Jesus is the true high priest, the foundation of Christian discipleship, and the motivating source of the Church’s witness to the world.
Annas was high priest from AD 6 to 15; he was appointed to the office by Quirinius, governor of Syria, about the time when Judea was reduced to the status of a minor Roman province after Herod Archelaus (Mt 2:22) - one of the three sons of King Herod - was deposed from his position.
Annas was removed from the office nine years later by Valerius Gratus, prefect of Judea. But even after his removal he apparently retained great power and prestige as senior ex-high priest. He was succeeded according to Josephus (Ant. 20.198) by his five sons, one grandson and Caiaphas his son-in-law. Thus Annas was the patriarch of a high priestly family.
According to Josephus, Caiaphas’ personal name was Joseph. He was appointed to the office of high-priest in AD 18 by Valerius Gratus and held the office for 18 years - a period longer than any other high priest in New Testament times.
Pilate was appointed as prefect of Judea after Gratus in AD 26 and for certain reason did not remove Caiaphas from the office. Both were removed from their respective offices in AD 36 by Lucius Vitellius, governor of Syria.
The historical background explains why Jesus was first brought to Annas - after all he was the patriarch of the high-priest family. It seems that the first hearing of Jesus’ case took place there, but we are having a problem here.
The Evangelist tells us that Caiaphas was the high-priest “at that time” and it seems he was interviewing Jesus beginning in 18:19; but in 18:24, we read that Annas sent Jesus to Caiaphas.
So, who actually interrogated Jesus? John indicates that both of them, since both of them were high priests (cf. Luke 3:2; Acts 4:6), but in which order and who actually asks questions remains a point for discussion. Perhaps, it was intentional.
18:14 - cf. 11:49
John reminds the reader that Caiaphas was the one who’s statement sealed the fate of Jesus (11:50–52).
Peter is described as ‘following Jesus’ - a term extremely important in the synoptic Gospels (Mt 16:24).
“Another disciples” (cf. 1:40) - the beloved disciple? (13:23) - is also mentioned with a privilege relationship to the high priest.
The statement is interesting, because 13:23 gives us an inside that the Beloved Disciples had also a privilege relationship to the High Priest - Jesus Christ. Moreover, he also had a unique relationship with Peter. This disciple entered the court “with Jesus”.
Another interesting point. Unlike in the case of Peter, the association of this disciple with Jesus is not being questioned. Why?
The contrast between the “another disciple” and Peter is being made clear by the Evangelist. Peter not only stands outside but in a moment he will be questioned about his relationship with Jesus.
This inside-outside language - the another disciples is inside and Peter is outside - plays metaphorical role defining this two disciples.
The secondary role of Peter is highlighted by the fact that the “another disciple” asks the female doorkeeper to allow Peter to enter.
From the arrest and trial (18:15–16) to the morning of Jesus’ resurrection (20:2–8) and later on in chapter 21, these two disciples play their respective roles in the account of this Gospel, as direct eyewitnesses and respondents to the climatic work of the Son.
The maidservant - the female doorkeeper - is a slave girl assigned to the entrance so as to be aware of who entered and exited the premises and take notice of visitors, permitting entrance only to those who supposed to be allowed.
Her referring to Jesus as “this man” probably indicates scorn rather than pity. As a doorkeeper, she is asking Peter whether or not he also belongs to the group of Jesus’ disciples.
Did she know that the “other disciple” was Jesus’ disciple? The question she asks expects “no” answer, and some commentators indicate that Peter gave her the answer she expected.
Whether Peter answered “I am not” in order to get inside or out of fear to being also arrested can be a matter of debate, but the fact remains that Peter was not afraid - this time - to deny Jesus.
Although inside, Peter still remains outside - among the slaves and the servants. He stands among all those who are against Jesus - he is among those who went to arrest Jesus (οἱ ὑπηρέται - 18:3).
Peter was warming himself with them by the fire - a sign of communion and another indication of Peter’s denial. But after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter will ‘stand’ by another “fire” (21:9), will confess his love for Christ (21:15–17), and will begin to follow Jesus (21:19) this time all the way to his death for Christ.
While Peter was warming himself up, Jesus was being interrogated.
It was already noted that the identity of this high priest - Annas or Caiaphas - in view of 18:24 is not clear.
What is clear that there is one more high priest standing there - namely Jesus, the true High Priest.
The subject matter is rather general - Jesus’ disciples and Jesus’ teaching. This court evaluates the person and work of Jesus.
We were told that the high priest asked Jesus, but it is Jesus who actually speaks first here.
In his answer, Jesus addresses first the issue of his teaching.
The term “openly” has been previously used to refer to speaking “in public” (7:4, 26; 11:54) and “plainly” or “clearly” (10:24; 11:14; 16:25, 29) and it indicates that Jesus did not hide anything from the world about his message.
The “world” is intended audience of Jesus and His message (cf. 1:10).
That his teaching was not secretive is the fact that he taught in public places such as the synagogue (6:59) and the temple (5:14; 7:14, 28; 8:20; 10:23).
Jesus does not respond at all like an accused person at an interrogation. “Why question me?” And then he orders the high priest - “ask” (imperative 2 singular) those who heard Jesus’ preaching.
Those are not the words of a submissive and frightened criminal; those are the words of someone who is the true High Priest and the Lord.
Perhaps, even among those gathered there were some who heard his teaching.
The servant (one of the temple police). The same term was used describing the assistants to the Jewish authorities sent to arrest Jesus (18:3) and also those with whom Peter was standing outside the court warning himself by the fire (18:18).
Now, we know why the servant gave Jesus a blow: no one should command the high priest and that what Jesus did in 18:21.
The blow could be with a rod or with an open hand.
The irony is that the servant who asks Jesus, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”, could be asked: ”"Is that how you treat the High Priest?”
But, the question of that servant is the only direct question being asked Jesus in that trial. In this interrogation, Jesus asked the questions.
So, we are call to ponder: who is actually on trial here?
18:23 - Acts 23:2–5
Jesus responds to the blow and it is the final statement in this interrogation.
Many contrasts Jesus’ action with Jesus’ statement in Mt 5:38–40. Yes, Jesus did not offer the other cheek, because he already offered himself entirely all the way to the cross for our salvation.
Moreover, here Jesus speaks as the Judge (5:22–27). And by this statement pronounces a judgement over all this trial. The servant cannot testify that Jesus spoke wrongly, and so the blow is unjustified. At the end, the reader will know that the whole trial was unjustified and the verdict “crucify him” was an act of human injustice against the Son of God.
Up to this point, the reader could think that Caiaphas was the interrogating “high priest”. This verse forces the reader to re-examine this pericope again and ask: who is the high priest?
On a deeper level, neither Annas nor Caiaphas qualify. It seems that the Evangelist wants to make the reader aware that the true High Priest is Jesus, the one bound, arrested, and under interrogation.
The entire pericope 18:15–27 reminds us of Mark’s devise called ‘sandwich’ (cf. Mk 5:21–43 for example).
It started with Peter’s first denial, moved to Jesus’ trial, and now comes back to Peter’s denial.
The narrator reminds the reader where Peter was (18:18).
For the second time Peter is asked whether or not he is one of Christ’s disciples and for the second time, he denies it: “I am not”.
It is worth noting, that none of those interrogating are being named, but only those being interrogated - Jesus and Peter. Anonymity seems to be a special device for the author of this Gospel.
And we see a clear contrast between Jesus - testifying to the truth and Peter - denying the truth.
The last anonymous person asks Peter for the third time about his relationship with Jesus.
But, the Evangelist gives us some details regarding that person: a slave of the high priest, a relative of Malchus, the one Peter cut his right ear (18:10), and he was in the garden during the arrest.
Thus, this person is a witness to Peter’s trying to defend Jesus in the garden.
This time Peter’s denial is stated without the exact words (18:17, 25). The third denial and the rooster are bringing the memory of Jesus’ words in 13:36–38. There Jesus foretold that instead of sacrificing his life for Jesus, Peter would actually deny him three times.
But, the story of Peter does not end there (see 21:15–23).
Peter’s failure and his subsequent following of Christ all the way to his martyrdom in Rome offers us meaningful insights to Christian discipleship.