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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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).

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.

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.

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.

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?

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).

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!