The purpose of John’s gospel is to bring his readers to true, saving faith. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31 ESV). The author brings us to the pinnacle of his gospel: the arrest, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But John is not recounting the story of Jesus. Scholars believe the other three gospels already existed and were in circulation when he writes this gospel. This gospel is not for us to simply go through the death and resurrection of Jesus. John will present Jesus as the glorious Son of God in whom we must put our complete hope and faith. This is what we will see in John 18. The kingdom of Jesus is not of this world.
The Arrest (18:1-11)
We are immediately struck by the fact that Jesus is not avoiding his impending arrest. After Jesus prays for his disciples and the glory of God (John 17), Jesus goes to a garden, the same place where the disciples often met. Judas knows where this place. Jesus does not try to change locations to avoid arrest. Jesus leads his disciples to the very place where Judas can lead his band of followers. People notice the massive group that Judas leads. He has a band of soldiers, some officers from the chief priests, and the Pharisees. Notice they are carries lanterns, torches, and weapons. This looks like a lynch mob and it is quite a number of people coming for Jesus. It is amazing picture to see this huge band of people with torches and weapons coming to arrest a peaceful preaching miracle worker.
Verse 4 is key. “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him…” Nothing that is happening is a surprise to Jesus. Jesus has divine foreknowledge of what will take place. Nothing is out of his control. Remember what Jesus has been telling his disciples.
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17–18 ESV)
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. (John 12:27 ESV)
The apostles’ preached this truth as well. This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:23 ESV)
To show that he has power over this situation, notice what happens next. Jesus comes forward toward them and asks, “Whom do you seek?” They answer, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus responds, “I Am” and when he said this they drew back and fell to the ground (18:6). At Jesus’ word, all of this could end. He could have put them to the ground, kept them on the ground, and walked away at this moment by his very word. Jesus is the great “I AM,” the name of God given in Exodus 3:14.
Then Jesus asks again who they are seeking. Amazingly, they do not change their answer. This is the hardness of sin that affects our hearts. They are not moved by the power that was displayed in the very words of Jesus. Instead, they say that they are looking for Jesus. In this dark moment Jesus’ concern is for his disciples. They would not be lost in this moment, just as Jesus has declared earlier (John 17:12).
But Peter is unwilling to yield at this moment. Peter draws his sword and strikes the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. Jesus is not going to resist at this moment. He is submitting to the will of the Father. Peter’s response is absurd for two reasons. First, look who Peter is up against. This is a huge crowd of people carrying torches and weapons. On a physical level, there is no way that these 11 disciples are going to win in combat against a band of soldiers and officers. Second, look at who is with Peter. Jesus did not need a human defense. Jesus just knocked this whole band to the ground with his words. Jesus’ mission is not bloodshed, but to sacrifice himself. Peter fails to remember Jesus’ mission and fails to remember Jesus’ predictive words concerning this moment. Jesus is focused on the plan of God. Peter is misguided and resists the plan of God.
Trial and Denial (18:12-27)
With this, Jesus, the divine Son of God, allows himself to be bound and arrested. We see Jesus completely yielding to the plan of God as Peter fights the plan of God. Jesus is first led to Annas, who is the rightful high priest. The Romans deposed Annas in 15 AD and made Caiaphas, Annas son-in-law, the high priest form 18-36 AD. The Jews evidently still recognized the religious authority of Annas. Even Josephus called Annas the high priest even after the time he had been deposed. John reminds of Caiaphas’ words in John 11:49-51. Caiaphas declared that it was better that one die for the people. The point is that a fair trial is not coming from Caiaphas or the Sanhedrin.
Rather than continuing to follow Jesus, John wants to turn our attention back to Peter. Peter along with another disciple followed Jesus to the courtyard of the high priest. Peter waits outside. Earlier Peter declared that he was willing to give his life for Jesus (John 13:37). He believes he is ready to give his life for Jesus and his kingdom. Words are easily said but are difficult to practice when put to the test. When a servant girl at the door identifies Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter denies his association with Jesus.
Back to Jesus, we see the high priest is questioning Jesus. Jesus points out that they had plenty of opportunities to gather information about Jesus. Jesus was never deceptive. Ask anyone and they can tell you what Jesus taught and said. Jesus is simply making the point that Annas has all the informant he needs to have. Further, Jesus seems to be rebuking the high priest because he should have had witnesses for this trial. But there are no witnesses. Jesus notes this and asks that they bring in people to ask what he has said. With this rebuke an officer strikes Jesus. Now think about how Jesus could have retaliated here. Think about all he could have done at this moment for being hit in the face. Instead, he allows himself to be taken to Caiaphas for another trial. John turns back to Peter who two more times adamantly declares that he is not a disciple of Jesus.
The Roman Trial (18:28-38)
Now Jesus is led to Pilate who is the governor over this region at this time. Typically Pilate resided in Caesarea Maritima but during the Passover would stay in Jerusalem to help maintain the peace. Notice the irony of verse 28. They would not enter the governor’s headquarters because they did not want to become defiled and not be able to eat the Passover. They are concerned about not being defiled by not entering into a Gentile’s home, but they are not concerned that they are to commit murder against an innocent person. Pilate comes out to them and asks what the charge is against this man. Listen to their response in verse 30. “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” They do not have a charge to give Pilate. But think about what they said. They simply say that he is doing evil. Of all the people this could be said about, they have the one person that no one could ever say that about!
Pilate does not care about their problem. It is evident that the Jewish leaders do not have a serious accusation and tell them to judge him according to their own laws. But the Jews respond that it is not lawful for them to put anyone to death. This is an interesting statement. The death penalty was in the hands of the Romans. But there is much more to this statement. During the time of Herod, the Jews were allowed to handle most of their criminal cases, particularly regarding their own law (which is what Pilate will say in John 19:6). We know the Jewish leaders had the power to judge according to their own law. They will stone Stephen in Acts 8. They will threaten death to the apostles. They will persecute the Christians in the book of Acts. Even if one were to argue that the Jewish leaders could not give the death penalty (which history and the scriptures show they could), Pilate just gave them authority to deal with Jesus how they wish. Why don’t the Jewish leaders take Jesus as stone him? The only answer is that they did not want to be responsible for his death. This is why they arrest him at night, rather than in the day before the eyes of everyone. They knew the popularity of Jesus and did not want to lose their influence with the people. So they want Jesus’ death to be at the hands of the Romans, not themselves. This is why the Jewish leaders will continue to push Pilate to execute Jesus throughout the trial. But notice verse 32. This is still all within the predetermine plan of God. He was going to die on a tree (Roman punishment) not stoning (Jewish punishment).
Pilate takes Jesus into his headquarters for interrogation. Pilate asks if Jesus is the King of the Jews. Jesus’ response is tremendous. Jesus asks a question to Pilate’s question. Do you legitimately want to know or are you just accepting the Jewish charge against me? Pilate’s response is that he does not care about the affairs of the Jews (18:35). Pilate is not rubber stamping the Jewish hostility. “What have you done?” Jesus tells Pilate that he is not a political concern as the Romans would think. What Jesus says is the theme of this chapter. “My kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus is the King whose purpose is to testify to the truth. The voice of Jesus is the truth. Those who listen to Jesus belong to the truth and belong to this kingdom.
But Pilate sees that this discussion is unproductive. This has been a repeated theme of John’s gospel. People failing to understand and believe. Pilate stays with a surface knowledge of Jesus and does not dig deeper to learn about Jesus and the truth that he speaks about.
“My kingdom is not of this world.” The easy, typical choice for people is to have their kingdom belong to this world. They put their hope in this world. Peter is more interested in preserving his life now than focusing on the plan of God and the kingdom that Jesus is inaugurating. It is so easy to live for today. It is so easy to live for this world. It is so easy to put our hope in this life. But who wants to dig deeper and learn the truth of Jesus? Who wants to live their lives for the eternal kingdom rather than for this broken, painful world? Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Where is our kingdom? Where is our hope? Where is our joy?
Denying Jesus is not only saying that we not a disciple of Jesus when someone asks of us. Denying Jesus is living for this realm rather than for his kingdom. Denying Jesus is putting our hope in this life. Denying Jesus is following our plans rather than the plans of God. This is what John is painting in the life of Peter and Pilate. They are following their own plans and saving their own lives. They are not submitting to the plans and purposes of God. Where is your kingdom?