When Men Judge God

12 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people. John 18:12-14 ESV

The trials of Jesus begin. In a real sense, the scenes which John is about to describe portray the Son of God, the creator of all things (John 1:3), being judged by those He has made. Mortal men are going to dare to put on trial the immortal God of the universe. It brings to mind the words of the prophet, Isaiah.

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?
– Isaiah 45:9 ESV

And the apostle Paul picked up on this theme in his letter to the churches in Rome.

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” – Romans 9:20 ESV

And yet, John is going to record for posterity the unjust and unfathomable audacity of mere men standing in judgment of the one and only Son of God. The high priest of Israel, members of the Sanhedrin, the Roman governor, and the puppet-king of Israel will all consider themselves worthy of determining the fate of the King of kings and Lord of lords.

The irony behind all of this is how the guilty and condemned are attempting to try and convict their own Judge. Jesus had earlier warned the Jewish religious leaders that God had given Him the authority to judge.

“…the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.” – John 5:22-23 NLT

But they had refused to accept Jesus as the Son of God. To them, His words were nothing more than the ravings of a madman or the twisted rhetoric of a false Messiah vainly hoping to stir up a revolution. So, when He spoke, they failed to believe what He had to say. And His warnings of future judgment went in one ear and out the other.

“The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son. And he has given him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man. Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment.” – John 5:26-29 NLT

Jesus had made it perfectly clear that He had God-given authority to judge, and when the right time came, He would “judge everyone.” And the result of that judgment would eternal consequences. And Jesus had boldly declared to the pious and self-righteous religious leaders, “my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will” (John 5:30 NLT).

Immediately after describing the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, John recorded an encounter between Jesus and the crowds who had cheered His arrival into the city. In spite of the royal welcome Jesus had received, John reported that there were many who still refused to believe in Him. But he added, “Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43 NLT).

And John portrays Jesus as literally shouting at these people, in an attempt to open their eyes to the reality of who He was and why He had come. He wanted them to understand that He was the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should remain in darkness. As for anyone who hears My words and does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects Me and does not receive My words: The word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” – John 12:44-48 BSB

Here, Jesus reveals the truth that the religious leaders had missed. Yes, He had been given full authority by God to judge all men. And the day would come when He would exercise that authority. But that was not the purpose behind His incarnation. Jesus had not come to judge, but to save. In point of fact, the world had already been judged and condemned. God had passed judgment against all humanity when Adam and Eve had rebelled against Him the garden. The parents of the human race were judged guilty and condemned to live the rest of the lives separated from God’s holy presence. And, rather than enjoying eternal life and unbroken fellowship with God, their lives would be marked by spiritual isolation and end in physical death and eternal separation from God.

And Paul reports the sad fact that the sinful disposition exhibited by Adam and Eve was passed on, infecting their future offspring.

…sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… – Romans 5:12 ESV

And he adds that “the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation” (Romans 5:16 ESV). But Paul wasn’t content to leave it at that. He wanted his readers to fully grasp the gravity of the situation.

…because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man… – Romans 5:17 ESV

…one trespass led to condemnation for all men… – Romans 5:18 ESV

…by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners… – Romans 5:19 ESV

What Paul is attempting to describe is the pervasive nature of the darkness that shrouded the world when Jesus arrived on the scene. All humanity stood as guilty before God because all were sinners. And all faced the same miserable fate to which God had condemned Adam and Eve: Death and eternal separation from Him.

But Jesus had come to save the world, not judge it. The whole intent behind His incarnation had been to bring salvation, not condemnation. The Light had invaded the darkness in order to bring life to those living under the condemnation of sin and death. And John opened his gospel with the sober words that describe the reception Jesus would receive.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. – John 1:9-10 ESV

And now, three years later, the life-giving Light of the world was preparing to submit Himself to a series of trials officiated by men who will day stand before Him as their Judge and King. Whether they realized it or not, these “clay pots” were going to judge their Maker. And, once again, the prophet Isaiah has some strong words for those who would attempt to reverse the roles and place themselves as God’s judge.

You have turned things upside down, as if the potter were regarded as clay. Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pottery say of the potter, “He has no understanding”? – Isaiah 29:16 BSB

Consider the absurdity of it all. Men blinded by darkness were going to judge the Light of the world. The spiritually dead were about to condemn to death the One who could give them eternal life. Those suffering from spiritual hunger were about to destroy the Bread that gives life to the world. The spiritually thirsty were preparing to crucify the only source of “living water” that could provide them with “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 ESV).

Don’t miss the visual paradox that John describes.

So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. – John 18:12 ESV

The creator of the entire universe is bound with ropes and led like an animal, or as Isaiah put it, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7 ESV). The one who “never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone” (1 Peter 2:22 NLT) is dragged from the garden like a common criminal. The “great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (Hebrews 4:14 ESV) and who will offer the once-for-all-time sacrifice for the sins of mankind is forced to submit Himself before a frail and flawed human high priest.

…they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. – John 18:13 ESV

According to the NET Bible study notes, “Annas had been high priest from a.d. 6 to a.d. 15 when he was deposed by the Roman prefect Valerius Gratus (according to Josephus, Ant. 18.2.2 [18.34]). His five sons all eventually became high priests. The family was noted for its greed, wealth, and power.”

Annas, the father-in-law of the current high priest, was still considered the patriarch of his family and was treated with reverence and respect. Here John provides a not-so-subtle father-and-son motif. Jesus, the Son of God, is brought before Annas, the father of Caiaphas. The father is shown respect and honor by being the first to interrogate Jesus. These religious representatives of the people of Israel will gladly honor an earthly father but will treat their Heavenly Father with disrespect by refusing to accept His Son.

And John reminds his readers that it was Caiaphas, the son of Annas, and the current high priest, who had unknowingly prophesied of Jesus’ pending death.

It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people. – John 18:14 ESV

John recorded this conversation back in chapter 11.

But one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

Caiaphas did not say this on his own. Instead, as high priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus would die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also for the scattered children of God, to gather them together into one. – John 11:49-52 BSB

Jesus may have been the one whose hands were bound, but these men were captives to the will of God. They were mere pawns in the hands of the sovereign God of the universe and would prove to be His instruments for fulfilling His divine plan of redemption. And Jesus, the Son of God, accepted His fate with an attitude of willing submission and faithful trust in His loving, all-knowing Heavenly Father.

He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. – 1 Peter 2:23 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson