A word for the heart

with Alan Bailey

John 18:19-40 - The Gospel of John

Bible study


Welcome to this Bible Study. Read what I have written slowly. If you have a Bible look up the reference verses given, and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to your soul through them.

John 18:19-40

We have read of the arrest of Jesus and how He was taken to the high priest. Only John and Peter followed Him, the rest of the disciples disappearing into the darkness. It was now early morning and very cold. When Peter entered the courtyard he was challenged by a girl there who queried whether he was with Jesus. Peter denied this. As we shall see, this was only the first of three times that he would claim not to know Jesus.

Verse 19 Meanwhile the high priest questioned Jesus about His disciples and His teaching.

It was the religious hierarchy that wanted to get rid of Jesus. Having apprehended Him, they now wanted to gain some evidence against Him to bring to the Roman authorities. By questioning Him, they thought they would catch Him in His own words. They would have a number of witnesses that could confirm their claims.

Verses 20 & 21 ‘I have spoken openly to the world,’ Jesus replied. ‘I always taught in the synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret.
Why question Me? Ask those who heard Me. Surely they know what I said.’

Jesus had always spoken plainly and not dealt in some underhand way. What He taught about Himself and the Father was known fairly broadly, though peoples’ understanding was limited. The people He was now addressing understood this and had arrested Him because of His claims about Himself.

Verse 22 When Jesus had said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face.
‘Is that any way to answer the high priest?’ he demanded.

Those standing about wanted to see Jesus humbled, submissive, even pleading for mercy.
Instead, He was calm, strong, a just man standing before unjust judges. At no point was He afraid.

Verses 23 & 24 ‘If I said something wrong,’ Jesus replied, ‘speak up about it. But if I spoke the truth, why did you hit Me?’ Then Annas sent Him, still bound, to Caiaphas, the high priest.

Jesus gave an answer showing the unfairness of this procedure. No doubt that is why they stopped their questioning and sent Him to Caiaphas. It appears that Annas was still referred to as a high priest though his son-in-law, Caiaphas was officially the high priest for that year.

Verses 25-27 As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, ‘Surely you are not another of His disciples?’ He denied it, saying ‘I am not.’ 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 olive grove?’ Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

In chapter 13:37,38, Peter vowed loyalty to Christ even to death. Jesus told him that he would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed. Now it has happened. In a tight situation where he was completely out-numbered, Peter was afraid and took the cowardly way. Luke 22:62 tells us that he went out of the courtyard and wept bitterly.

Verse 28 Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.

According to their law, the Jews would be defiled by entering this Gentile establishment and would have disqualified themselves from celebrating one of their annual feasts, the Passover. So they stayed outside. Quite a group seems to have gathered by this time.

Verse 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, ‘What charges are you bringing against this man?’

Pilate was the man stationed in Jerusalem by Rome to govern the province of Judea. He had found it to be a difficult task as the Jews were constantly stirring trouble of some kind, hating the Roman occupation. He had no idea how significant this latest matter would be and how hard for him to handle.

Verse 30 ‘If He were not a criminal,’ they replied, ‘we would not have handed Him over to you.’

See in this answer the deceit of these religious leaders. Not one of them could honestly accuse Jesus of breaking any law yet they wanted Pilate to gain the impression that He was obviously a guilty man, a cause of trouble in the land.

Verses 31 & 32 Pilate said ‘Take Him yourselves and judge Him by your own law.’

‘But we have no right to execute anyone,’ the Jews objected. This happened indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.
It seems that Pilate had almost immediately seen that this was a set-up and he wanted nothing to do with it. But to appease the crowd he suggested they handle it. Notice in their answer that they had already decided the prisoner should die despite there being no evidence and no trial as yet. The note about the kind of death refers to the means of execution. The Jews stoned a person to death whereas the Romans crucified those who were condemned.

Verse 33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked Him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’

We see the following verses that those who handed Jesus over to Pilate had said that He claimed to be the king of the Jews. They were hoping that this would sound like treason against the rule of Rome. Pilate wasn’t greatly moved by this. In another place (Matt 27:18) it says that Pilate knew that it was out of envy they had handed Jesus over to him.

Verses 34 & 35 ‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about Me?’

‘Do you think I am a Jew,’ Pilate replied. ‘It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’
Once more we see Pilate trying to be neutral. He doesn’t want to either condemn Jesus or declare His innocence. This is leading him further into a corner. His question ‘What have you done?’ is to try and get some sort of confession from the prisoner.

Verse 36 Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.’

Of course Jesus has nothing to confess. He explains that He has no intention of threatening an earthly kingdom because His kingdom is of another kind. His rule is of a different nature.

Verse 37 ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me.’

Pilate is being further drawn into mystery. All this is too much for him. Though he was well-known to be a harsh ruler who did not hesitate to put troublemakers to death, in this case he was confused and defeated. He must have wondered just who was this man standing before him.

Verses 38 & 39 ‘What is truth?’ Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against Him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release “the king of the Jews”?’

Pilate’s ‘What is truth?’ perhaps indicates his dilemma. It would seem to him that truth was hard to find. Yet the Truth was standing before him. (Remember, Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ John 14:6). Pilate’s hope that they may ask for Jesus to be released was vain indeed. Things were only going to get worse for Pilate.

Verse 40 They shouted back, ‘No, not Him! Give us Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.

This man was a thief and a murderer (Mark 15:7). Yet the people chose him before Jesus.
Other Gospels show us the desperation of Pilate as this trial unfolded. He asked for water in a bowl to wash his hands of the whole matter in front of the people, claiming no responsibility for Christ’s death. He knew there was a miscarriage of justice taking place but he was too cowardly to prevent it. In fact, the crucifixion could only go ahead when he gave the order for it to happen. He could not avoid responsibility.


The trial of Jesus was a mockery. It was simply hatred and blindness at work but Jesus was calm and purposeful, knowing the outcome but bearing it all with confidence in the plan of the Father. The people chose a murderer above Jesus, something which the crowd still does today. We need to ask what our preference is. What do we ask for before and instead of Jesus? Are we ashamed of Him? Would we rather be popular and acceptable to the crowd or are we prepared to follow Jesus at all cost? Will we sacrifice principle for the sake of expediency? These are questions to ponder.

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