18 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.
2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
7 Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.
8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” 9 This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)
11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
(John 18:1-11 NIV)
Jesus finished His high priestly prayer in John Chapter 17. John now turns to the scene of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.
John left out the time of prayer on the nearby Mount of Olives, which is covered in the other three Gospel accounts (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46). All three accounts tell of Jesus’ command to His disciples to pray, only to find them sleeping.
In verse 2, Judas reappears on the scene. Judas had left the Upper Room gathering back in chapter 13 (John 13:18-30). Now Judas is back to finish what he began earlier – to lead the Jewish officials to where Jesus is and to betray Him.
John points out that Judas arrives with a large contingent of people:
- some soldiers
- some religious officials (likely from the Sadducees, the majority of the Jewish religious rulers)
- The Pharisees (the minority of the religious leaders, but the ones most likely driving for the charges against and arrest of Jesus).
The Sadducees and the Pharisees did not normally get along or even associate with one another, but they united themselves in their hatred for and loathing of Jesus.
Notice that when the group shows up to arrest Jesus, He does not run away, but takes the initiative and steps up to meet them. Jesus asks them who they are looking for – they reply “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Jesus says, “I am he.” (v. 5). John points out that when Jesus answered, the crowd backed up and fell to the ground. The crowd’s reaction as likely two-fold:
- The soldiers probably drew their weapons and dropped into a defensive formation, ready for a fight from Jesus and His disciples when they tried to arrest Jesus.
- The others most likely fell back from the sheer power of Jesus saying, “I am He.” Jesus used the unspeakable name of God to identify Himself. When Jesus said “I AM”, the religious officials understood and fell down in a holy moment to honor God’s name.
Jesus asks them a second time who they are seeking. Again, the crowd’s question and Jesus’ response are the same. They are after Jesus, and He volunteers Himself.
In verses 8 – 9, John captures Jesus’ command to let the others (His disciples) go. The soldiers had likely surrounded both Jesus and His disciples and were going to arrest all of them since the others were known to follow Jesus. John reminds us that Jesus had promised that none of His disciples were to be lost at this point (John 6:39).
In verses 10 – 11, John records that when the soldiers stepped forward to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Peter likely meant this to slit the assistant’s throat, but a last-second reaction only caused a glancing blow that cut off part of the man’s ear. John omits Doctor Luke’s “the rest of the story” account where Jesus touches the man’s ear and heals him (Luke 22:51).
Jesus commands Peter to put his sword away. Peter’s reaction to defend Him was possibly why Jesus spoke in more general terms when He predicted that one of His own would betray Him (John 13:18-29). Jesus knew if He called out the person (Judas Iscariot) by name, the disciples would likely have immediately taken action to either bind and gag Judas or possibly even murder him to eliminate the threat to Jesus.
The important faith lesson from today’s passage about Jesus’ arrest is that Jesus willingly gave Himself up for us. Jesus’ surrender was not a tragedy or case of mistaken identity; Jesus admitted who He was and was willing to give His life on the cross for our sins, enduring the torture, false accusations, and shame to redeem us once for all.
May we worship Him out of gratitude for all He did for us.