Read or listen to John 18
The discourse is completed. The time for talking has apparently ended. Jesus is in the garden. We don’t experience the time of prayer and the request of Jesus to his Father in this gospel account, though we do see the affirmation that he will do his Father’s will.
John gives us a very interesting encounter. Judas brings the soldiers and temple guards to the garden across the brook called Kidron. In this account Jesus takes the initiative.
He asks, “Who are you looking for?”
They reply, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Most of our translations say that Jesus said, “I am he.”
That is an appropriate translation into the English language for these words, but perhaps not the most accurate considering who spoke them.
What happened when Jesus answered?
The group with Judas which included soldiers and guards moved back and fell to the ground.
This seems like a strange reaction. Jesus is not armed, even though Peter seems to have brought a sword to this event. These are armed men coming to arrest an unarmed man.
Why do they move back and fall to the ground?
Ego eimi (ἐγώ εἰμι)
Let’s take a quick I Am journey through John up through the 18th Chapter.
1:20 [John the Baptist] . . . confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”
1:21 And they asked [John the Baptist], “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”
1:27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.
3:28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah,
Jesus says I Am:
4:26 Jesus said to her [the Samaritan woman at the well speaking of the Messiah], “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
6:41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”
6:48 “ I am the bread of life.”
6:51 “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”
8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
8:23 He said to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.”
8:24 “ I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.”
8:28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me.”
8:58 Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”
9:5 “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
10:9 “I am the gate.”
10:11 “ I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
10:30 “The Father and I are one” [I Am in plural form]
10:36 “… can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?”
10:38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,”
13:19 “I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he.”
14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
15:1 “ I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.”
18:5 They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.”
18:8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.”
The original text says Ego eimi (ἐγώ εἰμι). Our translations add the “he” to the statement because that’s how we speak. It’s generally a good translation, that is, unless the one speaking is actually God in the flesh. Unless he is the one who told Moses, I Am.
Jesus had revealed who he was to his disciples, to a Samaritan woman, and others had come to believe he was the Son of God. He was God with us in the flesh.
For the Son of God to say I Am surely carried power and authority beyond what this group had expected. They moved back and fell to the ground.
We like to beat up on Peter a lot, but who could blame him for thinking that the kingdom of God was coming now and in all of its power and glory. Why not break out a sword and go on the offensive?
Jesus rebukes Peter and confirms that he will drink the cup of suffering his Father gave to him. Jesus confirms that his glory will come as he told his disciples, not as they imagined it.
And so Jesus is taken into custody and brought before three people: Annas, then Caiaphas, and then to Pilate.
And Peter denies his Master three times.
Annas has no legal jurisdiction. He is the father in law of the high priest. But he needs no authority as the priestly council has already pronounced a death sentence upon Jesus.
Jesus tells his captures that he has spoken openly in synagogues and in the Temple. These are hardly places where traitors and those promoting bad things speak publically. He says ask those who have heard him and see what they say. One of the guards hits Jesus, but Jesus responds by saying, “If I have done anything wrong, tell everyone here what it was.”
While Jesus is boldly facing his captures, we see the first of Peter’s denials.
Caiaphas doesn’t seem to have much to do with Jesus, he wants the Romans to take care of the dirty work so he sends him to Pilate.
Here is where things are really crazy and we must see a divine plan at work. The Jews bring Jesus to Pilate but won’t come in because they want to keep themselves clean for the Passover meal.
Think about it. Someone comes over to your house and says, “I can’t come in. I don’t want to defile myself by going into your filthy house.” I’m thinking that human nature says, “Hit the road, Jack.”
Think about it. You are the biggest dog in the territory. Some of the locals stop by and whiz on your front porch. Are you going to go out of the way for them?
The human reaction for Pilate would have been to say, “Come back after your precious Passover.”
But Pilate comes outside to meet them. He can find nothing wrong with Jesus, but does not have the backbone to set him free by his own word. He tries to get the Jews to sort out their own business but they say they cannot put him to death.
This is not a true statement. They could stone him.
They don’t even have a charge against him. They just tell Pilate that, “we wouldn’t have brought him to you if he wasn’t guilty.” This sort of arrogance alone should have gotten these Jews sent packing, but it didn’t.
Pilate speaks with Jesus and asks him if he is a king. Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world otherwise his followers would be fighting for him.
Pilate asks, “You are a king then?”
Jesus answers. Once again with Ego eimi (ἐγώ εἰμι). “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into this world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me.”
Pilate can only ask, “What is truth?”
Nothing in this sequence of events was logical.
A group of armed men is taken back by an unarmed man whom they are sent to arrest.
Peter cuts off a man’s ear and the violence is virtually overlooked by the armed guards.
Jesus is taken before a man who is not the high priest and questioned.
The high priest has no questions and just sends him to Pilate.
The Jews look like idiots as they present their case to Pilate and even insult him by asking him to come outside.
Pilate finds no fault with Jesus, yet will not set him free.
All of this so that Jesus would die as revealed in prophecy. All of this so that we would know that God alone would remove the sin of the world.
This most improbable sequence of events is not haphazard but providential. It took more than just a willingness to go to the cross. Jesus at any moment could have easily silenced his accusers with the truth, but he said little so we might begin to understand the Author of the most incomprehensible gift. Jesus lived with all of the trials of humankind, but this last sequence of events would take some divine intervention to make this most precious sacrifice.