So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees . . . . Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said . . . . When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
- JOHN 18:3-6
John 18 begins with Jesus being confronted in a garden by Judas, Jewish religious leaders, and a “detachment” of Roman soldiers (John 18:3). This is quite the group! It is diverse with Jews and Gentiles side-by-side coming for Jesus, perhaps a subtle insinuation that the whole world is responsible for His death. It is also enormous. A “detachment” of Roman soldiers typically consisted of about 600 men. This is far beyond what would usually be necessary for arresting a normal man. But as John has pointed out time and time again, Jesus is not a normal man.
John 18:5-6 may give us the clearest indication yet that Jesus is not the usual suspect. When this large and diverse band comes and says they are looking for “Jesus of Nazareth,” Jesus responds to them, “I am He.” Literally, this translates as “I am.” Once again, Jesus identifies Himself using the divine name. What is stunning in this scene is how everyone responds when they hear it. John 18:6 reports, “When Jesus said, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” This is what people often do in Scripture when they encounter the almighty God, they fall to the ground (Judges 13:20; Ezekiel 1:28; Daniel 10:9). This shows that Jesus has the power to bring hundreds of soldiers to their knees simply by pronouncing His divine name. It implies that He wouldn’t be arrested by this troop because of their strength in numbers. He would be arrested because He planned to willingly lay down His life.
This is an important lesson. In our present day, we often feel like we have to come to Jesus’ defense when people attack Him. Later in this story, Peter actually cuts off a man’s ear in an attempt to ward off Jesus’ arresters. Jesus doesn’t need us to defend Him. He’s quite capable of taking care of Himself. And He doesn’t want us to hurt anyone with our words or actions. What Jesus wants are followers who will humbly serve others, regardless of what they think about Him. This is how our King lived and it’s the way of the kingdom He is establishing.
1 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.
2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
7 Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.
8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” 9 This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)
11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.
PETER’S FIRST DENIAL
15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.
17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.
He replied, “I am not.”
18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.
THE HIGH PRIEST QUESTIONS JESUS
19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.
20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21 Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”
22 When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.
23 “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
PETER’S SECOND AND THIRD DENIALS
25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”
He denied it, saying, “I am not.”
26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.
JESUS BEFORE PILATE
28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.
33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.