Today our mission team is finishing up our last day of Sports Vacation Bible School, so please be in prayer as we say our goodbyes and travel home tomorrow.
Day Four: The Betrayal of Jesus – John 18:1-27
This week’s story starts with the betrayal of Jesus and goes into Peter’s denial. Today’s context is only focused on the crowd that came to take Jesus away and His accusers. I always wondered who made up the crowd that was sent to bring Jesus back to the high priest. It turns out there were two main groups of soldiers.
John is the only Gospel to mention a small contingent of Roman soldiers. The Roman soldiers were few in number and were likely only there to prevent rioting.
The temple police were the primary arresting officers. But who made up Temple Police?
The Temple Police
The temple police were drawn from the Levites and were charged with maintaining order in the temple precincts.
Levites were the descendants of Levi. It was their job to serve as assistants to the priests in the worship system of ancient Israel. Only specific descendants of Aaron were charged with the responsibility of priesthood – giving the burnt offerings and leading people in worship and confession. The other Levites did more menial duties, like taking care of the tabernacle and the temple.
A Levite’s special service to God began with his consecration at about 25. This was not a quick process. First, he was sprinkled with the “water of purification.” Next, the hair was shaved from his entire body and his clothes were washed. A sacrifice was made of two young bulls and a grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil was presented. After this purification, he was brought to the door of the tabernacle where the hands of the elders were laid upon them.
You Levites began as assistants to the priests and chief Levites, then progressed through the higher duties and offices such as a doorkeeper, a member of the temple orchestra, or an administrator.
Temple Police Duties
Generally, the temple police were the gatekeepers, the watchmen that guarded the entrance to the Temple mount. This was a duty taken very seriously as you can see from the excerpt below:
“Levites were stationed at twenty-one points in the Temple court; at three of them priests kept watch during the night. A captain patrolled with a lantern, to see that the watchmen were at their posts; and if one was found sleeping, the captain had the right to beat him and to set fire to his garments.”
Temple police also had the very difficult task of opening and closing the gates. According to Josephus (a first-century Romano-Jewish scholar, historian, and hagiographer), it took at least twenty men to do. They also had the menial duty of cleaning its precincts.
When the temple police and soldiers arrested Jesus, they transported him not to the current high priest, but to Annas, the father-in-law of the current high priest. Why on Earth would they do that? And who was this Annas guy anyway?
Apparently, Annas was the high priest from AD 6 to AD 15. He was originally appointed to the office by Quirinus, governor of Syria, but he was deposed by Valerius Gratus, procurator of Judea in AD 15. Even so, his influence was considerable.
According to JewishEncylopedia.com, it seems that Annas and Caiaphas (the actually appointed high priest) seemed to discharge the duties together and each of them in a different sense was regarded as high priest. It was even suggested that Annas may have been encouraged to ignore the Roman appointment and continue in office. This may be the reason why Jesus was first brought to Annas.
When Annas had deemed Jesus guilty, he could not be the one to present him to the Romans, therefore Jesus was sent to Caiaphas. Since he was the one actually appointed, it was Caiaphas’ job to make sure Jesus was presented to the Roman government for punishment. However, the Romans would not punish theological differences, as was the complaint of the Jewish leaders, so they trumped up false political accusations when the time came to present Jesus.
By the way, Jesus’ “trial” did not follow procedures, thus his sentencing was completely illegal (even before the trumped up political charges). The testimony of one person for themselves is inadmissible. Even back then it was necessary for two witnesses sharing the same story to give testimony before a person could be found guilty.
Jesus even brought this point up. “Why do you question me? Question those that have heard me, they know what I have said.”
No two people could be found who could give the same testimony against Jesus.
THE BIBLE STORY
(As retold by me.)
After praying for his disciples and future followers, Jesus knew they time had come for Him to be betrayed. Knowing every agony He would endure, He went out to Judas the Betrayer and the soldiers. Only the Son of God could face such knowledge and still do what was commanded of Him.
Jesus asked, “Who is it you are looking for?”
“Jesus the Nazarene.”
“I am He,” Jesus told them, announcing His deity and His being the one they sought.
The temple police had heard may people preach in the Temple courtyards, but they recognized Jesus’ teaching as unique. Hearing Him speak thus, they fell to the ground – a common reaction to divine revelation.
He asked them again, “Who are you looking for?”
“Jesus the Nazarene.” I can almost hear the quiver in their voice.
“I told you, I am He. So if you are looking for me let these men go.” This was to fulfill the words He had said: “I have not lost one of those You have given Me.”
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave. He was not going to allow anyone to arrest his Lord.
Jesus rebuked Peter. “Sheathe your sword! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given me?”
I can imagine his confusion and shock as he sheathed his sword, watched the other disciples run away, and followed behind the soldiers who had come to arrest Jesus.
Jesus was taken to Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest that year.
Simon Peter followed Jesus into the courtyard but stayed behind at a distance. What would the people here do to him if they knew who he was? He ducked his head as he entered, but the doorkeeper stopped him.
“Aren’t you one of that man’s disciples?” the doorkeeper asked.
Oh no! What should he do? He heard the coarse laughter of those berating Jesus. A Roman soldier brushed against Peter on his way out the gate. Fire reflected in the polished metal of the sharp sword hanging at his waist. Peter gulped.
“I am not!” Peter denied.
He tucked his head down and scurried to a fire, close enough to hear Annas questioning Jesus about His disciples and teachings, but far enough away to not be recognized.
“I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus said. “I have always taught in the synagogue and in the Temple complex, where all the Jews congregate, and I haven’t spoken anything in secret. Why do you question Me? Question those who heard what I told them. Look, they know what I said.”
When Jesus had said these things, one of the Temple police slapped Jesus. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?”
“If I have spoken wrongly, give evidence about the wrong; but if rightly why do you hit Me?”
Having decided what to do, Annas sent Jesus to Caiaphas, the high priest, for official judgment.
While Simon Peter was standing and warming himself, one of the other men said to him, “Aren’t you one of His disciples too?”
“I am not!” Peter denied again.
One of the slaves, a relative to the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “Didn’t I see you with Him in the garden?”
Fear gripped at his heart. They would send him to be punished with Jesus if he admitted it. He must convince them once and for all he was not a disciple of Jesus. Peter denied it vehemently. When he finished, a rooster immediately crowed. Peter remembered Jesus’ prophesying his denial and he was ashamed. He had failed Jesus, the Lord he proclaimed to love.