Jesus was led away bound, down the western slope of the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron valley, and back to Jerusalem. It was in the city that a young man began to follow the armed crowd. This may have been Mark. Possibly he was awakened by the sound of talking and the tramping of many feet and then quickly put on a linen garment over his naked body, hurried out of the house, and began to follow the crowd. This may have been because he recognized that Jesus was being led away. Certain ones appear to have become aware that the young man was following them, and they attempted to grab hold of him. He, however, slipped out of his garment and ran away naked. (Mark 14:51, 52; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
After this incident, the crowd headed for the residence of the high priest, where Annas would first question Jesus. (John 18:13) According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Quirinius, the governor of Syria, had appointed Annas (Ananus) as high priest. (Antiquities, XVIII, ii, 1) He served in this capacity until the “procurator of Judea,” Valerius Gratus, removed him from office in 15 CE. Although no longer in the position of high priest, Annas continued to wield considerable power and influence. Five of his sons and one son-in-law (Caiaphas, the high priest at the time of Jesus’ arrest) became high priests. (Antiquities, XVIII, ii, 2; XX, ix, 1) While Caiaphas was then the official high priest, Annas appears to have had rooms in the same residence. This may be deduced from the fact that Peter’s denial occurred in the courtyard of the high priest, and there is no indication that anyone entered more than one courtyard during the course of the night. (John 18:15-18, 24, 25)
In response to Annas’ questioning regarding his disciples and his teaching, Jesus pointed out that he had always spoken openly to the “world” (or the people), doing so in the temple precincts and in the synagogues, where the Jews assembled. After saying that he had not expressed anything in secret, Jesus continued, “Why are you questioning me? Question those who heard what I spoke to them. See! They know what I said.” One of the subordinates (probably a temple guard) then approached Jesus and slapped him, saying, “Is that how you answer the chief priest?” “If I responded wrongly,” Jesus said, “testify about the wrong. But if appropriately, why do you strike me?” (John 18:19-23)
After the interrogation, Annas sent Jesus bound to his son-in-law, Caiaphas the high priest. Earlier, Caiaphas had told the members of the Sanhedrin that it was better for one man to die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed. (John 11:49, 50; 18:24)
At the time Jesus was led away, the apostles had scattered. Later, Peter decided to follow the armed crowd, but maintained a safe distance. (Matthew 26:57, 58; Mark 14:53, 54; Luke 22:54) According to John 18:15, another disciple also followed when Peter was on his way to the premises of the high priest. The female servant stationed at the gate there recognized this disciple, for the high priest knew him. She opened the gate, allowing him to follow “Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest.” Peter, however, was not permitted to enter but remained standing at the gate. (John 18:16)
Many have assumed that John was the disciple whom the high priest knew. This does not seem very likely. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter and John were brought before Annas, Caiaphas, and the other members of the Sanhedrin for questioning. At that time, both of them were perceived to be unlearned and ordinary men, and the members of the high court recognized that they had been associated with Jesus. (Acts 4:5-7, 13) So it seems improbable that an ordinary fisherman from Galilee had the kind of access to the high priest that would have made his word carry sufficient weight for the female servant to allow Peter to enter the courtyard. (John 18:16)
The details in John 18:15 are too limited to draw any definitive conclusions about this other disciple and how it happened that he and Peter were together after Jesus had been taken through the courtyard. One possibility is that the other disciple, as a member of the Sanhedrin, had been summoned by the high priest and, while on his way, had met Peter. Two members of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus and Joseph from Arimathea, were secret disciples, and there may have been others. (Matthew 27:57; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50, 51; John 12:42; 19:38, 39) Members of the Sanhedrin were influential men whose request the female servant would not have hesitated to honor.
Peter had not been with the crowd that brought Jesus in but arrived later. Therefore, the female gatekeeper appears to have thought that Peter could only be one of his followers. So she asked him, “Are you not also one of the disciples of this man?” “I am not,” he replied. (John 18:17; see the Notes section for additional comments.) His answer did not allay her suspicion.
Slaves and subordinates (probably temple guards) who participated in the arrest of Jesus had started a charcoal fire in the courtyard, for it was cold that night. Peter joined those who were warming themselves around the fire. (Luke 22:55; John 18:18)
While he was seated by the bright fire, the female servant (the gatekeeper) looked him over and expressed herself even more definitely, saying, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean [the Nazarene, Mark 14:67].” (Matthew 26:69) “This man also was with him,” she said to those warming themselves around the fire where Peter had seated himself and was waiting to see what would happen to Jesus. When making his denial, Peter claimed that he did not know him and did not understand what the woman was saying. (Matthew 26:69, 70; Mark 14:66-68; Luke 22:56, 57)
At the time, Peter may not have thought that he had denied his Lord, but may have felt that the woman did not really know what she was talking about and that his response would end any further discussion. By his answer, however, he had committed himself to a lie and had failed to put an end to the suspicion about him.
Peter withdrew to the forecourt (an area closer to the gate) or to the gatehouse. According to the reading of Mark 14:68 in many manuscripts, a cock crowed at this time, but there is no mention of this in the oldest extant manuscripts. A little while later, the female servant again noticed Peter, telling those standing there, “This is one of them,” meaning that he was one of Christ’s disciples, but he denied it. Another female servant spoke up, “This one was with Jesus the Nazarene.” Adding an oath, Peter responded, “I do not know the man.” (Matthew 26:71, 72; Mark 14:69, 70) A third person, a man, said, “You also are one of them,” that is, one of Jesus’ disciples. Then followed Peter’s denial, “Man, I am not.” (Luke 22:58)
John 18:25 could suggest that Peter returned to the courtyard, stood there to warm himself, and was again confronted with the question, “Are you not also one of his disciples?” He denied it.
While Peter was in the courtyard, the chief priests and other members of the Sanhedrin were trying to find witnesses who would confirm the false charges that would justify having Jesus put to death. Although many witnesses presented their testimony, the members of the Jewish high court could not use their words as a basis for sentencing him to death. This was because the witnesses presented conflicting false testimony, with no two being in agreement. Finally, two witnesses came forward, claiming that Jesus had said, “I can break down this temple of God and rebuild it in three days.” Again, however, their testimony disagreed. (Matthew 26:59-61; Mark 14:56-59; see the Notes section for additional information.)
After all the testimony had been presented, the high priest stood up and directed his questions to Jesus, “Are you not answering? What are these [men] testifying against you?” Jesus remained silent, making no reply whatsoever. Caiaphas then put him under oath by the living God (“the Blessed One” [Mark 14:61]), demanding that Jesus reply whether he was the Christ, the Son of God. (Matthew 26:62, 63; Mark 14:60) Jesus’ response (“You have said [it]”) appears to be repeated according to its intended meaning (“I am”) in Mark 14:62. He applied the Messianic prophecy of Daniel 7:13 to himself, saying, “From now on, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power [the Powerful One] and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62) Thereby Jesus indicated that they would not see him again as a human but that he would return from heaven as the exalted one on whom the Almighty’s favor rested (as represented by his being seated at his right hand, the most honorable position).
In an outward display of horror, Caiaphas ripped his garments and said, “He has blasphemed! What need do we still have of witnesses? See! You have now heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” The members of the high court who accepted this basis for rendering a verdict decided that Jesus was deserving of death. (Matthew 26:65, 66; Mark 14:63, 64)
While testimony was being presented against him, Jesus was at a location above the courtyard. After about an hour had passed after Peter had denied Jesus a second time, he was again accused of being his disciple. (Luke 22:59) From the position where Jesus was standing, he, upon turning his head, could see Peter. (Luke 22:61)
Those who had heard Peter speaking in the courtyard recognized his Galilean accent. Therefore, certain ones there confronted him, saying, “Surely you are also one of them [Jesus’ disciples], for even your speech [accent] makes it evident.” (Matthew 26:73) One of them said to the others, “Surely this [man] also was with him, for he is also a Galilean.” (Luke 22:59) According to Mark 14:70, certain ones said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are also a Galilean.” A relative of the high priest’s slave whose ear Peter had cut off, spoke up, “Did I not see you in the garden with him [Jesus]?” (John 18:26) Peter called down evil upon himself, declaring with an oath that he did not “know the man.” While he was still speaking, denying that he knew anything about things being said, a cock crowed the second time. Jesus turned to look at Peter. Their eyes met, and Peter recalled Jesus’ words that he would disown him three times before the crowing of a cock. Emotionally overcome by the recognition of his having failed his beloved Lord, he left the courtyard and gave way to bitter weeping. (Matthew 26:74, 75; Mark 14:71, 72; Luke 22:60-62; John 18:27)
After the members of the high court had decided that Jesus was deserving of death, he was hit, spit upon, and subjected to other abuse. Having blindfolded him, certain ones slapped his face or hit it with their fists and then mockingly said, “Prophesy to us, you Christ [Messiah]! Who is the one who struck you?” In many other ways they continued to blaspheme him. (Matthew 26:67, 68; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:63-65)
Early the next morning, the entire Jewish high court (the Sanhedrin composed of the chief priests, elders of the people, and scribes) met to establish Jesus’ guilt legally and to determine how to have the sentence against him carried out. (Matthew 27:1; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66) Luke 22:67-71 briefly summarizes what then occurred. Jesus was asked whether he was the Messiah (the Christ). He replied, “Even if I told you, you would definitely not believe. And if I were to question you, you would definitely not answer.” This response suggests that they would not give an answer to any question that would point to his being the Messiah. (Luke 22:67, 68) The certainty of their refusal to believe and to answer him is emphasized in the Greek text by the use of two words (ou mé, meaning “not, not”).
Jesus again alluded to the words of Daniel 7:13, saying, “From now on, however, the Son of Man will be sitting at the right hand of the power of God.” Asked if he was the Son of God, Jesus said, “You are saying that I am.” This reply implied that they would not need to raise the question if they knew for a certainty that he could not possibly be this one. At the same time, Jesus, with respect to his identity, confirmed the truth inherent in the question. The members of the high court then decided that they had no need of any witnesses, as he had condemned himself by claiming to be the Son of God. (Luke 22:69-71)
In Mark 14:51, 52, the Greek term for what the young man was wearing is sindón and designates linen of good quality. This could refer either to a linen cloth or a light linen garment. Numerous translations read, “linen cloth,” suggesting nothing more than a loin cloth.
In John 18:17, Peter’s first denial is mentioned before Annas questioned Jesus, and the other two denials are represented as occurring later. The accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke appear to be complementary and provide different details. Based on all the recorded narrations, it seems that the female servant at the gate was not satisfied with Peter’s initial response and began to talk to others. Altogether, he was confronted by various ones at three different times, and on each of these occasions he responded with denials.
Mark 14:58 presents a more detailed version of the statement about the temple. “I will break down this temple made with hands and in three days build another not made with hands.” Both Mark 14:58 and Matthew 26:61 convey the substance of the testimony. Moreover, the men would have spoken individually and not in the Greek language preserved in the text. Therefore, differences in the narration should rightly be expected.
Ancient Jewish regulations prohibited conducting judicial proceedings during the night and on the Sabbath or on festival days. It appears that the members of the Jewish high court chose to set the usual regulations aside on the basis of the principle that extraordinary circumstances required extraordinary measures.
The high priest Caiaphas had earlier stated that it was better for one man to die than for the whole nation to be destroyed. (John 11:50) Because the majority of the members of the Sanhedrin regarded Jesus as a serious threat, they doubtless felt justified in acting according to what they thought the extraordinary situation demanded.
The kind of reasoning they could have followed might be similar to what is expressed in the Tosefta (Shabbat, 15:17) about action that is undertaken on the Sabbath to prevent the possible loss of life. Reference is made to Exodus 22:2, which passage states that a householder who killed a thief who had broken into his home at night would not be bloodguilty. After indicating that the safety of the householder would have been a matter of doubt (it being not absolutely certain that the thief would have killed the householder), the Tosefta continues, “Now if they kill one man to save the life of another which is subject only to doubt as to its safety, is it not logical that they should override the prohibitions of the Sabbath to save a life which is in doubt as to its safety?” (Neusner’s English translation) According to the reasoning of Caiaphas, the safety of the whole nation was at stake, providing a basis for overriding the usual legal requirements.