We are too used to reading the Gospels’ stories of Jesus’ arrest, trial, condemnation, and death from a devotional perspective and so we miss a lot of what’s going on. We actually have a difficult time trying to figure out the meaning of the details of the story. Of course, we will defend the historicity of the details of the story against unbelieving academics and liberal churchman. But why these details? Why any details at all?
John has already wonderfully summarized things in chapters 1 and 3. “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” and “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” But what does God’s provision of a lamb for the sins of the world have to do with this long story of what happens to Jesus the night before he dies? What does God loving the world have to do with the machinations and conspiracies of Judas, the High Priests, Pilate, and the Jewish crowds? A great deal, truly, but we will have to learn to read the Passion accounts a bit differently.
You see, here in the narrative of Jesus’ arrest and trial and condemnation we have a somewhat surprising perspective. It does not contradict or compete with the other apostolic explanations of Jesus’ death; rather, it complements and enriches them. Remember, the meaning of the death of Jesus is far richer than we are often used to acknowledging. When we look at the details of the text—what events and characters and words John has carefully chosen to weave together from the story of Jesus’ last few days—we can get a pretty good idea of what he is trying to communicate. This is not fiction, but history. Nevertheless, narrating history is never simply a matter of reproducing what has happened. Out of a million and more little details one must pick and choose just what to record
John could have written something very simple and matter of fact, something like this: “Jesus went out from the upper room and was met by Judas who betrayed him into the hands of the Jewish authorities, and they in turn convinced Pilate to crucify him.” That sentence could replace the entire story from 18:1—19:16. It is just the facts, Ma’am—the Dragnet method of doing history, according to Sgt. Friday.
Or John could have written a huge fat book on the last few days of Jesus’ life. You know that there was much, much more that he could have recorded but didn’t—volumes that Jesus said, that the disciples said, that others said. John himself will say that the world itself could not contain the books that might be written if every detail were recorded (21:25).What happened in the trials of Annas and Caiaphas? We’re not told. Surely John knew more than he tells us.
So what does John want us to see and learn here? Think about the defining themes of this portion of the passion story as told by John.
He is very careful to tell us how Jesus ended up on the cross. He is very careful to rub our noses in the contributions of all the various parties in Jerusalem—Jewish and Roman, religious and political. And in the end everyone was unified—Jesus must die.
What John shows us is how all the parties and factions, each group and community, and every individual in them, all came together to kill Jesus: Judas and his band of soldiers and bodyguards, the family of the High Priest (Annas and Caiaphas), Peter and the disciples, the Roman soldiers, Pilate and the Imperial Government of Rome, the Jews (18:38; 19:12). Is that surprising? Shocking? The death of Jesus has to do with the coming together, the unification of all these otherwise disparate, rival social units and individuals—Judas and Peter, the High Priest and Pilate, Israel and the Jews. People that would otherwise hate one another are all unified in their hatred of Jesus. And although Peter and the disciples don’t actively pursue Jesus’ death like the others, their betrayal and cowardice exhibit a shocking unity with the Satanic mob.
Notice how an astonishing unity is achieved by the end of the narrative (19:16). Everyone is together. They are united. They are one. They confess Caesar as king; they are unified together in his kingdom. Isn’t this what Jesus prayed for in the upper room? Unity? Oneness?
This is unity indeed, but not the kind of unity that Jesus prays for in John 17
What we see in the Passion story is a clash of two kingdoms, two ways of organizing and maintaining order in human society. It is Lent, a time in which we focus on self-examination and repentance, and so it is good for us to consider the counterfeit unity of Satan’s kingdom—a unity in which we are all too easily caught up.
Read the rest: Trinity House » How Jesus Saved the World, Part 1.
See also: Part 2