47 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 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 22:47-53 ESV
Upon completion of His prayer time with the Father, Jesus found Peter, James, and John sound asleep yet again. According to Matthew and Mark’s gospel accounts, Jesus sympathetically stated, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest.” (Mark 14:41 NLT). But then, sensing the arrival of His arrest party, He immediately announced, “But no—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!” (Luke 14:41-42 NLT).
At that moment a company of armed guards, accompanied by members of the Sanhedrin, noisily shattered the serenity of the garden and pierced the darkness of the night with their torches. Leading them was Judas. It seems likely that their less-than-stealthy approach had awakened the other disciples, who immediately sought out Jesus. They arrived just in time to see “a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs” (Mark 14:43 NLT) enter the garden with their fellow disciple, Judas leading them. And Mark adds that these men “had been sent by the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders” (Mark 14:43 NLT).
One can only imagine the range of emotions that flooded the minds of the disciples as they witnessed this unexpected scene. Having just woken up, they would have been confused and disoriented by the sudden realization that they were surrounded by what appeared to be a group of well-armed vigilantes. And the surprising sight of Judas standing alongside these men would have left them shocked and resentful. But before they had time to process all that was going on, Judas stepped forward and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” (Matthew 26:49 NLT). Then he proceeded to kiss Jesus, a prearranged sign designed to clearly identify the one for whom the men were looking. In the darkness of the garden, it would have been difficult to distinguish Jesus from His 12 disciples, so Judas had come up with this simple signal to ensure they arrested the right man.
Once again, the other 11 disciples would have watched all this take place with a sense of bewilderment and growing apprehension. What was happening? Why were these men here and what was Judas doing with them? It’s important to recognize that, even when Judas had left the upper room after Jesus announced that one of them would betray Him, the rest of the disciples didn’t immediately assume Judas was the guilty party. And as this surreal scene unfolded before them, they remained stupefied and unable to comprehend the gravity of the moment.
Luke seems to indicate that Jesus responded to Judas’ hypocritical display of affection by whispering into his ear, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48 ESV). He wanted Judas to consider the gravity of the moment and the sobering significance of His decision. He was betraying the Messiah, the anointed one of God. Jesus’ use of the term, “ Son of Man” was direct reference to the prophecy found in Daniel 7.
“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.” – Daniel 7:13-14 ESV
Jesus was the “Son of Man,” the one to whom the Ancient of Days had given dominion, glory, and a kingdom. And here was Judas betraying the long-awaited Messiah of Israel in such a disrespectful and shameful manner.
Sensing Judas’ sudden guilt and apprehension, Jesus quietly added, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for” (Matthew 26:50 ESV). Since Judas had already identified Jesus so that He could be arrested, what more was there for him to do? What did Jesus mean when He said, “do what you have come for?” According to Matthew 26:15, Judas had already received his blood money from the Sanhedrin as payment for his betrayal of Jesus. So, what more was there for him to do?
It seems that Jesus was letting Judas know that the kiss was only the beginning of his betrayal. That simple act was going to lead to a series of actions on the part of the guards, the Sanhedrin, and the Romans that would eventually end with Jesus’ death. Judas had no concept of all that his self-centered decision had set in motion. And, in a sense, all that transpired in the hours ahead would be Judas’ doing. He would be forever responsible for the death of the Messiah of Israel. That’s why, when Jesus had announced in the upper room that one of the disciples would betray Him, He added this foreboding warning.
“For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!” – Matthew 26:24 NLT
And as Judas stepped back, he had done what he came to do, but he would soon realize the true gravity of what he had done. His sin was going to have long-term and devastating consequences that he had not anticipated.
It was at this point that the rest of the disciples snapped out of their stupor and realized what has about to transpire. So, one of them shouted, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” (Luke 49 ESV). The scene grew suddenly chaotic as the armed guards grabbed Jesus and the disciples began to panic. Matthew indicates that one of them decided to take matters into his own hands and “pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear” (Matthew 26:51 NLT). In a matter of seconds, the serene setting of the garden had turned into an armed conflict, and Jesus was forced to intervene. “No more of this!” He shouted. Then turning to His disciples, He reprimanded them for their impulsive and inappropriate behavior.
“Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?” – Matthew 26:52-53 NLT
They were operating outside the will of God the Father, and their actions were actually in conflict with the pre-ordained plan of God. They were guilty of the very same thing for which Jesus had condemned Peter on an earlier occasion. When Jesus had announced to His disciples that His arrival in Jerusalem would result in His arrest, trial, and execution, Peter had rebuked Him. And Jesus had responded to Peter with a rebuke of His own.
“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 NLT
Now, here were the disciples repeating the same mistake. And it isn’t hard to imagine that the one wielding the sword that night was Peter himself. He remained just as impulsive and self-willed as ever.
But Jesus stood between the two opposing groups, calmly quieting the storm of anger that threatened to turn the garden into a killing field. And, true to form, He stooped down, picked up the severed ear, and miraculously restored the wounded man to health. Even with His own death just hours away, Jesus continued to show unrivaled compassion and care for others.
It’s at this point in his narrative that Luke reveals the presence of the chief priests, the officers of the temple, and the elders. These men had been there all along, lurking in the shadows. They would not have missed this moment for anything in the world. It was the culmination of much planning and the solution to what they believed to be a pressing problem. Caiaphas, the high priest, had earlier told his fellow members of the Sanhedrin, “You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed” (John 11:50 NLT). He had concluded that Jesus posed a threat to the nation’s well-being because He was inciting the people and encouraging revolution. That would eventually bring that the wrath of the Romans and result in unnecessary pain and suffering. So, it was better for Jesus to die than for Israel to be destroyed.
Fully aware of the rationale behind their conduct, Jesus clearly refuted their claim that He was some kind of radical, political activist who posed a threat to society.
“Am I some dangerous revolutionary,” he asked, “that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there every day. But this is your moment, the time when the power of darkness reigns.” – Luke 22:52-53 NLT
There was no need for the armed guards and all the cloak-and-dagger histrionics. There had been plenty of opportunities for them to arrest Jesus along the way, but they had chosen to do it under cover of darkness. But as Jesus made clear, this was their moment. They were in their element. The darkness of the evening was symbolic of their spiritual state. Their actions bore evidence that they preferred the darkness of sin over the light, just as the apostle John had claimed.
…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. – John 3:19-20 ESV
And Jesus let them know that their cleverly orchestrated and clandestine plans were actually the will of God.
“But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” – Matthew 26:56 NLT
They were not the ones in control of the situation. They were simply instruments in the hands of God Almighty, fulfilling His predetermined plan for the redemption of the world. And even the fearful response of the disciples after Jesus was arrested was all part of the preordained will of God. Matthew indicates that “the disciples deserted him and fled” into the night (Matthew 26:53 NLT). Jesus had warned them that this would happen.
“All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” – Mark 14:27 NLT
Jesus had quoted Zechariah 13:7, revealing to the disciples that even their eventual abandonment of Him would be in fulfillment of the predetermined will of God the Father. Everything taking place on this fateful night was being orchestrated from above. It was all part of the plan and a necessary part of the plan that had been put in place before the foundation of the world.
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.
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The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson