John 18 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

Resources » Commentaries » John » Chapter 18 » exegesis

Jesus Is Confronted by Annas; Peter Is Confronted by People in the Courtyard

Throughout John's story the world has been judged by the presence of Jesus, and the world has in turn judged him. The whole Gospel is thus a description of a trial (cf. Harvey 1976), a theme that reaches a climax as Jesus is brought before the authorities. As he is put on trial we see revealed both his own identity as King and his confident trust in his Father.

The force that came out to arrest Jesus was composed of both Jews and Romans, and Jesus will now be arraigned before both Jewish and Roman officials. In the Synoptics Jesus is brought first before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin and then before Pilate. Luke adds a further appearance before Herod Antipas (23:6-12). John begins, here in our present text, with Jesus' earlier appearance before Annas, an interrogation not mentioned in the Synoptics. John will then move on to the interrogation by Pilate, leaving out a description of the appearances before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin and before Herod. It is clear that he knows of the trial before Caiaphas (v. 24) but has chosen not to include it in his account.

John weaves together the confrontation between Jesus and Annas and the confrontation going on at the same time between Peter and the people in the courtyard. This textured scene, which shifts between what is going on inside with Jesus and what is going on outside with Peter, is paralleled in the scene that follows by Pilate's encounter with Jesus inside the governor's palace and his dealings with the Jewish opponents outside. Such juxtaposition enables John to make comparisons between Jesus and the other characters in the story. The inner and outer scenes in the story also reflect John's purpose to show us here, as throughout his Gospel, the inner and outer dimensions of the events themselves--the eternal reality being manifested in the midst of the world as the Word comes to his own and the eternal significance of the events that unfold.Jesus Is Taken to Annas, the High Priest (18:12-14) John describes Jesus' arrest and binding as the activity of the whole party that has come out against him, both Gentile and Jew (v. 12). John will make it clear that the Jewish authorities have special responsibility for Jesus' death (19:11), but the Gentiles have a share as well. Here we have the shocking sight of the one who brings freedom to mankind (8:31-36) being bound by representatives of the whole human race.

They took Jesus first to Annas, probably the most respected and powerful of the Jewish authorities at that time. He had held the office of high priest earlier (A.D. 6-15), and his influence continued through his son-in-law Caiaphas, the current high priest (v. 13) and through his five sons, who had also been high priest for various lengths of time (Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 18.2.1-2; 20.9.1; cf. Chilton 1992:257). Annas was the head of a dynasty, which probably accounts for John's reference to him as high priest (vv. 15-16, 19, 22, cf. Acts 4:6), even though John is clear that Caiaphas is the one holding that office at the time (vv. 13, 24).

There seem to be both historical and theological reasons why John includes this scene of Jesus' questioning before Annas. John mentions "another disciple" who is "known to the high priest" (v. 15) and his household (vv. 16, 26). As with the references to the Beloved Disciple, this is most likely a reference to himself. Like the Beloved Disciple, this other disciple is unnamed, closely associated with Peter and characterized as having special knowledge. It is unclear whether John is saying that he knew the high priest personally or that he knew just some in his household. He is not described as speaking to Annas himself, but he does have personal knowledge of the servants. Perhaps he had contacts through marketing fish, though in that society this would not itself imply limited social contact (cf. Brown 1970:823; Carson 1991:582).

Whatever the nature of his familiarity with Annas, John had other contact with him later when he himself was on trial (Acts 4:6). John had to bear witness before this man, and his bearing witness is the main theme that comes through in this story. He can bear witness to the Passion because he was there (cf. Ridderbos 1997:581). John does not narrate the scattering of the disciples (cf. 16:32), but presumably it took place here at the arrest. John was separated from Jesus at that point, but we now discover it was only for a brief time. He and Peter recover and return to see what transpires. In this way, John has not missed much of the action and thus is able to bear witness to the whole story. Unlike Peter, he is inside the high priest's palace and witnesses the whole of the Passion. This theme of witness is also the focal point of Jesus' exchange with Annas (vv. 20-23). Thus this particular story is important for John, both personally and for the theme it brings out.

John concludes his introduction to Jesus' interrogation by Annas by identifying Annas as the father-in-law of Caiaphas (v. 13). John refers back to an earlier meeting of the Sanhedrin (11:47-53) and in particular to Caiaphas' prophetic statement that it would be good if one man died for the people (v. 14). This allusion reminds the reader of the reason for Jesus' death. John uses Caiaphas' own statement as a caption under this picture of the Passion, providing the interpretation of the cross as surely as does the title that Pilate will require to be nailed above the head of Jesus (19:19-22). This death is for the sake of the very people who are causing it.Peter Denies He Is a Follower of Jesus (18:15-18) Peter and John follow as Jesus is brought before Annas. John's familiarity with the high priest, or at least with his household, enables him to enter with Jesus and to get Peter admitted also (vv. 15-16). The one who reclined next to Jesus a few hours earlier at the meal (13:23) continues to be close to him. But his going back out to bring Peter in shows that he, like his master, is also concerned for others, in particular this fellow believer. The love evident in this gesture reveals John's character as a true disciple and as one to whose care Jesus can entrust other disciples, indeed even his mother (19:27).

Presumably John returns to the room where Jesus is being questioned, which leaves Peter in the courtyard with the servants and others. It is not said whether Peter was unable to enter the room with John or whether he chose to remain outside. The latter seems unlikely, given Peter's character, but the arrest has shaken him. He is now sifted, beginning with a question from the woman who attended the door (v. 17). She asks, literally, "You also are not one of the disciples of this man, are you?" Her expression "this man" (tou anthropou toutou, left out of the NIV) seems to suggest some disdain, as does the use of me ("not"), here with the sense, "surely not you too." But, of course, there would be little other reason for a stranger to be there in the courtyard in the middle of a cold night. Furthermore, the fact that she says "you also" (kai sy, also missing from the NIV) most likely indicates that she knows John is a disciple of Jesus.

In this account, therefore, it seems to be Peter's association with John, the unnamed disciple, that draws attention to his relation to Jesus. John himself shows no concern about her feelings regarding his discipleship, for he not only was admitted by her, but also came back to get Peter in. While Peter's attack with the sword (18:10) may have made him fearful of being recognized, he is not in a position of legal difficulty, since there is no warrant for his arrest. Nor is there indication that he was physically threatened by this woman or the others. He has no such excuses for his denial. He who a few hours earlier had said he would die for Jesus (13:37) now denies any association with him purely out of fear of what people would think. John, like Luke, is gentle in his account of Peter's denials, leaving out the curses and oaths he used (Mt 26:74 par. Mk 14:71); and John will give prominence to Peter's restoration (21:15-19). But this does not mean that John takes the denial less seriously than Matthew or Mark do. The very terms of the restoration ("Do you love me?") show the enormity of the denials and also stand in contrast to the love that John shows in this scene as he sticks close to Jesus even in his disgrace.

After Peter's first denial, John's narrative switches back to what is going on inside between Annas and Jesus. Peter is outside warming himself at a charcoal fire (anthrakia, v. 18). A charcoal fire gives off warmth but little light. This dim fire, along with the darkness in the garden, helps account for Peter's not being recognized immediately by the relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off (v. 26). The darkness of the courtyard may also have a symbolic significance, for it means Peter is outside in the half-light while John is inside with the Light of the World. Peter is not denigrated in this Gospel, but he does "serve as a foil for the behavior of another disciple who is never deflected from his following of Jesus" (Brown 1994:1:623). In the half-light, separated from Jesus, Peter encounters temptation for which he does not have the resources to resist. The only hope for any of us in the time of temptation is to remain close to Jesus.Annas Questions Jesus (18:19-24) Back inside, Annas is beginning his interrogation. This is not an actual trial; John has not confused this encounter with the meeting with the Sanhedrin. Here there are no witnesses, no jury and no sentence. This is more like "a police interrogation of a newly arrested criminal before any formal trial procedures are begun" (Brown 1970:834; cf. 1994:1:412, 423-25; Robinson 1985:248-50). Annas asks Jesus about his disciples (v. 19), reflecting the Sanhedrin's earlier concern over Jesus' popularity (11:48), a popularity that can have only increased after Jesus entered Jerusalem attended by a great crowd. Indeed, some of the Pharisees said it looked like the whole world had gone after him (12:19).

Annas also asks Jesus about his teaching (v. 19). He seems to want Jesus to incriminate himself as a false prophet (Beasley-Murray 1987:324-25) or at least as a false teacher (Robinson 1985:259; Brown 1994:1:414). But Jesus will not be trapped in this way. Indeed, in later law it was illegal to have "an accused person convict himself" (Brown 1970:826), and this rule may have applied at this time also. Furthermore, Jesus has already completed his public teaching regarding himself (see comment on 12:34-35). Only one last statement of Jesus' teaching remains, but that is reserved for the Gentile Pilate (18:33-37; 19:11). So Jesus tells Annas to check with those who have heard him, since he has taught quite openly (v. 20-21). In this way he heightens Annas' anxiety. The very fact that Jesus has spoken openly and that there are plenty of people who are familiar with his teaching is what concerns Annas. That Jesus does nothing to assure Annas that his teaching is kosher would also increase the high priest's fears. Indeed, Jesus shows chutzpah at this point, which is so unlike the way others come cringing before the Sanhedrin (cf. Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 14.172), showing Annas that Jesus is indeed a danger.

Jesus' appeal to the witness of those who had heard him is essentially a demand for a fair trial (Brown 1970:826), since in Jewish law the witnesses are questioned, not the accused (see comment on 5:31; cf. Beasley-Murray 1987:324). Jesus has completed his witness by word. There remains only the climax of all his ministry as he witnesses to the Father through his death, resurrection and ascension. It is now up to those who have heard him to bear witness to him. Such remains the case today. His abiding presence remains with believers, but those who abide in him are to bear witness to him before the world. "The author insists that the teaching of Jesus must be known through attention to His disciples, who by the guidance of the Spirit preserve and interpret His words (cf. 2:22; 14:25; 16:4ff.). A true judgement of the world upon the Christ depends upon the fidelity of His disciples" (Hoskyns 1940b:610).

One of the officials (a "servant," hyperetes) hits Jesus and says, Is this the way you answer the high priest? (v. 22). Since Jesus is still bound there is no way for him to defend himself. The more severe abuse that Jesus suffers later before the Sanhedrin (Mt 26:67-68 par. Mk 14:65 par. Lk 22:63-65) is not recounted by John. This blow was more an insult than it was physically damaging (Brown 1970: 826). It highlights Jesus' dignity and boldness as well as his respect for the truth, rather than for mere office holders. His reply to the servant stresses this issue of truth: If I said something wrong . . . testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me? This question applies to all the opposition he has experienced throughout his ministry (cf. 8:46).In essence, Jesus' question is a final act of grace extended toward a representative of his opponents. But Annas does not accept the offer to consider the truth of Jesus. Instead he sends Jesus, still bound, to Caiaphas (v. 24). From the Synoptics it seems there was a preliminary phase in which Jesus was taken before Caiaphas and a quorum of the Sanhedrin at night (Mt 26:57-75 par. Mk 14:53-72 par. Lk 22:54-65) and then a more formal trial at dawn before the full Sanhedrin (Mt 27:1 par. Mk 15:1 par. Lk 22:66-71). John signals where all of this fits in his account (vv. 24, 28), but he does not recount it, presumably having assumed it was familiar to his readers. In John's Gospel, therefore, this scene before Annas is the final encounter between Jesus and his Jewish opponents. A high priest, as Annas is known in this Gospel, has rejected the true high priest. From this point on, all contact between Jesus and his opponents is mediated through Pilate.Peter Denies Jesus Two More Times (18:25-27) Jesus has stood up to this powerful leader, but when John's narrative switches back to Peter at the fire we find him continuing to deny that he is a disciple of Jesus. "They said to him, `You also are not one of his disciples are you?'" (v. 25). "They said" (eipon) refers either to an unspecified group or, as in the NIV, to an unspecified individual (cf. Wallace 1996:402-3). When this unspecified group or individual confronts him he denies any connection with Jesus. Then there comes a very specific accusation from a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off: Didn't I see you with him in the olive grove? (v. 26). Here an eyewitness testifies to what he has seen--the very thing Peter is supposed to be doing with regard to Jesus. Instead of bearing witness to Jesus, he will not even admit to being Jesus' disciple. Just then the rooster crows, bringing to fulfillment Jesus' prediction that "before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!" (13:38). John does not write of Peter's grief at this point (cf. Mt 26:75 par. Mk 14:72 par. Lk 22:62), waiting instead to recount the grief Peter experiences at his restoration later (21:17).

The main points of the story of Peter's denial are the same in all four Gospels, but the Gospels differ in detail (cf. Brown 1970:836-42). One main difference is the place of Peter's denials (Beasley-Murray 1987:235-36): the Synoptics have Peter in Caiaphas' courtyard (Mt 26:57-58 par. Mk 14:53-54 par. Lk 22:54) whereas in John it is Annas' courtyard. Unless one or more of the accounts is inaccurate, it would seem Annas and Caiaphas either lived in the same place or at least did official business in the same place (Alford 1980:888).

The other main difference is the timing of Peter's denials. In the Synoptics it is during the session with the Sanhedrin, yet in John it is earlier, in association with Jesus' meeting with Annas. Efforts to harmonize such differences have produced suggestions that Peter denied Jesus more than three times or that the two denials in our present passage are actually a complex account of the third denial, John having left out the second denial. Such solutions do not do justice to John's account, in particular to the prediction that speaks of three denials (13:38). Instead, these differences reflect the different emphases of the evangelists and their own form of precision, which differs from that of most North Americans, among others. In particular, their reordering of material in order to bring out nuances of significance--for example, the difference in the sequence of Jesus' temptations (cf. Mt 4:1-11 with Lk 4:1-13)--is jarring to some folk. It would seem, however, that the case at hand has John juxtaposing Peter's denials and Jesus' own response to Annas. "By making Peter's denials simultaneous with Jesus' defense before Annas, John has constructed a dramatic contrast wherein Jesus stands up to his questioners and denies nothing, while Peter cowers before his questioners and denies everything" (Brown 1970:842). The foil Peter provides helps highlight Jesus' regal strength and authority, the hallmark of John's portrait of Jesus in his passion.

Previous commentary:
Jesus Is Arrested

Next commentary:
Pilate Interrogates Jesus

About this commentary:
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.

Bible Gateway Recommendations

Revelation, Crossway Classic
Retail: $17.99
Our Price: $11.99
Save: $6.00 (33%)
The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 9: John - Acts
Retail: $35.99
Our Price: $24.99
Save: $11.00 (31%)
View more titles