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Lesson 93: Jesus In Control (John 18:1-11)

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May 24, 2015

When tragedies hit, there are two opposing views among professing Christians. One view, called Open Theism, is that God had nothing to do with the tragedy. He doesn’t know the future in advance and so there is nothing that He could have done to prevent your tragedy. He hurts with you about what happened; He wishes that it wouldn’t have happened; but, He was as surprised over the event as you were.

So Open Theism tries to get God off the hook for all the suffering and tragedy that goes on in the world. It arose from the theological position of taking Arminianism to its logical conclusion. The open theists recognized that if God foreknows everything, then everything is foreordained, which is unacceptable to them. So they had to eliminate God’s foreknowledge. And they couldn’t reconcile the terrible suffering in the world with God’s love. So they jettisoned both His omniscience and His sovereignty.

The other view is that God is sovereign over everything that happens, but He is not responsible for evil. Evildoers are responsible for their sins and will face judgment if they do not repent. Yet at the same time, their evil deeds do not frustrate God’s good and loving purpose. As Job (42:2) affirmed after all of his suffering, which was caused by Satan, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” Or as the early church prayed (Acts 4:27-28), “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” God predestined the death of Jesus, but those who did it were responsible for that terrible sin.

I believe that Open Theism is heretical and the second view is the biblical truth. It’s also the only view that gives us comfort and hope in the midst of suffering. Although we may not in our lifetimes understand why God allowed our suffering, we can know that He will work it together for good because He is sovereign and He loves us (Rom. 8:28-39; John 17:23).

This view of God’s sovereignty over tragedy permeates John’s account of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus. Commentators agree that what John uniquely omits and includes in his account of Christ’s passion has the overall effect of emphasizing Christ’s control over His death. For example, John omits Jesus’ agonizing prayer in the Garden, where He asked repeatedly that, if possible, the cup of suffering on the cross be removed from Him. But John includes Jesus’ resolve to obey the Father’s will when He rebukes Peter (John 18:11), “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”

John omits Judas’ betrayal kiss, but he includes something that the other gospels omit: When Judas and the armed cohort came to Him, Jesus took the initiative in greeting His persecutors! John 18:4: “Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’” Only John tells us that when Jesus answered them, they all drew back and fell to the ground. John alone reports Jesus’ command to the soldiers to let His disciples go their way (John 18:8). And from John we learn that Peter was the impetuous disciple who swung his sword and Malchus was the slave who got his ear cut off. Probably John could mention their names because both men were dead when John wrote. Revealing their names would not embarrass either man or subject Peter to legal prosecution.

The overall impression that John conveys through his narrative is that Jesus was in complete control of His arrest and crucifixion. Although Judas and the armed soldiers succeeded in arresting Jesus and although Peter by human force vainly sought to protect Him, Jesus was calmly in control of the events leading to His death. He was not a tragic victim, but rather the good shepherd who willingly laid down His life for His sheep. The lesson is:

In spite of rebels who oppose Him and disciples who fail Him, Jesus is Lord over every situation, including His own death.

1. Rebels who oppose Jesus do not in any way thwart His lordship, but rather condemn themselves.

Sometimes when you look at all the evil in the world, with Islamic terrorists boasting in their gruesome conquests, you may wonder, “Where is God in all of this? Is God’s side losing the battle?” Here you have the Jewish religious leaders, who should have welcomed their Messiah, the betrayer who is under the direct influence of Satan himself (John 13:27), and the Roman military, representing the world-dominating Roman Empire, all aligned against Jesus. So we see all the evil powers of darkness and the world coming against this humble, innocent teacher from Galilee. And from outward appearances, they easily triumph, while Jesus is brutally murdered.

But from God’s perspective, it is laughable for anyone, no matter how powerful in this world’s eyes, to oppose the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. Psalm 2:1-4 pictures it:

Why are the nations in an uproar

And the peoples devising a vain thing?

The kings of the earth take their stand

And the rulers take counsel together

Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,

“Let us tear their fetters apart

And cast away their cords from us!”

He who sits in the heavens laughs,

The Lord scoffs at them.

Christ’s opponents in our text fall into three categories:

A. Religion has always opposed God and His way of salvation, because it is based on human pride and works.

John (18:3) mentions that the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers (the temple police) as part of the contingent to arrest Jesus. During His three years of ministry, the Jewish religious establishment was Jesus’ main source of opposition. They knew the Old Testament well. They heard Jesus’ teaching and saw His miracles. Of all people, they should have known that Jesus uniquely fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. But they not only rejected Him; they also stirred up the people against Him and instigated His arrest and crucifixion (John 11:53).

Why did they do this? For one thing, Jesus threatened their comfortable grip on power over the people and the prestige they enjoyed. They made a nice profit selling animals for sacrifice in the temple. They loved the places of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market place (Matt. 23:6-7). All of that would be gone if their religion was proved to be false.

Also, Jesus confronted their root problem, which was pride. They were proud of their religious practices. They were meticulous about tithing (and letting everyone know that they tithed!). They were fastidious about keeping themselves ceremonially pure, adding many manmade rules to the ones prescribed in the Law of Moses. They despised the “Gentile dogs,” but were proud that they were children of Abraham. They thought that their racial identity and their many religious practices guaranteed them a place in the kingdom of God.

But like the Old Testament prophets before Him, Jesus showed them that God looks on the heart, not on outward religious performance. He exposed the sin in their hearts (Matt. 23:25): “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.” In Mark 7:6, Jesus hit the scribes and Pharisees, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.’”

God always looks on the heart. Since religion is always based on a system of works, it never deals the death blow to pride. People who are into religion make two fatal errors: First, they overestimate their own goodness, mistakenly thinking that their good works will outweigh their “few” shortcomings on judgment day. Granted, some are relatively better than others when you look at outward good deeds. But God judges the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Every wrong thought that we’ve ever had is open and laid bare before Him (Heb. 4:12-13). The Bible declares plainly (Rom. 3:10, 23), “There is none righteous, not even one…. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

The second error of people who are into religion is that invariably, they underestimate the absolute holiness of God, whose eyes are too pure to approve of evil (Hab. 1:13). “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). If God were to allow any sinner into heaven without having his sin atoned for, it would compromise His very nature. So religion invariably lifts up proud man and pulls down the holy God. Because of that, if you hold on to your religion, you will be opposed to God in His holiness.

B. Religious hypocrites secretly harbor sins that eventually lead to their downfall.

This is Judas’ final appearance in the Gospel of John, which does not report his subsequent suicide. John describes Judas in two ways. First, after mentioning the garden, John 18:2 states, “Now Judas also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with His disciples.” What a great privilege, to have sat in the garden with Jesus, listening to Him “make known the Father’s name” (John 17:6, 26)! Judas had seen Jesus’ many miracles, including the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Here, he saw the flash of Jesus’ glory, and most likely was thrown to the ground along with the soldiers. (They were not, by the way, “slain in the Spirit”!) But Judas had never truly repented of his sins. He professed to know Christ, but by his deeds he denied Him (Titus 1:16).

We can’t peer into Judas’ heart, but John (12:6) does tell us that Judas was a thief and that he used to pilfer from the money box over which he kept charge. That unjudged greed eventually led Judas to betray the Lord of glory for 30 measly pieces of silver, which were useless to him after he got them. Unjudged sins in the heart are like an unseen crack in a dam that eventually results in total loss and destruction.

John’s last mention of Judas is in verse 5, “And Judas, who was betraying Him, was standing with them.” He was standing with the enemies of Jesus, not with the eleven, who were at risk of arrest because they were standing with Jesus. But Judas was at the greatest risk, eternal risk, of his soul. To stand with the world against the Lord Jesus is to put your soul at risk. To stand with Jesus against the world is the place of eternal safety (Luke 12:4-5).

We should learn from Judas to make sure that our faith is not external only, but rather a matter of our hearts. It’s easy to fake out other Christians. When Jesus told the disciples at the last supper that one of them would betray Him, they didn’t all look knowingly at Judas. They didn’t have a clue at that point that he was the betrayer. So our prayer should be (Ps. 139:23-24):

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;

Try me and know my anxious thoughts;

And see if there be any hurtful way in me,

And lead me in the everlasting way.”

So we see the religionists, who opposed Jesus because of their spiritual pride. We see Judas the hypocrite, who seemed to follow Jesus, but who harbored secret sin that led to his downfall.

C. The secular opponents had adequate evidence to bow before Jesus, but they ignored it.

The Roman cohort, which joined the Jewish temple police, could have numbered as high as 600 men, but probably here was far less. But they, along with the temple police, all fell backward when Jesus answered, “I am He.” Apparently, Jesus’ reply was accompanied by a momentary, miraculous flash of His glory, perhaps like the flash that knocked Paul to the ground on the Damascus Road. For hundreds of fully armed soldiers to fall to the ground in the presence of this unarmed man shows that He could have obliterated them as Elijah called down fire on the cohort sent to arrest him (2 Kings 1). He was not merely “Jesus the Nazarene”; He was God in human flesh!

The fact that they ignored this flash of Jesus’ glory and got up and proceeded with the arrest shows their “dreadful stupidity” (John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 192). How much more evidence did they need to conclude that this was no mere man that they were arresting? Yet how many times has God struck you down, only for you to get up and sin again! Unbelievers typically think that they’re sitting in judgment on God when they smugly challenge the way He runs the world. But even when they think that they have “bound” God (John 18:12) by their skeptical arguments, they’re only condemning themselves. It is they who are really bound. There are no chains strong enough to bind the Lord of glory! So rebels who oppose Jesus do not in any way thwart His lordship, but rather condemn themselves.

2. Disciples who fail Jesus are still under His protective care and redemptive purposes.

After the soldiers got up and asked the second time for Jesus the Nazarene, Jesus answered (John 18:8), “I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way.” John (18:9) adds, “to fulfill the word which He spoke, ‘Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.’” This refers back to John 17:12, where Jesus said that He had guarded them and that none, except Judas, had perished. Although the preservation in John 18:9 refers to keeping them from arrest, it is symbolic of His keeping them spiritually. And (as Calvin points out, p. 194), the disciples were not yet spiritually strong enough to endure persecution or martyrdom. So keeping them from physical arrest also kept them spiritually.

In typical fashion, Peter impetuously draws his sword and wildly swings at Malchus’ head. Malchus ducked and instead of having his head split in two, he just lost his right ear (which Luke 22:51 reports, Jesus healed). I don’t know, but I wonder whether John gives Malchus’ name because as Malchus reflected on the Lord’s mercy in healing him, he later came to faith.

While Peter was loyal and committed enough to try to defend Jesus against hopeless odds, his action stemmed from misunderstanding God’s purpose for the cross. He was still trying to keep Jesus from the cross (Matt. 16:21-23) Although Jesus had repeatedly told the disciples about His impending death, they just didn’t get it. Peter’s sword-swinging shows that zeal without spiritual knowledge can lead to tragic actions.

The Lord’s intervention to let the disciples go and Peter’s failure show that in spite of our weakness and failure, Jesus keeps all whom the Father has given Him (John 6:39, 40, 44; 10:28; 17:12). He intervened for us and bore the penalty of our sin on our behalf. And, having saved us, He keeps us, not by our weak grip on Him, but by His powerful grip on us. Calvin (p. 193) applies these verses: “Whenever, therefore, either wicked men or devils make an attack upon us, let us not doubt that this good Shepherd is ready to aid us in the same manner.” Even when we fail Him or do stupid things, His promise still holds: His sheep will never perish (John 10:28)!

Thus, rebels who oppose Jesus do not in any way thwart His lordship. Disciples who fail Him are still under His protective care and redemptive purposes. Finally,

3. Jesus is Lord over every situation, including offering Himself as the sacrifice for our sins.

It was in a garden that the first Adam succumbed to the tempter’s snare. Here in another garden, the second Adam triumphs over Satan (who is controlling Judas, John 13:2, 27), even though on the surface it looks as if He is defeated. The Lord’s calm control over all of the tumultuous events surrounding His death shows that He was obedient to the divine plan to bear our sins. Even though He could have escaped, Jesus deliberately went to a place where Judas and the soldiers would find Him. He knew all things coming upon Him and boldly stepped out of the darkness to ask this mob, “Whom do you seek?” (John 18:4). His reply, literally, “I am,” was used previously to affirm His deity (8:28, 58). Although the soldiers didn’t get it, John wants us to get it. Jesus is the Lord God! He rebuked Peter for his attempted rescue, because He was resolved to drink the cup which the Father had given Him. Nothing took Him by surprise. He was in total control.

The cup which the Father gave Jesus to drink was the cup of His wrath for our sins (Ps. 75:8; Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15; Ezek. 23:31-34). Because God is holy and just, the penalty for all sin must be paid, either by us or by a God-approved substitute. Because Jesus drank it for us, we don’t have to drink it. Rather, we drink the cup of His salvation (Ps. 16:5; 116:13). As we sing:

Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe.

Sin had left a crimson stain; He washed it white as snow.

While Christ’s suffering was unique, we can learn from how He suffered how to think when we suffer. Matthew Henry (Matthew Henry’s Commentary [Revell], 5:1174) points out how our suffering is only a cup, not an ocean. It is light and only for a moment. Also, like Jesus’ suffering, our suffering is a cup given to us. It’s a gift for our good. Third, our suffering is given to us by the Father, who does us no wrong and who loves us for our good. The application is that just as Jesus was in control even over the events surrounding His own death, so He is Lord over every difficult circumstance that we face. And even if, like the disciples on this occasion, we fail Him terribly, He still keeps all whom the Father has given Him. After our failures, He restores and uses us, even as He did with Peter and the other disciples.

Conclusion

The main application of this story is that since Jesus is Lord, even over His own death, we can trust Him for our salvation and we can trust Him when we go through trials, including facing our own death. The “God” of Open Theism is not the God of the Bible and it would be useless to trust Him. One prominent open theist, wrote (John Sanders, The God Who Risks [IVP], p. 100, cited by Bruce Ware, God’s Greater Glory [Crossway], p. 233),

Although Scripture attests that the incarnation was planned from the creation of the world, this is not so with the cross. The path of the cross comes about only through God’s interaction with humans in history. Until this moment in history other routes were, perhaps, open.

He later states (Sanders, pp. 276-277, in Ware, p. 237):

It is God’s desire that we enter into a give-and-take relationship of love, and this is not accomplished by God’s forcing his blueprint on us. Rather, God wants us to go through life together with him, making decisions together. Together we decide the actual course of my life…. To a large extent our future is open and we are to determine what it will be in dialogue with God.

In other words, Jesus isn’t the sovereign Lord over our lives! He’s trying to figure things out in conjunction with us as we go through life and see what happens!

I prefer the biblical view that in spite of rebels who oppose Him and disciples who fail Him, Jesus is still Lord over every situation, including His own death. He is Lord over every situation in our lives. At all times we can trust that He is in control!

Application Questions

  1. Discuss: Religion is always opposed to God and His way of salvation. Is this true? What are some implications of this?
  2. Pentecostals use John 18:6 to justify being “slain in the Spirit.” Why is this practice totally bogus?
  3. While the Lord keeps all whom the Father has given Him, do we have a role in the process? Support with Scripture.
  4. Why is it important to affirm God’s sovereignty even over evil people and events? How can He be sovereign over evil yet not responsible for it?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2015, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christology

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