on the heels of those words was His appeal on behalf of the apostles, "If therefore you seek Me," He stated, drawing attention to Himself, "let these go their way" (John 18:8). The Christ, of course, wanted the apostles out of the way so that they would be free following His crucifixion and rise to glory to begin the process of proclaiming the gospel to the world. While this might seem to be an obvious point, making sure it was executed that way required finesse and power on Jesus’ part; the other eleven could easily have been arrested and incarcerated for participation in rebellion also. It is worth noting, therefore, that the Lord of the universe, in order to execute their release, had to verbally appeal to the leaders of the contingent for the freedom of the chosen disciples.
- Fulfilling scripture - The Christ of God clearly had the responsibility of making sure that all Old Testament prophecies that were under His control were fulfilled. A betrayer was prophesied; a betrayer had been selected. Faithful shepherds for God’s people had been prophesied; faithful shepherds had been selected. "Let these go their way," were the words of the One who executed, to which John appends the comment, "that the word might be fulfilled which He spoke, ‘Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.’ " (John 18:9).
- Impetuous Peter - People, in ignorance or in selfishness, often complicate plans by their "loose cannon" actions. In this setting, God-in-the-flesh is trying to get the apostles out of the way, having to verbally appeal for their safety. Then Peter just has to pull out his sword! John describes it thusly: "Simon Peter therefore having a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave’s name was Malchus" (John 18:10). The other accounts let the readers know that Jesus healed the slave by slapping the ear back in place, and the apostles were therefore able to flee to comparative safety.
It is the recording of these sorts of details that give the scriptures the ring of authenticity. It wasn’t just any old slave that Peter happened to pick on; it was the slave of the high priest! These are the tidbits that would be remembered by all present in the Garden, and the fact that John names the slave by name shows that this is not a fabricated account; too many people would have arisen to decry the lie if it weren’t so. And the character Peter is consistent in the accounts, and the need for Jesus’ continued protection and guidance shows through.
Coming to the First Court
Peter and the apostles were brave men, willing to face death when they understood what was going on. When Jesus decided, for example, to go to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead, Thomas said to the fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him" (John 11:16). And Peter was not kidding or engaging in wild braggadocio when he affirmed, "I will lay down my life for You" (John 13:37). But the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ arrest seemed to the apostles to come out of nowhere, and they were really not expecting this turn of events. Peter was confident that Jesus would be crowned king in spite of the multi-jurisdictional force sent to arraign the Lord, and drew his sword in faith of a victory over the military police. But the Lord’s picture was much larger than Peter’s, and a physical victory in the Garden of Gethsemane would not further the plan to win the victory over sin and Satan.
- The apostles’ confusion - Judas identified Jesus with the kiss of betrayal, and the arresting party approached. "And when those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, shall we strike with a sword?’ " Before Christ answered, Peter cut off the slave’s right ear. "But Jesus answered and said, ‘Stop! No more of this.’ And He touched his ear and healed him" (Luke 22:49-51). The apostle John adds: "Jesus therefore said to Peter, ‘Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?’ " (John 18:11). When Peter slid his sword back into the scabbard, his hopes and dreams of being the greatest in an earthly kingdom slid with it. He and the other apostles were confused because their vision crumpled with the arrest of Jesus. He had warned them earlier, but they didn’t hear it. "The Son of Man," He had warned, "is going to be delivered into the hands of men." Dr. Luke adds his commentary: "But they did not understand this statement, and it was concealed from them so that they might not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this statement" (Luke 9:44,45). So Jesus was humbly accepting His cup of suffering, and the apostles had no clue as to what He was talking about.
- To the Jewish high priest - From this point on, the Lord was to be paraded before a series of "kangaroo courts," the verdicts having already been prearranged. "So the Roman cohort and the commander," recorded John the eyewitness, "and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year" (John 18:12,13). Politics had long been involved in determining the high priest of Israel, ever since the Seleucid dynasty of the Greeks had defiled in the temple nearly two centuries earlier. The Jews recognized Annas as the true high priest; hence it was a necessary formality for Jesus to be brought into his court before the procession entered into the court of the Roman-appointed high priest, Caiaphas. John noted the political undercurrent with these words concerning Caiaphas, "who was high priest that year." The high priest was to be for life; how far had Israel sunk! Readers were also reminded of the character of the appointed high priest: "Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people" (John 18:14).
Make no mistake about it; the judicial "bench" is political. And nowhere is this more evident than in the trials of one Jesus of Nazareth! For the Lord, who had humbled Himself in taking the form of a bond-servant, the series of courtroom experiences began as He was led away to Annas.
Scenes from the Courtyard
At this point the disciples have been scattered. Jesus had been arrested, much to the surprise and chagrin of the apostles, whose desire had been to be first in an earthly kingdom. But the Lord, always the Good Shepherd, had been able to secure the safety of His closest followers in the midst of His arrest, and while He was being led off to Annas’ court, the apostles were at least not arraigned with Him. Scattered they were, but safe.
- The setting - Annas, the Jewish-recognized high priest, was father-in-law to Caiaphas, the Roman-appointed high priest. Apparently the family worked well together, and lived in the same compound with the same courtyard. Thus the arresting officers brought Jesus for trial first before Annas. The apostle John, in penning his account, focused on Jesus’ trial before Annas, and, knowing the other accounts had given appropriate weight to the trial before Caiaphas, noted that trial with this one-liner: "Annas therefore sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest" (John 18:24). Both trials took place where they were visible from the courtyard.
- Peter and John - The apostle John, humble eyewitness and bond-servant of Jesus, characteristically referred to himself in the third person, speaking of himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved," or "another disciple." "And Simon Peter was following Jesus, and so was another disciple," therefore was John’s firsthand report. "Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest; but Peter was standing outside" (John 18:15,16). This is an amazing tidbit! A humble Galilean fisherman, son of Zebedee, was so well-known to the high priest that he had instant access into the courtyard. "So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest," the record re-emphasized, "went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought in Peter." Not only did he have access, but he was so well-known that he could get a friend through the gate also. The tentacles of Jesus’ movement had already reached out in surprising ways and entwined themselves in the lives of the highest of the high as well as the lowest of the low!
- Annas’ query - The questioning of Jesus by Annas is interesting. "The high priest," stated John of this man, "therefore questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching" (John 18:19). The visible and dramatic increase in the number of people attached to Jesus was naturally of political significance to Annas, and thus led to some questioning in regard to the Christ’s teaching.
- Jesus’ response - The Lord, instead of being obsequious and pleading with the governing officials, put the pressure and accountability right back on them. "I have spoken openly to the world," the Christ replied to the supposed spiritual leader of Israel. "I have always taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where all Jews came together, and I spoke nothing in secret" (John 18:20). This response is important, and serves as an example for all who would follow in the steps of the Savior; the charge is often leveled that the private teaching is different than the public proclamation. "Why do you question Me?" the Lord continued. "Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; behold, these know what I said" (John 18:21).
The brutality of the arresting forces, knowing who signed their earthly paychecks, was now beginning to step up. "And when He had said this, one of the officers standing by gave Jesus a blow, saying, ‘Is that the way You answer the high priest?’ " (John 18:22). The next words of the Lord, however, needed to be considered carefully by the officer, and indeed all who continue to strike blows at the name of Jesus. "If I have spoken wrongly," He challenged, "bear witness of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?" (John 18:23).
Peters Three Denials
Twice, at least, the Lord Jesus had indicated that Peter would weaken and deny his affiliation with Him who was the heavenly King. While Jesus and His most intimate disciples participated in the Passover, Peter had boldly stated, "Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!" (Luke 22:33). And later, on the way to Gethsemane, he had also affirmed his commitment, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You" (Matthew 26:35). In both cases the Lord commented that Peter would deny knowing the Christ three times in connection with the 3:00 a.m. "cockcrowing." "Truly I say to you," were Jesus’ words, "that you yourself this very night, before a cock crows twice, shall three times deny Me" (Mark 14:30).
- The first denial - Peter, through the influence of John, followed him into the courtyard of the high priests, Annas and Caiaphas. The apostle John described Peter’s first denial in these terms: "The slave-girl therefore who kept the door said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ " (John 18:17). The other accounts do not mention the appearance of Jesus before Annas, speaking of the overall entrance of Jesus, as well as Peter, in more general terms. "And they led Jesus away to the high priest," recorded Mark, "and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes gathered together. And Peter had followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the officers, and warming himself at the fire" (Mark 14:53,54). "Now the slaves and the officers were standing there," John noted, "having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself" (John 18:18). Probably John’s description of the slave girl’s querying of Jesus is parenthetical rather than chronological; it plays out that the slave-girl let Peter in, and then came to look at him more closely as he sat at the fire with the officers, and that is when the denial took place (see Matthew 26:69,70; Mark 14:66-68; Luke 22:55-57).
- The second denial - When Peter indicated for the first time that he did not know Jesus, he went back out toward the entrance, where it is indicated in some records that the rooster crowed the first time. The same slave-girl apparently kept saying, "This is one of them" (Mark 14:69). Another slave-girl picked the comment up, and started repeating to the bystanders, "This man was with Jesus of Nazareth" (Matthew 26:71). Peter then seems to have drifted back to the fire to avoid the comments by the slave girls, standing again with the men. John recorded, "Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself." But enough of a ruckus had developed that the men at the fire were curious. "They said therefore to him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it, and said, ‘I am not.’ " (John 18:25).
- The third denial - The girls’ comments to the bystanders aroused their curiosity enough that some of them came to the fire where Peter was standing. "A little later the bystanders came up," is Matthew’s accounting, "and said to Peter, ‘Surely you too are one of them; for the way you talk gives you away.’ " (Matthew 26:73). A bystander who was particularly interested was among those who came to the fire. "One of the slaves of the high priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, said, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with Him?’ " (John 18:26). It was at this point Peter began to curse and swear. "Peter therefore denied it again; and immediately a cock crowed" (John 18:27).
This was an obvious low point in Peter’s spiritual life; his brave bold intentions had crumpled under the pressure of real threats. When the rooster crowed, "the Lord turned and looked at Peter" across the courtyard. "And he went out and wept bitterly" (Luke 22:61,62).
First Appearance Before Pilate
While Peter was in the process of denying the Lord, Jesus Himself was on trial before the Sanhedrin. And when Jesus affirmed that He was indeed the Christ, the Son of God, the Sanhedrin brought Him to their council chambers for the final verdict, that He should die for this blasphemy. But because the Jews were not at this point permitted to carry out capital punishment, the conspirators were forced to bring Jesus before Pontius Pilate and the Roman authorities and to convince them that Jesus should die. Plans were in motion.
- Outward show - The conscience of man, in general, dictates that evil plots must have a covering of legitimacy. The Saducees and Pharisees, then, in arranging for the elimination of one Jesus of Nazareth, made sure that everything had the look of being carried out under the proper channels and enforcement of the Law. "They led Jesus therefore from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early," was John’s annotation. "And they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium in order that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover" (John 18:28). What hypocrisy! These men maintained the outward show of piety by refusing to enter the Gentile-occupied governor’s residence, while at the same time planning the murder of the Son of God! Everything to outward appearance was "lawful."
- Pilate’s accommodation - Governing the volatile Jewish people and maintaining some semblance of order was not easy for the Roman authorities. It is apparent that the Romans worked in cooperation with the Jewish hierarchy in order to minimize their expenditures in ruling the people of Israel. "Pilate," in accommodating the Jewish regulations regarding clean and unclean, "therefore went out to them" (John 18:29).
- The first exchange - It is estimated that it was about four in the morning when Jesus was first brought to Pilate. The governor probably had to heave himself into some sort of royal attire in order to present himself as the judicial authority in this emergency case. "What accusation do you bring against this Man?" was his query. Their response is a bit on the coy side. "If this Man were not an evildoer," was the vague reply, "we would not have delivered Him up to you" (John 18:29,30). Pilate seemed a little irritated. "Take Him yourselves," he stated, "and judge Him according to your law." But the Jews were not to be turned aside that easily; they had thought this through carefully, and had set in motion a plan to sell Pilate on the idea that Jesus needed to be crucified even though their only charges were not something that the Romans would consider criminal at all. They now introduce the implication that the Defendant has committed a heinous crime deserving the death penalty. "We are not permitted to put anyone to death," they responded (John 18:31). From Pilate’s standpoint, this is now escalating into a situation that is inordinately complicated, and something he does not want to deal with early in the morning.
- The plan of God - Before the world was, the plan was that the Lamb of God be crucified for the sins of all mankind. Because crucifixion was a Gentile form of execution, Jesus had informed the twelve ahead of time that this was indeed the plan: "The Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priest and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him" (Matthew 20:18,19).
The Jews, by the hand of God, were blocked at this time from carrying out capital punishment. Consequently, in order for Jesus to be crucified, He had to be convicted by the Roman governor and sentenced to die in a Roman court. Yes, and thus it was, "that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled, which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die" (John 18:32).
Inside the Praetorium
Pontius Pilate found himself in a very difficult situation. At his door, about four o’clock in the morning, were all the high-ranking Jews, from both the party of the Sadducees as well as the Pharisees. In Luke’s account, the reason for their appearance with one Jesus of Nazareth is recorded as having the appearance of being strident. "And they began to accuse Him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.’ " (Luke 23:2). Furthermore, with or without Pilate’s previous knowledge, upwards to 600 Roman soldiers as well as a chiliarch, a commander of a thousand (ranking above a centurion), had been involved with the Jews in the arrest of this Man. Ostensibly, there was a serious threat to the stability of Roman rule over the beloved province of Judea. Wanting to keep peace, wanting to have as little hassle as possible, the Roman governor was thus feeling somewhat caught in the middle and looking for an easy way to solve the problem. When his first attempt - telling the Jews to take the prisoner and judge Him themselves - failed, Pilate was forced to interview the Man in bonds personally.
- Status of the prisoner - Leaving the Jews in their pretended piety outside the Praetorium, the governor went back inside to where Jesus, the prisoner, had already been escorted. The charge had been leveled: this Jesus was claiming to be the Jewish Christ, a King and therefore a threat to the Emperor. "Pilate therefore entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus, and said to Him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ " (John 18:33).
- Jesus’ probing - The facts that Jesus had been up all night, that He had been dragged before three Jewish courts, and that He had already been beaten and considerably roughed up did not affect His confidence in who He was. Jesus, truly the Son of God, was not in the least intimidated by the Roman governor, and was not cowering. Rather He was in control, and probed the conscience of the man who was both executive and judge. "Are you saying this one your own initiative," was the Lord’s thrusting query, "or did others tell you about Me?" (John 18:34). The question was serious. Was Pilate interested in Jesus’ kingship because of an interest in the Jewish Messiah’s being sent by God in heaven above, or was the awareness generated out of mere political concern?
- Political interest - As Jesus probed, He found there was no more spiritual interest in Pilate than in most of the human race. "Pilate answered, ‘I am not a Jew, am I?’ " Pilate was no wise man from the East, following the star and looking for the King of Jews! No, his interest was only political. "You own nation and chief priests delivered You up to me," was the governor’s explanation, decrying any personal interest in the spiritual side. Back to business: "What have You done?" (John 18:35).
- Allaying fears - Jesus made it clear that He was no threat to Caesar, and that therefore the Jewish claims against Him were bogus. "My kingdom is not of this world," He affirmed. "If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm" (John 18:36).
Jesus, beaten and bedraggled, did not look like a threat to the might of Rome. His responses to the governor’s questions were not those of a wild-eyed or committed revolutionary; in fact, they were pressing the his Excellency a little in spiritual matters. At this stage, as well as at the previous trials, Jesus’ innocence was clear!
The King and the Kingdom
Even today, much of the concern about Jesus has to do with His political impact. "How many votes will the ‘fundamentalist Christian right’ have in the upcoming election?" is of primary concern. "How does the Bible and a belief in Jesus’ authority on moral issues impact our political agenda?" is another. But the great questions concerning who Jesus really is, and what impact He might have on the eternity of earth’s residents go begging. And thus it was with Pontius Pilate. Jesus gave the governor an opportunity to deal with his eternity; Pilate didn’t take advantage of it, and will go begging into the fires of the eternal hell.
- A spiritual kingdom - "My kingdom is not of this world," Jesus had stated. "My kingdom is not of this realm," He had re-emphasized. His point should have been obvious: "If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting." His kingdom, then, was to be of a spiritual rather than of a physical nature. The wars would not be fought with clubs, swords, or guns, but would be fought in the minds of men for the minds of men.
- "My kingdom" - The Lord was not hesitant about calling the imminent spiritual kingdom, "My kingdom." The kingdom was to be synonymous with "the church," and Jesus likewise was not hesitant about saying "upon this rock I will build My church" (Matthew 16:18). This kingdom had been prophesied since the time of David, and occupies the most prominent space next to Jesus the King in the revelation of God. The Jews missed it because they were looking for an earthly kingdom; most moderns, be they pre- or post-millennial, make the same mistake, looking for an earthly kingdom on a peaceful earth. Sorry; not going to happen! The kingdom is spiritual, and this earth and material realm will pass away.
- "I am a King" - The Christ calmly answered Pilate’s question about whether He were in fact the King of the Jews. The response disconcerted the royal governor, as evinced in his next query, "So You are a king?" Maybe Pilate should not have asked; the response he got went to the very core of his being. "You say correctly that I am a king," Jesus affirmed. "For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37). What an answer! This King came from somewhere else, and was born on earth simply to bear witness to the truth! Pilate was out of his league in trying to deal with Jesus of Nazareth.
- "My voice" - But wait; there was still more. "Everyone who is of the truth," came the next blockbuster, "hears My voice." This was up close and personal! Christ the King was making it clear to Pilate the governor that even the governor had to listen to the voice of Jesus, or the governor was not of the truth.
Of Jesus it was written, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever" (Psalm 45:1). He is "the Lord Most High," the One "to be feared, a great King over all the earth" (Psalm 47:2). He, having taken His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, now speaks from heaven to everyone on earth. His voice is communicating that which is written in the Bible, and everyone who is "of the truth" will heed the pleadings and instructions of that voice. "For everyone who does evil hates the light," the Lord had earlier stated, "and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed" (John 3:20). By contrast, He had emphasized, also earlier, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27). The message is clear, for everyone from the royal governor to the ragged girl: hear and heed the voice of the Great King; find and follow the Good Shepherd; walk and worship in the Great Light!
What Is Truth?
Jesus, in chains but free, spoke to Pilate, loose but in bondage. "Everyone," He stated, who is of the truth hears My voice." The issue of truth is huge! While it should be obvious that there is such a thing as truth, and that human beings have to govern themselves on the basis of that truth, the issue gets gummed up when the philosophers and intellectuals step in to help the common man out. "The greatest triumph of twentieth century philosophy," the masses are told, was that "there are no absolutes." Terms such as "post-modern" and "deconstructionism" are tossed around in egg-head circles, which to the Oprah-watching circle or the Nascar circuit translates into "You can’t figure anything out, so don’t even try. Have fun when you’re partying this weekend."
One of the great and far-reaching examples of post-modern confusion was the Jan. 5, 1982 ruling of Judge William Overton in the case McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. In a courtroom where all witnesses were required to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," the issue of truth was rejected. The Arkansas state legislature had passed a law requiring that creationism be given equal time with evolution in Arkansas public schools. This, of course, was immediately challenged by the ACLU and others, and the issue went to court. Michael Ruse, at the time professor of history and philosophy at the University of Guelf, Ontario, Canada, and key expert witness on the topic of "What is science?" commented in a related Nova TV program interview: Science works "against a background or presupposition of unbroken regularity." That is, there is no room for God, the supernatural, or miracles. The existence and predominance of that "presupposition" excludes the possibility of God, and therefore excludes the possibility of truth. "Science must be falsifiable," stated Ruse in the interview; therefore truth can never be known. Religion, according to Ruse, is a different form of intellectual exercise than science, emphasizing the post-modern view that reason and religion are divorced.
Ruse’ testimony carried the day, and his viewpoints are enshrined in U.S. case law. By redefining "science," the judge, helped by "expert" testimony, was able to arrive at the position where evolution could be called science, and creationism would be called religion and therefore excluded from being taught in public schools or upheld in any branch of the state or federal governments. "Yet it is clearly established in case law," opined Judge Overton in his landmark ruling on the case, "that evolution is not a religion and that teaching evolution does not violate the Establishment clause [of the First Amendment]." Thus the nation, and indeed the world, was plunged officially into state-mandated post-modernism, and a massive official denial that there is such a thing as truth.
This is what happened centuries earlier when Jesus confronted the representative of the State in the form of Pontius Pilate. "For this I have come into the world," He iterated, "to bear witness to the truth." The reality of heaven was thus colliding with the chimera of earth. "Everyone who is of the truth," said heaven’s representative, "hears My voice." And he who was of the earth responded characteristically, "What is truth?" (John 18:38).
The collision between Pilate’s values and the truth of Jesus presaged the upheaval that would occur between the Roman Empire and Christianity within the next century. The Empire essentially wanted all religions to get along and to operate therefore on the basic proposition that there was no truth. Early, primitive Christianity was insistent that Jesus Christ was the only way of salvation, that He was in fact "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." By the time the book of Revelation was written, it was already a matter of public record that these early followers of Christ would die rather than compromise the issue of truth; "they did not love their life even to death" (Revelation 12:11).
The collision is occurring again, so get ready!
Everyone Who Is of the Truth
Is God really fair? From the time the apostles first started preaching the gospel, they were emphatic that salvation was only coming through Jesus Christ. "And there is salvation in no one else," was Peter’s definite statement, "for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). And the apostle Paul was no less explicit; speaking to the open forum on Mars’ Hill in Athens, to a pagan and philosophical audience, he averred, "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30,31). If the times of ignorance are past, what about the man in the depths of despair in a brutal, totalitarian Communist country? Why should he go to hell just because he did not have the opportunity to hear the gospel? Or the one who dwells in the darkest jungle, the most remote mountain valley, or the desolation of city slums? Jesus, affirmed Paul, will deal "out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (II Thessalonians 1:8). Is God really fair?
- God’s love - "The Lord," said Peter, is "not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). God’s attitude is not one of seeing how many He can keep out of heaven, but rather how many He can bring in. "God our Savior," added Paul, "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:3,4). In Jesus Christ "the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared" (Titus 3:4). The loving Father, then, has done, is doing, and will do all that He can to save the lost of the earth from the ravages of their own sins. "God sent His Son," the word of God emphasizes and illustrates. Jesus, in turn, sent the apostles. And through the word given to the apostles, the message has been sent into the whole world. "For thus the Lord has commanded us," stated Paul to the Jewish synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, " ‘I have placed you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should bring salvation to the end of the earth.’ " (Acts 13:47). "How shall they hear without a preacher?" was his query. "And how shall they preach unless they are sent?" (Romans 10:14,15). God is sending His messengers and His message throughout the world.
- Man’s responsibility - The rules of engagement require that man be active rather than passive in examining the claims of Jesus Christ upon his soul. The message about the Christ inspires curiosity among truth-seekers, and is sufficient to generate the faith which is pleasing to God. "For he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).
- The connection - Connection occurs when the lives of those who are seeking truth intersect the lives of those who are delivering the truth. Thus the commission was given: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:15). Those who are seeking and those who are delivering never know ahead of time where and when the connection will be made, so the delivery boys are commanded to deliver to everyone.
Is God fair? Listen to the words of Jesus, delivered before Pontius Pilate: "Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice" (John 18:37). Not only does God desire that the connection be made, but He guarantees that anyone, anywhere on the face of the earth who wants the truth about Jesus Christ will have it delivered to him! God is fair, and God is love!
The Release of Barabbas
Pontius Pilate did not want any more discussion concerning the issue of truth. As governor, he could break off the discourse at any point of his choosing, and having had enough of one Jesus of Nazareth, he made his exit. The apostle John thus recorded,"And when he had said this ["What is truth?"], he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, ‘I find no guilt in Him.’ " (John 18:38). Jesus, beaten and bedraggled, and lacking a physical army, did not seem to Pilate to pose much of a threat to the might of Rome. The royal governor, therefore, was unable to find justification for the dire charges against the Man from Galilee.
The chief priests and their associates were not going to give up easily. "And the chief priests," noted Mark, "began to accuse Him harshly" (Mark 15:3). Jesus, apparently having been escorted out of the Praetorium in conjunction with the governor’s exit, "did not answer him with regard to even a single charge, so that the governor was quite amazed" (Matthew 27:14). "But they kept insisting, saying, ‘He stirs up the people, teaching all over Judea, starting even from Galilee, even as far as this place.’ " (Luke 23:5). As soon as Pilate figured out that there was a connection between Jesus and Galilee, he immediately sent Jesus over to Herod Antipas, grandson of Herod the Great through Aristobulus. When Jesus basically refused to acknowledge Antipas in any way, the tetrarch sent Jesus back to Pilate, clothed with "a gorgeous robe" (Luke 23:11).
- The governor’s magnanimity - The governors of Judea were always in a precarious position, trying to keep the volatile Jews under control while at the same time trying to execute the policies of the Emperor. A public show of generosity and good will helps to quiet the mutterings of the hoi polloi, and Pilate had one such policy in place. "Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the multitude any one prisoner whom they wanted" (Matthew 27:15). "And the multitude," having probably been put in motion by the chief priests and rulers of the people, "went up and began asking him to do as he had been accustomed to do for them" (Mark 15:8). Pilate summoned the leaders and explained to them that neither he nor Herod Antipas had found any guilt in regard to the charges leveled against the Lord. "But you have a custom, that I should release someone for you at the Passover," he affirmed. "Do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?" (John 18:39).
- Pilate’s attempt - Pilate, according to Matthew’s account, "knew that because of envy they had delivered Him up" (Matthew 27:18). Jesus, then, was innocent of the trumped up charges leveled against Him. Furthermore, Pilate’s own wife had had a dream and sent a message to Pilate warning him not to condemn "that righteous Man" (Matthew 27:19). But, being a politician, Pilate also gave the Jews a choice between Barabbas, a well-known insurrectionist, and Jesus, hoping that they would choose to release the One who was clearly innocent. "Therefore they cried out again, saying, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas.’ Now Barabbas," noted John, "was a robber" (John 18:40).
There would be a few more back-and-forth conversations between Pilate and the Jewish hierarchy. Pilate would be pressured to make the decision to have Jesus crucified by the orchestrated riot that was forming while he was wavering in making his pronouncement. But the conclusion was foregone: "Then he released Barabbas for them" (Matthew 27:26). The objective observer will note that Barabbas was guilty of the things the Jews accused Jesus of, while Jesus was innocent of those same charges. But people who have an agenda never allow facts to interfere with their progress.
In all aspects, Jesus the innocent died that the guilty might go free. "You disowned the Holy and Righteous One," preached Peter a little later, "and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life" (Acts 3:14,15). Truly, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (II Corinthians 5:21). It wasn’t just Barabbas that was released!