Theme: The source of true courage.
This week’s lessons show us the importance of depending on Jesus.
While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him,“Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.
We have been moving toward the arrest, trials, and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth for some time, but at last the decisive moment has come. Jesus had prepared his disciples as best they could be prepared. He had prepared himself by his hours of prayer in the garden. Now the band of armed men who have been sent to seize him and carry him off to the hall of the high priest arrive in Gethsemane, and Jesus goes forward to meet them. In the forefront of the arresting band is Judas, the betrayer.
It is a ludicrous sight. Men with swords pressing forward to arrest the Son of God. Others with torches, as John tells us (John 18:3), coming in the darkness to arrest the one who is the only source of true light.
The last time we saw Judas he was in the upper room where Jesus identified him as the betrayer. He had left after that, but he had been busy while the meal ended, Jesus and the eleven disciples left the city for the Mount of Olives, and Jesus prayed about his coming crucifixion, Judas had gone to the priests and collected the “large crowd” that had come to take his master into custody. We can suppose that he had gone to the upper room first, but when he found that Jesus was no longer there he had gone on to the garden where he knew from past experience that Jesus was likely to be.
The real question about Judas’ role in the arrest is why he was needed at all. It is usually supposed that he was necessary to show the arresting party where Jesus was. But that is not as obvious as one might suppose. Jesus had not been hiding. He had been guarded in his movements earlier, but not this week. From the Friday preceding his crucifixion when he had arrived at Bethany he could hardly have been more open. It should have been easy to have known where he was and arrest him. It is usually said at this point that the leaders of the people wanted to arrest Jesus secretly for fear of the people, which was clearly a factor. But even so, there must have been many moments that week when they could have moved against Jesus quietly.
Frank Morrison has an interesting suggestion in his book Who Moved the Stone?1 He argues that the Jewish leaders must have been afraid of Jesus in two senses. They knew he was popular with the people. If they confronted him openly, there was always the possibility that he would call the crowds to his defense and an uprising would result. They did not want that. But even more disturbing was the matter of Christ’s undeniable, supernatural power. They had tried to arrest him on an earlier occasion, but he had simply slipped away from them. On another occasion the soldiers who had been sent to take him prisoner came back with an incredible answer for soldiers. “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” they said (John 6:46). What—if the leaders may have been unwilling to voice it even to themselves—what if in the final analysis Jesus should be unarrestable?
Besides, there was the problem of doing everything that needed to be done in the available time. This was the day before Passover. Jesus could not be executed on the Sabbath. But how could the leaders affect the arrest and hold the trials that would be necessary—their own trial to secure a verdict of death and the Roman trial that would be necessary to have the execution carried out— all before the Passover Sabbath. We know how they did it. They held their own hurried trial by night, confirming the verdict by an official early morning meeting of the Sanhedrin, and a rushed trip to Pilate. But the case against Jesus was unprepared and was obviously moving toward an acquittal until the high priest hit upon the illegal but effective expedient of challenging Jesus under oath to testify against himself. Why did they wait so long? Why did they not arrest Jesus several days before this? Or assuming that they had to wait for some reason, why was their case not better thought out? Why did they not have adequate witnesses when they eventually brought Jesus to the judgment hall?
Morrison suggests that Judas had somehow brought information that led them to think that, in spite of the difficulties they faced, this was indeed the opportunity they had been waiting for. What might Judas have said? If we recall that Jesus had been talking about his death, trying to prepare the disciples for it, Judas might have said something like this: “Jesus has been talking as if he is about to die. I would say that he is tired and defeated and that the mood of surrender is on him. If you move now, I think he would go with you. But you have to move quickly. He must be arrested tonight, Hurry and make your arrangements. I will lead you to him.”
If that is what happened, a quick decision would have followed as to whether the arrangements could be made in time. There had to be an initial hearing in which the accusation could be worked out. The Sanhedrin would have to be roused from sleep and gathered for an early morning session. Most important, they would have had to determine whether the Roman governor would be willing to hold a hearing on what would not normally have been a court day. Someone would have to go to him, probably Caiaphas himself. Meanwhile, the arresting party would have to be set in order. When we see the events in this way we can understand why so much time elapsed between Judas’ departure from the upper room and Christ’s arrest in the garden at least three hours later. It was the climax of many hours of frantic evil activity when Judas finally arrived in the garden with the temple guards and betrayed his master with a kiss.
1 Frank Morrison, Who Moved the Stone? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977).
What are some possible reasons why Judas was included in the plans for Jesus’ betrayal?
What two possible reasons might the Jewish leaders have had for fearing Jesus?
Why were there most likely three hours between Judas’ departure from the upper room and Christ’s arrest in the garden?