Last week as we began John 18 we saw clear contrasts between Judas’ depravity and Jesus deity, and between Peter’s rage and Jesus’ righteousness. Today the beloved apostle John will set before us yet another contrast, and I’m afraid it is Peter once again being contrasted with Jesus. Throughout His first so called ‘trial’ in v12-27 we see Jesus’ steadfast determination set against the backdrop of Peter’s sorrowful desertion. Three times in 18:1-11 we saw Jesus’ declare His deity in the divine name “I AM.” So too, three times in 18:12-27 we see Peter denying Christ in the words “I am not.” Peter’s denials and desertion are sad to see certainly, but in another sense are they not strangely fitting? Only Jesus is the great I AM; every other human in existence has to at some time in their lives own the badge of our sinful nature ‘I am not.”
We’ve tasted it a bit of what’s before us this morning, but let’s dive into v12-27 to see these things firsthand. As John records these events, for his own purpose in his own gospel, note that v12-27 follow a back and forth pattern. We see Jesus standing firm first and then we quickly move to see feeble Peter second. We then move once again to see Jesus continue to stand firm only to once again see Peter continue to fall short. This back and forth pattern begins in v12-14 where we see…
Jesus Brought to Annas (v12-14)
“So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him. First they led Him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.”
Even after overcoming the band that had come to arrest Him as He stepped forward and declared Himself to be the I AM, they take Jesus into custody, bind Him, and take Him to Annas. Their own laws forbid a night time trial, but do you think they cared? Of course not, they wanted Jesus dealt with before Passover came, and so at once they take Him the kangaroo court begins.One might wonder why they didn’t immediately take Jesus to Caiaphas who, being high priest during this time, should’ve been the one to immediately preside over and judge this whole situation. Well Annas, now an older man, was once high priest in his own day and since then five of his sons had been high priest along with his son-in-law Caiaphas who was the current high priest. That they instantly take Jesus to Annas reveals that Annas was held to be the true authority within the Jewish hierarchy, the head of the family that had given so many high priests throughout the years.
For John, recording the beginning of Jesus’ Jewish trial, brings up a memory of what Caiaphas had previously said. Recall that Jesus had raised dead Lazarus to life and the city was astonished that such a thing occurred. As the Jewish leaders were discussing this it was Caiaphas, in John 11:49-50, who said the following, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” Caiaphas made it clear that his peers have no idea how to see this situation for what it is and that only he has a clear enough insight to see things as they are and give the needed answer.In his wisdom he suggests that they need to kill Jesus in order to save the people. Now be sure to understand that he didn’t mean this in a Christian sense, he meant that they must execute Jesus so that their ‘place’ and ‘nation’ as a whole would continue to exist.But we, and really any reader of John’s gospel can’t help but see more in his words. Caiaphas calls for the execution of Jesus for the purpose of self-preservation, but we see a call for the execution of Jesus for the purpose salvation. Lest we think we’re just reading too much into Caiaphas’ words, John himself gives us the proper interpretation in v51-52, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”
Bring it back to our passage now. John is again reminding us, as readers of his gospel, that much more than meets the eye is going on here. v14 is another reminder that it is Jesus who is controlling His arrest and ultimate death. Even those judging and condemning Jesus are but pawns being prepared by God as tools to pave the way for Jesus’ death.
Shift quickly now from this scene of triumph in the midst of seeming tragedy back to Peter, in v15-18, where we see his first denial.
Peter’s First Denial (v15-18)
“Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.”
As soon as we pick back up with Peter we see he and another unnamed disciple following Jesus. Peter most likely follows Jesus to see the outcome of the arrest. He has boldly and loudly stated how eager and brave he is in his willingness to die for Jesus, so to see him go off after the band that arrested Him is no surprise to us. He isn’t alone, v15 mentions another disciple who was with him, giving us only that this disciple was known by the high priest. Many think this is John because John…rarely refers to himself by name in his own gospel, many historians believe John was a member of the Sanhedrin, and this account clearly reveals details only an eyewitness could give. Other people have suggested Joseph of Arimathea or even Nicodemus, but most settle on John and I agree. So off Peter and John go in v15 and because John was known to the high priest both he and Peter could enter into the courtyard in v16. But on his way into the courtyard the servant girl holding the door seems to think it’s curious that John would vouch for Peter and asks Peter in v17, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” The way she asked the question is curious don’t you think? It first suggests that she knew John was a disciple of Jesus because she expressed a kind of alarm that Peter would also be one too. But more so, her question suggests the answer she is looking for. “You also are notone of this man’s disciples, are you?” Peter sensed this, saw that her question provided a way for him to escape some unwanted attention, so he made a decision and took the path of ease, which he knew deep down was nothing less than the path of sin. John Calvin comments on this saying, “…at the voice of a single maid, and that voice unaccompanied by threatening, Peter is confounded and throws down his arms. Such is a demonstration of the power of man…Do we not also continually tremble at the rustling of a leaf?”Indeed we do.
Don’t miss the closing detail in v18. That we learn there was a charcoal fire is more evidence this is an eyewitness account. The servants, the officers, and Peter were warming themselves by it. Do you feel the pressure Peter is in at this moment? On one hand it would’ve been dangerous for Peter to join them. Some of those present at around the fire were likely up in the garden and saw Peter cut off Malchus’ ear, and by joining this group Peter would be putting himself in a position to be recognized which would then lead to more hard questions being asked. But on the other hand it might have been even more suspicious if Peter didn’t join them on a cold night. If he stayed back and remained secluded perhaps the group would’ve wondered why he wasn’t coming over to join them and then more questions could’ve come up about why he wasn’t joining them. It’s a lose-lose situation. But he was cold, so over to the fire he went.
This was his first denial, and if you quickly glance down you see he does this two more times. To a very real extent, most of us know what this downward trajectory is like. After you do something wrong once it’s far easier to do it again. The battle is always hard fought at first, but if the battle is lost and you give way to sin, the road to repetition becomes well paved. See that here with Peter. This was his first denial, it was wrong for him to do so, and in this moment he resembles Judas more than he’d care to admit. When he comes to this fork in the road again and has to choose once more between what is easy and what is right, you can bet that his answer will come easier and quicker. We’ll see this soon, but for now John jumps back to Jesus in v19-24 where we see…
Jesus Questioned by Annas (v19-24)
“The high priest then questioned Jesus about His disciples and His teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them; they know what I said.” When He had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how You answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike Me?” Annas then sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.”
The first trial from the Jewish authorities begins, v19 says, with Annas questioning Jesus. Historians tell us trials like these were usually very different. The one on trial was held to be absolutely innocent, and not even on trial, until evidence from other witnesses was presented and confirmed.Yet here Annas immediately calls Jesus to account for His disciples and His teaching, clearly revealing to us that they’ve already made up their minds about Jesus. He isn’t being treated as innocent until proven guilty, no, He’s being seen as already guilty until condemned. That Annas wants to know about the disciples first tells us much about his concerns. As the world so often is, it seems Annas is greatly concerned with the number of people following Jesus and not so concerned about the truthfulness of Jesus’ teaching.You’d think being the head of a family that has given numerous high priests to the Jewish people and that he is seen as the chief high priest in the city that he’d be vastly concerned about the nature of Jesus’ teaching, what Jesus is claiming, and what Jesus is doing. But no, he’s more concerned about Jesus’ disciples because if the number were large it isn’t out of bounds to begin worrying about riots and revolution beginning, which would then bring his own position of power into question. For a man in his position it’s understandable but inexcusable.
Well, Jesus responds and though Annas wanted to know about His disciples, Jesus protects His disciples even here by not mentioning anything about them. He says “I have spoken…”, “I have taught…”, and “I have said…” intentionally making Himself the main Person of interest. As He said He would He continues to see to it that He’ll lose none of His own but will truly love them to the end (John 13:1, John 18:9).
Knowing full well what a trial ought to be like before Annas, Jesus is appropriately uncooperative, not giving Annas any information, but in an implicit manner tells Annas to ask those who’ve heard Him instead. He hasn’t been secretive in His teaching or tried to hide His true agenda, His aims have always been well known. And Jesus is correct to do so, because the proper legal protocol for the moment is for Annas to bring witnesses forward to bear witness against Him and because Jesus has spoken so openly and publicly it really shouldn’t be that hard to find witnesses against Him! This clearly wasn’t received well, because we then see in v22 that one of the officers standing nearby came over and slapped Him in the face for speaking like He did to Annas. “Is that how You answer the high priest?” This unnamed officer is angry at the apparent disrespect occurring here. What would you have done? Of all the things someone angry could do to, it’s generally believed that spitting in the face or hitting the face will usually cause an immediate reaction of force. Blood pressure rising, temper begins boiling, adrenaline pumping, would you be able to not react forcefully? The options for how Jesus could’ve responded in this moment are infinite. He could’ve called the angelic hosts to come and destroy His enemies, He could’ve revealed His glory and force His accusers to bow the knee, or He could’ve just left and walked out not allowing this unlawful trial to continue one more second. He was able to do any of these things but what does the Son of God do after being slapped in the face? He says, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike Me?” His question in v23 calls their previous questions in v19 into doubt, because if they think He’s in the wrong why do they not bring out His guilt with witnesses of their own? And if they can’t do that why strike Him? This is a reasonable response to the legal process for such a trial, but both judge and jury here aren’t in their reasonable mind.
Being unable to get anything out of Jesus, Annas sends Him on to a more formal trial presided over by Caiaphas in v24. But before seeing how that trial plays out, John jumps again to Peter in v25-27 where we see his second and third denials.
Peter’s Second and Third Denial’s (v25-27)
“Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of His disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.”
What Peter feared might happen now came about as two more questions to him about whether or not he’s a disciple of Jesus come in quick succession as he’s warming himself by the fire. Each time Peter responds in the negative saying, “I am not.” Matthew’s account of this moment tells us Peter not only denied the accusation both times but adds that he did so in anger with cursing and swearing. And as Jesus said, as soon as his third betrayal came out of his mouth the rooster crowed.
As much as we don’t want to see it, this text teaches us something hideous – the darkness of the human heart.It brings to mind what we all deep down know to be true. Anyone, put in the right circumstance with the right pressure and the right temptations, is capable of vast wickedness. Peter is a vivid example of this truth. He had once so boldly declared that he would lay down his life for Christ’s sake, and here as Jesus is on trial denying nothing about Himself in a steadfast determination, Peter denies Christ in a display of sorrowful desertion. Such is human nature.
But be reminded, Jesus died for people like this. He didn’t die for squeaky clean sinless people, He died for people who betray Him, people like Peter, people like you and me. It was awful that Peter did this, we shouldn’t downplay it at all, but in a sense it was good Peter experienced this. From this point on he would carry this moment in his memory and it always would’ve remind Him of how great sinner he is, and how great a Savior Jesus is. I think this is one of the reasons Peter would later write about the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:19) for sinners like him.
Church, everyone but Jesus will fail you. This shouldn’t make us cynical, it should clarify in Whom we put our hope.
Grant Osborne, John – Verse by Verse (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2018) page 414. For the phrase ‘kangaroo court’ see R.C. Sproul, John – Saint Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Orlando, Florida: Reformation Trust, 2009) page 340.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 749.
Morris, page 567.
D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 422.
Osborne, page 416.
John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Publishing, 2009) 18:199.
Morris, page 754.
William Barclay, quoted in Ibid. page 755, footnote 40.
William Hendriksen, quoted in Ibid., page 755, footnote 41.
R.C. Sproul, John – Saint Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Orlando, Florida: Reformation Trust, 2009) page 345-346.