Chapter 18 brilliantly contrasts the truth with lies. Jesus insists on declaring the truth — that he is the Messiah — to power. He doesn’t flinch as he explains who he is and why he came to those who would kill him.
But Jesus is surrounded by lies. Judas lied about being his friend and disciple.
Annas lied to the people, pretending that Caiaphas had the power of high priest, while Annas actually controlled the Sanhedrin and so had to approve the arrest.
The Jewish leadership lied, claiming that they’d convicted Jesus with a crime punishable by death, implicitly claiming that they’d followed their own law in charging and convicting him.
Pilate, knowing that Jesus was innocent, lived a lie, allowing Jesus to die despite his innocence. Pilate thus lied to the people, giving the impression that he cared about their laws and customs, while he in fact so despised them that he didn’t bother with a trial or any concern for the truth. Pilate pretended to provide supposedly superior Roman justice
— of which the Romans were so proud — while torturing and killing an innocent man for purely political gain. Jesus was just another crazy Jew; so what’s another crucifixion of another false messiah?
And perhaps the most painful lies of all were Peter’s, denying that he even knew Jesus, just so he could be warm by a fire and not have to face a relative of the man he’d attacked earlier that evening.
In chapter 18, John reveals the corruption, cynicism, and lawlessness of the Jewish and Roman authorities. They’d held to a form of justice and law, but when politics required a death and the legal system said no, politics won. Justice was held hostage by the convenient lie necessary to preserve the power of a spoiled, self-interested aristocracy.
We’ll soon see the dramatic contrast of light against the darkness. Jesus will forgive those who kill him. He’ll respond passively to unspeakable violence, refusing vengeance. He’ll forgive Peter and restore him to apostolic leadership, knowing that Peter’s failure will be redeemed as motivation to become a fearless ambassador for Christ. He’ll even give the Jewish leaders another 40 years to hear the gospel preached and repent before he brings a final end to Judea, Jerusalem, and the Temple.
And eventually, he’ll bring down both Jerusalem and Rome by the power of better way of being — without throwing a single stone.
There’s another way of looking at this. Why were all these lies told? Well, it’s about purpose. If your purpose is to preserve power and privilege, then lies are often necessary to do that — and easily rationalized. If your purpose is to be comfortable by the fire while your rabbi is questioned and beaten, well, you just might have to tell a lie.
But if your purpose is to redeem the world for the sake of Truth, then lies are utterly unacceptable. You can’t defend truth with a lie. And so, Jesus fearlessly admitted that he is indeed the King of the Jews, but he also explained that his kingdom is not of this world. He spoke truth to power, knowing that the consequences were in God’s hands and willing to pay whatever price might be required to stand for Truth. After all, even self-preservation wasn’t part of Jesus’ purpose. He yielded and submitted himself to something bigger than all that — and so, by dying, showed us all how to live.