Arrest (Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-50; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:2-12)

Submitted by admin on Sun, 2008-12-14 12:00.

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The betrayer Judas knew the place where Jesus would be, for he had often been there with the disciples. (John 18:2) Initially, though, Judas and those planning to seize Jesus may have stopped at the house where he had been with the other apostles. Included in the group were Roman soldiers, Levite temple guards, and slaves. (Luke 22:50, 52; John 18:3, 26) They were equipped with torches, lamps, swords, and clubs. (Matthew 26:47; John 18:3) According to John 18:3, besides a contingent of Roman soldiers (probably drawn from among those stationed at the Tower of Antonia and who were responsible for watching for any disturbance or uprising in the temple area and bringing it under control), there were subordinates or deputies of the chief priests and Pharisees.

Matthew 26:47 refers to a large crowd from the chief priests and elders of the people, and Mark 14:43 additionally mentions men from the scribes. In view of the inclusion of Pharisees in John 18:3, they may have been the scribes who were involved in sending their subordinates. Only Luke 22:52 speaks of Jesus as directing words to the chief priests, temple captains, and elders. This may be understood to mean that what he said to those who acted for the chief priests and elders of the nation is being represented as addressed to those who had sent them.

While Jesus was speaking to the apostles, Judas and the armed men arrived. As it would have been hard for anyone without being personally acquainted with Jesus to recognize him in the dark, Judas had given the armed men an advance signal. “The one whom I kiss is he; seize him [and lead him away safely (Mark 14:44)].” (Matthew 26:47, 48; Mark 14:43, 44; Luke 22:47)

Approaching Jesus, Judas greeted him, addressing him as “rabbi,” and then kissed him. The preserved record does not indicate whether Judas responded to Jesus’ asking him why he had come and whether he was betraying the Son of Man with a kiss. (Matthew 26:49, 50; Mark 14:45; Luke 22:48; see the Notes section regarding Matthew 26:50.) At this point, Judas appears to have withdrawn, taking a position with the crowd. (John 18:5)

Jesus was fully aware of what would happen to him. His response to the crowd demonstrated that he, voluntarily and in submission to his Father’s will, chose to enter upon a course of suffering that would terminate in a painful death. Courageously, he walked toward the crowd, asking, “Whom do you seek?” When they said, “Jesus the Nazarene,” he identified himself, “I am,” that is, I am he. (John 18:4, 5) Their reference to him as “the Nazarene” may well have been a slur, for they considered him as no more than a man from Nazareth in Galilee, a city without any distinction.

Jesus’ fearlessness appears to have caught the armed men by surprise. Startled, those in front may suddenly have backed up, causing those behind them to lose their footing and fall. No man among them came toward Jesus. So he again asked them, “Whom are you seeking?” They again responded, “Jesus the Nazarene.” (John 18:6, 7)

“I told you,” he said to them, “I am.” Having left no doubt about his identity as the one whom they wanted to seize, Jesus, like a caring shepherd who looks out for the sheep, spoke up to protect his disciples. “If, then, you are seeking me, let these go.” (John 18:8) Earlier, in prayer, he had said that he had watched over those whom his Father had given him and that none except the “son of destruction” (Judas) had been “destroyed” or lost. (John 17:12) Jesus continued to conduct himself in keeping with his prayer, thereby fulfilling his words, “I have not lost one of those whom you have given me.” (John 18:9)

Becoming aware of what was about to happen to Jesus, the apostles closest to him asked, “Shall we strike with the sword?” With zeal for his Lord, Peter did not wait for an answer, reached for his sword, and struck one of the men. This one, the high priest’s slave Malchus, appears to have succeeded in quickly averting a fatal blow but still lost his right ear. Jesus stopped Peter from continuing to use the sword, telling him, “Put your sword into the sheath. Should I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (Matthew 26:51, 52; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:49, 50; John 18:10, 11)

Jesus also told Peter that all who take the sword would perish by the sword. There was no need for fighting, for he could make his appeal for heavenly assistance, asking his Father to supply him immediately with twelve legions (72,000, based on the usual size of 6,000 in a Roman legion) of angels. But this would not have been in harmony with what the scriptures indicated to be his divinely appointed role as the one who would surrender his life. (Isaiah 53:1-8) Jesus added, “How, then, would the scriptures be fulfilled that it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54) After indicating that matters had gone far enough with Peter’s use of the sword, Jesus healed the injured Malchus. (Luke 22:51)

The Son of God reproved the armed men, revealing that their action under the cover of darkness and as an armed mob had no valid basis. He asked them, “Have you come with swords and clubs as against a bandit to arrest me?” Jesus reminded them that there had been many opportunities for them to seize him. He had publicly taught at the temple and yet they had not arrested him. Now, however, their hour had come and the “power of darkness.” What the Hebrew prophets had foretold respecting him had to be fulfilled. So it was then the time to carry out the evil deed, one that stemmed from unbelief and a willing submission to satanic authority. (Matthew 26:55, 56; Mark 14:48, 49; Luke 22:52, 53)

It may be that the Roman chiliarch (a commander with 1,000 soldiers under him) gave the order to seize Jesus. Roman soldiers and members of the temple guard then took hold of him and bound him. (John 18:12) Fearfully, the apostles abandoned Jesus and fled. (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50)


In Matthew 26:50, the last three words of the Greek text literally read, “Upon what are you present.” These words may be rendered as a question. “Why are you here? (CEV) “Why have you come?” (NIV, footnote) Many modern translations, however, represent the Greek text as meaning that Judas should do what he had come to do instead of feigning friendship. “Do what you are here for.” (NJB) “Do what you have come for.” (NAB) “Do what you are here to do.” (REB) “Do what you came to do.” (NCV)

Because different writers were involved, one should not expect to find identical details in their narratives of the same events. Moreover, when there are differences, the highly condensed nature of the accounts does not make it possible to be definitive about how certain specifics are to be understood.