Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples.
Hitherto this evangelist has recorded little of the history of Christ, only so far as was requisite to introduce his discourses; but now that the time drew nigh that Jesus must die he is very particular in relating the circumstances of his sufferings, and some which the others had omitted, especially his sayings. So far were his followers from being ashamed of his cross, or endeavouring to conceal it, that this was what, both by word and writing, they were most industrious to proclaim, and gloried in it. This chapter relates, I. How Christ was arrested in the garden and surrendered himself a prisoner (v. 1–12). II. How he was abused in the high priest’s court, and how Peter, in the meantime, denied him (v. 13–27). III. How he was prosecuted before Pilate, and examined by him, and put in election with Barabbas for the favour of the people, and lost it (v. 28–40).
The hour was now come that the captain of our salvation, who was to be made perfect by sufferings, should engage the enemy. We have here his entrance upon the encounter. The day of recompence is in his heart, and the year of his redeemed is come, and his own arm works the salvation, for he has no second. Let us turn aside now, and see this great sight.
I. Our Lord Jesus, like a bold champion, takes the field first (v. 1, 2): When he had spoken these words, preached the sermon, prayed his prayer, and so finished his testimony, he would lose no time, but went forth immediately out of the house, out of the city, by moon-light, for the passover was observed at the full moon, with his disciples (the eleven, for Judas was otherwise employed), and he went over the brook Cedron, which runs between Jerusalem and the mount of Olives, where was a garden, not his own, but some friend’s, who allowed him the liberty of it. Observe,
1. That our Lord Jesus entered upon his sufferings when he had spoken these words, as Mt. 26:1, When he had finished all these sayings. Here it is intimated, (1.) That our Lord Jesus took his work before him. The office of the priest was to teach, and pray, and offer sacrifice. Christ, after teaching and praying, applies himself to make atonement. Christ had said all he had to say as a prophet, and now he addresses himself to the discharge of his office as a priest, to make his soul an offering for sin; and, when he had gone through this, he entered upon his kingly office. (2.) That having by his sermon prepared his disciples for this hour of trial, and by his prayer prepared himself for it, he then courageously went out to meet it. When he had put on his armour, he entered the lists, and not till then. Let those that suffer according to the will of God, in a good cause, with a good conscience, and having a clear call to it, comfort themselves with this, that Christ will not engage those that are his in any conflict, but he will first do that for them which is necessary to prepare them for it; and if we receive Christ’s instructions and comforts, and be interested in his intercession, we may, with an unshaken resolution, venture through the greatest hardships in the way of duty.
2. That he went forth with his disciples. Judas knew what house he was in in the city, and he could have staid and met his sufferings there; but, (1.) He would do as he was wont to do, and not alter his method, either to meet the cross or to miss it, when his hour was come. It was his custom when he was at Jerusalem, after he had spent the day in public work, to retire at night to the mount of Olives; there his quarters were, in the skirts of the city, for they would not make room for him in the palaces, in the heart of the town. This being his custom, he could not be put out of his method by the foresight of his sufferings, but, as Daniel, did then just as he did aforetime, Dan. 6:10. (2.) He was as unwilling that there should be an uproar among the people as his enemies were, for it was not his way to strive or cry. If he had been seized in the city, and a tumult raised thereby, mischief might have been done, and a great deal of blood shed, and therefore he withdrew. Note, When we find ourselves involved in trouble, we should be afraid of involving others with us. It is no disgrace to the followers of Christ to fall tamely. Those who aim at honour from men value themselves upon a resolution to sell their lives as dearly as they can; but those who know that their blood is precious to Christ, and that not a drop of it shall be shed but upon a valuable consideration, need not stand upon such terms. (3.) He would set us an example in the beginning of his passion, as he did at the end of it, of retirement from the world. Let us go forth to him, without the camp, bearing his reproach, Heb. 13:13. We must lay aside, and leave behind, the crowds, and cares, and comforts, of cities, even holy cities, if we would cheerfully take up our cross, and keep up our communion with God therein.
3. That he went over the brook Cedron. He must go over this to go to the mount of Olives, but the notice taken of it intimates that there was something in it significant; and it points, (1.) At David’s prophecy concerning the Messiah (Ps. 110:7), that he shall drink of the brook in the way; the brook of suffering in the way to his glory and our salvation, signified by the brook Cedron, the black brook, so called either from the darkness of the valley it ran through or the colour of the water, tainted with the dirt of the city; such a brook Christ drank of, when it lay in the way of our redemption, and therefore shall he lift up the head, his own and ours. (2.) At David’s pattern, as a type of the Messiah. In his flight from Absalom, particular notice is taken of his passing over the brook Cedron, and going up by the ascent of mount Olivet, weeping, and all that were with him in tears too, 2 Sa. 15:23, 30. The Son of David, being driven out by the rebellious Jews, who would not have him to reign over them (and Judas, like Ahithophel, being in the plot against him), passed over the brook in meanness and humiliation, attended by a company of true mourners. The godly kings of Judah had burnt and destroyed the idols they found at the brook Cedron; Asa, 2 Chr. 15:16; Hezekiah, 2 Chr. 30:14; Josiah, 2 Ki. 23:4, 6. Into that brook the abominable things were cast. Christ, being now made sin for us, that he might abolish it and take it away, began his passion by the same brook. Mount Olivet, where Christ began his sufferings, lay on the east side of Jerusalem; mount Calvary, where he finished them, on the west; for in them he had an eye to such as should come from the east and the west.
4. That he entered into a garden. This circumstance is taken notice of only by this evangelist, that Christ’s sufferings began in a garden. In the garden of Eden sin began; there the curse was pronounced, there the Redeemer was promised, and therefore in a garden that promised seed entered the lists with the old serpent. Christ was buried also in a garden. (1.) Let us, when we walk in our gardens, take occasion thence to meditate on Christ’s sufferings in a garden, to which we owe all the pleasure we have in our gardens, for by them the curse upon the ground for man’s sake was removed. (2.) When we are in the midst of our possessions and enjoyments, we must keep up an expectation of troubles, for our gardens of delight are in a vale of tears.
5. That he had his disciples with him, (1.) Because he used to take them with him when he retired for prayer. (2.) They must be witnesses of his sufferings, and his patience under them, that they might with the more assurance and affection preach them to the world (Lu. 24:48), and be themselves prepared to suffer. (3.) He would take them into the danger to show them their weakness, notwithstanding the promises they had made of fidelity. Christ sometimes brings his people into difficulties, that he may magnify himself in their deliverance.
6. That Judas the traitor knew the place, knew it to be the place of his usual retirement, and probably, by some word Christ had dropped, knew that he intended to be there that night, for want of a better closet. A solitary garden is a proper place for meditation and prayer, and after a passover is a proper time to retire for private devotion, that we may pray over the impressions made and the vows renewed, and clench the nail. Mention is made of Judas’s knowing the place, (1.) To aggravate the sin of Judas, that he would betray his Master, notwithstanding the intimate acquaintance he had with him; nay, and that he would make use of his familiarity with Christ, as giving him an opportunity of betraying him; a generous mind would have scorned to do so base a thing. Thus has Christ’s holy religion been wounded in the house of its friends, as it could not have been wounded any where else. Many an apostate could not have been so profane, if he had not been a professor; could not have ridiculed scriptures and ordinances, if he had not known them. (2.) To magnify the love of Christ, that, though he knew where the traitor would seek him, thither he went to be found of him, now that he knew his hour was come. Thus he showed himself willing to suffer and die for us. What he did was not by constraint, but by consent; though as man he said, Let this cup pass away, as Mediator he said, "Lo, I come, I come with a good will." It was late in the night (we may suppose eight or nine o’clock) when Christ went out to the garden; for it was not only his meat and drink, but his rest and sleep, to do the will of him that sent him. When others were going to bed, he was going to prayer, going to suffer.
II. The captain of our salvation having taken the field, the enemy presently comes upon the spot, and attacks him (v. 3): Judas with his men comes thither, commissioned by the chief priests, especially those among them that were Pharisees, who were the most bitter enemies to Christ. This evangelist passes over Christ’s agony, because the other three had fully related it, and presently introduces Judas and his company that came to seize him. Observe,
1. The persons employed in this action—a band of men and officers from the chief priests, with Judas. (1.) Here is a multitude engaged against Christ—a band of men, speira—cohors, a regiment, a Roman band, which some think was five hundred men, others a thousand. Christ’s friends were few, his enemies many. Let us therefore not follow a multitude to do evil, nor fear a multitude designing evil to us, if God be for us. (2.) Here is a mixed multitude; the band of men were Gentiles, Roman soldiers, a detachment out of the guards that were posted in the tower of Antonia, to be a curb upon the city; the officers of the chief priests, hypeµretas. Either their domestic servants, or the officers of their courts, were Jews; these had an enmity to each other, but were united against Christ, who came to reconcile both to God in one body. (3.) It is a commissioned multitude, not a popular tumult; no, they have received orders from the chief priests, upon whose suggestion to the governor that this Jesus was a dangerous man, it is likely they had a warrant from him too to take him up, for they feared the people. See what enemies Christ and his gospel have had, and are likely to have, numerous and potent, and therefore formidable: ecclesiastical and civil powers combined against them, Ps. 2:1, 2. Christ said it would be so (Mt. 10:18), and found it so. (4.) All under the direction of Judas. He received this band of men; it is probable that he requested it, alleging that it was necessary to send a good force, being as ambitious of the honour of commanding in chief in this expedition as he was covetous of the wages of this unrighteousness. He thought himself wonderfully preferred from coming in the rear of the contemptible twelve to be placed at the head of these formidable hundreds; he never made such a figure before, and promised himself, perhaps, that this should not be the last time, but he should be rewarded with a captain’s commission, or better, if he succeeded well in this enterprise.
2. The preparation they had made for an attack: They came with lanterns, and torches, and weapons. (1.) If Christ should abscond, though they had moonlight, they would have occasion for their lights; but they might have spared these; the second Adam was not driven, as the first was, to hide himself, either for fear or shame, among the trees of the garden. It was folly to light a candle to seek the Sun by. (2.) If he should resist, they would have occasion for their arms. The weapons of his warfare were spiritual, and at these weapons he had often beaten them, and put them to silence, and therefore they have now recourse to other weapons, swords and staves.
III. Our Lord Jesus gloriously repulsed the first onset of the enemy, v. 4-6, where observe,
1. How he received them, with all the mildness imaginable towards them, and all the calmness imaginable in himself.
(1.) He met them with a very soft and mild question (v. 4): Knowing all things that should come upon him, and therefore not at all surprised with this alarm, with a wonderful intrepidity and presence of mind, undisturbed and undaunted, he went forth to meet them, and, as if he had been unconcerned, softly asked, "Whom seek you? What is the matter? What means this bustle at this time of night?" See here, [1.] Christ’s foresight of his sufferings; He knew all those things that should come upon him, for he had bound himself to suffer them. Unless we had strength, as Christ had, to bear the discovery, we should not covet to know what shall come upon us; it would but anticipate our pain; sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof: yet it will do us good to expect sufferings in general, so that when they come we may say, "It is but what we looked for, the cost we sat down and counted upon." [2.] Christ’s forwardness to his sufferings; he did not run away from them, but went out to meet them, and reached forth his hand to take the bitter cup. When the people would have forced him to a crown, and offered to make him a king in Galilee, but he withdrew, and hid himself (ch. 6:15); but, when they came to force him to a cross, he offered himself; for he came to this world to suffer and went to the other world to reign. This will not warrant us needlessly to expose ourselves to trouble, for we know not when our hour is come; but we are called to suffering when we have no way to avoid it but by sin; and, when it comes to this, let none of these things move us, for they cannot hurt us.
(2.) He met them with a very calm and mild answer when they told him whom they were in quest of, v. 5. They said, Jesus of Nazareth; and he said, I am he. [1.] It should seem, their eyes were held, that they could not know him. It is highly probable that many of the Roman band, at least the officers of the temple, had often seen him, if only to satisfy their curiosity; Judas, however, to be sure, knew him well enough, and yet none of them could pretend to say, Thou art the man we seek. Thus he showed them the folly of bringing lights to see for him, for he could make them not to know him when they saw him; and he has herein shown us how easily he can infatuate the counsels of his enemies, and make them lose themselves, when they are seeking mischief. [2.] In their enquiries for him they called him Jesus of Nazareth, which was the only title they knew him by, and probably he was so called in their warrant. It was a name of reproach given him, to darken the evidence of his being the Messiah. By this it appears that they knew him not, whence he was; for, if they had known him, surely they would not have persecuted him. [3.] He fairly answers them: I am he. He did not improve the advantage he had against them by their blindness, as Elisha did against the Syrians, telling them, This is not the way, neither is this the city; but improves it as an opportunity of showing his willingness to suffer. Though they called him Jesus of Nazareth, he answered to the name, for he despised the reproach; he might have said, I am not he, for he was Jesus of Bethlehem; but he would by no means allow equivocations. He has hereby taught us to own him, whatever it cost us; not to be ashamed of him or his words; but even in difficult times to confess Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner. I am he, Egoµ eimi—I am he, is the glorious name of the blessed God (Ex. 3:14), and the honour of that name is justly challenged by the blessed Jesus. [4.] Particular notice is taken, in a parenthesis, that Judas stood with them. He that used to stand with those that followed Christ now stood with those that fought against him. This describes an apostate; he is one that changes sides. He herds himself with those with whom his heart always was, and with whom he shall have his lot in the judgment-day. This is mentioned, First, To show the impudence of Judas. One would wonder where he got the confidence with which he now faced his Master, and was not ashamed, neither could he blush; Satan in his heart gave him a whore’s forehead. Secondly, To show that Judas was particularly aimed at in the power which went along with that word, I am he, to foil the aggressors. It was an arrow levelled at the traitor’s conscience, and pierced him to the quick; for Christ’s coming and his voice will be more terrible to apostates and betrayers than to sinners of any other class.
2. See how he terrified them, and obliged them to retire (v. 6): They went backward, and, like men thunder-struck, fell to the ground. It should seem, they did not fall forward, as humbling themselves before him, and yielding to him, but backward, as standing it out to the utmost. Thus Christ was declared to be more than a man, even when he was trampled upon as a worm, and no man. This word, I am he, had revived his disciples, and raised them up (Mt. 14:27); but the same word strikes his enemies down. Hereby he showed plainly,
(1.) What he could have done with them. When he struck them down, he could have struck them dead; when he spoke them to the ground, he could have spoken them to hell, and have sent them, like Korah’s company, the next way thither; but he would not do so, [1.] Because the hour of his suffering was come, and he would not put it by; he would only show that his life was not forced from him, but he laid it down of himself, as he had said. [2.] Because he would give an instance of his patience and forbearance with the worst of men, and his compassionate love to his very enemies. In striking them down, and no more, he gave them both a call to repent and space to repent; but their hearts were hardened, and all was in vain.
(2.) What he will do at last with all his implacable enemies, that will not repent to give him glory; they shall flee, they shall fall, before him. Now the scripture was accomplished (Ps. 21:12), Thou shalt make them turn their back, and Ps. 20:8. And it will be accomplished more and more; with the breath of his mouth he will slay the wicked, 2 Th. 2:8; Rev. 19:21. Quid judicaturus faciet, qui judicandus hoc facit?—What will he do when he shall come to judge, seeing he did this when he came to be judged?—Augustine.
IV. Having given his enemies a repulse, he gives his friends a protection, and that by his word too, v. 7-9, where we may observe,
1. How he continued to expose himself to their rage, v. 7. They did not lie long where they fell, but, by divine permission, got up again; it is only in the other world that God’s judgments are everlasting. When they were down, one would have thought Christ should have made his escape; when they were up again, one would have thought they should have let fall their pursuit; but still we find, (1.) They are as eager as ever to seize him. It is in some confusion and disorder that they recover themselves; they cannot imagine what ailed them, that they could not keep their ground, but will impute it to any thing rather than Christ’s power. Note, There are hearts so very hard in sin that nothing will work upon them to reduce and reclaim them. (2.) He is as willing as ever to be seized. When they were fallen before him, he did not insult over them, but seeing them at a loss, asked them the same question, Whom seek you? And they gave him the same answer, Jesus of Nazareth. In his repeating the question, he seems to come yet closer to their consciences: "Do you not know whom you seek? Are you not aware that you are in error, and will you meddle with your match? Have you not had enough of it, but will you try the other struggle? Did ever any harden his heart against God and prosper?" In their repeating the same answer, they showed an obstinacy in their wicked way; they still call him Jesus of Nazareth, with as much disdain as ever, and Judas is as unrelenting as any of them. Let us therefore fear lest, by a few bold steps at first in a sinful way, our hearts be hardened.
2. How he contrived to secure his disciples from their rage. He improved this advantage against them for the protection of his followers. When he shows his courage with reference to himself, I have told you that I am he, he shows his care for his disciples, Let these go their way. He speaks this as a command to them, rather than a contract with them; for they lay at his mercy, not he at theirs. He charges them therefore as one having authority: "Let these go their way; it is at your peril if you meddle with them" This aggravated the sin of the disciples in forsaking him, and particularly Peter’s in denying him, that Christ had given them this pass, or warrant of protection, and yet they had not faith and courage enough to rely upon it, but betook themselves to such base and sorry shifts for their security. When Christ said, Let these go their way, he intended,
(1.) To manifest his affectionate concern for his disciples. When he exposed himself, he excused them, because they were not as yet fit to suffer; their faith was weak, and their spirits were low, and it would have been as much as their souls, and the lives of their souls, were worth, to bring them into sufferings now. New wine must not be put into old bottles. And, besides, they had other work to do; they must go their way, for they are to go into all the world, to preach the gospel. Destroy them not, for a blessing is in them. Now herein, [1.] Christ gives us a great encouragement to follow him; for, though he has allotted us sufferings, yet he considers our frame, will wisely time the cross, and proportion it to our strength, and will deliver the godly out of temptation, either from it, or through it. [2.] He gives us a good example of love to our brethren and concern for their welfare. We must not consult our own ease and safety only, but others, as well as our own, and in some cases more than our own. There is a generous and heroic love, which will enable us to lay down our lives for the brethren, 1 Jn. 3:16.
And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year.
We have here an account of Christ’s arraignment before the high priest, and some circumstances that occurred therein which were omitted by the other evangelists; and Peter’s denying him, which the other evangelists had given the story of entire by itself, is interwoven with the other passages. The crime laid to his charge having relation to religion, the judges of the spiritual court took it to fall directly under their cognizance. Both Jews and Gentiles seized him, and so both Jews and Gentiles tried and condemned him, for he died for the sins of both. Let us go over the story in order.
I. Having seized him, they led him away to Annas first, before they brought him to the court that was sat, expecting him, in the house of Caiaphas, v. 13. 1. They led him away, led him in triumph, as a trophy of their victory; led him as a lamb to the slaughter, and they led him through the sheep-gate spoken of Neh. 3:1. For through that they went from the mount of Olives into Jerusalem. They hurried him away with violence, as if he had been the worst and vilest of malefactors. We had been led away of our own impetuous lusts, and led captive by Satan at his will, and, that we might be rescued, Christ was led away, led captive by Satan’s agents and instruments. 2. They led him away to their masters that sent them. It was now about midnight, and one would think they should have put him in ward (Lev. 24:12), should have led him to some prison, till it was a proper time to call a court; but he is hurried away immediately, not to the justices of peace, to be committed, but to the judges to be condemned; so extremely violent was the prosecution, partly because they feared a rescue, which they would thus not only leave no time for, but give a terror to; partly because they greedily thirsted after Christ’s blood, as the eagle that hasteth to the prey. 3. They led him to Annas first. Probably his house lay in the way, and was convenient for them to call at to refresh themselves, and, as some think, to be paid for their service. I suppose Annas was old and infirm, and could not be present in council with the rest at that time of night, and yet earnestly desired to see the prey. To gratify him therefore with the assurance of their success, that the old man might sleep the better, and to receive his blessing for it, they produce their prisoner before him. It is sad to see those that are old and sickly, when they cannot commit sin as formerly, taking pleasure in those that do. Dr. Lightfoot thinks Annas was not present, because he had to attend early that morning in the temple, to examine the sacrifices which were that day to be offered, whether they were without blemish; if so, there was a significancy in it, that Christ, the great sacrifice, was presented to him, and sent away bound, as approved and ready for the altar. 4. This Annas was father-in-law to Caiaphas the high priest; this kindred by marriage between them comes in as a reason either why Caiaphas ordered that this piece of respect should be done to Annas, to favour him with the first sight of the prisoner, or why Annas was willing to countenance Caiaphas in a matter his heart was so much upon. Note, Acquaintance and alliance with wicked people are a great confirmation to many in their wicked ways.
II. Annas did not long detain them, being as willing as any of them to have the prosecution pushed on, and therefore sent him bound to Caiaphas, to his house, which was appointed for the rendezvous of the sanhedrim upon this occasion, or to the usual place in the temple where the high priest kept his court; this is mentioned, v. 24. But our translators intimate in the margin that it should come in here, and, accordingly, read it there, Annas had sent him. Observe here,
1. The power of Caiaphas intimated (v. 13). He was high priest that same year. The high priest’s commission was during life; but there were now such frequent changes, by the Simoniacal artifices of aspiring men with the government, that it was become almost an annual office, a presage of its final period approaching; while they were undermining one another. God was overturning them all, that he might come whose right it was. Caiaphas was high priest that same year when Messiah was to be cut off, which intimates, (1.) That when a bad thing was to be done by a high priest, according to the foreknowledge of God, Providence so ordered it that a bad man should be in the chair to do it. (2.) That, when God would make it to appear what corruption there was in the heart of a bad man, he put him into a place of power, where he had temptation and opportunity to exert it. It was the ruin of Caiaphas that he was high priest that year, and so became a ringleader in the putting of Christ to death. Many a man’s advancement has lost him his reputation, and he had not been dishonoured if he had not been preferred.
2. The malice of Caiaphas, which is intimated (v. 14) by the repeating of what he had said some time before, that, right or wrong, guilty or innocent, it was expedient that one man should die for the people, which refers to the story ch. 11:50. This comes in here to show, (1.) What a bad man he was; this was that Caiaphas that governed himself and the church by rules of policy, in defiance of the rules of equity. (2.) What ill usage Christ was likely to meet with in his court, when his case was adjudged before it was heard, and they were already resolved what to do with him; he must die; so that his trial was a jest. Thus the enemies of Christ’s gospel are resolved, true or false, to run it down. (3.) It is a testimony to the innocency of our Lord Jesus, from the mouth of one of his worst enemies, who owned that he fell a sacrifice to the public good, and that it was not just he should die, but expedient only.
3. The concurrence of Annas in the prosecution of Christ. He made himself a partaker in guilt, (1.) With the captain and officers, that without law or mercy had bound him; for he approved it by continuing him bound when he should have loosed him, he not being convicted of any crime, nor having attempted an escape. If we do not what we can to undo what others have ill done, we are accessaries ex post facto—after the fact. It was more excusable in the rude soldiers to bind him than in Annas, who should have known better, to continue him bound. (2.) With the chief priest and council that condemned him, and prosecuted him to death. This Annas was not present with them, yet thus he wished them good speed, and became a partaker of their evil deeds.
III. In the house of Caiaphas, Simon Peter began to deny his Master, v. 15–18.
1. It was with much ado that Peter got into the hall where the court was sitting, an account of which we have v. 15, 16. Here we may observe,
(1.) Peter’s kindness to Christ, which (though it proved no kindness) appeared in two things:—[1.] That he followed Jesus when he was led away; though at first he fled with the rest, yet afterwards he took heart a little, and followed at some distance, calling to mind the promises he had made to adhere to him, whatever it should cost him. Those that had followed Christ in the midst of his honours, and shared with him in those honours, when the people cried Hosanna to him, ought to have followed him now in the midst of his reproaches, and to have shared with him in these. Those that truly love and value Christ will follow him all weathers and all ways. [2.] When he could not get in where Jesus was in the midst of his enemies, he stood at the door without, willing to be as near him as he could, and waiting for an opportunity to get nearer. Thus when we meet with opposition in following Christ we must show our good-will. But yet this kindness of Peter’s was no kindness, because he had not strength and courage enough to persevere in it, and so, as it proved, he did but run himself into a snare: and even his following Christ, considering all things, was to be blamed, because Christ, who knew him better than he knew himself, had expressly told him (ch. 13:36), Whither I go thou canst not follow me now, and had told him again and again that he would deny him; and he had lately had experience of his own weakness in forsaking him. Note, We must take heed of tempting God by running upon difficulties beyond our strength, and venturing too far in a way of suffering. If our call be clear to expose ourselves, we may hope that God will enable us to honour him; but, if it be not, we may fear that God will leave us to shame ourselves.
(2.) The other disciple’s kindness to Peter, which yet, as it proved, was no kindness neither. St. John several times in this gospel speaking of himself as another disciple, many interpreters have been led by this to fancy that this other disciple here was John; and many conjectures they have how he should come to be known to the high-priest; propter generis nobilitatem—being of superior birth, saith Jerome, Epitaph. Marcel., as if he were a better gentleman born than his brother James, when they were both the sons of Zebedee the fisherman; some will tell you that he had sold his estate to the high priest, others that he supplied his family with fish, both which are very improbable. But I see no reason to think that this other disciple was John, or one of the twelve; other sheep Christ had, which were not of the fold; and this might be, as the Syriac read it, unus ex discipulis aliis—one of those other disciples that believe in Christ, but resided at Jerusalem, and kept their places there; perhaps Joseph of Arimathea, or Nicodemus, known to the high priest, but not known to him to be disciples of Christ. Note, As there are many who seem disciples and are not so, so there are many who are disciples and seem not so. There are good people hid in courts, even in Nero’s, as well as hid in crowds. We must not conclude a man to be no friend to Christ merely because he has acquaintance and conversation with those that were his known enemies. Now, [1.] This other disciple, whoever he was, showed a respect to Peter, in introducing him, not only to gratify his curiosity and affection, but to give him an opportunity of being serviceable to his Master upon his trial, if there were occasion. Those that have a real kindness for Christ and his ways, though their temper may be reserved and their circumstances may lead them to be cautious and retired, yet, if their faith be sincere, they will discover, when they are called to it, which way their inclination lies, by being ready to do a professed disciple a good turn. Peter perhaps had formerly introduced this disciple into conversation with Christ, and now he requites his kindness, and is not ashamed to own him, though, it should seem, he had at this time but a poor downcast appearance. [2.] But this kindness proved no kindness, nay a great diskindness; by letting him into the high priest’s hall, he let him into temptation, and the consequence was bad. Note, The courtesies of our friends often prove a snare to us, through a misguided affection.
2. Peter, having got in, was immediately assaulted with the temptation, and foiled by it, v. 17. Observe here,
(1.) How slight the attack was. It was but a silly maid, of so small account that she was set to keep the door, that challenged him, and she only asked him carelessly, Art not thou one of this man’s disciples? probably suspecting it by his sheepish look, and coming in timorously. We should many a time better maintain a good cause if we had a good heart on it, and could put a good face on it. Peter would have had some reason to take the alarm if Malchus had set upon him, and had said, "This is he that cut off my ear, and I will have his head for it;" but when a maid only asked him, Art not thou one of them? he might without danger have answered, And what if I am? Suppose the servants had ridiculed him, and insulted over him, upon it, those can bear but little for Christ that cannot bear this; this is but running with the footmen.
(2.) How speedy the surrender was. Without taking time to recollect himself, he suddenly answered, I am not. If he had had the boldness of the lion, he would have said, "It is my honour that I am so;" or, if he had had the wisdom of the serpent, he would have kept silence at this time, for it was an evil time. But, all his care being for his own safety, he thought he could not secure this but by a peremptory denial: I am not; he not only denies it, but even disdains it, and scorns her words.
(3.) Yet he goes further into the temptation: And the servants and officers stood there, and Peter with them v. 18.
[1.] See how the servants made much of themselves; the night being cold, they made a fire in the hall, not for their masters (they were so eager in persecuting Christ that they forgot cold), but for themselves to refresh themselves. They cared not what became of Christ; all their care was to sit and warm themselves, Amos 6:6.
[2.] See how Peter herded himself with them, and made one among them. He sat and warmed himself. First, It was a fault bad enough that he did not attend his Master, and appear for him at the upper end of the hall, where he was now under examination. He might have been a witness for him, and have confronted the false witnesses that swore against him, if his Master had called him; at least, he might have been a witness to him, might have taken an exact notice of what passed, that he might relate it to the other disciples, who could none of them get in to hear the trial; he might have learned by his Master’s example how to carry himself when it should come to his turn to suffer thus; yet neither his conscience nor his curiosity could bring him into the court, but he sits by, as if, like Gallio, he cared for none of these things. And yet at the same time we have reason to think his heart was as full of grief and concern as it could hold, but he had not the courage to own it. Lord, lead us not into temptation. Secondly, It was much worse that he joined himself with those that were his Master’s enemies: He stood with them, and warmed himself; this was a poor excuse for joining with them. A little thing will draw those into bad company that will be drawn to it by the love of a good fire. If Peter’s zeal for his Master had not frozen, but had continued in the heat it seemed to be of but a few hours before, he had not had occasion to warm himself now. Peter was much to be blamed, 1. Because he associated with these wicked men, and kept company with them. Doubtless they were diverting themselves with this night’s expedition, scoffing at Christ, at what he had said, at what he had done, and triumphing in their victory over him; and what sort of entertainment would this give to Peter? If he said as they said, or by silence gave consent, he involved himself in sin; if not, he exposed himself to danger. If Peter had not so much courage as to appear publicly for his Master, yet he might have had so much devotion as to retire into a corner, and weep in secret for his Master’s sufferings, and his own sin in forsaking him; if he could not have done good, he might have kept out of the way of doing hurt. It is better to abscond than appear to no purpose, or bad purpose. 2. Because he desired to be thought one of them, that he might not be suspected to be a disciple of Christ. Is this Peter? What a contradiction is this to the prayer of every good man, Gather not my soul with sinners! Saul among the prophets is not so absurd as David among the Philistines. Those that deprecate the lot of the scornful hereafter should dread the seat of the scornful now. It is ill warming ourselves with those with whom we are in danger of burning ourselves, Ps. 141:4.
IV. Peter, Christ’s friend, having begun to deny him, the high priest, his enemy, begins to accuse him, or rather urges him to accuse himself, v. 19–21. It should seem, the first attempt was to prove him a seducer, and a teacher of false doctrine, which this evangelist relates; and, when they failed in the proof of this, then they charged him with blasphemy, which is related by the other evangelists, and therefore omitted here. Observe,
1. The articles or heads upon which Christ was examined (v. 19): concerning his disciples and his doctrine. Observe,
(1.) The irregularity of the process; it was against all law and equity. They seize him as a criminal, and now that he is their prisoner they have nothing to lay to his charge; no libel, no prosecutor; but the judge himself must be the prosecutor, and the prisoner himself the witness, and, against all reason and justice, he is put on to be his own accuser.
(2.) The intention. The high priest then (oun—therefore, which seems to refer to v. 14), because he had resolved that Christ must be sacrificed to their private malice under colour of the public good, examined him upon those interrogatories which would touch his life. He examined him, [1.] Concerning his disciples, that he might charge him with sedition, and represent him as dangerous to the Roman government, as well as to the Jewish church. He asked him who were his disciples—what number they were—of what country—what were their names and characters, insinuating that his scholars were designed for soldiers, and would in time become a formidable body. Some think his question concerning his disciples was, "What is now become of them all? Where are they? Why do they not appear?" upbraiding him with their cowardice in deserting him, and thus adding to the affliction of it. There was something significant in this, that Christ’s calling and owning his disciples was the first thing laid to his charge, for it was for their sakes that he sanctified himself and suffered. [2.] Concerning his doctrine, that they might charge him with heresy, and bring him under the penalty of the law against false prophets, Deu. 13:9, 10. This was a matter properly cognizable in that court (Deu. 17:12), therefore a prophet could not perish but at Jerusalem, where that court sat. They could not prove any false doctrine upon him; but they hoped to extort something from him which they might distort to his prejudice, and to make him an offender for some word or other, Isa. 29:21. They said nothing to him concerning his miracles, by which he had done so much good, and proved his doctrine beyond contradiction, because of these they were sure they could take no hold. Thus the adversaries of Christ while they are industriously quarrelling with his truth, willfully shut their eyes against the evidences of it, and take no notice of them.
2. The appeal Christ made, in answer to these interrogatories. (1.) As to his disciples, he said nothing, because it was an impertinent question; if his doctrine was sound and good, his having disciples to whom to communicate it was no more than what was practised and allowed by their own doctors. If Caiaphas, in asking him concerning his disciples, designed to ensnare them, and bring them into trouble, it was in kindness to them that Christ said nothing of them, for he had said, Let these go their way. If he meant to upbraid him with their cowardice, no wonder that he said nothing, for
Rudet haec opprobria nobis,
Et dici potuisse, et non potuisse refelli—
Shame attaches when charges are exhibited that
Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.
We have here an account of Christ’s arraignment before Pilate, the Roman governor, in the praetorium (a Latin word made Greek), the praetor’s house, or hall of judgment; thither they hurried him, to get him condemned in the Roman court, and executed by the Roman power. Being resolved on his death, they took this course, 1. That he might be put to death the more legally and regularly, according to the present constitution of their government, since they became a province of the empire; not stoned in a popular tumult, as Stephen, but put to death with the present formalities of justice. Thus he was treated as a malefactor, being made sin for us. 2. That he might be put to death the more safely. If they could engage the Roman government in the matter, which the people stood in awe of, there would be little danger of an uproar. 3. That he might be put to death with more reproach to himself. The death of the cross, which the Romans commonly used, being of all deaths the most ignominious, they were desirous by it to put an indelible mark of infamy upon him, and so to sink his reputation for ever. This therefore they harped upon, Crucify him. 4. That he might be put to death with less reproach to them. It was an invidious thing to put one to death that had done so much good in the world, and therefore they were willing to throw the odium upon the Roman government, to make that the less acceptable to the people, and save themselves from the reproach. Thus many are more afraid of the scandal of a bad action than of the sin of it. See Acts 5:28. Two things are here observed concerning the prosecution:—(1.) Their policy and industry in the prosecution: It was early; some think about two or three in the morning, others about five or six, when most people were in their beds; and so there would be the less danger of opposition from the people that were for Christ; while, at the same time, they had their agents about, to call those together whom they could influence to cry out against him. See how much their heart was upon it, and how violent they were in the prosecution. Now that they had him in their hands, they would lose no time till they had him upon the cross, but denied themselves their natural rest, to push on this matter. See Mic. 2:1. (2.) Their superstition and vile hypocrisy: The chief priests and elders, though they came along with the prisoner, that the thing might be done effectually, went not into the judgment-hall, because it was the house of an uncircumcised Gentile, lest they should be defiled, but kept out of doors, that they might eat the passover, not the paschal lamb (that was eaten the night before) but the passover-feast, upon the sacrifices which were offered on the fifteenth day, the Chagigah, as they called it, the passover-bullocks spoken of Deu. 16:2; 2 Chr. 30:24; 35:8, 9. These they were to eat of, and therefore would not go into the court, for fear of touching a Gentile, and thereby contracting, not a legal, but only a traditional pollution. This they scrupled, but made no scruple of breaking through all the laws of equity to persecute Christ to the death. They strained at a gnat, and swallowed a camel. Let us now see what passed at the judgment-hall. Here is,
I. Pilate’s conference with the prosecutors. They were called first, and stated what they had to say against the prisoner, as was very fit, v. 29–32.
1. The judge calls for the indictment. Because they would not come into the hall, he went out to them into the court before the house, to talk with them. Looking upon Pilate as a magistrate, that we may give every one his due, here are three things commendable in him:—(1.) His diligent and close application to business. If it had been upon a good occasion, it had been very well that he was willing to be called up early to the judgment-seat. Men in public trusts must not love their ease. (2.) His condescending to the humour of the people, and receding from the honour of his place to gratify their scruples. He might have said, "If they be so nice as not to come in to me, let them go home as they came;" by the same rule as we might say, "If the complainant scruple to take off his hat to the magistrate, let not his complaint be heard;" but Pilate insists not upon it, bears with them, and goes out to them; for, when it is for good, we should become all things to all men. (3.) His adherence to the rule of justice, in demanding the accusation, suspecting the prosecution to be malicious: "What accusation bring you against this man?" What is the crime you charge him with, and what proof have you of it? It was a law of nature, before Valerius Publicola made it a Roman law, Ne quis indicta causa condemnetur—No man should be condemned unheard. See Acts 25:16, 17. It is unreasonable to commit a man, without alleging some cause in the warrant, and much more to arraign a man when there is no bill of indictment found against him.
2. The prosecutors demand judgment against him upon a general surmise that he was a criminal, not alleging, much less proving, any thing in particular worthy of death or of bonds (v. 30): If he were not a malefactor, or evildoer, we would not have delivered him to thee to be condemned. This bespeaks them, (1.) Very rude and uncivil to Pilate, a company of ill-natured men, that affected to despise dominion. When Pilate was so complaisant to them as to come out to treat with them, yet they were to the highest degree out of humour with him. He put the most reasonable question to them that could be; but, if it had been the most absurd, they could not have answered him with more disdain. (2.) Very spiteful and malicious towards our Lord Jesus: right or wrong, they will have him to be a malefactor, and treated as one. We are to presume a man innocent till he is proved guilty, but they will presume him guilty who could prove himself innocent. They cannot say, "He is a traitor, a murderer, a felon, a breaker of the peace," but they say, "He is an evil-doer." He an evil-doer who went about doing good! Let those be called whom he had cured, and fed, and taught; whom he has rescued from devils, and raised from death; and let them be asked whether he be an evil-doer or no. Note, It is no new thing for the best of benefactors to be branded and run down as the worst of malefactors. (3.) Very proud and conceited of themselves, and their own judgment and justice, as if their delivering a man up, under the general character of a malefactor, were sufficient for the civil magistrate to ground a judicial sentence upon, than which what could be more haughty?
3. The judge remands him to their own court (v. 31): "Take you him, and judge him according to your own law, and do not trouble me with him." Now, (1.) Some think Pilate herein complimented them, acknowledging the remains of their power, and allowing them to exert it. Corporal punishment they might inflict, as scourging in their synagogues; whether capital or no is uncertain. "But," saith Pilate, "go as far as your law will allow you, and, if you go further, it shall be connived at." This he said, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, but unwilling to do them the service they required. (2.) Others think he bantered them, and upbraided them with their present state of weakness and subjection. They would be the sole judges of the guilt. "Pray," saith Pilate, "if you will be so, go on as you have begun; you have found him guilty by your own law, condemn him, if you dare, by your own law, to carry on the humour." Nothing is more absurd, nor more deserves to be exposed, than for those to pretend to dictate, and boast of their wisdom, who are weak and in subordinate stations, and whose lot it is to be dictated to. Some think Pilate here reflects upon the law of Moses, as if it allowed them what the Roman law would by no means allow—the judging of a man unheard. "It may be your law will suffer such a thing, but ours will not." Thus, through their corruptions, the law of God was blasphemed; and so is his gospel too.
4. They disown any authority as judges, and (since it must be so) are content to be prosecutors. They now grow less insolent and more submissive, and own, "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death, whatever less punishment we may inflict, and this is a malefactor whom we would have the blood of."
(1.) Some think they had lost their power to give judgment in matters of life and death only by their own carelessness, and cowardly yielding to the darling iniquities of the age; so Dr. Lightfoot ouk exesti—It is not in our power to pass sentence of death upon any, if we do, we shall have the mob about us immediately.
(2.) Others think their power was taken from them by the Romans, because they had not used it well, or because it was thought too great a trust to be lodged in the hands of a conquered and yet an unsubdued people. Their acknowledgement of this they designed for a compliment to Pilate, and to atone for their rudeness (v. 30), but it amounts to a full evidence that the sceptre was departed from Judah, and therefore that now the Messiah was come, Gen. 49:10. If the Jews have no power to put any man to death, where is the sceptre? Yet they ask not, Where is the Shiloh?
(3.) However, there was a providence in it, that either they should have not power to put any man to death, or should decline the exercise of it upon this occasion, That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spoke, signifying what death he should die, v. 32. Observe, [1.] In general, that even those who designed the defeating of Christ’s sayings were, beyond their intention, made serviceable to the fulfilling of them by an overruling hand of God. No word of Christ shall fall to the ground; he can never either deceive or be deceived. Even the chief priests, while they persecuted him as a deceiver, had their spirit so directed as to help to prove him true, when we should think that by taking other measures they might have defeated his predictions. Howbeit, they meant not so, Isa. 10:7. [2.] Those sayings of Christ in particular were fulfilled which he had spoken concerning his own death. Two sayings of Christ concerning his death were fulfilled, by the Jews declining to judge him according to their law. First, He had said that he should be delivered to the Gentiles, and that they should put him to death (Mt. 20:19; Mk. 10:33; Lu. 18:32, 33), and hereby that saying was fulfilled. Secondly, He had said that he should be crucified (Mt. 20:19; 26:2), lifted up, ch. 3:14; 12:32. Now, if they had judged him by their law, he had been stoned; burning, strangling, and beheading, were in some cases used among the Jews, but never crucifying. It was therefore necessary that Christ should be put to death by the Romans, that, being hanged upon a tree, he might be made a curse for us (Gal. 3:13), and his hands and feet might be pierced. As the Roman power had brought him to be born at Bethlehem, so now to die upon a cross, and both according to the scriptures. It is likewise determined concerning us, though not discovered to us, what death we shall die, which should free us from all disquieting cares about that matter. "Lord, what, and when, and how thou hast appointed."
II. Here is Pilate’s conference with the prisoner, v. 33, etc., where we have,
1. The prisoner set to the bar. Pilate, after he had conferred with the chief priests at his door, entered into the hall, and called for Jesus to be brought in. He would not examine him in the crowd, where he might be disturbed by the noise, but ordered him to be brought into the hall; for he made no difficulty of going in among the Gentiles. We by sin were become liable to the judgment of God, and were to be brought before his bar; therefore Christ, being made sin and a curse for us, was arraigned as a criminal. Pilate entered into judgment with him, that God might not enter into judgment with us.
2. His examination. The other evangelists tell us that his accusers had laid it to his charge that he perverted the nation, forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and upon this he is examined.
(1.) Here is a question put to him, with a design to ensnare him and to find out something upon which to ground an accusation: "Art thou the king of the Jews? ho basileus—that king of the Jews who has been so much talked of and so long expected—Messiah the prince, art thou he? Dost thou pretend to be he? Dost thou call thyself, and wouldest thou be thought so?" For he was far from imagining that really he was so, or making a question of that. Some think Pilate asked this with an air of scorn and contempt: "What! art thou a king, who makest so mean a figure? Art thou the king of the Jews, by whom thou art thus hated and persecuted? Art thou king de jure—of right, while the emperor is only king de facto—in fact?" Since it could not be proved he ever said it, he would constrain him to say it now, that he might proceed upon his own confession.
(2.) Christ answers this question with another; not for evasion, but as an intimation to Pilate to consider what he did, and upon what grounds he went (v. 34): "Sayest thou this thing of thyself, from a suspicion arising in thy own breast, or did others tell it thee of me, and dost thou ask it only to oblige them?" [1.] "It is plain that thou hast no reason to say this of thyself." Pilate was bound by his office to take care of the interests of the Roman government, but he could not say that this was in any danger, or suffered any damage, from any thing our Lord Jesus had ever said or done. He never appeared in worldly pomp, never assumed any secular power, never acted as a judge or divider; never were any traitorous principles or practices objected to him, nor any thing that might give the least shadow of suspicion. [2.] "If others tell it thee of me, to incense thee against me, thou oughtest to consider who they are, and upon what principles they go, and whether those who represent me as an enemy to Caesar are not really such themselves, and therefore use this only as a pretence to cover their malice, for, if so, the matter ought to be well weighed by a judge that would do justice." Nay, if Pilate had been as inquisitive as he ought to have been in this matter, he would have found that the true reason why the chief priests were outrageous against Jesus was because he did not set up a temporal kingdom in opposition to the Roman power; if he would have done this, and would have wrought miracles to bring the Jews out of the Roman bondage, as Moses did to bring them out of the Egyptian, they would have been so far from siding with the Romans against him that they would have made him their king, and have fought under him against the Romans; but, not answering this expectation of theirs, they charged that upon him of which they were themselves most notoriously guilty-disaffection to and design against the present government; and was such an information as this fit to be countenanced?
(3.) Pilate resents Christ’s answer, and takes it very ill, v. 35. This is a direct answer to Christ’s question, v. 34. [1.] Christ had asked him whether he spoke of himself. "No," says he; "am I a Jew, that thou suspectest me to be in the plot against thee? I know nothing of the Messiah, nor desire to know, and therefore interest not myself in the dispute who is the Messiah and who not; the dispute who is the Messiah and who not; it is all alike to me." Observe with what disdain Pilate asks, Am I a Jew? The Jews were, upon many accounts, an honourable people; but, having corrupted the covenant of their God, he made them contemptible and base before all the people (Mal. 2:8, 9), so that a man of sense and honour reckoned it a scandal to be counted a Jew. Thus good names often suffer for the sake of the bad men that wear them. It is sad that when a Turk is suspected of dishonesty he should ask, "What! do you take me for a Christian?" [2.] Christ had asked him whether others told him. "Yes," says he, "and those thine own people, who, one would think would be biased in favour of thee, and the priests, whose testimony, in verbum sacerdotis—on the word of a priest, ought to be regarded; and therefore I have nothing to do but to proceed upon their information." Thus Christ, in his religion, still suffers by those that are of his own nation, even the priests, that profess relation to him, but do not live up to their profession. [3.] Christ had declined answering that question, Art thou the king of the Jews? And therefore Pilate puts another question to him more general, "What hast thou done? What provocation hast thou given to thy own nation, and particularly the priests, to be so violent against thee? Surely there cannot be all this smoke without some fire, what is it?"
(4.) Christ, in his next reply, gives a more full and direct answer to Pilate’s former question, Art thou a king? explaining in what sense he was a king, but not such a king as was any ways dangerous to the Roman government, not a secular king, for his interest was not supported by secular methods, v. 36. Observe,
[1.] An account of the nature and constitution of Christ’s kingdom: It is not of this world. It is expressed negatively to rectify the present mistakes concerning it; but the positive is implied, it is the kingdom of heaven, and belongs to another world. Christ is a king, and has a kingdom, but not of this world. First Its rise is not from this world; the kingdoms of men arise out of the sea and the earth (Dan. 7:3; Rev. 13:1, 11); but the holy city comes from God out of heaven, Rev. 22:2. His kingdom is not by succession, election, or conquest, but by the immediate and special designation of the divine will and counsel. Secondly, Its nature is not worldly; it is a kingdom within men (Lu. 16:21), set up in their hearts and consciences (Rom. 14:17), its riches spiritual, its powers spiritual, and all its glory within. The ministers of state in Christ’s kingdom have not the spirit of the world, 1 Co. 2:12. Thirdly, Its guards and supports are not worldly; its weapons are spiritual. It neither needed nor used secular force to maintain and advance it, nor was it carried on in a way hurtful to kings or provinces; it did not in the least interfere with the prerogatives of princes nor the property of their subjects; it tended not to alter any national establishment in secular things, nor opposed any kingdom but that of sin and Satan. Fourthly, Its tendency and design are not worldly. Christ neither aimed nor would allow his disciples to aim at the pomp and power of the great men of the earth. Fifthly, Its subjects, though they are in the world, yet are not of the world; they are called and chosen out of the world, are born from, and bound for, another world; they are neither the world’s pupils nor its darlings, neither governed by its wisdom nor enriched with its wealth.
[2.] An evidence of the spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom produced. If he had designed an opposition to the government, he would have fought them at their own weapons, and would have repelled force with force of the same nature; but he did not take this course: If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews, and my kingdom be ruined by them. But, First, His followers did not offer to fight; there was no uproar, no attempt to rescue him, though the town was now full of Galileans, his friends and countrymen, and they were generally armed; but the peaceable behaviour of his disciples on this occasion was enough to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Secondly, He did not order them to fight; nay, he forbade them, which was an evidence both that he did not depend upon worldly aids (for he could have summoned legions of angels into his service, which showed that his kingdom was from above), and also that he did not dread worldly opposition, for he was very willing to be delivered to the Jews, as knowing that what would have been the destruction of any worldly kingdom would be the advancement and establishment of his; justly therefore does he conclude, Now you may see my kingdom is not from hence; in the world but not of it.
(5.) In answer to Pilate’s further query, he replies yet more directly, v. 37, where we have, [1.] Pilate’s plain question: "Art thou a king then? Thou speakest of a kingdom thou hast; art thou then, in any sense, a king? And what colour hast thou for such a claim? Explain thyself." [2.] The good confession which our Lord Jesus witnessed before Pontius Pilate, in answer to this (1 Tim. 6:13): Thou sayest that I am a king, that is, It is as thou sayest, I am a king; for I came to bear witness of the truth. First, He grants himself to be a king, though not in the sense that Pilate meant. The Messiah was expected under the character of a king, Messiah the prince; and therefore, having owned to Caiaphas that he was the Christ, he would not disown to Pilate that he was king, lest he should seem inconsistent with himself. Note, Though Christ took upon him the form of a servant, yet even then he justly claimed the honour and authority of a king. Secondly, He explains himself, and shows how he is a king, as he came to bear witness of the truth; he rules in the minds of men by the power of truth. If he had meant to declare himself a temporal prince, he would have said, For this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, to rule the nations, to conquer kings, and to take possession of kingdoms; no, he came to be a witness, a witness for the God that made the world, and against sin that ruins the world, and by this word of his testimony he sets up, and keeps up, his kingdom. It was foretold that he should be a witness to the people, and, as such, a leader and commander to the people, Isa. 55:4. Christ’s kingdom was not of this world, in which truth faileth (Isa. 59:15, Qui nescit dissimulare, nescit regnare—He that cannot dissemble knows not how to reign), but of that world in which truth reigns eternally. Christ’s errand into the world, and his business in the world, were to bear witness to the truth. 1. To reveal it, to discover to the world that which otherwise could not have been known concerning God and his will and good-will to men, ch. 1:18; 17:26. 2. To confirm it, Rom. 15:8. By his miracles he bore witness to the truth of religion, the truth of divine revelation, and of God’s perfections and providence, and the truth of his promise and covenant, that all men through him might believe. Now by doing this he is a king, and sets up a kingdom. (1.) The foundation and power, the spirit and genius, of Christ’s kingdom, is truth, divine truth. When he said, I am the truth, he said, in effect, I am a king. He conquers by the convincing evidence of truth; he rules by the commanding power of truth, and in his majesty rides prosperously, because of truth, Ps. 45:4. It is with his truth that he shall judge the people, Ps. 96:13. It is the sceptre of his kingdom; he draws with the cords of a man, with truth revealed to us, and received by us in the love of it; and thus he brings thoughts into obedience. He came a light into the world, and rules as the sun by day. (2.) The subjects of this kingdom are those that are of the truth. All that by the grace of God are rescued from under the power of the father of lies, and are disposed to receive the truth and submit to the power and influence of it, will hear Christ’s voice, will become his subjects, and will bear faith and true allegiance to him. Every one that has any real sense of true religion will entertain the Christian religion, and they belong to his kingdom; by the power of truth he makes them willing, Ps. 90:3. All that are in love with truth will hear the voice of Christ, for greater, better, surer, sweeter truths can nowhere be found than are found in Christ, by whom grace and truth came; so that, by hearing Christ’s voice, we know that we are of the truth, 1 Jn. 3:19.
(6.) Pilate, hereupon, puts a good question to him, but does not stay for an answer, v. 38. He said, What is truth? and immediately went out again.
[1.] It is certain that this was a good question, and could not be put to one that was better able to answer it. Truth is that pearl of great price which the human understanding has a desire for and is in quest of; for it cannot rest but in that which is, or at least is apprehended to be, truth. When we search the scriptures, and attend the ministry of the word, it must be with this enquiry, What is truth? and with this prayer, Lead me in thy truth, into all truth. But many put this question that have not patience and constancy enough to persevere in their search after truth, or not humility and sincerity enough to receive it when they have found it, 2 Tim. 3:7. Thus many deal with their own consciences; they ask them those needful questions, "What am I?" "What have I done?" but will not take time for an answer.
[2.] It is uncertain with what design Pilate asked this question. First, Perhaps he spoke it as a learner, as one that began to think well of Christ, and to look upon him with some respect, and desired to be informed what new notions he advanced and what improvements he pretended to in religion and learning. But while he desired to hear some new truth from him, as Herod to see some miracle, the clamour and outrage of the priests’ mob at his gate obliged him abruptly to let fall the discourse. Secondly, Some think he spoke it as a judge, enquiring further into the cause now brought before him: "Let me into this mystery, and tell me what the truth of it is, the true state of this matter." Thirdly, Others think he spoke it as a scoffer, in a jeering way: "Thou talkest of truth; canst thou tell what truth is, or give me a definition of it?" Thus he makes a jest of the everlasting gospel, that great truth which the chief priests hated and persecuted, and which Christ was now witnessing to and suffering for; and like men of no religion, who take a pleasure in bantering all religions, he ridicules both sides; and therefore Christ made him no reply. Answer not a fool according to his folly; cast not pearls before swine. But, though Christ would not tell Pilate what is truth, he has told his disciples, and by them has told us, ch. 14:6.
III. The result of both these conferences with the prosecutors and the prisoner (v. 38–40), in two things:—
1. The judge appeared his friend, and favourable to him, for,