Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

216. Jesus before Annas (John 18:13-23)*

From Gethsemane Jesus was taken to the palace of high-priest Caiaphas. There he was cross-examined first of all by Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, whilst messengers were sent out to summon a midnight assembly of the Sanhedrin.

This Annas was one of the most astute and notorious characters in Jewish history. He himself, now about 60, had been high priest form A.D.6 to 15. Deposed by the Roman governor, he manoevred every one of his five sons into the same high office in succession, and also his son-in-law. It was one of his sons who brought about the violent death of James, the Lord's brother, in A.D.62.

For a period of at least thirty years he was able to dominate Jewish affairs-an altogether remarkable achievement, especially when it is considered that Herod's temple had no less than twenty-one other high priests in considerably less than a hundred years.

That Jesus should be taken to Annas first is, then, precisely what might be expected, for he was virtually high-priest still (note Lk. 3:2; Acts 4:6).

Annas proceeded to question Jesus "of his disciples and his doctrine." About his disciples, doubtless, with a view to preferring a charge of conspiracy or sedition. Annas would be anxious also to know the strength of this Galilean movement, and especially what influential men were open or secret sympathizers. And the question concerning Jesus' doctrine would probably centre round his own Messianic claims, his attitude to the Roman overlords, and especially (since Annas was a Sadducee) his teaching about the resurrection. Any of these lines of investigation might furnish material to help the case for the prosecution.

According to authorities on ancient Jewish law, this private interrogation pending the summoning of the Jewish council and the formulation of the trial procedure, was altogether illegal. And that this and the later judicial transactions should take place during the hours of darkness was the most flagrant breach of all.

In his reply Jesus had nothing to hide. He had no secret organization. He led no subterranean movement. Annas, with unlimited funds and an army of spies at his disposal, must surely have known this well enough. "I spake openly to the world (i.e. the Jewish world, as in Jn. 7:4; 12:19). I ever taught in the synagogue and in the temple where all the Jews come together, and in secret have I said nothing." (Jesus was quoting ls.48 :16, which has an interesting context: v.12-17).

Thus he made it clear that he had not sought to align himself with any sect or faction in Jewry. "And in secret have I said nothing." Was there special emphasis on the pronoun here, the better to contrast himself with Annas the arch-intriguer whose entire life was built on scheming and back-stairs diplomacy? By contrast Jesus had laid on his disciples the special responsibility of broadcasting everywhere all they had heard him say; "What I tell you in darkness that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach upon the housetops" (Mt. 10:27).

Then followed a pointed reminder of the glaring illegality of the present proceedings: "Why askest thou me? Ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: Behold, they know what I said." True justice ought to begin with a statement of the charge and the testimony of witnesses concerning it. {". The immediate response to the Lord's altogether justifiable remonstration was a resounding blow across the face, delivered by the officer standing by. On an earlier occasion when the temple guard had been sent to apprehend Jesus, they returned empty-handed with the words: "Never man spake like this man" (Jn.7:32,44,46). It may be surmised with confidence that the officer then in charge was promptly disciplined. This man, promoted in his place, was now bent on showing by a timeserving zeal for his master's interests that he meant to avoid a like experience. So the brave fellow struck hard at the bound prisoner, knowing well enough that he need fear no reprisal. The phrase "struck Jesus with the palm of his hand" can hardly be right, for whilst a good case can be made for that reading there is the weight of a Messianic prophecy as well as the Greek word rhapisma and also the word "flog" (v.23) to support the alternative: "They shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon his cheek" (Mic.5:l).

The officer also self-rightously and most erroneously summoned Scripture to his aid: "Answerest thou the high priest so?" Did not the Law say explicitly "Thou shalt not revile the judges, nor curse the ruler of thy people" (Ex. 22 : 28)? Whereupon Jesus, with the weal from the officer's rod smarting on his face, quietly reminded him of an adjoining commandment (Ex.23 :1): "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?" Here, yet again, Jesus used a question to administer a rebuke, a question the answer to which, if the man were honest, was: "To impress my master."

It is worthwhile to note here that Jesus did not literally apply his own commandment about turning the other cheek (Mt.5 :39). but his reply certainly expressed the idea of it, albeit without any spirit of cowed submission.

Annas soon realised that with such a prisoner he could make little progress in his evil purpose, so Jesus was hustled away for another grilling by Caiaphas. But of this experience the gospels tell nothing at all.

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