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John describes Jesus' arrest and binding as the activity of the whole party that has come out against him, both Gentile and Jew (v. 12). John will make it clear that the Jewish authorities have special responsibility for Jesus' death (19:11), but the Gentiles have a share as well. Here we have the shocking sight of the one who brings freedom to mankind (8:31-36) being bound by representatives of the whole human race.
They took Jesus first to Annas, probably the most respected and powerful of the Jewish authorities at that time. He had held the office of high priest earlier (A.D. 6-15), and his influence continued through his son-in-law Caiaphas, the current high priest (v. 13) and through his five sons, who had also been high priest for various lengths of time (Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 18.2.1-2; 20.9.1; cf. Chilton 1992:257). Annas was the head of a dynasty, which probably accounts for John's reference to him as high priest (vv. 15-16, 19, 22, cf. Acts 4:6), even though John is clear that Caiaphas is the one holding that office at the time (vv. 13, 24).
There seem to be both historical and theological reasons why John includes this scene of Jesus' questioning before Annas. John mentions "another disciple" who is "known to the high priest" (v. 15) and his household (vv. 16, 26). As with the references to the Beloved Disciple, this is most likely a reference to himself. Like the Beloved Disciple, this other disciple is unnamed, closely associated with Peter and characterized as having special knowledge. It is unclear whether John is saying that he knew the high priest personally or that he knew just some in his household. He is not described as speaking to Annas himself, but he does have personal knowledge of the servants. Perhaps he had contacts through marketing fish, though in that society this would not itself imply limited social contact (cf. Brown 1970:823; Carson 1991:582).
Whatever the nature of his familiarity with Annas, John had other contact with him later when he himself was on trial (Acts 4:6). John had to bear witness before this man, and his bearing witness is the main theme that comes through in this story. He can bear witness to the Passion because he was there (cf. Ridderbos 1997:581). John does not narrate the scattering of the disciples (cf. 16:32), but presumably it took place here at the arrest. John was separated from Jesus at that point, but we now discover it was only for a brief time. He and Peter recover and return to see what transpires. In this way, John has not missed much of the action and thus is able to bear witness to the whole story. Unlike Peter, he is inside the high priest's palace and witnesses the whole of the Passion. This theme of witness is also the focal point of Jesus' exchange with Annas (vv. 20-23). Thus this particular story is important for John, both personally and for the theme it brings out.
John concludes his introduction to Jesus' interrogation by Annas by identifying Annas as the father-in-law of Caiaphas (v. 13). John refers back to an earlier meeting of the Sanhedrin (11:47-53) and in particular to Caiaphas' prophetic statement that it would be good if one man died for the people (v. 14). This allusion reminds the reader of the reason for Jesus' death. John uses Caiaphas' own statement as a caption under this picture of the Passion, providing the interpretation of the cross as surely as does the title that Pilate will require to be nailed above the head of Jesus (19:19-22). This death is for the sake of the very people who are causing it.