John tells the story of Jesus’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion with the soberness of an eye witness and with the empathy and unique perspective of a beloved friend.
The soldiers who arrested Jesus were not Romans, but were “the captain and officers of the Jews.” This was the private army (police force) of the temple high priest and the Sanhedrin. We know almost nothing of the words the two groups exchanged when the soldiers confronted Jesus and his friends, but the upshot was that Peter would not be intimidated by them.
10 Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.
11 Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? (John 18:10-11)
The soldiers arrested Jesus, bound him, “and led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year.” (John 18:12-13)
Jesus was taken before the Sanhedrin for trial. Scholars often point out that the trial, conducted at night, was illegal. The Sanhedrin was not an unbiased court. They had met earlier and expressed the fear that Jesus might assert his royal claim or cause a popular uprising that would bring retaliation from Rome.
47 Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles.
48 If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.
49 And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all,
50 Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.
51 And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation;
52 And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.
53 Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death (John 11:47-53).
At the trial they found him guilty of blasphemy, which was a death sentence under Mosaic Law (Leviticus 24:16; John 19:7). However, the Sanhedrin lacked authority to execute a prisoner, so they took him to Pilate. Matthew and Mark show how the council tried but failed to find a witness who could convince Pilate Jesus had broken Roman law, but Pilate did not want to deal with it. He sent Jesus to Herod Antipas who was visiting Jerusalem, but had no jurisdiction there. He sent Jesus back to Pilate who now tried to release him instead of Barabbas, but was overruled by the mob who were spurred on up by the priests.
Eternal law requires all ordinances must be witnessed by persons with the right authority. Peter and John had been present at Jesus’s coronation on the Mount of Transfiguration, his administering and teaching about the sacrament, and his atoning sacrifice in garden of Gethsemane. However, their witnessing the Roman trial, where the pain of Jesus’s Atonement continued as he was mocked and whipped, would require some strategy. Jesus had understood that would happen when he told Peter that he would deny him three times before the cock crowed.
John was able to get into the Roman court because he “was known unto the high priest,” but Peter was a Galilean whose accent would betray him, so he had to sit among the servants. Notwithstanding his own deep feelings and personal danger, Peter remained to witness the trial until he was released from his duties by the crowing of the cock. Then he went out and wept bitterly. (That was discussed in the previous chapter called “John 13:38—‘till thou hast denied me thrice’—Peter’s Necessary Witness of the Atonement”).
Pilate made a public display of washing his hands of the matter and told the Jews they could have their way, conceding that Jesus could be crucified under Roman law. He still had to show how Jesus merited execution so he put an inscription on the cross asserting that he was guilty of insurrection against Rome because he had claimed to be the rightful king.
Matthew and Mark each wrote that while Jesus was on the cross he recited at least the first words of the 22nd psalm, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me.” While John does not say Jesus quoted it, he does show how the Roman soldiers fulfilled the psalm’s prophecy about the Savior’s crucifixion (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:35).
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture (Psalm 22:16-18).
John had to watch the prophecy being fulfilled by Roman soldiers who had no idea the real implications of what they were doing.
23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.
24 They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did (John 19:23-24).
It is quite possible that the reason Jesus quoted the 22nd Psalm to his friends who were near the cross was because it not only prophesied of his pain on the cross, but also of his triumphal visit to the world of the spirits as is recounted in Doctrine and Covenants 138. Jesus was assuring his friends that he was still in charge.
Once again John reminds us that Jesus’s close friends were not embarrassed to acknowledge their association with him, even then, when he hung on the cross.
25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!
27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
One can easily imagine the embrace shared by Mary and John when they made that agreement which early Christian tradition says they kept for years until she died.
One can only try to imagine the wordless exchange between Jesus and his beloved friend John as their eyes met. Jesus was in great pain. John, in a different but no less real way, was also suffering. Their eyes shared each other’s agony notwithstanding the encouragement of the final words of the psalm that they each remembered.
Jesus knew his own mission and the power by which he would fulfill it. John also probably remembered back when Jesus had told him:
17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father (John 10:17-18).
Whatever their eyes said to each other, John tells us with certainty that Jesus did not die until he had fulfilled all the covenants he had made with his Father.
28 After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.
29 Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.
30 When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost (John 19:28-30).
Of his own volition Jesus’s triumphant spirit left his mutilated body hanging there on the cross. The 22nd Psalm continues its prophecy to tell us about Jesus’s entering the world of spirits and being met (as D&C 138 tells us) by a congregation of the earth’s greatest spiritual leaders.
22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
23 Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him (Psalm 22:22-25).
John did not leave Jesus after he died, but remained near the cross. Again he watched the fulfillment of the Psalm’s prophecies. “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels (Psalm 22:14).
34 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.
35 And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.
36 For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.
37 And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced (John 19:28-30).
The last act of friendship John records in Jesus’s final days was when Joseph of Arimathæa and Nicodemus went to Pilate and asked for authority to bury Jesus’s body. This was no little feat for two reasons: First, the Jews had heard the predictions that Jesus would come alive again, and feared his body would be stolen to encourage the belief that it would happen. They were determined to make sure that the body would remain safely under their control.
Second, the Romans were not generous to their inferiors. In order for the men to get to Pilot they would, no doubt, have had to bribe some secretary and probably several undersecretaries as well. That would have been only the beginning. There is ample evidence that Pilot did not want to be in that desert and intended to fleece the Jews for all he could get. Undoubtedly, he would have insisted on receiving a very healthy bribe from Jesus’s two wealthy friends before he would risk angering the Jews by granting the men permission to remove Jesus body from the cross and give it a proper burial. His friends did what they had to do to get his permission. One can detect the respect in John’s words as he briefly tells what happened.
38 And after this Joseph of Arimathæa, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
39 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.
40 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.
42 There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand (John 19:28-30).