Whom do you seek? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus said to them, I am he… they drew back and fell to the ground (John 18:4-6 ESV).
Jesus is full of surprises.
If a crowd of angry, armed men came up to you on a dark night and asked for you by name, then the expected answer is something like: sorry, I have no idea who you are looking for!!! What does Jesus do? Jesus asks who they are looking for and volunteers—that’s me. Actually, Jesus says–I am—which is the same expression in Greek that God uses to respond to Moses in the burning bush (ἐγώ εἰμι (Exodus 3:14).
The soldiers and officials of the chief priests (v 3) sense the presence of God—a theophany—and they draw back falling to the ground (v 6). They are so confused that Jesus has to repeat the question—who are you looking for? (v 7) Having focused their attention on himself, he asks them to let his disciples go and they comply. This response fulfills Jesus’ own prophecy in John 10:28 (vv 8-9).
Jesus is taken away and undergoes three interrogations: before Annas (vv 13-23), Caiaphas (vv 24-28), and Pontius Pilate (vv 29-38). In these three interrogations, Jesus is clearly in control in conversations with powerful leaders; by contrast, the Apostle Peter is shaken by conversations with mere no bodies and denies his relationship with Jesus three times.
Annas is the previous high priest and father-in-law of Caiaphas who was the presiding high priest. Annas asked Jesus about his disciples and his teaching (v 19) to which Jesus replied: why are you asking me? (v 21) Because Jesus is being tried for sedition (being king of the Jews), Annas has to prove that a conspiracy exists–one man’s confession does not suggest a conspiracy. As a capital case, Jewish law requires at least two witnesses(Deuteronomy 17:6). Annas has none!
So Jesus is sent to Caiaphas. John’s Gospel records no discussion from this interrogation, but a lengthy proceeding is recorded in Matthew. Caiaphas asks Jesus if he is the Son of God (Matthew 26:63). Jesus answers the question and Caiaphas accuses him of blasphemy—a charge punishable by stoning (Leviticus 24:16). Pushing the Romans to crucify Jesus (hung on a tree) implies that they wanted him cursed by God—discredited as well as killed (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
Jesus is then sent to Pilate who asks: are you the king of the Jews (v 33). Jesus’ question—did someone ask you to pose this question—begs clarification because the Jewish and Roman interests in the question differ (v 34). A Jew would ask—are you the Messiah? But the Romans only wanted to know if Jesus were a revival king—a political threat. Jesus responds to Pilate’s concern about political opposition by reminding Pilate that his disciples did not put up a fight when he was arrested (v 36). At this point, Jesus’ innocence is obvious. Pilate then concludes that Jesus is no threat (v 38).
In some sense, each of us put Jesus on trial in our own hearts and minds. Do we scorn the truth just to get what we want? Do we prefer the Son of God or Barabbas?
Jesus is full of surprises.