Our King Condemned to Victory

John 18:25-40

I. Background – The trial of Jesus provokes the trial of Peter (18:12-27).

A. From the garden, the combination of Romans soldiers and Jewish officers (12) took Jesus to trial before the Jewish officials to seek specific charges against him according to Jewish law.

So momentous was this arrest, that the commander (chiliarch) of the Roman cohort was there to take charge.

1. In verses 13, 14, John reminds the reader of the relation between Annas and Caiaphas and that Caiaphas was the one who gave the unwitting prophecy concerning Jesus in his death for his people (John 11:49-52). Now these two are effecting the prophecy that will bring about the final and effectual sacrifice and render their official positions null and void. In an ironic sense, it is fitting that the ruling High Priest be the one that brings to fruition the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Like the sacrifice bound to the horns of the altar (Psalm 118:27), so they bound Jesus (12).

2. The next verses (15-18) concern events dealing with Simon Peter and the beginning of his series of denials.

      • Simon Peter and John followed Jesus to a courtyard next to the residence of the high priest, where Annas would first subject him to interrogation. Because of some prior connections, John was able to enter the courtyard and then arranged for Peter to follow. Later, John would arrive first at the tomb, but Peter would enter first (20:4-6).
      • As Peter entered the courtyard and apparently went immediately to sit by a fire (Luke 22:55, 56), a female servant who stood at the entrance to the courtyard asked Peter if he were one of the disciples of Jesus (17). Peter, with no hesitation, denied the connection. The text makes him seem perfectly detached from any sense of ambivalence or conscientious scruples at the time.
      • Instead, Peter, having joined a group of slaves and officers who were warming themselves around a coal fire, sat down with them. Note the stark distinction between the juxtaposed scenes—Jesus bound and surrounded with Jewish officers and facing criminal proceedings while Peter is concerned about the brisk weather and warms himself in the company of casual onlookers. We should warn ourselves about the propensity of our sinful sense of self-preservation in the face of dangerous truth.

3. It seems not to have dawned on Peter at this point that he just had perjured himself twice. “I will lay down my life for you,” turns out to be a prideful and ignorant assertion (John 13:37). In addition, he lied to a servant girl in a vain attempt to save his own life. Also, he has begun the series of fearful capitulations that would fulfill Jesus’ prophetic warning that Peter would deny him three times (John 13:38).

B. The next verses (19-24) record how Annas, called “the high priest,” dealt with Jesus.

1. The interrogation revolved around Jesus’ disciples and his teaching. Judging from accusations, fears, and subsequent statements (36), Annas wants to know if the disciples are poised to lead in a rebellion and if Jesus has aspirations for the political redemption of Israel (John 11:47, 48). Also, it is clear they suspected him of blasphemy in his constant references to messianic language (John 5:18, 46, 47; 6:14, 41; 7:1, 28-30, 46-49; 8:18-20, 58-59; 10:30-33, 38-39).

2. Jesus rejected the implication that an unspoken, a secret agenda that included rebellion, was the ultimate intent of Jesus. He said that his teachings were plain, spoken in the open, and any who heard him, if they reported truly and without hostile fabrication could tell Annas accurately what Jesus had said (20, 21). The Jews might not have had ears to understand what Jesus was saying because the intensity of their hatred, but an honest and plain-spoken witness could give an account of Jesus’ teaching.

3. One of the officers attending this interrogation took offense at Jesus’ forthright answer and struck Jesus. He considered Jesus’ confidence in his own transparency, the appeal for unbiased witnesses, and Jesus’ obvious assumption of impeccable integrity to be an insult to the high priest in his inquisitorial method.

4. Jesus responded to this brutal and unjust pummeling with the same candor that had brought on the blow. Again, true testimony is at the heart of Jesus’ response: “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong, but if rightly, why do you strike me?” (23). Honest answers that reveal the devious intent of prejudiced judges incite anger.

C. With the denials completed, the cock crows (18:25-27).

1. Those onlookers with whom Peter warmed himself, realizing that he was not one of the usual crowd in the courtyard, suspected that he was connected with the bound pseudo-Messiah in some way and asked him if it were so. Again, Peter manages a swift denial (25).

2. Each event of questioning comes nearer the mark. Around an hour later, a relative of the de-eared Malchus in the garden at the time of Peter’s sword-wielding, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden.” Peter has become so adamant that he denies even an eye-witness sighting, He confirms his denial with swearing and cursing (Matthew 26:74), probably pledging a malediction upon himself in order to heighten the appearance of the absurdity that he is a follower of this accused man.

3. Peter’s denials as predicted by Jesus now were completed. The crowing of the cock shook Peter back into reality, now aware that what Jesus had told him came to pass. It is a strange phenomenon of human sinfulness that an external reminder brings clarity to our unfaithfulness more than the operation of personal conscience (2 Samuel 11:27; 12:5, 7, 13).

II. Jesus’ Initial interview with Pilate

A. verse 28 – Note the irony of their complete insensitivity to justice, to the purity of Jesus, to the truth of his claims in contrast to their punctilious observance of the ceremonial law. In their avoidance of ceremonial impurity, they multiplied their sin incalculably. 

B. verses 29, 30 – Accommodating their sensibilities, Pilate meets them outside to ask the nature of the charges (29). Strangely they do not bring a charge at this point.

They imply that Pilate should infer his guilt from the fact that they brought Jesus to Him (30). How could they possibly do something as indefensible as submit a man to official investigation if he were not guilty of crime? When Jesus was questioned, he appealed to witnesses who had heard him in all of his open teaching in the temple and synagogue. These accusers do not appeal to the verification of testimony but want their own position of authority to serve as sufficient credibility. 

C.  Verse 31 – Pilate initially does not fall for this ruse.

They only bring a man who is accused, but without a specific accusation and no witnesses to the supposed crime. He sees that there is nothing here for him to look into. He tells them to take care of it. 

D. Now they seek further force to their insistence on Pilate’s cooperation by implying that his crime is a capital crime.

“It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” This implies that they not only were accusing Jesus of blasphemy but were setting him forth as a criminal against the state. 

E. With all the helter-skelter movement and apparent confusion and make-it-up-as-you-go bullying of the Jews, John inserts the viewpoint that all of this is under the control of divine purpose.

John uses the same language that he used in 12:33, “To show by what kind of death he was going to die.” Peter has fulfilled the words of Jesus in 13:38 and the Jewish pressure on Pilate to carry out a capital punishment will fulfill Jesus’ words of 12:32: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

III. Jesus’ Second Interview with Pilate – 18:33-38

A. The Question about a King –

The answer of the Jews had prompted Pilate to ask this question, “Are you the King f the Jews?” The reduced version in Luke 23:1-4 indicates this is so. Was Jesus really claiming to be a king of the Jews and usurp the rule of Caesar?

B.  verse 34 –

Jesus’ response indicates that the question would mean one thing if he were asking from a Jewish standpoint and another if he were asking from a Roman standpoint. Does this question come from you and your orientation to power politics or are you inquiring about this from the claims I have made among Jewish teachers? The conversation eventually clarifies this.

C. Pilate’s response means that he is asking this question only in light of the accusations that seem to be leveled against him by the leaders of the Jews (“Your own nation and the chief priests.”)

Pilate senses that he is at a great disadvantage to get to the bottom of the exact nature of the accusation and why the Jews have involved him in this. Can he be a judge in issues of Jewish theology? Does this actually involve any threat to the safety of Caesar and the stability of Rome? Can it be possible that the Roman procurator should adjudicate the offense this Jewish peasant has caused among Jewish officials? “What have you done?” 

D.  Verse 36 –

Having clarified the origin of the question, Jesus does not disclaim that he is that King of Jewish prophecy; this kingdom, however, is not of this world or of this age. The Jews are right that he has claimed to be a king, but they have grossly misunderstood the kind of kingship he retains and that he will eventually exhibit openly. Kingly power in this world is gained by fighting with physical sword, by defeating rival armies, by executing enemies and possible seditionaries. Does Pilate se Jesus’ followers fighting? No, if he knows anything about them at all, he would know that they are hiding, fearful, and weeping.

E. Verse 37 – Passing power in light of Absolute Truth

1. With some degree of incredulity, emphasizing you, Pilate summarized the claim of Jesus. How is it possible that anything Pilate would envision as kingship could be even remotely present in this pitiful, but confident, spectacle before him. A king whose followers would not fight! And you, Jesus, dream that there is something out of this world so definite, as to delay making your move until you are beyond this age. Pitiful and intriguing, but certainly no danger to Caesar. 

2. In spite of the seething condescension of Pilate’s summary, Jesus affirms that his words of summary are right. He is a king. This has not just happened but was intended from the time of his birth. The statement of Jesus has in it the mystery of the incarnation. It must have appeared strange to Pilate, perhaps even a bit deranged, but again not worthy of death. Jesus referred to his birth, the peculiar property of his human nature; He also cryptically included the idea he had been using to refer to his pre-existence, “I have come into the world.” Both of these spheres of existence relate to the “I” of the sentence. This one person, in the presence of Pilate is God and Man. He repeats the phrase “For this purpose” on both parts. “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world” (37). 

3. His Kingship is a witness to the truth (See John 1:14, 17; 14:6) It is the ultimate truth of divine holiness and righteousness as demonstrated most completely in the coming death, burial, and resurrection. 

4. By this truth he already is gathering the subjects of his kingdom. “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” See Jesus’ references to those that hear his voice in John 10:3, 5, 26, 27. His sheep hear his voice (10:27). But their hearing his voice in a call to be subjects of his kingdom will be effected only in light of his death (10:16-18). Those that Father has given him hear his voice (6:37) because their ears are attuned to the truth by the work of the Spirit of God (John 6:63, 65). 

5. Pilate knows nothing of this kingdom of truth. As with self-protective politicians in any age, all is pragmatics and for the immediate advance of the present consensus. God’s common grace gives stability and justice in some situations, but also permits the rampant selfishness and brutality of fallen creatures to have its oppressive and destructive manifestation. [Remarkably, it is through that specific reality that God is carrying forth his eternal counsel in the covenant of redemption.] Pilate had enough perception to realize that Jesus posed no threat to the immediate status quo but not enough courage to act in accord with the truth of his innocence of the charges implied against him. A kingdom of truth that is not of this world posed no threat either to Caesar or the empire.

III.  Pilate’s attempt to Release Jesus – 38b-40

A. Pilate has had sufficient interaction to know that the alarm raised by the Jews has no substance to warrant the execution of Jesus. He proclaims to them, that as far as he is concerned, he finds no guilt. 

B. Perhaps it will be sufficient as a tacit admission of something punishable that he proposes a release of Jesus as the release of a prisoner.

That way they have their right to stigmatize him as a criminal, and he does not have to violate his own judgment by executing a man that he knows is innocent of the charges. In what tone he called Jesus “The King of the Jews” we cannot discern. It could be with an air of condescension for them to recognize that if they desire a king then such a pitiable figure as this forsaken and bedraggled peasant was perfect for them. It could have an element of sincerity in that Jesus presented himself in a forthright and impressive manner, far superior to the bitter and divisive animosities that he daily observed among the Jews, and that one that stood so far above them in confidence and purity of motive deserved to be a king over them, rather than the object of their scorn and hostility. 

C. They would not have his proposal of such a release.

They preferred the release of Barabbas. Maybe Barabbas’s zeal for overthrow and his willingness to use violence had made him something of a hero. Their preference of Barabbas showed what kind of Messiah they sought and expected. The release of a prisoner at Passover is not clear to us but it seems to have been assumed by both the Jews and Pilate. It could arise from the Jew’s desire to commemorate their release from bondage in Egypt by having their present oppressor give some symbolic recognition that they maintained the integrity of their nationhood even though they did not at present have self-government.

VI. Observations

A. Jesus has known the coming of this hour from the beginning of his ministry.

This probably occupied his mind and informed his teaching even in the temple at twelve years of age. He has not been taken by surprise but knows that what strikes fear and confusion into his disciples is that grand culminating success of the intent of the eternal covenant made before the foundation of the world. The Son of God would die as Son of Man for the glory of the Father and the redemption of sinners.

B.  These events are grand examples of a theological observation called “compatibilism.”

That means that God accomplishes all his plans with certainty and invincible determination. Those plans, executed in time and space, necessarily involve decisions, actions, and attitudes of innumerable men and women. Their involvement in God’s determined outcome does not in any way diminish the moral responsibility of those creatures. They acted as they saw fit and did what was in their heart even as God controlled [and controls] all things according to the counsel of his own will (Ephesians 1:11). God’s pure and holy will is done while men incriminate themselves by their unjust, unloving acts done in virtual disregard of God’s holy Law.

C. All of this unfolds just as Jesus had told his disciples.

The relevance of his assurance to them (16:33) followed by his intercessory prayer for them (17) become set in brilliant profile for their comfort and assurance, and for ours, as the truth of all he says and does is confirmed. “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:32, 33). 

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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