Saturday, April 16, 2011

John 18:12-27 The Faithful Witness

In Jn 18:12 Jesus is arrested, by the cohort, the centurion, and the officials of the Jews. Calvin against gets things dead right when he comments, “Let us remember that the body of the Son of God was bound in order that our souls might be set free from the bonds of sin and Satan.” They lead Jesus first to Annas. Annas, father-in-law of Caiaphas, had held the high-priesthood between 6-15AD, when he was deposed by the Romans. As many considered it illegal to remove a high priest from office, he was considered by some to still be the high-priest. Nonetheless, the deposition had not halted Annas in his patriarchal power: five of his sons held the position, and at this time Caiaphas his son-in-law did (he held it from 18-36AD when he lost it at the same as Pilate was removed from power. Annas then is really the godfather to the Temple-mafia. And so it is to Annas that Jesus goes first. Yet, the mention of Caiaphas leads John to reflect upon Caiaphas’s earlier comment, in Jn 11:49-52, about the expediency of Jesus dying for the people. In Jn 11 John narrates this as unwitting prophecy, and its reintroduction here serves to highlight the theological dimension of Jesus’ death. It is substitutionary, one man for the people, the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Pet 3:18).

Jn 18:15 depicts Jesus being accompanied, or better ‘followed’, by Simon Peter and ‘another disciple’; the text remains silent about his identity, though he is both commented on and depicted as being intimately familiar with the household of the high priest. This does not rule out John the apostle, but certainty is impossible. The high priest here is Annas, not Caiaphas (cf 18:24). Peter’s unfamiliarity to the high priestly household is, naturally, a reason for his inability to gain entry, thus necessitating that the other disciple return to the door to secure his entry. The presence of a girl on the door suggests that this property does not lie in the temple precinct, thus further corroborating that we are not dealing with Caiaphas’ household.

The fateful question of v17 then comes from an unexpected quarter. Peter, so bold recently with the sword in the garden to lay down his life for Jesus, now finds himself unable to confess him. The question invites a negative answer, or else has a slight tone of scorn. Pressed by the simple question of a slave girl, Peter stumbles, and declare “I am not”. The three denials of Peter will echo in contrast to the three-fold affirmation of Jesus, “I am.”

The focus of the narrative shifts for a moment to details, again reinforcing the impression of eye-witness testimony. John records that the slaves and officials stood around, having made a charcoal-fire, due to the cold. The mention of Peter standing with them subtly alludes back to v5 where Judas stands with Jesus’ enemies – so now Peter.

However the author’s main focus lies further inside the household compound, where the high-priest (Annas) interrogates Jesus on two topics: his disciples and his teaching. Concerning the former, Jesus has been situated as a possible revolutionary figure, and his populism may have lead to suspiciions that he has numerous, possibly armed and trained, followers. Jesus replies nothing on this account. As to the second topic, Jesus’ teaching has been likewise popularly received, yet it does not derive nor have a great deal in common with the mainline teachings of the Sadducees or Pharisees.

Jesus answers with shrewdness. He says nothing about his disciples, once more defending his flock. Instead he concentrates on the identity relation between his outward, public teaching and his private instruction of disciples. In Jesus’ defence there is no dichotomy – his public teaching is his private teaching, and thus if they desired to know the content of his teaching, there were any number of witnesses who could attest this. The truthfulness of Jesus echoes Isa 45:19 and Isa 48:16, the truthful declarations of God. It also represents a dig at the proceedings. While it is doubtful that this initial trial could be considered a legal trial, and so their deviations technically illegal (whether they were technical illegalities or not), Jesus highlights the exceeding irregularity of the proceedings. No witnesses are called, the defendant is interrogated, and Annas is not the reigning high priest.

Jesus’ seeming insolence is taken as an afront by one of the officials present (v22) and occasions a blow and a rebuke. While the insinuation is that Jesus has violated Exodus 22:28, the violation actually belongs to his assailant, who has illegally struck the prisoner. An allusion to Isa 50:6 LXX is also present. Jesus’ response in Jn 18:23 again raises questions, challenging the abuse he receives. Indeed, he has not violated Ex 22:28, or in fact any law, and so merely inquires what charge they have, and requests that they testify to it. The intractability of the innocent Jesus at last moves Annas to send Jesus on (v24) to Caiaphas, who no doubt has been convening the members of the Sanhedrin for the night trial.

Meanwhile the narrative returns to Simon Peter, standing and warming himself (v25). He is asked a second time whether he is a disciple of Jesus, and denies again, “I am not.” The third questioning is quite dramatic and pointed, a relative of Malchus, who has lost the ear(lobe), asks Peter, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” (v26). Here is a confronting question, and Peter now cowers before his questioners, in stark contrast to Jesus before his. The restrained account of John conludes this vignette with the crowing of the rooster.

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