John (Part 65): Jesus Arrested (ch 18)
Although Jesus knew that the disciples needed much more instruction (16:12), his time of personal teaching (prior to the cross) was done. Chapter 18 opens with them going out. Whether that means leaving the upper room or going out from the confines of their intimate conversation to meet with the final chapter of Jesus’s earthly life is not clear, but the narrative does change from discussion to the playing out of events. They leave the upper room to go to a place where Jesus knows the arrest will occur. It is in the Garden of Gethsemane. The first covenant was initiated in a garden—that of Eden. A garden is a place of tending. Eden means pleasure. Thus, that garden was the place of God’s caregiving pleasure. But it was lost, making this garden in John necessary. Gethsemane means winepress. Actually, it is two words: one meaning the trough of the winepress in which the grapes are crushed and the other is a word for anointing. Thus, this caregiving place of God calls to mind the crushing and anointing that would initiate here for the benefit of all humankind.
One more garden will be seen in John. Upon his death, Jesus will be placed in a tomb. Chapter 19 verse 41 reads, “There was a garden in the place where He was crucified. A new tomb was in the garden; no one had yet been placed in it.” This Greek word for tomb or sepulcher means memorial. Thus, it is the caregiving place of God in which he calls to mind the sacrificial death of Jesus in which we by faith share.
Judas had left in anger from the supper in chapter 13. He left determined to turn Jesus over to the Jewish authorities. Upon gaining a contingent of officials and temple police, they had probably first gone back to the upper room. Finding Jesus and the rest already gone, Judas, knowing this favorite place of Jesus, marched the group to Gethsemane to find him. Verse three tells us that Judas brought a “band” and “attendants” from the chief priests and Pharisees. Although the first term is used often in military terms, we should not think that Roman soldiers are involved (as suggested by the NASB). Rome has yet to find the threat of Jesus anywhere near important enough to involve itself. Certainly Pilate would not have sent Roman soldiers to be commanded by Jews. Even less likely would those soldiers be sent to serve as a mere escort to the high priest. If Rome were interested enough to be involved, Jesus would have been taken directly to the Roman authorities. Rather, this term more probably identifies the temple police, a group who actually were under the authority of the Sanhedrin. The officials or assistants of the chief priests—the ones actually charged with apprehending Jesus—led the band.
We also read in verse 3 that they came with lanterns and torches and weapons. John mentions this, I think, to place their “strength” in comparison to what he will soon reveal about God’s strength. This human light with their human power is set against the Light of the world.
John is careful in verse 4 to let his readers know that Jesus knew everything that would happen. He knew that they were coming for him that night. He knew he was about to be arrested and would face the cross. In Matthew 26:45-46, we see him ready and rousing his sleepy disciples as the band approaches. In John 18:4, Jesus “went out,” referring perhaps of physically exiting the cave/winepress or perhaps merely referring to the showing of himself and speaking out to the troop (as in James 3:10).
So when Jesus calls out, “who is it you’re looking for?” it is not to satisfy his own curiosity. John had just told us that Jesus knew everything that was about to take place. Jesus asks the question to make the arresting band stop and take notice. First, he wants them to focus on him and not his disciples. But secondly, he is about to show them the purpose of God.
When they answer that they are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, Jesus answers with the name of God: “I AM.” This will stun them, but before John records the effect, he points out that this effect will not only strike the arresting troop but will also impact Judas who is with them. Their reaction is immediate and impressive. They do not merely shrink back in wonder at Jesus’s boldness. We read that they actually fall to the ground at Jesus’s pronouncement. Though they came armed with their light and their weapons, the “I AM” of God overwhelms them first with his revelatory light. At that moment this troop of Jews understand this one before them is the Light—the Messiah—the one from God. And this Messiah, without wielding some earthly weapon, has cast them to the ground by the power of his word. This troop is overcome by the truth, and they are overcome by the power of God.
We are given this picture to understand that the Jews had no real power against Jesus. They were not on the scene to disrupt the plan of God. God was in control here as he always is. Every attempt we have read about in the Gospel has been shown to be nothing but weakness by the world in opposition to the forward-moving control of God. We read of the temple guard, sent out to arrest Jesus by the Pharisees, coming back empty-handed in 7:45-46. The Pharisees asked why they hadn’t brought Jesus. Their reply showed them overwhelmed by the word of Jesus. In 8:59, the Jews pick up stones to hurl at Jesus, but God hid him leading him from the temple. In 10:39, again the Jews try to seize him, but he eludes their grasp. And we read in 19:10b-11, as Pilate threatens: “Don’t You know that I have the authority to release You and the authority to crucify You?” Jesus replies, concluding what we have seen in all these instances, “You would have no authority over Me at all if it hadn’t been given you from above.”
As these officials and police, still overwhelmed, look up from the ground, Jesus asks again, almost as if saying, “Now, with this revelation, how do you choose? Are you still intent thinking you’re arresting a criminal?” Upon their response—maybe this time with a less emphatic “Jesus the Nazarene”—Jesus says again, “I AM,” but follows it this time with, “let these men go.” Perhaps he mentions this to stir his disciples from their own wonder at the scene, and let them know that now was the time for them to leave.
And his statement does seem to rouse them. Peter sees opportunity. This is not a rushing mob that is attacking Jesus, rallying Peter to jump in their path and defend his Lord with his swinging sword. Rather Peter is probably filled with a sense of victory and control as he sees the mob on the ground before the commanding word of Jesus. Peter joins the advantage gained as he strikes out with his sword.
But that was not Jesus’s point. Jesus’s point was to show that God was always in control. But God’s path did lie in the direction of the cross. So Jesus told Peter to sheathe his sword; Jesus would be taken.
Interestingly, although John doesn’t mention it, the ear that Peter cut from Malchus, we learn in Luke, is healed by Jesus—a bit of foreshadowing, showing that in the midst of opposition (as on the cross), Jesus (God) heals.
The next several verses take us back to Jerusalem as Jesus is brought to the house of Annas. Matthew tells us that Jesus is taken to Caiaphas, the high priest. Mark and Luke don’t name him, but they do say Jesus is taken to the high priest. But in John, Jesus is first taken to Annas. This is no contradiction.
Annas was high priest from AD 6 to about AD 15-16. He was deposed probably because he wielded a bit too much power and influence over the people while not completely submitting himself to Rome. But even though Rome assigned the role of high priest to someone else, Annas maintained the support of the people. After a couple of failed attempts at a suitable replacement high priest, Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Annas was appointed high priest in about AD 18. Caiaphas was a politician who could work with Rome, but he was also worked well with Annas in the tight control over the Sanhedrin and the Jews. Thus, Caiaphas settled in the office for the next almost 20 years. Caiaphas, therefore, was the actual high priest, although Annas was also revered by the people and considered an authority on an equal level.
Annas may have been the one who arranged the deal with Judas since they bring Jesus first to Annas. As they reach his home, Peter, who had been following is kept from entering the courtyard. But another disciple, who had been following as well, spoke to the doorkeeper, gaining entrance for Peter. Who was this other disciple? Many think it was John. However, although John does not name himself on other occasions when speaking of himself, he always identifies himself as “the one Jesus loved.” It would seem extraordinary for John to have known Annas. John was a lowly fisherman from Capernaum. Annas was the head of all Israel in Jerusalem. Yet, it could possibly be that John had met Annas at some time in his life through some kind of odd string of events. But that would not be enough to explain our scene. It is not Annas that stood at the courtyard door, allowing people entrance if he recognized them. This is a servant who is familiar enough with someone coming and going from Annas’s home to allow admittance without question. A fisherman from Capernaum who had spent the last three years traveling with Jesus just does not seem to have been able to have this kind of close acquaintance with the high priest.
Perhaps the other disciple was Judas. Certainly Judas both knew Peter and the high priest. Judas had probably been at the high priest’s house earlier that evening in getting the band to go arrest Jesus. So the servants probably knew him. However, this would not explain why John calls him “another disciple” instead of “Judas.”
Perhaps it is not one of the Twelve at all. It could have been Nicodemus (from John 3). Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin and certainly well acquainted enough with Annas that the servants would recognize him. Although a ruler and not mere assistant, Nicodemus could have followed the troop out to Gethsemane because of his interest in Jesus as one of his disciples/believers.
We don’t really know who it is, but I’m betting it wasn’t John as is popularly thought.