As we face Jesus’ trial and then the actual crucifixion, the overarching word is Caiaphas’ unwitting prophecy that it is “good if one man dies for the people” (18.14). In undergoing extreme suffering and humiliation Jesus was evidently keenly aware of the Father’s purpose that he should die so that all who believe in him might enjoy life in his name (20.31). When facing suffering, it is always deeply strengthening if we can see how God uses our sufferings and has loving purposes through it all.
John subtly underlines the contrast between the unreliable Peter and Jesus with his unswerving faith by interweaving Peter’s threefold denial between the different stages of Jesus’ trial. This contrast is highlighted by the words Peter uses. As we saw in our last blog, Jesus once more asserted his divine claim in these final ‘I am’ (ego eimi) sayings (c.f.18.5, 6). In 18.17 and 25 Peter, on the other hand, denies Jesus with the words “I am not” (ouk eimi). Jesus’ glory shines so brilliantly in comparison with Peter’s and our human weakness and fear.
It is noteworthy that no-one during the ministry of Jesus had particularly noticed “the other disciple” (18.16. Was this John himself?). But Peter was an outstanding personality and so was recognised by the girl at the door and by others (18.17 and 26). Of course his rash use of the sword to cut off Malchus’ ear had made him even more noticeable. It is dangerous to stand out so strongly from the run-of-the-mill crowd, but Peter and others like him throughout church history have been tremendously used by the Lord. We need to pray that God would give us more such outstanding Christians in our churches – gifted for wonderfully fruitful service, although sadly capable of serious sin that may deny the Lord.
The ignorance and lack of justice in Jesus’ trial shocks us to the core. It must have been agonising for Jesus to have to undergo such blatant injustice together with loneliness and rejection in his time of fearful need. An incorrupt justice system and one that is free of political or mob power is vital for any healthy society. Sadly in many countries today wide-spread corruption, unrestrained political power and the threat of violence by antagonistic mobs is robbing so many people of true justice. Let us beseech the God of justice and righteousness to have mercy on our world!
In talking with Pilate Jesus affirms that his kingdom is “not of this world” and, as the Greek says, ‘not from here’ (18.36). Because this is so, Jesus’ followers must not fight to prevent his arrest. We notice again the importance of Jesus’ rebuke when Peter cuts off Malchus’ ear. Occasionally in history Christians have failed to follow the Lord’s rejection of such violence to defend his cause, but Jesus’ teaching on this subject is abundantly clear.
Jesus openly talks of his kingdom (18.36), but he carefully avoids answering Pilate’s question: “Are you the king of the Jews?” (18.33) and again “You are a king then?” (18.37). In answer to the first time Pilate asks, Jesus counters it with another question. He asks Pilate where he got the idea from (18.34). When Pilate repeats the question, Jesus merely answers: “You say I am a king” (18.37 – NIV wrongly adds “You are right in saying . . .” ). Pilate was not Jewish (c.f.18.35) and could only have misunderstood if Jesus had said that he is King. So in 18.37 Jesus changes the topic and declares that he “came into the world to testify to the truth”. In the presence of the high-priest Jesus had already emphasised that he was speaking the truth (18.23). Once again therefore we need to note how John constantly underlines truth. Pilate’s consequent question could easily have come from the post-modern non-Christian Britain of our day. “What is truth?” What a challenge to us as Christians living in our contemporary society!
P.S. This Monday Oct. 16th I fly to Singapore, Sarawak and Java for three weeks. I am invited and my programme is arranged by a large church in Singapore. There will be no more blogs therefore until after I get back on Nov. 3rd. Elizabeth will sadly not be coming with me, but will spend most of that time staying with our three children in Greenwich and Chichester. Please pray for us. Thank you so much.