1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” 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.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” – John 18:1-11 ESV
For 17 chapters, John has gone out of his way in establishing the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. But at this point in the story, it would be easy to understand if a reader of John’s gospel began to question whether Jesus really was who He claimed to be. After all, Jesus Himself has admitted that He is going to die. He has warned that His own disciples are going to desert Him. For an uninformed observer, this could all begin to raise doubts about the validity of John’s claims about the divinity of Jesus.
And the scene described in chapter 18 will raise further doubts. But, in fact, John would argue that the scene that took place in the garden that fateful night, which he witnessed and later recorded, would be one of the greatest proofs of Jesus’ identity.
The scenes of betrayal, humiliation, suffering, and death that mark the end of Jesus’ life are not meant to call into question His identity, but to confirm it. While they appear to the human eye as evidence of defeat and failure, they are actually powerful proofs of God’s divine strategy for bringing about Satan’s fall and Christ’s victory over sin and death.
Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. – Hebrews 2:14 NLT
He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.
– Romans 8:3 NLT
When reading the gospels, many Christians find themselves wishing these graphics scenes could have been left out. They would prefer to skip all the gory details concerning Jesus’ humiliating trials, merciless beatings, and agonizing crucifixion and death. Why couldn’t John just have fast-forwarded to that Hallmark-card image of the empty tomb? After all, isn’t that the point of the whole story? Jesus rose again.
But John wants us to understand that, without the crucifixion, there would have been no resurrection. And as painful as it may be to read about all that Jesus had to suffer and endure, it is essential that we understand the high price that Jesus paid. The apostle Peter would have us remember that our salvation didn’t come cheaply.
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 BSB
And Paul told the believers in Corinth, “God paid a high price for you…” (1 Corinthians 7:23 NLT). That image of the empty tomb came with a hefty price tag.
So, as we read these all-too-familiar chapters, may we do so with a sense of awe and gratitude for what God ordained and Jesus fulfilled. Every step Jesus took, every blow He suffered, every nail driven into His body, and the very last breath He breathed were all part of the price He paid that we might be made right with God. Do not hurry through these uncomfortable moments in your rush to get to the empty tomb. Savor every painful, agonizing moment, because not only do they represent the high price God paid for your salvation, but they reveal the staggering scope of the debt you could not pay.
After having complete His high priestly prayer, Jesus led His disciples to the garden of Gethsemane. And it was in this familiar spot that Judas decided to carry out his plan to betray Jesus into the hands of the religious leaders.
So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. – John 18:3 ESV
Don’t miss the stark contrast contained in this scene. Jesus, the faithful Lamb of God, is in the company of his disillusioned and dispirited disciples. But Judas, the unfaithful disciple, is accompanied by armed soldiers and the sworn enemies of Jesus. You can sense the tension. And the fear and confusion of the disciples are almost palpable. But Jesus was unsurprised and unmoved by this obvious display of force. John juxtaposes the heavy drama of the moment with Jesus’ calm demeanor and measured response.
Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” – John 18:4 NLT
This simple question is the key to understanding the Gospel of John. By asking it, Jesus is demanding that Judas and his associates confess who they believe Him to be. Early in His ministry, Jesus had asked His disciples a similar question: “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27 ESV). And their answers had been all over the map. So, Jesus had followed that question up with another one: “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29 ESV). And to that question, Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV).
Now, in the darkness of the garden, illuminated by the glow of torches, the Light of the world asks Judas and his companions to reveal the identity of the one for whom they are seeking. And, unlike Peter, their response is neither bold or enlightened.
They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” – John 18:5 ESV
They are simply looking for a man, and nothing more. They had not come looking for the Messiah. They weren’t expecting to encounter the Son of God. And their answer revealed all that they knew and believed about Jesus: What He was called and where He was from.
And Jesus responds to their answer by confirming that He was the one for whom they were looking. But His simple answer carries tremendous weight.
Jesus said to them, “I am he.” – John 18:5 ESV
In Greek, it reads, “I am!” Why is this important? This was the very same phrase Jesus used when stating the various aspects of His identity.
“I am the bread of life.” – John 6:35 ESV
“I am the light of the world.” – John 8:12 ESV
“I am the door.” – John 10:7 ESV
“I am the good shepherd.” – John 10:11 ESV
“I am the resurrection and the life.” – John 11:25 ESV
“I am the way and the truth and the life.” – John 14:6 ESV
“I am the true vine.” –John 15:1 ESV
Every time Jesus uttered this two-word statement, He was declaring Himself to be God. He was echoing the very words spoken by Yahweh when He had appeared to Moses in the burning bush. When God had commissioned Moses to return to Egypt and lead the people of Israel out of captivity, Moses had asked, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13 ESV).
And God had responded, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14 ESV). That was His name. It was a declaration of His transcendency and eternality. He was God, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. As God would later reveal through the prophet Isaiah, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 54:6 ESV).
And just to make sure Moses heard what He had said, God repeated His answer. “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14 ESV).
So, when Jesus declared Himself to be “I am,” He was not-so-subtly declaring that He was far more than just Jesus of Nazareth. He was the very one Philip had told Nathanael about.
“We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” – John 1:45 ESV
And John reveals the power inherent in Jesus’ self-proclaimed statement of identity by describing what happened when the words left His lips.
When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. – John 18:6 ESV
This was not a voluntary act of reverence or submission. It was an uncontrollable response to the power and presence of God almighty. Of no choice of their own, they were driven to the ground in submission and subjugation to the Son of God. It was a foreshadowing of a future day when all mankind will acknowledge Jesus as who He really is.
…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:10-11 NLT
But their submission proved to be shortlived. When they recovered their senses, they arrested Jesus but allowed His disciples to go free. And John reveals that this was in keeping with the declaration Jesus had made to His Father: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one” (John 17:12; 18:9 ESV).
Throughout this tension-filled scene, Jesus exhibits a strong sense of calm and composure. But Peter reveals the turmoil taking place within the hearts of the disciples. He draws a sword and cuts off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants. Rather than wield his sword against one of the armed guards, Peter attacks a defenseless slave. It was likely his attempt to prove his earlier boast to Jesus, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you” (Matthew 26:23 NLT).
But Jesus calmly responded, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11 ESV). John ignores the fact that Jesus healed the ear of the servant. For him, the salient point behind this encounter was the willingness with which Jesus faced His God-ordained fate. What He was about to do, He would do willingly because, as He had told His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV).
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.