Jesus’ remarkable arrest
In Jerusalem in Jesus’ day, Roman soldiers would have arrested many people. They would arrive in large numbers, heavily armed, taking no chances. I would imagine that in almost every case, the soldiers would be in total control.
In John 18 we come to the arrest of Jesus, and it is remarkable for all kinds of reasons. Almost all historians agree that Jesus was a man who was indeed arrested and put on trial, before being crucified, accused of treason. However, it’s not just the fact of Jesus’ arrest we want to look at, but the reason for it taking place in the first place.
Was Jesus a criminal, a troublemaker, who deserved to be executed? Or was he a victim of a miscarriage of justice? Or is there something much deeper and more significant going on? Yes, there is. Jesus is neither a criminal, nor a victim who is being overpowered by the Jewish and Roman leaders. He is the Son of God, who allows himself to be arrested and crucified, in order to be the Saviour.
1. Jesus doesn’t avoid arrest, but rather allows it to happen.
Jesus knows full well that the religious authorities are trying to kill him. He doesn’t run away from the danger, heading into a remote part of the countryside in disguise. Rather, Jesus deliberately heads towards the very centre of the danger. Jesus crosses the Kidron valley and goes into a garden where he had been many times before. (John 18:1-2) It is a familiar place. Jesus knows that Judas would bring the authorities there.
Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ (John 18:4) He goes to a quiet place at night time, away from any crowds who might support him, and a place familiar to the one who was about to betray him, Judas. Everything about this is voluntary. ‘The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.’ (John 10:17-18)
It is clear that Jesus is not a victim, but willingly goes to a familiar place, and allows himself to be arrested. And he is doing all of this FOR his sheep. knowing all that was going to happen to him.(verse 4) Jesus knows he is going to be scourged, spat on, lied about, totally humiliated, nailed to a Roman cross, and worst of all, that he would face the white-hot anger of his Father, paying the heavy price for the sins of his people. The very act of walking into that garden was one of great love, bravery and determination.
2. Jesus’ arrest reveals his identity
Let’s imagine the scene – the group who come to arrest Jesus is a very large one, probably several hundred men – mostly Roman soldiers, but also temple-police, chief priests and elders, not to forget Judas.
So, we have hundreds of well-armed, battle-hardened Roman soldiers, plus many others, coming to arrest Jesus, and possibly to arrest the disciples as well. What we read next is another remarkable ingredient: ‘Who is it you want?’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘I am he,’ Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.’ (John 18:4-6)
Why did these soldiers draw back and fall to the ground? I don’t think we can be certain about the exact reasons why. But what is clear, is that Jesus’ words and actions reveal his identity in a supernatural way.
Verse 4: ‘Who is it you want?’ Jesus of Nazareth. è I AM HE è ego eimi = I am, I am
Jesus is deliberately taking the name of God for himself here. There is an echo of Exodus chapter 3. ‘Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ (Exodus 3:13-14)
At the point when Jesus claims to be God, the group all fall to the ground. The apostle John records these things for us, because he wants us to understand that the one being arrested IS God, and is being taken not as a victim, but as a vicarious sacrifice for sinners, such as we are.
Even as Jesus is being taken to die as the Lamb of God, his enemies fall at his feet. This is amazing. If this is so at his arrest, then what will it be like at his second coming, when he comes in power and glory. ‘Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.’ (1 Corinthians 15:24-25) There’s a glimpse of the future here; as we see these enemies fall even for a moment, it reminds us of the end of time, when Jesus’ total supremacy will be clearly seen. Do you want to stand against Jesus, or come and entrust your life to him?
3. Jesus’ arrest reveals his mission – the reason for his death
Verse 8: Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.
Here we see the love of Jesus for the disciples shining forth into the dark night. He is not concerned for his own safety, but for that of his disciples. Today in 2020 Jesus has the same love for his disciples. When he sees what our circumstances are, he will not allow us to suffer beyond what we are able to cope with. He knows what is too much for us. ‘God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.’ (1 Corinthians 1013) Jesus is concerned about you today, and is the shepherd who is always watching over his sheep.
There is, I think, also a picture of the heart of the gospel here. We are the guilty ones, who have often gone our own way rather than God’s, and Jesus is the only one who has truly obeyed the Father, and yet he comes and says of us too, in effect, let these men and women go, and take me instead and I will die in their place.
The last words of Jesus during his arrest are magnificent: Verse 11: ‘Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’ What is this cup? The cup is a picture of the judgment of God on sin.
We often forget that if God gave us what we deserve, we would have to drink from the cup of wrath, because each one of us has mistreated God in many ways, whether by ignoring him, making ourselves the centre of our lives, when that is his rightful place, and refusing to love God and to be thankful to him for all he does for us, particularly in the greatest of all gifts, the death of Jesus. How can we reject such a generous gift, especially when we need it so much?
We must see how incongruous Jesus words are here. He is the only perfect man who’s ever lived. He is innocent. ‘I [Pilate] find no basis for a charge against him.’ (John 18:38)
Jesus will drink the cup of wrath as he dies on the cross, the wrath which we deserve to experience. He is punished for our sin and not his own. He deals with human sin. And this is why we can be offered not a cup of wrath, but a cup of salvation, IF we would but come and confess our sins to God, and believe Jesus died for us, and follow him.
The bad news: there is a cup of wrath for all people who refuse to put their trust in Jesus.
The good news: in his love, Jesus has provided a way for us to have a cup of blessing instead. By drinking the cup of wrath for us on the cross, Jesus is able to give a cup of blessing to all who trust in him, even though we don’t deserve it.
What a remarkable arrest. What a remarkable Saviour.