In the face of violent arrest, Jesus does not offer violence and rebukes Peter for using a sword. Jesus is in control of the scene and understands it must be so to fulfil scripture.
In the face of violent arrest, Jesus does not offer violence and rebukes Peter for using a sword. Jesus is in control of the scene and understands it must be so to fulfil scripture.
Welcome to the Life of Jesus. This is Series 13 Episode 2, in which 'Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus', on the last night of his earthly life.
Introduction and Recap
We are in the midst of a very intense drama which has been building up gradually during Series 11 and Series 12. If you follow the series, you will be familiar with the story. In a few days, huge amounts of events have taken place that are incredibly significant in understanding the life of Jesus, and particularly the death of Jesus and its significance. Series 11 told us about Jesus' entry into Jerusalem in triumph on Palm Sunday with great crowds attending him. Then we heard about Jesus going into the Temple compounds on the Monday, the following day, and challenging the market traders who were put there by the priests and others, making money out of the religious sacrificial system. On Tuesday, we see Jesus back in the Temple compound again being questioned in a very hostile way by the religious authorities and then leaving, spending time just outside the city with his disciples talking about the future and prophesying things that were going to happen. On Wednesday, we find Jesus in Bethany, where he was probably staying, and at a meal hosted by Simon the Leper. That is the moment when Judas Iscariot, his disciple, finally carried out what he had been thinking about for a long time, which was a decision to leave Jesus' discipleship group and turn against him, and indeed to betray him. That is the trigger for the events that are going to happen in this particular episode. I have been careful to tell the story of Judas Iscariot as we have gone through each episode. On Wednesday, he went to the high priests and religious authorities who are hostile to Jesus - trying to get rid of him. They believed he was a false messiah, and were looking for a way to arrest him. He went to them and came to an agreement with them, that he would find a way of giving them information about how to arrest Jesus quietly, away from the crowds. This was the plan that they agreed together. However, no one knew anything about what Judas had done amongst the disciples.
They gathered on Thursday evening, which is the day we are talking about now in this episode. We are right at the end of the evening and moving towards the beginning of the following day, deep into the night. On the Thursday evening, as we saw in the second half of Series 12, Jesus spent time with his disciples in what has become known as the Last Supper - a Passover meal. Lots of details about the Passover meal were given to us by different Gospel writers which we looked at quite closely in the second half of Series 12. If you have not seen those episodes, then it is worth looking at that because it has got some tremendously important material that helps us to understand everything that follows, not least how Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper, Communion or Eucharist during that time, also all the teaching that he gave his disciples to prepare them for the great trauma that was going to happen to them as a result of his arrest. That trauma for the disciples is going to happen in this very episode that we are studying today.
The drama and tension is very great in the narrative. The Gospel writers give us different perspectives. This particular situation and story, is interesting because both Matthew and John give us a lot of detail that is very complementary but they give us some different details from each other. In order to piece the story together effectively, the simplest way to do it, is to read Matthew and John's accounts in parallel. I am going to tell you the story, in detail, by reading to you sections from Matthew and John, alternating between the two and fitting it together in that way because that gives us the fullest account of the incredibly dramatic events that take place in the situation. This is a good example of the way that we have been looking at the Gospels all the way through, which is to try and find ways of integrating the different information and perspectives they bring. Sometimes it is like a careful forensic investigation just to see which details fit where. It is a very exciting thing to do because the Gospel writers all have different perspectives. They have different sources of information. They have different things they want to emphasise. When you join them together, the picture is much fuller and richer and our understanding is greater.
I am going to read to you a series of short extracts from John 18, and Matthew 26. I will introduce the references for each one as we go along. I am going to read the story all the way through on this occasion because I think it gives us the best feel of this incredibly dramatic event that took place in the Garden of Gethsemane and of course it takes place immediately after the suffering of Jesus, as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He waited there, after the Last Supper for some time and prayed. His disciples all fell asleep which we looked at last time; he knew what was going to happen. He knew that Judas would be coming along soon with an armed gang and he was waiting. He knew that Judas would be pretty sure to know where Jesus was at that time.
The Gospel Account
Let us read the story. John 18: 1 - 3.
‘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. 2Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.’John 18:1-3, NIV
Matthew 26: 48 - 50
48‘Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. 50Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.’Matthew 26:48-50, NIV
John 18: 4 - 11,
4Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” 5“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they said. 8Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” 9This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” 10Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the High Priest's servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) 11Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”’John 18:4-11, NIV
Matthew 26: 52 - 56,
52‘“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” 55In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the Temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.’Matthew 26:52-56, NIV
John 18: 12 - 14,
12‘Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.’John 18:12-14, NIV
John 18: 19 - 24:
19Meanwhile, the High Priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20“I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” 22When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the High Priest?” he demanded. 23“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” 24Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the High Priest.’John 18:19-24, NIV
The Need for Light
I read the whole story to give you a sense of drama, and some of the important details. Let us comment on it and think about it for a moment. This was very late at night - it might have been before midnight or in the early hours of Friday morning. It was dark. Judas had left the Last Supper. He had gone to the authorities and predicted that Jesus would go to the Garden of Gethsemane. John 18 tells us the reason - that Jesus often went there on his way from Jerusalem to Bethany via the Mount of Olives, and Judas was right. Judas had done a deal with the high priests and the religious leaders, and he was awaiting a financial reward. John 18: 3 tells us that the Temple guard, or the soldiers, came heavily armed but they came with lanterns or torches. Light was really important in this dark moment. They needed to identify Jesus. They didn't know whether he would flee - just flee into the darkness in the middle of the night - didn't know what his disciples would do; they didn't know whether the disciples would fight them or run. How could they identify which one was Jesus in the darkness, if there were twelve people there - eleven disciples and Jesus - resting, talking, sleeping, whatever they might be doing? How could they identify Jesus? Judas had the responsibility, with the help of the lanterns and the torches, to look around when they found the group of disciples, to identify Jesus because obviously he knew him well, and to identify him with this sign of the kiss.
Divine Power or Man's Power
As soon as that sign had been given, the guards knew exactly what they needed to do. They wanted to arrest this one man - they were not that interested in the rest of the disciples. They didn't make any serious attempt to arrest them all, but they wanted to arrest Jesus. Even as they were grasping hold of him, and arresting him. Jesus was not resisting, as he spoke to them and spoke about who he was, he identified himself, said ‘I am he.’ It is interesting that the power of God came and they fell to the ground. This is an interesting detail that John adds. Jesus' power is still there. It was a prophetic sign, that the real power lay with Jesus, the divine Son of God - not with those who were temporarily seeming to control him, through arresting him.
Then comes the impulsive action of Simon Peter. You may remember that there was a discussion about swords in the upper room, as recorded in Luke 22, which we looked at in Series 12. The swords that we are talking about here were short daggers that were carried around by people for self-defence purposes, and were used by terrorists and those who opposed the Roman rule as a means of assassinations. People like the Zealots used to carry these small swords under their clothing and assassinate Roman officials. These swords were small, but also very powerful. Where did Peter get this sword from because we have no record of the disciples carrying swords in any period earlier on - far from it? It appears that there were two swords that they found in the upper room as recorded in Luke 22: 38. When they said, to Jesus ‘Lord see here there are two swords’ and they must have decided to take the swords with them. Peter took one and in this impulsive moment, when he really wanted to do something to defend Jesus, he struck the servant of the High Priest who was part of the crowd. He struck him in such a way that his ear was cut off. Jesus stopped this violence, rebuked Peter, and healed the servant. How amazing that Jesus should heal somebody at the point when the very person he healed was part of a group of people who had come to arrest him, and their intention was to kill him. Jesus heals the servant. He rebuked Peter,
‘“Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”’Matthew 26:52, NIV
Jesus knew where true power lay. Continuing that passage, Matthew 26:53
‘“Do you think I cannot call my Father and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels, but how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled and say it must happen in this way.”’Matthew 26:53-54, NIV
Jesus had immense power - legions of angels could be brought to play in any situation that Jesus was involved with. Jesus was choosing the path of suffering, and of not defending himself in this situation. He allowed himself to be arrested.
The Disciples' Reactions
As soon as he was arrested, the disciples lost their confidence and fled. They just ran away. This was exactly what Jesus anticipated would happen and during the Last Supper, he had been preparing them for this moment, so that although they were shocked by what had happened, he didn't want them to leave Jerusalem; he didn't want them to give up; he didn't want them to lose their faith in him. He wanted them to be strong and he encouraged them to be so. This is the moment of intense weakness. Peter made a foolish gesture by striking the High Priest's servant with a sword. He has been rebuked, put in his place by Jesus, and they are watching their master willingly allowing himself to be arrested. This had never happened in the life of Jesus up to this point. There were a number of occasions when he was in Jerusalem, when the threat of him being arrested was definitely there, and the threat of him being stoned by a hostile crowd was there several times as recorded in John's Gospel. This arrest is something new. This is a very traumatic thing for the disciples to deal with. They are disorientated. It is very late in the night. They are very tired and suddenly the noisy crowd with its lanterns, torches and its swords has come and very roughly arrested Jesus, and taken him away.
John adds an interesting detail here that in the first place they took him to the house of a man called Annas, John 18: 30, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the High Priest at that time and had been High Priest for quite a number of years. He was the senior religious official in the whole nation: he ran the Temple; he oversaw the priesthood; and he was the chairman of the Sanhedrin which was the Jewish ruling council, which we'll come to when we study the trial that takes place shortly after this. Annas was still regarded with great respect. He was an old man and he still retained the title High Priest as a lifelong title, even though he didn't have the power. His son had succeeded him and then his son-in-law Caiaphas. Indeed, the market trading that took place in the Temple at this time, was known as the market, or the bazaar, of the sons of Annas. This family, controlled the Temple and the priesthood, and to a great extent the Sanhedrin. What Annas was doing at this point, was conducting a preliminary investigation. He wanted to find out what Jesus was going to say, before he passed him over to his son-in-law Caiaphas, who was going to interrogate him more fully.
Non-violence in the Face of Violence
Let us now just pause a moment and go back to Matthew's statement in chapter 26: 52 to Peter. There is a little more reflection needed in order to understand the significance of Jesus' words when he said,
‘“Put your sword back in its place; all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”’Matthew 26:52, NIV
This is a big statement about a very important subject. We touched on it at the end of Series 12, when Jesus spoke about those two swords that were found in the upper room and we discussed that in that particular episode. Here he makes a very important statement. It has often been quoted: ‘All who draw the sword, will die by the sword’; ‘all who live by the sword, will die by the sword’ is a common and equivalent way of expressing it. Our earlier discussion was in Episode 12 of Series 12, if you want to go back to that but there are some things that are important to say here. First of all, Jesus advocated to his disciples, in the Sermon on the Mount, non-violence in their life of faith, and in their preaching of the gospel. Matthew 5: 38 - 42 is the key text and you can go back to Series 4 and listen again to the teaching that I gave on that particular passage which is foundational and very important. The advancing of the Gospel should never be accompanied by any use of force, to persuade people by any means to believe in Jesus Christ. It is the power of the message - not human force - that does it. Jesus anticipated that his followers would experience opposition and persecution and he advocated an approach of non-violence when threatened with violence. That is really the issue. There is a threat of violence. The armed guards, the Temple guards, had come fully armed. They were prepared for a fight; if the disciples had fought them, they would have fought back; they would have tried to kill them on the spot. There was a threat of violence. Jesus was being threatened. Violence has been used against him. Violence was used to arrest him, by force, and Peter's response was to raise one of the swords that he had found in the upper room just a few hours earlier.
Jesus had advocated non-violence. Jesus never carried any weapon. He never defended himself when facing a physical threat. He trusted in the providence and power of God to defend him, even though the disciples had found two swords in the upper room. They were probably ceremonial swords. Jesus rebuked Peter when he used one of them in an aggressive action. As we look forward into the book of Acts, we find that the Apostles and the Early Church didn't carry weapons in order to advance the Gospel and that is the situation all the way through the New Testament. This verse says nothing about the important role of the state to provide justice for its citizens, to defend its citizens, to provide a military force and a police force, and associated resources through the state, to bring about a vibrant, healthy and just society. The New Testament tells us that God has called into existence the concept of the nation state and given it power and that that includes the power of force, in order to fulfil its duties. Christians may be called to participate in the state and be servants of the state, and work for the state, and in some of those functions, but as individuals, and as Christians advancing the gospel, we are called to non-violence.
As we come to the end of this remarkable episode, this very dramatic, sad and tragic scene, there are some things that we can say by way of conclusion. Matthew 26: 56 says, Jesus said
‘“all this is taking place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.”’Matthew 26:56, NIV
This is a common theme of Jesus. ‘the writings of the prophets’ are in his mind - what writings does he have particularly in mind? Two Scriptures which are important messianic texts, prophetic texts that speak about the Messiah. One is Psalm 22, which we will come back to in the context of the crucifixion but the most important one, is in Isaiah 52: 13 - 53: 12. It is a long prophetic passage and is quoted by Jesus on a number of occasions. Clearly it is central in his thinking. Isaiah, in a number of places, prophesies the future coming of an individual person who he describes as the Servant of the Lord. Israel is generally the servant of the Lord, but out of Israel is going to come an individual, and this person emerges in the text of Isaiah 42, 49, 50 and then for the fourth time, in this passage that I just mentioned, where this Servant is described as someone who suffers, dies and makes an atoning sacrificial and substitutionary death on the behalf of other people. Let me read a couple of verses. They are quite well-known verses but very important for our purpose here. For example, Isaiah 53: 3.
‘He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering and familiar with pain like one from whom people hide their faces. h=He was despised and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray. Each one has turned to his own way and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’Isaiah 53:3-6, NIV
This is a famous part of the long prophecy which is well worth studying. It predicts a suffering servant who will die an atoning substitutionary and sacrificial death on behalf of others, and take their sins upon himself. Jesus knew that he was called to do that and he knew that this was the time that these Scriptures, and others like them, had to be fulfilled. That is why Jesus, with utter grace and humility, allowed himself to be arrested; and allowed himself to be betrayed by one of his own disciples - betrayed with a kiss. This is a poignant and sad moment in the life of Jesus but there's divine purpose being fulfilled, even in this dark night time hour in the Garden of Gethsemane. I hope you will join us for the next episode.
The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.
- How would you have acted in this situation if you had been a disciple?
- God’s supreme power was shown even at this point. Compare Jesus’ authority with the authority of the Temple guards.
- Think about the role of violence in religion (even in the name of Christian crusades). How does 'force' stand in opposition to the message of salvation? How is this demonstrated at this event?
- Read again the prophecies in Isaiah 53:3 - 6 and consider how Jesus fulfils the role of the Suffering Servant.