John 18:1-14 The Arrest

John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow ( 2000

Two of the Gospels tell us that Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples before leaving the upper room. They also name the place Jesus went to as the Garden of Gethsemane (an Aramaic word meaning an oil press) on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30, 36, Mark 14:26, 32). John does not mention the hymn and he speaks of "a place where there was a garden" (18:1).

Also having highlighted the long prayer that Jesus prayed at the last supper, John does not repeat the account given in the other Gospels of how Jesus took Peter and James and John the sons of Zebedee to support him in prayer (Matthew 26:36-37, Mark 14:32-42). Since John, the writer of the Gospel, was one of these, the incident would certainly have stayed in his mind, which provides more evidence that John had the Gospels of Matthew and Mark in front of him, and avoids repeating what they had already recorded.

So John goes straight to describe the arrival of Judas for the arrest. And he remembers the ominous sight of the detachment of temple soldiers with "lanterns and torches" (18:3) coming into the garden. There are obvious signs of John writing as an eye witness of events he would never forget

18:1-2 John pictures the atmosphere of impending doom as they left the city and crossed the Kidron valley. He does not mention the Mount of Olives on the other side, or identify the oil press garden (as in Matthew26:30, 36, Mark 14:26, 32). But he adds (as in Luke 22:39) that Judas had often been there on previous occasions and so knew exactly where Jesus would be after the last supper.

18:3 The detachment of soldiers are not Romans, but part of the Jewish temple guard. They are accompanied by servants (not 'police' as in NRSV) of the chief priests who were Sadducees and also by servants of the Pharisee theologians. This indicates an unholy alliance between the two groups of religious leaders who were usually enemies both in their beliefs and their practices. The Pharisees believed in a resurrection and life after death. The Sadducees denied both the resurrection and life after death (Matthew 22:23, Mark 12:18, Acts 23:8).

Jesus had told the disciples to "beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees' (Matthew 16:6). The Pharisees taught legalism as the way to attain righteousness with God, but the Sadducees were more concerned for the political welfare and survival of the Jewish nation. Both groups could see that Jesus was a threat to their party, and both emphases are still with us in the church today. It is always ominous when priests and theologians unite to oppose the work of the Holy Spirit in our churches.

18:4-5 All three synoptic Gospels tell us that on three separate occasions Jesus had warned the disciples of the inevitable outcome when he was arrested (Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:18-19, Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34, Luke 9:22, 44, 18:32-33). So when the time came Jesus was not taken by surprise.

The other Gospels had described the kiss that Judas had appointed as the sign to identify Jesus for the arrest (Matthew 26:48-50, Mark 14:44-45, Luke 22:47-48), so John does not repeat that information for us. But John wants us to picture the astonishing sight of Jesus coming forward, asking who the soldiers were looking for, and using the awesome words "I am." The two Greek words (ego eimi) translate the single Hebrew word (ehieh) which means "I am," and it was used by the Lord to identify himself to Moses by the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14). One of the names for God among Jewish people was therefore He is (iheyeh) or Yahweh, but this name was and still is viewed as too sacred to pronounce

18:6-9 This is why the Jewish soldiers recognized the obvious claim to deity (see note on 8:58), and John remembers how they "stepped back and fell to the ground" (18:6). After a moment of awed silence, Jesus asked them who they were looking for? Obviously in the confusion the sign Judas had given them had not achieved its purpose. Then having identified himself, Jesus asked the soldiers to let the disciples go their way. And John refers this back to Jesus' own words in his long prayer in the previous chapter (17:12).

18:10-11 It is only in Luke's Gospel that we have the contrast between the way the disciples were sent out on preaching missions "without a purse, bag, or sandals." and the more difficult situations they will face in the future. "The one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one" (Luke 22:35-36). Two of the disciples were already armed , as was often the custom in view of the dangers of robbers by the wayside (Luke 22:38). And Peter certainly carried a sword when Jesus was arrested

But Jesus' comment that "all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52) makes it clear that on a personal level violence breeds more violence. But this non-violent principle does not rule out the need for a police force to use weapons if need be to control evil doers in society (Romans 13:3-4). And by extension it seems we need military personnel for a nation to defend itself against an invading power. But it seems unlikely that Jesus is suggesting that Christian missionaries should be protected by force of arms. This was done when the first missionaries to the Americas had soldiers to kill off any natives who attacked them, and this violent approach certainly never commended the Gospel.

The other Gospels tells us that one of Jesus' followers severed the ear of the high priest's personal slave. Dr. Luke, as on other occasions, is interested in the exact medical term and he tells us that it was the man's right ear, and that Jesus stretched out his hand to touch it, and it was healed (Luke 22:50).

John wants us to know that the slave's name was Malchus (18:10) , which probably indicates that he later became a Christian. John indirectly tells that he knew the family of the high priest personally (18:16). He also fills in the information that it was Peter who impetuously wielded one of the two swords that the disciples had with them (Luke 22:38), and Jesus told him to put the sword back into its scabbard. The reason Jesus gives is "Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me" (18:11).

It was Matthew who gave us the words that must have impressed the soldiers "Do you think that I cannot appeal to the Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels" (Matthew 26:52-54).

18:12-13 At this point John omits Mark's probably autobiographical note that all of the disciples "deserted him and fled. A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing by a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked" (Mark 14:40-51). But John adds a fact not recorded in the other Gospels. He remembered with horror how Jesus was tied up like a criminal.

John also remembered that before being taken to Caiphas (18:24, Matthew 26:57) Jesus was first taken to Annas, the father in law of the current high priest (see the next section on The Trial). Annas was the high priest recognized by Jewish people since his appointment in AD 6 (24 years before). But he was deposed by the Romans and they appointed Caiphas as their puppet (AD 18). Annas continued to be respected by the Jewish people as their lawful high priest in the New Testament period (see Luke 3:2, Acts 4:6).

18:14 John had previously recorded what Caiphas had said: "You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed" (John 11:50). In actual fact, as a result of taking Caiphas' cunning advice to reject and crucify the Messiah, the temple would be totally destroyed in AD 70 (see Matthew 24:1-2, Mark 13:1-2), Jerusalem was flattened to the ground, and only a remnant of the nation survived in the diaspora (Jews who remained scattered among other nations for nineteen hundred years till 1948).

18:15-19:15 The Trial