A lot can happen in a short amount of time. Just think about the world of technology and how much has transpired in the last century. It is truly amazing. In the 1940’s it was said that there would be a world market for about five computers. Looking at that statement now with tablets, smart phones and computers this is the number found in a single home! A lot can happen in a short amount of time. This is clearly seen in the events that transpire in John 18:1-19:16. In these verses Jesus is arrested, tried and sentenced to crucifixion in the space of a few hours. This is a rapid series of events. As we approach this particular passage, this begins two different kinds of trials. The first is a religious trial (with three phases) and the second is a civil trial (with three phases). One is Jewish and the other is Roman.
John 18:12-27 goes back and forth in recounting what happened to Jesus and Peter during the initial stages of the religious trial. The reader can’t help but notice the stark contrast between Peter and the Lord Jesus Christ. On the one hand we see the failure of Peter and on the other we see the faithfulness of Christ.
After we read about Peter in this passage it is very easy for us to be critical of him. There is a sense in which we should be critical because his behaviour was wrong and unacceptable. However, we need to understand that the actions of Peter in this passage not only record what he did, but they provide us with a portrait of what takes place in our own lives. We are not very different to Peter. We have the same propensity to sin as he did. We might carry out our sin in different ways, but we just like him fail in honouring our Lord regularly.
As we approach this passage, we will follow the sequence provided by John. We will see four scenes contrasting the failure of Peter and the faithfulness of Christ.
1. SCENE 1: THE COURAGE OF CHRIST (18:12-14)
The first scene we are introduced to is the arrest of Jesus and His trial before Annas. John records the occasion as follows,
“So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people” (18:12-14)
Annas was formerly the High Priest of Israel between the years of A.D. 6 to 15. However, Valerius Gratus, Pilate’s predecessor, removed him from this role. At the time of Jesus’ arrest, Annas’ son-in-law was High Priest. It would appear that while Annas and the Sanhedrin get themselves organised for a fast and highly manipulated trial, Jesus is sent to Annas. Another likely reason why He was sent to Annas is because he still carried a lot of clout and authority. As Jesus is brought to Annas, notice that He did not resist arrest and He was bound (18:12). The image of Jesus willingly being bound and led to the place where He will be tried and condemned to crucifixion is reminiscent of Isaac being bound and laid down to be sacrificed (Gen. 22:9).
What do we learn from this first scene? Despite the presence of the large intimidating crowd, the religious leaders and Annas, Jesus courageously submitted Himself to their arrest. Why did He do this? Because He came into the world to do the Father’s will. As horrible and hard as this situation was, it was the means to fulfil the Father’s plan.
2. SCENE 2: THE COMPROMISE OF PETER (18:15-18)
The second scene is very different. We now move out of Annas’ residence and outside into the courtyard. John writes,
“Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in” (18:15-16)
We can’t be certain who the unnamed disciple is, but most agree that it is likely John. The detail given in this account of the arrest and trial goes beyond that of the other gospel writers. It appears to be an eyewitness account. The reason why he didn’t name himself was probably an act of humility so as to not gloat in the fact that he didn’t fail like Peter on this occasion. For reason unknown to us, this disciple was known to the high priest and therefore was granted access to the courtyard (18:15). Seeing that Peter was left at the gate, he spoke to the slave girl and arranged for Peter to come in (18:16). As Peter enters, the girl asked him, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” (18:17a). Remember how Peter said on an earlier occasion, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you” (John 13:27). Here is his chance to show courage for the Lord. Instead, he responded by saying, “I am not” (18:17b). Peter compromised. I’m sure he would have been able to rationalize this. Perhaps he could have said, “I wanted access to see if Jesus was OK” or “it wasn’t too bad because only this young girl heard me lie”. Whatever may have gone through his head, the second scene sadly shows Peter compromising.
John adds, “Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself” (18:18). It was dark and it was cold so it makes sense that there was a fire lit. But you can’t help but notice how Peter’s small act of compromise has led to a description in which he is standing in the company of the ungodly, sinners, and scoffers (cf. Psalm 1:1).
3. SCENE 3: THE CLARITY OF CHRIST (18:19-24)
John now returns to what is happening inside with the interrogation. John writes,
The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret” (18:19-20)
In the midst of this questioning, it is amazing to note the clarity Jesus had in how He responded. When asked about His ministry Jesus did not hesitate to clearly speak that which is true. He of course had nothing to hide. Jesus also had a clear understanding of the law so He asked, “Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said” (18:21). Knowing that in a trial there must be witnesses. This response infuriated one of the officers and he “standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’” (18:22). Of course we could say the same thing to this man! But again, in the midst of harassment and hatred, Jesus responds with clarity by saying, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” (18:23). Refusing to engage, “Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest (18:24).
4. SCENE 4: THE COWARDICE OF PETER (18:25-27)
We now come to the final scene. After reading about the great clarity Jesus had when questioned, John now shows us what Peter is up to outside. Picking up where he left of he says,
“Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants 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?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed” (18:25-27).
A noteworthy point here is that John tells us that these acts of compromise and cowardice took place in front of a “charcoal fire”. Interestingly the word “charcoal” only appears on one other occasion in the New Testament. It is used in John 21:9 describing the charcoal fire Jesus prepared. With this scene created Jesus then privately speaks to Peter and asks him three times, “do you love me?” (21:15-17).
What does this passage of Scripture teach us? We like Peter are sinners and will fail. We are in need to be restored by the Lord. Also, only the Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of our praise. Because He is the eternal Son of God, He was able to face His enemies with courage and conviction. This is why He alone could go to the cross and be punished in our place. He is Lord and there is life in Him alone.
We should thank our Lord for His courage and conviction and we should trust our Lord because He alone has perfect courage and conviction.