Share a story of a person, fictional or not, who looked average or weak but actually was someone important. Aragorn from Lord of the Rings is one example.
Chapter 19 begins with the words: “When he had finished praying…” Jesus has finished a chapter-long prayer about the future of his disciples and the disciples that follow after them. Looking at the ESV, we see that it’s not just Jesus’ prayer but everything that Jesus has said in chapters 13-17. He has finished addressing and preparing his disciples for the pain that they are about to go through. Now the time as come – the hour is here – Jesus and the disciples are on the move.
The NIV headings seem quite appropriate for the structure and purpose of each section. We are in narrative mode again now, so the story really speeds up. After five chapters of monologue – lots of theology but not much action – we now get into the action.
Reading this chapter is not difficult and you may wonder what there is to discuss. Jesus is arrested, Peter denies Jesus and the high priest(s) get it way wrong. But the juice is in the great contrast between Jesus and each of the other named characters in the story. Let’s get started.
Verses 1-14 – Jesus Arrested
The Kidron Valley. Here’s a little easter egg for us. It’s good to notice names and places and see if they take us anywhere. The Kidron Valley is mentioned a couple of times in the bible. Looking each of these references up is interesting but the one reference that stands out is from 2 Samuel 15:23. King David was the rightful king of Israel, but his own kin wanted him dead. He made the decision to leave the city with all of his faithful followers and head across the Kidron Valley. Jesus, like David before him, accepted the hate of his enemies and hoped that his God would protect him. He was accompanied by those who wished to stand alongside their Lord.
On the other side there was a garden. This is most likely the garden of Gethsemane which was toward the north, easily accessed via the Kidron Valley. What’s interesting here is that John doesn’t focus on Jesus’ prayer in the garden like other gospels do. We want to stick to the narrative that John is focusing on. Let’s keep to his account which doesn’t contradict, but focuses our attention elsewhere.
Verse 3 – Judas came with soldiers carrying weapons. Verse 3 and verse 10 show how forceful the people coming to Jesus looked. Jesus, who is likely to have never carried a weapon, is confronted with a small army to arrest him. It’s hard to imagine why this is so. The chief priests and Pharisess clearly anticipated a strong resistance from Jesus and his followers. The way that Jesus interacts with the crowd and with Peter highlight his anti-violence approach to this situation – but more than this – it demonstrates how convicted Jesus is about who he is and what he is doing in contrast to everyone else in the scene who is “overdressed” and clearly not in control.
Notice how possible it is for a so-called disciple to betray Jesus in such an extreme way. Earlier that night, Judas had been with the eleven in Jesus’ company. He leads the way to reject Jesus as king. We only avoid falling away when we take our eyes off the things of this world and fix them on Jesus. This was a major theme in the passages where Judas was absent.
Verse 5 – “I am he” and they fell to the ground. The “I AM” statements of Jesus are famous in the book of John. The phrase appears 24 times in John
- (eight of these occurrences are Jesus repeating himself or incidental).
- Seven of these are Jesus defining himself in metaphor: 6:35 (bread of life), 8:12 (light of the world), 10:7 (the gate), 10:11 (good shepherd), 11:25 (the resurrection and the life), 14:6 (the way, truth and life), 15:1 (the true vine).
- Nine times, they are Jesus declaring bluntly that he is the one that people are looking for: John 4:26, 6:20, 8:24, 8:58 (I AM), 9:9, 13:19, 18:5,6,8 (I AM).
In 18:5-8, Jesus is presenting himself clearly, unashamed and yet powerfully before his enemies. Like 8:58, Jesus uses the I AM statement similar to the way God presented himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14. This may explain why the people fell backward when Jesus spoke to them. There is a strange power present with Jesus here where his simple words knock down an army. A subtle power has been with Jesus in all his miracles. Remember how he was able to single-handedly drive marketers out of the Temple area?
Verse 11 – “Shall I not drink my Father’s cup?” It is clear in these first 11 verses how willing Jesus was to be arrested. He could have controlled the army himself. He could have allowed Peter to try and stop the enemy by force. He even knew that this event was about to happen and so could have remained hidden to the public. But he is willing to receive from his Father what has already been planned (Isaiah 51:17; Matt 26:39).
Verse 12-14 – Caiaphas the High Priest. They brought Jesus to Annas before taking Jesus to Caiaphas (v24). John 18 is a bit confusing as to who is the high priest but it seems to suggest that there were more than one. If this sounds odd, it should. There was only to be one high priest. A good explanation is that Caiaphas was the current high priest and that Annas had previously been a high priest (a bit like a previous president) and that Annas still holds sway and influence. I think the greatest take-away from this confusion is that the Jewish religion at the time of Jesus was corrupt and screwed up. The high priest role was meant to be held for years before being handed on to the next candidate. But records have shown that there was almost a new high priest for every year (a bit like the Australian PM). Annas is possibly the one who had done the deal with Judas and that’s why Jesus went to Annas first. Caiaphas is highlighted as the one who spoke about the benefit of one dying for the good of the many – ironic that he would be the one responsible for the execution.
Bringing verses 1-14 to a close: Jesus knows exactly who he is and where he is going: the True King of Israel, the I AM, who is going to drink the cup that the Father has planned for him. In great contrast: the mob don’t know what they are doing, (too many people, carrying weapons, unable to stand up to one single unarmed man and being led by a traitor). AND the whole thing being orchestrated by the high priest(s) who don’t really know who is in charge (at least I don’t).
Verses 15-18 Peter’s first denial
The “other” disciple is likely to be John, the writer. By not naming this disciple, it places John in the perfect position to narrate. He is in the story but only as an observer. John was a disciple of Jesus who had previously been a disciple of John the baptist. Is it possible that he had once been in contact with the now high priest? This is one commentator’s suggestion. Perhaps John was always keen to seek the truth and the truth lead him to Jesus.
Peter had shown his zeal in the garden but now he begins to show his weakness. Perhaps a lesson for us here is that we should never think of ourselves as too strong to resist temptation. Peter feared fleeing but he also feared being drawn into Jesus’ arrest. Perhaps it would have been wiser for Peter to keep away that night. Psalm 1:1 says, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or STAND in the way that sinners take or SIT in the company of mockers.”
Verses 19-23 Before the High Priest
Verse 22– “Is this the way you answer the high priest?!” It’s so twisted! The book of Hebrews (eg, 4:14-15) convinces us that there is no longer any priest or high priest but Jesus – our great high priest! Israel has just struck him across the face and asked, “is this the way you [treat] the high priest!!!!?” Crazy. But God’s love is that he will go to the cross even being treated this way.
Notice again the violence toward Jesus who only seeks to speak the truth and asks his accusers to seek it too (verses 20-21). Again, Jesus knows who he is and that he stands for truth because he is the truth. Those around him are not interested in the truth and are not even aware of the irony of their situation.
Verses 25-27 – Peter’s second and third denial
John 13:38 was when Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Jesus. Again, the lesson from Peter is to be aware of our weakness and ability to fail. But recall the full knowledge that Jesus had of Peter’s denial and yet still called him his true disciple in chapter 17.
Peter’s part in this story highlights again how in control Jesus is over his situation and how out of control those around him are. Jesus knew Peter would behave this way. Peter didn’t know he would, even though he had been warned! Even Jesus’ disciples are uncertain of who they are and what they are meant to be doing.
Verses 28-40 Before Pilate
Verse 28 – In order to remain clean and pure for the Passover, they handed an innocent man over to an unclean Gentile to do their dirty work. It’s so ironic and hypocritical. With one hand they offer service to God and with the other, they deny God’s servant. With their bodies, they pursue righteousness but in their hearts they put righteousness to death. The greatest irony is that both their love of religion and their hate of God are in pursuit of a good Passover – one that is meaningless and the other which is glorious. But they don’t understand which is which.
Verse 32 – the kind of death Jesus had predicted – see Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32-33
Verse 37 – “You are a king then!” says Pilate. Jesus’ reply is in effect: “not A king but THE king!” His very purpose of being born was to present the truth and everyone who cares for truth is for me. He isn’t exactly claiming royalty but isn’t he declaring himself to be in very nature God? He is the very representation of truth and that has been me since birth! Pilate, of course, throws up his hands and declares “what is truth?” – the perfect answer from someone who dosn’t want to take sides and actually listen to the truth. He apparently cares little for truth.
Verse 40 – The perfect conclusion to the arrest and conviction of Jesus. Arrest him by night and by exaggerated force. Deny any fare trial from the Jews who would not listen to reason and hand him over to the Gentiles who couldn’t care less. Then accept the gift of a freed rebel while pretending that an innocent man is worthy of death. No not the king of the Jews but the rebel, Barabbas!
What a remarkable contrast between the King of Kings and the people who think they rule the world!
Jesus is the light of the world and the word of God. He has been hated by the world which prefers the darkness (coming to him at night) and has no interest for the truth. The True King of Israel has departed and crossed the Kidron Valley, the valley of death, accompanied by his faithful but weak disciples. He is willing to accept the cup that God above has prepared for him and he will submit to the hypocrisy, irony and foolishness of the world that is rejecting him. Religion is not about truth. The world is lost when it fails to recognise its king. The world would remain lost if the King didn’t pursue his mission.
- How double minded, weak, close-minded, selfish and hypocritical people are. How single minded, strong, truth-loving, selfless and steadfast is our King. Who will we get behind, people or Jesus? He knows who he is, what the truth is, and what it will cost to stay true to himself and the Father. We will do well to remember to fix our eyes on him.
- Religion is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. When the works of men are put before truth, there is a problem. When days, ceremonies or practices are put before true love and worship, the Spirit of God is not in that (John 4 speaks into this application too.) The Jews placed the remembrance of the Passover before the True Passover. There are many applications here but the clearest would be a love for the Lord’s Supper more than love for the Lord. Jesus said, if you love me, love one another! There is way more effort needed to love one another than there is to eat and drink ceremonially.
- Praise God for his love and patience with this world. The high priest and his servants, the Roman Governor, Simon Peter and even Judas were all against him. Yet he is willing to drink the Father’s cup for us. The wrath that we deserve is given to him. The wrath earned by rejecting the truth and denying the Word of God, so clearly shown in this chapter, is being willingly accepted by the Great I AM himself. What a great God we have.
LORD of all creation, please accept our praise and worship as we consider the way you loved this world. Please help us to follow Jesus confidently, bravely, truly and always. Thank you for your love and grace even when we fail. May we always look to Jesus as our great Passover lamb and worship you in Spirit and in Truth. Amen.