John 18:2-14, 19-23
"If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I'm speaking the truth, why are you beating me?” – John 18:23 NLT
Jesus has been arrested. His hands have been tied and He has been dragged before Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest, Caiaphas. Annas had been high priest and was still afforded the respect of that title, even though his son-in-law had replaced him as the official high priest. Upon Jesus arrival, Annas began to question Him, asking about His followers and what He had been teaching them. As usual, this is an attempt on the part of the religious leadership to try to get Jesus to say something for which they could accuse of Him of blasphemy, or better yet, insurrection against the Roman authorities. But Jesus doesn't give them the pleasure of an answer. He simply responds, "Everyone knows that I teach. I have preached regularly in the synagogues and the Temple, where the people gather. I have not spoken in secret. Why are you asking me this question? As those who heard me. They know what I said" (John 18:20-21 NLT). In other words, Jesus makes it clear that nothing He has done has been secretive or clandestine in nature. He has been up-front and honest about everything He has taught. But His response was viewed as disrespectful to one of the Temple guards, who slaps Jesus in the face for His seeming disrespect for the high priest.
Jesus' response, while short and to the point, speaks volumes. He replied, “If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?” (John 18:23 NLT). This statement is the central issue here. The burden of Jesus' guilt was solely on the religious leaders. They were going to have to prove that what Jesus had been teaching and doing was wrong. It was up to them to testify regarding the invalidity or inaccuracy of Jesus' ministry. But the reality was, there was no justification for the way He was being treated. His arrest was uncalled for. He had done nothing wrong. The only thing for which Jesus was "guilty" was for being exactly who He claimed to be: The Messiah. Jesus was speaking the truth, and had been from the very beginning. But the religious leaders considered Him to be a liar and a blasphemer. They viewed Him as a troublemaker and a threat to their way of life.
It's interesting that when they arrested Jesus in the garden, He asked them who it was they were looking for. Their response was, "Jesus the Nazarene." Their view of Jesus was that He was a virtual nobody who hailed from nowhere significant. He was a Nazarene after all, and nobody had much respect for the place or its inhabitants. All the way back at the start of His ministry, when Jesus had met Phillip for the first time, Phillip had told Nathanael, "We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth" (John 1:45 NLT). Nathanael's response was typical of the view most Jews had of Jesus' home town: "Nazareth! Can anything good come from Nazareth?" (John 1:46 NLT).
But Jesus was far more than a Nazarene. He was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He was the long-awaited Messiah. He was the way, the truth, and the life. He was the key to the restoration of mankind's relationship with God the Father. He was sent from God and spoke the truth of God. His miracles had validated His message. His words had been proven true over and over again. But Caiaphas and his cohorts refused to believe in Him. To them He was nothing more than a nuisance from Nazareth, and they were about to do whatever it took to see that He was neutralized. The fact that they would be unable to disprove His words or invalidate His claims was inconsequential to them. He was a threat and He had to be eliminated. But they would never find a single thing to accuse Jesus of, except for being exactly who He had always claimed to be. His only guilt would be for being the Son of God and the Messiah. Jesus would die for speaking the truth and for being the Son of God. His divinity would be His undoing. His very role as Savior would result in His own death. But that is the way God had planned it from the start. It was the way it had to be. Their rejection of Jesus would pave the way for our redemption. But God is not done with Israel. Their rejection of Him, while significant, will not be permanent. Paul makes this clear when he writes, "Did God's people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God's offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share then they finally accept it" (Romans 11:11-12 NLT). In spite of their rejection of Jesus, God will restore them one day. He will show them mercy just as He has done for us. What an incredibly gracious God we serve.
Father, it is so easy to paint the Jews as hardheaded and stubborn. But as Paul reminds us, "Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people he loves…" (Romans 11:28 NLT). Thank You for Your incredible mercy and grace that You shower on Jew and Gentile alike. You are not a respecter of persons. You sent Your Son to die for all men. Your Son's gift of His life is available to any and all. And Your promises are unbreakable, even to the Jews. Amen.