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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

This chapter commences with an account of our Lord’s entrance into the Garden of Gethsemane, where His Sacred Passion commenced—the approach of the traitor, Judas, with an armed band of soldiers sent to apprehend Him. The display of our Lord’s power in prostrating them on the ground on their declaring their errand (1–7). He commands Peter to desist from any attempt at defending Him, as He had ample means of defence, at His command, if necessary (7–11). He is brought bound to Annas—Peter’s first denial of Him (12–18). He is next brought to the house of Caiphas, the High Priest, by whom He is interrogated regarding His disciples and His doctrine, and in the course of His trial receives most ignominious treatment at the hands of one of the servants, unchecked by the High Priest. Peter’s second and third denial of Him (19–27). He is brought before Pilate, the Roman Governor, with the object of having the sentence of death pronounced by the Sanhedrim ratified by the Governor. Pilate declares Him innocent of the crimes laid to His charge, after minute interrogation (33–38). Barabbas, a murderer and robber, is preferred before Him (39, 40).


1. “When Jesus had spoken these words,” recorded in chapters 15, 16, with the prayer, chapter 17, He went forth with “His disciples,” either from the supper room, according to some, or from the spot, on His way to Gethsemane, where, in the stillness of the night, He had concluded His discourse (see Matthew 26:30; John 14:30).

“Over the brook Cedron.” This is not so particularly described by the other Evangelists, who, however, tell us what St. John here omits, viz., that the garden or plot of ground, χωριον—was called “Gethsemane.”

“Cedron.” This is probably allusive to the flight or passage across the same ravine by David, flying from His ungrateful son, Absalom, and his traitorous counsellor, Achitophel (2 Kings 15:23). It may be a fulfilment of the words of the Psa. 109:7, “De torrente in via bibet.” David’s betrayal by Achitophel, prefigured the treason of Judas, whom our Lord now went forth to meet, or to await.

“Cedron.” is a Hebrew word, “Chidron,” signifying, dark, probably, on account of the darkness of the ravine, or the turbid waters of the stream in winter.

“Brook.” The Vulgate almost always renders it, “torrens, Cedron.” The Greek χειμαρρον, conveys, that it was a small wintry stream, a ravine generally dry, except in winter. It flowed to the east of Jerusalem, till it joined the water of the pool of Siloam, and the water that flowed down on the west side of the city through the valley of Josaphat, dividing the city from the Mount of Olives.

The Septuagint has, “of the Cedars.” But the reading followed by the Vulgate is regarded as the more probable. Likely, the word is of Hebrew, not of Greek origin.

“With His disciples.” Judas had already left them (c. 13).

“Where there was a garden,” which our Lord was in the habit of resorting to, for the purposes of prayer. Likely, the owner of the villa of Gethsemane, of which the garden formed a part, was a friend of our Lord or one of His followers. Sin began, having been committed, by the first Adam, in the Garden of Eden; and so did the reparation also for sin by the second Adam, who alone could make satisfaction, begin in the Garden of Gethsemane.

2. St. Luke (22:39; 21:37) conveys the same. It was His wont to resort there, at night for prayer, especially during the latter period of His mortal life. He spent the day in preaching and the night in the solitude of Mount Olivet, communing with His heavenly Father in prayer.

3. “Judas, therefore, having received a band of soldiers,” which probably denoted a Roman cohort consisting of 1,000 or 600 men that garrisioned the fort Antonia, or a detachment of it, which attended on the Sanhedrim by order of the Procurator, on great festivals. This band of men were placed by the Governor at the disposal of the High Priests, who wished some of their own trusted attendants on whom they relied, to accompany them, in order to capture and secure our Lord, whom they were most anxious to arrest and put to death.

This formidable military array, they calculated, would put down any opposition or attempt at rescue or tumult of any kind from whatever quarter it proceeded. It gave the whole transaction a legal appearance, as the soldiers belonged to the ruling authorities, the Romans. “Judas” is said to have “received them,” because, although given to the High Priests, it was Judas that headed them, leading them to where our Redeemer was.

“With lanterns and torches,” lest in the darkness of the night, they might mistake Him whom they were in search of.

“And weapons,” to ward off any possible resistance to their designs.

4. St. John, so fond of recording everything, that proves our Lord’s Divinity, speaks of His Divine foreknowledge, and the willingness and freedom with which He offered Himself for death. It was with His own free consent He was captured. “Oblatus, quia ipse voluit” (Isaias 53). He at the same time records the display of Divine power (v. 6), and shows how fearlessly and intrepidly He comes forward to meet His enemies, without shrinking from danger.

5. Judas probably, at once, on coming up, gave them the preconcerted signal, betraying Him with a kiss, and then, retiring back, joined them.

Notwithstanding this, awed by the majesty of His person, they dared not apprehend Him. Most likely, He struck them with a kind of blindness, as happened the Sodomites (Genesis 19:11); so that they could not know Him, notwithstanding the kiss of Judas and the knowledge the servants of the High Priests had of Him, whom they often saw and heard. Hence, they said not, we seek you, but, Jesus of Nazareth.

6. Their falling to the ground was, according to the Evangelist’s description here, the result of our Redeemer’s words, “I am He.” Does not this sudden prostrating of an armed infuriated soldiery furnish the clearest evidence of the majesty and power of Him, who is the All-powerful God, concealed under the form of weak human nature?

The Greek is, “I am,” as in Exodus, “sum qui sum.” Does not this show that His surrender was voluntary; and that if He pleased, He might have prevented them from arresting Him now, as on a former occasion (8:46)? “What will He do”—exclaims St. Augustine—“when He comes to judge who did such things, when taken to be judged?” “What will He be able to inflict from His throne, who had this power when about to die?”

7. Our Lord, now after they were baffled, and prostrated long enough to feel His power, gives them an opening on regaining their feet, and repeats His question.

8. After Judas, who stepped forward from the midst of his protecting guard, had returned to his companions, it is likely the Apostles gathered round our Lord. He showed His solicitude for them, and by asking His assailants not to harm them, He by this very utterance deprived them of all power to do so. He would not have Apostles arrested or put to death; because He had destined them for the work of the Gospel, to herald the tidings of salvation to the ends of the earth. Moreover, by dying alone, He wished to convey, that the work of Redemption could not be shared in by any other. It was His and His alone.

9. “The word … which He said” (17:12), “might be fulfilled.” “Of those … not lost any one.” Of course, the exception there made, is understood here also. He speaks of corporal and spiritual loss. If the Apostles had been arrested, they would suffer bodily loss, they would be put to death; especially as Peter had resorted to armed force and had offered violence. They would also have been lost spiritually; as, in all probability, being weak in faith, they would be influenced by the threats of the Jews to deny Him, as Peter did, under circumstances of less provocation; and thus they might be lost eternally.

10. (See Matthew 26:51, 52, Commentary on.) St. John alone gives the names of him who smote, viz., Peter, and of him who was smitten, the servant, Malchus.

11. (See Matthew 26:52–54, Commentary on.)

12. (See Matthew 26:52–57.) “Tribune,” χιλιαρχος, means, the captain of a thousand.

13. (See Matthew 26:57.)

14. This was added, probably, to convey what little chance of justice our Lord had at the hands of a man, who had already pronounced Him deserving of death, without hearing His cause; (11:49, 50), and also, perhaps, as St. Chrysostom observes, to remove any feeling of scandal or offence which some might entertain on seeing our Lord thus captured, by showing He thus submitted to be captured, in order to die for all.

15, 16. (See Matthew 26:58, Commentary.)

17, 18. This was the first of Peter’s threefold predicted denials of our Lord. That this took place, not at the house of Annas, but of Caiphas, is shown in Commentary (Matthew 26:58), where the reasons in support of this all but certain opinion are fully stated.

The account of Peter’s threefold denial is given, Matthew (26:69–75), Mark (14:66–72), Luke (22:54–62), and in this chapter by St. John. These accounts are given in different words by each, and would seem to be contradictory; but in reality they are not. This will be clearly seen, if we bear in mind, that it is quite usual with the Evangelists in their Gospel history, that one would supply what another omits, and so a full account is furnished by the separate narratives of each taken together. Thus, we find St. Matthew speak of a servant maid, whom Mark calls the maid of the High Priest; John, a portress. All harmonizes. Neither is there any contradiction in their account of the language addressed by the maid to Peter and of his reply to her. Nor is there any contradiction in one Evangelist (Matthew), saying that Peter sat outside in the court, and another (St. John), saying he was admitted into the house at the request of another disciple; since the outside hall in which he sat, was within the house, etc., etc.

We must always bear in mind, what St. Augustine observes (Lib. ii. De Consen. Evang. c. 12), that it was not unusual with the Evangelists to employ different words, in narrating the same occurrence.

19. While the temptation and denial of Peter were going on, the trial and interrogation of our Lord was also taking place; and as both events could not be described together by the Evangelist; hence, after referring to Peter’s denial, he now describes our Lord’s trial, “regarding His disciples,” how it is He collected them around Him, “and His doctrine,” concerning what He taught. He is brought forward, a bound criminal; and these iniquitous judges, having no crime wherewith to charge Him personally, turn to treat of His disciples and of His doctrine.

20. Our Redeemer replies to the charge insinuated by the High Priest, viz., that He privately taught His disciples false and seditious doctrines; by saying He spoke publicly, to the entire world; that His doctrines taught in places of public resort, were known to the entire world; that He spoke nothing in private, “in secret, He spoke nothing,” nothing that was not in thorough accordance with His public and well-known teachings. He had no twofold teaching, one for the public, and the other for His private friends.

He says nothing about His disciples, as He did not wish to implicate them at all.

21. Our Lord shows His confidence in the truth of what He uttered; at the same time, He insinuates that they were disposed to distrust Him, all along showing due respect for the authority of the High Priest. He refers them with confidence in the justice of His cause, to those who heard Him. His judges could not fairly refuse to listen to their testimony. It was not consistent with the order of justice to question the accused when no proof of guilt was alleged against him.

“Behold, they know,” etc. “They,” might be rendered, “these,” those present, even, My enemies, who often heard Me, can bear testimony; so, you need not go far in search of witnesses.

22. “One of the servants,” etc. This insolent official, affecting to think our Lord’s reply to the High Priest, wanting in due respect, treats Him most contemptuously. This affront the High Priest should not tolerate. However, his hatred of our Lord blinded him to every sense of decency.

We cannot but admire our Lord’s wonderful patience, and be horrified at the iniquity of the High Priest, who took no notice of this outrage perpetrated in his presence.

23. Lest our Redeemer’s silence under the affront might be misconstrued into a tacit admission that He spoke evil; and also lest the High Priest might justly censure His teaching, He defends Himself and shows, He had not spoken evil. If He had, His assailant should prove it before His judge; if He “spoke well,” this outrage should not be tolerated from an underling by the judge, whose feelings He was supposed to reflect. Being on His trial, He could justly claim the protection of the court against all illegal violations of His rights. Our Lord did not in the least depart from the counsel or precept given by Himself about turning the other cheek or ear to our assailant (Matthew 5:39). There, He speaks of private injury, and a charitable disposition to forgive all private and personal affronts (see Commentary on).

How heaven itself must be astonished at the patience of our Lord. Who is it that smote? Who is it that was smitten?

24. This verse should be inserted after verse 13. The verb “sent,” has a pluperfect sense, “had sent.” The Evangelist now reverts to our Lord’s being sent to the house of Annas. Passing over what occured there, he at once enters on the treason of Judas (v. 15), the full account of which was interrupted at verse 19, and now the Evangelist reverts to it.

“Annas” (I say) “sent Him bound to Caiphas the High Priest” (see Matthew 26:58).

The Evangelist parenthetically introduces what he omitted mentioning after verse 13; his design in this parenthesis being, to show that what is recorded from verse 13 to this verse, took place in the house of Caiphas.

25, 26. The Evangelist after briefly recording some of the occurrences that took place before the High Priest in questioning our Lord, now reverts to the history of Peter’s denial. Peter, after having first denied our Lord, was in a sitting posture. When he went out into the outer hall, the cock crew, as Mark states (14:68). He then returned to warm himself at the fire. He was in a standing posture at the second and third denial.

“They said to him,” etc., and he said, “I am not.” This is Peter’s second denial. St. Luke (22:58), tells us, that Peter in reply to his interrogator, said, “O man, I am not.” On this occasion, the maid did not address Peter at all, she only addressed the bystanders, one of whom, as St. Luke records, spoke in the name of all whom the maid addressed. Hence, the plural here, “They said.” They spoke through one man. The use of the plural for the singular is not unusual in Scripture.

What St. Matthew says, of his denying with an oath, on this second occasion (26:72), is omitted by the other Evangelists.

27. This is Peter’s third denial. Matthew and Mark say, a short interval elapsed; Luke, an hour. These two accounts harmonize. Luke (22), says, a certain man now charged him with having been with our Lord. St. John here says, the man was a kinsman of Malchus. This harmonizes with the preceding. The two other Evangelists say, many addressed him, very likely after the kinsman of Malchus spoke, and after Peter’s denial. Then all present began to urge him, and sought to convict him from his accent. Peter being thus sorely pressed, and fearing the consequence of his violent action, in regard to Malchus, began to swear and anathematize, the more effectually to clear himself, as is recorded by the other Evangelists, Matthew and Mark. The whole narrative is consistent, and fully harmonizes. No one Evangelist describes the whole scene. A portion is given by each. (See Matthew 26:69–75, Commentary.)

28. “Then they led Jesus,” etc. “Then,” as a particle of inference, has reference to what occurred to our Lord, in the house of Caiphas, which St. John omits; because fully recorded by the other Evangelists. These occurrences principally are, the examination of our Lord before Caiphas and the assembled Sanhedrim, at midnight; the final meeting of the Sanhedrim in the morning; His condemnation by the Sanhedrim; His barbarous treatment by the soldiery, etc., etc. The Evangelist passing over all these, now proceeds to describe our Lord’s conference with Pilate, His examination by Pilate (33–38). As the Jews had not power to inflict on our Lord the death of which they judged Him guilty—this power now being reserved to the Roman Governor—they, therefore, lead Him to Pilate, to have their sentence of death ratified by him and carried into execution.

“The Governor’s hall.” Pontius Pilate, as Procurator, governed Judea in the name of the Emperor. In this “hall,” the Governor sat as judge and decided all cases, whether of a civil or criminal nature. The original for Governor’s Hall, Prætorium, a word of military origin, bears different significations. Here and throughout the Gospels, it most likely denotes the hall within his official residence, where the Governor held his court, sat as judge, and dispensed justice.

Pilate is said to have gone out from the Prætorium, viz., the hall in question, to speak to the Jews. He certainly did not go outside the house into the public street. Nor would the Jews contract defilement by going into the house of Pilate, the Governor, but only by going into the judgment hall, to which reference is made here.

The Roman Governors usually resided at Cæsarea; but, on occasion of great festivals, they resided at Jerusalem, in order to quell seditions (Josephus, Bello Iud. ii. 14.3). During their stay they occupied Herod’s former palace on Mount Sion. Tradition has it, that Pilate’s prætorium was in the Fort Antonia.

“And it was morning.” Reference is here made to the time mentioned by St. Matthew (27:1), viz., the morning after the night on which the Sanhedrim declared our Lord deserving of death.

“And they went not into the hall”—but their servants did, and so did the soldiers—“that they might not be defiled” by any communication with a Pagan. What consummate hypocrisy. They scruple entering into the hall in which the judge sat to pronounce sentence—a comparatively trivial affair—and they scruple not in the least, to compass the death of an innocent man, “straining out gnats and swallowing camels” (Matthew 23:24). “O impia et stulta cæcitas”—exclaims St. Augustine—“habitaculo, videlicet, contaminantur alieno, et non contaminantur scelere proprio.”

“But,” they acted so, “that they might eat the Pasch,” that they might be able, free from all uncleanness, to eat the Pasch. This refers, not to the Paschal lamb, of which they had already very likely partaken (see Matthew 26:2, Commentary), but to the victims that were slain during the festival days succeeding the great day of the Pasch, and that were religiously partaken of by the Jews.

29. “Therefore,” because they did not enter the hall of judgment, but remained outside.

“Pilate went out to them,” asking them, “what accusation bring you against this man?” Justice required that no man could be condemned unheard. This equitable principle was strictly adhered to by the ancient Romans (Acts 25:16).

Hence, Pilate, before condemning our Lord, insists on having a formal indictment laid before him, and the case proved.

30. “A malefactor,” an evil doer, a trangessor of the law, deserving of death. The Jews fancied that Pilate would at once ratify their sentence, without himself entering into the merits of the case. Hence, possibly, imagining that he was unwilling to interfere at all, they stand on their own fancied dignity, and would have their word or assertion as to our Lord’s guilt, taken on their authority alone, as sufficient, without any formal trial on the part of Pilate. They seem tacitly to complain of his distrust in them. Very likely, Pilate, who can hardly be credited with too scrupulous a regard for justice, was overawed by the majestic presence of our Lord; and, owing to several circumstances, among the rest, the rumours regarding His miraculous wonders, the message from Pilate’s own wife, etc., etc., was seized with some superstitious dread in dealing with the case

31. Pilate, who was clearly anxious to have nothing to say to the case, and, perhaps, making little of their charge of blasphemy, tells them: “Take Him you,” yourselves, which is somewhat emphatic and scornful. As my law, the Roman law, will not admit of punishing a man unheard, take Him yourselves and award Him the punishment allotted by your law, “and judge Him according to your law.” The punishment was stoning, in the case of blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16). This would imply, that, according to Pilate’s notions, the Jews were not deprived of all power to deal with violations of their own law. On the other hand, their answer, “It is not lawful for us, to put any man to death,” would convey, that the power of life and death had been transferred by this time to the Roman Tribunals. Pilate’s words to our Lord (19:10) would also convey the impression, that he alone could inflct the punishment of death. It is a vexed question, whether the Sanhedrim had at this time the power to inflict capital punishment or not. It is maintained by many, that they had this power in matters of a religious character, or crimes against the Jewish laws, such as blasphemy, etc. (Acts 18:15), and could pass sentence of death, subject in regard to execution, to the approval of the Roman Governor. In some cases, they committed acts of violence, during a popular tumult, as in the case of St. Stephen (Acts 7:58), and in other cases also (Acts 12:2; 23:27). But these acts of violence could hardly be regarded as in accordance with legal forms. Likely, the Romans overlooked them or dissembled all knowledge of them. In civil or political affairs, violations of Roman law, seditions, homicides, etc., the cognizance of such rested solely with the Roman Procurator (Acts 18:14).

Seeing that Pilate did not pay much attention to their charge of blasphemy, they, then, charge our Lord with the gravest offences of a civil or political character (Luke 23:2), with which Pilate alone, as representing the Supreme Civil Authority, could deal. The Jews, whatever might have been their powers in regard to capital punishment—these powers of inflicting death they could not carry out during the Pasch (Acts 12:4)—thought to throw on Pilate the odium of condemning to death an innocent man, and of carrying it into execution during the Pasch, which was not allowed them. (Acts 12) They dreaded delays as dangerous, considering all our Lord had heretofore done in the way of escape.

Some understand the words, “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death,” to mean, in the literal sense of the words, and in their widest acceptation, “power of life and death is taken away from us. Hence, we come to you, to inflict this well-merited punishment on Him.” Against this interpretation, it might be urged, that Pilate told them to take Him themselves and inflict on Him the punishment which their law awarded to blasphemy, viz., stoning. This, however, was not what they wanted. What they wanted, as is clear from what follows, was crucifixion, as being the most humiliating and infamous kind of death, reserved for the Roman authorities to inflict. Hence, they have recourse to Pilate.

Others understand them to mean, “we have no power to put any man to death during the Paschal solemnity.” And, hence, as we dread delay, we have recourse to you, to have it inflicted at once. Others understand the words to refer specially to crucifixion, which alone they wanted; and, hence, their application to Pilate to inflict it, as they could not do so themselves.

32. “That the word might be fulfilled,” etc. Our Lord had frequently predicted that He would be delivered over to the Gentiles to be crucified (Matthew 20:19; John 3:14), and that He would be subjected to the ignominious death of the cross (John 8:28; 12:32–34).

In saying, “It is not lawful for us,” etc., it is clear they desired that Pilate, to whom they delivered up our Lord, would inflict on Him the kind of punishment which the Romans inflicted on rebellious, seditious persons. From this, it followed, as a consequence, “that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled,” which had reference to His being delivered over to the Gentiles, for their peculiar mode of punishment. That was the death by crucifixion, “signifying what death He should die.”

33–39. St. John here passes over what is recorded by St. Luke (23), that seeing Pilate pay but little heed to their assertions regarding our Lord’s guilt, as he seemed to regard our Lord’s offence as a mere religious affair, a violation of their law, the Jews now bring against Him several political charges of the gravest character, of which Pilate should take cognizance, such as subverting their nation, forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar, claiming to be King, etc. In consequence of these charges made when Pilate went out of the Prætorium to address the Jews, he returned and questioned our Lord as to the chief point of indictment to which the others were subordinate, about His being King (see Matthew 27:11–14, Commentary where the whole history and connexion of the several parts are explained).

39, 40 (See Matthew 27:13–18, Commentary.)

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