Five Minute Devotions: John 18
As we get into the final hours of Jesus, the plotline of John has slowed to almost show us events in real time. John 1 sets us up from eternity past to the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. Next, John 2 though John 12 gives us three years of Jesus’s public ministry. John 13 takes us within a week of the Crucifixion. John 14 through 17 gives us a lengthy description of the Last Supper. And now, as we turn toward John 18, we slow down to get a step-by-step, blow-by-blow account of Jesus’s journey to the cross.
Trial Before Annas
If there was any doubt that Jesus’s arrest was a farce and his trials a sham, you need look no further than the first place Jesus is taken. Not to the Sanhedrin. Not even to the high priest. But to the high priest’s father-in-law. Annas had been appointed as high priest by the Roman governor Quirinius in A.D. 6. He was later deposed, but retained power through his sons and son-in-law. Caiaphas, in truth, was but a puppet priest for Annas.
And so the first place Jesus is taken is to this shadow priest, this religious Godfather figure whose influence and power have molded the Jewish religious system. The sham trial begins with Annas quizzing Jesus on his theology.
“I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus answered him. “I have always taught in the synagogue and in the temple, where all the Jews congregate, and I haven’t spoken anything in secret. Why do you question me? Question those who heard what I told them. Look, they know what I said.” – John 18:20-21
These are sharp words already, but when taken in context of Jesus’s less-than-subtle comparison between his public ministry and Annas’s cloak-and-dagger, they’re deadly. It’s almost a dare to get Annas into the light. That’s why one of the officials slaps him.
“If I have spoken wrongly,” Jesus answered him, “give evidence about the wrong; but if rightly, why do you hit me?” – John 18:23
Here’s another challenge: Where have I been wrong? Give me evidence. He knows that they don’t have anything. Jesus’s emphasis is on the truth. Tell the truth about my ministry. Tell the truth about what has brought me here. Annas doesn’t take him up on the challenge and ships him off to Caiaphas.
Trial Before Pilate
The trial before Caiaphas is given little attention in John’s Gospel. Just a few verses before we’re told that he is sent to Pilate, a Roman authority. One with the authority to impose the penalty of death. There’s little evidence that Pilate knew much of anything about Jesus before this. It was early morning and this was unexpected for him. He takes Jesus in for an interrogation.
There’s so much that could be said in this back-and-forth. Pilate, trying to ascertain exactly who had been dropped on his doorstep. Jesus, an enigma who was through with word games and figures of speech. Their conversation ends like this:
“You are a king then?” Pilate asked.
“You say that I’m a king,” Jesus replied. “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
“What is truth?” said Pilate. After he had said this, he went out… – John 18:37-38
Jesus is again placing an emphasis on the truth. Do you know the truth, Annas? You’ve said that I’m a king, Pilate. Do you believe that? Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice, so will you listen?
What is truth? Pilate says, and ignores the man who was the answer to his question.
What is Truth?
So many people are asking that question today. What is truth? Does truth matter? Is truth important? To men like Annas, truth was something to be used as a political tool. Wield it if it leads to power. Kill it if it threatens that power. The truth of Jesus had been a threat to some time now, probably ever since he began his ministry in John 2 by upsetting the Annas-run marketplace inside the Temple gates.
To men like Pilate, truth was relative. Truth was whatever Rome told him to do. Truth was whatever quelled the Jewish mob and kept the peace. It was whatever kept him alive. Those in power created truth, and their truth was that Jesus was worthy of death.
Amid the abuses of truth, Jesus reminds us that he stands as the way, the truth, and the life through it all. He reminds us that truth is important—that our faith in him is predicated on fact, on history, and rooted in objective reality. No matter the power structure, he is Lord. Whether it’s the religious abuses of the Jewish leaders or the political abuses of Rome, the kingdom of God will prevail.
Because the truth is that he is a king. But not a king of this world.
Father, lead us into all truth. Help us, like Christ, to stand firm in our own trials and interrogations, to stand before the religious and political powers of this world and present to them the truth—even a truth that they do not like.
At the beginning of John 18, Jesus asks the company of soldiers led by Judas who they are looking for. How does he respond? Why do you think he does this?
What happens to the company of soldiers? And, here’s a good one, how many soldiers are in a company?
What is the importance of truth to our faith? Why do you think Jesus emphasizes the truth so much in his trials?
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