18 April 2014

John 18:1 – 19:42

β€œIt is finished.” (John 19:30)


Confusion reigns! Judas, the betrayer, knows where Jesus and his disciples often meet, so he leads a group of armed officials there. We know that the chief priests and the Pharisees have already been plotting (John 11:47-53), but the translated by NRSV as "soldiers" in John 18:3 normally refers to Roman troops. Are they already in on the plot? In any event, the people led by Judas have not only weapons but also various forms of lights, which means that they would have been visible coming. Yet Jesus and his followers stay still and wait for them. Jesus is still in control. He admits who he is with such authority that some fall to the ground as if he is indeed divine (verse 6). In response, he almost demands that they arrest him, but also, loving his disciples to the end, arranges for them to go free (verses 8-9). Peter misunderstands and gets out his sword, but Jesus indicates that he will not resist arrest and will drink the cup of suffering that lies before him (verses 10-11).

Jesus is taken to a former high priest, Annas, who is still the hidden 'power behind the throne'. He questions Jesus about his followers and his teaching. Jesus refuses to say anything that can be twisted to incriminate him. He tells Annas to ask people who heard him teach about what he taught, and then to tell him what was wrong in it. He makes no threats about what trouble his followers might create. He had bargained for them to go free. Peter and another disciples had managed to worm their way into the courtyard, but when challenged Peter denies that he is a disciple.

Annas presumably concludes that the disciples will be no threat, and sends Jesus to the actual high priest, Caiaphas, who immediately sends him on to the Roman governor, Pilate. The dark forces in political institutions and social systems start to gain energy. Both the Jewish authorities and the Roman ones try to get each other to take responsibility for getting rid of Jesus. Pilate has to start by guessing what accusation Caiaphas and the others are making against Jesus (verses 29-30). He assumes that Jesus has claimed to be in some way King of the Jews (verse 33). He tries to set Jesus free under an amnesty, then, when the crowd objects, has him humiliated to show that he is not a King of the Jews. Pilate assumes that that will be the end of the matter. But the chief priests and the police demand that he be crucified and change their attack into a claim that Jesus has said that he is the Son of God.

Pilate is feeling trapped. He shares the awe and superstition in the ancient world of the holy person, someone who is a divine agent. That is made worse when Jesus says that Pilate is under the power of God, and yet that other people are becoming more powerful in this situation than he is (verse 11). Pilate keeps trying to release Jesus. But Roman emperors called themselves 'divine' or 'sons of gods', so a king who was a son of god could be seen as a direct threat to the emperor. The crowds claim that by trying to release Jesus, Pilate is being disloyal to the emperor. Pilate gives in, and condemns Jesus to crucifixion.

The actual crucifixion is described sparsely and starkly. It is made all the more horrific by concentrating at first not on Jesus, but the reactions of others (verses 18-25). Jesus' love for people to the end is shown by urging his mother and the beloved disciple to take care of each other. He thirsts for the knowledge of God and is given sour, drugged wine. He has accomplished his task and glorified God to the end. He gives up his spirit and dies.

John's Gospel thinks of Jesus as a sacrifice. A sacrifice had to be unblemished, its limbs unbroken, and its blood drained out through being pierced. That is what happens to Jesus (verses 31-37). His body is not broken.

To Ponder

  • When you survey 'the wondrous cross' how do you see God being glorified? 

Bible notes author

Ken Howcroft

Ken Howcroft was designated by the Conference in 2013 to be the President of the 2014 Conference. He is currently a minister of the British Conference of the Methodist Church seconded to the Methodist Church in Italy to look after the English-language Methodist Church in Rome.