Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of John/Chapter 18< Biblical Studies | New Testament Commentaries | The Gospel of John
Chapters 18-19 chapters including Jesus' death are called Passion Narratives. They describe Jesus' Passion or suffering. "The term suits the Synoptics better than John, where Jesus scarcely suffers anguish or pain," (Smith 322).
Historically, who would be concerned that Jesus be apprehended? John 18:3 states, "So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons." Later on in this same chapter the narrator of John states that, Caiaphas, "the high priest that year...was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people." The Gospel of John seems to imply that it was the high priests that were interested in apprehending Jesus. However, historically, there seems to be something wrong with this. After all, while all the gospels seem to agree that Jesus was clashing with the Pharisees, there is no reason that high priests would be interested in apprehending Jesus just because of that. Plus, it would make more sense that the Jews would wait to deal with Jesus after the Passover was over, yet in the Gospel of John, Jesus' death occurs during Passover. Then, why was Jesus apprehended by the Jewish leaders? While high priests during Jesus' time were the highest representatives of Jewish self-government, they were ultimately ruled by the Romans. The Romans would keep high priests "in line" by holding onto their priestly garments. Therefore, the Jews were not really "self-governed." Therefore, it makes sense that the Romans would have been interested in apprehending Jesus. In order to understand the Romans' motives for doing this, the story of John the Baptist can be used: John the Baptist was apparently put to death for criticizing Herod; however, Josephus, a "1st century Jewish historian," (Wikipedia) seemed to believe that the actual reason was that John the Baptist was gathering crowds that were willing to fight or die for John the Baptist's cause. The Romans were most likely aware that they had to put the root of the crowd issue, John the Baptist, to death in order to maintain order. This is a similar situation to Jesus'. The Romans probably wanted to apprehend Jesus because they were attempting to preserve their own views about God and maintain order in their kingdom. If this is true, then why was Jesus brought to Caiaphas? Most likely, the Jews handed Jesus over to Roman hands to overt bloodshed; in other words, they wanted to give Jesus to the Romans before the Romans sent in their own troops and killed many people. This is why the line, "it was better to have one person die for the people" makes sense in historical terms. Questions for clarification: In verses 15 and 16, who is the 'other disciple'? Why does the servant-girl question Peter, by asking, 'You are not one of this man's disciples too, are you?" and does not question and include the 'other disciple'? Does she know him, this 'other disciple'?
Pilate, Christ, and Prophecy in John 18 In verses 28-40, Christ converses with Pilate about His fate. This is an interesting juncture for many reasons, but I wish to focus on the motives of Pilate. Moments such as this are realizations of earlier prophecies that have a predetermined destination. In this case, that destination is the death of Christ and the creation of the Christian variety of salvation through faith. The question I'm wrestling with, though, is how much leeway Pilate had in his actions. Do you believe he could have released Christ, or was he bound by the "will of God"? And, if one believes that Pilate's will was completely overridden by God's will, then how does that gel with the notion of free will? There are specific points (ironically, the most influential points in Christian history) that are ascribed these "will of God" characteristics, in which man's will is eclipsed. Does the notion of free will, then, by its absence in the most important moments in Christian history, lose its integrity?
Jesus is very careful in his answers to Pilate's questions. Verses 33-40 show Pilate seemingly trying to catch Jesus in a tricky place. Jesus would have been accused of treason if he had answered "yes" to the question, "Are you the king of the Jews?". Though he does not say it in that many words, he lets Pilate know that, regardless what Pilate calls it, Jesus is on the earth to point out the truth. If Pilate wants to label that as "King of the Jews," he may. This keeps Jesus from the treason accusation: in explaining that his kingdom is not within the realm of Roman politics, Jesus cannot be accused of crimes against Rome.
Peter's Denial of Christ Peter, a beloved disciple of Christ fulfills Christ's prophesy in chapter 18. Previously in chapter 13 Jesus answers Peter's profession of laying down his life for Him saying "Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, Truly, I say to you, a cock shall not crow, until you deny Me three times." (NAS)At first, Peter's character is strong and he seems to have a true passion and belief in Christ. Then as time goes by, this strong character turns into Peter believing he is indestructible as he strikes the high priest's slave and cuts off his right ear. However, this strong willed and overly confident follower begins to lag behind and does not enter into the court of the high priest. ( v.15) Here is where Peter begins to deny Christ. First in verse 17 a slave-girl asks Peter if He is a follower, he replies "I am not." (NAS) Then, while the man he has followed for the past three years is in questioning, Peter goes to warm himself at the fire the slave and officers had built. They ask again, "You are not also one of His disciples, are you?" and Peter replies "I am not." (NAS, v. 18) However, one of the slaves knew that Peter was in the garden with Jesus and questions him again, and just as Christ prophesied, Peter denied Him the third time. (v.27) The cock then immediately crowed just as Jesus had said in chapter 13. What is interesting about this in John is that the cock only crows once in this book. In addition to that, only one of the synoptic gospels (Mark) writes it down as the crock crowing twice. With that said, the rest of the gospels mirror John very well in this chapter. The language of Peter in these denials is very interesting as well. Some see his answers “I am not” signifies a deeper opposition to Christ. Being that “I am” is a widely used phrase by Christ and is sometimes known as the “divine name.” This name is seen even in chapter 18, when Judas and his detachment of soldiers come to arrest Jesus. This name is so powerful that, as soon as Jesus identified himself as "I Am," the soldiers fell away from him. Another interesting fact, lies in Jesus' foreknowledge of Peter's denial. Does Peter have control over his own actions? Do those involved have control over their actions? This once again (a common theme and question in the gospel of John) raises questions about self-determination and the legitimacy of free-will. Peter's three denials also have a significance in biblical numerology. The number three is often used to represent the trinity. Jesus also asks Peter "do you love me?" three times to mirror his betrayals.
The Other Disciple
Along with the uniquely Johannine character of "the Beloved disciple" is this "other disciple" found in verse 15 of chapter 18, "Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest's courtyard". Many have postulated that this mysterious figure might in fact be the beloved disciple found elsewhere in John, however, in his commentary on John, D. Moody Smith points out that is somewhat strange that if this is intended to be the same individual why does John not simply say so? The fact that the disciple is known to the high priest may suggest that he was a native of Jerusalem, and since the beloved disciple appears only in Jerusalem in John's narrative it is not implausible that they are the same person. Smith also points out that some have tried to identify this figure with the gospel writer himself, and though John of Zebedee, often attributed with writing this gospel, was a fisherman, it was not impossible that he may have been known to the high priest through a business relationship.
John 18:1-11 John tells the passion story in a unique way. It begins with the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, a brutal arrest of an innocent man, and the abuse of power by armed guards. But there is another way of interpreting this story—Jesus freely chose to place himself before his enemies because of his immense authority of his sacred person. Jesus is in control even at the moment of his arrest. Jesus will freely and willingly "drink the cup" of the passion because in so doing he fulfills his duty of revealing God's love for the world.
John's passion story: the tragedy of cruel death is overwhelmed by the power of redemptive love. For John, Jesus is the Word made flesh, sent to reveal the abiding love of God for the world. The most compelling statement of that love is, ironically, the death of Jesus. In giving his life "for his friends" (15:13), Jesus reveals God's overwhelming love for the world. From the perspective of faith, the death of Jesus is a word of life (D. Senior, 2007).
Some Differences (in the beginning) between John and the Synoptics
When reading all the different accounts of the Passion narrative, there are quite a few differences that can be pointed out between them. For one, in John it says that Jesus and the disciples went out across the Kidron Valley to a nameless garden where within minutes they met Judas and the betrayal began. In the synoptics the garden is named Gethsemane and it is here that Jesus prays first and then finds his disciples asleep. In John he has prayed before they ever reached the garden. Another difference is the kiss. In John there is no kiss and Jesus, as stated earlier hands himself over almost freely. In the synoptics, Judas betrays him with a kiss. Thes are just a few of the many differences between all the accounts of the Passion narratives in the gospels.