Annas Questions Jesus (18:19-24)

Back inside, Annas is beginning his interrogation. This is not an actual trial; John has not confused this encounter with the meeting with the Sanhedrin. Here there are no witnesses, no jury and no sentence. This is more like "a police interrogation of a newly arrested criminal before any formal trial procedures are begun" (Brown 1970:834; cf. 1994:1:412, 423-25; Robinson 1985:248-50). Annas asks Jesus about his disciples (v. 19), reflecting the Sanhedrin's earlier concern over Jesus' popularity (11:48), a popularity that can have only increased after Jesus entered Jerusalem attended by a great crowd. Indeed, some of the Pharisees said it looked like the whole world had gone after him (12:19).

Annas also asks Jesus about his teaching (v. 19). He seems to want Jesus to incriminate himself as a false prophet (Beasley-Murray 1987:324-25) or at least as a false teacher (Robinson 1985:259; Brown 1994:1:414). But Jesus will not be trapped in this way. Indeed, in later law it was illegal to have "an accused person convict himself" (Brown 1970:826), and this rule may have applied at this time also. Furthermore, Jesus has already completed his public teaching regarding himself (see comment on 12:34-35). Only one last statement of Jesus' teaching remains, but that is reserved for the Gentile Pilate (18:33-37; 19:11). So Jesus tells Annas to check with those who have heard him, since he has taught quite openly (v. 20-21). In this way he heightens Annas' anxiety. The very fact that Jesus has spoken openly and that there are plenty of people who are familiar with his teaching is what concerns Annas. That Jesus does nothing to assure Annas that his teaching is kosher would also increase the high priest's fears. Indeed, Jesus shows chutzpah at this point, which is so unlike the way others come cringing before the Sanhedrin (cf. Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 14.172), showing Annas that Jesus is indeed a danger.

Jesus' appeal to the witness of those who had heard him is essentially a demand for a fair trial (Brown 1970:826), since in Jewish law the witnesses are questioned, not the accused (see comment on 5:31; cf. Beasley-Murray 1987:324). Jesus has completed his witness by word. There remains only the climax of all his ministry as he witnesses to the Father through his death, resurrection and ascension. It is now up to those who have heard him to bear witness to him. Such remains the case today. His abiding presence remains with believers, but those who abide in him are to bear witness to him before the world. "The author insists that the teaching of Jesus must be known through attention to His disciples, who by the guidance of the Spirit preserve and interpret His words (cf. 2:22; 14:25; 16:4ff.). A true judgement of the world upon the Christ depends upon the fidelity of His disciples" (Hoskyns 1940b:610).

One of the officials (a "servant," hyperetes) hits Jesus and says, Is this the way you answer the high priest? (v. 22). Since Jesus is still bound there is no way for him to defend himself. The more severe abuse that Jesus suffers later before the Sanhedrin (Mt 26:67-68 par. Mk 14:65 par. Lk 22:63-65) is not recounted by John. This blow was more an insult than it was physically damaging (Brown 1970: 826). It highlights Jesus' dignity and boldness as well as his respect for the truth, rather than for mere office holders. His reply to the servant stresses this issue of truth: If I said something wrong . . . testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me? This question applies to all the opposition he has experienced throughout his ministry (cf. 8:46).In essence, Jesus' question is a final act of grace extended toward a representative of his opponents. But Annas does not accept the offer to consider the truth of Jesus. Instead he sends Jesus, still bound, to Caiaphas (v. 24). From the Synoptics it seems there was a preliminary phase in which Jesus was taken before Caiaphas and a quorum of the Sanhedrin at night (Mt 26:57-75 par. Mk 14:53-72 par. Lk 22:54-65) and then a more formal trial at dawn before the full Sanhedrin (Mt 27:1 par. Mk 15:1 par. Lk 22:66-71). John signals where all of this fits in his account (vv. 24, 28), but he does not recount it, presumably having assumed it was familiar to his readers. In John's Gospel, therefore, this scene before Annas is the final encounter between Jesus and his Jewish opponents. A high priest, as Annas is known in this Gospel, has rejected the true high priest. From this point on, all contact between Jesus and his opponents is mediated through Pilate.

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