Jesus often spoke about the traditions and customs of the Jewish leaders throughout history and how Israel did not fulfill God's intended purpose for the nation of Israel. Israel had a special calling to represent God to the nations through the temple, but the nation failed to do so. Instead, throughout the centuries, the temple became a source of division and repulsion among the nations. As a result, Israel became elitist, believing they were above judgment and more righteous than others, and they neglected to practice what they preached. As a result, the temple system focused on keeping traditions rather than obeying God.
Jesus challenged the religious leaders to return to the core values of faith and obedience to God. His teachings emphasized love, humility, and service rather than legalism and self-righteousness. Unfortunately, those in power did not always accept Jesus' message, which challenged their authority and exposed their hypocrisy. However, his teachings inspire people today to live out their faith in a way that reflects his example of compassion and righteousness.
Jesus' message was radical and wasn't well-received by religious leaders and zealots. He upset many people, and his actions led to a climactic conclusion. In today's passage, Jesus begins the journey toward fulfilling his purpose and willingly giving himself to the authorities. His submission and death were necessary so that humanity and God could restore the relationship that was intended from the beginning.
The scene occurs in a garden Jesus often visited with his disciples. Judas, who knew Jesus would be there, brought a group of Roman soldiers and temple police, possibly up to 200 soldiers, to arrest Jesus. It's possible that Judas kissed Jesus as a signal to identify him, but John doesn't mention it.
When Jesus meets the group, he asks who they seek, and they respond, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus replies with the literal translation, "I am." However, what happens next is even more intriguing.
According to John, the soldiers fell back or retreated and fell to the ground when Jesus responded, "I am." The reason for their fall is a matter of interpretation, with more conservative biblical scholars suggesting that the soldiers in the front may have jumped back when Jesus unexpectedly advanced, causing a domino effect of soldiers falling to the ground. Others believe that the soldiers fell due to a Theophany, an appearance of God to humans, which caused his enemies to fall back and prostrate before him.
What is clear, however, is that Jesus is in control of the situation. According to the Bible commentary, "It was the glorious effulgence (radiance) of the majesty of Christ which overpowered them. This occurred before His surrender to show His power over His enemies, and so the freedom with which He gave Himself up."
As Pastor Tim Keller points out in his sermon "I AM HE," "Nobody can stand on their feet in the presence of God." The power of God is awe-inspiring and astounding in all senses of the word. Jesus, in his manifestation of the power of God through his name (I AM, Yahweh), brings to light the need to recognize and respect the power of God in our lives. If the mere mention of the name of God can bring a squad of soldiers to their knees, then we ought to recognize and respect the power of God altogether.
After Jesus reveals his identity, he asks the soldiers again who they seek and tells them that he is the one they are looking for. He also tells them to let his disciples go unharmed. At this point, Peter impulsively attacks the High Priest's servant and cuts off his ear. However, Jesus rebukes Peter and clarifies that he is not seeking violence but will go peacefully. Jesus reminds Peter that he must do as the Father has commanded, which includes drinking the cup given to him. In other words, he must fulfill the plan that God has set in motion from the beginning. Jesus has accepted his mission, and his death on the cross was not an accident but rather the very plan of God.
The soldiers took Jesus to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the High Priest. Annas had previously served as High Priest but had been removed from the position by the Romans and replaced by various family members, including Caiaphas. There is some debate over why Annas is referred to as High Priest in some passages. However, he likely still held significant influence and authority within the Jewish religious establishment. Some scholars suggest that Annas may have shared the position of High Priest with Caiaphas, while others argue that he held the title due to his past service in the role, even though he was no longer officially serving as High Priest.
After Jesus was arrested and taken to the high Priest Annas' courtyard, Peter and another disciple (possibly John) followed. Peter stayed outside while the other disciple went in, and later Peter was allowed in. While warming themselves around a fire, a doorkeeper questioned Peter about whether he was a follower of Jesus. Out of fear for his safety, Peter denied it. Although we can only speculate about his motivations for rejecting Jesus, we know that Jesus had prophesied that Peter would deny him three times.
Peter is a relatable character in the Gospels because he represents the flawed nature of humanity. Despite being one of Jesus' closest disciples, Peter still exhibited impulsive behavior and fear, leading him to deny Jesus thrice. This portrayal of Peter reminds us that we are all imperfect in our Christian walk and we will make mistakes. It's important to recognize our flaws and seek forgiveness, just as Peter did when he wept bitterly after denying Jesus. Peter's story shows us that even flawed followers of Jesus can still be used for His purposes, as evidenced by Peter's role in the early Christian church.
Some Christians may indeed come across as self-righteous or judgmental, but the reality is that we are all flawed human beings, just like Peter and the other followers of Jesus. As Christians, we should strive to be humble and recognize our imperfections rather than pretending to be perfect or judging others for their shortcomings. At the same time, we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus is always willing to forgive us when we fall short and that his love for us is not based on our performance or moral superiority. Ultimately, the message of Christianity is not about being perfect but about accepting God's grace and striving to live a life that honors him.
Chapter 19:1 - 37
It is interesting to see how Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea at the time, dealt with the situation with Jesus. He recognized that Jesus had done nothing wrong and even tried to release him, but ultimately gave in to the demands of the Jewish leaders and the crowd.
It's also worth noting that Pilate was likely concerned about maintaining his authority and avoiding any potential uprisings or conflicts with the Jewish people under his rule. So, in the end, he decided to have Jesus executed to keep the peace and maintain his power.
However, as we see in the rest of the story, Jesus' death was not the end. Through his resurrection and ascension, he ultimately fulfilled his purpose and brought salvation to humanity.
Crucifixion was a brutal and agonizing form of punishment intended not only to inflict physical pain but also to humiliate and intimidate the condemned person and send a message to anyone who might consider defying the authority of Rome. The victim was stripped and nailed or tied to a wooden cross, left to hang there until they died of exhaustion, suffocation, or shock. It was a slow and excruciating death, and the victim's suffering was often prolonged by the Roman practice of breaking the legs of the crucified person to hasten their death. The fact that Jesus willingly submitted to this punishment, knowing full well what he was about to endure, is a testament to his love for humanity and willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for our redemption.
Jesus' final words on the cross, "It is finished," signify that he had completed the work he had come to do, which was to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Through his death and resurrection, he has made way for people to be reconciled with God and to receive forgiveness for their sins. This is the central message of the Gospel, and it gives hope and meaning to the lives of millions of people worldwide.
The death of Jesus Christ on the cross is a gruesome and tragic event, but it is also necessary for establishing God's new covenant with humanity. Jesus' life, death, and resurrection were all part of a higher purpose, which many people in his time had difficulty understanding. He challenged religious leaders and taught the public the true meaning of being a child of God. Today, we are beneficiaries of the work Jesus did on the cross. Through faith, trust, and obedience to his commands, we can receive the grace of everlasting life, regardless of our race, gender, or social status.
God has established a new way through Jesus Christ that doesn't depend on works or legalism but is evidenced through good works. This new way promotes freedom through submission, living through dying, loving all, and having faith in God instead of man or circumstances. It's a way that's no longer based on sacrificing animals but on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who gave himself up to die on the cross to make humanity right with God.
Jesus talked and taught about the Kingdom of God, and when he comes back to earth at his second coming, he will return as judge, and He will set up the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. The story will not end this time like it did almost 2,000 years ago. Until that day, we are called to proclaim the coming Kingdom, prepare ourselves for when the king arrives, and share the love of Christ with a world that desperately needs to hear the truth and reality of redemption that we have already received.
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Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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