John’s gospel is the fourth time we have read of Jesus arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection from the dead. As with many other things, John looks at things from a different perspective. After His high priestly prayer Jesus left Jerusalem and crossed the Kidron Valley and entered the garden of Gethsemane. The time that had not yet come through much of John’s gospel was now at hand. Jesus liked the garden and it seems He went there often. John’s full description of the arresting party showed the temple authorities sending Roman soldiers and temple guards. The temple guards made the arrest and the Romans stood by to prevent a riot. The Roman contingent was large enough that they required a commander. There had been many false messiahs and they came anticipating a struggle. Jesus literally identified Himself by the divine name God had revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. When Jesus spoke His name all the temple guards drew back before the Lord and even the Romans fell to the ground before Christ. They submitted to the Lord but didn’t understand what had happened and made the arrest anyway. Twice Jesus used His divine name, I AM. Even in arrest Jesus continued to be a good shepherd, protecting the sheep from danger. The sword Peter drew was more like a long knife and it was generally worn with everyday garments. The slave was named Malchus, which means king. Ironic isn’t it?! But Jesus mission wasn’t to fight for His life, because He came to give it for all of us. Jesus was bound and returned to Jerusalem. First they took Jesus to Annas who had been the high priest and still held much influence. His son in law, Caiaphas was the current high priest. Caiaphas unwittingly spoke of exactly why Jesus had come saying it is better that one man should die for the people. He had said this before. Jesus didn’t come for political salvation but spiritual salvation for all who believe.
Peter and John followed behind the arresting officers and the group of soldiers who were in charge of Jesus. It seems that John had connections though we have no idea why or how. We see a huge contrast here. Three times people asked Peter if he knew Jesus and three times Peter said no. But Jesus stood up to His questioners and denied nothing. The high priest began asking Jesus questions, something that was not done in a Jewish legal trial. It was the job of the priest to gather evidence from witnesses to establish guilt but that did not happen at this trial. However, if Jesus said anything incriminating, Annas would use it later to testify against Jesus at another trial. Caiaphas was trying to follow Roman practice by making Jesus incriminate Himself rather than taking the time to gather evidence as Jewish law demanded. Jesus sharp answer to Annas reminded him that everything Jesus had done was in public and Jesus exposed his attempt to follow Roman practices. One of the temple guards regarded this as insolence and slapped Jesus. But Jesus knew the law and there were no witnesses accusing Him and no evidence was being presented. Annas knew he was done so he sent Jesus to Caiaphas to be prosecuted before the Sanhedrin. The “legal” proceedings against Jesus went all night and it was early in the morning when the trial before Caiaphas ended. But under Roman rule the Jews were not allowed to issue capital punishment orders. They had to enlist the help of Pilate the Roman governor. The Jews did not want to become unclean by even entering Pilates outer courtyard so Pilate came out to meet them because he was fearful of a riot breaking out. The Passover meal had been eaten the night before but this next day another meal began the week long feast of unleavened bread. Pilate was not ignorant of the Jews accusation but he wanted it stated formally. The accusations didn’t warrant a trial before Pilate so he sent the Jews away telling them to judge Jesus themselves. He saw this as a Jewish squabble, but the Jews insisted that a crucifixion was necessary. The Jews would have stoned Jesus to death but Pilate could sentence Jesus to crucifixion, fulfilling prophecy.
Pilate began a formal legal inquiry by asking Jesus if He was the king of the Jews. Jesus’ reply forced Pilate to show the origin of his questions. The temple leadership was behind these charges. Pilates only concern was if Jesus was a rebel who might threaten Roman interests. Jesus was willing to accept the title of king but He made it clear that He didn’t govern an earthly kingdom that might rival Rome. Jesus’ kingship is not of this world. Pilate asked Jesus what truth was but he didn’t wait for an answer, probably because he didn’t think there was one. After questioning Jesus Pilate turned to the Jewish council and gave his verdict…not guilty! He offered amnesty, showing that he wanted to let Jesus go. He was not a threat to Rome and that was all Pilate was concerned about. However, Barabbas was a revolutionary, a violent man who took part in political uprisings. He had a proven capacity to challenge the Roman military occupation of Israel.
Pilate had Jesus flogged, an attempt to show that Jesus had been punished and could be released. But when this failed he passed his sentence and handed Jesus over to the Jewish leaders for crucifixion. It is possible the crown of thorns could have come from the date palm whose thorns sometimes exceed 12 inches. The purple robe probably belonged to a soldier, dark red to complete the picture of mock royalty. After the flogging Jesus would have been bleeding profusely. A second not guilty verdict by Pilate was met by loud calls for Jesus death. But Pilate knew that a riot could occur when a man popular with the masses was executed so he shifted responsibility to crucify Jesus back to the temple leaders. During the trial before Caiaphas the charge of blasphemy, calling Himself the Son of God , was determined to be Jesus’ true crime. Claiming to be God’s Son was not illegal because Israel’s kings did that but Jesus claimed to have the divine authority of God Himself. Pilate was superstitious and the thought of having gods appearing in the world was not uncommon. He sensed that more than a political fight was going on so he asked Jesus where He was from, not the place Jesus lived or was born. Pilate wanted to know if Jesus had descended from heaven. Why Jesus gave no answer is not clear except that perhaps Jesus knew a Pilate would not understand the answer, that true power comes from God and Him alone. Pilate was frustrated. Somehow he knew Jesus was innocent and shouldn’t be charged with a crime. But Jesus wouldn’t talk so Pilate could not help Him. Though Pilate had the power to crucify Jesus it was only because God allowed him to. Every time Pilate had a conversation with Jesus, he looked for a reason to release Him but his efforts were fruitless. Finally Pilate took the governor’s judgement seat to render his verdict and he spoke with the authority of his office. It was the day of preparation, the Friday of the Passover sabbath and people were busy making ready. The celebration would begin at sundown.
The final words of the priests were a condemnation upon themselves. They claimed to have no king but Caesar, a direct contradiction of the Old Testament understanding that God was Israel’s king. Jerusalem and it’s leaders were in the process of killing their true king while paying homage to Caesar, the pagan king of Rome. Pilate turned Jesus over to a Roman garrison who flogged Him a second time. This brought Him very near death. He would have been bleeding profusely, the crown of thorns digging into His scalp, and nearly in shock. Jesus was marched through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha to be crucified. Crucifixions were public executions that took place near major roadways. They were designed to shock and warn people into behaving as Rome wanted. None of the gospel writers dwell on the details of being nailed to the cross because they were well known and horrific. The soldiers used the cross as a means of torture. They wanted the victims to survive for awhile, in some cases days. But because the sabbath was to begin at dusk they expedited Jesus’ crucifixion. It was customary for the Roman soldiers to provide a written public notice of the criminals name and crimes. It may have been Pilate’s final act of revenge against the Jewish high council that he wrote, Jesus of Nazareth king of the Jews on the notice above Jesus’ cross. This was always written in three languages so the whole world could understand. It was common practice for the soldiers to divide up the victim’s possessions. It was one of the only perks of their gruesome job.
This is the only reference to Jesus’ mother’s sister in scripture. She may well have been the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John, which would make them all cousins. If so that would help explain why Jesus assigned John to care for His mother. Calling His mother dear woman was a polite form of address. We also known that the people who were present at the cross that day represented the new community of the church that was born at the cross. Jesus wanted them to care for each other in obedience to His command to love one another. The Hyssop bush was used inEgypt painting the blood of the sacrificial lambs over the door frames of the house so the Angel of death passed over the Jews houses that night. Jesus is God’s passover lamb and His blood also saves. Jesus called out in triumph and exhaustion that He had finished the work He set out to do. On the cross He was not a victim, but a servant doing God’s bidding. The Jewish authorities, anxious to complete the crucifixion before the sabbath began at dusk asked Pilate to break the legs of the men on the crosses. Breaking legs with a mallet was common. It promoted asphyxiation and hemorrhaging because the victim could no longer push himself up to breathe. To confirm Jesus was dead a Roman soldier pierced His side with a spear. This has several levels of meaning. First, the spear probably punctured the sac around Jesus heart and His heart. John might have been thinking of more Passover symbolism in that the Passover lamb’s blood had to flow as it died. And third, the living water flowing from Jesus’ side reminds readers of earlier language that Jesus used to describe Himself.
John was at the foot of the cross. He was not just a collector of traditions about Jesus. He was an eye witness giving an accurate account of the events of Jesus’ life. Jesus was the perfect Passover lamb. According to Luke, Joseph of Arimathea was a courageous man who was waiting for the kingdom of God. He was wealthy and influential, and a member of the high council who had disagreed with the decision to kill Jesus. He asked Pilate for the favor of burying Jesus. Joseph was a secret disciple but this bold deed brought him out in public support of Jesus. Nicodemus was also a member of the high council and he understood the bodies had to be buried before the upcoming sabbath. His public support also indicated that he was probably a disciple of Jesus. Myrrh was a commonly used aromatic powder and aloes were most likely sandalwood which was pungent and would mask the odor of death. Seventy five pounds was an enormous amount, akin to what would be used for royalty. Jesus the king was given a royal burial. Matthew specifies that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph. This too fulfilled prophecy. The two men did as much as they could before the sabbath began. They intended to return to finish what needed to be done.
Mary Magdalene was a devoted follower of Jesus and she too intended to return to the tomb to help finish preparations. She arrived first and the stone was already moved. She assumed someone had stolen Jesus. Stolen bodies were not uncommon occurrences in that day. She went to find Peter and he and John ran to the tomb. What they found was remarkable. The linen wrappings were in the burial bench. Jews also used a facial cloth for burials and they were rolled, wrapped under the chin, and tied on top of the head. This cloth was folded up on the burial bench. John’s inclusion of these details counters any thought that someone stole Jesus body. Thieves would not have been so careful, and because these were costly burial garments they would have been stolen as well. John still didn’t fully understand but he knew God had been at work and he believed. John realized that Jesus was alive. Even though two angels appeared inside the tomb, the mystery of Jesus disappearance wasn’t solved. They knew crying was not an appropriate response but Mary Magdalene didn’t know that. Jesus, who Mary mistook for a Gardner also asked why she was crying. Jesus was trying to provoke Mary’s thinking but she was all about trying to find the body of Jesus. When He called her by name she immediately recognized Him. Mary grabbed onto Jesus as though she would never let go but Jesus explained to her that He could not stay because He needed to ascend to His Father and send the Holy Spirit. Mary Magdalene was the first eyewitness to see the risen Lord. She not only saw Him, but she heard His voice and she touched Him. This incredible privilege was given to a woman, one whose broken life Jesus had healed. This is beyond astounding. In Jewish culture women could not even be a witness in court. No Jew in this period would make up such a story.
The disciples were afraid and hiding behind locked doors. But Jesus came into their presence and wished them peace. This was a standard greeting but this was more. Jesus was offering the Messiah’s peace and delivering the gift of his kingdom. Jesus showed them His hands and feet. He did not feign death. He conquered it. He was not a phantom or ghost but a real man with a real body. He had been dead and now He was alive. God had sent Jesus into the World to establish His kingdom and now Jesus was sending His disciples to carry out His mission. Jesus commissioned the disciples and empowered them with the Holy Spirit. The spirit had not been previously given because Jesus hadn’t been glorified yet. But now He was and He poured out His Spirit on His followers. The ongoing work of Christ’s followers parallels the work of Christ. His followers do not distribute and withdraw God’s forgiveness on a whim, but they follow Jesus’ prompting through the Spirit just as Jesus obeyed His Father. Thomas was absent the first time Jesus appeared and he doubted what the others were telling him about Jesus. He needed concrete proof. Eight days later Jesus appeared again and Thomas was present. This appearance was just like the first and Jesus was intentional in showing Thomas His wounds. He commanded Thomas to believe and Thomas exclaimed My Lord and My God. Jesus responded by pointing to the generations of Christians who, through the testimony of others would and do believe without seeing Jesus in the flesh. Some believe this is the end of John’s gospel and chapter 21 is an appendix. Chapter 20:31 is the reason John wrote; so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.
This final chapter adds an account about the resurrected Jesus in Galilee. Remember He told the disciples He would meet them there. This chapter records the exchange between Jesus and Peter concerning Peter’s love. Several of the disciples had returned to fishing in the Sea of Galilee. This does not mean their faith had weakened. Many rabbis who regularly preached kept practicing their occupations. Fishing was usually successful in the early hours of the morning but not this night. All night out fishing and they caught nothing. Not one fish. Jesus was standing on the beach but no one recognized Him. He told them to cast their net out on the right side of the boat but casting your net at random was futile. They did what the man said. The huge catch was immediate and John’s eyes were opened and he knew the man on the beach was the Lord. Cooked fish and bread were the mainstays of the Galilean diet. The charcoal fire is a reminder of the fire at the scene of Peter’s denials. The catch of fish was huge…153 fish. There is however, no significance to this number. This was now the third time Jesus had appeared.
The three questions and affirmations mirror Peter three denials. The focus of Jesus’ exchange with Peter wasn’t the quality of his love but Peter’s commission to take care of Jesus’ flock. Jesus understood that despite Peter’s terrible failing, he still had faith and commitment to Jesus. These words called Peter to nurture and protect Christ’s followers. In verse 18 Jesus predicts what will happen to Peter. He will stretch out his hands, an indication of crucifixion. Others would dress him, indicating bondage and captivity. Peter’s life became a ministry tending to the flock of God and his a martyrdom was the kind of death that glorifies God. The call to follow meant all the way to suffering and death. Peter’s only task was to follow Jesus. Peter wondered aloud about John’s fate and Jesus told him it wasn’t his concern.
John’s gospel is anchored in his personal experiences. It is not written from hearsay or speculation but from the man who spent life changing years with Jesus. John ends by saying that the story is bigger than anything he can imagine or fully communicate. Though it is glorious to read, John’s account pales in comparison to the glory of the person it describes.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W