Thursday 29th March: John 18:1-27 – Jesus’ Arrest and Jewish Trial: Betrayal, Denial, Truth

After Jesus’ lengthy and ponderous farewell discourse, in the Passion Narrative (John 18-19), everything accelerates: Jesus is swiftly arrested, tried in a couple of courts, then crucified. Although Jesus is betrayed and denied, He continues to speak truth, remaining faithful to His Father’s mission.

Judas betrays Jesus by leading a whole retinue, comprising a cohort of soldiers, high-priests, and Pharisees straight to Jesus (v.3). Jesus, however, remains in control of the situation; he knew everything which would befall him (v.4). He does not hide but confronts these people by asking whom they are looking for – knowing that it is Him. With confidence and defiance, he says: “I am” (ego eimi). This divine revelation causes the bystanders to fall to the ground (v.6). Despite this initial shock, the second time, Judas and company are less deterred: Jesus is soon arrested and led away (v.12). Yet, Jesus is similarly undeterred, knowing that He must drink the costly but necessary cup of suffering that His Father has given him (v.11).

Jesus now faces Jewish trial. The scenes are carefully arranged, practically cinematically: cutting from one to the next. Jesus is led to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, whom we met in John 11:49 (vv.13-14). Suddenly, the camera turns to (Simon) Peter. Initially, Peter is kept outside, but then the other disciple (probably John) enables him access (v.16). The girl on the door recognises Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples and asks him if he is one, but Peter’s denial is emphatic: “I am not” (ouk eimi; v.17). This contrasts with Jesus’ earlier declaration: “I am” (vv.5,8).[1] He rather nonchalantly carries on with the business of “standing and warming himself” (v.18) on a cold night in Jerusalem[2]

Meanwhile, Jesus faces his first trial – or rather: grilling (v.18). No witnesses are brought forth; this is a final effort to catch Jesus out. Jesus has nothing to hide though: he has spoken openly before everyone; nothing in secret (vv.19-20). These remarks are deemed disrespectful and earn him a slap, but Jesus is confident that he is on the side of truth. Truth becomes a recurring theme throughout these trials, especially with Pilate (cf. 17:37-38). Jesus rightly appeals that if he has spoken wrongly, then they ought to testify about the wrong; but if he has spoken rightly, he has no reason to be struck (v.23). This truth, however, falls on death ears, and he is led on to Caiaphas (v.24).

The camera pans back to Peter. It is repeated that he is “standing and warming himself” (v.25) in contrast to Jesus’ suffering. He is asked again if he is one of the disciples, but answers: “I am not”. Denial two. Then he denies it one further time and the cock famously crows (v.27). There is a tragic antithesis between betrayal and denial on the one hand, and truth and integrity on the other.

Yet, we should not be so hard on Peter. We would likely have done the same: the conditions were horrendous; he would have been scared and confused. His actions have consequences but, ultimately, Peter is reinstated: Peter denies Jesus three times, but later, he declares his love for Jesus three times (John 21:15-19). I know I have sometimes disowned Jesus; but the words of 2 Timothy 2:12-13 are encouraging: “if we disown [Him], He will disown us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself”. God does not want us to disown Him, but when, in our human confusion, we lack faith and deny Him, He is faithful and gracious to us.

[1] Interestingly, both ego eimi and ouk eimi are followed by the Greek verb “stand” (histemi), which further accentuates the parallel.

[2] I am reliably informed such nights still exist in Jerusalem!


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