The arrest of Jesus in the Garden

John Chapter 18

We now come to what is arguably the most emotional and powerful part of John’s gospel.   The way Jesus is presented in chapters 18—20 is quite different from what we read in the Synoptics.  There the emphasis there is on the humanity of our Lord—His human nature and His sufferings.  We see Jesus as a man who knew precisely why He was heading toward Jerusalem; He was going there to die.  But He also knows He will rise again.

Here in John, the emphasis is on His deity, and therefore the emphasis is on His glory.  His arrest, His abusive treatment, His death, and His resurrection all point to His glory.

Introduction, verses 1—3

The hour that had been planned from eternity past had finally come!  A sinless and perfect life that culminated in a scant handful of years, marked by physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual healings was at last coming to an end.  Jesus had taught all the Father had given Him to teach; He had prayed for Himself, His disciples and for all who someday would come to believe, and all that remained was the laying down of His life.

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.  (verse 1)

The record of Jesus’ agony in this garden known as Gethsemane is found in the other gospels; for some reason known only to John, he did not include any further information on that subject.  The word “gethsemane” means literally oil press; an appropriate name for the place where our Lord would meditate and pray, so overcome with the knowledge of what awaited Him He would sweat drops of blood.   As a man, Jesus no doubt was full of trepidation, knowing what was just a few hours away.  As the Son of God, Jesus must have been anxious to “get on with it,” for man had been lost and dying in sin long enough; the time of our redemption had arrived.  Jesus knew our fate hung on the actions He would now take.

Some early enemies of the Church, most notably Celsus, taught that Jesus went into the garden to hide; that He was a coward and taken while trying preserved His life in a “most disgraceful way.”  This ridiculous idea, of course, is easily set aside by verses 2 and 3.  Is there a sadder scene in the whole Bible?  Gethsemane was a place where Jesus and the disciples went often; maybe to relax and rest and to get away from the pressing crowds.  We can imagine Jesus and the 12 there on happier occasions, sharing a meal, swapping stories, probably laughing, and enjoying the fellowship of each others company.  Now, though, one of His friends came with soldiers to arrest Him, the Man he had spent three years traveling with and learning from.  It’s a most pathetic, heartbreaking scene.  How must Jesus have felt to see Judas and the soldiers coming across the green fields of Gethsemane with weapons drawn?   One thing is certain:  Jesus was not afraid.

2.  The arrest, verses 4—14

It is clear from verse 4 that Jesus knew exactly what was going on, and the fact that He actually took the initiative to go out and meet the group coming to arrest Him (!), shows that Our Lord was firmly in charge of these events.   But we see something else in Jesus’ character:  His dignity.  This was no coward; He was not simply surrendering to a fate He knew He couldn’t escape.   This was the mighty Son of God willingly surrendering to man.  Consider what would have happened had Jesus not surrendered.  Do you think all those swords and weapons could have touched Him?

The group that came to take Jesus was made up of Judas the betrayer—the embodiment of Satan, officers from the chief priests, some Pharisees, and a detachment of foot soldiers; all those men to take the solitary Man.

When Jesus identified Himself, a strange thing happened—

…they drew back and fell to the ground.  (verse 6b)

The moment Jesus said, “I am He,” He was asserting His deity; the eternal I AM that dated back to the days of Moses.   There was no need for John to record the fact that Judas kissed Jesus; why we don’t know.  The unexpectedness of Jesus’ actions caused the spectacle of the soldiers to fall to the grounds.  The majesty of His presence and His words completely caught these men off guard.  Hoskyns:

The weapons of evil fall prostrate before their true commander.

The Good Shepherd who would give His life for His sheep then did just what a shepherd would do to protect his flock—

“If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”  (verse 8b)

After interrogating these would-be captors (note verse 7), He told them to let His friends go.  Jesus, soon to be imprisoned as a common criminal, was directing the whole scene here.  Evidently the 11 had been taken into custody, but this was Jesus’ mission, not theirs.  He had promised His Father back in 17:12 that He would protect His disciples, and here Jesus is seen fulfilling this promise in voluntarily surrendering His life.  Here is a simple, yet at the same time stunning, illustration of the great theological principle of substitutionary atonement.

True to his nature, Peter rushed to His Lord’s defense and sliced off the ear of unfortunate Malchus, prompting Jesus to say to say to His friend,

“Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”  (verse 11)

Three interesting points are brought out here.  First, at least one of the disciples was carrying a weapon, namely, a sword.  We don’t often think of the disciples as being armed!  Second, Jesus did not need anybody’s help to complete His mission.  Matthew records the rest of Jesus’ statement to Peter—

Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  (Matthew 53)

And in Luke’s Gospel, the good doctor wrote that Jesus actually healed Malchus’ ear (Luke 22:51).  Once again, Jesus is in complete control of the situation here.

3.  Appearing before the religious authorities

(a)  Annas, verses 12—14

It was the religious leaders who had plotted the arrest of Jesus, and so it was natural that He be dragged before a religious leader.  Only John gives us this detail; perhaps of all the disciples he was the only one who saw this interview.

Who was this man, Annas?  He is only mentioned here in the New Testament, although he was quite infamous in Jewish history.  He was undeniably brilliant, yet evil at the same time.  He was high priest from 6 AD—15 AD, but he was succeeded by a series of sons, grandsons, and even sons in law.  This whole religious dynasty was marked with bribery, graft, and corruption all in the name of religion.  Annas was able to amass a great fortune trading on the faithful; it is little wonder that he was one shadowy figure in back of the Jesus’ arrest and trial given that it was his merchants and money changers Jesus had driven from the Temple.

Though not the high priest, Annas was likely the power broker at this time; Caiaphas was the real high priest, son-in-law of Annas.  This initial interview could be considered a sort of “preliminary hearing,” with the main confrontation taking place in verses 12—23.

(b)  Confrontation, verses 19—24

Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.  (verse 19)

This group of verses also appears only in John; the Synoptics make no reference to this questioning.  This meeting was likely “off the record” as there were no charges read or witnesses called.  It has been suggested that Annas and Caiaphas in positing these questions to Jesus were trying to get Him to incriminate Himself in His answers.

In His answers, we again see the dignity of Jesus.  Here was a Man who had nothing to hide.  His teaching was all done out in the open; He was the most transparent of rabbis.  He also showed His wisdom in verse 21—

“Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”

It was part of Jewish law that a prisoner should not be asked questions about himself which if answered could incriminate him.  Jesus was not being a “smart alec,” He was injecting a semblance of order and justice into Annas’ illegal proceeding.

4.  Peter’s denials

(a)  The first denial, verses 15—18

Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus.  (verse 15)

Unfortunately for Peter, all the Gospels record the story of Peter’s denial of Christ.  Despite the incredible success he would have in later years as a mighty evangelist and consummate pastor, surely his repeated denials haunted him for the rest of his life.

Who was this unnamed disciple who, along with Peter, followed Jesus at a distance?  There has been a wide array of opinions; from Nicodemus to Joseph of Arimathea.  Well supported tradition, though, favors John, as the “other” disciple.  It seems that John was fairly well  known to the religious elites; perhaps because of his family’s wealth.    Because of this, John was able to go in with Jesus; Peter, on the other hand, had no standing with the religious community.  He was a poor fisherman with a big mouth who often acted rashly; he, therefore, was forced to remain outside.

Peter was caught off guard when a servant girl assumed he was one of Jesus’ disciples.  Apparently John was not asked such a question, only Peter.  Why?  John had free access to where Jesus was, so his relationship with Jesus seemed obvious, leading the girl to ask of Peter—

You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?”  (verse 17)

Peter’s first denial came quickly, and really, he had no reason for such a denial; this girl posed no threat to Peter, but he denied Jesus, as was foretold.  Still, we have to give Peter some credit.   The other disciples are nowhere to be found; at least Peter was *trying* to follow Jesus.  Just as Peter *tried* to walk on water.

(b)  The second denial, verse 25

Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”   He denied it, saying, “I am not.”

The other accounts indicate that Peter went out and wept bitterly.  Perhaps Peter was hoping to get “lost in the crowd,” but it didn’t work.  He was recognized for who and what he was.  The way they worded their question, they expected a negative answer; it was beyond their comprehension that anybody would claim to be a follower of Jesus!   Poor Peter.  His faith caved before man, thus the second denial.

(c)  The third denial, verses 26, 27

One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?”  Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

The third denial, as John records them, came right on the heels of the second.  This time, the one questioning Peter was absolutely positive who Peter was.  He had good reason to recognize Peter; Peter had chopped his cousin’s ear!

The questions put to Peter and the way they were asked went from a casual remark to suspicion to certainty, and to Peter, it must have seemed like the noose was getting tighter and tighter.  Each denial was more vehement than the last.  Immediately after this third denial, the rooter crowed, bringing Jesus’ words back to Peter’s mind—

Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!”  (John 13:38)

(c)  2010, WitzEnd

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