In Summary: At this point in the story, Jesus and the disciples have finished the Last Supper and head to the Garden of Gethsemane. This chapter continues through the arrest of Jesus, including the betrayal by Judas, and works its way through the trials of Jesus. We see Caiaphas and Pilate here, including Pilate’s offer of release and the infamous shout of “Not this man, but Barabbas!”
The challenge of John 18 is finding one focal point among these summary ideas. Should we examine Jesus and His trials? The injustice carried out when anyone is presumed guilty is bad enough, but here we are certain of His innocence! Neither Caiaphas nor Pilate are concerned with justice, though. They are both concerned with power and control. This is bad.
Then we encounter Peter and his denials of Jesus. We knew this was coming, for Jesus had told Peter it would occur (John 13:38), and Jesus is never wrong. It still hurts to see it happen, and even on a second reading, when you think Peter would straighten up between Luke and John, he doesn’t. This is too often my life: I know it’s coming, a major failure. Then I do it anyway.
We could look at how the religious leaders and the political leaders of the day took someone into custody under cover of darkness. How they ramrodded a set of show trials. How they had looked the other way until it was convenient to grab Him. Of course, that’s probably a shade too close to home, isn’t it? There are too many times we want to let Jesus loose until He’s inconvenient, then we want Him locked up. When He has disaster relief workers out, He’s okay, but when He sends people out to rebuke sin, He’s got to go. When He’s inspiring gift-giving, He’s welcome, but when He inspires chastisement or calls for sacrifice, then He’s a menace.
In Focus: Instead, though, I think we could benefit from a focus on the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. I could wander endlessly across the reasons for Judas’ action. Why would he do this? What wrong had Jesus done him? Not a bit.
Judas, though, stands in for Adam at this point in the story. We could, and should, ask the same questions of Adam. Why would you betray God’s commands? What wrong had He done you?
Yet in my heart, I know this: we all carry that ability to be self-absorbed and betray those who do us no wrong. It is not a positive character trait, but it is a common one. Why Judas did this, why Adam did, all pale in comparison to the real point.
The story’s not about them. It’s not really about us, either. It is about Jesus. With Jesus, we know why. He goes through all the injustice and all the mockery for us. Because the worst of humanity came forward, struck Him, and He overcame. The light shines in the darkness, and darkness flees.
In Practice: What can we take in practice from this?
First: Defend the innocent. We can be certain that none are as innocent as Jesus, but the point stands. In the interest of justice, we treat all as innocent until proof shows that must change.
Second: Restore the fallen. We see this again with Peter, but realize that any of us can slip. We need restoration.
Third: Quit leashing Jesus. We lock up the Son of God when we try to make Him white, Baptist, or hip. While I’m convinced He speaks with a strong voice and no wimpy sound, He did not look or sound like me—it is my job to learn to sound like Him! Let the Word speak for Himself, and stop masking Him.
In Nerdiness: Two main nerd points: first, the differences in John’s account and the Synoptic accounts are interesting. John compacts the trials and leaves out the prayers in Gethsemane. That’s a “why” I can’t explain. Perhaps John felt that time too intimate to share?
Second, note the “I am” statement in John 18:5, John 18:6, and John 18:7. You may have missed it, because for the sake of English grammar, we get it as “I am he.” But take a look at the NASB’s italics for “he” or the NLT’s capitalizations of “I AM.”
Jesus simply tells the arresting posse that “I AM.” They fall. I like the view that they fall at the power of His words, though some have them falling out of fear that God is about to lightning-strike Jesus for blasphemy. Which raises the question: when that didn’t happen, why didn’t they rethink?
John uses a lot of “I am” statements of Jesus. They are worth your noticing.