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An Arrest at Midnight

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: John 18:12–14, 19–23

Those who are consumed with their own power are unconcerned about justice. This is true even when those in power profess to follow God. There is no better illustration of this than when Jesus stands before Annas, the influential former high priest of Israel.


For centuries children have been singing nursery rhymes that, over the course of time, have lost their original meaning. For instance, many children know some version of the poem that originated from the streets of London, England. 

Ring-a-ring o’ roses,
a pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down!

Now that little rhyme was written in the mid-1600s during the epidemic known as the Black Death. Each phrase of the rhyme referred to the symptoms:

  • “Ring-a-ring o’ roses” was a reference to little red rashes that developed on the skin.
  • “A pocket full of posies” referred to the belief that evil smells were the poisonous breath of demons which afflicted people with the disease. So, if you stuffed your pockets with posies, you could avoid the disease.
  • “A-tishoo! A-tishoo!” referred to the sneezing that accompanied the illness.
  • And “We all fall down” meant that if you got the plague, you died.

Now today it is a little innocent rhyme. But centuries ago, it was a little song of sadness and grief.

As we approach the Gospel passages that describe the several court appearances of Jesus, it is easy to skim over the words and not realize the depth of horror and sadness the Lord endured. We typically race to the crucifixion and then on to the resurrection without taking much time to look at these illegal trials of Jesus and all the tragedy involved in the process. 

John’s Gospel tells us what happened immediately following the arrest of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Here in John chapter 18, the Lord is led from the garden to nothing less than an illegal, corrupt trial. Look at verses 12 and 13:

So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.

You might notice that instead of taking Jesus to the current high priest, Caiaphas, they bring him to the wealthy estate of Annas. They are evidently following orders here, as Annas wants the first look at this Galilean Carpenter.

It is not hard to understand why. Annas was the most powerful Jew in Jerusalem. He had served as the high priest about twenty years earlier, yet he still had control of virtually everything religious in Jerusalem. He controlled the temple system, the selling of sacrificial animals, and the money changing, where exorbitant rates were charged. He is even referred to by the title “high priest” in this passage.

When Jesus overturned the tables earlier and threw the money changers out of the court of the Gentiles in the temple, He was exposing the corruption of religion in His nation’s day. And the corrupt leader over all of it was Annas.

The Old Testament law called for the high priest to serve his entire lifetime. But by the time of Christ, the Romans had begun appointing high priests who were sympathetic to Rome. They wanted someone who was willing to be controlled by the Roman Empire. Whoever served as high priest, was a man who had sold out—he did not represent God; he represented the Roman government.

Several years earlier, Annas had been replaced by Rome, but he had exerted enough influence to ensure that five of his sons, as well as his son-in-law Caiaphas, the current high priest, all held this office. This family was like a mafia family today. They were the mob bosses of organized, corrupt religion.

So, Annas wanted to meet this carpenter who had caused him sleepless nights and a bad case of high blood pressure. Jesus was the nightmare he longed to get rid of.

Now verses 19-20:

The high priest [Annas] then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.”

The Lord essentially says that the high priest’s questions have already been answered because He had taught openly—Jesus did nothing in secret. This was an implicit accusation that this secret, midnight hearing was illegal. You can be sure that everybody is tuned in now!

Everybody knows Annas is a crooked, cheating embezzler, and they have probably all been bribed or threatened by this old hypocrite. Now they see a simple carpenter putting Annas in his place. Nobody does that to Annas!

In fact, someone quickly comes to the former high priest’s defense in verse 22:

When [Jesus] had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”

This guy must have been the bailiff standing next to Judge Annas. And he knows the high priest, the judge, has just been royally exposed and embarrassed, and he punches Jesus—more than likely in the face.

Jesus responds in verse 23, saying, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”

Some time ago I asked a man in our church who is a federal judge what would happen if a defendant accused the judge of something and the bailiff turned and punched the defendant in the face. This judge told me that the bailiff would be on trial himself in the very near future.

But that did not happen here! Verse 24 tells us, “Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the [current] high priest.” Even with that bailiff’s help, Jesus proved to be too much for old Annas to handle. The Lord’s words had pierced right through this religious hypocrite.

So now Jesus, probably nursing a bloody nose, is taken in the middle of the night to another man who is equally corrupt. And the illegal trials of Jesus continue.

A child named Michael was in Sunday school class in Rochester, New York, listening as his teacher explained this passage of Scripture. The teacher noticed she had Michael’s undivided attention, and when she finished, she asked, “Does anybody have any questions?” Michael shot his hand up and said, “I just want to know one thing,” he said: “Where were the state police when all this was going on?”

Well, the “state police” were in on it too. The irony is that the Jewish people prided themselves on their legal system—especially their supreme court, the Sanhedrin. This body was composed of twenty-three priests, twenty-three scribes, and twenty-three elders, plus the high priest.

You may recall from our study in the Gospels that Jesus repeatedly told His disciples that He would be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes and they would condemn Him to death. He was referring to the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of Israel, before whom He would stand, knowing He would be unjustly condemned.

Can you imagine the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States descending from their benches and coming around to begin beating a prisoner accused of blasphemy. Well, in our next Wisdom Journey, the Sanhedrin will descend upon Jesus, spitting in his face, slapping Him and cursing Him. Let me tell you who the real blasphemers were on this night—all these religious leaders. From the front office to the back alley, so to speak, they were corrupt and committed to putting this prisoner to death. 

Have you heard of this prisoner? Did you know He surrendered His rights to a fair trial so that you would never have to stand trial before God? Did you know He faced the wrath of hypocritical men so that you would never have to face the wrath of a holy God?

Oh, I hope and pray today that you have given your life to this innocent prisoner, this holy Lamb of God—this Redeemer, the Son of God, who died for you.

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