If you have ever spent time on a stage you are aware of the feeling of anticipation, excitement and fear you experience before the curtain rises. Once the curtain rises you have two choices… you do what you were meant to do, or you run away. Here in the garden, the curtain (if you will) raises, Jesus sets the stage for the plan of his departure from this earth. This is the time that he has been talking about and preparing for since his public ministry began.
In the garden, Jesus is confronted by a band of soldiers who have been brought to the garden by Judas, the captain and officers of the Chief Priests and the Pharisees. Unbeknownst to many is what lies before him is the cup which the Father has given to him to drink and soon Jesus takes the cup and endures, because this is his moment.
Once Jesus finished his prayer and concluded his farewell discourse to his disciples, he went to a garden to pray. Judas knew Jesus would be there at this time, so he brought with him Roman soldiers (possibly up to 200 soldiers) and the temple police to the garden to have Jesus arrested. It is probable at this time Judas kisses Jesus, but John does not record it. He meets the group and asks who they are seeking? They respond, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replies, “I am he.” The literal translation is “I am.” Upon hearing his response John tells us the soldiers drew back or as the NET Bible says, “they retreated” or moved back and fell to the ground.
What happened at this moment? Why did the soldiers fall down? Some biblical scholars believe that the soldiers in the front may have jumped back when Jesus unexpectedly advanced forward causing those in the front to start a domino effect of soldiers falling to the ground. Others believe it was a result of a Theophany (an appearance of God to humans) causing his enemies to fall back and fall prostrate before him. “We see they are struck down by a power such as that which smote Saul of Tarsus and his companions to the earth (Ac 26:14). It was the glorious effulgence (radiance) of the majesty of Christ which overpowered them. “This, occurring before His surrender, would show His power over His enemies, and so the freedom with which He gave Himself up” [Meyer]. Pastor Tim Keller says in his sermon I AM HE, “Nobody can stand on their feet in the presence of God.” The power of God is awesome in all senses of the word. Not only is it awesome but it is awe inspiring. In Jesus we see the power of God manifested in His name (I AM, Yahweh). If the mere mention of the name of God can bring a squad of soldiers to their knees, then we can only imagine the power that is in his presence.
Eventually, Jesus was arrested and bound by the soldiers and taken before Annas, the father-in-law of the High Priest Caiaphas. Annas is also called the High Priest in other passages so there is some debate over why he is also called the High Priest. Some suggest that Caiaphas and Annas shared the position and others suggest that since he was High Priest before Caiaphas that he was probably retired from the position but still held the title.
The death of Jesus is a graphic and gruesome thing. I need not go into detail about it since many of us have either seen movies, read books or imagined in your mind what this horrific event was like, but I do not think we can fathom what it was really like. The death Jesus suffered was a painful, humiliating and violent death, yet it was necessary in order to accomplish the will of the Father. Crucifixion was a gruesome method of capital punishment used by many nations including Greece and Persia. The Romans used it as a means to execute slaves and criminals.
In the Gospel of John, as Jesus hung on the cross, the final two statements Jesus makes were…
It was nearing the Sabbath before Passover and the process of death needed be sped up, so the guards began breaking the legs of those being crucified. They wanted to get this over, so they could go ahead and celebrate the Passover. However, Jesus had already given up His spirit and since he lifeless there was no need to break His legs (thus fulfilling prophecy… See Zech. 12:10). To ensure He was in fact dead the Roman soldier pierced his side.
When we read the full account of this gruesome, brutal, and somewhat tragic death of Jesus we may respond in humble heartbreak. We may cry out because Jesus did not deserve the death, he died but it was altogether necessary. Through his death God establishes a new covenant of grace, atonement and redemption with humanity. The gruesome and heart-wrenching death of Jesus may bring sadness to us today, but we must remember today is not the end… Sunday is coming.
Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (Jn 18:6). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
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I currently live on the Gulf Coast of Florida with my beautiful family. The Lord has blessed me with over 25 years of full time ministry. He is and has been faithful.