“Then the High Priest asked Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching.”
In light of our discussions above, the High Priest being spoken of here must be Annas — referring to him in this way respecting his reputation and influence (as well as past title) not so much his formal title at the present time. As we labeled it above, we might refer to Annas as “High Priest Emeritus.” Were this not Annas doing the questioning, verse 24 (where Annas sends him over to Caiaphas) would make no sense.
We do not know a great deal of details with respect to this interaction. Clearly, it is not cordial based on what takes place next and it is rather brief (again substantiating that this is likely Caiaphas’ home, though Annas has likely claimed “first dibs” on questioning Jesus as he is likely the one who coordinated the mob that arrested Jesus.
What needs to be noted is that Annas is not only asking Jesus about his theological positions (kind of a hostile Presbytery exam), but also about his disciples. Jesus’ disciples escaped arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane and have gone into hiding. John seems to have connections in the High Priest’s household, so he stays with Jesus to witness events and Peter stays close to John — John getting Peter into the courtyard because of those contacts. Nevertheless, Annas is still after blood and wants to see this movement crushed. The best way to do so, is not just to silence the leader, but also the most significant spokespersons — the inner circle of disciples. Annas did not rise to power and influence without knowing how to silence his enemies and that seems to be exactly what he is doing at this point. Caiaphas can create the political trial; Annas wants to stop the movement.
Friends, it is often easy for us to read the Gospel accounts and to judge Peter and the others for their flight from Jesus’ side. Understand, two things, though. First, the level of hostility that is being expressed here is tremendously high. Were the disciples found, they too would have been similarly tried and killed. Secondly, Jesus had already promised that he would lose none of those that the Father had given to him (John 18:9). Though it was a rather ignoble means of preservation, it was God’s design for the preservation of his own during this time of great wickedness.
Yet, we are still left with the question. Were Jesus questioned about his teachings and disciples today, would we be at risk? Or, perhaps to put the question more plainly — if our words and actions were put on trial, would we be convicted as a Christian? Would the establishment of this world see us as a threat? I propose (sadly) that in most cases, the answer would be, “no.” As Christians, we have grown much too comfortable in this culture we live in and have grown to accept many of the evils around us as “necessary,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Loved ones, let us examine our life and teachings — examine the disciples we are making, particularly of our children — and seek to live and teach in such a way that we can genuinely be convicted of being Christian and even a threat to the status quo of the unbelieving world and their humanism.