Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John 18:19 (Holman) The high priest questioned Jesus about His disciples and about His teaching.
Jesus’ trial before Annas began illegally. By Jewish law, a prisoner could be asked no question by which answering he would incriminate himself. Annas tried to entrap Jesus in an incriminating statement which could be used against Him.
The court had no right to examine a defendant this way, but Annas was desperate. He and the other rulers were trying to find the best way to dispose of Jesus. They had succeeded in arresting Him, but now struggled to find an indictment against Him.
The leaders knew they were going to kill Jesus. The only thing lacking was an appropriate pretext. Annas unwittingly proved his own lack of sufficient evidence by questioning Jesus. If they knew nothing of Jesus’ disciples and doctrine, on what grounds had they arrested Him?
Appropriately, Annas asked about the disciples first. He was more concerned about Jesus’ success than about Jesus’ honesty. Annas wanted to know how large a following Jesus had.
John 18:20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus answered him. “I have always taught in the synagogue and in the temple complex, where all the Jews congregate, and I haven’t spoken anything in secret.”
Jesus drew attention away from His disciples. He protected them to the end. Even in the courtroom, Jesus was still the Good Shepherd.
Annas treated Jesus as if He were a subversive conspirator, but Jesus was no fomenter of rebellion. He had nothing to hide. Christ did not come to begin an exclusive clique or a private club. He was a universal teacher, sent for all people.
Jesus had always been completely open and above-board in all His dealings. This stood in stark contrast to the underhanded secrecy and intrigue of Annas.
John 18:21 “Why do you question Me? Question those who heard what I told them. Look, they know what I said.”
Jesus reminded the court of His legal rights. The case for the prosecution had to be based on credible witnesses. The law demanded a person could be tried only on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
The accusers had to establish their charge against the accused independently of the accused. No one was ever expected to testify against himself. A defendant was not expected to provide material for his prosecutors.
Before we leave this verse, let me point out another illegality in the proceedings. Not only were prosecuting witnesses required. According to Jewish law, defense witnesses had to be called first. The court denied Jesus this right.
John 18:22 When He had said these things, one of the temple police standing by slapped Jesus, saying, “Is this the way you answer the high priest?”
Jesus was absolutely correct in what He said. The High Priest knew it and did not respond. His silence was an awkward acknowledgement to the truth of Jesus’ words.
The argument was unanswerable with words, but when words failed, brute force reared its head. In an effort to protect the High Priest’s honor, a servant took over the conversation, speaking with words and blows.
This was another illegality. A prisoner at the bar could never be struck. It staggers the imagination to think of anyone dealing a blow to God’s Son.
King Croesus had a son who was mute all his life until the siege of Sardis. Seeing a Persian soldier rushing to kill his father, the son suddenly found his voice, and cried, “Man, kill not Croesus!” An explosion of emotion broke the impediment, allowing him to speak for the first time.
When reading of a servant striking God incarnate, and the High Priest offering no rebuke, I feel even the speechless would be compelled to scream out in horror, “Man, strike not Jesus!”
John 18:23 “If I have spoken wrongly,” Jesus answered him, “give evidence about the wrong; but if rightly, why do you hit Me?”
Christ could have responded to the blow with a miracle of wrath. When Henry Martyn was in Persia translating the New Testament, a Christian boy read of this blow to Jesus, and asked, “Sir, did his hand not dry up?”
Jesus could have withered the hand before it dealt the blow, but it did not dry up. Christ responded with love. In the world’s economy, the person who strikes a blow wins the crown. In spiritual combat, the prize goes to those who are struck, but don’t strike back.
Jesus was again speaking of His legal rights. “Give evidence about the wrong.” In other words, where are your witnesses? This was in essence a claim to sinless perfection. Jesus challenged His enemies to find anyone who could bear honest and legitimate testimony against Him, but His enemies could find no one. Contradictory perjurers were the best they could produce.
Jesus truly was God. His perfection was clearly demonstrated by the fact even His enemies could not legitimately defame Him. He never was found guilty of any legitimate crime. His condemnation was judicial murder.
John 18:24 Then Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
No indictment was made, no witnesses called, no guilt proven, but Annas sent Jesus on to Caiaphas rather than release Him. Jesus was tried before the Sanhedrin at night, another illegality.
Jesus went from one cruel judge to another. This father-in-law and son-in-law deserved one another. Both claimed to be lovers and protectors of the law, yet mocked it in their legal proceedings. The trial of Jesus was a judicial travesty.
Details of the trial before Caiaphas are recorded in the other Gospels, but omitted by John. Jesus, summarily found guilty, was immediately sentenced to death. This was another illegality. Jewish law forbade sentencing prisoners on the same day as their trial. The court was to take time for deliberation. Caiaphas moved with unlawful haste, probably fearing an insurrection by the people if he tarried.
Only one thing mattered to the religious leaders: Get rid of Jesus as fast as possible. Obstinate sinners still rush to reject Christ. Repentant sinners rush to receive Him. Which will we do, reject or receive?