Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

213. The Arrest of Jesus (Matt. 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-50; Luke 22:47-54; John 18:2-l 2)*

The military force which was detailed for the arrest of Jesus made an impressive array. A careful study of the phrases used in John's gospel (18 :3,12) makes it clear that all told the force employed must have numbered some hundreds. The Jewish temple guard, with their leaders, was included, on the requirement of the Jewish authorities. And with them came chief priests and elders from the Sanhedrin (Lk.). The occasion was important enough for that. Also there was a considerable squad of men from the Roman detachment on duty at the fortress of Antonia. Their presence corroborates the suggestion in Morison's 'Who moved the stone?' that during the night the chief priests had approached Pilate and got out of him a promise of co-operation.

Elaborate preparations

Why so many to arrest one man? Most probably because they intended to arrest the entire group-both Leader and disciples (Lk.22 :31). There would be fears also of strong action by his followers. His kingdom is to be of this world, thought the chief priests, therefore his servants will fight. Even Judas's strong assurances to the contrary would not convince them otherwise. So they took all possible precautions. A riot in Jerusalem at any time could be a fearsome experience, especially at one of the great feasts when the city was crowded with religious enthusiasts. So almost over-elaborate precautions were taken similar to those when Paul was escorted to Caesarea out of reach of the Jerusalem mob (Acts 23 :23).

They came "with lanterns and torches"-to seek for the Light of the World!-and fully armed. The temple guard carried wooden clubs. The soldiers had, of course, their swords as well as other accoutrements.

The Mishna's rule for the Feasts, a rule which probably goes back to the time of Jesus, was: "No man shall go out with sword or bow or sling or lance. But if he shall go out (thus), he shall be guilty of sin." Perhaps the use of clubs by the temple guard was a casuistic evasion of the spirit of this instruction whilst complying with the letter of it. It is to be observed in passing that Peter and one of his comrades were so apprehensive of impending trouble and so convinced that Jesus would need their efforts for his security that they had flouted this law. Events were soon to prove how futile such good intentions were.

Earlier in their narrative the Synoptists all mention that the traitor was an apostle, but at this point—as though in token of their horror at the deed—they all repeat that he was "one of the twelve." Possibly Luke's phrase: "he that was called Judas" is intended to direct attention to his utter unworthiness of a name which means "Praise" (Rom.2 :29).

There is a possibility that when Judas left the Upper Room he knew that it was already arranged to rendevous in Gethsemane. But more likely he led the soldiers back to the Upper Room first, then, finding Jesus was gone, would know immediately where he was to be found. And he led them there even though—or, because-he knew it to be his Leader's place of prayer!

The language of both Mark and Luke suggests an element of surprise about the sudden appearance of the enemy in Gethsemane, though it is not easy to see how such a body of men equipped with lanterns and torches could approach stealthily. The surprise, then, is to be explained by the sleep of the disciples whom Jesus evidently left undisturbed until the last possible moment.

Doubtless Judas would have been only too glad to stay in the background whilst Jesus was apprehended, but the presence of the eleven, together with the fact that the arrest was being made by Roman soldiers who had never set eyes on Jesus before, made a sign necessary. So Judas "went before them"-a fact which stamped itself on the memory of Peter (Acts 1 :16). More than this, he "gave them a sign" by which to identify their man.

There is a neat "undesigned coincidence" between the gospels here. By mention of this sign, Matthew and Mark imply the use of Roman soldiers. John implies the same thing by the word which he uses for "band"-its six New Testament occurrences all refer to a Roman detachment.

Betrayed with a kiss

"Lead him away safely," was Judas's instruction and warning. Doubtless there were vivid memories of at least five occasions during the past three years when futile attempts had been made to use force against Jesus (Lk.4 :30; Jn.7 :30; 8 120,59; 10 :39). The temple guard had already had one signal failure (Jn.7:32/45).

Judas's emphasis on "safely" surely presents a difficulty to those who believe that the traitor, deeming his Master inviolable, betrayed him so as to force him to assert openly his Messianic power. Such a point of view requires that this word "safely" be interpreted as an elaborate piece of window-dressing by the traitor. More likely that dramatic warning inadvertently expressed a touch of personal resentment in the mind of Judas. Either way there is a dramatic irony imparted to Mark's phrase: "he draweth near to him," for the word is that normally used in the Old Testament for drawing near to God to offer sacrifice or seek counsel. Luke's word, a different one, is also often used in the same sense.

The kiss was evidently the normal greeting between Jesus and his disciples (and hence 1 Cor.16 :20?). Yet this is the only hint of it in all four gospels. The word used by Mark is intensive: "he kissed him much or effusively." With this action Judas forfeited his last claim to the reader's sympathy. Appropriately, the word is the same as that used (2 Sam.20:9) for Joab's greeting of Amasa when in the same moment "he smote him under the fifth rib, and shed out his bowels to the ground."

The kiss of betrayal was supplemented with the greeting: "Master!", doubtless with intention to help the identification. But to Judas Jesus had ceased to be Rabbi. This, like the kiss, was just part of his play-acting, all of which was so vividly anticipated in the earlier Scriptures: "For it was not an enemy that reproached me: then I could have borne it; neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company . . The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords" (Ps.55 =12,13,14,21).

Strangely enough, at this point in the narrative Luke's language echoes instead the phrases of Genesis 27 :27a about play-acting Jacob: "and he came near, and kissed him (his father Isaac)."

Judas's greeting was coolly received by His Master (how could it be otherwise?), for it was immediately perceived that the kiss was only a hypocritical sign of identification. The question: "Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?" (contrast Lk.15 :20 s.w.), was only another example out of many of the superhuman insight which Jesus was able to exercise. By itself it would be a pointed but ineffective reminder to Judas of the utter wrongness of his action. It is profitable also to observe how Jesus once again couched his rebuke in the form of a question (cp. Mt.26:40).

The other question put to Judas doubtless had similar intention: "Friend (Ps.41 :9; 55 :13; Mic.7 :5), Wherefore art thou come?" It is true that the brief Greek phrase may be read as an imperative: "Do that for which thou art come" (as RV), thus expressing an eagerness of Jesus to get the ordeal over: "That thou doest, do quickly" (Jn.13 :27). But this reading requires an extra verb to fill out the ellipsis. Also it presents a Jesus more concerned with himself than with his disciple. So it is surely better to follow the common version, and take the words as a question by which Jesus vainly hoped to rouse the conscience of Judas.

But though calling the traitor "friend", Jesus could not bring himself to use the word of dose personal affection. Instead he chose "Comrade", a term to which he always imparted a touch of disapprobation (Mt.22 :12; 20:13; 11:16).

Then, without waiting, for (says John) "Jesus knew all things that should come upon him" (Jn. 2:24,25; 6:64,65; 13:11; 16:30; 21:17; Jer. 11:18), he "went forth" (through the gate of the garden?)to surrender his liberty. It may be that Judas in his eagerness had given the signal too early, or that in coming near to Jesus he was lost in the close group of disciples round Jesus so that his signal became ineffectual.

"I am he"

"Whom seek ye?" Jesus asked, and by this very question he made impressive contrast with the first Adam who in another garden hid himself from One who would put him to death. "Jesus the Nazarene!" came the opprobrious reply from these Jewish adversaries (Jn.l :46). They used the name in scorn, but to early Christian readers sympathetic to the intense symbolism of John's gospel it would denote the Man whose name is the Branch (Is.11 :1 and 60:21, whence Mt.2 :23).

Meantime the traitor apostle "had taken his stand with them" (Jn.18 :5). Thus he answered liis Master's final search of his conscience: "Judas, wherefore art thou come? Betrayest thou . . .?" And that deliberate answer was: "Yes, I do", even though just reminded that the Leader betrayed was Son of man, the Messiah.

So, ignoring Judas from that moment, Jesus met his enemies face to face: "I am he" he said. Whereupon, "they went backward, and fell to the ground." Comments the ancient writer Thomas Fuller: "If the report of a bare question gave such a blow, Oh had his mouth been charged with a curse against them, what execution would it have done! "The idea, attractive to many, that Jesus literally staggered his Jewish adversaries by appropriating to himself the Ineffable Name of Jehovah (Ex.3:14) cannot be sustained for on at least six other occasions Jesus used the identical "I am" without creating consternation (Jn.4 :26; 6 :20; 8:24,28,58; 13:19). The same phrase was also used harmlessly enough by the blind man (9:9). Most decisive argument of all —had Jesus used the phrase in this divine sense, and been so understood, there would have been no uncertainty or confusion about the case for the prosecution before the Sanhedrin (Mk. 14 :55,56); for, if this interpretation is correct, Jesus was inviting a charge of blasphemy.

Nevertheless it is entirely in the spirit of John's gospel that in later days these words of Jesus should be given this Jehovah interpretation. Spiritual double meanings of this kind abound in the gospels, and especially in John (cp. also the symbolic echo of Is.28 :13, and its context).

The Glory

An alternative explanation on different but not dissimilar lines is available. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, his face shone with the reflected divine radiance of the angel who ministered the Law to him. Similarly Stephen at his trial had the heavens opened to him so that he saw Jesus at the right hand of his Father in divine glory-"and all that sat in the council saw his face as it had been the face of an angel." It seems likely that the same was true of Jesus after the transfiguration, for when he came down from the mount" all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him" (Mk.9 :15; Lk.9 :43RV with 2 Pet.l :16-supports this conclusion). Then is it at all improbable that the same should happen in Gethsemane where only a little whileearlier there had appeared an angel from heaven strengthening him?

This experience would seem to be anticipated in a Messianic psalm-Psalm 42-which Jesus twice appropriated for himself. (v.5a LXX = Mt.26 :38; and v.6a LXX = Jn.12 :27). It is worthwhile to observe there how "the help of his countenance" (v.5) becomes "the health of my countenance" (v.ll;cp.Jn.17:24).

Such a glory in the face of Jesus would be more than sufficient to send these men reeling back in consternation. It could be that they stepped back in awe, and fell on their faces before Jesus. "To the ground" is the same word as in Dan.8:18;2:47LXX

But why not Judas also? Possibly because he had witnessed this manifestation on a former occasion. Also, he was fully committed to giving the pre-arranged sign and so, maybe, he drove himself to it when normally he would have been deterred. Whatever the explanation of the extraordinary effect on these adversaries—and it may well have been something quite different from what has been mentioned here-one is led to ponder the situation when, at some future day, these men stand before him again. If the effect of Jesus on his enemies in the days of his weakness was this when he was about to be judged, what will be the effect when he comes in glory to be Judge of all?

It would be strange indeed if amongst all the many details in the experience of Jesus which the prophets anticipated, this amazing incident were to go ignored. Several of the psalms are worth considering in this context. "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell" (Ps.27 :1,2). Other words in the psalm are strikingly appropriate to the sufferings of Christ: "Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty. I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Ps.27 :12,13). His resurrection and glory are also foretold: "For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me: therefore he shall set me up upon a rock. And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy: I will sing, yea I will sing praises unto the Lord" (Ps.27:5,6).

Again Jesus asked: "Whom seek ye?" and again the same answer. The repetition in the narrative seems rather pointless, except it be to emphasize that it was Jesus who was in control of the situation, and not his enemies. "I have power to lay down my life." The choice was his. Nor is it difficult to imagine the sharp contrast between the brusque tone of authority with which the first demand was made for Jesus of Nazareth and the uneasy uncertainty with which it was repeated the second time.

So Jesus took advantage of the situation to impose his will on them: "If therefore ye seek me, let these go their way" (Dt.20 :8); thus the prophecy of Caiaphas was fulfilled that one man must die for the people (Jn.11 :50). This Gethsemane winepress Jesus must tread alone. Now through all his ensuing suffering, his concern was not for himself but for others—for the eleven, for Peter, for Pilate, for the women of Jerusalem, for the Roman soldiers crucifying him, for his mother, for the crucified malefactor. And as within a matter of seconds he was to be "numbered with transgressors" (through the desperate action of Peter), so now "he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." If "Never man spake like this man" was true when they came to arrest him before (Jn.7 :46,37,38), how much more was it true now.

Christ's word "fulfilled"

"All this took place," John insists, "that the saying might be fulfilled which he spake" in his prayer for his disciples before he went to Gethsemane. There is something specially noteworthy here. The language is that which the gospels use many a time over about Old Testament prophecy (e.g. Jn.19 :24,36). Thus the words of Jesus — "Of them which thou gavest me I have lost none" — and Old Testament Scripture are put in the same category I Yet how far is the modernist from accepting this truth?

This Bible truth is underlined in yet another way. Whereas John says: "that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled," Matthew has: "All this was done that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled . . . How then shall the scriptures be fulfilled?" What scriptures? Psalm 142 :4 and 69 :20 and 88 :8 merit attention. And there are doubtless others. But these Jews who came against Jesus with the sword did perish by the sword when Roman legionaries, whose co-operation they were now glad to have, took the carnage of war through their land.

It is to be noted that this quotation from the prayer of Jesus is not verbally accurate, for John 17:12 reads: "Those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition." The words as quoted in John 18 :9 above are both inexact and incomplete-the vital qualifying phrase about "the son of perdition" is omitted. Yet the apostle can hardly be accused of impropriety in mishandling what he himself had written in his own gospel a mere four hundred words earlier! The example is instructive in that it shows how questions associated with the inspiration of Scripture and the problems of inexact quotation or of misapplication need to be handled with both insight and commonsense.

Let it be supposed for the moment that the quotation of John 18 :9 had been from some "messianic" passage in the Old Testament, What a wonderful time the critics would have had, emphasizing not only the distortion of the phraseology-"misquotation through relying on a defective memory" - but also the downright misrepresentation of the meaning of it through the omission of a key phrase about "the son of perdition"!

But to return to more positive considerations, the inclusion of the quotation of the words of Jesus helps the reader to observe more clearly that this saving of the disciples by securing their flight was an outward physical fact emblematic of the deeper spiritual truth that through giving himself to destruction Jesus brought release from the powers of evil for all those who are his. He might also have cited his own words from John 17 :19: "For their sakes I sanctify (separate] myself", using a similar double meaning. Only a few seconds later the same kind of thing had yet further illustration when Peter cut off the ear of Malchus so that as a result his Master was "numbered with the transgressors." But this is anticipating.

Peter to the rescue

The men, recovering at last from the bewilderment which the very unusual circumstances of this arrest had thrown them into, now came and "laid their hands on Jesus, and took him."

"Lord, shall we smite with the sword?" The words were not Peter's for there was no uncertainty in his mind. They must, then, have been spoken by the other disciple (Andrew? James the son of Zebedee?) who also carried a sword (Lk.22:38). The from of the question reads very awkwardly in the original, possibly because it is a Hebrew idiom (in Greek dress) for an emphatic negative: "Lord, we must not smite with the sword, must we?"

But even whilst the question was being put, Peter went into action-and in the process was already making another denial of his Lord (Mk.14 :37) before ever he got to the high priest's palace. "And behold"-Matthew's characteristic ejaculation of surprise comes in most effectively here—"one of them stretched out his hand, and drew his sword." The words seem to imply that both arm and sword were muffled in a cloak (Jn.18 :18). Nevertheless in spite of the initial impediment Peter's zeal for his Lord took all by surprise. Like a flash he aimed a vicious blow at the nearest to him, or maybe at the first who actually laid hands on Jesus—in which case Peter was at his Lord's left hand, for Malchus lost his right ear (Lk.). But why did Peter not direct his attack at Judas? Was the traitor out of reach by this time? Or was Peter taken in by Judas's enthusiastic greeting?

The loud cry of pain immediately drew the horrified attention of all to an ear hanging loose and to a great spreading stain of blood soaking into the man's cloak.

Of course it was not Peter's intention, when he struck so violently, to slice off the ear of this adversary. Doubtless but for quick evasive action-or was it the arm of Jesus or of a fellow-disciple which diverted the blow?-the man's skull would have been split down the middle.

Quickly Jesus interposed. The phrase: "Jesus answered and said ..." has been written off by many commentators as a mere Hebraism. It is certainly common in the Old Testament, but there it normally signifies an actual answer. In this instance, then, was Jesus answering Peter's violence or the angry clamour which arose in response to it? His simple phrase: "Suffer ye thus far," is susceptible of several interpretations. It may have been an instruction to his disciples to take no further action, or an appeal to the soldiers to refrain from reprisals; but more probably he was asking for his own arm to be unpinned so that the could take action of a different kind.

The boundless amazement of those immediately round about may be imagined when they saw Jesus quietly put the blood-smeared ear back to its normal positon and restore it to a normal undamaged condition. It all happened within a minute. Soon there was only a dark eloquent stain on the garment of the astonished victim to witness to an experience which he would talk about for the rest of his life. The miracle was at once a witness to the unrevolutionary beneficence of Jesus, to his divine authority, and to the vicious wrong-headedness of those who had sent to apprehend him. Certainly, before ever the interrogation of Jesus began, the high priest had first-hand testimony to the character of his prisoner. Peter's immunity proves the miracle. They may have had a charge against him, but they had no evidence!

Little is told about the victim of Peter's violent onslaught. He was the servant of the high priest, that is, his chief servant, Malchus—no mere domestic slave (what would such be doing at the head of the column?) but a servant of high responsibility. The man was probably a secretary, acting as observer on behalf of his master. Probably, too, his name is given by John because he was known personally to some of the readers of the gospel-as a disciple? It would be strange indeed if conversion to Christ were not the immediate or subsequent result of his extraordinary experience in Gethsemane. The interesting guess has been made that Malchus became Silas (= healed). In spite of the Law's prohibition of priests with a blemish (Lev.21 :17), healed Malchus was now qualified to serve in the Lord's new Temple.

"Put up thy sword"

There still remains to be considered the rebuke which Jesus addressed to Peter: "Put up thy sword into his place, for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." The importance of these words can scarcely be exaggerated because if the authority of Jesus be accepted, they settle for all time that the proper place for the sword is in its scabbard. Here was Peter fighting the most righteous war that was ever begun, only to find himself sharply corrected.

Yet, for all the Lord's rebuke, here was a proverb becoming a prophecy:

"Faithful are the wounds inflicted by a friend; But the kisses of an enemy (Judas) are deceitful" (Pr.27:6: RV: profuse).

However, by this sterling act of misguided loyalty Peter was unwittingly storing up for himself a more intense test by the risk of recognition in the high priest's courtyard that he was not only a disciple but also a felon.

The meaning of Christ's reproof is not: "All they that take the sword shall perish when the sword perishes," but "shall be destroyed by means of the sword" - not literally, of course; the Lord will not wield a literal sword in the Day of Judgment (Rev.19 :21). The idea is that such will ultimately perish as effectively as if they were destroyed by the sword (cp. the figurative usage in Lk.22 :36). Very probably Peter himself died by crucifixion, not by the sword, and assuredly he did not perish. But these Jews who came against Jesus with the sword did perish by the sword when Roman legionaries, whose cooperation they were now glad to have, took the carnage of war right through their land.

Then, to rebuke not only Peter but the faithlessness which possesses all who take the sword, Jesus added: "Thinkest thou that I cannot right now pray to my Father, and right now he shall send me more than twelve legions of angels?" Here is the Lord's own counsel and example for all the crises of life, that prayer is mightier than brute force. He had prayed for the escape of his disciples, and that was given him.

Recognition of the allusion to the Passover puts even more point to the Lord's expostulation. When Israel were delivered from Egypt twelve legions of angels had guarded the homes of twelve tribes of Israelites from the fell work of "the Destroyer" (Ex.12 :23). Both angels of good and angels of evil are mentioned in Ex.12 :23 and also at this Passover (Lk.22 :43,53), and at another Passover also (ls.37 :36; contrast 2 Sam.17 :1). Now, on this Passover night, all those angels, and more, were waiting eagerly to come to the aid of the Son of God, if only he spoke the word (cp. 2 Kgs.6:17).

Here, then, was the second temptation over again: "He shall give his angels charge over thee . . ." It is an awe-inspiring thought that just then Jesus in Gethsemane could have used the power of God to frustrate the will of God. But he had not wrestled in the garden in vain. At this Passover he was the Lamb, the sign of whose blood would mean release and freedom for the true Israel of God. And it was for such that the angels of protection and deliverance were to act, whilst he himself became the victim of "the Destroyer," "the power of darkness" (Lk.22 :53).

Notes Lk. 22:47-54

Betrayest thou . ..? Another example of the more than human insight of Jesus. There are many examples of this. Consider also Jn. 1:48, 49 and 2 :24,25 and 4:19 and 6 :61,64 and 11 :4,15 and 13:11 and 16 :19,30 and 21:17; Mt. 12:25 and 6:8 and 17:27 and Lk.9:47 and 11:17.
Answered might imply that the words were addressed to the disciples: 'Enough of this. Let them do what they want.'

Healed him. Cp. the touching of the high priest's ear; Lev.8 :23. This healing of Malchus is omitted from John presumably because unsuitable as the eighth sign.
Your hour. But also his hour of victory over the sore temptation of Gethsemane.

The power of darkness Cp. Col. l:13 (and Gen.32 :24; Eph.6 :13), where again 'the destroying angel of the Lord' makes most sense. And note Jn.l :5 RV.

Jn. 18:2-12

Which also betrayed him seems to be an utterly superfluous phrase (v.2). Is it?
Went backward. Other similar Scriptures are Ps.35 :4 (where note also v.7, 11-14,26,27 RVm) and 40 :14 (where notev.2,6-10).
Let these go their way. Cp. ls.53 :6;2Chr.21 :17.
Then; RV: therefore indicates that Peter had no intention of deserting.

Malchus. Another Malchus and Jesus are mentioned together in Nehemiah 12 :1,21!

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