Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
[5. The Climax of Unbelief. Voluntary Surrender and Crucifixion of Jesus (John 18:1 to John 19:42).
When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples.(1)THE BETRAYAL AND APPREHENSION (John 18:1-11).
(2)THE TRIALS BEFORE THE JEWISH AUTHORITIES (John 18:12-27);
(a)Before Annas (John 18:12-23);
(b)Before Caiaphas (John 18:24).
(c)Denied by St. Peter (John 18:17; John 18:25; John 18:27).
(3)THE TRIALS BEFORE THE ROMAN PRO CONSUL (John 18:28 to John 19:16);
(a)The first examination. The kingdom of truth (John 18:28-40);
(b)The second examination. The scourging and mock royalty (John 19:1-6);
(c)The third examination. The power from above (John 18:7-11);
(d) The public trial and committal (John 18:12-16).
(4)JESUS SUBMITS TO DEATH (John 19:17-42);
(a)The Crucifixion (John 18:17-24);
(b)The sayings on the Cross (John 18:25-30);
(c)The proof of physical death (John 18:31-37);
(d)The body in the Sepulchre (John 18:38-40).]
In this chapter we again come upon ground which is common to St. John and the earlier Gospels. Each of the Evangelists has given us a narrative of the trial and death of our Lord. The narrative of each naturally differs by greater or less fulness, or as each regarded the events from his own point of view, from that of all the others. It is only with that which is special to St. John that the notes on his narrative have to deal. The general facts and questions arising from them have already been treated in the notes on the parallel passages.
(1) He went forth with his disciples—i.e., He went forth from the city. (Comp. John 14:31.)
The brook Cedron.—The Greek words mean exactly “the winter torrent Kedron,” and occur again in the LXX. of 2Samuel 15:23, and 2Kings 15:13. The name is formed from a Hebrew word which means “black.” The torrent was the “Niger” of Judæa, and was so called from the colour of its turbid waters, or from the darkness of the chasm through which they flowed. The name seems to have been properly applied not so much to the torrent itself as to the ravine through which it flowed, on the east of Jerusalem, between the city and the Mount of Olives. Its sides are for the most part precipitous, but here and there paths cross it, and at the bottom are cultivated strips of land. Its depth varies, but in some places it is not less than 100 feet. (Comp. article, “Kidron,” in Kitto’s Biblical Cyclopœdia, vol. ii., p. 731; and for the reading see Excursus B: Some Variations in the Text of St. John’s Gospel.)
Where was a garden.—Comp. Matthew 26:36. St. John does not record the passion of Gethsemane, but this verse indicates its place in the narrative. (Comp. Note on John 12:27.)
And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples.(2) And Judas also, which betrayed.—Better, . . . who was betraying Him. The original word is a present participle, and marks the Betrayal as actually in progress.
For Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples.—This is one of the instances of St. John’s exact knowledge of the incidents which attended the Jerusalem life of our Lord. (Comp. Introduction, p. 371.) All the Evangelists narrate the coming of Judas. John only remembers that the spot was one belonging, it may be, to a friend or disciple, where Jesus was in the habit of going with His disciples, and that Judas therefore knew the place, and knew that he would probably find them there.
Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.(3) A band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees.—Better, the band, and officers from the chief priests and Pharieess. The other Gospels tell us of a “great multitude” (Matt.), or a “multitude” (Mark and Luke). St. John uses the technical word for the Roman cohort. It was the garrison band from Fort Antonia, at the north-east corner of the Temple. This well-known “band” is mentioned again in the New Testament (in John 18:12; Matthew 27:27; Mark 15:16; Acts 21:31). (Comp. Notes at these places.) The word occurs also in Acts 10:1 (“the Italian band”) and Acts 27:1 (“Augustus’ band”). The Authorised version misleads, by closely connecting in one clause two distinct things, “a band of men and officers.” The band was Roman; the “officers” were the Temple servants, of whom we read in John 7:32; John 7:45. These were sent, here, as there, by the chief priests and Pharisees, with Judas for their guide, and their authority was supported by the civil power.
Lanterns and torches and weapons.—Better, with torches and lamps (Matthew 25:1) and arms. The torches and lamps were part of the regular military equipment for night service. Dionysius describes soldiers rushing out of their tents with torches and lamps in the same words which are used here (John 11:40). They are not mentioned in the other Gospels. St. Matthew and St. Mark describe the “weapons” as “swords and staves.”
Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?(4) Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come (better, were coming) upon him.—Comp. Matthew 26:45.
Went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?—i.e., probably, went forth from the garden itself. (Comp. Note on John 18:26.) Other possible interpretations are, “went forth from the depth of the garden;” or, “went forth from the circle of the disciples standing round;” or, “went forth from the shade of the tree into the moonlight.” For the word, comp. John 18:1, and Matthew 14:14). The kiss of Judas, mentioned in all the earlier Gospels, must be placed here between “went forth” and “said unto them.”
For the question, comp. Matthew 26:50. Jesus will boldly face the danger, and direct it upon Himself, that the disciples may be saved from it (John 18:8).
They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.(5) They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth.—He was known to many of them (John 7:32; John 7:46; Matthew 26:55); but this is probably an official declaration of the person with whose apprehension they are charged.
I am he.—Comp. Notes on John 8:28; John 8:58.
And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.—He had advanced to give the signal of the kiss (John 18:4), and had again retreated, and was now standing with them. He is mentioned in accordance with the vivid impression which the fact left upon the Apostle’s mind. Judas, who had been one of them, who had been present with them, and had received bread from his Master’s hand on that very night, was now standing with the officers of the Sanhedrin and the Roman band, who had come to capture Him! The position of the words suggests also that Judas was in some way specially connected with the fact that on hearing the words “I am He,” they fell to the ground, as though fear passed from him to those with him.
As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.(6) They went backward, and fell to the ground.—There is nothing in the narrative to suggest that our Lord put forth miraculous power to cause this terror. The impression is rather that it was produced by the majesty of His person, and by the answer which to Jewish ears conveyed the unutterable name, “Jehovah” (I AM). (Comp. Note on John 8:24-25.) Guilt trembled before the calmness of innocence. Man fell to the ground before the presence of God. To Judas the term must have been familiar, and have brought back a past which may well have made him tremble at the present. To the officers the voice came from Him of whom they had been convinced before that “Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46). They have come to take Him by force, but conscience paralyses all their intentions, and they lay helpless before Him. He will surrender Himself because His hour is come (John 17:1); but His life no one taketh from Him. For this sense of awe in the presence of Christ, comp. the account of the cleansing of the Temple in John 2:14 et seq.
Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth.(7) Then asked he them again.—Their fear has passed away, so that we are not to think, as men sometimes do, that they were struck to the ground helpless. His thought is still of saving those who are with Him. The question brings the same formal answer. They have no warrant to take any of those who are with Him. They seek only Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way:(8) If therefore ye seek me, let these go their way.—It may be that some of the Roman cohort, not knowing Jesus, were already laying hands on the disciples. In any case, they are exposed to this danger, and the Good Shepherd, who Himself goes forth to meet the danger, will shield the flock from it.
That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none.(9) That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake.—Comp. John 17:12. The quotation is in many ways suggestive. (1) It is not verbally accurate, i.e., St. John, quoting the words of Christ, which he has himself recorded a few verses before, is at no pains to reproduce it word for word, but is satisfied in giving the substance of it. This throws light on the general literary habits and feelings of this age and race, and it is in full harmony with the usual practice of quotation in the New Testament. (2) St. John quotes with an application to temporal persecution that which had been spoken of spiritual persecution. This illustrates the kind of way in which words are said to be “fulfilled” in more than one sense. Striking words fix themselves in the mind, and an event occurs which illustrates their meaning, and it is said therefore to fulfil them, though of each fulfilment it can be only part. (Comp. especially Notes on John 2:17; John 12:38 et seq.) (3) The quotation shows that in the thought of St. John himself, the prayer recorded in John 17 is no résumé of the words of our Lord, but an actual record of His prayer: he quotes the “saying” as fulfilled, just as he would have quoted a passage from the Old Testament Scriptures.
Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus.(10) Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it. . . .—Comp. Note on Matthew 26:51. The fact is recorded by all the Evangelists. St. John only tells us that it was done by Peter, and that the servant’s name was Malchus. He is also careful to note, as St. Luke does too, that it was the “right ear.”
Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?(11) Put up thy sword into the sheath.—Comp. Note on Matthew 26:52. Here again St. John’s narrative is more vivid and exact. St. Matthew has “place” for “sheath.”
The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?—Comp. Notes on Matthew 20:22; Matthew 26:39. This is the only instance of the occurrence of this familiar imagery in St. John. St. Peter’s act is one of opposition to what Jesus Himself knew to be the will of the Father. There is in the words a tender trustfulness which robs the cup of all its bitterness—“The cup which My Father hath given Me.” They are, as it were, an echo of the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, which is not recorded by St. John. It is the Father to whom He has prayed, and solemnly committed the disciples (John 17); the Father whose presence never leaves Him (John 16:32); the Father into whose hands He is about from the cross to commend His Spirit (Luke 23:46).
Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him,(12) Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews.—A stop should be placed after “captain.” The “band and the captain” were the Roman cohort (comp. Note on John 18:3) and their tribune (Chiliarch; comp. Mark 6:21). The “officers of the Jews” were, as before, the Temple servants (see above, John 18:3), and the apparitors of the Sanhedrin.
Took Jesus, and bound him.—Comp. Notes on Matthew 26:50; Matthew 27:2.
And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year.(13, 14) And led him away to Annas first.—Comp. for account of Annas Note on Luke 3:2, and Acts 4:6. This trial before Annas was probably a preliminary investigation, distinct from the formal trial before Caiaphas, narrated in the earlier Gospels. (Comp. John 18:19; John 18:24.)
For he was father in law to Caiaphas.—The personal relationship between Annas and Caiaphas had led to a closeness of connection in official duties, which makes it difficult, with our partial knowledge of the circumstances, to trace the position taken by each in the trial of our Lord. This remark of St. John’s suggests that Annas may have occupied part of the high priest’s palace. He had been high priest. He is called high priest in the following year (Acts 4:6). His age would have given him authority in the Sanhedrin, which Caiaphas himself is not likely to have questioned, and he may have been President of the Sanhedrin or Father of the Beth Din (House of Judgment), Whether officially, or personally, or both, he was, from the Jewish point of view, a person whose counsel and influence were of the utmost importance, and to him they bring Jesus for this doctrinal investigation (John 18:19); while it is necessary that He should be sent to the legal high priest for official trial in the presence of the Sanhedrin (John 18:24), before being handed over to the civil power (John 18:28). It does not follow that the high priest (Caiaphas) was not present at this investigation; but it was altogether of an informal character.
Which was the high priest that same year.—On this clause, and the whole of the following verse, comp. Notes on John 11:49-52. The prophecy is quoted now that its fulfilment is close at hand, and that the act of Caiaphas is about to lead to it.
And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest.(15) And Simon Peter followed Jesus.—Better, And Simon Peter was following Jesus. (Comp. Matthew 26:58.)
Another disciple.—The reading is not certain, but the majority of the better MSS. support the text of the Authorised version. Others have, “The other disciple,” which would mean, “The well-known disciple.” It has been usual to understand that John himself is intended by this designation, and this opinion agrees with the general reticence of the Gospel with regard to him. (Comp. John 1:40; John 13:23; John 19:26; and Introduction, p. 375.) It agrees also with the fact that Peter and John are elsewhere found in special connection with each other (Luke 22:8; Acts 1:13; Acts 3:1; Acts 3:3-4; Acts 3:11; Acts 4:13; Acts 4:19; Acts 8:14). We are warranted, therefore, in saying that this opinion is probable, but not in assuming that it is necessarily true, as is often done. It may be, for instance, that by this term the Evangelist indicates his brother James, who is never mentioned in this Gospel. The fact that he is himself called “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; John 19:26; comp. Introduction, p. 375), is against rather than for the opinion that he is here called “another disciple.” If we adopt the reading, “the other disciple,” the opinion has more support.
Was known unto the high priest.—How he was known we have no means of judging. We may, however, note that the name “John” occurs among the names of the kindred of the high priest in Acts 4:6.
Into the palace of the high priest.—Better, perhaps, into the court of the high priest. (Comp. Matthew 26:3; Matthew 26:58; Matthew 26:69.) St. John uses the word elsewhere only of the sheepfold (John 10:1; John 10:16). It has been established beyond doubt that the title “high priest” may have been and often was given to those who had held the sacred office. We cannot, therefore, say positively that it is not here given to Annas. It is, however, in the highest degree improbable that it is given in this chapter, after the words of John 18:13, to Annas and Caiaphas without distinction. The writer has in that verse clearly marked out Caiaphas as the high priest that year, and consistency requires that we should uniformly understand him to be designated by the title.
The apparent difficulty here is met by the remark in John 18:13, that Annas was father-in-law to Caiaphas. (See Note there.)
But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter.(16) But Peter stood at the door without.—i.e., at the door of the court. He remained here with the crowd. Jesus as a prisoner, and the other disciple as a friend of the high priest, went into the court.
Unto her that kept the door.—Comp. Acts 12:13 and 2Samuel 4:6 (LXX.). That women “kept the door” among the Jews we know from Josephus (Ant vii. 2, § 1).
Then saith the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, Art not thou also one of this man's disciples? He saith, I am not.(17) On Peter’s denials, comp. Notes on Matthew 26:69-75, and see in this Gospel John 13:38.
Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples?—i.e., “Thou as well as thy friend, whom I know.” There is no charge brought against him. The words are apparently simply words of recognition, or as furnishing a reason for admitting him with his friend, but Peter is conscious that he had attempted to kill, and had succeeded in wounding, one of the high priest’s servants. He therefore dreads this recognition.
And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals; for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself.(18) And the servants and officers stood there.—i.e., in the quadrangular court. The “servants” “are the household servants or slaves of the high priest. The officers are the Temple servants. (Comp. Note on John 18:3.)
A fire of coals.—In the Greek this phrase is expressed by one word which occurs again in the New Testament in John 21:9; and in the LXX. in Ecclesiasticus 11:30; Ecclesiasticus 11:32; and 4Ma 9:20. It means a glowing fire. One of the Greek translators (Aquila) uses it in Psalm 119:4 (English version Psalm 120:4 : “coals of juniper”—that is, of the broom plant).
Peter stood with them, and warmed himself:—It is implied that the other disciple had been admitted into the house. As the houses were usually constructed, the court would be visible from the interior. Peter has already been identified as a disciple. To stand aloof would have been to call further attention to himself. He joins the company, therefore, round the fire.
The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine.(19) The high priest then asked Jesus.—Comp. Notes on John 18:15. By the “high priest” is probably-meant Caiaphas, though this preliminary investigation was held before Annas, and in his house, or that part of the high priest’s palace occupied by him.
Of his disciples, and of his doctrine.—This was the general subject of a series of questions. He asked, we may think, about the number of Christ’s followers; the aim they had in view; the principles which He had taught them. The object of the questions was apparently to find some technical evidence in Christ’s own words on which they may support the charges they are about to bring against Him in the legal trial before Caiaphas.
Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.(20) I spake openly to the world.—He does not distinctly answer the question about His disciples, but His words imply that all may have been His disciples. The pronoun is strongly emphatic; “I am one,” His words mean, “who spake plainly and to all men.” “My followers have not been initiated into secret mysteries, nor made conspirators in any political organisation.” “I have not been a leader, and they have not been members, of a party.”
I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort.—The better reading omits the article before “synagogue,” as in John 6:59, and reads for the last clause, where all the Jews resort. “In synagogue” is an adverbial phrase, as we say “in church.” His constant custom was to teach “in synagogue,” and in Jerusalem He taught in the temple itself, which was the resort of all the leaders of the people. This refers to His general custom, and does not, of course, exclude His teaching in other places. The point is that during His public ministry He was constantly in the habit of teaching under the authority of the officers of the synagogues and the temple. That was the answer as to what His doctrine had been.
And in secret have I said nothing.—His private teaching of the disciples is, of course, not excluded, but that was only the exposition of His public doctrine. There was nothing in it such as they understood by “secret teaching.” It was unlike “the leaven of the Pharisees which was hypocrisy;” for in it there was “nothing covered,” “nothing hid.” (Comp. John 12:1-3.)
Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.(21) Why askest thou me?—Comp. John 5:31. The pronoun “Me” is not the emphatic word as it is generally taken to be. The stress is on the interrogative, “Why, for what purpose, dost thou ask Me? If you want witnesses, ask them which heard Me.”
Behold, they know what I said.—Better, behold, these know what I said. He pointed probably to some who were then present. In the next verse there is a reference to the “officers” who, as we know from John 7:32; John 7:46, had heard this doctrine.
And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?(22) With the palm of his hand.—The Greek word occurs again in the New Testament only in John 19:3, and Mark 14:65 (see Note there, and on Matthew 26:67). It is uncertain whether it means here a blow with the hand or, as the margin renders it, “with a rod.” The word originally means a stroke with a rod, but in classical usage it acquired also the meaning of a slap in the face, or box on the ear, and the corresponding verb is certainly used in this sense in Matthew 5:39. We may gather from Acts 23:2 that a blow on the face was a customary punishment for a supposed offence against the dignity of the high priest; but in that case it was ordered by the high priest himself, and the fact that it was here done without authority by one of the attendants confirms the opinion that this was not a legal trial before the judicial authority.
Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?(23) Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil.—Comp. Note on Matthew 5:39.
Bear witness of the evil.—That is,” Produce the evidence which the law requires.”
Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest.(24) Now Annas had sent him bound. . . .—Better, Annas therefore sent Him bound. . . . The reading is uncertain; some MSS. read “Therefore;” some read “Now;” some omit the word altogether. On the whole, the evidence is in favour of “therefore.” The tense is an aorist, and cannot properly have a pluperfect force. The rendering of the Authorised version is based upon the opinion that Jesus had before been sent to Caiaphas, and that all which followed from John 18:13 (see margin there) had taken place after the close of the investigation before Annas. This view is certainly more probable than that the words “high priest” should be used of Annas and Caiaphas indiscriminately (comp. Note on John 18:15), but both do violence to the ordinary meaning of language, and, if the interpretation which is adopted in these Notes is correct, neither is necessary.
Jesus was still “bound;” as He had been from John 18:12.
And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. They said therefore unto him, Art not thou also one of his disciples? He denied it, and said, I am not.(25) And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself.—Better, And Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. (Comp. John 18:18.) The words are repeated to draw attention to the fact that he was standing in the court at the time when Jesus was sent from Annas unto Caiaphas, that is, from one wing of the quadrangular building across the court to the other. In Luke 22:61 it is said that “the Lord turned and looked upon Peter.”
Art not thou also one of his disciples?—Comp. Note to John 18:17.
One of the servants of the high priest, being his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off, saith, Did not I see thee in the garden with him?(26) One of the servants of the high priest.—Comp. Luke 22:59.
Did not I see thee in the garden with him?—This kinsman of Malchus, who had probably gone with him to the arrest, is not to be silenced by a simple denial. He asks emphatically, “Did not I see thee in the garden with Him?” He feels certain that he is not deceived. The probable interpretation of John 18:4 is that Jesus went forth out of the garden towards the band and the officers. If so, the moment when the kinsman saw Peter was previous to that of Malchus’ wound. If the kinsman had witnessed this, he would almost certainly have charged Peter with it now.
Peter then denied again: and immediately the cock crew.(27) And immediately the cock crew.—Better, . . . a cock crew. (Comp. Matthew 26:74, and (on the whole question of the denial, Notes to Matthew 26:69-74.)
Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.(28) On the accusation before Pilate (John 18:28-38), comp. Notes on the parallels in Matthew 27:11-14; Mark 15:2-5; Luke 23:2-5.
The hall of judgment.—Literally, the Prœtorium. Comp. Note on Matthew 27:27. It is interesting to observe the various renderings which our translators have given for this one word. Here, “hall of judgment,” or “Pilate’s house,” and “judgment-hall;” John 18:33, “hall of judgment” without the marginal alternative; John 19:9, “judgment-hall;” in Matthew 27:27, “common-hall,” or “governor’s house;” in Mark 15:16, “prætorium” (the original word Anglicised); in Acts 23:35, “judgment-hall;” in Philippians 1:13, “palace,” this being perhaps the only passage where “palace” does not give the right meaning. (Comp. Note there.)
And it was early.—The Greek word occurs in the division of the night in Mark 13:35 (“even,” “midnight,” “cock-crowing,” “morning”) for the time between cock-crowing and sunrise, as we should say roughly, from three to six o’clock; but comp. Matthew 27:1, and Luke 22:66. We must remember that Pilate must have sent the band (John 18:3), and was therefore expecting its return.
And they themselves went not into the judgment hall.—They sent Jesus in under guard of the Roman band, while they remained outside.
But that they might eat the passover.—Comp. Excursus F: The Day of the Crucifixion of our Lord.
Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man?(29) Pilate then went out unto them.—Better, Pilate therefore went out unto them—i.e., because of their religious scruples they would not enter into the palace.
What accusation bring ye against this man?—Comp. John 18:33. They expected that he would have at once ordered His execution; but he asks for the formal charge which they bring against Him. He knew by hearsay what this was, but demands the legal accusation without which the trial could not proceed. As the Roman procurator, he demands what crime Jesus has committed against the Roman law.
They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee.(30) If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee.—They take the position that the Roman is the executive, and their own the judicial power. They bring no legal charge against Jesus, but assert, in effect that they themselves, who understood and had investigated the whole matter, had condemned Him to death, and that the fact that they had done so was in itself sufficient proof that He was worthy of death. They use the vague word “malefactor,” “evil-doer,” though in the trial before Caiaphas they had not sought to prove any evil deed, and they expect that upon this assertion Pilate will pronounce on Him, as on other malefactors, the sentence of death.
Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:(31) Take ye him, and judge him according to your law.—Pilate takes them at their word. They claim the judicial right; let them exercise it. Their law gave them power to punish, but not the right of capital punishment. If they claim that the matter is wholly within their own power of judgment, then the sentence must also be limited to their own power. He can only execute a sentence which is pronounced by himself after formal trial.
It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.—Their words admit that they did not possess the power of life and death, while they imply that they had sentenced Jesus to death. They verbally give up the power, but in reality claim it, and regard the procurator as their executioner. The Jews had lost this power since the time that Archelaus was deposed, and Judæa became a Roman province (A.D. 6 or 7). The Talmud speaks of the loss of this power forty years or more before the destruction of Jerusalem. (Comp. Lightfoot’s Note here, and in Matthew 26:3.)
On the stoning of Stephen, which was an illegal act, comp. Notes on Acts 7:57 et seq.
That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die.(32) That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled.—Comp. Note on John 18:9.
Signifying what death he should die.—Better, signifying by what manner of death He should die. (Comp. Note on John 10:32.) For the prediction of the manner of death, comp. John 3:14; John 12:32; and Note on Matthew 20:19. If the Jews had possessed the power to put Him to death, they would have condemned Him on the technical charge of blasphemy, for which the punishment was stoning. (Comp. John 8:59; John 10:31; and Acts 7:51 et seq.) Crucifixion was not a Jewish punishment, and it was in the fact that He was executed, not by Jewish authority and on the charge of blasphemy, but by Roman authority and on a charge of Majestas (high treason), that His own prophecy of the manner of His death was fulfilled.
Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?(33) Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus.—Better, Pilate therefore entered into the Prœtorium (or palace) again, and called Jesus. (Comp. John 18:28.) This was practically a private investigation, for the Jews could not enter the palace (John 18:28). (Comp. John 19:13.)
Art thou the King of the Jews?—Comp. Note on Matthew 27:11; Luke 23:2-3. Pilate, of course, knew of the charge brought against Him when he gave permission for the Roman cohort to apprehend Him.
Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?(34) Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?—The most probable interpretation of the question is that which regards it as establishing a distinction between the title “King of the Jews” as spoken by Pilate and the same title as spoken by Jesus. In the political sense in which Pilate would use it, and in this sense only the claim could be brought against Him in Roman law, He was not King of the Jews. In the theocratic sense in which a Jew would use that title, He was King of the Jews.
Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?(35) Pilate answered, Am I a Jew?—His question would say, “You surely do not suppose that I am a Jew?” The procurator’s Roman pride is fired at the very thought. He was the governor of the subject race. What did He know, or care to know, of their subtleties and distinctions?
Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me.-” So far from the question coming from me,” his words mean, “It is thine own nation, and especially the chief priests, who have delivered Thee unto me.” And then, weary of the technicalities with which a Roman trial had nothing to do, he asks the definite question, “What hast Thou done?”
Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.(36) Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world.—The answer of Jesus is two-fold, declaring (1) in this verse, that He is not a King in the political sense; and (2) in John 18:37, that He is a King in the moral sense. By “of this world” we are to understand that the nature and origin of His kingdom are not of this world, not that His kingdom will not extend in this world. (Comp. John 8:23; John 10:16.) In the world’s sense of king and kingdom, in the sense in which the Roman empire claimed to rule the world, He had no kingdom.
Then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews.—Better, then would My servants have been fighting. (Comp. John 19:16.) His “servants” are His disciples, who would be in this relation to Him if He were a temporal king, and the crowds such as those who had sought to make Him king (John 6:15), and had filled Jerusalem with the cry, “Hosanna: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel” (John 12:13). One of His servants had drawn the sword (John 18:10), and, but that His will had checked the popular feeling, neither the Jewish officers nor the Roman cohort could have delivered Him to be crucified.
But now is my kingdom not from hence.—That is, “But, as a matter of fact, My kingdom is not from here.” It was proved by His standing bound in the presence of the procurator. The clause has been strangely pressed into the service of millennial views by interpreting it, “But now My kingdom is not from hence. Hereafter it will be.” For the true sense of “now,” comp. John 8:40; John 9:41; John 15:22; John 15:24.
Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.(37) Art thou a king then?—The sentence is both a question and an inference from the word “kingdom” of the previous verse. There is a strong emphasis, and it may be sarcasm, expressed in the pronoun, “Does it not follow then that Thou art a king?”
Thou sayest that I am a king.—Or, perhaps, Thou sayest; for I am a king. (Comp. Matthew 26:25.)
To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world.—Better, Unto this end have I been born, and unto this end am I come unto the world. Our translators have rendered the same Greek words by different English words—“To this end,” “for this cause,” intending probably that the first phrase should be understood of the words which precede, and the second of those which follow: “To this end (that I may be a king) was I born, and for this (that I may bear witness unto the truth) came I into the world.” Had this been the meaning, it would have been almost certainly expressed by the usual distinction in Greek; and in the absence of any such distinction, the natural interpretation is, “To be king have I been born, and to be a king came I into the world, in order that I may bear witness unto the truth.” The birth and the entrance into the world both refer to the Incarnation, but make emphatic the thought that the birth in time of Him who existed with the Father before all time, was the manifestation in the world of Him who came forth from the Father. This thought of “coming into the world” is frequent in St. John. (Comp. especially John 10:36; John 16:28.)
That I should bear witness unto the truth.—Comp. Note on John 1:8. He has indeed a kingdom, and He came into the world to be a king; but His rule is that of the majesty of Truth, and His kingdom is to be established by His witness of the eternal truth which He had known with His Father, and which He alone could declare to man. (Comp. Notes on John 1:18; John 16:13.) He came to be a witness—a martyr—to the truth, and to send forth others to be witnesses and martyrs to the same truth, through the Holy Spirit, who should guide them into all truth. Such was His kingdom; such the power by which it was to rule. It was not of this world: it possessed neither land nor treasury, neither senate nor legions, neither consuls nor procurators; but it was to extend its sceptre over all the kingdoms of the earth.
Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.—He has spoken of His kingdom. Who are its subjects, and what its power over them? Every one is included who, following the light which God has placed in his soul, comes to “the true Light which lighteth every man;” who, made in the image of God, and with capacities for knowing God, seeks truly to know Him; every one who, in an honest and true heart, is of the truth, and-therefore hears the voice of Him who is the Truth. The thought is familiar to us from the earlier chapters of the Gospel. (Comp. e.g., John 3:21; John 7:17; John 8:47; John 10:16.)
Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.(38) Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?—“‘What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.” Such is Lord Bacon’s well-known interpretation of Pilate’s well-known question. Others have seen in it the bitterness of a mind that had been tossed to and fro in the troubled sea of contemporaneous thought, and despaired of an anchorage. Others, again; have traced the tone of sarcasm in the governor’s words—“Is the son of Roman freedom and Greek thought, which had at this time been welded into one power, to learn truth of a Jewish enthusiast?” while the older interpreters, for the most part, regarded the question as that of an earnest inquirer desiring to be satisfied. These are a few among the many thoughts the passage has suggested; and yet none of them seem to give the natural impression which follows from the words. Bacon’s is nearest to it, but Pilate was far from jesting. He seems rather to have been irritated by the refusal of the Jews to furnish a formal accusation (John 18:31), and more so at the question of Jesus in John 18:34, and the subtleties, as he thinks them, of John 18:36. This seems to him to be another, and at all events it is wholly irrelevant to the question at issue. He has neither time nor will to deal with it, and at once goes from the palace again to the Jews.
I find in him no fault at all.—Better, I find no crime in Him. St. John uses the word rendered “fault” only in this phrase. (Comp. John 19:4; John 19:6.) It is used by St. Matthew (Matthew 27:37) for the technical “accusation written, This is Jesus, the King of the Jews,” and this seems to be the sense here. “I find no ground for the legal charge (John 18:33). Whatever He may be, there is no proof of treason against the majesty of Cæsar.”
On the attempt of Pilate to release Jesus (John 18:39-40), comp. Matthew 27:15-23; Mark 15:6-14; Luke 23:13-23. It is preceded in St. Luke by the trial before Herod (John 18:6-12).
But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?(39) At the Passover.—Comp. Excursus F: The Day of the Crucifixion of our Lord.
The King of the Jews.—These words are of course said in mockery, but not at Jesus who was still in the palace. They seem to mean, “This is your king; Such is your national subjection, that He is bound in the Prætorium of the Roman governor. Shall I release Him unto you?”
Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.(40) Then cried they all again.—St. John has not recorded any clamour before, but implies that of Mark 15:8, and Luke 23:5-10.
Now Barabbas was a robber.—Comp. Note on John 10:1. The word includes the meaning of unrestrained violence, which often leads to bloodshed (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19), and is thus used in a striking parallel in Sophocles:—
“And him, so rumour runs, a robber band
Of aliens slew.”—
(Œdipus Rex., 724. Plumptre’s Translation.)
There is a solemn emphasis given to the context by the abrupt brevity of the sentence. (Comp. John 11:35; John 13:30; see also Acts 3:14.)
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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