John 18

1.  When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.

The Lord finally ends His long discourse with the disciples, which began at their Passover supper, and continued at some undisclosed location after they had left supper.  Perhaps they had been talking as they walked along the way, but if so, they must have stopped when Jesus lifted up His eyes to heaven and spoke to His Father in the last chapter.  Even the Lord didn’t walk while looking up into the air!  At any rate, wherever the previous chapter took place, they now continue on over the brook Kidron to a garden.  We know from Matthew 26:36 and Mark 14:32 that the garden was at a place called Gethsemane.  He and His disciples now enter this garden.

2.  And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples.

Here we learn that this was not the first time the Lord and His disciples went to this place.  Rather, this was a common meeting place for them, and so Judas knew about it.  It may be that the Lord had stopped here every night in the week or so since He and His disciples arrived at Jerusalem for the feast, before leaving the city and heading back to their lodgings in Bethany.

3.  Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.

Judas comes to this place with a large crowd of men.  The word here translated a “detachment of troops” means a “cohort” in Greek, which was the tenth part of a legion.  A legion was six thousand troops, so this was about six hundred men!  They are accompanied by officers from the chief priests and Pharisees.  These would have been members of the temple guard, the only standing army Israel was allowed, since they were subject to Rome and considered a risk for rebellion.  This mob of men and officers comes from both the chief priests and Pharisees.  The priests at this time were Sadducees, so these two oft-warring groups cooperated in the arrest of the Lord Jesus.

There is some debate about whether or not there were Roman soldiers in this group.  There is no evidence that there were in any of the other gospels.  Yet here in John, the words used, such as “cohort” here and “chiliarch” in verse 12, are words used by the Roman army.  It may be that the religious leaders had managed to get such troops under their control.  If so, we can only imagine that they must have “warned” the Romans that the Lord was planning on starting a riot, perhaps representing the Lord to the Romans as a dangerous criminal who was starting seditious activity against Rome.  Only a story as big as this could have put such a large force as this at their command.  When it was apparent that no riot was going to take place, the Romans may have returned to their barracks, then leaving the Lord in the hands of the religious leaders.  Yet this story is not entirely convincing, as other explanations are possible.  This gospel is the only one that uses these terms for a Roman army.  It could be that John used these terms as being more familiar to his intended audience in the Roman Empire at large than the terms a Jewish force might have used.  Some of this crowd could have been the temple guard, as I said above, and the rest could have been men in the employ of the priests and Pharisees, a rabble armed with whatever came to hand at the time.  This would seem to fit with what is indicated in the other gospels.  Yet none of the other gospels specifically denies that there were Roman soldiers present.  Just because it doesn’t mention them does not mean they weren’t there.  Modern scholars seem to conclude that the Romans weren’t there.  Those who have seen the recent movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” know that it showed only Jewish soldiers present at the arrest.  Yet this conclusion could be based on the fact that modern, higher-critical scholarship gives much more weight to the so-called “synoptic” gospels than it does to John.  Since they do not mention Roman soldiers in the synoptic gospels, this may be the reason some conclude that they were not present, and John is not allowed to bring forth its witness.  On the other hand, as I said, these Roman terms do not HAVE to mean that there were Roman soldiers present, only that these terms are being used to describe those who were present.  Perhaps, with the information we have, we just cannot tell for certain whether Romans were present at His arrest or not.  All we can say for certain is that they certainly were present later on in this sequence of events!

They come bearing lanterns, torches, and weapons.  This is an amazing crowd to send out for the arrest of one man!  There are probably two reasons for this.  One is that the religious rulers really did fear the Lord, not for His Own sake, but because the people loved Him.  For example, Luke 22:2 states, “And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might kill Him, for they feared the people.”  They clearly believed the people might help Him if they attempted to arrest Him, and this could cause a revolt of the people against their religious leaders.  The rulers may have feared how many people He might have with Him, even if Judas assured them He only went to this garden with the twelve and a few other close followers.  So, to alleviate their fears, they sent this group just in case.  They also could aid in bringing Him back safely if the word got out while they were returning Him to the temple and the people decided to help Him.  Secondarily, sending such a crowd to arrest Him gave the appearance that the Lord was a dangerous criminal, and all these measures were necessary to arrest Him.  Thus, sending such a crowd against them was another clever move on the part of these sly men to further their wicked schemes against the Lord.

4.  Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?”

The Lord acts with full knowledge of all that is about to happen to Him.  If any other man were in such a position he might be expected to flee, but the Lord did no such thing.  Rather, He went forward to meet these men, and asked them whom they were seeking.  Thus, He actually took charge of the situation, questioning these men as to what they were doing.

5.  They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.”  Jesus said to them, “I am He.”  And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them.

These men had been asked a question by the Lord, and they had no choice but to respond when He was the One asking!  They tell Him that they seek Jesus of Nazareth.  Remember, Nazareth had a bad reputation, and His enemies used it as a kind of epithet against Him.  The Lord’s response to them is not just an affirmation, as it appears in the New King James I have quoted here.  The word “He” is not in the Greek, and should not have been added by the translators.  They treated this statement as if it were an ellipsis, and the word “He” had been left out to be supplied by the translators.  Yet this was not the case.  This phrase was used to hearken back to the great name for God from the book of Exodus, that He is the “I Am.”  The enemies of the Lord had just announced that they were seeking Him, and used a belittling name for Him in doing so.  The Lord’s response to them, far from just asserting that He is the One they sought, declared to them His true position and nature as well…that the One they were seeking was not just a lowly individual from a city of bad reputation, but that He was the very “I Am,” the very God of the Old Testament Who brought the sons of Israel out of Egypt by His great power!  The Lord’s answer is not just a reply, but also a rebuke of these men for speaking thus against the One Who is the I Am Himself.

Now we are presented with this picture.  The Lord is standing on one side with His few, terrified disciples, and this great crowd of men, Judas among them, is standing on the other.  This makes what happens next all the more amazing and powerful.

6.  Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

The Lord no sooner speaks the words “I Am,” declaring Himself to be the Yahweh of the Old Testament, than this whole crowd of men draws back and falls to the ground.  There was power in His words, and these men could not help but respond to the power.  Some have suggested that this was an exaggerated response to what these men would have considered blasphemy.  These men fell to the ground in mock (or real) horror at what He had said.  Yet is it really likely that this group of over six hundred men would all have done this at once?  We can imagine the religious leaders themselves doing such a thing, the masters of contrived appearances that they were.  Yet would a rough and ready group of soldiers be likely to leave themselves open to attack in such a way?  Moreover, if many of these were Roman soldiers, as we speculate they may have been above, they would have had no knowledge of the meaning of the phrase, “I Am.”  Even if they did, they never would have willingly fallen to the ground before a possible foe!  And remember that Judas was standing with them.  Would he have been likely to thus leave himself open to attack by his former fellows, who certainly were not too happily disposed towards him at this moment?  No, such a scenario is so unlikely as to be impossible.  These men did not respond in this way of their own accord.  This was nothing short of an involuntary response on their part to the power of the Lord’s words.  He truly was in charge, not those who came to arrest Him!  Can there be any doubt that His arrest at this time was not out of His control, but was exactly what He planned on and wanted to have happen?

7.  Then He asked them again, “Whom are you seeking?”  And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

I imagine these men rather shakily picking themselves up, dusting off the dirt of the ground, and rather dazedly trying to figure out what had happened to them.  The Lord’s words had struck them like a blow, and they were no doubt in some disarray at this point.  They must not have looked nearly so impressive as they had a few moments before, nor must they have felt quite so confident about what they had come to do.  The Lord gives them little time to recover, but again asks them the same question.  This time, He asks it more urgently, for the Greek word for “asked” here is a stronger word than the one in verse four, indicating that He strongly inquired this of them this time.  They answer Him again the same way, although this time no doubt with much less confidence than before.

8.  Jesus answered, “I have told you that I am He.  Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way,”

The Lord answers, reminding them that He had already told them that “I Am.”  Then, He gives them a command.  If they seek Him, they are to let those with Him go their way.  “Go their way” is a figure of speech meaning to go about their business or their own affairs.  That is what He commanded the soldiers to let the disciples do, and that is exactly what they did.  They had little choice but to do so once the Lord commanded it, for even in this moment He was the One truly in charge.  They no doubt felt like they were, once they had the Lord seemingly helpless and in their power.  Yet not one of His disciples was arrested, and this was done because of His commandment.  He truly was in charge of His Own arrest!

9.  That the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, “Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.”

The Lord demanded this of the soldiers so that this saying which He had spoken might be fulfilled.  Remember, the Lord had spoken these words to His Father just a short time before in John 17:12.  Nothing that the Lord said could be allowed to fail to come to pass.  His every word was like the Scriptures, and could not but be fulfilled, since He was the living Word of God!

10.  Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear.  The servant’s name was Malchus.

Simon Peter takes it upon himself to do something.  He was not going to let the Lord be arrested without a fight!  Perhaps he remembered his bold words of John 13:37, that he would lay down his life for the Lord’s sake.  There is no doubt that he meant the words when he said them, and it seems he is ready to make good on his pledge now.  He has a sword, one of the two they have with them mentioned in Luke 22:38.  He now draws this sword and strikes the high priest’s servant Malchus.  Since Malchus is called “the” high priest’s servant, he probably was one of those in charge.  Perhaps he had stepped forward to take the Lord himself or to command Him to be taken, and so he is the one who falls under Peter’s wrath.  Peter, however, being a fisherman, not a trained soldier or swordsman, swings wildly, and only manages to cut off Malchus’ ear.  No doubt he was aiming to cut off his head!

11.  So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into the sheath.  Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?”

The Lord’s response must have floored Peter.  Remember, he had just seen this whole crowd of men fall over backwards at the mere words of his Lord.  He must have imagined that, if the Lord would just will it so, victory could be theirs!  Perhaps he thought his bold action would stir the Lord up to resist with him.  Perhaps he expected to be commended for acting so faithfully in defense of his Lord.  At any rate, it is certain he didn’t expect what actually happened.  Instead of joining or commending him, the Lord rebukes him, telling him to return his sword to its sheath.  He explains that it would not be right for Him to by no means drink the cup the Father has given Him.  Of course, by this He referred to all the suffering He was about to go through.  How could Peter, in all his boasting, ever have foreseen such a thing, or imagined such a situation?  No wonder he and the other disciples fled in the face of such unexpected surrender on the part of their Lord!

12.  Then the detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him.

The six hundred men, the captain, and the officers of the Jews move forward to arrest the Lord Jesus.  Again, the word “captain” is the term “chiliarch,” a term that meant the commander of a thousand in the Roman army.  If we assume that this Roman term is just borrowed here for the Israelite force, this man may have been the commander of the entire temple guard, which would make sense for something so important to the religious leaders.  But this could also be more evidence that Roman soldiers were indeed present at this arrest, called there by the religious leaders based on some exaggerated story.  At any rate, they arrest Him and bind Him, as if He were some dangerous criminal.  This was probably largely for show, although the chief priests no doubt commanded them to keep Him with great care.  Remember that He had slipped out of their hands several times before.

13.  And they led Him away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year.

Annas had been high priest when the Lord had begun His ministry.  There had been three other high priests in between Him and Caiaphas.  Remember John 11:49 called him, “Caiaphas, being high priest that year.”  It may be that, at this time, they were choosing a new priest to fill the office of high priest every year.  At any rate, Annas, the former high priest and father-in-law of the current high priest, seems to still have much influence.  Some suggest that he was a bit of a “power behind the throne” at this time.  He was very skilled in the law as well, so that too could be why they chose to bring the Lord to him first, hoping he could find some legal way of accusing Him.

If there had been Romans present at the arrest, they certainly were no longer so here, since they would not have been allowed in the house of a Jew.  Since there was obviously no riot happening, it seems very likely that they figured it all was a false alarm and left for their barracks, if indeed they were ever present at all.

14.  Now it was Caiaphas who advised the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.

This was the passage we just were referring to in John 11:50.  Remember, the Spirit of the Lord inspired this statement, since this man was the high priest.  It was expedient that the Lord die for the nation of Israel, and, as John 11:52 stated, “And not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.”  Yet, though that is what the Lord meant by that statement, that is not what Caiaphas meant.  Remember, the chief priests believed that, if the people all followed the Lord, He would start a revolt, which would cause the Romans to come to battle against them.  They were certain the Romans would win, in which case they would destroy both the temple and the nation of Israel.  Of course, these things were actually destroyed some forty years after this, but it was neither Christ nor His followers who were the cause of it!  The Lord never spoke rebellion against Rome.  Yet this was the justification that these men had in their own minds for their hatred of the Lord and their unlawful actions against Him.

15.  And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple.  Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest.

We know that all the disciples fled, as is stated in Mark 14:50, but it seems that at least Peter and this other disciple didn’t flee very far, but soon got up the courage again to turn and follow the Lord to the home of the high priest.  There can be little doubt that this disciple was John himself.  Though some suggest it must have been someone with more influence, it seems doubtful that John would refer to anyone else this way.  If this were either Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea, as the Companion Bible suggests, why would John not have named him, as he did elsewhere in his gospel?  And, as we have seen in this gospel, John always refers to himself as if he were talking about someone else.  We saw that back in chapter 1 verses 6-8, when he used his own name but referred to himself like he was talking about someone else.  We also saw it in chapter 13 verse 23, where he called himself the “disciple whom Jesus loved.”  Now he calls himself “another disciple.”  This fits right in with his method of speaking of himself in this gospel.

Remember that this book is not just a record of the events of Christ’s life, but a treatise of sorts, almost a thesis, written to convince those who read that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing the reader would have life in His name, as we read in John 20:31.  Since this book was of such great importance, John was led by the Holy Spirit to seek to minimize himself by never referring to himself directly in this book, lest anyone claim he did not write from honest motives, but only to glorify himself.  This is why he refers to himself in this indirect way throughout this gospel.

But, some may ask, if this refers to John, how is it that he was known to the high priest?  How would he have enough influence both to get into his courtyard and to get Peter into the courtyard?  It seems likely that John (and therefore James his brother as well) must have been of the rich class.  Some might protest that they were fishermen, just like Peter and Andrew.  Yet remember, “poor” and “rich” in Israel were not indications of how much money you had, but rather were castes, similar to those that currently exist in India.  You were born into the poor or rich class, and the only way to leave either was to become an outcast or “sinner.”  There was no crossing between the classes.  Once you were born poor, you were always poor, even if you made a ton of money and became materially wealthy.  And if you were rich, you were always rich, even if you lost all your possessions and ended up as a blue-collar type worker.  Thus, John and James could easily have been members of the rich class and yet have been fishermen.  John, thus, could have been educated in Jerusalem at one point in his life, and could very well have been known to the high priest.  Remember, the rich were a small group, only around one percent of the people.  The rich probably knew each other, or at least each other’s families.  That John would have been known to the high priest is quite likely if he was rich.  This connection, then, would have allowed him to get in the door when Peter could not, being of the poor class.

16.  But Peter stood at the door outside.  Then the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to her who kept the door, and brought Peter in.

Peter must wait at the door outside while John goes in.  John seems to scout the situation, and then returns to the gate and convinces the porter girl to let Peter in as well.

17.  Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?”  He said, “I am not.”

The servant girl seems to know that John is one of the Lord’s disciples, and now she accuses Peter of being one as well.  It is clear that her attitude towards the Lord was influenced by that of her masters, for her use of “this Man” is disrespectful and somewhat contemptuous.  Peter clearly fears what may happen to him if he is discovered there as one of the disciples, and he emphatically denies this, saying, “I am not.”  This is not exactly a denial that the Lord is the Son of God or anything like that, but it is a denial that Peter himself was a disciple, a learner, one who sat at the feet of the Lord.  Contrast this to the bravery of John.  It may be that being a rich class member gave him confidence, yet here he was well known as a disciple at a time when that was a very dangerous thing to be, and yet he seems to enter here unafraid.  Peter, on the other hand, is unwilling to do the same.

18.  Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves.  And Peter stood with them and warmed himself.

Probably most of the crowd that came out to arrest Him have returned at this time, and yet these are forced to wait to see things through.  In Israel it could get quite cold at night, down to maybe forty degrees Fahrenheit.  This is nothing like the cold we have in Minnesota, but it would be cold enough to be quite uncomfortable.  These servants and officers, therefore, have made themselves a fire and are warming themselves.  Peter must also have been getting cold, and so he approaches the fire to warm himself.  John had apparently moved on, probably to see what he could find out about what was happening, and so the two are separated.

Now, it is never wise to warm yourself at your enemy’s fire, and Peter must have realized this.  He was probably very nervous about being recognized, and hoping he would blend in with the rest and not be noticed.