By Ray Madrigal
The gospels of Matthew (26:47-56), Mark (14:43-52), Luke (22:47-53), and John (18:2-12) all narrate the awesome and awful account of Jesus’ arrest. The scene seems ominous from the very start. Jesus has already informed his closest companions that one of them would betray him into the hands of sinful men, and yet another would deny any association with him whatsoever. Although the disciples considered it quite difficult to believe that such treason and sedition could be found among them, in fact they all would eventually forsake him that very night. As Jesus contemplated the horrible events that were about to take place, Peter, James, and John were unable to stay awake for even one hour and pray with him during that momentous night. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was quite weak indeed.
The synoptic gospels unanimously describe Judas as “one of the twelve.” Why this detail? Could it be that this is a timeless message for all disciples everywhere? If one of the closest companions of our Lord could commit such betrayal, it is certainly possible for me, for you, for any twentieth-century (or third millennium) disciple to commit similar acts of spiritual treason and perfidy. In truth, it is possible for modern disciples to treat Jesus with great contempt and dishonor whenever they commit apostasy and fall away (Heb. 6:6). Ignorance, neglect, indifference, apathy, hypocrisy all have a spiritual dimension that translates into religious rebellion. There is certainly more than one way to betray the Son of man with a kiss. Of course, Jesus knew in advance what Judas would do, and even predicted the course of events that would later transpire that very night. The one who “ate of my bread, has lifted his heal against me” (Ps. 41:9; Mark 14:18; John 13:18, 26). Although Judas would later have a change of heart, the damage was done, and could not be reversed.
The gospel of John informs us that a coalition of (Roman) soldiers and (Jewish) officials from the chief priests and Pharisees was formed to arrest Jesus of Nazareth. Although this motley crew was equipped with “lanterns and torches and weapons,” they all “drew back and fell to the ground” when Jesus identified himself to them: “I am he” (18:3, 6). It is amazing that the combined strength of Jerusalem and Rome could only subdue Jesus on his terms. Even during this dark night of despair, Jesus was in complete control of the situation. The Son of God voluntarily submitted to the will of the Father, and thus was arrested at the hands of sinful men. Though Jesus could have marshaled the forces of twelve legions of angels (Matt. 26:53) to rescue him at this perilous moment, instead, he willingly drank the cup which had been prepared by the Father.
When Jesus’ companions finally realized what was happening, “one of those who stood by drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear” (Mark 14:47). Although all four canonical gospels depict this remarkable event, only John mentions names. The brave and defiant disciple was, of all people, Simon Peter, who would later deny that he even knew Jesus. The slave’s name was Malchus (18:10). Only Luke tells us that Jesus immediately “touched his ear and healed him” (22:51). The combined details of the gospels tell us in no uncertain terms that this was no time for fighting (although see Luke 22:35-38). As Jesus would later tell Pilate, and as Jesus’ followers would later learn, “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). The miraculous healing of Malchus’ ear was yet another obvious reminder of Jesus’ authority and power even at this hour of crisis. “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53).
In describing the cowardly behavior of the disciples, both Mark and Matthew make note of the direct fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. “All forsook him and fled” (Mark 14:50-52, cf. 14:27). Those who had followed Jesus for so long, at this moment of truth, simply ran away. Perhaps confused and disoriented, one young man left his linen cloth behind and “ran away naked.” Misunderstanding the nature of the situation, and seeing their leader bound and (seemingly) powerless, the disciples ran away, looking for some place to hide. Since their shepherd seemed defeated and stricken, the bewildered sheep quickly scattered (Zech. 13:7).
The record of Jesus’ arrest in the garden of Gethsemane portrays a resolute Savior determined to submit to the divine will and endure great suffering in order to secure salvation for all who profess Christ. That he had the power to summon the angelic host to rescue him from this imminent danger only underscores his great love for mankind. Jesus knew in advance what was about to take place. He accepted the worship of those who arrested him, and witnessed the rapid dispersion of his closest friends. Jesus experienced emotional as well as physical pain but was determined to give up everything, including his own life, to make atonement for sins possible. Although the awful and terrible events surrounding Jesus’ arrest in the garden would immediately lead to his death by crucifixion, his bodily resurrection would soon demonstrate the impotence of death itself, and usher in the blessed hope of eternal life. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).
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