Read John 18:1-14
Chapters 18 and 19 of John’s gospel rather briefly cover the events of Jesus’s arrest, mock trial by Jewish leaders, interaction with Pontius Pilate, crucifixion, death, and burial. We begin with John’s version of the events surrounding His arrest. It’s pretty different from the Synoptics.
I Am He
In typical fashion, Jesus neither hides nor avoids confrontation. After the incredible prayer recorded in the last chapter, Jesus heads to a favorite spot, a place the disciples knew well. Including Judas. The stage is set and Judas shows up on time. Of course, Jesus is not surprised, but the disciples had no idea what was going on. As we make our way through the beginning of these two chapters, John recorded the phrase “I Am he” three times in just four verses:
- They’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth, He says “I am he” – John 18:5
- John repeats the phrase in the next verse – John 18:6
- The soldiers repeat they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, so Jesus provides an answer and a demand.
Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” John 18:8-9
Peter’s reaction is aggressive and brazen, he cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Malchus. John joins Matthew and Mark by not resolving the issue; only Luke did, “And he touched the man’s ear and healed him” (Luke 22:51).
Before we move on, it’s interesting to note that when Jesus said, “I am he,” the soldiers withdrew and fell to the ground, as if He was a warrior of some kind. I wonder what Judas told them before they got there.
Jesus takes charge and calms everyone down.
Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” John 18:11
In a phrase, Jesus tries to remind them that He knew this was going to happen, it’s the story He tried to tell them from the beginning. Now they’re seeing it played out in front of their eyes.
The entourage that surrounds Jesus is impressive. You would think they’ve finally caught an escaped felon or notorious murderer they way they handle this situation.
Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. John 18:12-13
It took a detachment of soldiers, a commander, and some Jewish officials to oversee His arrest in the middle of the night. I once heard a retired Navy Captain explain the significance of the timing of His arrest. He explained it was the third watch, between midnight and 3 a.m. when the group showed up to arrest Jesus. Few were out and about at that time of night. Remember, there were no streetlights. This was a dark hour of the night.
I can only assume they bound Jesus because it was procedural, that’s just how they arrested people. He was first seen by Annas, a man of great influence for sure, but not actually in charge of anything at the time. Not much has changed in our modern age. Often people in positions of authority, Caiaphas in this story, are under the influence of others. They may hold the title and position, but others are calling the shots. So we see the same here. I wonder how much we have grown as a society, other than technology.
John reminds us of the prophetic words of Caiaphas:
Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people. John 18:14
Prophetic indeed, but not the way Caiaphas thought. In his mind, killing Jesus would squash the rebellion. He was misled and misguided along with many others. Not many details are offered in John’s gospel writing. Perhaps this is to underscore the idea that there really wasn’t much worth writing about. Their accusations were unfounded and their intentions well known.
Lord, help us to be better people, to lead well. Forgive us for biases that cause us to miss that which is right in front of our eyes. Thank you for your words here as we read the story. Help us to feel the weight.