“After a bit, those who were standing around went up to Peter and said, ‘Truly, you are also from them; your speech makes it evident.’”
“But again he disowned him. But in a short while, again those present said to Peter, ‘Truly, you are from them because you are Galilean.’”
“And after about an hour had passed another was insistent saying, ‘Truly, this man was with them — he is also a Galilean!’”
“And one of the servants of the High Priest — a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off — said, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’”
This sets us up for Peter’s third denial, but notice that this challenge to Peter is one of the reasons that doing a harmony like this can be so valuable, for each Gospel writer adds a little different piece of the puzzle that helps us to better see the whole. Mark gives us the basic account, but from Matthew we also learn for sure that it was Peter’s dialect that has given him away. This can be surmised from the accounts leading up to this statement, but here Matthew confirms that his accent has given him away in Caiaphas’ court. Remember, in ancient times, people were not nearly as upwardly mobile as they are today, so most people spent their whole lives (except for festival pilgrimages to Jerusalem) within a small radius of where they were born. Thus, a variety of accents surrounding you was more uncommon than not. Peter was from the north and that gave him away as he was trying to blend in with the southerners who were conducting this trial.
Luke, the doctor interested in chronological details, adds that about an hour has passed at this point from the previous denials. This again goes to support the premise that Peter’s disowning of Jesus was taking place while Jesus was being questioned — first by Annas and then by Caiaphas. Finally, John tells us who it is from this crowd of bystanders that speaks — it is a relative of Malchus, the one whose ear was cut off by Peter himself. I suspect that were I to witness someone attack a relative of mine with a sword and cut off his ear, that I would be quick to recognize this man, and that is precisely what happened. Peter is in hot water and when the question of “fight or flight” comes up, he chooses the latter. We criticize Peter for his fearfulness, and rightfully so, but realistically, how many of us would have acted differently?
And that is one of the principles that we must keep before our eyes — does our life present a bold witness that we belong to Jesus Christ? Or, have we kept that under wraps? Would your co-workers be able to testify that they knew you were a Christian? How about neighbors? Family members? If the answer is, “no,” then that is not the end of the world — the follow up question is just, “What will you do to correct this fault?” Loved ones, live out your faith in the public sphere — not to point a figure at yourself, but to point a finger toward Christ. This world is in need of life and hope, only Jesus can provide that hope and life — if you know that, share that. It is good news for weary souls.
“Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the High Priest.”
We have already discussed the relationship between Annas and Caiaphas as to how both are referred to as the High Priest and how this short exchange formed a kind of initial interview in the shadows of the evening prior to the official trial by Caiaphas. Most likely, it was Annas who had the pull to bring out the Temple Guard to make this arrest and it is most likely that Annas wanted to satisfy his own curiosity in this case. The interview does not produce much other than indignation on the part of Jesus and the interview is cut short and Jesus is sent to Caiaphas for the trial.
It is interesting that probably one of the most significant activities that God calls his people to perform is the one thing that is entirely devoid of this evening. God calls us to pursue justice (Genesis 18:19; Exodus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:19; Micah 6:8, etc…). Justice is the ensuring that people are treated with righteousness according to God’s will. It is the heart behind the commandment in Leviticus 19:18 that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Justice means that truth is upheld and wickedness is exposed for what it is — that righteous activities are rewarded and sin is punished. And this evening, no justice takes place.
Then again, in the divine plan, were this evening about justice in its purest sense, we would all be condemned. Jesus endures the injustice of men here so that he may bear the justice of God on the cross on behalf of unjust men — that means you and me. Folks, that simple reality ought to stagger us and drive us to our knees in repentance, thanksgiving, and praise. How interesting it is that God chooses to use such ways to show us such grace.
There is something else that follows that needs to be before our eyes, and that is the change that this grace of God works on us as we live our our life in this unjust world. Will we seek justice? Will we seek to act with grace to those who act unjustly toward us? Will we seek to bring justice to the lives of those who cannot speak for themselves? Millions of babies have been aborted in America and the church has often remained quite silent. Will you be a voice for those babies who are being treated so unjustly? The poor and homeless are often shunned by the church as not fitting into “the mold” that the church is looking for and their voices are often marginalized by city governments that don’t really want to wrestle with the question of abject poverty. Will you be a voice for those who society has sought to silence? Mental Illness is widespread in our culture but few seem to want to address it and learn how to minister to those in our midst that need such care. Again, will you be their voice and advocate? Children with severe disabilities are often denied the kinds of therapy that are needed to help them live a productive life and their families are worn thin with the battles against the system. Will you be their advocate? Justice demands that we be the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves and to ensure that righteousness is advanced and the wicked are punished. And God commands of us that we work justice. Will you be obedient to that command, or will you, like Annas, use Jesus to satisfy your own curiosity and allow justice to be perverted to preserve your own status, comfort, and influence?
“Let justice flow out like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing torrent.”
“Jesus answered him, ‘If I spoke wickedly, testify as to the evil; but if nobly, then why did you beat me?’”
There is a certain irony in Jesus‘ choice of words. Some of our modern translations render Jesus as saying, “If I have spoken wrongly…” which gives the impression that Jesus is defending his own deportment with respect to the High Priest. Indeed, the man who struck Jesus did scold him for speaking to Annas in such a way, so it is natural that such an interpretation would be made. Yet, that is not what Jesus is saying. This is a false and unjust trial and the man to whom he is speaking is not really the High Priest anyhow. In such a context, what role does protocol have in the first place?
The subordinate struck Jesus for now begging before Annas. Jesus’ response is righteous, truthful, and contains a level of indignation that, were Annas and his cohorts really aware of the man to whom they spoke, should have reduced them to a quiver. Jesus is going like a lamb to the slaughter and soon will remain silent before his accusers, but here in the pre-trial, righteous anger is found to lie behind these words.
The irony in Jesus’ statement can be found in his choice of language before Annas — in two words to be specific: kako/ß (kakas) and kalw◊ß (kalos). The word kako/ß (kakas) refers to that which is evil, wicked, unwholesome, defiled, etc… In the Greek culture, it was the polar opposite of that which is kalw◊ß (kalos), which means noble, beautiful, morally upright, or done in a manner that is pleasing. When used together like this, the contrast is between that which is moral and that which is immoral, that which is virtuous and that which is foul. Jesus is essentially saying, “You who have acted unrighteously toward me, are you going to accuse me of unrighteousness?” Let him who is without sin cast the first stone, indeed.
Of course, this statement also frames all that will take place during these trials. From beginning to end, there is no legitimacy and all the testimonies of witnesses are staged. Often, as we live out our faith in this fallen world, it can seem as if unbelievers or unbelief in general is out to get us — Satan roaring like a lion looking to devour us if given the chance. Peter reminds us that this kind of behavior should not be that surprising to us for this is the way that Jesus was treated (1 Peter 2:21) — and if anyone can testify to that great truth it is Peter — Peter who on this night would deny his relationship with Jesus three times. John, who is also there that night, reminds us that we ought not be too surprised when the world hates us (1 John 3:13). The world hated Jesus first and we ought not be too surprised that we who are servants are treated in the same manner as our master (John 15:20). In fact, be of good cheer — for if the world does not listen to you it very well may be a sign that you are getting things right.
“But when he said this, one of the subordinates who was standing there gave a blow to Jesus saying, ‘Is this how you answer the High Priest?’”
Again, many of our English translations like to render this word as “officer” when it comes to the one who slapped Jesus, giving the impression that this was one of the military guards. A better translation is subordinate, particularly recognizing that this term often refers to governmental offices, not military offices. Thus, we should see this man not as one of the soldiers, but as one of the underlings of Annas, perhaps even one of the Sadducees in authority — we are just not told. And this man strikes Jesus because Jesus refuses to submit himself before Annas in this false trial.
It is interesting that this subordinate also refers to Annas as the “High Priest” although the title rightly belongs to Caiaphas. Thus adds a further degree of support to the theory that Annas is still pulling the political strings of the High Priest’s office from behind the scenes and has likely arranged the events of the night to bring Jesus under Caiaphas’ judgment.
The blow that is struck upon Jesus will be the first amongst many, though it stands out as one of contempt and pride — it is the blow of an underling, likely trying to gain credibility in the eyes of his master, though truly only doing the devil’s deed. Many of our English translations render this phrase in such a way as to argue that the man slapped Jesus. That could be the case, though the word could also refer to one clubbing another with a stick or another blunt object. Were this man one of the mob that was so armed with torches and clubs from earlier that night, it could conceivably be the club and not the hand with which this man struck our Lord.
Loved ones, the one thing that we must keep painfully clear and before our eyes is that Jesus did not need to endure such suffering. Yet, in an outpouring of his grace, he chose to suffer for us by the hand of wicked men. Jesus could have called legions of angels to his defense and left the entire countryside scattered with the bodies of his enemies, but he chose to go like a lamb to the slaughter, be beaten and abused, falsely tried, and then horrifically executed on the cross. He did that for me. He did that for you, that is, if you are trusting in Him as your Lord and Savior. They say that the story of the Gospel is the “Greatest Story Ever Told” and there is truth in that claim. Yet, it is a story that not only travels to great heights in terms of the resurrection and promise of glory — but it is a story that travels to the greatest depths of misery — human and divine — as Jesus enters the household of the wicked to bear the sins of the wicked (you and me!) on his shoulders — and not only facing false judgment by the hands of wicked men, but facing righteous judgment by the hands of a holy God, who crushed him for our sin. Jesus was our substitute, so when you are tempted to wag the finger at these hypocritical Jewish authorities, remember first that he did this for you … and he did this for me. We are the reason Jesus gave himself into the hands of these men, thanks be to God! But oh, my soul, what a debt of love I owe to the King of Grace!
“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.