John 18:12-27. Two interrogations

John 18:12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people. 

15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in. 17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” 18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.

19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21 Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” 22  When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded. 23 “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. 

25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.” 26  One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

John has interwoven Jesus’ interrogation by Annas with Peter’s interrogation by the servant girl. The parallel and contrast is striking. The interrogators were at opposite ends of the scale of influence: Annas held real Jewish power in the Sanhedrin while the servant girl and courtyard dwellers are ‘nobodies’. Jesus remained true to his purpose even in the face of physical intimidation. Peter crumbled with little resistance. This is a highly detailed account of proceedings, indicating John is the “other disciple” and an eye witness (v15-16).

Annas, Caiaphas’s father–in–law, had previously held the office of high priest and still exercised considerable influence. Since under the Mosaic law the high-priesthood was held for life (Num. 3:10); and Annas had been deposed by the Roman procurator, the Jews likely regarded him as legally the high priest, with his son-in-law as somewhat of a puppet. This explains the difficulty in the reference to the high priest (Annas) in v 22 and the further reference in v 24 (Caiaphas). This also explains why Jesus was taken to Annas first: he held the real power and would ‘break’ Jesus before passing him on to Caiaphas for formal sentencing and handing over to the Romans. 

The attempt to break Jesus fails. He does not retaliate verbally or physically when hit. Instead he asks for due process– witnesses should be brought to testify as to Jesus’ supposed crime. But no evidence of sin or crime is elicited. Instead Jesus highlights the injustice of his interrogation. Annas ‘the hard man’ fails.

Meanwhile down in the courtyard, Peter lies to protect himself from exposure or harm– without any power imbalance or coercion . When first questioning Peter, the servant girl indicates that she already knew that John was a disciple of Jesus. So she simply asks if Peter is also a disciple. The question is asked in the negative to indicate her disapproval and invite the negative response. Peter acquiesces and simply says, “No,” shuffling off, hoping for anonymity around the fire.

At the fire, Peter is again questioned and denies that he is one of Jesus’ disciples. A third time, questioned by a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, Peter denies he is a disciple of Jesus. Recalling Jesus’ prediction in John 13:38, the reader is told that— at that very moment— a rooster crows the early dawn.

Why do we deny being Jesus’ disciple? Is it fear of persecution— pain too much to bear? Is it fear of the crowd— loss of reputation? Is it fear of failure— unsure of Jesus’ promises? Ultimately it depends where we really believe our greatest treasure lies. Whatever we hold to be of supreme value, for its sake we will forfeit our pride, our worldly reputation and even our fear.

Lord Jesus, I am not courageous but you are worthy. Let me prize your love, your friendship, and your salvation, so highly that all other ‘losses’ might willingly be forfeited. Amen.