Hi I’m Josh Hawkins, this is episode 134 of Opening Up the Gospels. Since Episode 125 we’ve been looking at the events on Thursday evening of Passion Week. I spent several episodes talking about the Last Supper, and in the last 3 episodes I showed you Jesus’ possible route from the Upper Room through the Temple to the garden called Gethsemane. We left off talking about Jesus’ prayer in the garden, and I proposed that Jesus had much more on His mind than just His own well-being during those final moments in prayer. In today’s episode I want to continue our look at Thursday and early Friday of Passion Week. As I’ve noted before, the Gospels “zoom in” a lot here - the record of these events are much more detailed than many of the other scenes the authors have recorded for us in the past two years of Jesus’ ministry. So let’s read from Mark 14:
"And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”"
(Mark 14:41–42 ESV)
Recall that Jesus had invited Peter, James, and John to proceed further into the garden with Him, while the other 8 disciples remained perhaps near the entrance. It’s likely very late in the evening at this point, perhaps around midnight or 1am. And as Jesus returns to them after privately praying a third time, they are fast asleep again. It’s been a long day for them, and unfortunately they can’t stay awake and pray with Jesus. So Jesus comes and wakes them with urgency, essentially saying “guys, wake up, this is about to get real.” So Jesus, knowing what’s about to happen, proceeds back to the entrance of the garden and from there, they see a band of Roman soldiers and Jewish officers approaching, carrying lanterns and torches. Let’s take a look at a map for a second. Likely this band had left the Antonia fortress, as you can see here. Now according to the historian Josephus, Antonia’s Fortress was a building that was built around 6AD that served as a residence for King Herod as well as barracks for the Roman troops. It also had a central courtyard for public speaking and served as a safe deposit place for the robe of the High Priest. This was right next to the Temple. Now presumably the detachment of troops and officers would have first gone to the upper room, where Judas had last seen Jesus. Upon not finding Him there, Judas likely led them to Gethsemane on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. Now in order to get there, the detachment had to descend into the valley where the Brook Kidron flowed, cross over the brook, and then head up the slopes of the Mount of Olives to Gethsemane. They could see them from a distance not only because it was dark out and they could see torches, but because they had to head up the slopes of Olivet to the garden. Does that make sense? Now John 18 says:
"Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons."
(John 18:2–3 ESV)
Lanterns, torches, and weapons. At 1am. Were they expecting a fight? Did Judas expect the other eleven to defend their master? The Greek words used by all four Gospels to describe the number of soldiers who came to arrest Jesus is mind-blowing. John 18:3 says that there was a “band of soldiers”. This Greek word describes a military cohort, typically consisting of hundreds of soldiers. They were extremely well-trained and equipped with the finest Roman weaponry of the time period. John 18:3 also says that officers from the chief priests and Pharisees came. These guys were like “police officers” who worked in and around the Temple. Matthew 26:47 says that a “great multitude” of soldiers came (Gk: ochlos polus). Mark 14:43 and Luke 22:47 also call it “a great multitude” (Gk: ochlos). So based on what we know about the Romans and these words from the Gospels, we should have in mind a large crowd - not just 10 or 15 people. The hillside up the Mount of Olives would have been covered with highly trained soldiers and officers. Think about how many times Jesus had slipped away from crowds in the past. Judas must have remembered this. And Jesus had demonstrated His power so often throughout His ministry, so much so that even Herod had heard and wanted to see it. So were they scared that Jesus would slip away again? Were they afraid that He would use His power against them? Surely that was not in Jesus’ heart. Author James Stalker says this:
“How ridiculous now looked their cumbrous preparations—all these soldiers, the swords and staves, the torches and lanterns, now burning pale in the clear moonlight. Jesus made them feel it. He made them feel what manner of spirit they were of, and how utterly they had mistaken His views and spirit. “Whom seek ye?” He asked them again, to compel them to see that they were not taking Him, but that He was giving Himself up. He was completely master of the situation. Singling out the Sanhedrists, who probably at that moment would rather have kept in the background, He demanded, pointing to their excessive preparations, “Be ye come out as against a thief, with swords and staves? When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against Me.” He, a solitary man, though He knew how many were against Him, had not been afraid: He taught daily in the temple—in the most public place, at the most public hour. But they, numerous and powerful as they were, yet were afraid, and so they had chosen the midnight hour for their nefarious purpose. “This is your hour,” He said, “and the power of darkness.” This midnight hour is your hour, because ye are sons of night, and the power ye wield against Me is the power of darkness.” -Stalker, James: The Trial and Death of Jesus Christ : A Devotional History of Our Lord's Passion.
The Gospels continue the story, saying:
"While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”"
(Luke 22:47–48 ESV)
So Jesus is no longer withdrawn into the garden but is closer to the entrance. The soldiers draw near the entrance, likely remaining on the outside of the enclosed space, and Judas goes in before them and gives Jesus a kiss. Why a kiss? It wasn’t clear. It was deep into the night, and the Jews going out to arrest Jesus might have had a casual familiarity with Him, but the garrison of Roman soldiers didn’t care who He was and likely had no idea who He was. This was completely a Jewish matter. So the kiss would definitely have been one certain way to distinguish who Judas was talking about. Now John’s Gospel continues and adds a bit more detail here. He says:
"Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.”"
(John 18:4–9 ESV)
So Jesus passes beyond Judas after the kiss and comes out to the entrance where the rest of His disciples were and confronts those who had come to seize Him. And what does He do? He’s just so composed here, He’s not worried, not uncomfortable, and in no way is He a victim of what was transpiring. He says “who are you looking for?” and they say “Jesus of Nazareth”. Then, Jesus responds with something absolutely incredible. John 18:5 records Jesus’ response in Greek as “ego eimi”. He says this two more times, in verses 6 and 8. Now remember back to episode 91 where I talked about the significance of this phrase in Greek, how it links back to Exodus chapter 3 and the God of Israel’s revelation of Himself to Moses and to His people. Jesus is not just saying “hey, I’m the guy you’re looking for”. The Greek makes it clear that He is saying “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”. And what happens? The soldiers draw back and fall to the ground. Oh, the majesty of the One before them! Falling to the ground is a regular reaction of those who have come near to the God of Israel throughout the Bible, and I think that’s what John is trying to highlight for us here. Jesus finishes his statement to them by showing such concern for His disciples. He said “let these men go”, and John says that this was to fulfill what Jesus had spoken earlier. In all of this, we have to see that Jesus is willingly giving Himself over to them. Willingly. But John 18 continues with one more important detail:
"Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)"
(John 18:10 ESV)
Now I think it’s difficult to know what the disciples understood at this point, but it seemed like this was a big moment for them. I think John and Peter knew that Judas was the betrayer at this point, but I am not sure if they would have completely connected the dots and said “oh, ok, so Judas is going to betray Jesus and that’s how He’s going to be captured and then die.” I don’t think they understood exactly what it was going to look like. And Peter here I think is showing a little bit of sympathy with the zealot movement in Israel - he’s wanting to fight for the One he really believes is the promised king of Israel. But Jesus renounces that and tells Him to put away his sword. Not only that, Luke 22:51 records that after Peter cuts off Malchus’ right ear, Jesus stretched out His hand and healed him. My gosh, what did Malchus think? Jesus is so kind to His enemies. He uses His power to heal the guy that came out to arrest Him! Unreal. John 18 continues:
"So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him."
(John 18:12 ESV)
Mark’s Gospel adds this detail:
"And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” And they all left him and fled."
(Mark 14:48–50 ESV)
So they finally arrested Him and led Him off to the high priest. And all the disciples forsook Him and fled, fulfilling what Jesus had spoken just a few hours before at the Passover meal. And just like that, Jesus was alone, being led by hundreds of soldiers up the slopes of the Kidron Valley back to the city. There He was - the promised Messiah and the God of Israel Himself, allowing Himself to be shackled and paraded before seemingly powerful men in the city. This was a scandalous, civic injustice, something that was completely against Jewish law. What was in the heart of man that we would do this to God? God appeared among us, and this is what we did to Him. What meekness filled His heart that He went forward and submitted to being bound as a criminal and led away from His closest friends? He knew what was ahead of Him, and He didn’t shrink back from it. As Peter himself would go on to say in 1 Peter 2, this is the example He left for us to follow.
Well, we’re out of time for today but come back next time when we’ll continue our look at the fateful events of Thursday evening. If you’ve missed any of the past episodes in this series, go back and find them all on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and I hope to see you next time.