This is not Jesus meek and mild. The YHWH theme continues as Jesus comes to meet his betrayer’s entourage, asks who they seek, and volunteers himself with two words that, quite impressively, knock them to the ground. I AM. Revelation is getting rawer now.
The narrative seems to be spiraling into a rapid climax. Two fulfillments give the various intertwining scenes a momentous tenor (18:9, 32). Previous fulfillments were of scripture (12:38; 13:18; 15:25), as will be future ones (19:24, 28). Here, however, it is Jesus’ “word” that is fulfilled. A telling parallel. Moreover, Peter’s denial suggests a third fulfillment of Jesus’s word amid the other two.
John once again gives us an alternate vantage point for the story, filling in the meeting with Annas (the real Jewish political authority in town) as well as pieces of the discussion with Pilate that, as usual, make more explicit some of the implicit aspects of the Synoptics. Specifically, the accusation before the Roman official, if it is to stick, must be one of treason: he is a pretender to the throne. Thus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” While the answer is yes, John makes it clear that Jesus’ conception of the kingdom was non-threatening enough to Pilate to merit the ruling, “I find no case against him.” Jesus spells out why: his followers do not raise arms for his kingdom. As far as Pilate is concerned, that makes Jesus politically irrelevant and therefore innocent of offense against Rome’s sovereignty. A classic mistake.
To be slightly poetical, for Jesus, the real weapon is truth, something without a hilt to grasp, much to Pilate’s frustration. But the particular quality of this kingdom does not make it irrelevant, especially for those seeking liberation, for as Jesus has already stated, it is the truth that will make them free. “For this I was begotten and for this I have come into the world: that I might bear witness to the truth” (18:37). Revelation is salvation; truth is freedom.