Interpretation 18

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  Copyright © 2001 Jeanie C. Crain
Last modified: March, 2002


     Chapter eighteen ends what has been a series of discourses of Jesus with his disciples, this beginning in chapter thirteen.  Chapter eighteen places Jesus and his disciples as going across the Kidron Valley to a garden, this garden identified in Matthew 26.36 and Mark13.32 as Gethsemane.

   18:1 When he had said these things, Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley. There was an orchard there, and he and his disciples went into it.

Action moves quickly in this chapter in the direction of the grand finale. Betrayed by Judas; Jesus is twice asked whether he is Jesus of Nazareth to which he replies yes. Peter cuts off the ear of one of the guards. Jesus is taken before Annas, father-in-law of Caiphas, and Caiphas, the high priest. Simon and another disciple, probably John, follow Jesus. Because the high priest knows the unnamed disciple, he gains entry to  the court and succeeds in getting Simon Peter admitted. Peter, in the interlude, has been asked by the maid admitting him whether he, too, is one of the followers of Jesus.  Peter denies it. Later, warming himself with others around a charcoal fire, he again denies Jesus. And finally, when one of the servants of the high priest, kinsman of the man whose ear Peter cut off, asks whether he is one of the followers, Peter denies for the third time, this denial greeted by the crowing of a cock early in the morning. Questioned about his disciples and about his teaching, Jesus replies that he has always taught openly, and if they want to know what he has said, they should ask those who heard. Jesus is struck for his answer. Because Jewish law will not allow them to put a Jew to death (although apparently the Jews did not hold to this strictly), they take Jesus to Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus if he is king of the Jews, and Jesus asks Pilate whether the question comes of his own accord or whether he has been motivated by the urgings of others. Pilate shrugs away the question: “Am I a Jew?” The effect of this would seem to be “How would I know?” Jesus then answers Pilate directly, telling him that his kingship is not of this present world. Pilate probes further: “Are you a king?” and Jesus tells him you have said it. Jesus then tells Pilate that his purpose for having been born is his present destiny and that his life has been lived to bear witness to truth. Jesus also tells Pilate that those who are of the truth hear his voice. How far short Pilate falls reveals itself in his cynical question: “What is truth?” The chapter ends with Pilate’s releasing Barrabas, a robber.  The irony is that Pilate has already acknowledged that Jesus is guilty of no evil, and yet he releases one condemned for just this.

  In exploring chapter eighteen, one can best understand events  by beginning at the end of the chapter: Jesus is brought from Caiphas' to Pilate's residence in the early morning. Pilate comes outside and wants to know what accusation is being brought against Jesus:

18:28 Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the Roman governor’s residence. (Now it was very early morning.) They did not go into the governor’s residence so they would not be ceremonially defiled, but could eat the Passover meal. 18:29 So Pilate came outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 18:30 They replied, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”

The religious leaders expect  Pilate simply to go along with their pre-trial, for they tell Pilate they are not bringing to him a criminal. Pilate quickly reveals he is not interested in internal, religious dispute. He should do his job: keep civil order. Pilates tells them to pass judgment on Jesus themselves:

18:31 Pilate told them,\ “Take him yourselves and pass judgment on him according to your own law!” The Jewish religious leaders replied, “We cannot legally put anyone to death.” 18:32 (This happened to fulfill the word Jesus had spoken when he indicated what kind of death he was going to die.

The religious leaders contend they cannot "legally put anyone to death," a contention debated by religious scholars:

The historical background behind the statement We cannot legally put anyone to death is difficult to reconstruct. Scholars are divided over whether this statement in the Fourth Gospel accurately reflects the judicial situation between the Jewish authorities and the Romans in 1st century Palestine. It appears that the Roman governor may have given the Jews the power of capital punishment for specific offenses, some of them religious (the death penalty for Gentiles caught trespassing in the inner courts of the temple, for example). It is also pointed out that the Jewish authorities did carry out a number of executions, some of them specifically pertaining to Christians (Stephen, according to Acts 7:58-60; and James the Just, who was stoned in the 60s according to Josephus, Ant. 20.9.1 [20.200]). But Stephen’s death may be explained as a result of “mob violence” rather than a formal execution, and as Josephus in the above account goes on to point out, James was executed in the period between two Roman governors, and the high priest at the time was subsequently punished for the action. Two studies by A. N. Sherwin-White (Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, 1-47; and “The Trial of Christ,” Historicity and Chronology in the New Testament, 97-116) have tended to support the accuracy of John’s account. He concluded that the Romans kept very close control of the death penalty for fear that in the hands of rebellious locals such power could be used to eliminate factions favorable or useful to Rome. A province as troublesome as Judea would not have been likely to be made an exception to this. Net Bible

Pilate himself then questions Jesus to the effect of asking him whether he is king of the Jews, showing again that Pilate is concerned about rebellion and upheaval to the throne.  That Jesus asks Pilate whether the question comes of his own initiative reveals again a lack of personal interest in Pilate's question. Pilate points out to Jesus that his own people have handed him over and wants to know what he has done:

18:33 So Pilate went back into the governor’s residence, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 18:34 Jesus replied, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or have others told you about me?” 18:35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own people and your chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”

The reader should not be surprised that Jesus' answer points to a spiritual kingdom rather than an earthly kingdom:

18:36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But as it is,\ my kingdom is not from here.” 18:37 Then Pilate said, “So you are a king!” Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world—to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. 18:38 Pilate asked, “What is truth?”

When Jesus tells Pilate his life has been lived for one purpose, to testify to the truth of the kingdom that is not of this world, to tell the truth, Pilate can only ask, "What is truth?"

When he had said this he went back outside to the Jewish religious leaders and announced, “I find no basis for an accusation against him. 18:39 But it is your custom that I release one prisoner for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?” 18:40 Then they shouted back, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” (Now Barabbas was a  revolutionary.)

Jesus’ explains that his purpose effects a non-earthly kingdom, that this is the very purpose for which he was born, and that his witness has been to truth is entirely missed by Pilate. The injustice of worldly kingdoms is revealed in Pilate’s concession to the crowd to release Barabbas, a robber, when they had a choice of releasing the innocent or the guilty. The Net Bible explains the irony of the release of Barabbas:

For the author this name held ironic significance: the crowd was asking for the release of a man called Barabbas, “son of the father,” while Jesus, who was truly the Son of the Father, was condemned to die instead.

Worldly injustice is further contrasted to the completely just judgments of Jesus; of those given to Jesus, he has lost not one. In this chapter, though, the world has lost one committed to its salvation and released one guilty of crime against it. 9 “This was to fulfill the word which he had spoken, "Of those whom thou gavest me I lost not one." Yet another point to be made is Jesus’ request that his disciples be released:  8 Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he; so, if you seek me, let these men go." Consider, too, similar verses:

6:39 Now this is the will of the one who sent me: that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day.

17:11 I  am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one.17:12 When I was with them I kept them safe and watched over them in your name that you have given me. Not one of  them was lost except the one destined for destruction, so that the scripture could be fulfilled.

For individuals wrestling still with the identity of Jesus, God or man, these verses should be read carefully and prayerfully.  Jesus clearly understands his destiny as union with God. His vision is unity or one-ness with God. As Jesus himself declares it, this fulfills the purpose for his having been born.

            As pointed out in the Net Bible Notes, Jesus’ identity to those who came to arrest him, while simply on the surface affirming him as Jesus of Nazareth, anchors to a scriptural connotation suggesting much more:

18:6) When Jesus said to those who came to arrest him "I am," they retreated and fell to the ground . L. Morris says that "it is possible that those in front recoiled from Jesus' unexpected advance, so that they bumped those behind them, causing them to stumble and fall" (John [NICNT], 743-44). Perhaps this is what in fact happened on the scene; but the theological significance given to this event by the author implies that more is involved. The reaction on the part of those who came to arrest Jesus comes in response to his affirmation that he is indeed the one they are seeking, Jesus the Nazarene. But Jesus makes this affirmation of his identity using a formula which the reader has encountered before in the Fourth Gospel, e.g., 8:24, 28, 58. Jesus has applied to himself the divine Name of Exod 3:14, "I AM." Therefore this amounts to something of a theophany which causes even his enemies to recoil and prostrate themselves, so that Jesus has to ask a second time, "Who are you looking for?" This is a vivid reminder to the reader of the Gospel that even in this dark hour, Jesus holds ultimate power over his enemies and the powers of darkness, because he is the one who bears the divine Name.

It may be helpful to re-read these references:

8:24 Thus I told you52 that you will die in your sins. For unless you believe that I am the Christ,53 you will die in your sins."

8:28 Then Jesus said,60 "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he,61 and I do nothing on my own initiative,62 but I speak just what the Father taught me.63

8:58 Jesus said to them, "I tell you the solemn truth,155 before Abraham came into existence,156 I am!"157

3:14 So God said to Moses, "I AM that I AM."47

 Still another note may be useful in support of Jesus’ intended meaning in replying “I am.” Consider again Notes from the Net Bible regarding the Divine Name:

47tn (3:14) The verb form used here is hy\h=a# (`ehyeh), the Qal imperfect, 1csg, of the verb "to be," hyh (haya ). It forms an excellent paronomasia with the name. So when God used the verb to express his name, he used this form saying, "I
AM." When his people refer to him as Yahweh, which is the 3msg form of the same verb, it actually means "he is." Some commentators argue for a future tense translation, "I will be who I will be," because the verb has an active quality about it, and the Israelites lived in the light of the promises for the future. They argue that "I AM" would be of little help to the Israelites in bondage. But a translation of "I will be" does not effectively do much more except restrict it to the future. The idea of the verb would certainly indicate that God is not bound by time, and while he is present ("I AM") he will always be present, even in the future, and so the verb would embrace that as well. Besides, the prophetic writers often give the significance of the names with the use of timeless pronouns--"I [am] he, there is no one else" (see Isa 44:6 and 45:5-7, et al). The Greek translation used a participle to capture the idea; and several times in the Gospels Jesus used the powerful "I am" with this OT significance. The simplest meaning is the English present tense, which embraces the future promises. The point is that Yahweh is sovereignly independent of all creation and that his presence guarantees the fulfillment of the covenant. Others argue for a causative Hiphil translation of "I will cause to be," but nowhere in the Bible does this verb appear in Hiphil or Piel. For a full discussion there are a number of works available. A good summary of the views can be found in G. H. Park-Taylor, hwhy , Yahweh, the Divine Name in the Bible (Waterloo, Ontario, 1975). See among the many articles: B. Beitzel, "Exodus 3:14 and the Divine Name: A Case of Biblical Paronomasia," TJ 1 (1980): 5-20; C. D. Isbell, "The Divine Name ehyeh as a Symbol of Presence in Israelite Tradition," HAR 2 (1978): 101-18; J. G. Janzen, "What's in a Name? Yahweh in Exodus 3 and the Wider Biblical Context," Int 33 (1979): 227-39; J. R. Lundbom, "God's Use of the Idem per idem to Terminate Debate," HTR 71 (1978): 193-201; A. R. Millard, "Yw and Yhw Names," VT 30 (1980): 208-12; and R. Youngblood, "A New Occurrence of the Divine Name `I AM,'" JETS 15 (1972): 144-52.

Is there still room at the end of John 18 to reply, “What is truth”?  The reader should understand the questions asked by Pilate and the answers provided by Jesus. Jesus fully revealed is Truth:

The Questions: 
  1. Are you the king of the Jews?
  2. What have you done?
  3. What is truth? 9Pilate, who has asked this question of Truth, does not stay for the answer. Herein resides an answer already revealed in John 14: 14:6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.14 No one comes to the Father except through me. 14:7 If you have known me, you will know my Father too.15 And from now on you do know him and have seen him.”

The Answers:

  1. Do you ask for yourself or others?

    Pilate's reply: No, I'm not a Jew, and yes, I ask on behalf of your own people.

  2. You say I am a king. It is as you say, for I have come to bear witness to the truth.

(For a fuller study of this, see Pilate's questions and commentary by Matthew Henry.)

            Much of Jesus' discourse with his disciples has occurred  in the upper room, although possibly some occurred enroute. In this chapter, having said these things, he goes out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley. In Matthew 26.36 and Mark 14.32, this garden is identified as Gethsemane. The garden is, however, far from peaceful for this time of Jesus' glorification, for we learn that Judas has brought a squad of soldiers:

18:2 (Now Judas, the one who betrayed him, knew the place too, because Jesus had met there many times with his disciples.) 18:3 So Judas obtained a squad of soldiers and some officers of the chief priests and Pharisees. They came to the orchard with lanterns and torches and weapons.

Judas knows where Jesus will be, for Jesus has been there many times with his disciples. The Intervarsity Commentary provides evidence to suggest John alludes to the betrayal of David by Ahithophel, the only person in Scripture apart from Judas who does so:

Jesus and his disciples go out of the city to the east, crossing the Kidron, which John refers to as a wadi (Valley, NIV; cheimarros, literally, "winter-flowing," since winter is the rainy season). This same word is used of the Kidron in the account of David's flight from Absalom (2 Sam 15:23 LXX), and John may well be alluding to that story (Westcott 1908:2:264; Brown 1994:1:125, 291). David was betrayed by his counselor Ahithophel, who later hangs himself (2 Sam 17:23), the only person in Scripture apart from Judas who does so. Thus David's sorrow and humiliation may be echoed in Jesus', though in Jesus' case he is actually in control, and this humiliation is part of his great victory (Hendriksen 1953:376, 383).

How many soldiers are actually present we do not know; a full squad would be about six hundred. We do know that, most likely, these soldiers answer to the command of the Roman prefect, Pilate. They come with some officers of the chief priest and Pharisees, who have made known to Pilate that Jesus has claimed to be the messiah, King of the Jews.  The Intervarsity Commentary makes the point: "John will make it clear that both Jew and Gentile are guilty of the death of the Son of God. Jesus is about to die for the life of the world, and the whole world needs it"  The soldiers come into the orchard with lanterns and torches and weapons. It is night; the darkness has come. The pace quickens with Jesus, who once again knows everything, asking the priests, Pharisees, and soldiers among whom Judas stands whom they are looking for, knowing it before they ask, and confessing simply, I am he; he identifies himself as Jesus, the Nazarene:

18:4 Then Jesus, because he knew everything that was going to happen to him, came and asked them, “Who are you looking for?” 18:5 They replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He told them, “I am he.” (Now Judas, the one who betrayed him, was standing there with them.) 18:6 So when Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they retreated and fell to the ground. 18:7 Then Jesus asked them again, “Who are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” 18:8 Jesus replied, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, let these men go.” 18:9 He said this to fulfill the word he had spoken, “I have not lost a single one of those whom you gave me.”

The Intervarsity Commentary explains the significance of this self-identification:

John does not mention Judas's kiss, which would have taken place just before or after Jesus' question. Judas here takes his place with those who have come out against Jesus (v. 5). The awkward statement that tells us where Judas is, which the NIV puts in parentheses, is an eyewitness detail branded into John's memory. We sense his shock at seeing Judas with them. John's continual reference to Judas as the betrayer all stems from this event. John makes it clear that Judas is not the revealer but rather that Jesus will identify himself. Enemies had not been able to lay their hands on Jesus before (7:30, 44-45; 8:59; 10:39; 12:36), and it is not Judas's presence that now brings success. Rather, it is now the Father's will.

The reader will recall that once previously, the religious officers have unsuccessfully attempted to arrest Jesus, one reason they may have brought with them this time the soldiers (John 7.32). When Jesus identifies himself, those before him retreat and fall to the ground. To understand this reaction, one must emphasize the identity chosen by Jesus, I am; the Net Bible explains:

But Jesus makes this affirmation of his identity using a formula which the reader has encountered before in the Fourth Gospel, e.g., 8:24, 28, 58. Jesus has applied to himself the divine Name of Exod 3:14, “I AM.” Therefore this amounts to something of a theophany which causes even his enemies to recoil and prostrate themselves, so that Jesus has to ask a second time, “Who are you looking for?” This is a vivid reminder to the reader of the Gospel that even in this dark hour, Jesus holds ultimate power over his enemies and the powers of darkness, because he is the one who bears the divine Name.

Jesus himself juxtaposes his humble Nazareth and human origin to the name most exalted and divine:

They say they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, and Jesus responds, I am he (v. 5, ego eimi ). Here the most humble and human of Jesus' names is juxtaposed with the most exalted and divine. The two together are the cross hairs that target Jesus' identity: he is the human being from an insignificant, small town in Galilee who is also God. Jesus' self-identification has been at the heart of this Gospel, and this public act of identification produces dramatic effects. When he uses the divine I AM they drew back and fell to the ground (v. 6). People falling to the ground in the presence of God are mentioned elsewhere (for example, Ezek 1:28; Dan 10:9; Rev 1:17), but here the ones falling are his enemies rather than his worshipers. This reaction is closer to that of Pharaoh, who fell down as though dead when Moses said the name of God, as told by Artapanus, a pre-Christian Jewish apologist (Eusebius Preparation for the Gospel 9.27; Talbert 1992:233). This reaction is a reflection not of their hearts, but of Jesus' majesty. Here is a little preview of the moment in the future when every knee will bow to Jesus (Phil 2:10) and all things be brought into subjection to him (1 Cor 15:27; Phil 3:21), even those who do not own allegiance to him and thus for whom this submission is hell.

Jesus once again asks them (18) for whom they're looking, the always personal question to recognize the Son of God:

Jesus puts the question to them again (v. 7). The impression given by this passage is that they have been completely neutralized and that he must allow the events to proceed and give them permission to take him (cf. Talbert 1992:234). Amazingly, they answer the same as before: Jesus of Nazareth. They have just experienced the numinous, and it has not spoken to them at all. They are just doing their job, like those sent to investigate John the Baptist at the beginning of the Gospel (1:19-27). This repetition of the question "Whom do you seek?" emphasizes its importance, for it focuses on Jesus. It is also a question that searches the soul.

     Also important to the arrest scene, and perhaps easily overlooked, Jesus protects his disciples: "If you are looking for me, let these men go." 

Jesus repeats the I AM but now allows the proceedings to continue by telling them to let his followers go (aphete, an imperative). He issues orders to those arresting him! Their power has just been shown to be insignificant compared to the power of his word, and now the fulfillment of his word is the operative force, not their designs (v. 9). The formula used to speak of the fulfillment of Scriptures from the Old Testament is now used of Jesus' own words. The Word himself, who created all that exists, has spoken of his protection for those the Father has given him (6:39; cf. 10:28; 17:12), and now he fulfills that word. The protection Jesus spoke of earlier referred to eternal salvation, and now we see that such protection includes occasions of temptation that threaten to overwhelm the disciples' faith (cf. Bultmann 1971:640). Here is Jesus as the Good Shepherd caring for his flock, a glimpse of the grace that is at work throughout the Passion as it has been throughout the ministry.

Impulsively,  Simon Peter cuts off the right ear of Marchus, the high priest's slave (identified only by John), and is reprimanded by Jesus, who tells him to put the sword away; Jesus' self-chosen destiny requires him "to drink the cup the Father has given me":

18:10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, pulled it out and struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his right ear. (Now the slave’s name was Malchus.) 18:11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath! Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Peter " is not at all in sync with God's will, and this isn't the first time he is out of step (cf. 13:6-9; Mt 16:22-23 par. Mk 8:32-33). Jesus says, Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me? (v. 11). Jesus is willing to receive all that the Father gives him, both the disciples (v. 9) and the suffering"

     The Net Bible explains that only the Gospel of John mentions the pre-trial hearing, identifies Annas as the father-in-law of Caiaphas, said to be high priest that year:

sn Jesus was taken first to Annas. Only the Gospel of John mentions this pre-trial hearing before Annas, and that Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who is said to be high priest in that year. Caiaphas is also mentioned as being high priest in John 11:49. But in 18:15, 16, 19, and 22 Annas is called high priest. Annas is also referred to as high priest by Luke in Acts 4:6. Many scholars have dismissed these references as mistakes on the part of both Luke and John, but as mentioned above, John 11:49 and 18:13 indicate that John knew that Caiaphas was high priest in the year that Jesus was crucified. This has led others to suggest that Annas and Caiaphas shared the high priesthood, but there is no historical evidence to support this view. Annas had been high priest from a.d. 6 to a.d. 15 when he was deposed by the Roman prefect Valerius Gratus (according to Josephus, Ant. 18.2.2 [18.34]). His five sons all eventually became high priests. The family was noted for its greed, wealth and power. There are a number of ways the references in both Luke and John to Annas being high priest may be explained. Some Jews may have refused to recognize the changes in high priests effected by the Roman authorities, since according to the Torah the high priesthood was a lifetime office (Num 25:13). Another possibility is that it was simply customary to retain the title after a person had left the office as a courtesy, much as retired ambassadors are referred to as “Mr. Ambassador” or ex-presidents as “Mr. President.” Finally, the use of the title by Luke and John may simply be a reflection of the real power behind the high priesthood of the time: although Annas no longer technically held the office, he may well have managed to control those relatives of his who did hold it from behind the scenes. In fact this seems most probable and would also explain why Jesus was brought to him immediately after his arrest for a sort of “pre-trial hearing” before being sent on to the entire Sanhedrin.

John steps back from the trial to explain that Peter and another disciple have followed Jesus (15). The other disciple was known by the high priest and goes into the courtyard; Peter stands outside the gate (16). The other disciple goes outside to a woman who is guarding the gate and brings Peter in (17).  When the woman asks Peter if he is one of the man's disciples, Peter denies he is.  Later, he is found warming himself with the slaves and the police. From this framing of the trial, John moves back into what is happening to Jesus.

      Questioned by Annas about his teaching, Jesus replies that he has spoken publicly and taught in the synagogues and in the temple courts. Jesus invokes the witness of those who have heard and tells Annas to ask them what he has said, an answer taken as impertinence on the part of an officer, who strikes him in the face. The other disciple goes outside to a woman who is guarding the gate and brings Peter in (17). When the woman asks Peter if he is one of the man's disciples, Peter denies he is. Later, he is found warming himself with the slaves and the police. From this framing of the trial, John moves back into what is happening to Jesus.

:19 While this was happening,he high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching.18:20 Jesus replied,“I have spoken publicly to the world. I always taught in the synagogues and in the temple courts, where all the Jewish people assemble together. I have said nothing in secret. 18:21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said. They know what I said.” 18:22 When Jesus had said this, one of the high priest’s officers who stood nearby struck him on the face and said, “Is that the way you answer the high priest?” 18:23 Jesus replied, “If I have said something wrong, confirm what is wrong. But if I spoke correctly, why strike me?” 18:24 Then Annas sent him, still tied up, to Caiaphas the high priest.

Interestingly, Annas reveals a lack of interest in the teaching of Jesus, being more interested in his disciples (19). The emphasis here is upon what kind of following Jesus has attracted. The reader should recall the role of Annas earlier in a meeting in the Sanhedrin:

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.

Once again, John very clearly emphasizes the full revelation of Jesus in his death.

    Attention next shifts back to Peter; he denies Jesus a second and third time. Whereas Jesus has identified himself as "I am," Peter identifies himself as "I am not," consistent with John's distinction between God's eternal kingdom and the human and temporal. Of course, as Jesus' disciple, Peter's denial reflects the vulnerability of God's children to deny God under adverse circumstances:

18:25 Meanwhile Simon Peter was standing in the courtyard warming himself. They said to him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?” Peter denied it: “I am not!” 18:26 One of the high priest’s slaves, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the orchard with him?” 18:27 Then Peter denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed.

It may be useful to recall other references to Peter's denial; the Net Bible details these:

No indication is given of Peter’s emotional state at this third denial (as in Matt 26:74 and Mark 14:71) or that he remembered that Jesus had foretold the denials (Matt 26:75, Mark 14:72 and Luke 22:61), or the bitter remorse Peter felt afterwards (Matt 26:75, Mark 14:72, and Luke 22:62). Immediately after Peter’s third denial a rooster crowed. It seems most likely that this refers to a real cockcrow, although a number of scholars have suggested that this is a technical term referring to the trumpet call which ended the third watch of the night (from midnight to 3 a.m.). This would then be a reference to the Roman gallicinium (ajlektorofwniva, alektorofonia; the term is used in Matt 26:34; Mark 13:35) which would have been sounded at 3 a.m.; in this case Jesus would have prophesied a precise time by which the denials would have taken place. For more details see J. H. Bernard, St. John (ICC), 2:604. In any event natural cockcrow would have occurred at approximately 3 a.m. in Palestine at this time of year (March-April) anyway.

What happened on this particular night? Alfred Edersheim offers an insight into Peter’s behavior based on Luke:

 But in that night they understood none of these things. While all were staggering under the blow of their predicted scattering, the Lord seems to have turned to Peter individually. What he said, and how He put it, equally demand our attention: 'Simon, Simon' [d St. Luke xxii. 31.] using His old name when referring to the old man in him, 'Satan has obtained [out-asked,] you, for the purpose of sifting like as wheat. But I have made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not.' The words admit us into two mysteries of heaven. This night seems to have been 'the power of darkness', when, left of God, Christ had to meet by himself the whole assault of hell, and to conquer in His own strength as Man's Substitute and Representative. It is a great mystery: but quite consistent with itself. We do not, as others, here see any analogy to the permission given to Satan in the opening chapter of the Book of Job, always supposing that this embodies a real, not an allegorical story.

 But in that night the fierce wind of hell was allowed to sweep unbroken over the Saviour, and even to expend its fury upon those that stood behind in His Shelter. Satan had 'out-asked, obtained it, yet not to destroy, nor to cast down, but 'to sift,' like as wheat [It is very probable that the basis of the figure is Amos ix. 9.] is shaken in a sieve to cast out of it what is not grain. Hitherto, and no farther, had Satan obtained it. In that night of Christ's Agony and loneliness, of the utmost conflict between Christ and Satan, this seems almost a necessary element. (Life and Times, Chapter 12)

John clearly uses both the old name, Simon, and the new name, Peter. Much depends on the translation the reader is using with respect to Edersheim’s above interpretation. Tension certainly always exists between the very broad continuum of literal to allegorical. Within my own writing, defining symbol to be layered as deeply as numbers and the alphabet, I sometimes move positively in the direction of allegory only to have the pendulum swing in the direction of literal. What is certain here is that Simon (Peter), a disciple of Jesus, betrayed him; what is symbolic is that followers of Jesus, from Peter (Simon) until present, observe this tension of earthly and heavenly within themselves and move often more concertedly towards one or the other.

    One final observation makes significant John's distinct departures from the other gospels. In John, Peter's denials take place in Annas' courtyard, not Caiaphas'. In the Synoptics, the denial occurs with the Sanhedrin while in John, the denial comes with the meeting with Annas. In John, too, we have only two denials. If John structured his gospel as carefully as I have argued, difference should exist for a reason. I tend to agree with the Intervarsity Commentary that John writes dramatically and that it makes sense to juxtapose Peter's denials to Jesus' affirmation of his identity and that Peter serves as a foil to Jesus:

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.