The forces of the world come to arrest Jesus in the garden, yet he overpowers them with the name of God. Jesus also makes clear that he uses his power to save others and not to save himself.
John’s account of the arrest of Jesus differs from those in the other Gospels. The others tell of Jesus praying an anguished prayer, but in John’s Gospel the prayer was made at the Last Supper and concerned his glory and the future of his disciples (John 17). In the other Gospels Judas shows the soldiers whom to arrest by giving Jesus a kiss, but in John’s Gospel Jesus steps forward and identifies himself. Jesus takes the lead throughout the scene.
Both Jewish police and a detachment of Roman soldiers come to arrest Jesus (18:3). In John’s Gospel the opposition to Jesus comes from “the world,” both Jewish and Gentile. Jesus’ captors come with the latest night-fighting equipment, including lanterns, torches, and weapons. Yet in this encounter Jesus overpowers these agents of the world with the name of God. He repeatedly tells them “I am” (18:5, 6, 8). Although some translations paraphrase this to read “I am he,” there are only two words in Greek: “ego eimi” or “I am,” which recall the traditional name of God (Exodus 3:14).
Although the forces of the world seem to have the upper hand, they are the ones who fall to the ground when Jesus speaks the “I am.” It is clear that in this conflict Jesus has the superior power, which comes from God. Jesus’ opponents may have authority from both the highest levels of Jewish and Roman administration, and yet Jesus is the only one who gives an order in this scene. He says, “If you are looking for me, let these men go” (18:8). God’s authority is the superior authority.
John’s account of the arrest shows that Jesus has power from God, and yet Jesus uses it for the sake of others, not for himself. He keeps his captors at bay long enough to secure the release of his disciples, but then his foes bind him and take him away for a trial and execution. Jesus’ actions show that divine power is rightly exercised through self-sacrifice. And this way of exercising power will culminate in crucifixion, where Jesus uses his God-given authority to lay down his life for others.
18After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, For whom are you looking? 5They answered, Jesus of Nazareth.* Jesus replied, I am he.* Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6When Jesus* said to them, I am he,* they stepped back and fell to the ground. 7Again he asked them, For whom are you looking? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth.* 8Jesus answered, I told you that I am he.* So if you are looking for me, let these men go. 9This was to fulfil the word that he had spoken, I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me. 10Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priests slave, and cut off his right ear. The slaves name was Malchus. 11Jesus said to Peter, Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?
12 So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org