18:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.
18:2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples.
18:3 So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons.
18:4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, "Whom are you looking for?"
18:5 They answered, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus replied, "I am he." Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.
18:6 When Jesus said to them, "I am he," they stepped back and fell to the ground.
18:7 Again he asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth."
18:8 Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go."
18:9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, "I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me."
18:10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave's name was Malchus.
18:11 Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?"
18:12 So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him.
18:13 First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.
18:14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.
18:15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest,
18:16 but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in.
18:17 The woman said to Peter, "You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?" He said, "I am not."
18:18 Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.
18:19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching.
18:20 Jesus answered, "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.
18:21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said."
18:22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, "Is that how you answer the high priest?"
18:23 Jesus answered, "If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?"
18:24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
18:25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, "You are not also one of his disciples, are you?" He denied it and said, "I am not."
18:26 One of the slaves 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?"
18:27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.
18:28 Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate's headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover.
18:29 So Pilate went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this man?"
18:30 They answered, "If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you."
18:31 Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law." The Jews replied, "We are not permitted to put anyone to death."
18:32 (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)
18:33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?"
18:34 Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?"
18:35 Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?"
18:36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."
18:37 Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
18:38 Pilate asked him, "What is truth?" After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, "I find no case against him.
18:39 But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?"
18:40 They shouted in reply, "Not this man, but Barabbas!" Now Barabbas was a bandit.
19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.
19:2 And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe.
19:3 They kept coming up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and striking him on the face.
19:4 Pilate went out again and said to them, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him."
19:5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!"
19:6 When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him."
19:7 The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God."
19:8 Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever.
19:9 He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave him no answer.
19:10 Pilate therefore said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?"
19:11 Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin."
19:12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor."
19:13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge's bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha.
19:14 Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, "Here is your King!"
19:15 They cried out, "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but the emperor."
19:16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus;
19:17 and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha.
19:18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.
19:19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
19:20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.
19:21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'"
19:22 Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written."
19:23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top.
19:24 So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it." This was to fulfill what the scripture says, "They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots."
19:25 And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
19:26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son."
19:27 Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
19:28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty."
19:29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.
19:30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
19:31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed.
19:32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him.
19:33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.
19:34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.
19:35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.)
19:36 These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "None of his bones shall be broken."
19:37 And again another passage of scripture says, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced."
19:38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body.
19:39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.
19:40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.
19:41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.
19:42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
In the last few years I have written some Provocations for Good Friday that I still think might be useful. You can find them at these URLs:
My Provocation for this year focuses on a very small bit of a very long scene. The long scene is from John, and it stretches from the arrest in the garden to the burial in the new tomb. The small bit is from chapter 18. Annas has examined Jesus and sent him along to Caiaphas. Caiaphas in turn sends Jesus along to Pilate.
The question is, Why?
Why did the High Priest send Jesus to Pilate? John’s narrative gives us an answer, of sorts. We are told that the Jewish authorities brought Jesus to Pilate because “[they] are not permitted to put anyone to death.” At that point commentators rush to make it clear that they did indeed have that authority. They couldn’t crucify anyone. Rome retained that horrifying right for itself, and used it to prove to the dominated population that Roman cruelty had no limits. Only Rome could torture someone to death on a cross, in public, over the course (usually) of six days, and Rome reserved this particular brutality to demonstrate what would happen to anyone who threatened Roman control. That was also the point of having condemned rebels carry the crossbeam to the place where they would be crucified. It wasn’t a matter of efficient transport. It was to prove to any potential supporters in the crowd that they lacked the courage to rescue their comrade.
The Jewish authorities could not crucify anyone, but they could execute. And the storyteller and any imaginable audience would have known this.
John’s narrative tells the story this way to place blame on the Jewish authorities. It’s time we stopped this. It is time we just stopped.
There is more than one voice telling the story in John’s gospel. I judge the older voices to be the ones that celebrate God’s all-embracing love for the Cosmos. The later voices are angry, vicious even. The later voices attack Jews as “children of [their] father, the devil,” even though the older storyteller had previously told us that these same Jews were faithful to Jesus.
It is time, long past time, that we stopped listening to growling, angry voices, whether in theology or in politics. We stop now.
Why did Caiaphas hand Jesus over to Pilate? He did it because Rome had created the priesthood as what I call the “organ of liaison.” Rome controlled its conquered peoples by identifying the key leadership group in each case and using them to control the population.
So Pilate went to the Chief Priests and made it clear that they were in charge of keeping the peace. Any potential troublemaker was to be handed over to Pilate, and Rome would take it from there.
I imagine that, at the outset, the priests thought of themselves as patriots, and sought to protect Jewish troublemakers from Roman torture. Pilate’s response was simple: he started killing random Jews until the troublemaker was identified and turned over. The Jewish population will have understood what was happening, and will have demanded that the priests turn over the next troublemaker before the round of murders started. And the priests will also have learned their lesson. The next time anyone gave even a hint of causing trouble for Rome, they will have found him and delivered him to Rome’s tender mercies.
Pilate will have publicly thanked the priests, and he will have rewarded them handsomely. The Jewish people will have noticed this reward. When Pilate rewarded them, he made them into rich traitors, and the Jewish public will thus have had two easy reasons to distrust them.
At that point, Pilate will have won. He had created a system that would deliver potential rebels, and he had undermined public trust in the priests.
That’s why Caiaphas turned Jesus over to Pilate. He had been made into the Roman organ of liaison. He had no choice.
If you want to think about the political background of all this, read Domination and the Arts of Resistance by James C. Scott (1990). If you want to think about the historical outcome of this practice, read Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews by Victor Tscherikover (1959).
If you want to think about the human effect of this policy, watch the final episode of M.A.S.H. in which Hawkeye suffers in the aftermath of surviving on a bus surrounded by the enemy. The people on the bus survived because a mother smothered her crying baby. Hawkeye ordered her to silence the child (1983).
Or, if you want to think carefully about the history behind John’s story, read John 18:14 again. This verse refers back to an argument in chapter 11. Jesus is causing an uproar. The members of the Sanhedrin note that if he continues, “the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” Caiaphas responds just as Hawkeye did: “It is better that one person should die….”
He had no choice.