The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me? Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.” (John 18:17-24)
Understanding the historical context is extremely important in every portion of Scripture we read and study. So much more so when we read of Jesus’ trial before the high priest and the Sanhedrin. On the surface, it may not seem that the trial Jesus encountered was all that heinous and scandalous. Upon a closer look, we see that it was.
To begin with, first-century Jewish trial regulations stipulated that a defendant could not be put on trial at night. However, that is when Jesus’ trial took place (John 18:1-3).
Second, the high priest was not supposed to question the defendant but only the witnesses against the defendant. However, in His first appearance before the Jewish authorities, Jesus was interrogated by Annas, whom the Jews regarded as the high priest even though the Romans had previously removed him (vv. 19, 24).
Thirdly, Deuteronomy 17:1-7 declares that a person cannot be put to death except when two or more witnesses provide consistent evidence of guilt of a committed crime against the law. But the Jewish leaders recommended capital punishment for Jesus even though the witnesses against Him provided contradictory testimony (Mark 14:55–64).
It is ironic that while this mock trial was held in secret, Jesus testified that His teachings were conducted openly, in public, and even in the synagogues. Jesus was in effect demanding that witnesses be brought forth to testify against Him, which was the lawful procedure. While the Jewish leaders denied Jesus a public and lawful trial, Jesus always spoke and taught publicly, consistently and lawfully.
The attendees certainly understood Jesus’ implication concerning this unlawful gathering because an officer of the high priest struck Jesus. He must have understood Jesus was rebuking Annas and retaliated. This was another illegality to this mock trial. It was not only inappropriate to try to induce self-incrimination, but it was also wrong to hit an un-convicted defendant.
Dr. John Walvoord explains that, “It was easier to evade the truth or to silence the One who spoke the truth than to attempt to answer the truth. Truth has a self-evident power of persuasion and those who oppose it find it difficult to deny. Jesus pressed this point and exposed their hypocrisy. They knew the truth but loved error. They saw the light but loved darkness (cf. 3:19; Rom. 1:18).”
Meanwhile, Peter was outside in the temple courtyard of the high priest. He was warming himself by the fire that was made due to the cold, spring night. It was at this moment that a servant girl asked Peter if he was one of Jesus’ disciples. He responded that he was not. This would be the first of Peter’s three denials.
Dr. John Walvoord comments that, “Peter’s denial before the servant girl was a striking contradiction to his earlier boast to lay down his life for Jesus (13:37), and his show of offense in cutting off Malchus’ ear (18:10). Evidently the other disciple was also in danger (perhaps greater) but he did not deny Jesus. Peter stood by the fire … warming himself in the cold spring evening, Jerusalem being about 2,500 feet above sea level. This little detail about the cold evening is another indication that the author of this book was an eyewitness.”
Following these events, Annas sent Jesus to Ciaphas the high priest. The trial entered its second phase.
I Peter 2:18-23 says, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
Following Jesus’ example is always wise. Especially when facing unjust and unlawful criticism.
May God’s truth and grace reside here.
Soli deo Gloria!