John 18:25 – Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.”
Welcome back, readers!
In our last post, we left Peter in the courtyard of the high priest. He already denied Christ once, when questioned by the lowly matron at the door/gate. He now proceeds to huddle by the fire with the other servants. All of them are waiting to see what will happen to Jesus, who is being questioned by Annas and Caiaphas.
As they wait, another servant identifies Peter as one of the disciples of Jesus. Once again, Peter denies his relationship with Christ. This is the second of his three denials, which were predicted by Jesus (Mark 14:30).
John 18:26-27 – One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.
Malchus was the man who had his ear cut off by Peter in the garden. Clearly, one of his relatives had also been in the detachment of soldiers that was sent to capture Jesus, and he saw the whole incident unfold. He probably got a good look at Peter while Jesus was healing Malchus’ ear. This man is not going to keep silent based on a simple denial; he wants to confront Peter about his role in this whole affair.
When he once again calls Peter out, Peter responds with his third denial of Christ. This third denial was very vehement; the other gospel writers tell us that Peter resorted to cursing and swearing (Mark 14:70-71, Matthew 26:74) to make his point.
Immediately after the third denial a rooster crowed, fulfilling the prophesy of Jesus.
Let’s take a closer look at the denial of Peter.
First of all, Peter showed some faithfulness to Jesus. It is true that he fled with the rest of the disciples in the garden when Jesus was arrested. But afterward he seems to have gathered some of his courage and followed Jesus at a distance. Perhaps he was motivated by his recent promises to stick by Jesus regardless of the cost.
Second, when it was impossible to enter into the judgment hall with Jesus, he stood outside the gate, trying to be as near to Christ as possible and looking for an opportunity to draw closer (which he received by the intervention of an unnamed disciple).
However, he should never have taken these actions because they put him in the wrong place at the wrong time. Let me explain.
It is clearly evident from the preceding chapters (14-17), that the faith of the disciples was very weak at this point. They were losing their leader, they were uncertain about the future, they were not yet filled with Holy Spirit and they were overwhelmed by the amount of information Jesus had given to them over the last few hours.
Jesus was well aware that the disciples were not yet ready to face any kind of real opposition at this point. This is evident all throughout his final discourse with them, and particularly in the prayer he prayed for them (John 17:11, 15). It was also evident when, just before his arrest, Jesus instructed the band of soldiers to let his disciples go (John 18:8).
In addition, Jesus had warned Peter that he would not only abandon him, but he would deny him three times.
The bottom line is that Jesus was setting his disciples up to succeed – he knew their faith was weak so he kept them out of danger until they could be strengthened and filled with power by Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
The best thing Peter could have done after the arrest of Jesus was to go home (a place of safety) and pray. But instead, he places himself in temptation’s way by inserting himself into a situation he was not equipped to handle. He was essentially outside of God’s will for his life. His only option in this situation was to depend on his own strength. Not surprisingly, he failed. This failure was not God’s fault; it was Peter’s fault.
This example should cause all of us to pause. It is true that we should be spreading the gospel. It is true that sometimes this takes people into dangerous and difficult places. So if your plan is to enter one of these danger zones, you better make sure you are clearly hearing the voice of Holy Spirit. Just because an inner city drug cartel needs to hear the gospel, it doesn’t mean you should barge in unannounced and start preaching to them!
Here is something else to consider: You may have a testimony that shows the power of God to deliver from some particular sin, such as alcoholism. As a person that has been delivered from that addiction, you have a very powerful testimony to share with others.
But you need to be careful about how and when you share it. If you were just delivered a week ago, you probably shouldn’t go into your old ‘hangout’ and try to witness to your drinking buddies. Even though you are doing the right thing, you could wind up failing if it is done in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We have an example of this in the scriptures. In Acts 9:6-10 we see that Paul wanted to preach the gospel in Asia. Did they need the gospel? Certainly! But Holy Spirit would not let him do it, because it was the wrong place to go at that time. Paul wanted to visit several other places as well, but each time he was forbidden to go there by Holy Spirit. Finally, he was instructed to go to Macedonia, where many were saved.
So, by all means, go into the world and share the gospel – but if you plan to go somewhere unusual, make sure you follow Holy Spirit there!
John 18:28 – Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.
The governor’s headquarters (your translation may say ‘hall of judgment’), was the seat of Roman authority. It would be like one of our court rooms – a place where the judge (Roman governor) heard and ruled on cases brought before him.
At this point, Jesus had been condemned and pronounced guilty of death by the Sanhedrin:
Matthew 26:65-66 -Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, He has spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now you have heard his blasphemy. What think you? They answered and said, He is guilty of death.
The only problem was that the Jews did not have the authority to execute anyone. For this reason, they took Jesus to Pilate.
Since Pilate’s hall was a place of Gentile judgment, any Jew who went inside would be considered unclean and thus unable to participate in the imminent Passover celebrations. (Any/all Jews were considered ceremonially unclean or polluted if they entered the house of any Gentile.) For this reason, the religious leaders refused to go inside Pilate’s hall.
This verse clearly shows us that Jesus was right – the religious leaders were truly ‘whitewashed sepulchers’:
Matthew 23:27 -Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
The Jewish leaders show the utmost attention to the most minute detail regarding outward forms of the law, yet they are filled with moral corruption! They may have ‘righteously’ stood outside Pilate’s judgment hall that day, but their hearts were full of envy/jealousy, fraud, injustice, hatred and murder. What a mockery they make of God when they refuse to enter Pilate’s hall, but are completely unconcerned about shedding the innocent blood of the Messiah!
John 18:29-30 – So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.”
Because the Jews would not enter the judgment hall, Pilate condescended to come outside to them. But chances are he did not do it out of respect for them; he did it for his own sake. During Passover the population of Jerusalem exploded with Jews and Pilate did not need any trouble, so he did what he had to do to help keep peace.
The Jewish leaders were clearly hoping that Pilate would simply pass the death sentence on Jesus based on their own evaluation of the case. It was probably common for the governor to ‘rubber stamp’ or automatically approve most of their decisions. After all, Pilate really had no interest in Jewish affairs of state.
However, in this case, Pilate asks for the list of charges the Jews are bringing against Christ. Why would he do that? Perhaps it was due to the odd hour of night. Or again Pilate may have been taking extra caution because of the large number of Jews present in the city.
But there was probably another good reason as well. Many scholars believe that Pilate had heard of Jesus and his miracles; it would make perfect sense that the governor of Jerusalem would be informed as to what was going on in the city. Because of this, he would automatically be interested in the case. He also seems to have held the opinion that Jesus is innocent and he was fully aware that the Jewish leaders were extremely jealous of Jesus (Matthew 27:17-18).
Regardless of the reason for Pilate’s request, it presented an obstacle for the Jewish leaders.
They had convicted Jesus of the charge of blasphemy, which carried the death penalty under Jewish law. But Roman law was different; under their civil rules, Jesus had done nothing wrong. If the Jews gave blasphemy as the charge against Jesus, Pilate would have immediately dismissed the case and told them to deal with the issue themselves.
Knowing this, they try to avoid stating the actual charges against Jesus. Instead, they indirectly accuse Pilate of questioning their ability and integrity in judgment. They act indignant and offended that Pilate wants to see clear evidence of an act deserving death. Maybe they protested so much because they knew there was no case against him!
John 18:31-32 –Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.”This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
To his credit, Pilate does not bow to their pressure. He throws the case back to them, instructing them to have an official trial in the Sanhedrin and then to punish Jesus accordingly.
But the Jews continue to press Pilate. They insist that they do not have the right to execute people. Was that true? The answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
The Jews could still stone people to death if the judgment was clear and the execution was spontaneous. For example, in Acts 7:59-60, the Sanhedrin was questioning Stephen about preaching the gospel. During the trial, Stephen testified that he saw heaven opened and Jesus sitting at the right hand of God in glory. Immediately upon hearing this ‘blasphemy’, the enraged mob stoned Stephen without a trial.
However, the Jews had no right to execute anyone found guilty after the ordinary course of justice. In that case, death sentences had to be carried out by the Romans. This would apply to the case of the Jews versus Jesus.
There is no doubt that the religious leaders intended to kill Jesus after they arrested him (Matthew 26:3-5), but whether they intended to do so secretly, or by means of a mob (stoning), or through the Roman governor is uncertain.
Although they may not have known what they were going to do, Jesus certainly did. He very clearly told the disciples that he would be delivered to the Gentiles and crucified (Matthew 20:18-19).
John 18:33-34 – So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”
The gospel of Luke tells us that the Jewish leaders went before Pilate (while he was outside) and accused Jesus of inciting a rebellion against Rome and claiming to be a king:
Luke 23:1-2 – And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King.
Once those charges were brought, then Pilate returned inside and asked Jesus if he was the king of the Jews.
Notice that Jesus is very careful how he answers Pilate. He neither confirms nor denies that he is King of the Jews. Instead, Jesus asks if this was a personal conviction of Pilate’s own mind or if he was merely repeating information he heard from the religious leaders.
Here is why that matters: When Pilate uses the term ‘King of the Jews’, he thinks of it as a political statement or ambition. To him, this indicated a person who was attempting to establish an earthly, political kingdom that would oppose Rome. If Jesus were this type of king, he was a threat to Rome and should be immediately executed.
The facts clearly showed this was not the case; Jesus had never claimed to be king, he never appeared in the worldly attire of a king, he never assumed any secular power, he never raised an army, and he never acted as a judge or civil authority. Nothing he did ever pointed to political aspirations. He was not, and never had been, a threat to Roman rule.
However, if the term ‘King of the Jews’ is being used by the Jewish leaders, then Pilate should consider the source of the accusation. Although they maintained that Jesus was a threat to Caesar, it was really the religious leaders themselves who intensely desired to overthrow Rome!
They would have loved for Jesus to use miraculous power to bring the Jews out of Roman bondage the same way Moses brought Israel out of Egyptian rule. And truly, if Jesus had been willing to do this, the Jewish leaders would gladly have supported the uprising. So the charges of rebellion against Caesar reflect their own desires, not those of Jesus.
But as Jesus will shortly explain, his kingdom was spiritual, not physical. He was not going to use flesh and blood to overthrow Rome. And if his kingdom was spiritual in nature (not political) then technically Pilate had no authority to order his execution. All charges against him should be immediately dropped.
John 18:35 – Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”
There is an old saying ‘Where there is smoke, there is fire’. The meaning of the proverb is that rumors often have at least some basis in truth. Or we might say that if there is a persistent indication of wrongdoing, then chances are something illegal or immoral is at the heart of the rumors.
This is what Pilate is saying to Jesus. He maintains that since the leaders of his own nation are furious with him, and since they are making serious accusations against him, Jesus must have done something wrong.
That being the case, Pilate demands that Jesus tell him what he has been involved in.
John 18:36 – Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
In response to Pilate’s question, Jesus admits to being a king, but not in the sense that the religious leaders claim.
- His kingdom is ‘not of this world’ – it is spiritual in nature, not secular/political.
- Its purpose is not to rule the world, but to rescue men from the kingdom of darkness.
- The weapons of his kingdom are spiritual, not physical like spears and shields. This is a significant point; if the kingdom of heaven was an earthly kingdom, Jesus would have incited the multitudes that followed him to prepare for battle. He would have organized and army and used his miraculous power to arm them. He certainly would not have given himself up (unarmed) in the garden of Gethsemane.
John 18:37 – Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
Although Jesus confirms that he is a king, he also declares that he did not come to reign on the earth (at that time). His purpose in coming to earth was not to assert immediate power or raise armies or subdue nations in battle.
Jesus came to reveal and bear witness to the truth of God. The truth was that he was/is a king (the Messiah). And through this truth, he will usher salvation into the world and make it available to all mankind. This was his purpose in coming to earth.
Jesus is our king; he governs the minds and hearts of his subjects. Everyone who hears the truth and accepts Christ as savior hears his voice and follows him:
John 10:27 – My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
And as we know, one day Jesus WILL rule over this earth with an iron rod (Psalms 2:7-9). He will rule a kingdom that cannot be over thrown and it will last for one-thousand years (Revelation 20:1-6).
John 18:38 – Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.”
What is truth? – Pilate almost certainly asked this question in contempt/scorn which explains why Jesus did not answer it. If his question had been sincere and he really sought the truth as Nicodemus did (John 3:1), we know that Jesus would have answered. He would have explained to Pilate the nature of the kingdom of heaven.
Since Pilate asks the question in mockery and then immediately leaves the room without waiting for an answer, we know that his investigation was finished. He was satisfied that Jesus was not a king in the sense that the Jews had asserted; he was no threat to the Roman government. Therefore, he was innocent of the charges filed against him.
Pilate seems to regard Jesus as a poor, ignorant, deluded fanatic, and he goes out to the Jews and declares Jesus to be not guilty.
Yet, the original question – ‘What is truth?’ – still requires an answer.
John 1:17 -For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
(See also John 1:14, Ephesians 4:21, John 14:6, etc). Thankfully, God has given us the tools we need to help us determine truth: the Holy Scriptures, divine revelation and our ability to think/reason. We can be confident that if we sincerely ask Jesus for an answer, he will certainly give it to us (James 1:5).
John 18:39 – “But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”
Pilate is in a somewhat difficult position here. It is his duty to keep the peace in Jerusalem. If he doesn’t, Rome will reprimand him, exile him, or even kill him. So he can’t afford to enrage the Jews on the eve of their biggest religious celebration of the year, especially when thousands of out-of-town Jews had flooded the city. But at the same time he believes Jesus is innocent and he wants to judge him justly.
So Pilate tries to figure out a way to save Jesus while simultaneously diffusing the anger of the religious leaders.
His plan is to offer the release of a prisoner – Jesus or Barabbas. Scripture indicates that the release of a prisoner during the Passover celebration was a custom back in that day, but we have no information on the origin or reason for this custom.
What we do know is that Barabbas was a terrible criminal. He was not only a violent robber, he was also guilty of murder and sedition (Luke 23:19, Mark 15:7). He seems to have been a criminal who was universally despised by everyone. He definitely belonged in prison, not out on the streets of Jerusalem!
Pilate was sure that given a choice between this violent repeat offender and the meek, miracle working Jesus, the Jews would certainly choose Jesus. But he was wrong.
John 18:40 – They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.
As is typical of the apostle John, he does not include many of the details routinely given by the other gospels. Since he was the last of the four to pen his gospel, he apparently chose to give us details the others left out, while skipping over things they had already well documented.
For this reason, he does not mention Jesus being sent to Herod (Luke 23) or the large crowd outside Pilate’s judgment hall, who were being incited by the Pharisees to choose Barabbas over Christ (Mark 15). Neither does he does not mention Pilate washing his hands of the whole affair. But he does include the bottom line: Jesus was sentenced to death.
Let me offer you some encouragement and relief:
In this post we noted that Peter denied Jesus three times. His spiritual failure was due to the fact that he was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing. He was trying to gain victory over darkness using his own strength. He wanted to prove to the rest of the world that he was stronger than the other disciples; he would never abandon Christ!
But obviously, he failed.
This is an important lesson for us. No matter what your ministry is, be sure that you are following the leading of Holy Spirit. When you undertake a project or make plans, you will succeed when you follow him, not when you ask him to follow you!
Let me offer you some strength:
During the trial of Jesus, the followers of Christ were no doubt disheartened, discouraged and afraid. They were probably stunned that Jesus was convicted and sentenced to death. From their perspective, things looked hopeless.
But they were wrong. God had things well in hand. The situation was playing out exactly according to God’s plan.
If you have submitted your life to Christ and you are following the leading of Holy Spirit, the same is true for you. Even though you may experience a set back or even if things look impossible, you can be sure that things are happening exactly according to God’s plan.
This is not only true in the life of each individual believer, it’s true for our nation as well. The Christians of America have humbled themselves. We are repenting and praying for our nation. And even though things look bad right now, we should not be disheartened or discouraged. God is in control; he has a plan to redeem and rescue this nation.
For our part, we need to be strong and continue to do all we can to fight evil. As we do, God will grant us the victory.