John’s Gospel: Chapter 18:12-27 (“and at once a rooster crowed”)

(John 18:12-14 ESV)  12 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him.  13 First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.

John writes as though we’re supposed to know why it matters that Annas is the father-in-law of Caiaphas, but we don’t. There’s just a lot about the First Century Sanhedrin we don’t know.

Caiaphas, as high priest, was the chairman of the Sanhedrin, a council of 70 elders of the Jews that served as the governing body of Jerusalem — rather like a religious city council.

Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great) had been appointed “king of the Jews” by Caesar, but the Romans allowed the Jews to be self-governing on certain matters. We don’t know just what the jurisdictional lines were, except we do know that the Jews could not impose the death penalty without Rome’s acquiescence.

Evidently, Annas lived near Gethsemane, allowing Jesus to be quickly brought before him to legitimate the arrest.

(John 18:15-16 ESV)  15 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,  16 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.

Ben Witherington concludes that the “another disciple” was Lazarus, because the apostles were all from Galilee and could not have known the high priest, whereas Lazarus was from Judea and appears to have been well to do. The crowds attracted by his funeral, for example, evidence that he was well connected. It would make sense that Lazarus would have known the high priest, whereas it’s hard to imagine how any of the Galilean apostles might have, especially given their likely young ages.

(John 18:17 ESV)  17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.”

Peter’s bravado before the soldiers wilts in the presence of a servant girl in the high priest’s home. Peter was willing to take on the Roman cohort at the risk of his life, but not willing to suffer the embarrassment of being a disciple before a perfect stranger.

(John 18:18 ESV)  18 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.

The details strongly suggest an eye-witness account. Why mention that it was a charcoal fire unless the author had been there?

(John 18:19-21 ESV)  19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.  20 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.  21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.”

John seems to refer to Annas as “high priest,” even though he just said that Caiaphas was high priest. This is explained by the NET Bible translators —

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
“pretrial hearing” before being sent on to the entire Sanhedrin.

I’m inclined toward the view that Annas retained the real power, with Caiaphas acting as his surrogate. After all, John records the trial before Annas but not before Caiaphas. That only makes sense if Annas was the true ruler — and I’ve seen enough politics to know that often the real power is not the man who wears the title.

Jesus refuses to give testimony, insisting that witnesses be called. In fact, this was not at all a proper trial. The Torah requires that no one be convicted except on the testimony of two or three witnesses, and Annas had no interest in witnesses.

(John 18:22-24 ESV)  22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”  23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”  24 Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Throughout the mock trial, Jesus remains calm and insistent. He demands that witnesses be called, as required by the Law of Moses. Annas, of course, did not have the power to actually try Jesus, and so he referred Jesus to Caiaphas, the high priest.

(John 18:25-27 ESV)  25 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.”  26 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?”  27 Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus is, of course, well known. John brings out the detail that Peter did not want to confess his relationship with Jesus in the presence of a relative of Malchus, whose ear Peter had cut off.

It’s a sad story, but one we can all easily identify with. After all, many of us would stand up and give our lives if the government were to openly attack our faith. But we daily fail to confess Jesus in the presence of friends and strangers. Somehow it’s easier to risk death before a rifle than to risk embarrassment among strangers.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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