Jesus, Lord at Thy Death (John 18:1-11)
In the past two weeks, we have celebrated Christmas and New Year’s Day. One of my favorite Christmas carols is “Silent Night.” One line of this carol reads, “Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.” And so He was. No one makes this more clear than John, who does not even record the birth of our Lord in his Gospel. Instead, John takes us all the way back to the beginning, to creation. He informs us that our Lord was not only present at creation, He was the Creator. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created (John 1:1-3).
Throughout the Gospel of John, our Lord claims to have “come down” from heaven, sent by the Father to reveal Him to men. He further claims that He will return to the Father in heaven. The Son of God does not have His beginnings in Bethlehem. Indeed, He has no beginning. And so when He took on human flesh at His incarnation, He was Lord at His birth. Is this not what Matthew and Luke tell us in their description of our Lord’s birth? And so it is at Christmas time that we must remind ourselves that the Lord Jesus was, even in the cradle, the sovereign Son of God. He was Lord at His birth, no matter how certain appearances may seem to contradict this reality.
That phrase from “Silent Night” came to my mind as I was preparing this message. Jesus was, is, and will always be Lord. The more I have studied the events leading up to the crucifixion of our Lord, the more convinced I have become that Jesus was in control of all that took place in the final hours of His life. And so I have chosen to title this lesson, “Jesus, Lord at Thy Death.” How easy this is to forget. In truth, it could be the epitaph for chapters 18-20.
In chapter 18, John’s Gospel describes the betrayal, arrest, and initial appearances of our Lord before Annas and Pilate. Never before have I appreciated how much earlier events paved the way for this crucial moment in history. We should recall that Jesus not only foretold His death, but also indicated that He would die by crucifixion (3:14; 8:28; 12:34), after having been betrayed by one of His own disciples (13:18, 21). The Jewish religious leaders were committed to our Lord’s death as well, but they were determined that He would die at a different time (not during the feast) and in a different way (stoning). Earlier events set the stage for our Lord’s death in precisely the way He had indicated. Let me briefly review some of the ways our Lord had prepared for this moment.
Early in John (not to mention the other Gospels—see Luke 4:28-29), the Jews had determined to put Jesus to death:
16 Now because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish authorities began persecuting him. 17 So Jesus told them, “My Father is working until now, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason the Jewish authorities were trying even harder to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God (John 5:16-18).
Several things serve as the catalyst to solidify the Jewish leaders’ resolve to kill Jesus. These events set the scene for what we will read in chapters 18 and 19. Most of these watershed events happen in (or near) Jerusalem. First, there is the failed attempt of the Jewish leaders to arrest Jesus in John 7.121 It was a humiliating defeat when the temple police came back empty-handed, not because Jesus was nowhere to be found, but because the officers who were sent to arrest Jesus were so impressed by what they heard Him say (7:45-46). In chapter 8, our Lord’s words were more than the Jews could bear:
58 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” 59 Then they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out from the temple area (John 8:58-59).
In John 9, we read of our Lord’s healing of the man born blind. Once healed, this fellow made the adversaries of Jesus look so foolish that they put him out of the synagogue. Yet they were not able to score any points against Jesus. Once again, their opposition to Jesus was thwarted. In chapter 10, Jesus again claims to be one with the Father, so that another unsuccessful attempt is made to stone Him (10:30-31). When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, that was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” The Jews not only resolved to put Jesus to death, they determined to kill Lazarus as well:
47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation.” 49 Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish.” 51 (Now he did not say this on his own, but because he was high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered.) 53 So from that day they planned together to kill him. … 57 (Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should report it, so that they could arrest him.) (John 11:47-53, 57).
10 So the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus too, 11 for on account of him many of the Jewish people from Jerusalem were going away and believing in Jesus (John 12:10-11).
The triumphal entry of Jesus must have thrown the Jewish leaders into a panic. It looked as though their fears that everyone would follow Jesus (11:48) had come to pass. What a welcome event it must have been to have Judas come to them, offering to hand Jesus over to them (John 12:1-8; Mark 14:10-11). These Jewish leaders had looked bad the last time they attempted to arrest Jesus (John 7), and so they were determined to do it right the next time. They knew that they dare not attempt to arrest Jesus during the feast of the Passover:
3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people met together in the palace of the high priest, who was named Caiaphas. 4 They planned to arrest Jesus by treachery and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, so that there will not be a riot among the people” (Matthew 26:3-5).
1 Two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the chief priests and the experts in the law were looking for a way to arrest him by treachery and kill him. 2 For they said, “Not during the feast, so there will not be a riot among the people” (Mark 14:1-2).
They did not want to try to take Jesus into custody in public, nor during the feast, lest the crowds riot. The population of Jerusalem had swollen considerably during the feast, due to all the pilgrims who came to celebrate Passover. Since messianic hopes ran very high at this time, Rome was very much on alert during this religious holiday. Pilate, who normally lived in Caesarea, would remain in Jerusalem, along with a sizeable army, lest a riot break out. To attempt to arrest Jesus during the feast would be foolish, and the religious leaders were determined not to make fools of themselves one more time.
But Jesus was in control, forcing His adversaries to act in a way that was contrary to their plan. He carefully arranged for the place where He and His disciples would eat the Passover. No one but Peter and John knew the location in advance (Luke 22:8ff.). Once they gathered in the Upper Room for the Passover celebration, Jesus took Judas by surprise. First, He indicated that one of the twelve would betray Him (John 13:21). When pressed by John to tell him who this disciple was, Jesus designated Judas by passing him the bread (John 13:26). In Matthew 26:25, Judas asked Jesus if it was he, hoping no doubt that Jesus would indicate otherwise. Jesus informed Judas that it was, indeed, he who was His betrayer.
Can you imagine the panic Judas must have experienced at this moment? Judas had hoped to find an occasion to betray Jesus secretly, and not during the feast. He intended to keep his dealings with the Jewish religious leaders a secret. That way he could arrange for our Lord’s arrest in a way that caught Jesus and the eleven off guard. But when Jesus identified Judas as the betrayer, this traitor was certain that all of the disciples would soon know this as well, and when this happened, his opportunity to hand Jesus over was gone.
When Jesus gave Judas a reason to leave, I can almost see him bolting for the door. He could hardly have gotten out of there fast enough. He’s been discovered. His window of opportunity is now exceedingly small. Whether the Jewish religious leaders liked it or not, the only time Judas would be able to hand Jesus over to them was during the next few hours of that night.
Judas would be reasonably confident of knowing where Jesus could be found in the next few hours because the Master has followed a consistent pattern while in Jerusalem (Luke 21:37; 22:39). While Jesus and His disciples finished the meal and talked together, Judas was frantically setting in motion the sequence of events leading to his betrayal of Jesus. I doubt very much that the Jewish leaders were happy with the timing, but they must have realized it was their only chance, so they had to hastily arrange for enough armed men to see to it that Jesus did not get away from them this time. Given the holiday season and the shortness of time, they found it necessary to request the assistance of Rome; a sizeable force of soldiers was dispatched to accompany the religious authorities, the temple police, and the crowd that had gathered.
Judas may have first led this arresting force to the Upper Room, where he had left Jesus. Unknown to Judas, Jesus would have already left with His disciples (14:31). Perhaps they went next to another place or two until they reached the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus and His disciples seemed to camp out each night. All of this frantic search for Jesus took place as Jesus was teaching His disciples, praying for them (John 17), and then agonizing in prayer in the Garden. As Jesus was concluding His prayer, Judas and the mob that accompanied him were arriving. It is here that our story takes up. My point in this lengthy introduction is to demonstrate that Jesus had perfectly prepared everything for this moment. Jesus was in charge, as is evident in the events that led up to this confrontation, and it will shortly be evident that He was still in charge even as they placed Him under arrest, bound Him, and led Him away.
Gethsemane and the Gestapo
1 When he had said these things,122 Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley. There was an orchard there, and he and his disciples entered into it. 2 (Now Judas, the one who betrayed him, knew the place too, because Jesus had met there many times with his disciples.) 3 So Judas obtained a squad of soldiers and some officers of the chief priests and Pharisees. They came to the orchard with lanterns and torches and weapons.
The timing was perfect. Jesus had not only spoken everything to His disciples which needed to be said at the time, He had also finished His high priestly prayer to the Father. His “hour” truly had come. John very briefly refers to the Garden of Gethsemane and does not mention our Lord’s agonizing prayer in the garden. He does tell us something which no other Gospel mentions, however. John informs us that among those present in this arresting “mob” were a significant number of Roman soldiers. There is some discussion as to how many soldiers John is referring. As the study notes in the NET Bible inform us, a “cohort” was normally a force of 600 men. Some scholars think the number is really less than this. Perhaps so, but I believe it is safe to assume that the number of those present to arrest Jesus that night was in the hundreds.
What a sight this must have been. It was something like a torchlight parade, streaming out of Jerusalem toward the Mount of Olives and into the Garden of Gethsemane. There were the chief priests and Pharisees, accompanied by the temple police, a sizeable crowd of Jews, and a few hundred Roman soldiers. They were armed with torches, swords, and even clubs. (I doubt that the Romans allowed the Jews to bear arms, so it is likely that the club-bearers were Jews.) It would seem they had prepared for the worst. They expected Jesus to attempt to escape, or at least to resist arrest. They came with torches, ready to pursue Him into the darkness if He attempted to evade them.
The whole thing must have been hastily put together so as to assure them of success in this desperation attempt to be rid of Jesus. They came expecting trouble, and they were prepared to deal with it. As an added precaution they had enlisted Rome’s help as well. Since the Roman soldiers (and others, perhaps) did not know what Jesus looked like, Judas was to identify Him by going up to Him and giving Him a kiss. It seemed like such a great plan. They could not fail this time. And they did not. But it was not due to their brilliant scheme, nor to their superior numbers. It was because this was our Lord’s “hour,” and He was in complete control. This will be evident in the events that follow.
The Police Rattled, the Disciples Released
One Step Forward, and Two Steps Backward
4 Then Jesus, because he knew everything that was going to happen to him, came and asked them, “Who are you looking for?” 5 They replied, “Jesus of Nazareth.” He told them, “I am he.” (Now Judas, the one who betrayed him, was standing there with them.) 6 So when Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they retreated and fell to the ground. 7 Then Jesus asked them again, “Who are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus replied, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, let these men go.” 9 He said this to fulfill the word he had spoken, “I have not lost a single one of those whom you gave me.”
From the Synoptic Gospels, we know what the plan was. Judas had prearranged a signal by which he would positively identify Jesus. When Judas kissed Jesus, the arresting officers would know that He was their man, and they would then seize Him. We know from the other Gospels that Judas did indeed kiss Jesus. John, however, leaves the kiss of Judas out of his account, and I think I know why. It was both unnecessary and irrelevant. The only purpose it serves is to reveal the character of Judas. How fitting that our Lord’s betrayer should do so with a kiss. He used the token of love and affection as the means to hand Jesus over to His adversaries.
John leaves the kiss of Judas out because things do not go according to the prearranged plan of Judas and the Jews. Jesus would not attempt to elude them or to conceal His identity. Jesus would not attempt to avoid His arrest, illegal though it might be. Instead of our Lord’s identity being revealed deceitfully by the kiss of Judas, our Lord identified Himself. Judas had nothing to contribute other than to indicate the place where Jesus could be found. As Judas, the Jews, and the Roman soldiers arrived, it was Jesus who took change, bringing to pass the events that followed.123
Do the Jewish authorities or the Roman soldiers think they are in control? They are not! Is Jesus a helpless victim? Far from it! John tells us in verse 4 that Jesus “knew everything that was going to happen to Him,” and this is why He stepped forward and asked them, “Who are you looking for?” Did the Jews think that Jesus would run and seek to hide from them? Did they expect to conduct a manhunt that night? Did they wonder how they would identify Jesus for sure? Jesus stepped forward and asked who it was they were seeking, and then when they gave His name, He identified Himself as the One they were looking for.
When Jesus identified Himself there was a spontaneous and seemingly involuntary reaction on the part of those standing in front of Him. If you look at the New American Standard Bible, you will see that in both verse 5 and verse 6 the statement, “I am He” has the He italicized. This is the translators’ way of indicating that this word is not actually found in the Greek manuscripts. It is a word the translators have supplied for clarity. Literally, then, Jesus responded, “I Am.” There are some who would understand what happened next in this manner. The chief priests, their servants, the temple police, and the Roman soldiers all surrounded Jesus. When Jesus asked who they were seeking, and He responded, “I Am,” the people suddenly realized the significance of this statement and fell involuntarily before Jesus, out of fear.
I am inclined to understand these words just a little differently. The Jewish religious leaders expected trouble when they set out to arrest Jesus. This is why they brought a large crowd with them, equipped with weapons ranging from clubs to swords. They also carried torches along so they could hunt Jesus down if He sought to escape them and avoid arrest. They had a pre-arranged signal, so that Judas could indicate who Jesus was, and to make sure there would be no mistake when they seized Him. But instead of the scenario they had pictured in their minds, it was completely different. Jesus did not flee from them; He boldly walked right up to them. Then He asked who they were seeking. When they indicated they were seeking “Jesus of Nazareth,” Jesus identified Himself as the One they were seeking. Jesus responded, “I Am (He),” but I do not believe that they grasp the full significance of these words.124 They were disarmed (so to speak) by our Lord’s boldness, and those nearest Jesus stepped backward. I think it was a comic scene, where their feet got all tangled up, and they all fell down together. If the Jewish officials and the temple police were trying to maintain an aura of authority, it was no longer possible. I’m sure that they jumped to their feet and recovered as quickly as possible, but the damage was already done. The authorities were rattled, as we shall soon see.
This was all for a purpose. By throwing the authorities off balance (pardon the pun), Jesus was now able to make a request that they might not have otherwise granted—the release of His disciples. Think about this for a moment. If one of the charges against Jesus was that He was a revolutionary, then His disciples would have been, in present day terms, terrorists. Do you think that under normal circumstances the authorities would have intended to let Jesus’ disciples just walk away? I don’t think so. But Jesus had them so rattled they didn’t attempt to arrest anyone else. Jesus had twice asked them who they were seeking, and twice they answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.” It was as if Jesus had asked them if they had an arrest warrant, and if so, whose name was on the warrant. Only His name was on the arrest warrant, as it were. So Jesus reasons that if the warrant is only for His arrest, surely His disciples must be free to leave.125 And so they did.
John points out that in securing the release of His disciples, Jesus was once again fulfilling the prophecy He Himself had spoken earlier. This “prophecy” appears to be the words our Lord had spoken only moments earlier:
“When I was with them I kept them safe and watched over them in your name that you have given me. Not one of them was lost except the one destined for destruction, so that the scripture could be fulfilled” (John 17:12).
The point of this remark is that Jesus is doing exactly what He promised He would do. Jesus is bringing about future events, just as He foretold them. At every step of the way, Jesus was fulfilling prophecy, some of which was His own words. If Jesus’ disciples were not doing very well at taking care of Him, Jesus was doing an excellent job of taking care of them.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ears–Literally
10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, pulled it out and struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his right ear. (Now the slave’s name was Malchus.) 11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath! Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
Here is another scene that for all its apparent intensity is really quite comical. You will recall these words from the Gospel of Luke: “So they said, ‘Look, Lord, here are two swords.’ Then he told them, ‘It is enough.’ … 49 When those who were around him saw what was about to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’” (Luke 22:38, 49).
Jesus was here informing His disciples that things had now changed from the time that He had sent them out two-by-two. Then Jesus was popular and those who taught in His name were welcomed and shown hospitality. Now, Jesus indicates, His disciples will be hated by those who have rejected Him as the promised Messiah. Thinking that they have gotten the point, the disciples inform Jesus that they have two swords in their possession. When the authorities drew near to arrest Jesus, someone had that second sword, and the question was asked, “Shall we strike with the sword?” (Luke 22:49).
Before Jesus could answer—perhaps even before the question was raised—Peter had already drawn his sword and lopped off the ear of Malchus, a servant of the high priest. I think we would all agree that Peter would have admitted that he “missed.” Surely he was attempting to remove the head of Malchus. Only John tells us that it was Peter who wielded the sword, removing at least a portion of the servant’s ear. It is also John alone who tells us the name of the man whose ear was severed by Peter’s sword.
John does not inform us that Jesus restored the servant’s ear; only Luke does this (22:51). To John, this detail is not important. It does cause me to chuckle a bit, as I ponder how this “ear incident” may have played itself out. The Jews felt it was absolutely essential for them to have “backup,” so they arranged for Roman soldiers to accompany them. The Roman soldiers were probably standing by (I think at a distance, but close enough to act quickly and decisively), ready to intervene if necessary, but not unless it was called for. Can you imagine what the normal reaction would have been, once Peter had his sword out and was lopping off the ear of the man nearest to him? This was like striking a match in a room filled with gasoline fumes. How quickly and easily both Jewish and Roman arms could have been employed, so that the situation would have gotten completely out of control.
But before anything like this happened, Jesus intervened. It looks like Peter got in only one stroke of his sword before Jesus rebuked him. Our Lord’s words stopped Peter in his tracks: “But Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath! Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’” (John 18:11).
Jesus is in the middle of securing the release of His disciples when Peter draws his sword. One wonders if any of the Jewish authorities sought to protest the disciples’ release. Someone might have said, “Wait a minute. We can’t let these men go; just a moment ago, one of these Galileans assaulted one of us with his sword. He even cut off this man’s ear.” I can almost hear the Roman commander respond, “Which ear? So far as I can see this man has two ears.” The commander then goes over to Malchus and inspects both of his ears more closely. “I don’t see any missing ear, nor any blood; not even a scar. Let’s turn these men loose and take Jesus into custody. He’s the one we were told to arrest.” I know it was an intense moment, but there must have been some humor in what took place. Few, if any, were laughing at the time, however.
What John communicates to us is that Jesus is still in complete control. Even at the moment when our Lord was being taken into custody and His hands were being bound, His “hands were not tied” in the sense that He was powerless to act. Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 27 make this abundantly clear:
52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back in its place! For all who take hold of the sword will die by the sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and that he would send me more than twelve legions of angels right now? 54 How then would the scriptures that say it must happen this way be fulfilled?” (Matthew 26:52-54)
The only reason this crowd could lead Jesus away was because it was the will of the Father, and of the Son. Jesus acted in such a way as to stop a massacre and to secure the release of His disciples. Jesus was in complete control.
I am reminded of the joke that is sometimes told of the airplane full of passengers headed for some destination when the first engine catches fire and is shut down. The pilot’s voice booms over the intercom: “This is your pilot speaking. We have lost one engine, but there is no reason to be concerned. We have three more engines, and everything is under control.” A few moments later, the pilot announces that a second engine has failed, but there is still no reason for concern. They still have two engines left. Then, after the third and the fourth engines fail, the pilot’s voice is again broadcast throughout the passenger compartment: “Ladies and Gentlemen, if you look out your windows to the left, you will see four parachutes. This is your pilot and crew. We do not wish you to be alarmed, however, because this plane is flying on auto pilot, and everything is under control … control … control …” It was not like that with Jesus. Even though they were leading Him away with His hands bound, He was in control.
It seems as though Peter can do nothing right. Here he is, trying so hard to prove to Jesus that he will follow Him to the very end, even unto death. And he is right in one sense. He is willing to die. It is he alone who draws the sword and seeks to prevent the arrest of his Master. But in so doing, he is wrong; in fact, he is resisting the plans and purposes of God. His use of his sword would appear to endanger the lives of the Lord and all the disciples. It implied the opposite of what our Lord would later claim before Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would fight to prevent me being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But now my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). Peter endeavors to save the Lord’s life when He is committed to voluntarily giving up His life in order to provide “the way” to the Father. Jesus is about to “drink the cup” which His Father has given Him, and Peter would (so to speak) thrust it out of His hands.
In this lesson which deals with the arrest of our Lord, I have sought to help you view the cross of our Lord through John’s “eyes,” as conveyed by the entire Gospel of John. When I was in college years ago, I had an economics professor who was an American prisoner of war in Japan toward the end of World War II. In this P.O.W. camp, the prisoners came from many different parts of the world. In order to keep active and alert, the prisoners organized classes. There was a British naval officer in the camp, who had been the captain of the Royal Yacht. He had many stories to tell about the royal family, but he also taught a course entitled, “American History From the British Point of View.” I’ll bet he had a little different perspective of American history than we have.
In these two chapters (18 and 19), John is setting out to present “The Cross of Jesus Christ, from the Divine Point of View.” Many are those who would like to paint a picture of Jesus as a helpless victim, a man whose plans went astray, and who was put to death because He lost control of the situation. Such people fail to grasp the sovereignty of God, and some would go so far as to deny the deity of Jesus Christ. Jesus was very much in control. This is the message which John has been giving us from the very beginning. He does not begin his Gospel with the birth of our Lord (as do Matthew and Luke), but with the birth of this world. And there, at the beginning of creation, is our Lord. He is not “created” there; He is the Creator. He does not come into being then; He calls the whole creation into being. To this, the Apostle Paul would say a hearty “Amen!”:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, 16 for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him—all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him (Colossians 1:15-17).
This theme of the deity of Jesus Christ, and of His control over all things, is constantly reiterated and reinforced in John’s Gospel. In chapter 2, Jesus creates wine out of water, something that we could reasonably expect from the Creator. He likewise goes up to Jerusalem, where He cleanses the temple, His “Father’s house.” In chapter 3, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about the necessity of His death on a cross. In chapter 5, Jesus heals the paralytic, claiming that in so doing, He is doing the work of His Father in Heaven. The Jews do not miss the point. Much to their dismay, they grasp His claim to be equal with God. In chapter 6, Jesus feeds the 5,000 and claims to be the “bread from heaven,” bread which gives men eternal life. In chapter 7, the Jewish religious leaders send the temple police to arrest Jesus, but these men return empty-handed, explaining that they have never heard anyone speak like Jesus. In chapter 8, Jesus claims to have existed before Abraham, speaking of Himself as “I Am.” In chapter 9, Jesus restores sight to a blind man, something unheard of in Judaism. In chapter 10, Jesus claims that He has the authority to lay down His own life, and that He likewise has the authority to take it up again. He makes it very clear that His life will not be taken from Him, but that He will give it up voluntarily:
14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not come from this sheepfold. I must bring them too, and they will listen to my voice, so that there will be one flock and one shepherd. 17 This is why the Father loves me—because I lay down my life, so that I may take it back again. 18 No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This is the commandment I received from my Father” (John 10:14-18).
Jesus also claims the power and authority to keep every one of His sheep:
27 My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. 29 My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one” (John 10:27-30).
We should not be surprised, then, that when we come to the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of our Lord, John makes it very clear that Jesus is the One who is in control—not the Roman soldiers, not the Jewish religious leaders, not the mob, not Judas, and certainly not the disciples. Jesus is in control. And so it is that He confronts those who seek to arrest Him. So it is that they fall down before Him. So it is also that Jesus prevents a massacre and secures the release of His disciples. Jesus is able to bring about His death at just the right time, and in just the right manner, even though the Jews wanted to stone Him at some time other than during Passover. Jesus is Lord at His death, just as He was Lord at His birth.
Jesus is always Lord, as He is Lord at this very moment. I think many of us who profess to be Christians need to be reminded of this fact daily. Does our world seem chaotic and out of control? When governments topple, when leaders die or are removed from office, when Y2K fears send some into a state of panic, we need to be reminded that our Lord is employing “all things” to bring about His perfect plan.
If this is so, then the words of our Lord to Peter most certainly apply to us also: “Put your sword back into its sheath! Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (verse 11). Peter mistakenly supposed he was furthering the cause of Christ by taking up the sword. Jesus told him to put it away. The kingdom of God is not furthered, nor the kingdom of Satan defeated, by our taking up arms. There is a militant branch of professing Christianity today which does not seem to understand or accept what our Lord is saying to us here. If He is in control, we need not seek to further His work with the sword, or with any other fleshly weapons. The warfare we are to wage is spiritual, not fleshly. I am not calling for every Christian to rid his home of every firearm. I am saying that we dare not put our trust in our guns, or in our gold, but only in our God. I am saying that God’s purposes are not dependent upon fleshly weapons or defenses. Indeed, without knowing it, Peter was seeking to prevent what God had purposed for the Son—His innocent suffering, so that guilty sinners might be saved.
It is an amazing thing to read the first verses of John 18 and to realize that Jesus made no effort to save Himself, while at the same time He was saving His disciples. He saved their physical lives by His deeds and words in the Garden where He was arrested; He saved their spiritual lives (and ours) by His death at Calvary. Peter momentarily put his trust in his sword, rather than in his Shepherd. Only Jesus can save anyone from their sins, and from divine condemnation. Have you trusted in Him for the forgiveness of your sins? He is the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for His sheep. May God grant that you are one of His sheep, and that you will rejoice in His salvation, and in His sovereignty. What peace there is in knowing that the Good Shepherd is the Sovereign Son of God, whose promises and purposes always come to pass.
In a day when there is much chaos and danger around us, how good it is to know Him Who is in control.
122 The NIV renders this, “When he had finished praying. …” While this is not a very literal rendering of the text, it may be true that John is referring to our Lord’s speaking to the Father in prayer, recorded in chapter 17.
124 Compare our Lord’s words which He cried out on the cross, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46), the people standing by who heard it had no idea that Jesus was citing the words of Psalm 22:1. They thought Jesus was crying out for Elijah (verse 47).
125 Rome may have required the equivalent of an arrest warrant from the Jewish authorities. Only our Lord seems to have been named. While the Jews would have been tempted to arrest everyone there (especially after Peter’s use of his sword), they felt powerless to do so in the light of their interchange with Jesus, which underscored the fact that they had been authorized to arrest only Jesus.
Related Topics: Crucifixion