47 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. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. 51 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. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” 55 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. 56 But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled. – Matthew 26:47-56 ESV
While Jesus had prayed, the disciples had slept. Except for one of them whose night had been filled with plans of betrayal. Judas, after having been exposed by Jesus as the one who would betray Him, had left the upper room and gone straight to the home of the high priest, intent on following through with his plan to profit from his relationship with Jesus. And before long, he arrived on the scene, accompanied by a crowd consisting of Roman soldiers and a contingent of the high priest’s guards.
Judas, having been an intimate follower of Jesus, knew that He would likely be on the Mount of Olives that night. John tells us that Jesus “often met there with his disciples” (John 18:2 ESV). And Judas appeared just as Jesus told His disciples:
“See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” – Matthew 26:45-46 ESV
This scene is filled with tension and emotion. Jesus, having just poured out His heart to His heavenly Father, had fully committed Himself to accomplish what He had come to do. The disciples, having been awakened from their sleep, suddenly found themselves startled by the arrival of Judas and a large group of armed guards. They were surprised and scared. And Judas had to have been a jumble of raw nerves as he prepared to betray Jesus as well as the rest of the disciples with whom he had spent three years of his life.
The guards, carrying their swords and clubs, would have been on edge, not knowing what they would encounter when they attempted to arrest Jesus. Would His disciples put up a fight? Would there be a large crowd of His followers there, ready to defend Him at all costs?
And in the midst of this chaotic and potentially volatile scene, a strange moment of intimacy took place. Judas stepped forward and kissed Jesus on the cheek. This had been the pre-agreed-upon sign that would mark Jesus as the one they had come to arrest. One has to ask why Judas chose to betray the Lord in this particular way. He could have simply pointed to Jesus. But it’s almost as if Judas wanted to defuse the tension of the moment and to fool the rest of the disciples into thinking he was still a faithful follower of Jesus.
Each of the gospel writers provides their own recollections of what happened next. Matthew tells us that Judas walked up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and then kissed Him. Luke records that Jesus responded to this act of betrayal by asking, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48 ESV). John paints a slightly different picture, saying that “Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to the soldiers, “Whom do you seek?’” (John 18:4 ESV). These are not discrepancies, but simply the personal recollections of those who witnessed these events firsthand. In the case of Luke, he was recording what he had gleaned from his interviews of the disciples themselves. This scene is far from static but is filled with energy, confusion, and fear. Each of the disciples saw and heard different things. And in the midst of the chaos, the ever-impulsive Peter drew a sword and attacked one of those who had come to arrest Jesus. It was as if Peter was attempting to live up to the rash vow he had made earlier that evening:
“Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” – Matthew 26:35 ESV
This is the same man who, upon hearing Jesus announce that He was going to die in Jerusalem, had rebuked Him, saying, “Heaven forbid, Lord, this will never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22 NLT). Peter was trying to prevent the inevitable. More than that, he was trying to frustrate the expressed will of God. This is why Jesus had said to him, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (Matthew 16:23 ESV).
Peter, like the rest of the disciples, could not believe this was happening. In spite of all Jesus had told them, they could not bring themselves to accept that this was God’s will concerning the Messiah. It was not what they had been taught. It was not the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams.
And the scene provides us with a dramatic dichotomy between the angry, impulsive actions of Peter and the peace-filled, submissive response of Jesus. He turned to Peter and said, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52 ESV). This is an interesting statement and seems to conflict with one Jesus had made earlier in His ministry.
“Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.” – Matthew 16:34 ESV
But on that occasion, Jesus had been talking about the future, after His death, resurrection, and ascension. His act of redemption would put all those who believed in Him at odds with the world around them. Some would express faith in Jesus, while others would reject Him, creating conflict and division even within families.
“I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Your enemies will be right in your own household!” – Matthew 16:35-36 ESV
Jesus had not been advocating armed conflict between Christians and non-Christians. He was simply warning His disciples that following Him would be costly and accompanied by relational conflict.
But the garden of Gethsemane was not the place to stage a revolt against the authorities. Peter’s battle would not be with the armed guards of the Sanhedrin, but “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).
On this night, the actions of Judas and the guards who accompanied him were part of the sovereign will of God Almighty. It was all taking place according to the divine plan prescribed by God before the foundation of the world. These events were inevitable, unavoidable, and ordained by God. Jesus let Peter know that if God had not wanted this to happen, He was more than equipped to do something about it. If He deemed necessary, God could have sent 72,000 angels from heaven to defend His Son. But Jesus made it perfectly clear that all of this was necessary.
“But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” – Matthew 26:54 ESV
This was all happening in direct fulfillment of prophecy. Things were taking place just as God had planned. And nothing and no one was going to be able to stand in His way. The will of God would not be delayed, detoured, or derailed. The armed soldiers, equipped with swords and clubs, may have believed that they were in control of the situation, but Jesus knew better. They were simply pawns in the hands of a sovereign God. In fact, John records that when Jesus had asked them, “Whom do you seek?,” they had responded, “Jesus of Nazareth.” And as soon as Jesus had said, “I am he,” John states, “they drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:6 ESV).
Jesus was in control of the situation, not Peter, the guards, or the soldiers. And Jesus revealed that this entire scene was in fulfillment of God’s prophetic promises.
“…all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” – Matthew 26:56 ESV
And, as if to drive home that point, Matthew records that upon Jesus’ arrest, “all the disciples left him and fled” (Matthew 26:56 ESV). Over in the book of Zechariah, we have a prophetic pronouncement concerning the Messiah that forewarned of this very thing.
“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
I will turn my hand against the little ones.” – Zechariah 13:7 ESV
Jesus was on His own. The disciples had abandoned Him. Judas had done his dastardly deed and departed the scene. But Jesus, while devoid of any companionship from His followers, was far from alone. His heavenly Father was with Him. He would go through the next hours of suffering knowing that He was doing His Father’s will and was well within the divine grasp of His Father’s love. What Jesus was about to do, He did willingly. Because it had to happen. It was why He had come to earth. His incarnation would be meaningless without His crucifixion. His having taken on human flesh would be pointless if He did not become the sacrifice for the sins of mankind. It must be so. The journey to Calvary had begun and God’s plan for the redemption of man was well on its way.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.