After praying for a third time, in Gethsemane, the familiar olive grove at the foot of the Mount of Olives, Jesus once again returned to James, John & Peter. On this occasion, having settled his continued obedience to The Father, it would seem that Jesus kindly encouraged them to take some rest saying, ‘Sleep and take your rest.’ It was clear to Jesus that he would not be sleeping in his borrowed bed in Bethany that night. As he waited for Judas the traitor to arrive, setting in motion the agonising events which will take place over the next hours, he granted them the kindness of a moment’s sleep before the madness that would rock their world to its foundation began.
After his ‘outing’ during the Passover, Judas scurried off to meet his co-conspirators, the religious elite, knowing time was now a factor. His cover was broken, the plan had to be fast-tracked, he couldn’t risk news of his betrayal becoming common knowledge, especially amongst the ‘Pro-Jesus’ Galileans that had converged on Jerusalem, and the surrounding region, for the Passover celebrations. They needed to strike quickly and the quietness of the night provided an ideal opportunity.
Rest was over too quickly as Judas arrived at the garden, where he knew from experience he would find Jesus in his regular place of prayer. He led a large crowd. We know it included Malchus, the High Priest’s personal servant, along with temple police and what John calls a ‘band of soldiers. He uses the Greek word ‘speira’ which literally means one-tenth of a Roman legion equating to 600 men. It is hard to believe the Roman authorities would have sanctioned such a number to leave the garrison but it at least signals the crowd accompanying Judas was reasonably large as Matthew records in v55, Jesus speaking to the ‘crowd’. They came well equipped with clubs, swords and torches, as mentioned by John.
William Hendrickson remarks in his commentary on Matthew: ‘They came with torches and lanterns to search for the Light of the World…. With swords and cudgels to subdue the Prince of Peace.’
From this crowd, Judas stepped forward kissing Jesus and calling him Rabbi. A kiss on the cheek was a common greeting, a sign of deep respect, honour, and brotherly love. As Rabbi and student, it is likely Judas had kissed Jesus on the cheek many times before, showing him great respect and honour. But everyone looking on knew this occasion was different, as Judas turned this intimate expression of love and honour into an act of hypocritical betrayal. It is a reminder of the heartache experienced by King David when he describes a time of rebellion or power struggle against him. A key leader in the struggle had been a trusted companion who betrayed David
“If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers” – Psalm 55:12–14
John, in his account of this garden scene, gives us details omitted by Matthew. When the group said they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth, John records, ‘When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground’ (John 18:6). In that moment Jesus gives a small demonstration of his power to his abductors as his words made them fall to the ground. We must be under no illusion that Jesus willingly submitted himself to his captors that night.
Lord we know, in this moment of treachery surrounded by an armed mob intent on doing you harm, you could have ‘appealed to your Father, and he would at once send more than twelve legions of angels?’ But you chose the path of obedience to the Father for the good of the world rather than rescue from the Father for your own comfort. Thank you for your total commitment to my salvation. Help me every day to pursue obedience to your plan before rescue from my own circumstances.
More From This Series
View the other Devotionals in our “For the Joy” series