All the Way to Calvary: Arrested

Soldiers stream almost endlessly into the garden. Hundreds of men have been commissioned to make the arrest.[1] It is remarkable that the chief priests of Israel would join forces with their hated Roman occupiers, but desperation has gripped them. They know something of the power of Jesus of Nazareth and want to ensure they have sufficient resources to detain Him.

They arrive with lanterns and torches (Joh 18:3). The light of Passover’s full moon may not be enough should He decide to hide from His captors. They are ready to probe every possible hiding place within Gethsemane.

But lights are not the only things they carry. Outfitted with swords and clubs, they are prepared for a fight and expect to be victorious. Neither their lights nor their weapons will be necessary. Out from the shadows of the garden, Jesus steps forward and asks them, “Who are you looking for?” They answer him, “Jesus from Nazareth.” Jesus tells them, “I AM” (Joh 18:5 ISV).

The Power of Deity

At that moment, it mattered not if there were countless legions of armed soldiers opposing Him. The puny power of man was overwhelmed by a Power they had not witnessed before: “they went backward, and fell to the ground” (v6).[2] A word from the sword of Jesus’ mouth was enough to vanquish them. Even Judas, who “stood with them” (v5), found himself upon the ground, clutching his coveted coins.

As they rose, brushed themselves off and sought to regain their composure, our Lord asked them a second time who they were looking for. In what appeared to be an act of grace, He seemed to give His enemies an opportunity to consider their ways. Again they said, “Jesus from Nazareth.” “Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way” (vv7-8).

The first sword was drawn, but it was not from the soldiers. The disciples had asked Jesus, “Lord, shall we smite with the sword?” (Luk 22:49). Not waiting for the answer, Peter recklessly made his move. The fisherman’s thrust drew blood, but only enough to sever an ear from one of the servants of the high priest. Obviously Peter and the other men allied with Jesus were unskilled for physical battle.

Peter’s careless act endangered him. After instructing Peter to sheathe his sword, Jesus immediately moved with yet another display of deity’s power, touching Malchus’ right ear and bringing instant healing. The miracle likely saved Peter’s life and may have prevented a fourth cross from being raised the next day. It must have certainly stirred conflicting emotions within Malchus about this man they were sent to arrest. He might have wondered how he could apprehend the man who had just saved him.

But this was Jesus’ final miracle. He had displayed His mighty power for the last time. He would not overpower the soldiers again with a word from His mouth nor would He summon heaven’s angels to deliver Him (Mat 26:53). Jesus was keenly aware of another power present that evening and He would allow that power to have its way.

The Power of Darkness

“Then Jesus said unto the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders, which were come to him, Be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves? When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luk 22:52-53). Our Savior had referred often to His “hour.”[3] But now the enemy’s hour had arrived.

The Lord Jesus was obviously conscious of heightened satanic activity as He made His way to Calvary. While with His disciples in the upper room, “the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee” (Luk 22:31-32). The Lord certainly knew that Satan had put a desire to betray Jesus into Judas’ heart (Joh 13:2). He also knew the dreadful moment when “Satan entered into him [Judas]” (v27). And so Jesus allowed the plan of His enemies to move forward. They were ignorant of the fact that their plan would not obstruct God’s. Indeed, Christ “was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Act 2:23 NET). The powers of darkness were permitted to have their “hour.” In the process, Satan’s head would be crushed (see Gen 3:15). But “trampling on serpents is a most painful experience, especially for the heel.”[4]

The Power of Destiny

God’s will was moving forward and God’s Word was being fulfilled. Judas’ treacherous act was foretold in Scripture (Psa 41:9; Joh 13:18). And now, another prophecy was about to find fulfillment. Startled by the altercation with Malchus and Jesus’ evident refusal to fight, every disciple began to run. As they did, so was fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 13:7: “Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered” (see Mat 26:31; Mar 14:27). And as they led Jesus away from the garden to face an unjust and ungodly trial, He had one more thing to tell His captors: “This has happened so that the scriptures of the prophets would be fulfilled” (Mat 26:56 NET). Far more powerful than their weapons and the rulers they represented was the will of God which would move forward unhindered. God’s destiny for Jesus was that He go all the way to Calvary, and no power on earth or under the earth could stop it.

[1] The word “band” in John 18:3 (KJV) means 1/10th of a legion, and a legion of Roman soldiers numbered 6,000. Both Matthew (26:47) and Mark (14:43) mention a “great multitude” of armed men present.

[2] All remaining Scripture quotations are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

[3] See John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23,27; 13:1; 17:1 for references to Jesus’ “hour.”

[4] Frederick S. Leahy, The Cross He Bore: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer (Edinburgh, UK: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), 29.