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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

John 18



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[5. The Climax of Unbelief. Voluntary Surrender and Crucifixion of Jesus (John 18:1 to John 19:42).

Verse 1

(1) He went forth with his disciples—i.e., He went forth from the city. (Comp. John 14:31.)

The brook Cedron.—The Greek words mean exactly “the winter torrent Kedron,” and occur again in the LXX. of 2 Samuel 15:23, and 2 Kings 15:13. The name is formed from a Hebrew word which means “black.” The torrent was the “Niger” of Judæa, and was so called from the colour of its turbid waters, or from the darkness of the chasm through which they flowed. The name seems to have been properly applied not so much to the torrent itself as to the ravine through which it flowed, on the east of Jerusalem, between the city and the Mount of Olives. Its sides are for the most part precipitous, but here and there paths cross it, and at the bottom are cultivated strips of land. Its depth varies, but in some places it is not less than 100 feet. (Comp. article, “Kidron,” in Kitto’s Biblical Cyclopœdia, vol. ii., p. 731; and for the reading see Excursus B: Some Variations in the Text of St. John’s Gospel.)

Where was a garden.—Comp. Matthew 26:36. St. John does not record the passion of Gethsemane, but this verse indicates its place in the narrative. (Comp. Note on John 12:27.)

Verse 2

(2) And Judas also, which betrayed.—Better, . . . who was betraying Him. The original word is a present participle, and marks the Betrayal as actually in progress.

For Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples.—This is one of the instances of St. John’s exact knowledge of the incidents which attended the Jerusalem life of our Lord. (Comp. Introduction, p. 371.) All the Evangelists narrate the coming of Judas. John only remembers that the spot was one belonging, it may be, to a friend or disciple, where Jesus was in the habit of going with His disciples, and that Judas therefore knew the place, and knew that he would probably find them there.

Verse 3

(3) A band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees.—Better, the band, and officers from the chief priests and Pharieess. The other Gospels tell us of a “great multitude” (Matt.), or a “multitude” (Mark and Luke). St. John uses the technical word for the Roman cohort. It was the garrison band from Fort Antonia, at the north-east corner of the Temple. This well-known “band” is mentioned again in the New Testament (in John 18:12; Matthew 27:27; Mark 15:16; Acts 21:31). (Comp. Notes at these places.) The word occurs also in Acts 10:1 (“the Italian band”) and Acts 27:1 (“Augustus’ band”). The Authorised version misleads, by closely connecting in one clause two distinct things, “a band of men and officers.” The band was Roman; the “officers” were the Temple servants, of whom we read in John 7:32; John 7:45. These were sent, here, as there, by the chief priests and Pharisees, with Judas for their guide, and their authority was supported by the civil power.

Lanterns and torches and weapons.—Better, with torches and lamps (Matthew 25:1) and arms. The torches and lamps were part of the regular military equipment for night service. Dionysius describes soldiers rushing out of their tents with torches and lamps in the same words which are used here (John 11:40). They are not mentioned in the other Gospels. St. Matthew and St. Mark describe the “weapons” as “swords and staves.”

Verse 4

(4) Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come (better, were coming) upon him.—Comp. Matthew 26:45.

Went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?—i.e., probably, went forth from the garden itself. (Comp. Note on John 18:26.) Other possible interpretations are, “went forth from the depth of the garden;” or, “went forth from the circle of the disciples standing round;” or, “went forth from the shade of the tree into the moonlight.” For the word, comp. John 18:1, and Matthew 14:14). The kiss of Judas, mentioned in all the earlier Gospels, must be placed here between “went forth” and “said unto them.”

For the question, comp. Matthew 26:50. Jesus will boldly face the danger, and direct it upon Himself, that the disciples may be saved from it (John 18:8).

Verse 5

(5) They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth.—He was known to many of them (John 7:32; John 7:46; Matthew 26:55); but this is probably an official declaration of the person with whose apprehension they are charged.

I am he.—Comp. Notes on John 8:28; John 8:58.

And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.—He had advanced to give the signal of the kiss (John 18:4), and had again retreated, and was now standing with them. He is mentioned in accordance with the vivid impression which the fact left upon the Apostle’s mind. Judas, who had been one of them, who had been present with them, and had received bread from his Master’s hand on that very night, was now standing with the officers of the Sanhedrin and the Roman band, who had come to capture Him! The position of the words suggests also that Judas was in some way specially connected with the fact that on hearing the words “I am He,” they fell to the ground, as though fear passed from him to those with him.

Verse 6

(6) They went backward, and fell to the ground.—There is nothing in the narrative to suggest that our Lord put forth miraculous power to cause this terror. The impression is rather that it was produced by the majesty of His person, and by the answer which to Jewish ears conveyed the unutterable name, “Jehovah” (I AM). (Comp. Note on John 8:24-25.) Guilt trembled before the calmness of innocence. Man fell to the ground before the presence of God. To Judas the term must have been familiar, and have brought back a past which may well have made him tremble at the present. To the officers the voice came from Him of whom they had been convinced before that “Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46). They have come to take Him by force, but conscience paralyses all their intentions, and they lay helpless before Him. He will surrender Himself because His hour is come (John 17:1); but His life no one taketh from Him. For this sense of awe in the presence of Christ, comp. the account of the cleansing of the Temple in John 2:14 et seq.

Verse 7

(7) Then asked he them again.—Their fear has passed away, so that we are not to think, as men sometimes do, that they were struck to the ground helpless. His thought is still of saving those who are with Him. The question brings the same formal answer. They have no warrant to take any of those who are with Him. They seek only Jesus of Nazareth.

Verse 8

(8) If therefore ye seek me, let these go their way.—It may be that some of the Roman cohort, not knowing Jesus, were already laying hands on the disciples. In any case, they are exposed to this danger, and the Good Shepherd, who Himself goes forth to meet the danger, will shield the flock from it.

Verse 9

(9) That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake.—Comp. John 17:12. The quotation is in many ways suggestive. (1) It is not verbally accurate, i.e., St. John, quoting the words of Christ, which he has himself recorded a few verses before, is at no pains to reproduce it word for word, but is satisfied in giving the substance of it. This throws light on the general literary habits and feelings of this age and race, and it is in full harmony with the usual practice of quotation in the New Testament. (2) St. John quotes with an application to temporal persecution that which had been spoken of spiritual persecution. This illustrates the kind of way in which words are said to be “fulfilled” in more than one sense. Striking words fix themselves in the mind, and an event occurs which illustrates their meaning, and it is said therefore to fulfil them, though of each fulfilment it can be only part. (Comp. especially Notes on John 2:17; John 12:38 et seq.) (3) The quotation shows that in the thought of St. John himself, the prayer recorded in John 17 is no résumé of the words of our Lord, but an actual record of His prayer: he quotes the “saying” as fulfilled, just as he would have quoted a passage from the Old Testament Scriptures.

Verse 10

(10) Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it. . . .—Comp. Note on Matthew 26:51. The fact is recorded by all the Evangelists. St. John only tells us that it was done by Peter, and that the servant’s name was Malchus. He is also careful to note, as St. Luke does too, that it was the “right ear.”

Verse 11

(11) Put up thy sword into the sheath.—Comp. Note on Matthew 26:52. Here again St. John’s narrative is more vivid and exact. St. Matthew has “place” for “sheath.”

The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?—Comp. Notes on Matthew 20:22; Matthew 26:39. This is the only instance of the occurrence of this familiar imagery in St. John. St. Peter’s act is one of opposition to what Jesus Himself knew to be the will of the Father. There is in the words a tender trustfulness which robs the cup of all its bitterness—“The cup which My Father hath given Me.” They are, as it were, an echo of the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, which is not recorded by St. John. It is the Father to whom He has prayed, and solemnly committed the disciples (John 17); the Father whose presence never leaves Him (John 16:32); the Father into whose hands He is about from the cross to commend His Spirit (Luke 23:46).

Verse 12

(12) Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews.—A stop should be placed after “captain.” The “band and the captain” were the Roman cohort (comp. Note on John 18:3) and their tribune (Chiliarch; comp. Mark 6:21). The “officers of the Jews” were, as before, the Temple servants (see above, John 18:3), and the apparitors of the Sanhedrin.

Took Jesus, and bound him.—Comp. Notes on Matthew 26:50; Matthew 27:2.

Verse 13-14

(13, 14) And led him away to Annas first.—Comp. for account of Annas Note on Luke 3:2, and Acts 4:6. This trial before Annas was probably a preliminary investigation, distinct from the formal trial before Caiaphas, narrated in the earlier Gospels. (Comp. John 18:19; John 18:24.)

For he was father in law to Caiaphas.—The personal relationship between Annas and Caiaphas had led to a closeness of connection in official duties, which makes it difficult, with our partial knowledge of the circumstances, to trace the position taken by each in the trial of our Lord. This remark of St. John’s suggests that Annas may have occupied part of the high priest’s palace. He had been high priest. He is called high priest in the following year (Acts 4:6). His age would have given him authority in the Sanhedrin, which Caiaphas himself is not likely to have questioned, and he may have been President of the Sanhedrin or Father of the Beth Din (House of Judgment), Whether officially, or personally, or both, he was, from the Jewish point of view, a person whose counsel and influence were of the utmost importance, and to him they bring Jesus for this doctrinal investigation (John 18:19); while it is necessary that He should be sent to the legal high priest for official trial in the presence of the Sanhedrin (John 18:24), before being handed over to the civil power (John 18:28). It does not follow that the high priest (Caiaphas) was not present at this investigation; but it was altogether of an informal character.

Which was the high priest that same year.—On this clause, and the whole of the following verse, comp. Notes on John 11:49-52. The prophecy is quoted now that its fulfilment is close at hand, and that the act of Caiaphas is about to lead to it.

Verse 15

(15) And Simon Peter followed Jesus.—Better, And Simon Peter was following Jesus. (Comp. Matthew 26:58.)

Another disciple.—The reading is not certain, but the majority of the better MSS. support the text of the Authorised version. Others have, “The other disciple,” which would mean, “The well-known disciple.” It has been usual to understand that John himself is intended by this designation, and this opinion agrees with the general reticence of the Gospel with regard to him. (Comp. John 1:40; John 13:23; John 19:26; and Introduction, p. 375.) It agrees also with the fact that Peter and John are elsewhere found in special connection with each other (Luke 22:8; Acts 1:13; Acts 3:1; Acts 3:3-4; Acts 3:11; Acts 4:13; Acts 4:19; Acts 8:14). We are warranted, therefore, in saying that this opinion is probable, but not in assuming that it is necessarily true, as is often done. It may be, for instance, that by this term the Evangelist indicates his brother James, who is never mentioned in this Gospel. The fact that he is himself called “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; John 19:26; comp. Introduction, p. 375), is against rather than for the opinion that he is here called “another disciple.” If we adopt the reading, “the other disciple,” the opinion has more support.

Was known unto the high priest.—How he was known we have no means of judging. We may, however, note that the name “John” occurs among the names of the kindred of the high priest in Acts 4:6.

Into the palace of the high priest.—Better, perhaps, into the court of the high priest. (Comp. Matthew 26:3; Matthew 26:58; Matthew 26:69.) St. John uses the word elsewhere only of the sheepfold (John 10:1; John 10:16). It has been established beyond doubt that the title “high priest” may have been and often was given to those who had held the sacred office. We cannot, therefore, say positively that it is not here given to Annas. It is, however, in the highest degree improbable that it is given in this chapter, after the words of John 18:13, to Annas and Caiaphas without distinction. The writer has in that verse clearly marked out Caiaphas as the high priest that year, and consistency requires that we should uniformly understand him to be designated by the title.

The apparent difficulty here is met by the remark in John 18:13, that Annas was father-in-law to Caiaphas. (See Note there.)

Verse 16

(16) But Peter stood at the door without.—i.e., at the door of the court. He remained here with the crowd. Jesus as a prisoner, and the other disciple as a friend of the high priest, went into the court.

Unto her that kept the door.—Comp. Acts 12:13 and 2 Samuel 4:6 (LXX.). That women “kept the door” among the Jews we know from Josephus (Ant vii. 2, § 1).

Verse 17

(17) On Peter’s denials, comp. Notes on Matthew 26:69-75, and see in this Gospel John 13:38.

Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples?—i.e., “Thou as well as thy friend, whom I know.” There is no charge brought against him. The words are apparently simply words of recognition, or as furnishing a reason for admitting him with his friend, but Peter is conscious that he had attempted to kill, and had succeeded in wounding, one of the high priest’s servants. He therefore dreads this recognition.

Verse 18

(18) And the servants and officers stood there.—i.e., in the quadrangular court. The “servants” “are the household servants or slaves of the high priest. The officers are the Temple servants. (Comp. Note on John 18:3.)

A fire of coals.—In the Greek this phrase is expressed by one word which occurs again in the New Testament in John 21:9; and in the LXX. in Sirach 11:30; Sirach 11:32; and 4 Maccabees 9:20. It means a glowing fire. One of the Greek translators (Aquila) uses it in Psalms 119:4 (English version Psalms 120:4 : “coals of juniper”—that is, of the broom plant).

Peter stood with them, and warmed himself:—It is implied that the other disciple had been admitted into the house. As the houses were usually constructed, the court would be visible from the interior. Peter has already been identified as a disciple. To stand aloof would have been to call further attention to himself. He joins the company, therefore, round the fire.

Verse 19

(19) The high priest then asked Jesus.—Comp. Notes on John 18:15. By the “high priest” is probably-meant Caiaphas, though this preliminary investigation was held before Annas, and in his house, or that part of the high priest’s palace occupied by him.

Of his disciples, and of his doctrine.—This was the general subject of a series of questions. He asked, we may think, about the number of Christ’s followers; the aim they had in view; the principles which He had taught them. The object of the questions was apparently to find some technical evidence in Christ’s own words on which they may support the charges they are about to bring against Him in the legal trial before Caiaphas.

Verse 20

(20) I spake openly to the world.—He does not distinctly answer the question about His disciples, but His words imply that all may have been His disciples. The pronoun is strongly emphatic; “I am one,” His words mean, “who spake plainly and to all men.” “My followers have not been initiated into secret mysteries, nor made conspirators in any political organisation.” “I have not been a leader, and they have not been members, of a party.”

I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort.—The better reading omits the article before “synagogue,” as in John 6:59, and reads for the last clause, where all the Jews resort. “In synagogue” is an adverbial phrase, as we say “in church.” His constant custom was to teach “in synagogue,” and in Jerusalem He taught in the temple itself, which was the resort of all the leaders of the people. This refers to His general custom, and does not, of course, exclude His teaching in other places. The point is that during His public ministry He was constantly in the habit of teaching under the authority of the officers of the synagogues and the temple. That was the answer as to what His doctrine had been.

And in secret have I said nothing.—His private teaching of the disciples is, of course, not excluded, but that was only the exposition of His public doctrine. There was nothing in it such as they understood by “secret teaching.” It was unlike “the leaven of the Pharisees which was hypocrisy;” for in it there was “nothing covered,” “nothing hid.” (Comp. John 12:1-3.)

Verse 21

(21) Why askest thou me?—Comp. John 5:31. The pronoun “Me” is not the emphatic word as it is generally taken to be. The stress is on the interrogative, “Why, for what purpose, dost thou ask Me? If you want witnesses, ask them which heard Me.”

Behold, they know what I said.—Better, behold, these know what I said. He pointed probably to some who were then present. In the next verse there is a reference to the “officers” who, as we know from John 7:32; John 7:46, had heard this doctrine.

Verse 22

(22) With the palm of his hand.—The Greek word occurs again in the New Testament only in John 19:3, and Mark 14:65 (see Note there, and on Matthew 26:67). It is uncertain whether it means here a blow with the hand or, as the margin renders it, “with a rod.” The word originally means a stroke with a rod, but in classical usage it acquired also the meaning of a slap in the face, or box on the ear, and the corresponding verb is certainly used in this sense in Matthew 5:39. We may gather from Acts 23:2 that a blow on the face was a customary punishment for a supposed offence against the dignity of the high priest; but in that case it was ordered by the high priest himself, and the fact that it was here done without authority by one of the attendants confirms the opinion that this was not a legal trial before the judicial authority.

Verse 23

(23) Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil.—Comp. Note on Matthew 5:39.

Bear witness of the evil.—That is,” Produce the evidence which the law requires.”

Verse 24

(24) Now Annas had sent him bound. . . .—Better, Annas therefore sent Him bound. . . . The reading is uncertain; some MSS. read “Therefore;” some read “Now;” some omit the word altogether. On the whole, the evidence is in favour of “therefore.” The tense is an aorist, and cannot properly have a pluperfect force. The rendering of the Authorised version is based upon the opinion that Jesus had before been sent to Caiaphas, and that all which followed from John 18:13 (see margin there) had taken place after the close of the investigation before Annas. This view is certainly more probable than that the words “high priest” should be used of Annas and Caiaphas indiscriminately (comp. Note on John 18:15), but both do violence to the ordinary meaning of language, and, if the interpretation which is adopted in these Notes is correct, neither is necessary.

Jesus was still “bound;” as He had been from John 18:12.

Verse 25

(25) And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself.—Better, And Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. (Comp. John 18:18.) The words are repeated to draw attention to the fact that he was standing in the court at the time when Jesus was sent from Annas unto Caiaphas, that is, from one wing of the quadrangular building across the court to the other. In Luke 22:61 it is said that “the Lord turned and looked upon Peter.”

Art not thou also one of his disciples?—Comp. Note to John 18:17.

Verse 26

(26) One of the servants of the high priest.—Comp. Luke 22:59.

Did not I see thee in the garden with him?—This kinsman of Malchus, who had probably gone with him to the arrest, is not to be silenced by a simple denial. He asks emphatically, “Did not I see thee in the garden with Him?” He feels certain that he is not deceived. The probable interpretation of John 18:4 is that Jesus went forth out of the garden towards the band and the officers. If so, the moment when the kinsman saw Peter was previous to that of Malchus’ wound. If the kinsman had witnessed this, he would almost certainly have charged Peter with it now.

Verse 27

(27) And immediately the cock crew.—Better, . . . a cock crew. (Comp. Matthew 26:74, and (on the whole question of the denial, Notes to Matthew 26:69-74.)

Verse 28

(28) On the accusation before Pilate (John 18:28-38), comp. Notes on the parallels in Matthew 27:11-14; Mark 15:2-5; Luke 23:2-5.

The hall of judgment.—Literally, the Prœtorium. Comp. Note on Matthew 27:27. It is interesting to observe the various renderings which our translators have given for this one word. Here, “hall of judgment,” or “Pilate’s house,” and “judgment-hall;” John 18:33, “hall of judgment” without the marginal alternative; John 19:9, “judgment-hall;” in Matthew 27:27, “common-hall,” or “governor’s house;” in Mark 15:16, “prætorium” (the original word Anglicised); in Acts 23:35, “judgment-hall;” in Philippians 1:13, “palace,” this being perhaps the only passage where “palace” does not give the right meaning. (Comp. Note there.)

And it was early.—The Greek word occurs in the division of the night in Mark 13:35 (“even,” “midnight,” “cock-crowing,” “morning”) for the time between cock-crowing and sunrise, as we should say roughly, from three to six o’clock; but comp. Matthew 27:1, and Luke 22:66. We must remember that Pilate must have sent the band (John 18:3), and was therefore expecting its return.

And they themselves went not into the judgment hall.—They sent Jesus in under guard of the Roman band, while they remained outside.

But that they might eat the passover.—Comp. Excursus F: The Day of the Crucifixion of our Lord.

Verse 29

(29) Pilate then went out unto them.—Better, Pilate therefore went out unto them—i.e., because of their religious scruples they would not enter into the palace.

What accusation bring ye against this man?—Comp. John 18:33. They expected that he would have at once ordered His execution; but he asks for the formal charge which they bring against Him. He knew by hearsay what this was, but demands the legal accusation without which the trial could not proceed. As the Roman procurator, he demands what crime Jesus has committed against the Roman law.

Verse 30

(30) If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee.—They take the position that the Roman is the executive, and their own the judicial power. They bring no legal charge against Jesus, but assert, in effect that they themselves, who understood and had investigated the whole matter, had condemned Him to death, and that the fact that they had done so was in itself sufficient proof that He was worthy of death. They use the vague word “malefactor,” “evil-doer,” though in the trial before Caiaphas they had not sought to prove any evil deed, and they expect that upon this assertion Pilate will pronounce on Him, as on other malefactors, the sentence of death.

Verse 31

(31) Take ye him, and judge him according to your law.—Pilate takes them at their word. They claim the judicial right; let them exercise it. Their law gave them power to punish, but not the right of capital punishment. If they claim that the matter is wholly within their own power of judgment, then the sentence must also be limited to their own power. He can only execute a sentence which is pronounced by himself after formal trial.

It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.—Their words admit that they did not possess the power of life and death, while they imply that they had sentenced Jesus to death. They verbally give up the power, but in reality claim it, and regard the procurator as their executioner. The Jews had lost this power since the time that Archelaus was deposed, and Judæa became a Roman province (A.D. 6 or 7). The Talmud speaks of the loss of this power forty years or more before the destruction of Jerusalem. (Comp. Lightfoot’s Note here, and in Matthew 26:3.)

On the stoning of Stephen, which was an illegal act, comp. Notes on Acts 7:57 et seq.

Verse 32

(32) That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled.—Comp. Note on John 18:9.

Signifying what death he should die.—Better, signifying by what manner of death He should die. (Comp. Note on John 10:32.) For the prediction of the manner of death, comp. John 3:14; John 12:32; and Note on Matthew 20:19. If the Jews had possessed the power to put Him to death, they would have condemned Him on the technical charge of blasphemy, for which the punishment was stoning. (Comp. John 8:59; John 10:31; and Acts 7:51 et seq.) Crucifixion was not a Jewish punishment, and it was in the fact that He was executed, not by Jewish authority and on the charge of blasphemy, but by Roman authority and on a charge of Majestas (high treason), that His own prophecy of the manner of His death was fulfilled.

Verse 33

(33) Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus.—Better, Pilate therefore entered into the Prœtorium (or palace) again, and called Jesus. (Comp. John 18:28.) This was practically a private investigation, for the Jews could not enter the palace (John 18:28). (Comp. John 19:13.)

Art thou the King of the Jews?—Comp. Note on Matthew 27:11; Luke 23:2-3. Pilate, of course, knew of the charge brought against Him when he gave permission for the Roman cohort to apprehend Him.

Verse 34

(34) Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?—The most probable interpretation of the question is that which regards it as establishing a distinction between the title “King of the Jews” as spoken by Pilate and the same title as spoken by Jesus. In the political sense in which Pilate would use it, and in this sense only the claim could be brought against Him in Roman law, He was not King of the Jews. In the theocratic sense in which a Jew would use that title, He was King of the Jews.

Verse 35

(35) Pilate answered, Am I a Jew?—His question would say, “You surely do not suppose that I am a Jew?” The procurator’s Roman pride is fired at the very thought. He was the governor of the subject race. What did He know, or care to know, of their subtleties and distinctions?

Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me.-” So far from the question coming from me,” his words mean, “It is thine own nation, and especially the chief priests, who have delivered Thee unto me.” And then, weary of the technicalities with which a Roman trial had nothing to do, he asks the definite question, “What hast Thou done?”

Verse 36

(36) Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world.—The answer of Jesus is two-fold, declaring (1) in this verse, that He is not a King in the political sense; and (2) in John 18:37, that He is a King in the moral sense. By “of this world” we are to understand that the nature and origin of His kingdom are not of this world, not that His kingdom will not extend in this world. (Comp. John 8:23; John 10:16.) In the world’s sense of king and kingdom, in the sense in which the Roman empire claimed to rule the world, He had no kingdom.

Then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews.—Better, then would My servants have been fighting. (Comp. John 19:16.) His “servants” are His disciples, who would be in this relation to Him if He were a temporal king, and the crowds such as those who had sought to make Him king (John 6:15), and had filled Jerusalem with the cry, “Hosanna: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel” (John 12:13). One of His servants had drawn the sword (John 18:10), and, but that His will had checked the popular feeling, neither the Jewish officers nor the Roman cohort could have delivered Him to be crucified.

But now is my kingdom not from hence.—That is, “But, as a matter of fact, My kingdom is not from here.” It was proved by His standing bound in the presence of the procurator. The clause has been strangely pressed into the service of millennial views by interpreting it, “But now My kingdom is not from hence. Hereafter it will be.” For the true sense of “now,” comp. John 8:40; John 9:41; John 15:22; John 15:24.

Verse 37

(37) Art thou a king then?—The sentence is both a question and an inference from the word “kingdom” of the previous verse. There is a strong emphasis, and it may be sarcasm, expressed in the pronoun, “Does it not follow then that Thou art a king?”

Thou sayest that I am a king.—Or, perhaps, Thou sayest; for I am a king. (Comp. Matthew 26:25.)

To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world.—Better, Unto this end have I been born, and unto this end am I come unto the world. Our translators have rendered the same Greek words by different English words—“To this end,” “for this cause,” intending probably that the first phrase should be understood of the words which precede, and the second of those which follow: “To this end (that I may be a king) was I born, and for this (that I may bear witness unto the truth) came I into the world.” Had this been the meaning, it would have been almost certainly expressed by the usual distinction in Greek; and in the absence of any such distinction, the natural interpretation is, “To be king have I been born, and to be a king came I into the world, in order that I may bear witness unto the truth.” The birth and the entrance into the world both refer to the Incarnation, but make emphatic the thought that the birth in time of Him who existed with the Father before all time, was the manifestation in the world of Him who came forth from the Father. This thought of “coming into the world” is frequent in St. John. (Comp. especially John 10:36; John 16:28.)

That I should bear witness unto the truth.—Comp. Note on John 1:8. He has indeed a kingdom, and He came into the world to be a king; but His rule is that of the majesty of Truth, and His kingdom is to be established by His witness of the eternal truth which He had known with His Father, and which He alone could declare to man. (Comp. Notes on John 1:18; John 16:13.) He came to be a witness—a martyr—to the truth, and to send forth others to be witnesses and martyrs to the same truth, through the Holy Spirit, who should guide them into all truth. Such was His kingdom; such the power by which it was to rule. It was not of this world: it possessed neither land nor treasury, neither senate nor legions, neither consuls nor procurators; but it was to extend its sceptre over all the kingdoms of the earth.

Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.—He has spoken of His kingdom. Who are its subjects, and what its power over them? Every one is included who, following the light which God has placed in his soul, comes to “the true Light which lighteth every man;” who, made in the image of God, and with capacities for knowing God, seeks truly to know Him; every one who, in an honest and true heart, is of the truth, and-therefore hears the voice of Him who is the Truth. The thought is familiar to us from the earlier chapters of the Gospel. (Comp. e.g., John 3:21; John 7:17; John 8:47; John 10:16.)

Verse 37-38

The Kingdom of Truth

Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?—John 18:37-38.

1. Jesus was on trial for His life on a charge of sedition in claiming to be a king. The charge was expressed in the question, “Art thou a king then?” His answer to this charge was a puzzle to His judge. His kingdom was not of this world, and yet it was to be supreme and universal. Pilate could understand an authority which was enforced by Roman legions, and maintained by Roman bribes, but could not comprehend his prisoner when He rested His claims simply upon the truth to which He was to bear witness. “‘What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.” The severe assurance of the prisoner brings into bold relief the frivolous scepticism of the judge. It would almost seem that in the two were represented the extremes of modern thought and character.

2. They were standing face to face in the splendid hall of a palace in Jerusalem. It was adorned with vessels of gold and silver: the floor was of rich mosaic, the columns were of many-coloured marble. The speaker was a Roman Governor, seated on his tribunal in all his pomp. On either side were the Roman soldiers, in full armour, with spear and shield. Behind his gilded chair stood the lictors with their fasces. Politically, he represented the mightiest power on all the earth—the power of Imperial Rome. Personally, he wielded an almost irresponsible despotism. Before him, worn and wasted, His visage marred more than any man—the agony of long hours of struggle, and torment, and sleeplessness in His eyes, the marks of blows and insult on His face—stood a Jewish prisoner. His hands were bound behind His back; His garb was the humble dress of a Galilean peasant. The burning sunlight of an early Syrian spring streamed through the lattices, and the deep silence which hangs over an Eastern city at early dawn would ordinarily have been broken only by the plashing of fountains in the green spaces of the garden, or by the cooing of innumerable doves which sunned their white bosoms over the marble colonnades. It was broken now by far other sounds. The voices of the two speakers were almost drowned by the savage yells of a Jewish mob—all raging against that toil-worn prisoner, all demanding that the Roman Governor should shed His blood.

On the north-east of the Temple in Jerusalem, in menacing attitude, stood the great Herodian Citadel called, after Mark Antony, Turris Antonia. The perpendicular sides of the hill on which this palatial fortress was reared were faced with polished marble so as to defy all attempts to scale its walls. On the platform immediately above this impregnable rampart was planted the square-built Citadel itself. At each angle of it there shot up a tower, the one to the south side being conspicuous by a turret from which the Roman garrison, much to the annoyance of the priests, could command an unbroken view of the interior of the Holy Temple. To render this marble camp an abode suitable for the Roman Governor in times of danger, Herod had built, on a lower platform hewn out of the living rock, a sumptuous residence, embodying Grecian taste and Oriental luxury. The praetorium, of which the Gospel speaks, was approached on its western side through an open court or forum, leading to a noble Roman archway flanked by two others on a smaller scale. This triple archway opened into an area paved with red flagstones, called by Greeks, Lithostrotos, and by Jews, Gabbatha. Here at right angles with the archway stood the white marble Tribune or Bema from which the Governor was wont to administer justice. Beyond it sprang a grand staircase sloping up to the balcony or loggia sweeping to the right and left of the Governor’s hall. From this point Pilate probably surveyed the accusers of Jesus.1 [Note: B. Vaughan, Society, Sin and the Saviour, 89.]


The Kingdom of Truth

Truth is a kingdom. It is the kingdom of the Spirit. Its Divine authority was distinctly enunciated by Jesus in reply to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world,” therefore its sway is inevitable, its passage cannot be prevented. Men may try to distort its outlines, but its essential power they cannot control. It does not change with the political boundaries or military dominance of earth’s kingdoms. “If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.” Kings cannot prevent its growth. Your Cæsar shall be forgotten, and his throne overturned—while My Kingdom shall be spreading over the world and absorbing all other kingdoms. Priests cannot defile it, however much they may seek to interpret truth for their own ends. When the ecclesiastics brought Jesus to Pilate, they would not enter into the palace themselves, “lest they should be defiled”—and the Passover was yet to be eaten. It was an admission from false ceremonialism of its own weakness. The living truth had gone out of their system; they had only the outward forms to rely upon, and they did not dare relinquish one of these, for they had no other authority.

The answer Christ gave to Pilate suggests the best reply to the question, “What did Christ mean by the Kingdom of God.” He was king, He said, in the kingdom of the truth, meaning thereby not a mere dogma, but the truth of God and the truth of man. The kind of power which He here claims is spiritual power, and that is the greatest that can be swayed. For it is spiritual power—true or false—that determines history, shapes the character of society, directs the tendencies of life, the movements of the world. There are uncrowned kings who have swayed the destinies of mankind as no leaders of armies have been able to sway them. There have been poets and teachers who have inspired enthusiasms and kindled hopes that have moved the world, for they have reigned over the domain of human thought and so determined the actions of mankind. There have been kings on other thrones than those of State who have been the real monarchs of humanity,—Gutenberg with his printing-press, Bacon with his inductive method, Isaac Newton, James Watt. What a wide domain of conquest the very mention of these names suggests. May we not say with truth that if we are to find the influences which have given power to any of the great epochs of the world, we must look not to the brute force which was called into exercise, but to the ideas which gave nerve to the arms that wielded the force? Wherein, for example, lay the power of the armies of revolutionary France? Not surely in the number of her soldiers or in the genius of her commanders alone. These countless battalions marched with songs of joy against a world in arms because every heart there was stirred with the sense of a grand cause. It was the charmed words Liberty, Equality, Fraternity that excited their enthusiasm into a fierce world-conquering fanaticism. So is it that the true kingdoms which govern men are not those which strike the eye. They do not excite observation. They are the kingdoms of human conviction, thought, aspiration, passion. It is in the sphere of ideas, in the domain of the affections, in the faiths, the hopes, the loves which sway humanity, that we discover the real forces of the world. And so it was that Christ touched the true fountain of all power when He refused to use the forces which the world imagines omnipotent, when He left Cæsar on the throne and Pilate in the praetorium, and said, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight but my kingdom is not from hence. For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”

1. The kingdom of truth is wide in extent.—The truth to which Christ bore witness at the first was the truth which concerned His person, and His claims to the love and obedience of men. On the cross He bore witness to the love of God for sinning man. By rising from the dead, and ascending to His Father, He testified that He was indeed the Son of God. By His present spirit He has witnessed ever since for the living God as against the godlessness and self-worship to which man is prone. To the truth which enforces the duties of men, Christ also bore witness, first by His spotless and inspiring life, by His penetrating and faithful words, and then by the long succession of obedient disciples who have imitated the one and exemplified the other.

There is, however, truth of other descriptions than the truth which we call religious and ethical. There is the truth of science, which is expanded every year into grander proportions; the truth of letters, which is more and more abundant and instructive; and the truth of the imagination, which is more and more varied and inspiring. Has Christ any testimony to give concerning these kinds of truth? Does Christ hold any relations to Science, Letters, or Art? And, if so, what are these relations? We believe that they are many and important. We also hold that the spirit of earnest discipleship to Christ always favours, and often inspires, the highest achievements in every one of these forms of truth. We hold not only that Christianity satisfies the wants of which the scholar is conscious as a man, but that it is equally efficient and equally essential in stimulating and guiding him rightly as a scholar. In other words, we contend that allegiance to Christ is a favouring, and in one sense an essential, condition of the best human culture and education.

I notice that among all the new buildings which cover your once wild hills, churches and schools are mixed in due, that is to say, in large proportion, with your mills and mansions; and I notice also that the churches and schools are almost always Gothic, and the mansions and mills are never Gothic. May I ask the meaning of this? for, remember, it is peculiarly a modern phenomenon. When Gothic was invented, houses were Gothic as well as churches; and when the Italian style superseded the Gothic, churches were Italian as well as houses. If there is a Gothic spire to the Cathedral of Antwerp, there is a Gothic belfry to the Hôtel de Ville at Brussels; if Inigo Jones builds an Italian Whitehall, Sir Christopher Wren builds an Italian St. Paul’s. But now you live under one school of architecture, and worship under another. What do you mean by doing this? Am I to understand that you are thinking of changing your architecture back to Gothic: and that you treat your churches experimentally, because it does not matter what mistakes you make in a church? Or am I to understand that you consider Gothic a pre-eminently sacred and beautiful mode of building, which you think, like the fine frankincense, should be mixed for the tabernacle only, and reserved for your religious services? For if this be the feeling, though it may seem at first as if it were graceful and reverent, at the root of the matter, it signifies neither more nor less than that you have separated your religion from your life.1 [Note: Ruskin, The Crown of Wild Olives (Works, xviii. 440).]

2. It is a conquering kingdom.—“Magna est Veritas et praevalet.” Like the magnificent palace of the Incas of Cuzco, the ancient imperial city of Peru, whose ponderous stones were united by seams of melted gold, the whole social fabric is cemented by this pure and durable element, without which the noble structure would soon totter to its fall. Falsehood makes war with God’s grandest attribute, as manifested in heaven and earth, but this attribute must ultimately triumph to vindicate the glory of His reign.

Truth, crush’d to earth, shall rise again,

The eternal years of God are hers:

While Error, wounded, writhes in pain,

And dies amid his worshippers.

Many moral victories that we want to see won in the world can be won only when we are gone; but let us make our contribution, and others will carry on the struggle. Captain Urquhart, dying in the Battle of Atbara, in the Soudan, said to the men who were attending him, “Never mind me, lads, go on!” Inspired with the worth of the cause and the importance of his army’s victory, he could forget his pain and give up his life, and tell the others to go on. We have a more important battle to fight—we must carry on the war of God against all wrong—and every soldier that falls must inspire the others to go on.1 [Note: T. R. Williams, God’s Open Door, 56.]

3. Its progress is secured by sacrifice.—Christ’s throne is a Cross. The throne of this king was not like that of Solomon, with its golden lions and ivory steps; not like the jewelled throne of Byzantium, or the peacock throne of the Moguls. It was the throne of sorrow; it was the throne of awful self-sacrifice. “By this conquer” gleamed around that Cross in the vision of Constantine; and it was before this implement of a slave’s shame and a murderer’s punishment, that the eagles of ancient, the dragons of later Rome gave way. It was before this Cross, woven on the Labarum, that the Pagan armies of Maxentius were driven into the panic which Raphael has so grandly pictured in his Battle of the Milvian Bridge.

When upon one occasion the Emperor Justinian was about to surrender to the clamorous claims and the harsh and violent demands of the mob, his wife Theodora is represented to have said to him that it was better to meet and go down to death as the avowed ruler of all than purchase life for a little while by yielding to the unworthy exactions of the unrighteous few; and empire, she tells him, “is the best winding-sheet.” Empire, universal empire, throughout all the world, throughout all the ages, is the winding-sheet of Jesus Christ. Victorious in the wilderness, victorious in Gethsemane, before that worldly-minded Governor in the judgment hall, victorious on the Cross, because His eye looked not upon the unworthy demands of the immediate occasion, but upon the everlasting years, upon all future times, and wrapped around in the winding-sheet of empire does He die.1 [Note: D. H. Greer, From Things to God, 36.]


The King of Truth

1. Jesus claimed Kingship.—Pilate asked our Lord plainly, “Art thou a King?” Jesus answered, “Thou sayest it,” an expression which in Oriental language was equivalent to an affirmative, “Yes, I am what thou sayest.” But Christ took no place or rank among the acknowledged world-kings. All forms of world-dominion He refused. Throughout His life He repressed every attempt to gain for Him an earthly royalty, even as at the beginning of His ministry He repelled the devil’s offer of the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them. The only royal robe He ever wore was the scarlet robe of mockery and insult; the only crown that ever encircled His brow was the crown of suffering and plaited thorns; the only sceptre He ever bore was the reed with which cruel hands smote Him. This does not seem kingly; yet, could we but understand and appreciate it aright, there is a grandeur and moral splendour about it such as never circled round the marble throne, and gorgeous draperies, and jewelled crowns of any mere world-king. World-kings are kings of wealth, and genius, and lands, and people, and armies. The Christ-King, crowned with thorns, is yet the King of the suffering, King of the patient, King of the spiritual, King of souls, King of the eternal, King of truth.

2. Jesus is the embodiment of truth.—Milton says of truth: “Truth indeed came once into the world with her Divine Master, and was a perfect shape most glorious to look on.” Milton looks upon truth as one who comes with Christ into the world. Would it not be better to say that Christ Himself is the Embodiment of truth, for He says, “I am the truth”? Christ’s own testimony is proof of this, for three times in the Gospel according to St. John He speaks of Himself as the True One. He is the True Vine for reproduction (John 15:1), in contrast to Israel, who proved to be the false vine (Jeremiah 2:21). He is the True Bread for satisfaction (John 6:32), in contrast to the manna in the wilderness, which only met the present necessity of the people; and He is the True Light for illumination (John 1:9), in contrast to the false wrecker-lights of men.

3. Jesus bore witness to the truth.—This was the purpose of His mission. “To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” He is now before Pilate and nearing the close of His earthly life. The unity of His life, we see as we study it, is the following out to the minutest detail of the principle which He says has been and is His controlling purpose—to testify to the truth. In the events which are to follow, Jesus is true to the conception of His mission, even though His persistence in bearing witness to the truth leads Him to the ignominious death upon the cross. Fidelity to His mission He carried to the extent of yielding up His own life rather than cease to bear witness to the truth.

(1) He bore witness by His character.—It is nothing more than a simple truism to say that, apart from the metaphysics of His Person, which opens a wide field for speculative controversy, Jesus is the supreme revealer of God. The character of the invisible and omnipresent Deity, whom no eye can fully see, and no life can adequately express, who is without an equal in wisdom and power and goodness, is focused, as it were, in the personality of Jesus. That which overwhelms us by its mystery and vastness, as we look into the universe around us—of which we are a part—is brought within the range of our vision, and the reach of our love, by Jesus of Nazareth. Not only is there revelation in its loftiest compass, and in its most unveiled expression, but there is something special and unique in the form of it.

(2) He bore witness by His Ministry and Passion.—There are groups of pines on the crag-ledges of Umbria which strike the eye against the clear still sky when the autumn night is coming. Each tree alone is weird, it is gnarled and twisted, bared by the tempest, or distorted and tortured by the pitiless wind; but the group they form together has nothing but dignity, the dignity of support and endurance in a lonely world. So it is essential life, together with unparalleled pain leading up to a voluntary and a dreadful death, that gives to the witness of the Passion the emphasis of extent and intensity.

When in the fifth century the Byzantine Empire was sinking into the decrepitude of a merely nominal Christianity, St. Chrysostom saw some converted Goths, with their clear blue eyes and yellow hair, kneeling to worship in one of the Basilicas of Constantinople, and he prophesied that that bold and hardy race should snatch the torch of truth from the more faithless and more feeble hands. They had laid down their barbarism, they had broken their idols at the feet of Him whom they called “The White Christ.” Their own fierce chieftains they chose from the boldest soldiers, and lifted them upon their shields, amid shouts of warriors and clash of swords; but they bowed before the royalty of a crucified Redeemer. Of their race in part are we. And if we fail in our allegiance to Christ, He will never lack other soldiers and other servants; for though the heart of men be full of evil, though for a time they may say, “We will not have this man to reign over us,” yet when the last appeal shall come to them, whether they will have Christ for a king, at last they will fall upon their knees in agonies of penitence, and in dust and ashes, with tears and with misereres, with beaten breasts, with uplifted hands, they will sigh back their answer—“Christ is King!”1 [Note: F. W. Farrar, True Religion, 200.]


Allegiance to the Truth

1. Jesus before Pilate is the Truth making its appeal and waiting for judgment.

(1) Pilate was indifferent to the truth.—It was said of a distinguished American jurist that he finally retired from the bench because he could not there escape making decisions. Pilate was this kind of man. The French statesman, Talleyrand, writing in his old age of the qualities of a Minister of Foreign Affairs, said: “He ought to be gifted with a kind of instinct which prevents him from committing himself.” Pilate was a good example of the school of Talleyrand. Here was this young enthusiast who had so stirred the people by the kingly declaration of His mission, “To this end was I born, that I should bear witness unto the truth”; and Pilate, the consistent neutral, looked down on Him with serious pity and answered, “Ah, my young friend, what is this illusion for which you want to die? Die for it, then, if you will! I find no fault in you; I wash my hands of blame. You bring your fate upon yourself.” And so dismissing this case of an alien, he retired into his palace, well content with himself because he had been neither ensnared by the enthusiasm of the reformer nor misled by the bigotry of the mob.

(2) Pilate turned away from the truth.—The Prisoner before him had accepted the title of a king. He based His claim to this title on the fact that He had come to bear witness to the truth. He declared that those who were themselves of the truth would acknowledge His claim; they were His rightful subjects; they were the enfranchised citizens of His Kingdom. Strange language this in the ears of a cynical, worldly sceptic, to whose eyes the most attractive type of humanity was a judicious admixture of force and fraud. “Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out.” The altercation could be carried no further. Was not human life itself one great query, without an answer? What was truth, what else, except that which each man thought? Truth! This helpless Prisoner claimed to be a king, and He appealed, forsooth, to His truthfulness as the credential of His sovereign rights. Was ever any claim more contradictory of all human experience, more palpably absurd than this? Truth! When had truth anything to do with founding a kingdom? The mighty engine of imperial power, the iron sceptre which ruled the world, whence came it? Certainly it owed nothing to truth. Had not Augustus established his sovereignty by an unscrupulous employment of force, and maintained it by an astute use of artifice? And his successor, the present occupant of the imperial throne, was he not an arch dissembler, the darkest of all dark enigmas? The name of Tiberius was a by-word for impenetrable disguise. Truth might do well enough for fools and enthusiasts, for simple men; but for rulers, for diplomatists, for men of the world, it was the wildest of all wild dreams. Truth! What was truth? He had lived too long in the world to trust any such hollow pretensions.

(3) Pilate was surprised and judged by the truth.—He found himself unexpectedly confronted by the truth, and he could not recognise it. His whole life long he had tampered with truth, he had despised truth, he had despaired of truth. Truth was the last thing that He had set before him as the aim of his life. He had thought much of policy, of artifice, of fraud, of force; but for truth in any of its manifold forms he had cared just nothing at all. And his sin had worked out its own retribution. Not truth only, but the Very Truth itself, Truth Incarnate stood before him in human form, and he was blind to it. He scorned it, he played with it, he thrust it aside, he condemned and he crucified it. “Suffered under Pontius Pilate” is the legend of eternal infamy with which history has branded his name.

2. Those who are in sympathy with the truth will pay it homage. A very good illustration of this will be found in the methods of scientific inquiry as it is now prosecuted. For the man of science seeks nothing in his researches into nature but Bimply to discover the truth. For this purpose he toils, working hard by day, and watching long by night, if that should be needful. He spares no pains to verify his facts and observations. He multiplies experiments to rectify possible errors. If these show that he was before on a wrong track, he gives it up, and follows the line suggested by the later results of his inquiries; for his object is not to establish a foregone conclusion, but simply to find out the truth. That truth, when he finds it, may startle many folk, may unsettle former opinions, may seriously affect many interests and recognized authorities. He cannot help that. It is his business simply to find what the facts are and what they plainly teach; and when he has done that he says: “There is the truth, and that is the way by which I reached it, step by step. As for all else, I have nothing to do with it whatever. A lie has no vested interests that I can respect: nor will any authority make it anything but a lie. Truth, too, is always, in the long run, wholesome and best for all. And if this be true it is at your peril that you reject it. Be sure that, in so doing, you shall be the losers.” Thus, in his own province, he seeks the truth diligently and fearlessly; and one of the noblest results of his researches is the state of mind which he thus helps to produce, with its loyalty and courage and persistent love of truth. Out of his own province, indeed, he is often very much like other men, hasty, not over careful about his facts, and jumping to ill-considered conclusions. But in prosecuting his proper work, his methods and his spirit afford a good illustration of what it is to be sincerely “of the truth.”

“I say,” broke in one of the boys, who was just emerging from the tenderfoot stage, “o’ course that’s in the Bible, ain’t it?”

The Pilot assented.

“Well, how do you know it’s true?”

The Pilot was proceeding to elaborate his argument when Bill cut in somewhat more abruptly than was his wont.

“Look here, young feller!” Bill’s voice was in the tone of command. The man looked as he was bid. “How do you know anything’s true? How do you know the Pilot here’s true when he speaks? Can’t you tell by the feel? You know by the sound of his voice, don’t you?”1 [Note: Ralph Connor, The Sky Pilot, ch. xxi.]

(1) Sometimes the truth comes to us at once. It dawns upon us, shines on us, without any conscious effort of our own or immediate seeking on our part:

Think ye ’mid all this mighty sum

Of things for ever speaking,

That nothing of itself will come,

But we must still be seeking?

This is intuition: but it does not come miraculously; there has been a long preparation for it in the race and often also in the individual. There are other truths that have to be long and earnestly sought for, in the quest of which all our intellectual powers must be employed, and the endeavour strenuously made to free the mind from all personal bias and unwillingness to believe. We often go without the truth because we are too indolent or indifferent to seek it earnestly, or because we are prejudiced against it and unwilling to receive it. There is certainly a moral element involved in the search for and the reception of truth. We have ears that hear not and eyes that see not. Truth reveals itself to those who love it; it comes to those who will give it a home.

(2) And sometimes we reach it gradually. In ascending the mountains of Switzerland, the climber begins his journey by a disappointing contradiction. He descends from some sheltering châlet, by the light of the waning moon; he has to go over a broken path, and with a stealthy step; there are before him real tracts of trouble; the dim light alters proportions, and deceives as to distance, and so, plunging onwards, he hurts his feet. Onward he goes; he must cross the interspaces of gloom, where the shadows fall in blackness on the bases of the mountains, thick, with no shading of pity, but dusky and cruel as the hangings of Death. Onward, onward, the grasp of darkness is at last relaxing; the sky is clearer; there is a promise of the coming day; he struggles higher; around him are rising innumerable peaks, sheathed in the frost-sheets of diamond, and with the glint of the mingling glitter of the moonlight and the morning. It is an ice-world of splendour,—mountaineering made glorious,—for the light is increasing, there is a feeling of freshness, a sense of security, an exhilaration of joy; the dimness is dying, the severest of the struggle is distanced, he feels, and, with a sense of triumph, he has his feet on the track of Dawn.

(3) But our eye must always be single. The seeker after truth must fulfil one condition: he must lead a true life, a life of moral rectitude at least. A false life can never come to the truth, for truth is revealed only to truth. “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life,” was advice founded on a melancholy experience. “Blessed beyond all earthly blessedness,” said one who came through the fiery ordeal not scathless, and is now enjoying the peace he hardly found on earth,—“blessed beyond all earthly blessedness is the man who, in the tempestuous darkness of the soul, has dared to hold fast to those venerable landmarks of morality. Thrice blessed is he who, when all is drear and cheerless within and without, when his teachers terrify him and his friends shrink from him, has obstinately clung to moral good. Thrice blessed, because his night shall pass into clear bright day.”

We may call to mind the experience of Columbus, when he found himself entangled in the Sargasso Sea in the midst of the ocean, to the westward of the Canary Islands. As far as eye could see the surface was thickly covered with weed, through which it seemed hopeless to seek to penetrate. To his sailors the attempt seemed even impious; the Almighty had shown His anger at their endeavour to peer into His secrets. Columbus himself feared that these weeds might indicate the proximity of dangerous rocks on which his vessel might be wrecked. But, strong in his faith in an undiscovered land, he steered right onward, carefully sounding from time to time, till in a few days they got clear of the weeds, out again into the free ocean, and in due time reached the western shore he was seeking. So it ever is in the search for truth, if we are in earnest and will but persevere, with our minds open to such guidance, Divine and human, as we can find, carefully taking soundings as we proceed, but never losing faith in the reality and attainability of truth. We shall not indeed reach all truth, or even the whole truth on any particular subject; but we shall find what we need for mental rest and true practical life.1 [Note: W. L. Walker, The True Christ, 12.]

In the bitter waves of woe,

Beaten and tossed about

By the sullen winds that blow

From the desolate shores of doubt,—

When the anchors that faith had cast

Are dragging in the gale,

I am quietly holding fast

To the things that cannot fail:

I know that right is right;

That it is not good to lie;

That love is better than spite,

And a neighbour than a spy;

I know that passion needs

The leash of a sober mind;

I know that generous deeds

Some sure reward will find;

That the rulers must obey;

That the givers shall increase;

That Duty lights the way

For the beautiful feet of Peace;—

In the darkest night of the year,

When the stars have all gone out,

That courage is better than fear,

That faith is truer than doubt;

And fierce though the fiends may fight,

And long though the angels hide,

I know that Truth and Right

Have the universe on their side;

And that somewhere, beyond the stars,

Is a Love that is better than fate;

When the night unlocks her bars

I shall see Him, and I will wait.1 [Note: Washington Gladden.]

The Kingdom of Truth


Abbey (C. J.), The Divine Love, 296.

Bain (J. A.), Questions Answered by Christ, 229.

Burrell (D. J.), The Spirit of the Age, 61.

Campbell (L.), The Christian Ideal, 236.

Chadwick (G. A.), Aids to Belief, 1.

Chadwick (W. E.), Christ and Everyday Life, 191.

Clark (H. W.), Laws of the Inner Kingdom, 32, 84.

Greenhough (J. G.), The Cross in Modern Life, 14.

Greer (D. H.), From Things to God, 26.

Johnston (J. B.), The Ministry of Reconciliation, 54.

Lightfoot (J. B.), Sermons in St. Paul’s Cathedral, 91.

Little (W. J. K.), Sunlight and Shadow, 218.

Little (W. J. K.), The Witness of the Passion, 1.

Macintosh (W.), Rabbi Jesus, 1.

M‘Intyre (D. M.), Life in His Name, 49.

Macleod (D.), Christ and Society, 95.

Peabody (F. G.), Mornings in Tlie College Chapel, i. 159; iii. 185.

Peabody (F. G.), Sunday Evenings in The College Chapel, 197.

Porter (N.), Yale College Sermons (1871–1886), 34, 76.

Ragg (L.), Christ and Our Ideals, 93.

Ridgeway (F. E.), Calls to Service, 223.

Smith (W. C), Sermons, 182.

Vaughan (B.), Society, Sin and the Saviour, 89.

Walker (W. L.), The True Christ, 9.

Williams (T. R.), God’s Open Doors, 47.

Verse 38

(38) Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?—“‘What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.” Such is Lord Bacon’s well-known interpretation of Pilate’s well-known question. Others have seen in it the bitterness of a mind that had been tossed to and fro in the troubled sea of contemporaneous thought, and despaired of an anchorage. Others, again; have traced the tone of sarcasm in the governor’s words—“Is the son of Roman freedom and Greek thought, which had at this time been welded into one power, to learn truth of a Jewish enthusiast?” while the older interpreters, for the most part, regarded the question as that of an earnest inquirer desiring to be satisfied. These are a few among the many thoughts the passage has suggested; and yet none of them seem to give the natural impression which follows from the words. Bacon’s is nearest to it, but Pilate was far from jesting. He seems rather to have been irritated by the refusal of the Jews to furnish a formal accusation (John 18:31), and more so at the question of Jesus in John 18:34, and the subtleties, as he thinks them, of John 18:36. This seems to him to be another, and at all events it is wholly irrelevant to the question at issue. He has neither time nor will to deal with it, and at once goes from the palace again to the Jews.

I find in him no fault at all.—Better, I find no crime in Him. St. John uses the word rendered “fault” only in this phrase. (Comp. John 19:4; John 19:6.) It is used by St. Matthew (Matthew 27:37) for the technical “accusation written, This is Jesus, the King of the Jews,” and this seems to be the sense here. “I find no ground for the legal charge (John 18:33). Whatever He may be, there is no proof of treason against the majesty of Cæsar.”

On the attempt of Pilate to release Jesus (John 18:39-40), comp. Matthew 27:15-23; Mark 15:6-14; Luke 23:13-23. It is preceded in St. Luke by the trial before Herod (John 18:6-12).

Verse 39

(39) At the Passover.—Comp. Excursus F: The Day of the Crucifixion of our Lord.

The King of the Jews.—These words are of course said in mockery, but not at Jesus who was still in the palace. They seem to mean, “This is your king; Such is your national subjection, that He is bound in the Prætorium of the Roman governor. Shall I release Him unto you?”

Verse 40

(40) Then cried they all again.—St. John has not recorded any clamour before, but implies that of Mark 15:8, and Luke 23:5-10.

Now Barabbas was a robber.—Comp. Note on John 10:1. The word includes the meaning of unrestrained violence, which often leads to bloodshed (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19), and is thus used in a striking parallel in Sophocles:—

“And him, so rumour runs, a robber band

Of aliens slew.”—

(Œdipus Rex., 724. Plumptre’s Translation.)

There is a solemn emphasis given to the context by the abrupt brevity of the sentence. (Comp. John 11:35; John 13:30; see also Acts 3:14.)


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on John 18:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

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