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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

John 18



Other Authors
Verses 1-40

HAVING COMMUNED WITH the Father and expressed His desires, Jesus went forth to meet His foes, who were led by the traitor, and then to the death that He should die. True to the character of this Gospel, striking witness is borne to His omniscience. He went forth in the full knowledge of “all things that should come upon Him”—not only of outward circumstances but of the inward weight of all involved. If we refer back to John 6:6, and John 13:3, we shall find statements of similar import.

But the scene in the Garden also furnishes us with a display of His omnipotence. They sought Jesus of Nazareth, but when He replied, “I am,” reminiscent of the way Jehovah declared Himself in the Old Testament, they were felled to the ground. Thus irresistibly, yet unwillingly, they did obeisance before Him. So the signs of His Deity were present even while He submitted to their hands, since He was here as the Man subject to the

Father’s will. His desire was to extend protection to His disciples according to His own word, and Peter’s zealous but mistaken action only gave occasion to the display of His complete oneness of mind with the Father. He accepted all as coming from His hands, even though the highest religious authorities in Jewry were His chief opponents. The servant of the high priest, Malchus, was prominent in His arrest, and to the tribunal of Annas and Caiaphas was He first led. Caiaphas had the decisive voice and was already determined upon His death.

Verses John 18:15-18 are parenthetical, as again are verses John 18:25-27. Taken together they give us the sad story of Peter’s downfall, in which the Lord’s prediction of John 13:38 was fulfilled. That this should be one of the few episodes recorded by all four Evangelists is worthy of note. God does not take pleasure in recording the sins of His saints, so we may be sure that there is in it warning and instruction much needed by all saints in all ages, for self-confidence is one of the commonest and most deep-seated tendencies of the flesh: a tendency which, if not judged and refused, invariably leads to disaster. True spiritual circumcision involves “no confidence in the flesh,” (See, Philippians 3:3), but that is a lesson we do not learn save through a good deal of painful experience.

The “other disciple” known to the high priest was pretty evidently John himself. His acquaintance with the high priest gave him a little worldly status and privilege, which he used to introduce Peter into the place of danger. The word “also” in verse John 18:17 seems to imply that the damsel keeping the door knew that John was a disciple of Jesus. He had not been tempted to deny the fact as Peter had. That which trips up one disciple may leave another unmoved. Moreover, Satan knows just exactly how to set his traps. That the third questioner should be a relation of the Malchus, who had suffered in the Garden at Peter’s hands, was a master-stroke of his craft. That encompassed Peter’s third and worst denial, and his sin and discomfiture were complete.

Verses John 18:19-24, give details of what transpired in the palace of the high priest, and they are the connecting link between verses John 18:14; John 18:28. The question raised as to His disciples and doctrine was an attempt to obtain from His lips something incriminating as a basis for the death sentence they had determined to pronounce. The other Gospels tell us that they sought for witness against Him and found none, which accounts for the fact that when He referred them to the witness of His hearers they were so irritated as to strike our Lord. Matthew tells us that they went so far as to seek false witness against Him.

It is well to note the contrast between Jesus in verse John 18:23 and Paul in Acts 23:5. There is a gulf between the Master and the most devoted of His servants. The reply of Jesus was conclusive. There was no evil to which any could bear witness: no one could convince Him of sin.

John’s account of the proceedings before the high priest is very brief. In contrast to this he gives us a fuller account of what transpired before Pilate than any of the others. Paul writes of “Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession,” and the details of that good confession come particularly to light here.

First however, we are given a sight of the fearful hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders. To have walked inside the judgment hall would have defiled them, so they felt. Yet they had no scruple as to committing themselves to murder, and hunting for liars in order to give some semblance of decency to their action. Alas! Alas! to such lengths will religious flesh proceed. Pilate rightly desired a definite accusation, but, having none to offer, they attempted in the first place to rush Pilate into a verdict on the general plea that He was an evildoer. To denounce on general grounds, whilst avoiding any specific charge, is a common trick of the religious persecutor. This irregularity made Pilate wish to throw the case back on their hands. Their answer showed that they were determined upon His death, yet it led to the fulfilment of the Lord’s own predictions as to the death He should die—see, John 3:14; John 8:28; John 12:32. However, they eventually fixed on the charge that He sought to make Himself a King. The Lord’s question in verse John 18:34 infers this; and it comes clearly to light in the next chapter, verse John 18:12.

The “good confession” before Pilate covered at least four great points. First, the Lord boldly confessed that He was a King. The context shows that in saying this He referred not merely to the fact that He was the true Son of David according to the flesh, but that He held the place as Son of God, just as Psalms 2:1-12 predicted.

But secondly, He affirmed that His kingdom was neither “of this world,” nor “from hence.” It does not bear the character or stamp of this world nor does it derive its authority and power from this place. His Kingdom of course derives all its authority and power from Heaven, and it bears the heavenly character; but instead of stating this positively He put the matter in that negative light which tacitly put a sentence of condemnation and repudiation upon this world and this place. It was a bold statement to make in the presence of the man who represented the greatest existing earthly power.

Thirdly, He asserted that He was born to Kingship inasmuch as He came into the world as the Witness to the truth. He who brings the light of truth is the only One fitted to hold the Royal power, as David stated in 2 Samuel 23:3. We started this Gospel with the fact that grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, but in this moment of crisis grace had been rejected and truth was the matter in question. Outside were the men who embodied lying and hypocrisy. Pilate held the judicial authority, and therefore was responsible to discern truth and judge accordingly, but his question, “What is truth?” was evidently uttered in a vein of flippant scepticism, and showed how judgment was divorced from righteousness in his mind. As a Roman judge he knew all too much of men and their deceits, and he felt that to pursue truth was to chase a mirage. But this did not excuse his folly, manifested in turning his back on Christ and going out to the lying Jews directly he had asked his question.

Fourthly, He claimed to be not merely the Witness to the truth, but the very embodiment of truth itself. In the farewell discourse He had said, “I am... the truth,” to His disciples; now before His adversaries the same thing is implicit in the remarkable words, “Every one that is of the truth heareth My Voice.” He is the truth in such absolute fashion that He is the test of every man. Those of whom it can be said, “Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth” (James 1:18), are “of the truth,” and such hear His voice. It is remarkable how often in this Gospel our attention is called to hearing His voice or hearing His word—see, for instance, John 3:34; John 4:42; John 5:24, John 5:25, John 5:28; John 6:68; John 7:17; John 8:43; John 10:4, John 10:16, John 10:27; John 12:48-50. Everything hinges upon it for us, as these scriptures make manifest, and (to use a modern illustration) we must be on the right wave-length in order to hear. Nothing but being begotten of God with the word of truth can put us on the right wave-length.

Pilate had no real ear for His voice, as his words and action plainly showed. He walked out from the presence of the Truth that again he might establish contact with the world of unreality, yet he had sufficient judicial sense to perceive how false was the case against the Lord and to pronounce

Him to be without fault. His effort, however, to side-track the accusers by the Passover custom failed, yet it was over-ruled to bring out in the plainest possible fashion their implacable hostility.

Five words sufficed to express their utter rejection of the Lord— “Not this Man, but Barabbas,” and they were wholly unanimous for this was the cry of all. The Evangelist’s comment on this cry is equally terse and also compressed into five words, “Now Barabbas was a robber.” Without exaggeration we may designate this cry as the most fateful in all history. It has controlled the course of the world for nearly two thousand years and will ultimately seal its doom—more particularly we might say it has controlled the sad course of Jewish history. What have they not endured at the hands of the spoilers during the centuries! But if they cry out and even wish to complain against God, it is sufficient answer to refer them to this unanimous demand of their leaders. The One who was the embodiment of grace and truth they rejected. Barabbas, the robber, they demanded. Incidentally, he was also a revolutionary and a murderer, as other Gospels show. Robbery, revolution and murder has been their portion with a vengeance, right through the centuries.

The fact is that in the holy government of God they have just reaped what they have sown. And the same thing has been true of the Gentile world generally, though perhaps on not quite so intensive a scale. Still, again and again through the years there have arisen men of striking personality in whom the Barabbas spirit has reappeared. At the present moment the earth is groaning beneath this very thing. As we contemplate the sufferings of many peoples, we have to remind ourselves, “Now Barabbas was a robber.”


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on John 18:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

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