© Rosemary Bardsley 2009

Chapters 18-21 are an historical record of the arrest, trial, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They report only brief snippets of conversation. Nevertheless, these historical narratives are themselves instructive.

The historical events reported in these chapters are:

      • The betrayal and arrest of Jesus [18:1-14]
      • Jesus before the two high priests, Annas and Caiaphas [ 18:13 ,14,19-24]
      • Peter’s three denials [ 18:15 -18,25-27]
      • Jesus before Pilate [18:28-19:16a]
      • The crucifixion and death of Jesus [19:16b-37]
      • The burial of Jesus [ 19:38 -42]
      • Discovery of the empty tomb [20:1-9]
      • Resurrection appearances [ 20:10 -31]
      • Breakfast on the beach [21:1-23]
      • John’s conclusion [ 21:24 ,25]


Read these chapters before you move on into this study.



The many people involved in these events had various perceptions of Jesus. Some perceptions were positive, some negative; some were used to refer to Jesus in a sarcastic way, not acknowledging his right to that title.

Read the verses indicated. Discuss and note

[1] the meaning of the names or descriptions, [2] the significance of these names or descriptions

Jesus of Nazareth (18:5.7; 19:19 )



A criminal ( 18:30 )



King of the Jews (18:33,39; 19:3, 14,15,19,21)



A king ( 18:37 )



Innocent (19:4,6)



‘the man’ (19:5)



The Son of God (19:7; 20:31 )



My Lord ( 20:13 )



Rabboni - Teacher ( 20:16 )



The Lord (20:18,20,25; 21:7,12)



My Lord and my God ( 20:28 )



The Christ ( 20:31 )



Lord (21:15,16,17,21)



All of these titles and descriptions of Jesus, except the second, are actually true. Jesus is all of this.

[And, in respect to the second ‘a criminal’, this also is true at a deep vicarious level: he himself was totally innocent, yet, in taking our sin upon himself, he deliberately, willingly, put himself in our place: the place of the accused; the place of the guilty; the place of a criminal before the Judge of all the earth; and there, as a sinner, he bore the guilt and the punishment, not for any sin of his own, but for our sin, for us.]

In the midst of the give and take of these genuine or mocking designations, only Jesus really knew who he was.

He knows he actually is the King. Not the political, national king expected by the Jews. Not a king to challenge the Roman Caesar. Not a king whose survival and identity as king depended on acknowledgement by his subjects. It is they, not he, who will be the losers if they do not acknowledge this king. He is the King, not just a king. The King of kings. The Lord of lords. By very essence King from eternity. Jesus knows this. Right through this humiliation and debasement, he knows that he is the King [ 18:34 -37]. These puny humans who at this very moment think they have him under their control at last, are mere instruments in the hands of this eternal King [ 19:11 ], and unwittingly helping to put into operation the means of forgiveness and reconciliation essential for people to enter his eternal kingdom.

His death also is under his sovereign control. In John 10:17,18 Jesus affirmed his authority over his life and his death:

‘I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.’

We see this as it happens in 19: 30 where we read: ‘Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.’ Death did not overtake him; rather, he embraced death. He deliberately died.

Jesus is the King who is in control, even here, even in his death.

He knows he is the I AM [18:4-8]. In the Greek the words are ego eimi - the Greek equivalent of the ‘I AM’ of Exodus 3:14 which we have seen Jesus use at several points in this Gospel. When Jesus said ‘I AM’ [there is no ‘he’ in the Greek] those about to arrest him drew back and fell to the ground. For that moment, just for that moment, the power of his essential deity overpowered them, just as it did Isaiah [Isaiah 6:1-5], Ezekiel [Ezekiel 1:25 -28], Daniel [ 7:28 ; 10:7-11], and, later, John [Revelation 1:17 ]. He is the I AM - the eternal, ever-present One.



In these chapters we read of several other participants in these final hours of the greatest drama of history. Though we may read in dismay, and even horror, of their duplicity, their violence, their injustice, we also realize that all of them, and their sinful actions, are tools in the hands of the Sovereign Lord.

What did these people do?

How do their actions contribute either [1] to the implementation of God’s plan of salvation through the death of Christ, and/or [2] to our understanding of human responses to Jesus Christ?

What was Jesus’ attitude towards them?




The disciples



The soldiers



The officials from the Chief priests and Pharisees



Annas and Caiaphas - High Priests



The Jews















The two thieves






Joseph of Arimathea








C.1 A planned death

Right through his public ministry Jesus has expressed knowledge of the goal towards which he was moving. We have noticed the repeated references to his ‘hour’ or his ‘time’; we have noticed his deliberate avoidance of situations which would interfere with or precipitate this goal [ 6:15 ;7:6,8,30; 8:20 ]. But now, he knows, the hour has come, this hour to which the Old Testament looked with expectation and anticipation, this hour which had been planned before the creation of the world.

Jesus knew what was about to happen [13:1; 18:4]. Jesus knew that this hour would, at one level, be an hour of darkness, an hour in which the great enemy of God and man would appear to win [ 12:27 ; 14:30 ; 16;32]. He knew also, that at another level it would be an hour of great glory and victory [ 8:28 ; 12:23 ,31; 17:1], out of which would come salvation for all who believe in him [ 3:14 ,15; 12:32 -34].

In 18:11 and 19:10 -11 we see Christ’s commitment to this eternal plan. He will not avoid or avert this plan. Peter’s attempt to prevent Christ’s arrest is pointless. Pilate’s belief in his own power and authority is, in this situation, absurd. There is a power at work here against which no human power and authority has any influence: Christ is totally committed to do his Father’s will. Matthew reported his words in response to Peter’s action:

‘Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?’ [Matthew 26:53-54].

Even as he died he knew that in that death, even in its insignificant details, he was fulfilling the purpose of God [ 19:28 -30]. His final words ‘It is finished’ speak of more than his human life, or his physical pain. [The word he used – tetelestai – means accomplished, brought to its planned end or fulfilment.] This death is no ordinary death; it is the deliberate action of Christ by which he implemented and completed God’s saving purpose for lost humanity. By this death all of the anticipations embedded in the Old Testament are brought to their planned fulfilment. By this death all of God’s promises of salvation are kept.

Here in this death, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth [Revelation 13:8], dies in human space and in human time. Here, in this death, the grace prepared for us before the beginning of time [2Timothy 1:9] is accomplished: It is finished, brought to completion, brought to fulfilment. Here in this death, once-for-all, Jesus Christ brings into our historical reality of time and space, that which had been planned from eternity.

Extra note: A further aspect of this planned death is found in the references to the fulfilment of scripture even in seemingly insignificant details.













C.2 A substitutionary death

In John 11:49-53 Caiaphas unwittingly predicted the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. Here in 18:14 John recalls those words, calling our attention to the deep meaning of this death: one man dying for many.

Because the death of Christ is a substitutionary death – the just suffering for the unjust – Christ is, of necessity, both innocent, and declared innocent [ 18:20 -33; 19:4,6]. All that he achieved in and through his death depends on that innocence. Only one who is without sin is qualified to bear sin’s penalty for others. Only one who is perfect is acceptable as a sacrifice for sin. If at this trial he could be found actually guilty of one valid accusation then the whole eternal plan of God for our salvation falls to the ground.

How do these scriptures describe the essential innocence of Christ?

Exodus 12:5


Leviticus 4:3


Isaiah 53:11


2Cor 5:21


Hebrews 4:15


1Peter 3:18


Because of the substitutionary death of this innocent one, we, the guilty ones, go free.



Peter's confession in Matthew 16 - ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ - expressed the belief of his fellow disciples. It was a bold statement, cutting right across their traditional concepts, drawing condemnation if heard by the leaders of the Jews. To us, in our cross-cultural reading, and our blasé familiarity with the concept of Christ’s deity, it has little of its original impact. To them, so impossible was it, so unheard of, so unthought-of, that Jesus said: ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven’ [Matthew 16:17 ].

But this daring belief was shattered. The one they believed to be the Son of God was arrested, tried, condemned and crucified - without lifting a finger to stop it all. Where were his power and his glory? Where was his claim of equality with God? What of his repeated statements about being the source of life? Death has taken him. Death has held him. He is, after all, just a man.

All of his claims are invalidated by this death. They, the disciples, were mistaken. The Jews were right, after all.

So unexpected is the resurrection, so impossible, so massive in its implications, that Thomas, despite the witness of those who have seen the resurrected Jesus, declares ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it’ [John 20:25].

He needs to know that what the others have seen is more than a ghostly apparition. Only a real flesh and blood body will convince him that the impossible has happened; only a body still bearing the evidence of its traumatic, savage death.

Then Jesus comes, a Jesus who has heard the agony of his disillusionment and disappointment. Into the locked room he comes and stands before Thomas. Ravaged hands outstretched. Robe pulled aside to reveal the gaping wound. A physical man, yet more than a man, saying to Thomas ‘Stop doubting and believe.’

It was not just that Thomas disbelieved the resurrection. What he doubted, what he disbelieved, was everything that Jesus had claimed. Death had invalidated all that Jesus had said about himself. Death had proved him a liar and a fraud. Death had proved him a blasphemer. Just a man, claiming for himself the power and authority and honour of God.

Only a real resurrection could turn that around and authenticate everything Jesus had said. Only a real resurrection can validate his claims. As Paul tells us in Romans 1:4 Jesus was ‘declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.’

Seeing the resurrected body of Jesus Thomas immediately realises the implications. His answer is precise and radical: ‘My Lord and my God!’ No more doubt. No more disbelief and disillusionment. Standing in the presence of the resurrected Jesus, with the visible, tangible marks of his real human death still upon him, he knows that he stands in the presence of God.

It is to this belief that each of us is called by the Gospel. Jesus says to Thomas: ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ [John 20:29]. The focus of belief is the person of Jesus Christ. The question we all must answer is the question that confronted Thomas in the presence of the resurrected Jesus: who do you say that Jesus Christ is? Is he just a man, whose real death invalidated his claims? Or, is he the Son of God, equal with the Father, whose real resurrection verified and validated everything he claimed himself to be? Our answer to these questions decides our eternal destiny.

John concludes his chapter with these words: ‘Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name[20:30,31]. Here John tells us the purpose of this Gospel: to get us to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and by that believing to have eternal life.

Reflection: What impact does the resurrection of Christ have on your faith in him?









Even in this extreme hour Christ’s love for mankind overrides his own agony: he thinks of his disciples’ safety [18:8,9]; he provides for the continuing care of his mother [ 19:25 -27]. Over and above this immediate expression of love for those present, this action, this humility, this abasement, this death – all of it, expresses Christ’s love: that for our sake, for our salvation, he willingly did this, he willingly came to earth to die this substitutionary death.

Grace and mercy

If he were not merciful, if he were not gracious, his anger and his justice would have burst forth here against the injustice of his arrest and trial and crucifixion. This is the Creator being abused by his creatures. This is the Lord of life being plummeted into an ugly death. This is the Holy One who alone is worthy of worship being treated as a common criminal. He could crush these people in an instant. But he doesn’t. He could withdraw his sustaining word and they would disintegrate. But he doesn’t. He is gracious and merciful to them, here, for this brief moment, so that he may be gracious and merciful to all who believe in him, for eternity. [ 18:22 ; 19:1-11,16b-18].


John doesn’t use the words ‘forgive’ or ‘forgiveness’ in his Gospel, yet we see it in action in Jesus’ last recorded conversation with Peter [ 21:15 -23].

There are several things of note here:

[1] Jesus didn’t demand a confession of sins from Peter. He knows that Peter has sinned against him. He knows that Peter knows he has sinned against him. He knows that Peter grieved deeply about this sin [Luke 22:61,62].

[2] What Jesus does ask from Peter is a confession, a reaffirmation, of his love for him [John 21:15 ,16,17].

[3] Jesus reaffirms Peter’s ministry in his repeated ‘Feed my lambs … feed my sheep.’

Without mentioning forgiveness Christ forgives. Indeed forgiveness is assumed by Christ. Only on the basis of an already existing forgiveness does he ask this question; only on the basis of an already existing forgiveness does he give this commission.