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B. W. Johnson
The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)



      Leaving the Upper Room, Jesus and his disciples went out into the moonlit night, for there was full moon at the passover, and took their way through the streets out of the eastern gate, across the Kedron, to the garden of Gethsemane, about a half mile from the city walls, near the western base of Mt. Olivet. The Garden, or orchard, takes its name from a word meaning oil press, and doubtless was shaded by the olive trees, from which the hill takes its designation. Still the traveler meets on this slope with giant olives, no doubt the descendants of those under the shade of which Jesus reposed. Here the Lord endured the Agony of the Garden, that wonderful struggle, with its sublime victory, recorded in the words, "Not as I will, but as thou wilt." Immediately after this we may place the appearance of the band led by Judas. How wonderful the events of this night! It is the only night of the life of Jesus that we can trace. We see first, the Passover in the upper room, then the washing of feet, the exposure of Judas, the warning to Peter, the tender discourses to the disciples, the agony at Gethsemane, the betrayal, the arrest, the trial before the Sanhedrim, the trial before Pilate, the scourging, &c., &c.

      1. He went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron. The eleven apostles were with Jesus when he left the Upper Room and departed on this eventful journey, the most eventful in the history of the world. The brook Kedron, which he crossed, flowed through a ravine east of Jerusalem, between the city and the Mount of Olives. The name means the black torrent. It was dry during [260] the dry, but a rushing torrent during the rainy season. Where was a garden. John does not give the name, but all the other writers designate it. Gethsemane means "oil-press." It was probably an enclosed olive vineyard, containing a press and garden-tower, perhaps a dwelling-house. It was at the western foot of the Mount of Olives, beyond the Kedron. The spot now pointed out as Gethsemane lies on the right of the path to the Mount of Olives. The wall has been restored. Eight olive trees remain, all of them very old, but scarcely of the time of our Lord, since Titus, during the siege of Jerusalem, had all the trees of the district cut down.--Schaff.

      2. Judas . . . . knew the place; for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither. The movements of Judas, after the Last Supper, we may readily picture to ourselves in their outline. Going immediately to Caiaphas, or to some other leading member of the Sanhedrim, he informs him where Jesus is, and announces that he is ready to fulfill his compact, and at once to make the arrest. It was not the intention to arrest Christ during the feast, lest there should be a popular tumult (@Matt. 26:5); but, now that an opportunity offered of seizing him secretly at dead of night, when all were asleep or engaged at the paschal meal, his enemies could not hesitate. Judas knew the place, for it was a frequent resort of Jesus with his disciples. He had been there ofttimes. No hallowed associations with that sacred spot deterred his treason for one moment.

      3. Judas, then, having received a band of men. The multitude, guided by Judas, is described by @Mark as "great." It consisted (1) of the band (@John 18:3, 12), or Roman cohort, which, consisting of 300 to 600 men, was quartered in the tower of Antonia, overlooking the temple, and ever ready to put down any tumult or arrest any disturber. Probably so much of the band as could be spared was present. (2) There were the captains of the temple (@Luke 22:52), with their men, who guarded the temple and kept order. (3) Some of the chief priests and elders (@Luke 22:52). (4) And, finally, @their servants, such as Malchus. The priests, ignorant of the spirit and purposes of Jesus, expected resistance. The "lanterns and torches" show that they expected that he might hide in the dark shadows of the valleys and crags. Otherwise they would not have been required when there was the full passover moon.

      4. Jesus, knowing all things that should come upon him. Knowing their objects and all that he had to endure on the morrow. He submitted of his own will, and after the troubled hour of Gethsemane, is as calm as the unruffled sea. Whom seek ye? Jesus "went forth" from the shadow of the trees into the moonlight, [261] or from the garden walls, advancing in front of his disciples, in order to save them from arrest (@verse 8), and asked whom they sought.

      5, 6. Judas, also, which betrayed him, stood with them. To the Lord's question, his foes replying that they sought Jesus of Nazareth, he calmly replied, "I am he." Then follows a scene designed to show all the world that the Lord laid down his own life. His foemen were powerless in his hands. As he answers, either his majesty and their own terror so impressed them, that, awed, they fell backward to the earth, or his divine power was exerted to prostrate them. Then the Lord submitted himself "as a lamb to the slaughter," and his power is not again exerted until he rises from the tomb, except to heal the smitten servant of the high priest. John calls attention to the fact that Judas was with the band thus discomfited. The other writers mention, what John omits, that Judas betrayed the Lord with a kiss. See @Mark 14:44, 45. This probably occurred just before what John records in @verses 5th And 6th.

      7, 8, 9. Let these go their way. After the guard had recovered from its sudden terror, perhaps wondering how it could have been so smitten to the earth, but still standing as if they did not know what to do, Jesus again asks whom they seek, and on their answer, repeats that he is the one they seek, adding the request that, if their object is to take him, they should lot his disciples go. In this hour his thoughts were not on himself, but concerning the safety of his followers. In their safety the Scripture would be fulfilled, his own words, uttered in his prayer (@John 17:12). The present deliverance of the eleven would be the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise, and the same power that protected them now, would protect them to the end.

      10. Then Simon Peter . . . smote the high priest's servant. We learn from @Luke 22:38, that there were but two swords in the whole company of the twelve. One of these naturally was in Peter's possession, as being the foremost of the whole band. Abbott surmises that the attack on the guard followed their sudden terror. All the disciples were eager to make it (@Luke 22:49), though Peter was the only one who carried the will into action. In @Luke 22:49, Peter first asks if they shall fight. He waits not for the answer, but impelled by the natural [262] courage of his heart, and taking no heed of the odds against him, aims a blow at one, probably the foremost of the band,--the first that was daring to lay profane hands on the sacred person of the Lord.

      11. Put up thy sword into the sheath. @Matthew 26:52, 53, is in some respects fuller, and is full of instruction: "Put up again thy sword into its place; for all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword." There is no possibility of advancing Christ's kingdom in such worldly ways, by force, by depending on the rich, or on state patronage. And there is no need of such aid, either for Christ or his kingdom. God only can save them from worldly trouble if that were the best; for "thinkest thou I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me twelve legions of angels?" The same thought is expressed here: "The cup which my Father hath given shall I not drink it?" He was, by the will of the Father surrendering himself, for the time, to the power of his enemies. They could have no power over him without his consent.

      12. Then the band, and the captain and officers of the Jews, took Jesus and bound him. The disciples "all forsook him and fled" (@Mark 14:50), probably at this moment, and the soldiers of the Roman band, and the Jewish temple officers, rough, cruel men, seized and bound the Son of God. The terror inspired by the gentle but mighty Jesus is shown in the fact that all unite to seize him and to bind him. While they were binding him the disciples had an opportunity to escape.

      13. And led him away to Annas first. The actual high priest at the time was Caiaphas; but this Annas had been high priest, and as such enjoyed the title by courtesy. Being also a man of great wealth and influence, and of active habits, he took upon him much of the business of that high office, as a sort of assessor to, or substitute for, Caiaphas, who was his son-in-law. Hence the evangelist describes them both as "high priests" (@Luke 3:2), as they were in fact.

      14. Now Caiaphas was he which gave counsel to the Jews, etc. Caiaphas had already committed himself to the policy of condemnation (@John 11:50). He was appointed high priest by the Roman procurator about 27 A. D., held the office during the whole administration of Pilate, was deposed 36 or 37 A. D. Both Annas and Caiaphas were creatures of the Roman court; both belonged to the Saddusaic party; both, that is, were openly infidel concerning some of the fundamental truths of the Hebrew faith. Originally the high priest was appointed for life but the Romans set him aside and appointed a successor whenever they wished. Annas had been thus deposed, but was probably still regarded as the real high priest by many of the Jews. [263]

      The reader will observe, as in @11:49-52, the statement that Caiaphas was priest "that same year" and "gave counsel that Jesus should die." I wish to emphasize the thought that John does not intend to intimate that the high-priesthood was an annual office, but that Caiaphas was the high priest that same remarkable year, and that he was instrumental in the death of Christ, by declaring "that it was expedient that one man should die for the people." "Every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices" and was wont to enter "the holy place once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins of the whole people" (@Heb. 9:7). Hence, John indicates not only that Caiaphas unconsciously prophesied, but unconsciously, also, "being high priest that year," sent the great Victim to the sacrifice who died for the sins of the world.


      1. It is not strange that some bad professors creep into the church, since one in twelve, even of Christ's own disciples, was false. The church can prosper in spite of some unworthy members.

      2. We see the powerlessness of mere good example to save men. No one ever lived in better company than Judas.

      3. Bad men will always find an opportunity to sin. God uses even bad men, and compels them to carry out his designs; but wrong-doing is none the better on that account.

      4. THIS CUP.--When Jesus, in his prayer, said, "Not as I will, but as thou wilt," then he was "strengthened," his soul was at peace, and henceforth he was calm and dignified. He was brought into the perfect peace and calmness of a submissive will, so that every desire and feeling and choice was in harmony with the Father. He was enabled to go on with his work of redemption, to glorify God and magnify his love (see @Phil. 2:7-10). The cross was changed to a crown, Gethsemane into Paradise, death into immortal glory. So perfect resignation to the will of the Father strengthens us, fills us with perfect peace, and fits us for every noble work.

      5. I AM HE.--That answer, so quiet and so gentle, had in it a strength greater than the eastern wind, or the voice of thunder, for God was in that still voice and it struck them down to the ground. Instances are not wanting in history in which the untroubled brow, the mere glance, the calm bearing of a defenceless man, has disarmed and paralyzed enemies. The savage and brutal Gauls could not lift their swords to slay the majestic senators of Rome. "I cannot slay Marius!" exclaimed the barbarian slave, flinging down his sword and flying headlong from the prison into which he had been sent to murder the aged hero.--Farrar.


      "Reading the Gospels side by side, we will, with care and study, see how all they tell us falls accurately into its proper position in the general narrative, and shows us a six-fold trial, a quadruple decision, a triple acquittal, a twice repeated condemnation of Christ our Lord. We soon perceive that of the [264] three successive trials which our Lord underwent at the hands of the Jews, the first only--that before Annas--is related to us by @ John; the second--that before Caiaphas--by @Matthew and Mark; the third--that before the Sanhedrim--by @Luke alone. Nor is there anything strange in this, since the first was the practical, the second the potential, and the third the actual and formal decision, that sentence of death should be passed upon him. Each of the three trials might, from a different point of view, have been regarded as the most fatal and important of the three. That of Annas was the authoritative pre-judgment, that of Caiaphas the real determination, that of the Sanhedrim, at daybreak, the final ratification. "--Farrar.

      15. Simon Peter followed Jesus, and another disciple. At the time of the seizure of Christ all the apostles fled in panic (@Matt. 26:56), but in a short time some of them recovered and followed (@Matt. 26:58), one of them being Peter. The other "disciple" named is admitted by all commentators to be John. He was "known to the high priest," how we cannot say; some have supposed that he was a relative; others that he had a home in Jerusalem (@19:27) and had thus become acquainted. As an acquaintance he was at once admitted through the gates of the high priest's palace, while Peter was refused admission. High priest. In @verse 13 it is stated that Jesus "was led away to Annas first," while here he is taken into the "high priest's palace," though we have just been informed that "Caiaphas was high priest that year." This may be explained in two ways. Annas who had been high priest for seven years, who was the father of four sons who were high priests, and whose son-in-law was high priest, was probably the most influential man among the Jews and was dignified with his old title of high priest. In @Luke 3:2, both Annas and Caiaphas are named as high priests; in @Acts 4:6, Annas is spoken of as high priest. Though his son-in-law was now by Roman appointment in the position, he was still called high priest, and from what we learn elsewhere, his counsels swayed the ruling party. It is, however, likely that he still had a home in the official residence of the high priest and that he and his son-in-law lived under the same roof. The band that had arrested Jesus brought him to Annas first, perhaps because at that midnight hour Caiaphas was asleep while the more active and vigilant Annas was on the alert. Perhaps because Annas, the power behind the throne, had directed them to do so; or, as some have urged, he held some high dignity that entitled him to examine Jesus and commit him for trial. His was a preliminary examination. It seems certain that he and Caiaphas lodged in the same palace and hence, that all that is recorded of Peter's denials in the four accounts, occurred at the same place. [265]

      16. But Peter stood at the door without. The damsel who kept the door, for it was a common Jewish custom to have female porters, seeing that Peter was a stranger, refused to admit him. John went in, evidently expecting Peter to follow, but when he did not, returned and spoke to the maid, who at once, suffered him to pass, John being an acquaintance.

      17. Art thou not also one of this man's disciples? John was known to the maid as a disciple of Christ. The maid, fancying that Peter was another, from his acquaintance with John, asked the question, after Peter had gone in, from curiosity. There was no occasion for Peter to deny, but from sudden fear he said, "I am not." As some have insisted that there is a discrepancy in the four accounts of the denial of Peter it will be well to note, 1. That each Evangelist records the prediction of a three-fold denial; 2. That each Evangelist records three acts of denial; 3. That they all represent these to have occurred at the palace of the high priest; 4. That all declare that the first denial was in answer to a question of a maid servant; 5. All refer to the same place in the immediate connection, the court or inner open space around which the building was constructed, and where the fire was built on the pavement. This would be within the building, but outside of the rooms. Thus far, then, there is harmony.

      18. Servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals. As we learn from @Mark 14:66, the fire was made in the court, the open space left in the center for light and ventilation around which the building was constructed, and which was reached by an arched way called (@Matt. 26:71) "the porch." The court within, which was a common feature of great houses, was paved. The fire was of charcoal. It was cold. As a general rule the nights of Palestine at the season of the passover were warm throughout, and the cold is named as unusual. Peter, having denied his Master, probably thought he was less likely to be suspected if he threw himself in the midst of his enemies and hence he "stood and warmed himself," while John seems to have pressed on after his Lord.

      19. The high priest then asked Jesus . . . of his doctrine. Is not certain whether this "high priest" was Annas or Caiaphas, but I agree with the [266] opinion of Canon Farrar that it was Annas, and that John, therefore, gives an account of the informal examination by this great dignitary which he personally witnessed and which is omitted in the other Gospels. In the Common Version @verse 24 reads that "Annas had sent him to Caiaphas bound," which has been supposed to mean that he was sent before the examination described just before. The Revision, however, reads, "Annas, therefore, sent him," etc., which is correct as the Greek verb is not in the past perfect, but in the aorist tense. This can only mean that Annas sent him after the examination that John describes. Since, as we have found, Annas is called high priest, as well as Caiaphas, there is no difficulty in the use of that term. Annas had now conducted his informal trial, decided upon the case, and delivered over the prisoner, "bound," for official investigation. The next investigation, which is described by @Matthew and Mark, was not conducted by the whole Sanhedrim, but a portion. The Jewish writers speak of three Sanhedrims, of which two were, in fact, great committees of the Sanhedrim, twenty-three members being required for a meeting. This was probably such a section. On the other hand, Luke records the meeting of the great body, the whole Sanhedrim, at dawn of the day (@Luke 22:66), since, according to Jewish writers, it could not condemn a man to death at night. The high priest's examination of Jesus was in the hope that he could extort some admission on which a charge could be framed. The answer of the Savior, though calm and dignified, is a rebuke.

      20, 21. I spake openly to the world. The Lord ignores the question concerning his disciples, but answers with reference to himself. He had taught openly in the synagogue and temple; he had entered into no conspiracies, as Annas himself had done; all his life and teaching could be learned by inquiry. Let them, if they wanted information, seek it of those who had heard him. There are several emphatic words, the I five times repeated in @two verses, in contrast with you, and the ever. Jesus had no secret clique, but "taught the world." It will be observed that the Lord claims that the examination may proceed in the regular order by calling witnesses. "Ask them;" "Why askest thou me?"

      22. One of the officers . . struck Jesus. This is the first blow that was laid upon him "by whose stripes we are healed." The word rendered "palm of the hand" is "rod" in the margin, which is probably the meaning. The officer, a courtier, was not accustomed to hear a prisoner, in plain and independent language, stand upon his rights, and hence insolently struck the [267] prisoner, and exclaimed, as though to justify the act, "Answerest thou the high priest so?"

      23. If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil. Observe the calmness and dignity of the reply. Paul, under similar circumstances (@Acts 23:3), answers like a man, but Christ, like the Son of God. If there was evil in the words just spoken, let it be pointed out; but if not, to smite him was a crime. These words are spoken to the servant. Violence is the resort of those who are in the wrong.

      24. Now Annas had sent him bound to Caiaphas. If this a correct translation, the Lord was sent to Caiaphas before the examination just recorded. The Revision, however, reads: "Annas, therefore, sent him," etc., indicating that he was now sent. The latter is the correct translation, and points out this as the time be was sent.

      25. And Simon Peter . . . Art thou also one of his disciples? In @verse 18 Peter is described as among the enemies of Christ, warming himself. It is repeated in order to give the circumstances of the second denial. It is by a comparison of all the Gospels that we get the full facts. They do not contradict each other but relate different parts of the same story. "Another maid" (@Matthew) saw him and spoke to the others about him. Then "a man saw him" (@Luke) and accused him; then those to whom the maid had spoken also accused (@John). To all he made his second denial, @Matthew says, "with an oath." This occurred partly in the "porch" (@Matthew and Mark), or passage way to the court, and partly in the court (@John). John and Luke omit the aggravation of the denials which @Matthew and Mark record.

      26. One of the servants of the high priest . . . Did I not see thee? etc. There is no mention of where the third denial occurred. Some time had passed, "about an hour" (@Luke), since the last denial. @Matthew and Mark describe the charge by "them that stood by;" @Luke as made by another man, and @John as made by a kinsman of Malchus. From all these accounts it seems clear that the conversation had been going on, probably around the fire. Peter joined in it and his Galilean pronunciation was recognized. Attention was called to it, and then many brought the charge against him. One of the servants, also a kinsman of Malchus, asserted that he had seen him in the garden. To all of these Peter made his denial with an oath, even "cursing and swearing" [268] as though in a great passion (@Matthew). All the Evangelists then give the three acts of denial, but each has taken different circumstances that were most significant for his purpose. All three denials took place in the high priest's house, in the court or the entrance to it, all within range of the light and heat of the fire kindled within; the first in the court, the second in the entrance, and the third again within.

      27. Immediately the cock crew. As the oaths were sullying the lips of him who had declared that he would die for the Master, the cock crew the second time to herald the approach of day. At that very moment the Lord, probably now being led to the meeting of the Sanhedrim which @Luke tells us met at daylight, turned and looked on Peter with a look that pierced his soul. The recreant disciple went out into the night, like Judas; broken down, however, by repentance instead of remorse, and "wept bitterly" (@Matt. 26:75). "They upon whom Jesus looks mourn their misdeeds. Peter at first denied and wept not, for the Lord had not looked upon him. He a second time denied, yet wept not; for the Lord hitherto had not looked on him. He denied a third time, and Jesus looked on him and then he wept most bitterly."--Ambrose.

      Following this, at dawn of day, the Savior was tried before Sanhedrim, as related in @Luke 22:66-71, and as all attempts to prove him guilty of some crime or violation of the law had failed, in spite of false witnesses, he was called upon to answer, and upon his affirmation of divine majesty, they condemned him to die as guilty of blasphemy. To carry the sentence into effect the approbation of the Roman governor was needful. Hence, their prisoner is next sent to Pilate.


      1. From the accounts of the trial before the Sanhedrim, given more fully by the other Evangelists, we learn clearly the ground of condemnation. Failing to convict Jesus of any capital charge by witnesses, they examined him and the high priest exclaimed, "I adjure thee, Art thou the Christ, the Son of God." When he replied "I am," the high priest rent his garments, as if in horror, and cried: "What need have we of further testimony?" and all affirmed, "He is worthy of death." He was condemned, not because he said he was the Christ, but for asserting that he was the "Son of God," the crime of blasphemy from the point of view that he was only a man. Hence, before Pilate, when he found the Savior guiltless, they brought the additional charge: "We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God." It follows, therefore, that Christ died on his own testimony that he was the Son of God. He heard the sentence of death passed by the Sanhedrim, on this ground, without a word of explanation. These facts are all consistent with his Sonship, his real Divinity, but are incapable of explanation if he was less than the Son of God. The only way to free his character to to accept him as the Son of the Highest. [269]

      2. Now with the eye of sense we look on Jesus an he stands before this Jewish tribunal. It is the Man of sorrows, despised and rejected of men; treated by those lordly judges, and the brutal band of servitors, as the vilest of felons, the very refuse of the earth. Again, with the eye of faith we look upon him, and he seems transfigured before us, when, breaking the long-kept silence, he declares, "I am the Son of God, and hereafter ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." From what a depth of earthly degradation, to what a height of superhuman dignity does Jesus at once ascend! And is it not striking to notice how he himself blends his humiliation and exaltation, his humanity and divinity, as he takes the double title and binds it to his suffering brow: The Son of Man; the Son of God.--Hanna


      John only gives the detailed account of the private examinations of Jesus by Pilate during the civil trial recorded in @18:33-37. He probably went within Pilate's palace as he would not be deterred by the scruples of the Jews, having eaten his passover, and he was therefore a personal witness. His account aids much in explaining Pilate's language to the Jews and to Christ, which is recorded in the other Gospels. The trial before Pilate divides itself into the following acts: 1. Without the Prætorium. The Jews demand the death of Christ (@18:28-32). 2. Within the Prætorium. Christ "witnesses a good confession." Christ a King (@18:32-37). 3. Without the Prætorium. Jesus declared innocent. Barabbas proposed (@18:38-40). 4. Within. The Lord scourged and mocked (@19:1-3). 5. Without. Second and third declarations of innocence. "Behold the Man!" "The Son of God" (@19:4-7). 6. Within. Authority (@19:8-11). 7. Without. Pilate gives way before Jewish clamor and tramples on his convictions (@19:12-16). In the appeal to Pilate the Sanhedrim, at first, concealed the real grounds on which they had condemned Jesus, and sought to have him put to death as a dangerous character who aimed to secure the kingly power.

      The transference of the trial from the Sanhedrim to the "judgment seat" of Pontius Pilate was made necessary by the political condition of Judea. One badge of the servitude of the Jewish nation to the Roman yoke was, that while the Jewish courts were permitted to try and to punish minor offenses, the final judgment of all capital offenses was reserved for the Roman tribunals. A Roman judge must sign the warrant before the condemned person could be led to execution, and the punishment was then indicted by the Roman officials. These capital cases at Jerusalem were usually brought up at the great feasts, at which time the Roman Governor came up from his home at Cesarea to the Jewish capital. Pontius Pilate, at this passover occasion, had come up, and as he would probably return as soon as the passover was over, it was needful to make their appeal to him at once. Besides, after the passover began it would be unlawful for them to conduct civil business, and unless they were prepared to hold Jesus for a week as a prisoner the death warrant would have to be obtained this very morning, and the crucifixion follow immediately, in order that the bodies might be removed before the feast began. It is needful to consider these facts in order to [270] understand the extreme hurry and urgency of the members of Sanhedrim. Hence, early upon that Friday morning, the great dignitaries of Israel were assembled before the hated judgment hall of Pilate, a building they could not enter at this time without defilement. No Jew was permitted, during the passover week to enter any house that had not been purged of leaven, under the penalty of death, and this would, of course, exclude them from all buildings occupied by Gentiles. Though the rulers could trample the law of justice to the earth, they were scrupulous in observing the ceremonial law.

      28. Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment. The first examination was at the house of Annas, where an officer had smitten Jesus. Then Annas sent him to Caiaphas. Still later he was tried before the Sanhedrim (see @Matt. chap. 27) and condemned. Then he was led from Caiaphas to Pilate's judgment hall. Pontius Pilate, now mentioned by John for the first time, made conspicuous before all the world by his connection with the crucifixion, was the Roman governor, or rather "procurator" of Palestine. The principal duties of his office were to preserve order, collect the tribute and, in certain cases, administer justice. Since A. D. 6 Palestine had been thus governed and Pilate had entered upon his office two or three years before. His usual residence was in Cesarea, but at the time of the great feasts he was wont to come up to Jerusalem to prevent tumult. His name indicates that he belonged to the warlike gens of the Pontii, of whom the great Samnite general, Caius Pontius, was most conspicuous. His history, as given by profane authorities, indicates that he was a bold, unscrupulous, cruel man. He was removed from office about A. D. 36 on account of his cruelties and banished. The traditions report that he killed himself from disappointment, or remorse, and Mt. Pilatus in Switzerland, is pointed out as his last earthly home. Justin Martyr, in his defence of Christianity, cites Pagans to the official report of Pilate to the Emperor Tiberius concerning the death of Jesus Christ, which he says, they could find in the archives at Rome. Tertullian, Eusebius and others also speak of it. A very ancient document, entitled the Acts of Pilate, is still extant, but the weight of scholarship is against its authenticity. It was early. Probably after the hour of sunrise, about six or seven A. M. The informal meeting of the Sanhedrim, held some time before dawn on this Friday morning, at the palace of Caiaphas, had adjourned, and the mob were mocking Jesus. But as soon as morning dawned, and it was lawful to condemn Jesus, the Sanhedrim assembled, probably in their own council chamber--either the hall Gazith, in the temple court, or a hall near by--and proceeded to pass formal sentence of death upon Jesus. But they could not inflict the death penalty. The Romans were now the rulers of Judea, and had taken to themselves the right to decide on all cases of capital punishment. Hence, it was [271] needful for the Jews to go to Pilate, the Roman governor, to secure this condemnation of Christ. They themselves went not into the judgment hall. The judgment hall, or Prætorium, literally, was the name given to the headquarters of the Roman military governor, wherever he happened to be. These Jewish leaders, filled with the hate of Christ, and ready to secure his judicial murder by the foulest means, were yet so scrupulous that they would not enter the house of a Gentile lest "they should be defiled" (see @Deut. 16:4), so that they would not be able to eat the passover. The Pharisees held that contact with a Gentile, or to enter his house was a source of defilement. Hence, this deputation of the Sanhedrim waited without and Pilate "went out unto them" to ascertain their business. Men can be very religious and yet great sinners.

      29. What accusation bring ye against this man? As a detachment of Roman soldiers had been furnished to assist in the arrest, he probably knew already that they regarded the prisoner an evil doer, but he did not know what were the specific charges.

      30. If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee. Their reply shows that they had hoped that Pilate would take their verdict that Jesus was a malefactor, worthy of death, and would send him to death without a trial. They had condemned Jesus to death on the charge of blasphemy, because he declared that he was the Christ, the Son of God, but they knew well that Pilate would be indifferent to a charge of this kind. Such a claim on the part of Jesus would be no offence against the Roman law.

      31. Take ye him, and judge him according to your own law. They had judged and condemned according to their own law and Pilate, on their refusal to state their charges, bade them proceed according to their own laws. They answered that this could not be done for "it was not lawful for them to put any man to death." The Roman laws forbade it. The power of life and death had been taken away from them as a subject people.

      32. That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled. Had the Jews been allowed to put Christ to death, he would have been stoned, as Stephen was, by a mob in Jerusalem, stoning being the usual Jewish method of execution, but he had "signified what death he should die" (@John 12:32, and Matt. 20:18, 19) and had declared that he should be crucified. This was the method of punishment that the Roman uniformly adopted towards conquered races. [272]

      33. Then Pilate entered the judgment hall again. Before Pilate returned into the judgment hall, where Jesus had been taken, the Jews had made a formal charge that must demand the attention of Pilate, that Jesus was aiming at the sovereignty of Judea and seeking to overturn the Roman government. See @Luke 23:2. These charges were well adapted to perplex Pilate. Jesus did claim that he would establish a kingdom and had come into the world to be a King; he had a few days before entered Jerusalem, hailed by the throng as King of the Jews. It was not to be expected that Pilate would understand that his kingdom was spiritual, especially when a dishonest and wily priesthood was perverting every fact to give color to their accusation. Art thou the King of the Jews? This was a private investigation within the Prætorium, after the Jews, carefully suppressing the religious grounds on which they had condemned our Lord, had advanced against him a triple accusation of, (1) seditious agitation; (2) prohibition of the payment of the tribute-money, and (3) the assumption of the suspicious title of "King of the Jews" (@Luke 23:3). This last accusation amounted to a charge of treason--the greatest crime known to Roman law. Of the three points of accusation, (2) was utterly false; (1) and (3), though in a sense true, were not true in the sense intended.

      34, 35. Sayest thou this thing of thyself? or, etc. This question of Jesus is not for information, but it strikes right at the merits of the charge. Who made it? Did any Roman ever see me breaking the Roman laws? If a Roman had preferred the charge of insurrection, it might be examined, but when did the Jews find fault with a man who sought to free them? Pilate knew well how restive they were under the Roman yoke, how ready to rebel, and the very hate shown Christ was proof that he was not aiming to be such a King as they desired. Pilate comprehends the point, for he exclaims at once, "Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me." That disproves their charge. But what hast thou done?

      36. My kingdom is not of this world. Jesus did not hesitate to relieve the honest perplexity of Pilate; still it would be hard for Pilate, with his gross ideas, to form any conception of a kingdom not of this world, a kingdom of which the subjects did not fight with carnal weapons to defend its king, or to extend its borders. But such was Christ's. It was not of this world, did not spring from it, was heavenly in its origin, and hence his servants would not fight that he should not [273] be delivered to the Jews. The fact that no resistance was made to his arrest was a proof that his servants did not propose resistance to worldly governments. Note what this remarkable declaration contains: 1. Christ's kingdom is supernatural, not of human origin. It is in the world but not worldly. 2. It is maintained, not by carnal weapons, but by spiritual and moral means. All attempts to propagate Christianity by the sword are prohibited.

      37. Art thou a king then? If Christ has a kingdom he must be a King. Some commentators have thought that Pilate asked this question in contempt of the poor, bound prisoner that was before him, but the gravity of the answer of Jesus shows that it was sincerely asked. The Lord did not reply to sneers. Hence he declares that he had come into the world to be a King, that he was a King, and that all who were under the influence of the truth would hear his voice, because he bore witness to the truth.

      38. What is truth? Pilate's inquiry was not answered in words, but Truth sat embodied and bound before him. It matters not whether his question was sincere, or in pity of one whom he may have thought an enthusiast, it is evident that he was profoundly impressed, for at once he stepped out of the hall to the street, where the priests were waiting, and declared, I find in him no fault at all. It is his formal acquittal in the face of the Sanhedrim. Unless he had been profoundly stirred, he, a bloody, unscrupulous man, would not have cleared a helpless prisoner in the face of the Jewish nation which sought to destroy him.

      39. Ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover. By a comparison of the other accounts it is evident that, in the interval, before his effort to release Jesus according to the custom of the passover feast, he sent Jesus to Herod in order to shuffle off the responsibility, but Herod had sent him back. Then he asks whether he shall not release him, according to the custom. He was placed in a very trying position. Jesus was accused of treason against the Roman emperor; he declared that he was not guilty; the priests then accused Pilate of not being Cæsar's friend, intimating that they would accuse him to Cæsar. Had he been accused of letting a man go who claimed to be King of the Jews it would have gone hard with him. Still he is intensely averse to being the instrument of the murder of Jesus, and he hopes that they will accept his liberty on account of the passover. The custom had arisen of the Roman governors always dismissing, as an act of favor at that time, one prisoner who had offended [274] the Roman authority. There were only two such prisoners of note in Pilate's hands. One was Barabbas, a man who had been engaged in sedition in Jerusalem as the leader of a band of robbers, a desperate man and a murderer; the other was Jesus, of whom he had said, "I find in him no fault at all."

      40. Not this man, but Barabbas. He had not named Barabbas, but they, in their anxiety to reject Christ, at once name him. The people were stimulated to this choice by the bitter hatred of the priests. It is remarkable that this man Barabbas was confessedly guilty of the very crime with which the priests and rulers had falsely charged Jesus--that of sedition; and no plainer proof of their hypocrisy could be given to the watchful Pilate than their efforts to release the former and condemn the latter.


      1. The practical, vital question for every mortal, is that which confronted Pilate, What shall I do with Christ? To every one comes Pilate's hour, when he must make his decision.

      2. The Jews carried Jesus to Pilate "because it was not lawful for them to put any man to death." That proved that the "scepter (power) had departed from Judah." But that was the proof that Shiloh had come. See @Gen.49:10.

      3. Are you members of that kingdom which is not of this world? Then you cannot be filled with the spirit of this world. "Be not conformed to this world." "The friendship of the world is enmity to God."

      4. Are you of the truth? The test is hearing the voice of Christ. "Every one that is of the truth hears" his voice. Those who can behold his sinless life, his matchless love, and hear his words such as man never spake, and then turn away from him, demonstrate that they do not love the truth. He is the truth itself.

      5. What shall I do with Jesus? (1) Every person must do something with Jesus. He must accept or reject him. (2) Some try to escape this decision: (a) by refusing to decide, but that is deciding against him; (b) by substitution of other virtues in the place of believing in Christ; (c) by laying the blame on others, on circumstances, on temptations; (d) but it is all in vain. (3) To reject Christ is to reject the sum and soul of all goodness. (4) Rejecting Christ is the great sin of the world. (5) The time will come when those who reject Christ will have to ask," What can I do without Christ?"--P.

      6. Jesus long since was nailed to the cross and hanged up against the Judean sky, but the old question, "What shall I do with Jesus?" is still the question of the hour. Barabbas, the robber, who was preferred to Jesus, sleeps in an unknown grave, but there are thieves and highwaymen still. There are moral Barabbases who would rob us of the religion that made this country great and free--that dotted it with school-houses, as the heavens are with stars--that comforts us in affliction and cheers us when our feet touch the dark waters. There are appetites and lusts to rob our hearts of peace, our homes of joy [275] and our souls of the crown of life. Behold! Jesus knocks at my heart's door! Shall I receive and honor him? Shall I, with the multitude say, "Away with him! Release Barabbas?" It is the old question, "What shall I do with Jesus?" Like Banquo's ghost it will not down at my bidding. I cannot evade it. I must be for him or against him. It is the old question still, "Jesus or Barabbas?"--J. B. Johnson.

[NTC3 260-276]

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The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)

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