THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN
JESUS IS ARRESTED AND BROUGHT TO TRIAL
Friday, Nisan 15
The Daily Sacrifices of the Feast of Unleavened Bread: The fourteenth day of the first month, at twilight is the Passover of Yahweh; and the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of Unleavened Bread for Yahweh. For seven days you will eat unleavened bread. On the first day you will hold a sacred assembly; you will do no heavy work. For seven days you will offer food burnt for Yahweh. On the seventh day there will be a sacred assembly; you will do no heavy work. Leviticus 23:5-8
Note: “twilight” is literally “between the twilights,” which is noon. The Temple liturgy of the Passover sacrifice began at noon (Philo, The Special Laws II, 145).
Holiness in consuming sacred food: Anyone who touches anything made unclean by a dead body, or who has a seminal discharge, or who is made unclean by touching any kind of reptile or any one who has contaminated him with his own uncleanness, be it what it may, in short, anyone who has had any such contact will be unclean until evening, and must not eat holy things until he has contact will be unclean until evening, and must not eat holy things until he has washed his body. At sunset he will be clean and may then eat holy things, for these are his food. Leviticus 22:4b-7
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BOOK 5 – THE CRUCIFIXION AND RESURRECTION OF
THE SON OF GOD 18:1-21:25
|I. THE REJECTION OF THE SON OF GOD||18:1-19:16|
|A. The arrest of Jesus||18:1-11|
|B. The trials of Jesus||18:12-19:16|
|2. Roman governor||18:28-19:16|
| 3. Herod Antipas
Antipas returns Jesus to Pilate
Chapters 18 and 19 of St. John’s Gospel tell the deeply moving story of the Passion and self-sacrificial death of the Savior. As is his custom, John does not often repeat the events covered in the other Gospels except to add new details. He locates the events of Jesus’ Passion and death in five settings:
- The garden where Jesus is arrested (18:1-12)
- The house of Annas the high priest and father-in-law of Caiaphas (18:13-27)
- The Roman Praetorium, court of Pontius Pilate the Roman governor (18:28-19:16)
- Golgotha, the hill of the crucifixion (19:17-37)
- The burial of Jesus in the garden tomb (19:38-42)
Returning to the events of the Last Supper:
During the Passover supper four ritual communal cups of red wine were passed around the banquet table (Mishnah: Pesahim: 10:1-10:7).
- The first cup, the Cup of Sanctification, opens the meal.
- The second cup is the Cup of Forgiveness, is passed after the ritual questions and the telling of the story of the first Passover by the host of the supper.
- After the Passover narrative the faithful eat the meal which is followed by the most important of the 4 ritual cups, the Cup of Blessing or Redemption and
- Finally the last cup, which closes the meal and seals the covenant for another year, is the Cup of Acceptance.
Luke is the only Gospel writer to mention any of the other cups:
When the time came he took his place at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, ‘I have ardently longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; because, I tell you, I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then, taking a cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and share it among you, because from now on, I tell you, I shall never again drink wine until the kingdom of God comes’ (Luke 22:14-18). This cup is either the first cup, the Cup of Sanctification, or the second cup, the Cup of Forgiveness, but it is more likely that this is the second cup since Jesus drinks from this cup.
Luke’s account continues: Then he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying. ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ He did the same with the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new Covenant in my blood poured out for you’ (Luke 22:19-20).
We know from the Gospels that the offering of Jesus’ Body in the breaking of the bread, and His Blood in the Eucharistic cup was offered as the traditional meal was coming to an end (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22). St. Paul provided the information that the Eucharistic cup was the 3rd cup, called the Cup of Blessing or Redemption: The blessing-cup [the Cup of Blessing] which we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ; and the loaf of bread which we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16)? According to the rules of the Passover meal, the 3rd cup was consumed after the eating of the Passover lamb or kid (no more food was to be consumed after eating the sacrificial victim) and before the singing of the rest of the Egyptian Hallel Psalms: Psalms115-118 (Mishnah: Pesahim, 9.2D; 10.2-10:9).
What is interesting is that in each of the Synoptic accounts, Jesus’ states that He will not drink again of the “fruit of the wine” until He comes into His kingdom (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:17-18). After making this vow, it is obvious that Jesus could not have taken the 4th cup. According to the ritual of the Passover meal the Cup of Acceptance is passed and then the host closes the meal with the words: “It is finished” (“It is fulfilled”). Jewish scholars rightly point out that in the Seder, or order of the Passover meal, the participants must drink from all four cups. They insist that if Jesus did not drink from the 4th cup the Passover meal could not be completed and, therefore, this meal could not have been a Passover sacrificial meal. But is there a reason why Jesus did not take the 4th cup in the Upper Room that would seal the ritual of this sacred meal which was both a sign of Israel’s covenant union with Yahweh and a sign of covenant continuation for another year? The question that must be asked is “when would Jesus come into His kingdom?” That is a question we will address later in the lesson.
The Synoptic Gospels record that after the Passover Supper and the Institution of the Eucharist, Jesus spoke with His disciples and then: After the psalms had been sung they left for the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30 & Mark 14:26).
The psalms that were sung were the remainder of theHallel Psalms 115-118. This is the same psalms which were sung the day Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem to be hailed as the promised Messiah and the same psalms sung at the Temple liturgical service where the Passover victims were sacrificed.
Please read Psalms 118:22-29: 22The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.23This is Yahweh’s doing, and we marvel at it.24This is the day which Yahweh has made, a day for us to rejoice and be glad.25We beg you, Yahweh, save us (Hosanna!), we beg you, Yahweh, give us victory!26Blessed in the name of Yahweh is he who is coming! We bless you from the house of Yahweh.27Yahweh is God, he gives us light. Link you processions, branches in hand, up to the horns of the altar.28You are my God, I thank you, all praise to you, my God. I thank you for hearing me, and making yourself my Savior.29Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good, for his faithful love endures for ever.
The rabbis tell a story to explain the meaning of this psalm. According to the story, when the Temple of Solomon was being built all the stones for the foundation of the building we cut and laid out, but there was one stone which was not the same shape as the others and it was discarded. When the building was begun, the architects discovered they were missing the foundation or corner stone of the Temple. Then they realized the missing stone was the one which they had discarded. However, keep in mind that this psalm pointed to the coming of the promised Messiah, the “blessed of Yahweh” the “he who is coming!”
Question: In Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter quotes Psalm 118:22in his trial before Sanhedrin, the same Jewish Law Court which condemned Jesus (Acts 4:11-12). Who, according to St. Peter in his trial before the Sanhedrin, are the “builders” who rejected the “cornerstone”?
Answer: The religious authorities of the Old Covenant Church
Question: Who, according to St. Peter, is the stone which the builders rejected?
Answer: Jesus of Nazareth.
Question: Jesus is the cornerstone of what?
Answer: He is the foundation of the New Covenant Church.
The “cornerstone” or “foundation stone” that may become a “stone of stumbling” is a messianic theme in Old Testament Scripture:
- Isaiah 8:14-15: He will be a sanctuary, a stumbling-stone, a rock to trip up the two Houses of Israel; a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, over which many of them will stumble, fall and be broken, be ensnared and made captive.
- Isaiah 28:16: So the Lord Yahweh says this, ‘Now I shall lay a stone in Zion, a granite stone, a precious corner-stone, a firm foundation-stone: no one who relies on this will stumble.
- Zechariah 3:9: For this is the stone which I have put before Joshua (Yeshua = Jesus), a stone on which are seven eyes; and I myself shall cut the inscription on it’Yahweh Sabaoth declares.
- Zechariah 4:7-10: What are you, great mountain? Beside Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! He will bring out the keystone while it is cheered with Hurrah! Hurrah!’ The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this Temple; his hands will finish it. (Then you will know that Yahweh Sabaoth has sent me to you). A day of little things, no doubt but who would dare despise it? How they will rejoice when they see the chosen stone in the hands of Zerubbabel!’ Note: Zerubbabel is the man who laid the cornerstone of the 2nd Temple after the return from exile. According to the genealogy and of Matthew 1:12 and Luke 3:27, Zerubbabel is the ancestor through whom both Matthew and Luke trace Jesus’ descent from King David.
The New Testament writers will also describe Jesus as the “stone which the builders rejected,” which became for many Old Covenant believers “a stone of stumbling,” but also the Rock upon which the New Covenant Church was built:
- Matthew 16:18: (Jesus to Peter) So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my community (in the Greek ekklesia and in Hebrew kahal = “called out ones” or the Church).
- Matthew 21:42-43: Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this is the Lord’s doing and we marvel at it? I tell you, then, that the Kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’
- Acts 4:9-11: (Peter to the Sanhedrin) If you are questioning us today about an act of kindness to a cripple and asking us how he was healed, you must know, all of you, and the whole people of Israel, that it is by the same of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, and God raised from the dead, by this name and by no other that this man stands before you cured. This is the stone which you, the builders, rejected but which has become the cornerstone. Only in him is there salvation; for of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved.
- Romans 9:32-33: (In this passage, St. Paul tells the Roman Christians all that has happened in the coming of the Messiah was foretold in the Old Testament, but many of the Jews missed the signs) And why? Because they were trying to find it in actions and no in faith, and so they stumbled over the stumbling-stone’as it says in Scripture: Now I am laying in Zion a stumbling-stone, a rock to trip people up but he who relies on this will not be brought to disgrace. (Paul is combining Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16 and applying those passages to Christ as the stumbling-stone).
- 1 Corinthians 3:11: For nobody can lay down any other foundation than the one which is there already, namely Jesus Christ.
- Ephesians 2:20-22: You are built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone. Every structure knit together in him grows into a holy temple in the Lord; and you too, in him, are being built up into a dwelling-place of God in the Spirit.
- 1 Peter 2:4-8a: He is the living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen by God and precious to him; set yourselves close to him so that you, too may be living stones making a spiritual house as a holy priesthood to offer the spiritual sacrifices made acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. As Scripture says: Now I am making a stone in Zion, a chosen, precious cornerstone and no one who relies on this will be brought to disgrace. To you believers it brings honor. But for unbelievers, it is rather a stone which the builders rejected that became a cornerstone, a stumbling stone, a rock to trip people up. (Peter is referring to both the passages in Isaiah 8:14-15 and 28:16).
Jesus of Nazareth is also the stone prophesized by the prophet Daniel. He is the stone, “untouched by human hands” (having divine power), that broke away from “the mountain” (the Old Covenant Church centered at the Temple on Mt. Moriah), who became the foundation stone of the New Covenant Kingdom of God –the Universal Church that shattered all other earthly kingdoms. Prophesying four successive empires that will dominate the old covenant people from the Babylonians to the Romans, Daniel promises the rise of a fifth kingdom that will last forever and whose king whose “kingship will never come to an end”: In the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and this kingdom will not pass into the hands of another race; it will shatter and absorb all the previous kingdoms and itself last for ever’just as you saw a stone, untouched by hand, break away from the mountain and reduce iron, bronze, earthenware, silver and gold to powder (Dan 2:44-45; also see4:13-14).
Question: How did Jesus become a “stumbling stone” for the Jewish authorities and others? See Luke 2:34; 7:23; 12:51-53; 1 Peter 2:8. For whom was this warning intended? Was the result of the rejection of the Messiah for Old Covenant Israel?
Answer: St. Peter testified that Jesus is a “stumbling stone” for those who do not believe in the Living Word of God. Peter’s warning is valid for his generation and for ours. For his generation, by rejecting the Messiah and His Gospel of salvation, the old covenant hierarchy rejected the prerogatives given to them at Sinai. Those prerogatives were then transferred to the Jewish “remnant, set aside by grace” (Romans 11:5) who established the New Covenant people of God. For Paul’s list of those prerogatives, see Romans 9:1-5 and the chart “Israel’s Divinely Instituted Prerogatives” in Charts: New Testament/ The Epistles of St. Paul and the Catholic Letters.
After eating the Passover meal Jesus spoke with His disciples in a discourse we have been studying in the last several chapters of St. John’s Gospel, which Bible scholars refer to as Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer” (John chapters 14-17). Before leaving Jerusalem to return to the Mount of Olives, St. Luke recorded Jesus’ last instructions to His Apostles: He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without purse or haversack or sandals were you short of anything?’ ‘No, nothing,’ they said. He said to them, ‘But now if you have a purse, take it, and the same with a haversack; if you have no sword, sell your cloak and buy one, because I tell you these words of scripture are destined to be fulfilled in me: He was counted as one of the rebellious. Yes, what it says about me is even now reaching its fulfillment.’ They said, ‘Lord, here are two swords.’ He said to them, ‘That is enough!’ He then left to make his way as usual to the Mount of Olives, with the disciples following. When he reached the place he said to them, ‘Pray not to be put to the test (Luke 22:35-40).
After the close of the sacrificial meal, and without consuming the 4th cup, Jesus and the Apostles left the city of Jerusalem. The great doors that gave access to the Temple Mount had been closed just as the sun was setting on Nisan 14. The sacrificial meal of the Passover began at sundown, which was for the Jews, the beginning of Nisan 15 and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Now at midnight the doors to the Temple Mount were opened again to allow the faithful to come into the Temple to pray.
Please read John 18:1-11: Confrontation in the Garden
1 After he had said all this, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron valley where there was a garden into which he went with his disciples.2 Judas the traitor knew the place also, since Jesus had often met his disciples there,3 so Judas brought the cohort to this place together with guards sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees, all with lanterns and torches and weapons.4 Knowing everything that was to happen to him, Jesus came forward and said, ‘Who are you looking for?’5They answered, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ He said, ‘I am he*.’ Now Judas the traitor was standing among them.6When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he,*’ they moved back and fell on the ground.7He asked them a second time, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They said, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’8Jesus replied, ‘I have told you that I am he.* If I am [if then me you seek] the one you are looking for, let those others go.’9This was to fulfill the words he had spoken, ‘Not one of those you gave me have I lost.’10Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.11Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’
*Note: In the literal translation, Jesus identified Himself saying “I AM” a significant three times in verses 5, 6, and 8. In the Greek text, only the words “ego ami” (I AM) are recorded. The pronoun “he” is added by the translators (The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to John, Brown, page 810; Interlinear Bible, vol. IV: New Testament Greek/English, page 307). Jesus’ “I AM” statement is a three times reference to the divine name of the Triune God.
John 18:1: After he had said all this, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron valley* where there was a garden into which he went with his disciples.
* [“the winter-flowing Kedron,” is the literal translation].
Jesus and His disciples crossed the Kidron Valley to reach the Mount of Olives. We know from Luke’s Gospel that the Mount of Olives, where the town of Bethany was located, was where Jesus and the disciples were staying each night during their last week in Jerusalem:
- He entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple; and when he had surveyed it all, as it was late by now, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve (Mark 11:11).
- All day long he would be in the Temple teaching, but would spend the night in the open on the hill called the Mount of Olives (Luke 21:37).
The Kidron [or Kedron] valley is not mentioned in the Synoptic accounts, but in referring to the Kedron as the “winter-flowing Kedron,” John is using the correct terminology (see 2 Samuel 15:23 and 1 Kings 15:13 where the same designation is used). The Kidron, nahal qidron, in Hebrew, is a deep ravine (wadi in Aramaic) to the east of the city of Jerusalem that separates the city from the Mount of Olives. The valley begins north of the city, just west of Mt. Scopus, and continues past the old city walls to the south where the ravine joins with the Hinnom Valley south of Jerusalem. The Kidron then angles southeast crossing into the Judean wilderness and empties into the Dead Sea. With the accumulation of debris over the centuries, the elevation of the Kidron valley is 10-50 feet higher than it was in Jesus’ time. The valley is also famous for the Gihon Spring, located in the lower section of the city of Jerusalem. This lower section of the city was known as the “City of David,” and was located on the western slope of the valley. The word kedron (qidron) either means “cedar,” because it is assumed that cedar trees once covered the Mount of Olives as well as this large ravine or valley, or possibly “dark” because of the stirred up sediment when the ravine was full, since it is a dry ravine during most of the year except in the rainy season when it is full of swiftly flowing water in the winter and the very early spring during the time of the Passover sacrifices when the blood of the sacrificial animals that was poured out on the Temple sacrificial altar drained into the Kidron and made it a river of blood (Anchor Bible Dictionary, volume 4, page 37-38; Dictionary of the Bible, page 473).
…where there was a garden: John is the only Gospel writer to mention “a garden.” The other three accounts mention crossing over to the Mount of Olives and coming to…
|26:36: Then Jesus came with them to a plot of land called Gethsemane||14:32: They came to a plot of land called Gethsemane||22:40: When he reached the place||18:1: there was a garden into which he went with his disciples|
The word “Gethsemane” means “oil press” or “oil valley.” Since the 4th century AD a site at the foot of the Mount of Olives facing Jerusalem has been identified as the location of Jesus’ arrest. At this place are ancient olive trees (some are 3,000 years old), and there is also a cave near by which archaeologists have identified as an ancient olive oil manufacturing site. It is possible that during the last week Jesus and His disciples slept at the homes of friends in Bethany or in the open near, or in, this cave. The city was so burdened with pilgrims that it was deemed acceptable by the priests for the faithful to camp outside the city walls as well as on the Mount of Olives, so long as the sacred meal of the Passover victim was consumed within the walls of the holy city.
Question: What theological reason might John have had to use the word kepos = garden? The word in Greek refers to “a plot of land where vegetables or flowers are planted, and sometimes trees as well” (Raymond Brown,The Anchor Bible: Gospel of John vol. II, page 806).
Answer: St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. Thomas Aquinas believed that John is drawing our attention to the parallel that exists in the struggle between Satan and the Adam in the Garden of Eden, and now the struggle between the traitor Judas, the tool of Satan, and Jesus the new Adam, in the garden of the olive press. The fall of man began in a garden with Adam’s disobedience and now Jesus the new Adam will begin His defeat of Satan in the garden where, in obedience, He yields Himself to the will of God the Father and accepts the cup that the Father has given Him (John 18:11).
There are 12 references to the Mount of Olives in the New Testament. It is from this mountain that Jesus will ascend to the Father in Acts chapter 1. But the Old Testament only contains two explicit references to the Mount of Olives. One prophecy predicts the day Yahweh will stand on the Mount of Olives for the final battle against the unbelieving nations and the second involves the bitter betrayal of King David by a man he believed was his friend’a foreshadowing of Judas’ betrayal:
- Zechariah 14:4: When that day comes, his feet will rest on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, forming a huge valley …
- 2 Samuel 15:30-31: David then made his way up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, his head covered and his feet bare. And all the people with him had their heads covered and made their way up, weeping as they went. David was then informed that Ahithophel was among the conspirators with Absalom ….
The Mishnah, the Jewish book of sacred oral tradition, identifies the Mount of Olives as the site of the ritual sacrifice and whole burnt offering of the Red Heifer (Mishnah,Parah 3.2-4; Numbers 19:1-10). The ashes of this sacrifice when mixed with water became the “holy water” of ritual purification from the defilement of death. In Old Covenant worship everything was symbolic, and spiritual realities were manifested through outward signs. This was especially important in the case of birth and death. Death was closely connected with sin and the “second death” (Revelation 2:11; 20:14; 21:8). The “second death” is the separation from God through spiritual death as a result of mortal sin (1 John 5:16-17). The remedy for the “second death” for New Covenant believers is through redemption and the “second birth,” through the Sacrament of Baptism, which results in forgiveness and restoration through Christ Jesus’Jesus is the sacrifice which purifies, prefigured by the sacrifice of the red heifer.
In the Old Covenant rite of purification from defilement through touching a dead body, the contaminated believer had to undergo a purification ritual that required purification with the holy water mixed with the ashes of the sacrificed red heifer, on the 3rd and 7th day of the purification rite, before that person could be restored or “reborn” into the community (
Numbers 19:11-12). Jesus has become our “red heifer.” It is only through Him that we are purified of our sins and reborn into the family of God:The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkled on those who have incurred defilement, may restore their bodily purity. How much more will the blood of Christ, who offered himself, blameless as he was, to God through the eternal Spirit, purify our conscience from dead actions so that we can worship the living God (Hebrews 9:13-14).
Notice that in St. John’s account of the events in the garden of Gethsemane, as is his usual practice, he does not re-tell Jesus’ prayer of agony in the garden that is recorded inMatthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:41-46. Please read one of those accounts.
The Synoptic Gospels record that Jesus urged the disciples to stay awake and pray with Him three times: Then he came back to the disciples and said to them, ‘You can sleep on now and have your rest. Look, the hour has come when the Son of man is to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up! Let us go! Look, my betrayer is not far away’ (Matthew 26:45-46).
John 18:2-3: Judas the traitor* knew the place also, since Jesus had often met his disciples there, so Judas brought the cohort to this place together with guards sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees, all with lanterns and torches and weapons.
The literal translation here and in verse 5 is: the one who was handing him over. In all the Gospel accounts whenever Judas is mentioned, he is always identified as the betrayer or traitor (Matthew 10:4; 26:14-16, 25, 47-48; 27:3; Mark 3:19;14:10-11, 43-44; Luke 6:16; 22:3, 47-48; John 6:71; 12:4; 13:2; 21-30; 18:2-5).
Question: When did Judas first conspire with the chief Priests to turn Jesus over to them? Did they first approach him or did he first approach them?
Answer: On Wednesday after the dinner at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany (seeMatthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:1-9), Judas approached the chief priests with an offer to hand Jesus over to them. They were delighted to hear it, and promised to give him money; and he began to look for a way of betraying him when the opportunity should occur. Mark 14:10-11 (also see Matthew 26:14-16).
This was the moment Satan has been waiting for since Jesus defeated him in Satan’s attempt to tempt the new Adam: Having exhausted every way of putting him to the test, the devil left him, until the opportune moment (Luke 4:19). Satan’s opportune moment had come. It is what St. Luke called “the hour of darkness” (Luke 22:53).
Question: Whom does Judas bring with him? See verses 3 and 12.
Answer: The Jewish Temple guards (Levites of the Temple) and a “cohort” of Gentile Roman soldiers under the command of a Roman officer. Only John mentions that Roman soldiers were involved in Jesus’ arrest. A cohort is a unit of 600 men, but this is probably the maniple [1/3rd of a cohort] of 200 soldiers. Although it is also possible that John may not mean to imply that such a large number of soldiers were involved but that just some soldiers from the Roman cohort were put at the disposal of the chief priests and were sent to accompany the Temple guards, perhaps in case the Temple guards refused to do their duty. It was, you may recall, the Temple Guards who refused to arrest Jesus when sent by the chief priests in John 7:45-47. This time the chief priests were not taking any chances.
Some scholars point to this passage as a contradiction of the Synoptic or that John misused the term “cohort”. But the technical military reference to the Roman officer in verse 12 as a “tribune” confirms that John is speaking of Romans, and Matthew and Mark’s comments in Matthew 26:45 and Mark 14:41 that the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners may a reference to the ritually “unclean” Gentile Roman soldiers. Then too, both Matthew and Mark mention that those who came to arrest Jesus carried both swords and clubs. Biblical historians point out that it was unlawful for Jews to carry swords on a feast day. This interpretation may indicate that both Matthew and Mark agree with John’s account and that Jewish Temple guards carrying clubs and Romans carrying swords were present at Jesus’ arrest; although Peter ignored this restriction and carried a sword to the Garden to protect Jesus (Matthew 26:51; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:38, 50-51; John 18:10-11). St. John is the only Gospel writer to identify St. Peter as the one with the sword.
John adds another detail. The soldiers and guards brought lanterns. It was the time of the Pascal full moon and the moon would have been bright that night, but under the spreading branches of the olive trees the garden would have had many dark places. This is another detail that indicates an eyewitness account of the events, and any eyewitness who paid attention to details.
Question: What is the irony associated with these men carrying lanterns and torches to provide light?
Answer: These men, who have come into the garden to arrest Jesus, like all men, have been seeking God, and sadly, they do not understand that they have found Him. They came bearing lanterns and torches to cut through the darkness, and yet the “Light of the world” stood in front of them, but because of the darkness of their souls, they could not see the “Light:”
- The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone (John 1:9)
- And the judgment is this: though the light has come into the world people have preferred darkness to the light because their deeds were evil (John 3:19).
- When Jesus spoke to the people again, he said: I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark but will have the light of life (John 8:12).
John 18:4-6: Knowing everything that was to happen to him, Jesus came forward and said, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They answered, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ He said, I AM he*.’ Now Judas, the traitor was standing among them. When Jesus said to them, ‘I AM he*’, they moved back and fell on the ground.
* The pronoun “he” is not in the literal Greek text. Jesus simple states the divine name; “I AM” = Ego Ami (Brown, Anchor Bible Commentary, page 810).
Question: What does the statement in verse 4 indicate: Knowing everything..?
Answer: Jesus’ foreknowledge is an indication of His divinity, a reoccurring theme in John’s Gospel. That Jesus “came forward” also shows that He is in full control of the unfolding events.
Question: What happens when Jesus speaks the Divine Name, I AM?
Answer: Some Biblical scholars think that the Jews, upon hearing the Divine Name, prostrated themselves. But what about the Romans, they certainly would not have fallen to the ground in reverence to the Divine Name? Other scholars suggest that, in another demonstration of His divinity, when Jesus pronounced the Divine Name that a flash of His divine power was revealed that pushed those present back and knocked them to the ground. There are several Old Testament passages that may be prophetically linked to this incident: Isaiah 28:13b [in the Greek Septuagint translation] …that they may go and fall back and be crushed and be in danger and be destroyed (also see Isaiah 28:16; Psalms 27:2 and 35:4).
St. Peter may have been alluding to this incident when he quoted Psalms 118:22 and compared Jesus to the “cornerstone” causing unbelievers to “stumble” in 1 Peter 2:6-8: As scripture says: Now I am laying a stone in Zion, a chosen, precious cornerstone and no one who relies on this will be brought to disgrace. To you believers it brings honor. But for unbelievers, it is rather a stone which the builders rejected that became a cornerstone, a stumbling stone, a rock to trip people up. They stumble over it because they do not believe in the Word; it was the fate in store for them. And in Acts 4:11, during his homily before the Sanhedrin, Peter identified the chief priests and Pharisees as the “builders” who rejected Christ when he also quoted this passage from Psalm 118:22.
If this was a demonstration of Jesus’ divine power, this incident reveals once again that Jesus is fully in charge of the events and that, although He had the power to resist His adversaries, He freely allowed them to take Him prisoner. This is what Jesus told the disciples in John 10:17-18: The Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as I have power to lay it down, so I have power to take it up again; and this is the command I have received from my Father.
In the Synoptic narratives, Judas came forward and identified Jesus with a kiss, which was probably a kiss on the hand, the recognized greeting from a disciple to His Rabbi, and not the kiss on the cheek that has been depicted in Western art. John, as is his usual practice, does not repeat the detail of the treacherous kiss recorded in the Gospels’he expects his readers to be familiar with those accounts (Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-46; Luke 22:47-53).
John 18:7-9: He asked them a second time, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They said, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ Jesus replied, ‘I have told you that I AM he*. If I am** the one you are looking for, let these others go.’ This was to fulfill the words he had spoken, ‘Not one of these you gave me have I lost.'” *[the pronoun “he” is not in the Greek text]. **[the literal Greek is “If therefore me you seek…”].
Question: How many times does Jesus use the Divine Name I AM in the literal Greek translation in verses 1-9? Please see * above and in verses 5-6 for the words in the literal Greek text.
Answer: He uses the Divine Name for Himself three times in verses 5, 6, and 8. He is the I AM who revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:13-14. He is the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity (see CCC# 205-207).
Question: What does Jesus command the soldiers and guards to do? What is the connection to what Jesus promised earlier in the Last Supper discourse? See John 17:12.
Answer: Jesus commands them to let the others go. In John 17:12 Jesus promised: While I was with them, I kept those you had given me true to your name. I have watched over them and not one is lost except one who was destined to be lost. And this was to fulfill the Scriptures.
Notice the implication inJohn 17:12 that Judas the betrayer, who is lost, was not really given to Jesus by the Father. Instead he was included to fulfill the Scriptural prophecy ofPsalms 41:9 and to remind every generation of believers that there will be wolves among the sheep of Jesus’ flock.
John 18:10-11: Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’
Departing from his usual practice, John has recorded an incident that is in the Synoptic Gospels (seeMatthew 26:51; Mark 14:46-47; Luke 22:50-51), but only John includes the information that it was Simon-Peter who struck the man with his sword to defend Jesus and only John includes the name of the high priest’s servant. However, he does not include that the wounded man was healed by Jesus; only Luke records the healing (see Luke 22:51).
Question: Why does Jesus heal this man? There are two reasons.
Answer: To correct the wrong made by Peter and as evidence of His true identity as the Son of God.
Question: What does Jesus mean when He tells Peter to put his sword back and asks am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me? Hint: In each of the Synoptic Gospels in His prayer of agony Jesus prays for the Father to take away “this cup.” Mark 14:36: ‘Abba, Father!’ He said, ‘For you everything is possible. Take this cup away from me. But let it be as you, not I, would have it.’ See the symbolism of suffering associated with drinking “the cup of God’s wrath” in the Old Testament passages like Isaiah 51:17 and 22 and the chart “The Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets;” and Isaiah’s description of the “Suffering Servant” in Isaiah 52:14-53:12. Then, please read the comment Jesus makes about sharing in drinking “His cup” to John and James Zebedee in Matthew 20:22-23 and in Mark 10:38. Also see CCC # 607.
Answer: Jesus was referring to His cup of suffering that He drank on the cross according to the Father’s plan, freeing mankind from God’s “cup of wrath”, which the nation of Judea deserved for covenant disobedience and mankind in general deserved for living lives of sin in rejection of the one, true God (Romans 1:18; 2:5-10). St. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:20: He was marked out before the world was made, and was revealed at the final point of time for your sake. In Jesus’ exchange with John and James Zebedee they both swore that they could “drink of His cup,” not understanding the full extent of their statement. They were thinking only of God’s cup of salvation and glory (Psalm 116:13). It must have been with great love that Jesus prophesized that they would indeed “drink of His cup” of suffering for sake of the Kingdom of God! James Zebedee was the first Apostle to be martyred (42AD) and John suffered beatings, imprisonment in a Roman penal colony, and other severe hardships. Ironically, it was because they were willing to drink from Jesus’ cup of suffering that they did indeed drink from His cup of salvation and glory in the heavenly Kingdom.
Please read John 18:12-18: Jesus is taken to Annas and Peter’s first denial of the Master
12The cohort and its tribune and the Jewish guards seized Jesus and bound him.13They took him first to Annas, because Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.14It was Caiaphas who had counseled the Jews, ‘It is better for one man to die for the people.15Simon Peter, with another disciple, followed Jesus. This disciple, who was known to the high priest, went with Jesus into the high priest’s palace,16but Peter stayed outside the door. So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the door-keeper and brought Peter in.17The girl on duty at the door said to Peter, ‘Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?’ He answered, ‘I am not.’18Now it was cold, and the servants and guards had lit a charcoal fire and were standing there warming themselves; so Peter stood there too, warming himself with the others.
John 18:12-14: The cohort and its tribune and the Jewish guards seized Jesus and bound him. They took him first to Annas, because Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had counseled the Jews, ‘It is better for one man to die for the people.
John will include the information that after He was interviewed by Annas, they then took Jesus to the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas and then to the Roman governor, Pontus Pilate, but he will not, as is his custom, repeat the events of Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin that is dramatically covered in all the Synoptic accounts (seeMatthew 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:66-71).
Caiaphas has hastily convened a session of the Jewish Law Court, known as the Sanhedrin. The regulations for the court of justice are found in Deuteronomy 17:2-13.
Question: For what offenses would a covenant member be tried by the court of justice? What are the requirements for a death sentence?
Answer: A violation of the covenant constituted judgment; blasphemy was a crime punishable by death (Leviticus 24:10-14; Deuteronomy 17:2). If it was a difficult case, the accused person was to be put to taken to Jerusalem (“to the place chosen by Yahweh”) and tried by the high court (Deuteronomy 17:8-13). A death sentence could only be passed on the word of at least two or three witnesses who must be the first to strike a blow when the person is condemned (Deuteronomy 17:6;19:15-21). The condemned person was to be executed outside the gates of the city (Deuteronomy 17:5; 21:22-23).
Question: How many times in John’s Gospel do you find the phrase Caiaphas, who was high priest that year associated with Jesus’ death, and what is the significance of this phrase?
Answer: This is the third time; also see John 11:49 and 51. “That year” is a reference to that fateful year that Caiaphas, in his role as the High Priest, unknowingly chose Jesus, the Lamb of God, as the sin sacrifice for the covenant people.
Question: How many times does St. John record that Caiaphas condemned Jesus to death? What is the significance of Caiaphas condemning Jesus to death?
Answer: Three times in 11:50, 51, and 18:14. As the reigning High Priest, Caiaphas choose Jesus as the sacrifice for the sake of the people.
John is the only one of the Gospel writers to include the information that Jesus was first taken to Annas, the father-in-law of the High Priest Caiaphas.
Question: Why was Jesus first taken to Annas, Caiaphas’ father-in-law?
Answer: Annas, the shortened form of the Greek name Ananos, and from the Hebrew name Hananiah, was not only the father-in-law of the current reigning High Priest Joseph Caiaphas (also see Luke 3:2 and Acts 4:6), but he had held the position of High Priest from AD 6-AD15 before he was then deposed by the Roman procurator Valerius Gratus. According to the Law of the Torah, a High Priest was supposed to hold his office for life, but Gratus, like other foreign commanders, feared that a High Priest who ruled too long had too much influence with the people. However, deposing Annas didn’t do much to curb his influence. Many Jews still considered him as the rightful leader of the Covenant people (see John 18:19and Acts 4:6), and he remained in control through five of his sons and his son-in-law Caiaphas who all held the office of High Priest in subsequent years. Many Biblical historians think that Annas was the real leader of the priestly Sadducee party and the prime motivator in the plot to kill Jesus. In including the information that Jesus was first taken to Annas, John seems to be making the same suggestion. Taking Jesus to Annas first also allowed enough time for Caiaphas to assemble the members of the Sanhedrin and the false witnesses who would testify against Jesus. It is significant that the reigning High Priest also served as the President of the Sanhedrin. Caiaphas will also take on the role of the chief prosecutor in Jesus’ trial.
John 18:15-16: Simon Peter, with another disciple, followed Jesus. This disciple, who was known to the high priest, went with Jesus into the high priest’s palace, but Peter stayed outside the door. So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the door-keeper and brought Peter in.
Who is the unnamed “other disciple” and why is it that he was known to Annas and his household staff? Some scholars have suggested the unnamed disciple is Matthew who was a Levite and therefore a member of the lesser order of the ministerial priesthood. That this disciple is unnamed is the key. John usually names the disciples when he writes about them–but he never names himself. Most scholars and the Fathers of the Church have identified this unnamed disciple as St. John, who identifies himself five times in 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7 & 20 as the disciple Jesus loved. The inspired writer of the fourth Gospel also identifies himself as “this disciple” who is an eyewitness to these events in John 21:24.
The difficulty is how could the son of a Galilean fisherman have a strong enough connection to the high priest to be recognized and admitted to his palace by his household staff? One tradition repeated by Bishop Eusebius in his 4th century Church History is that John the Apostle was from a priestly family. Eusebius is basing his assumption on the fact that Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus in the 2ndcentury AD, and the early Church historian Hegesippus, both reported that as the Bishop of Ephesus John wore a golden sacradotal plate similar to that worn by a Jewish High Priest (see Exodus 39:30-31). This golden plate is called in Hebrew the ziz. It was also reported that both John Mark, when he became Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, and James Bishop of Jerusalem wore such a device to indicate their high office. While there is evidence to support that James and Mark did indeed wear a version of the sacradotal plate to distinguish themselves as Apostolic bishops of the New Covenant Church, we have no evidence that either James, the kinsman of Jesus, or Mark, the son of a Roman soldier and a Jewish mother, were from a priestly Jewish family, although Jesus’ disciple Joseph Barnabas, a kinsman of John-Mark and his mother Mary, was a Levite (Acts 4:36; 9:27; 11:22f; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:24; 1 Corinthians 9:6). James, kinsman of Jesus, Mark the author of the second Gospel, and John Zebedee, all born and raised in the Old Covenant faith and traditions, obviously saw themselves as the replacement of the hereditary priesthood and may have adopted a devise similar to the ziz to illustrate their spiritual appointment and authority over the Church.
The important point is that it is obvious that John had information that the other Gospel writers did not have:
- Knowing the name of the high priest’s servant in 18:10
- Knowing the servant in charge of keeping the gate to the high priest’s palace in 18:16
- Knowing the family member of the servant who had his ear cut off who challenged Peter in 18:26.
The suggestion that John was admitted because he sold fish to these servants and therefore came to know Annas’ household seems a bit flimsy. However, it was the practice to take especially bright young students from the outer districts of Judah, the Galilee and beyond in the Diaspora, and train them in Jerusalem to fill the scribal positions. St. Paul was one such lucky student who came from a Jewish community in Asia Minor. Is it possible that John was also studying in Jerusalem when he began to follow John the Baptist and later Jesus? Is it possible that he had been studying under the tutorage of Annas himself and was therefore known and trusted by the household staff?
It is impossible to know the connection between John and this priestly house, but it is clear that from the time of Jesus’ arrest only “the other”, “the beloved disciple”, continues to follow Jesus to the cross and to the tomb. It is also important to note that the unnamed disciple is clearly distinguished from, but associated with, Peter in John’s Gospel chapters 18 – 21. The close association between Peter and this unnamed disciple also mirrors the close association recorded in Luke 22:8; Acts 3:1; and 8:14 between Peter and John the Apostle.
John 18:17-18: The girl on duty at the door said to Peter, ‘Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?’ He answered, ‘I am not.’ Now it was cold, and the servants and guards had lit a charcoal fire and were standing there warming themselves; so Peter stood there too, warming himself with the others.
John includes the detail that it was cold. Jerusalem is more than 2,400 feet above sea level and can be very chilly in early springtime. Some scholars see a fulfillment of Zechariah 14:6 in this detail: That Day, there will be no light, but only cold and frost.
Like the Synoptic Gospels John includes Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s three denials as well as the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of Peter’s failure (seeJohn 13:36-38; Matthew 26:33-35; Mark 14:29-31; Luke 22:31-34 andJohn 18:17-27; Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:55-62;John 18:16-18, 25-27).
Please read John 18:19-28: Peter denies Jesus three times
19The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.20Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly for all the world to hear; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the Temple where all the Jews meet together; I have said nothing in secret.21Why ask me? Ask my hearers what I taught; they know what I said.’22At these words, one of the guards standing by gave Jesus a slap in the face, saying, ‘Is that the way you answer the high priest?’23Jesus replied, ‘If there is some offence in what I said, point it out; but if not, why do you strike me?’24Then Annas sent him, bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.25As Simon Peter stood there warming himself, someone said to him. ‘Aren’t you another of his disciples?’ He denied it saying, ‘I am not.’26One of the high priest’s servants, a relation of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, ‘Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?’27Again Peter denies it; and at once a cock crew.28They then led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium. It was now morning. They did not go into the Praetorium themselves to avoid becoming defiled and unable to eat the Passover.
John 18:19-21: The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly for all the world to hear; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the Temple where all the Jews meet together; I have said nothing in secret. Why ask me? Ask my hearers what I taught; they know what I said.’
An informal examination of Jesus begins. Annas is clearly the real political power. John identifies Annas as the high priest in 18:19 and the guard calls Annas the high priest when he slaps Jesus in 18:22. Annas has probably had Jesus brought to his house in order to give Caiaphas the time to assembly the Sanhedrin court at this late (or very early) hour.
Jesus’ response to Annas recalls the words of the prophesized future Messiah in Isaiah 48:16: Come near and listen to this; from the first, I never spoke obscurely; when it happened, I was there, and now Lord Yahweh has sent me with his spirit.
Question: Jesus ignores the question about His disciples, but He tells his interrogator that He has spoken openly in both the Synagogue and the Temple. What is the difference between the Jewish Synagogue and the Jerusalem Temple?
Answer: In the local Synagogue (located in every village with approximately 350 in the holy city of Jerusalem), the faithful study the word of God; in the Jerusalem Temple, sacrifice and atonement for sin is offered to reestablish communion with Yahweh.
Question: Do you see any link between the Synagogue and the Temple and the two parts of the Catholic Mass?
Answer: The Liturgy of the Word studies the Word of God while the Liturgy of the Eucharist is the sacrifice and communion restored.
John 18:22-24: At these words, one of the guards standing by gave Jesus a slap in the face, saying, ‘Is that the way you answer the high priest?’ Jesus replied, ‘If there is some offence in what I said, point it out; but if not, why do you strike me?’ Then Annas sent him, bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.
It was one of the Temple guards (mentioned in verses 3 and 12) who slapped Jesus. Conduct of this kind would not have been permitted at a formal judicial sitting of the Sanhedrin. This is all that John will record of Jesus’ trial. He does not repeat the Synoptic accounts of Jesus’ shameful trial before the illegally convened Sanhedrin, the Jewish Law Court.
John 18:25-27: As Simon Peter stood there warming himself, someone said to him. ‘Aren’t you another of his disciples?’ He denied it saying, ‘I am not.’ One of the high priest’s servants, a relation of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, ‘Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?’ Again Peter denies it; and at once a cock crew.
The “cockcrow” follows Peter’s second and third denials as Jesus predicted (Matthew 26:34-35; Mark 14:30; Luke 22:34; John 13:38). Between the residence of Annas and the trial before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Law Court), Peter has denied Jesus three times. John, along with the Synoptic Gospels also records the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in Peter’s denials three times followed by the words immediately the cock crowed (RSV translation: Matthew 26:74-5; also see Mark 14:72;Luke 22:60-61; John 18:27). However, the “cockcrow” may not have been the crowing of a live fowl but a trumpet signal which identified a time in the early morning before sunrise. The “cockcrow” was a trumpet blast that signaled the end of the third night watch and the beginning of the 4th. In 1stcentury AD Jerusalem, as in all the cities of the Roman Empire, the nighttime hours were divided into 4 time periods called “Watches”.
The 4 Roman watches of the night:
|#1: Evening watch||Sundown to 9PM|
|#2: Midnight watch||9PM to Midnight|
|#3: Cockcrow watch||Midnight to 3AM|
|#4: Dawn watch||3AM to Dawn|
The end of each watch, and the beginning of the next was signaled by a trumpet blast. The Third Watch was from Midnight to 3AM. At the close of the Third Watch a signal was given by the Roman guards –a trumpet was blown to signal the end of the Watch and the change of the guard. This trumpet blast at the end of the Third Watch was called the “gallicinium” or “the cockcrow”. If Jesus was identifying the time of Peter’s last denial as just before “a the cock crows,” it could not a specific time’roosters are notoriously unpredictable in their crowing, and there was a rabbinic ordinance against keeping chickens within the walls of the Holy City because it was feared that their scratching would produce “unclean things,” thereby violating the purity laws (J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, page 47, note 44). However, if Jesus was referring to the gallicinium, “the hour of the cockcrow” this was a precise military signal (Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to John, page 828). St. Mark’s Gospel includes an additional detail. In Mark 14:30 Jesus says: In truth I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will have disowned me three times. And then records the fulfillment of Jesus prophecy in Mark 14:71-72: But he started cursing and swearing, ‘I do not know the man you speak of.’ And at once the cock crowed for the second time… The Mishnah, the record of the oral traditions and Temple service, identify the “cockcrow” as a signal. In the Jerusalem Temple, it was at the signal of the cockcrow that the priest who was the superintendant for the morning service alerted the priests who were serving in the morning liturgical service to ritually bathe and dress in their liturgical garments (Mishnah: Tamid 1:2).
If this is the correct interpretation, the word proia = “early morning” or “dawn” used in the next verse (28) is very appropriate. According to Roman reckoning, the Fourth Watch, which followed the Third Watch, was called proi = dawn, and covered a time period of 3AM to Dawn (our time)’the “cockcrow” was sounded at 3AM our time.
| Historical note: In the 4thcentury AD, an intrepid lady named Egeria made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, faithfully recording her experiences for her “sisters” at home. The surviving copies of her travel diary are one of the oldest existing accounts of a Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In her account, Egeria describes the daily liturgy and the cycle of the liturgical year in Jerusalem. Several times she mentions a fixed early morning prayer service at the hour of “cockcrow”:
But what about the added detail in Mark 14:26-31? In that passage, Jesus prophesizes: In truth I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice you will have disowned me three times (verse 30). Jesus’ prophecy is fulfilled in Mark 14:66-72 when Peter hears the “cockcrow” twice, once after the first and again after third denials. That Marks identifies of two “cockcrows” is confirmed in the Jewish Mishnah, which records the oral Traditions of the Old Covenant Church. At the end of the 3rd watch a horn was not only blown by the Roman guards at the Antonia Fortress signaling the end of the watch but in the Temple the priests also kept their own watch and they also blew a horn at their calculation of the 3AM hour. There were indeed two “cockcrows.” That Jesus would be referring to a signal of the night watch is further supported by Mark 13:35 where Jesus warns the people of the great tribulation Jerusalem is destined suffer and speaks of “the coming of the Son of Man”: So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow or dawn … In this passage, Jesus is referring to the 4 night watches (see the chart). Even the 4th century AD pilgrim, the lady Egeria, mentions in her diary that there was more than one “cockcrow”‘identifying the “first cockcrow” as the hour the holy sites were opened in Jerusalem:
- On each day of each week this is what is done. On Sunday, at the first cockcrow, the bishop inside the Anastasis reads from the Gospel the passage of the Resurrection of the Lord… …(Ancient Christian Writers: Diary of a Pilgrimage chapter 27, page 98).
- On this Sunday morning, at the completion of those rites which are customarily celebrated at the Anastasis or the Cross from the first cockcrow until dawn, everyone assembles for the liturgy… (Ancient Christian Writers: Diary of a Pilgrimage chapter 30, page 103).
- On Monday, the following day, they carry out in the Anastasis whatever ceremonies are customarily performed from the first cockcrow until dawn…(Ancient Christian Writers: Diary of a Pilgrimage chapter 32, page 105).
If the “cockcrow” Jesus prophesized was the horn that sounded the end of the third watch in the Roman fortress of the Antonia and also in the Temple, then this would mean that the inquiry by Annas and Peter’s denials had come to an end at about 3AM. This would leave more than enough time to complete Jesus’ trial by the Sanhedrin and for Jesus to be taken to Pontius Pilate by the end of the Fourth Watch, which was approximately three hours later at sunrise. See the Mishnah, Baba Kamma7.7 for the restriction against keeping chickens in Jerusalem, and Mishnah, Sukkot 5.4; Mishnah, Tamid 1.2; and Mishnah Yom 1.8 concerning the trumpet blast from the Temple at the end of the 3rd watch. Also see Fr. Brown’s Commentary page 828.
Interesting note: Fr. Brown in his commentary of St. John’s Gospel records the findings of an intensive study of rooster crowing in Jerusalem during the March-April time frame conducted by the Franciscans. The data they collected indicated that the natural cockcrow most frequently occurred between 3AM and 5AM, with the earliest crowing recorded at 2:30AM. The Franciscans study, perhaps, reveals the reason the ancient trumpet signal between the third and fourth watches was designated “the cockcrow” (Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to John, Brown, page 828).
St. John’s Gospel does not relate Jesus’ trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, found in all the Synoptic Gospels, or Matthew’s description of Judas’ suicide as a fulfillment of prophecy (Matthew 27:3-10; Zechariah 11:12-13; and Jeremiah 32:6-15). The most dramatic scene in Jesus trial before the Sanhedrin is when the High Priest said to Jesus: I put you on oath by the living God to tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is you who say it. But, I tell you that from this time onward you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has blasphemed.’ What is your opinion?’ They answered, ‘He deserves to die’ (Matthew 26:63-66).
St. Mark adds a significant addition to Jesus reply to Caiaphas’ question. Caiaphas asks: ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I AM,’ said Jesus, ‘and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven’ (Mark 14:61-62). In St. Mark’s account, Jesus not only referred to the prophecies of the Messiah from Scripture (Old Testament), but He uses the divine Name’I AM.
Question: In St. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, what is it that Jesus said that caused the High Priest to react so violently, and for the Sanhedrin to condemn Jesus? Had Jesus answered the question the High Priest put to Him under oath? What verses from the Old Testament did Jesus reference? Hint: see Daniel 7:13-14 and Psalms 110:1
Answer: Yes, the High Priest put Jesus under oath “by the living God” to tell them His true identity. In answering the High Priest, Jesus did affirm that He is the Messiah. He acknowledged that He is the divine Messiah of the Prophet Daniel’s vision, combining Daniel’s vision in 7:13-14 with Psalms 110:1. Jesus had taught the significance of this Messianic Psalms passage to the Pharisees inMatthew 22:41-46. Now He is claiming that these passages are fulfilled in Him; He is the Messiah of Psalms 110:1 and Daniel 7:13-14. It is for this reason that He is condemned for blasphemy.
St. Matthew’s Gospel records: Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed. What need of witnesses have we now? There! You have just heard the blasphemy. What is your opinion?” They answered, “He deserves to die” (Matthew 26:65-66; also see Mark 14:64). Caiaphas did not tear his liturgical garments. Liturgical garments could not be worn outside the Temple inner courtyard and Sanctuary (Ez 42:14). Jesus was being tired in Caiaphas’ palace where the Jewish Law Court known as the Sanhedrin was hastily convened. God’s divine Name was only spoken during the liturgical ceremony of the Tamid sacrifice and on the Feast of Yom Kippur. According to the Mishnah, when the presiding judge is convinced of the guilt of blasphemy in the one being judged, he tore his garments and the other judges also tore their garments: He who blasphemes [M. 7:4D1] [Lev. 24:10] is liable only when he will have fully pronounced the divine Name (M. Sanhedrin 7:5A). And the judges stand on their feet and tear their clothing, and never sew them back up (M. Sanhedrin 7:5F).
Question: How did Jesus blaspheme? Blaspheme was a capital offense; see Leviticus 24:10-14.
Answer: Speaking the divine Name outside of Temple liturgy was to blaspheme the Name of God. According to the Mishnah, when the presiding judge is convinced of the guilt of blasphemy in the one being judged, he tore his garments: He who blasphemes [M. 7:4D1] [Lev. 24:10] is liable only when he will have fully pronounced the divine Name (M. Sanhedrin 7:5A). And the judges stand on their feet and tear their clothing, and never sew them back up (M. Sanhedrin 7:5F).
Question: What is the significance of Caiaphas tearing his garments? Caiaphas is not wearing his liturgical garments. Liturgical garments are only worn within the Temple precincts during the worship service. What is the significance of the Mishnah statement that the garment can never be re-sewn?
Answer: Caiaphas, as the presiding judge, pronounced Jesus’ guilt in the act of tearing his garment. The tearing of the garment symbolizes the renting of the Laws of the Sinai Covenant. Blasphemy is such a heinous offense that the covenant breach can never be repaired.
John 18:28: They then led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium. It was now morning. They did not go into the Praetorium themselves to avoid becoming defiled and unable to eat the Passover. Literal = “it was proia“: “dawn” is a better translation of the Greek word proia. The 4thWatch = from 3AM to sunrise was called proi.
It was a common Jewish practice to execute criminals during the festival days when many of the covenant people would be present to witness the execution of the condemned: They put him to death not in the court in his own town or in the curt which is in Yabneh, but they bring him up to the high court in Jerusalem. And they keep him until the festival, and they put him to death on the festival, as it is said, “And all the people shall hear and fear and no more do presumptuously (Dt. 17:13)” (M. Sanhedrin 11:4A-C).
The Gospel of Mark records: First thing in the morning, the chief priests, together with the elders and scribes and the rest of the Sanhedrin, had their plan ready. They had Jesus bound and took him away and handed him over to Pilate (Mark 15:1). According to the Synoptic Gospels, it is now the morning of the 15thof Nisan and the continuing day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (which began at sundown twelve hours earlier). It is also a Friday which is called “Preparation Day”, meaning the preparation day for the Sabbath that begins at sundown (Mark 15:42; John 19:31).
Unlike the Synoptic Gospel writers, John never uses the title “Unleavened Bread” for this 8-day festival period. Instead he only refers to the entire festival as “the Passover,” as do the Jews today and the Mishnah. The 8-day feast actually celebrated 3 feasts ordained by Yahweh:
- The Feast of Passover, always celebrated on the 14th of Nisan
- The Feast of Unleavened Bread that began that night, which since the day began at sundown became the 15th of Nisan
- The Feast of Firstfruits, which fell on the day after the first Sabbath of Passover week (see Leviticus 23:11 and the document “The Seven Sacred Feasts of the Old Covenant” found in the Charts section of the study).
Each of these feasts had different prescribed offerings and sacrifices.
Biblical requirements for the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread:
- Exodus 12:8: That night, the flesh must be eaten, roasted over the fire…
- Leviticus 23:5-8: The fourteenth day of the first month, at twilight is the Passover of Yahweh; and the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of Unleavened Bread for Yahweh. On the first [of Unleavened Bread] day you will hold a sacred assembly; you will do no heavy work. For seven days you will offer food burnt for Yahweh. On the seventh day there will be a sacred assembly; you will do no heavy work.
- Numbers 28:16-24: The fourteenth day of the first month is the Passover of Yahweh, and the fifteenth day of this month is a feast day. For seven days unleavened bread will be eaten. On the first day [the morning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the 15th] there will be a sacred assembly; you will do no heavy work. As food burnt as a burnt offering you will offer Yahweh two young bulls, a ram and seven yearling lambs, without blemish. The accompanying cereal offering of fine flour mixed with oil will be three-tenths of an ephah for a bull, two-tenths for a ram, and one-tenth for each of the seven lambs. There will also be a goat as a sacrifice for sin, for performing the rite of expiation for you. You will offer these in addition to the morning burnt offering* [the Tamid morning lamb sacrifice], which is a perpetual burnt offering.
*Please note that verse 24 verifies that this assembly took place in the morning.
On Friday, the 15thof Nisan, the Temple gates opened to admit the faithful at 9AM at the moment the first lamb the Tamid was sacrificed. This first sacrifice was offered at the very hour Jesus was nailed to the cross:
- Then they crucified him, and shared out his clothing, casting lots to decide what each should get. It was the third hour when they crucified him (Mark 15:24-25; the third hour is 9AM).
- According to general agreement, the morning sacrifice was brought at the third hour, corresponding to our nine o’clock (The Temple Its Ministry and Services, page 108).
[The Temple gates opened to admit the people, and the liturgical service of the Tamid began just as the lamb was being sacrificed at the third hour, or 9AM. Notice in Acts 2:15 that the crowds of Jews are on their way to the Temple for the morning Tamid worship service and the sacrifices of the Feast of Pentecost when God the Holy Spirit descends to take possession of the disciples in Upper Room for the birth of the Universal Church on Mt. Zion. The Jews accused the Apostles of being drunk, and Peter comments that it is “only the third hour”].
As prescribed by the Law of the Sinai Covenant, in the morning of Nisan the 15th, after the liturgical service of the whole burnt offering of the Tamid sacrifice was completed, the public offerings for the Sacred Assembly of the Feast of Unleavened Bread were brought to the altar. These offerings consisted of two young bulls, one ram and seven lambs for a burnt offering along with their appropriate meat-offerings as well as one goat for a sin-offering to make an atonement’these sacrifices were offered on each day of the 7-day feast of Unleavened Bread (Numbers 28:19-24). But on the 15th of Nisan, the first day of Unleavened Bread, after these public sacrifices offered for the whole congregation, the Chagigah communion peace offering of Nisan the 15th was brought forward. These were the pilgrim festival “sacrifices of joyousness” (Deuteronomy 27:7) in which the faithful were given the liberty to offer according to the blessings which Yahweh had given to each believer (Deuteronomy 16:17). These sacrifices included a voluntary burnt-offering (totally consumed on the altar fire), along with the Chagigah, which would be sacrificed at the Temple and eaten by the offerer and his family that day within the gates of Jerusalem. These were the “sacrifices of joyousness” which were made according to what one could afford and could come from the flock or the herd (male or female).
These private communion offerings of the people on the morning of Nisan the 15th were brought forward to the altar and were called the “peace offerings.” They required the laying on of hands, the sprinkling of blood, burning of the inside fat and kidneys of the victim on the altar, and the proper handling of the other sacrifices by the priests. The portions not given to the priests were used by the offers in their festival meals. The offerings were not to be a heavy burden for the people and were to be joyous festival offering, but one point was very clear: the Chagigah was a holy offering and one had to be in a state of ritual purity in order to make this offering (Mishnah, Pesach 6.3).
The Requirements for Eating Holy Food like the Passover meal or the Chagigah
- Leviticus 22:4b-7: Anyone who touches anything made unclean by a dead body, or who has a seminal discharge, or who is made unclean by touching any kind of reptile or any one who has contaminated him with his own uncleanness, be it what it may, in short, anyone who has had any such contact will be unclean until evening, and must not eat holy things until he has contact will be unclean until evening, and must not eat holy things until he has washed his body. At sunset he will be clean and may then eat holy things, for these are his food.
- Numbers 19:17-22: Anything that an unclean person touches will be unclean, and anyone who touches it will be unclean until evening.
A Solution to the Passover Contraversy
John 18:28: They then led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium. It was now morning. They did not go into the Praetorium themselves to avoid becoming defiled and unable to eat the Passover.
This verse is sometimes interpreted to suggest that the Nisan 14th Passover sacrifice at the Temple and the sacred meal that was to follow the evening of the sacrifice had not yet taken place. If this interpretation is correct, John’s Gospel contradicts the Synoptic accounts, which clearly state the meal Jesus ate with His disciples the night before His death was the Passover sacrificial meal (seeMatthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; and Luke 22:7-13 and please refer to the document Was the Last Supper a Sacrificial Meal? in the resources section).
Some Bible scholars have suggested that Jesus used another calendar, celebrating His own Passover a day earlier, which was contrary to the date selected by the Temple hierarchy according to the lunar calendar. However, in Matthew 23:1-3, Jesus’ supported the authority of those who sat “on the seat of Moses,” and He told the crowd: You must therefore do and observe what they tell you… (Matthew 23:3). Why would He recognize and support their authority one day and do the opposite, undermining their authority the next day by celebrating a Passover feast which was not on the date determined according to the Law of the Sinai Covenant by the authority of the Old Covenant Church? For Jesus to take such an action is not credible.
The suggestion that in the passage in John 18:28 that in the Jews mention of “Passover” that they are referring to the Passover sacrifice taking place on Friday instead of Thursday is in error for the following reasons:
- We know that in the first century it was common to refer to the entire 8-day festival as both “Unleavened Bread” and the “Passover.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke seem to prefer the designation “Unleavened Bread” for this entire festival period:
- Mark 14:12: On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover Lamb was sacrificed…
- Matthew 26:17: Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say ‘Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?
- Luke 22:7: The day of Unleavened Bread came round, on which the Passover had to be sacrificed… (also see Acts 12:3 and 20:6).
John, on the other hand NEVER refers to the feast as “Unleavened Bread”. He ONLY uses the designation “Passover” (see
- x 2;
- ). That John only uses the word “Passover” for the entire weeklong celebration is clear in
- which is poorly translated in the New Jerusalem. The literal Greek of this passage reads:
And it was Preparation
of the Passover, hour about the sixth and he says to the Jews, ‘Behold your king.’
- The reference is to Preparation Day for the Sabbath that fell during the Passover festival. This is clearly the interpretation as we see in
- as John continues:
It was the Day of Preparation, and to avoid the bodies remaining on the Cross during the Sabbath…”
- [Greek =
The therefore Jews that might not remain on the cross the bodies on the Sabbath because preparation it was for was great day that Sabbath …
- ). The 1st century historian/Jewish priest Josephus recounts in both
Antiquities of the Jews
The Jewish War
- that it was common to refer to the entire weeklong feast as both “Passover” and “Unleavened Bread”. John uses the term “Passover” for the entire 8-day festival.
- 2. John has already designated Thursday as the day the Passover lambs were sacrificed inJohn 12:1 when he records that the day before Palm Sunday it was 6 days until the feast of the Passover. As the ancients counted [no 0 place value at this time so the first in the series is designated #1] the 6th day from Saturday at Bethany [Sunday was Palm or Passion Sunday] would be Thursday which agrees with the Synoptic accounts (day 1= Saturday, day 2=Sunday, day 3=Monday, day 4=Tuesday, day 5=Wednesday, day 6=Thursday).
- 3. The reference in John 18:28:They did not go into the Praetorium themselves to avoid becoming defiled and unable to eat the Passover cannot be referring to the Passover supper that took place after sundown and was, therefore, in Jewish time the next day = Nisan 15. Ritual defilement in association with eating a sacrificial meal only lasted until sundown: Anything that an unclean person touches will be unclean, and anyone who touches it will be unclean until evening (Numbers 19:17-22). Also see the Mishnah: Ohalot, 18:7B, 18:10 which demonstrates that the dwelling places of Gentiles, but not their open courtyards, were considered unclean.
If this incident had taken place the morning of the Passover sacrifice, the Jews would have become ritually defiled by entering the abode of Gentiles (see Acts 11:2), but they had all day to become purified and by that night they would be able to eat the feast (see Numbers 28:16-25; Acts 10:28; and Leviticus chapter 22). Holiness in consuming sacred food: Anyone who touches anything made unclean by a dead body, or who has a seminal discharge, or who is made unclean by touching any kind of reptile or any one who has contaminated him with his own uncleanness, be it what it may, in short, anyone who has had any such contact will be unclean until evening, and must no eat holy things until he has washed his body. At sunset he will be clean and may then eat holy things, for these are his food (Lev 22: 4-7).
- However, if St. John’s account is in agreement with the Synoptic accounts and the morning that Jesus is taken before Pilate is the morning of Nisan the 15th, the Jews are referring to the morning Temple service of the Sacred Assembly of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In this case, the word pesach (Passover) in this verse, refers to other food eaten during the Pesach week-long feast, specifically the Chagigah festival sacrifice, which was consumed with great joy and celebration on the day following the Passover sacrificial meal (Chagigahis from chag or chagag = to bring the festive sacrifice). The Chagigah was a required communion offering at each of the three pilgrim feasts (Deuteronomy 16:16-17; Mishnah: Hagigah, 1:3). Unleavened Bread was a pilgrim feast (Exodus 23:14; Deuteronomy 16:16; 2 Chronicles 8:13) of which the Passover Sacrifice was offered the afternoon of the 14th, with the sacrificial meal of Unleavened Bread that night, which at sundown became the 15th. In the morning of the 15th day of Nisan, was a holy convocation when all needless work was forbidden. The only “work” allowed was that which was necessary for the observance of the festival. The services in the Temple began after the first daily sacrifice [9AM] when the public offerings were brought to the Temple. The Chagigah sacrifice of Nisan 15 could only be brought by the offerer in person (Jerusalem Talmud, Mishnah: Hagigah, 7:6A, lines 14-16), but the Paschal lamb of Nisan 14 might be brought for another person who, although having missed the Temple service because of ritual defilement, could partake of it later that night at sundown when the defilement would have been lifted (Numbers 19:17-22; Mishnah: Pesahim, 8:2). However, someone in ritual defilement could not offer the Chagigah the morning of the 15th, nor could they eat the joyful communal meal with their family and friends that afternoon. These canons of the Old Covenant faith show that there would have been no reason to fear ‘defilement’ on the morning of the Paschal Sacrifice but entrance into the Roman Law Court on the morning of the first Passover-day of the 15th would have rendered it impossible for a Jew to offer the Chagigah, which is also designated by the term pesach! Dr. Alfred Edersheim the Jewish-Christian biblical historian writes in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah: No competent Jewish archaeologist would care to deny that ‘Pesach’ may refer to the Chagigah, while the motive assigned to the Sanhedrists by St. John implies, that in this instance it must refer to this, and not to the Paschal Lamb.
Note: The Mishnah portion of the Talmud demonstrates rabbinic concern for ritual purity throughout the seasonal festivals; an entire tractate is devoted to “Mid-Festival Days” (Moed Katan) and another to the mid-festival offerings in between the first and last day of feasts like those offered on Nisan 15-21 (see Mishnah: Hagigah 1:3).
This is the pesach(Passover) festival offering of the Chagigah sacrifice that must be offered in person at the Temple for the meal eaten before sundown which the Jews, gathered outside Pilate’s palace, would have been unable to eat had they entered Pilate’s residence. If they had become ritually defiled coming into a Gentile residence, their defilement would have lasted until sundown and they could not have eaten the Chagigah sacrifice that had to be offered that morning at the Temple liturgical ceremonies along with the other sacrifices associated with that service, nor could they have eaten that pesach in the afternoon (also see Leviticus 23:5-8; Numbers 28:16-25). But, if it was the Passover meal which was celebrated at sundown on the 15th of Nisan, the Jews would have had more than enough time to ritually bathe and to be purified to attend the communal meal of the Passover victim since defilement was lifted at sundown.
Addition evidence to support this interpretation is found in 2 Chronicles 35:7-9 which also refers to the various sacrificial animals offered throughout Passover week, not only the sacrificed lamb or kid of the meal eaten the night of Nisan 15, as pesach. The word pesach was used to refer not just to the animals sacrificed on the 14th at the Temple but to the various animals that were offered in sacrifice during the 8-day Passover/Unleavened Bread festival (also see 2 Kings 23:21-23 and Ezekiel 45:21-24 which also uses the word pesach [Passover] to refer to the entire 8-day feast). Remember, the sacrifice of the 14thof Nisan is not the pilgrim feast; the pilgrim feast begins that night at sundown with the sacrificial meal, on what became the 15th — the feast of Unleavened Bread’a feast which continued for 7 days.
In verse 28 the Pharisees and Priests were concerned with the ritual impurity that would have contaminated them if they entered the Roman pratertorium.
Question: What is ironic about the Pharisees’ and Priests’ concern for their ritual purification?
Answer: There are four elements of irony:
- It is ironic that these men, so concerned with ritual purification, have lost their moral compass in that they are willing to pollute their souls by lying in order to achieve their goal of sending an innocent man to a horrible death.
- It is ironic that even though they do not wish to contaminate themselves by entering a Gentile residence, they do not hesitate to use the Gentiles to destroy their adversary.
- It is ironic that they fear a ritual impurity that might prevent them from attending the Temple services that day or eating the festival sacrificial offerings, which gives them a mystical bond with God, and yet unknowingly they are offering up the sacrifice of Him who is the true Lamb of God and the only means of true union with God the Father.
- It is ironic that the Jewish authorities have planned that Jesus is not to die according to Jewish Law (they convicted Him of blasphemy which requires death by stoning; Leviticus 24:16), but it is their intention that Jesus is to die a particular Roman form of capital punishment. He is to die on a cross as a common criminal. It is the religious’ authority’s intention to disgrace Jesus in the eyes of the people as one who is cursed (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). However, they do not realize that Jesus is the master over his own destiny (John 10:17-18) and that it is God’s plan for Him to die on a cross. This is the form of death He himself has prophesied in John 12:32-33;Matthew 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-33. Ironically they are fulfilling His mission by lifting Him up on the cross so that He can draw all men to Himself: And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself (John 12:32). He offered Himself as a sacrifice for the covenant curses the covenant people deserve for their violations of the covenant with Yahweh and to atone for the sins of all mankind.
Please read John 18:29-40: Jesus is condemned
29So Pilate came outside to them and said, ‘What charge do you bring against this man?’ They replied,30‘If he were not a criminal, we should not have handed him over to you.’31Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves, and try him by your own Law.’ The Jews answered, ‘We are not allowed to put a man to death.’32his was to fulfill the words Jesus had spoken indicating the way he was going to die.33So Pilate went back to the Praetorium and called Jesus to him and asked him. ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’34Jesus replied, ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others said it to you about me?’35Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?36Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. As it is, my kingdom does not belong here.’37Pilate said, ‘So, then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is you who say that I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’38‘Truth?’ said Pilate. ‘What is that?’ And so saying he went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no case against him.39But according to a custom of yours I should release one prisoner at the Passover; would you like me, then, to release for you the king of the Jews?’40At this they shouted, ‘Not this man,’ they said, ‘but Barabbas.’ Barabbas was a bandit.
John 18:29-32: So Pilate came outside to them and said, ‘What charge do you bring against this man?’ They replied, ‘If he were not a criminal, we should not have handed him over to you.’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves, and try him by your own Law.’ The Jews answered, ‘We are not allowed to put a man to death.’ This was to fulfill the words Jesus had spoken indicating the way he was going to die.
It is interesting that at first the Jews avoid pronouncing what crime Jesus has committed. Pilate taunt to Jews to try him by your own Law. Their reply is that under Roman law the Jews cannot condemn a man to death. Their statement is supported by the Jewish 1stcentury AD historian Flavius Josephus who records that from the time that Judea became a Roman province this was the law. The jus gladii was reserved to the Roman governor (Wars of the Jews 2.8.1).
Unlike the Synoptic Gospel accounts, John does not bother to explain Pilate’s rank and title. Perhaps it is because by this time in the Church Pilate’s place in salvation history is very well known. He is mentioned in the sermons of Acts 3:13, 4:27; and 13:28, and he was also probably named in the earliest creeds, as he is named in the creeds we profess today (the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene-Constantinople Creed). Josephus provides the information that Pontius Pilate was of the “equestrian rank,” meaning that he was of the lesser nobility. According to Josephus, Pilate was appointed governor of the province of Judea from 26AD until 36AD. In 36AD, after protests by the Jews, Pilate was relieved of his position by the Syrian Legate, Vitellius and was sent to Rome to justify his conduct. The Roman historian Tacitus identifies him as the “procurator” of Judea but an inscription discovered in 1961 in Caesarea Maritime refers to Pilate as a “prefect,” leading scholars to believe the designation of procurator was introduced later during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius [AD41-54] for military and political administrators of provinces like Judea. Pilate later died a violent death; he was ordered to commit suicide.
Most of what we know about Pontius Pilate from the writings of the Jewish historians Josephus [37-100AD] and Philo of Alexandria [d.50AD] is not very favorable. They portray him as autocratic, excessive and dishonest. Josephus confirms the slaughter of the Galileans that is mentioned in Luke 13:1 and the Roman historian Tacitus reports Pilate’s action against Jesus in Annals XV, 44 where he reports: The Christ had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate. Of all the existing documentation of Pilate, the Bible gives the most favorable account of this man. In fact, in the writings of the early Church Fathers, he is regarded as a man who cooperated in God plan of salvation. His image is found in early Christian art in the catacombs in Rome, and Pilate’s, wife Procula Claudia, is believed to have become a Christian and a patroness of the Church (she is mentioned in Matthew 27:19 urging he husband to spare Jesus’ life) . The Orthodox Greek Churches list both Claudia and Pilate in their Catalogue of Saints, and some Fathers of the Church believed Pilate’s wife Claudia was the Roman Christian lady who sends her regards to St. Timothy that St. Paul mentions in 2 Timothy 4:21. It has been suggested that Pilate was ordered to commit suicide because he and his family embraced Christianity.
Question: Why do the Jewish authorities say that they cannot conduct Jesus’ sentencing themselves?
Answer: It is their desire that He is executed, and they do not have that power to commit Jesus to death; only the Roman authority can impose the death penalty. Roman citizens were beheaded (as St. Paul will be) and non-Romans were crucified. John is the only Gospel writer who offers this very reasonable explanation. However, for the Romans to execute Jesus the Jews must offer a charge other than blasphemy (the charge rendered by the Sanhedrin). To blaspheme Jewish ritual practices would not be considered a capital offense to the Romans but would instead be an offense that is punishable by lashing. A lashing will be Pilate’s first judgment against Jesus (John 19:1). This is probably why, when asked by Pilate what crime Jesus has committed, the Jewish authorities hesitated to answer.
This was to fulfill the words Jesus had spoken indicating the way he was going to die.
Question: When did Jesus indicate the manner in which He would die? Please see verse 32.
Answer: The passage John probably has in mind is John 12:32where Jesus says: When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself (also see John 3:14).
John 18:33-35: So Pilate went back to the Praetorium and called Jesus to him and asked him. ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Jesus replied, ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others said it to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?
The Praetorium (see Matthew 27:27 and Mark 15:16) was the Roman governor’s judicial court and the scene of Jesus’ judgment by Pilate. It is identified by John in 19:13 as the site called the Gabbatha, in Aramaic gabbeta. Scholars have identified two possible sites that Pilate may have occupied while he was in Jerusalem. One is the palace of Herod, which was located near the northwestern angle of the Upper City near the modern Jaffa Gate, and the other is the site of the fortress of Antonia, which was adjacent to the northwest corner of the Temple Mount. Many scholars favor the Antonia Fortress since the meaning of the Aramaic word gabbeta is “height” or “mound” and the Antonia fortress, located on the height of Mt Moriah, was built to overlook the Temple area making it the highest point in the ancient city. This fortress, which was named by Herod the Great for his friend, the Roman general Marc Antony, was destroyed during the Roman assault on Jerusalem in 70 AD. Other scholars favor Herod’s palace, which had more luxurious accommodations for a ruling governor and his court of justice. Wherever the ruling governor resided was the site of Roman justice. Since St. Luke records that Jesus was passed from Pilate to Herod Antipas and back again to Pilate, it does seem reasonable that the two men were occupying the Herodian palace (Luke 23:6-12).
Question: Pilate removed Jesus from the presence of His Jewish accusers and privately asked Him what question and why?
Answer: Pilate asked Jesus if He was the king of the Jews. This is the one question that was of importance to the Romans. Since Herod the Great’s death, the only King of the Jews was the Roman Caesar; even Herod’s sons do not carry this title. All the Gospel accounts record these as the first words Pilate speaks to Jesus.
Question: What was Jesus’ response to Pilate?
Answer: Jesus asked Pilate if he is asking this of his own accord or if others have told him this. In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus’ answer was:You say so.
Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?
Question: What is it that Pilate’s reply indicated?
Answer: That he had no real knowledge of Jesus other than what he had been told by the Jewish authorities, and he was willing to listen to Jesus’ defense.
John 18:36-38: Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. As it is, my kingdom does not belong here.’ Pilate said, ‘So, then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is you who say that I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’ ‘Truth?’ said Pilate. ‘What is that?’ And so saying he went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no case against him.’
Jesus’ response to Pilate: it is you who say that I am king, is a variant of Jesus reply to Pilate in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptics Jesus’ response was: You say so, which is understood as an affirmative “Yes” answer to Pilate’s question. In this dramatic exchange Jesus does not deny his royal status and explains His mission to the Roman pagan Pilate as a non-political mission. In fact, His coronation begins with His Passion and is completed in His Ascension (see Ephesians 1:20-23), from which He rules from heaven His earthly dominion that spreads across the earth through the preaching of the Gospel and the sacramental ministry of His Kingdom of Heaven on earth, the universal Church (Matthew 28:18-20).
Question: What did Jesus mean when He said He had come to bear witness to the truth? Hint: see Jesus’ discourse on His mission in John 9:39
Answer: The revelation of “truth” has the effect of judgment. Jesus said in John 9:39 that it is for judgment that He has come into the world, so that truth might be revealed. Those who can discern the truth are the “sheep’ given to Jesus by the Father who hear His voice and follow Him
Question: What is the answer to the question Pilate asks: Truth? What is that?
Answer: Jesus is The Way, the Truth, and the Life. See CCC# 2465-2470
And so saying he went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no case against him.’
Pilate has judged Jesus to be without sin: I find no case against him. This is the first of the three times Pilate will judge Jesus and find Him innocent, using this same phrase (John 18:38; 19:4, 7). The irony is that any animal offered to Yahweh in sacrifice had to be judged as perfect and without flaw. Caiaphas, the High Priest had chosen Jesus as the sacrificial victim (Caiaphas announced that Jesus had to die three times in John 11:50, 52; 18:14), but Pilate, a heathen Gentile, judged the intended sacrifice as without fault!
John 18:39-40: But according to a custom of yours I should release one prisoner at the Passover; would you like me, then, to release for you the king of the Jews?’ At this they shouted, ‘Not this man,’ they said, ‘but Barabbas.’ Barabbas was a bandit.
Question: What does the name Barabbas mean? What is the irony here?
Answer: It is a surname meaning “son [bar] of the father [abba]”. The irony is they these people are so blind in their sins that they cannot tell the murdering false “son of the father” from the innocent, true Son of God the Father, Jesus the Messiah.
Question: What did Pilate understand to be the motivation for the Jewish authorities to hand Jesus over for execution? What is the connection to the first murder recorded in Salvation History? See Matthew 27:18 and Genesis 4:8
Answer: Jealousy. It was the same sin that led Cain to murder his innocent brother Abel. Jesus’ “brothers” (kinsmen) want to murder the innocent Jesus for the same reason.
Nicodemus, the Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin who privately visited Jesus at night in John chapter 3, complained to his associates in John 7:51 that they hadn’t even taken the trouble to give Jesus a hearing to discover for themselves what He was teaching. The sin of envy can defy both justice and reason. Was the sin of spiritual envy, which was what motivated the Old Covenant priesthood and hierarchy to condemn Jesus of Nazareth to death, prophesized in the Old Testament? Read the Old Testament Book of Wisdom 2:12-24 for a description of the malice that led to the condemnation of the Messiah and to the persecution of other righteous men and women who take up their crosses to follow Him down through the centuries.