“Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.”” (John 18:2–9, ESV)
There have been times when I was looking for someone (before everyone taking breath having a cell phone), and I felt that I needed to talk to them or find them for some reason. So, I thought about their patterns and the most likely place I would find them and I checked those places out. This was particularly true when I was in college and I checked the common places like the library, the lab, the study area, and the game room. Judas had left Jesus and the disciples, being told what he was to do to do quickly, and here Judas is now leading Jesus’ captors to apprehend him. Our passage tells us that Judas knew where to find Jesus because it was a place where he had often met with him and the other disciples. It was a regular hangout and a sure place to go, and sure enough Judas arrived in the darkness of night with a band of soldiers and some officers of the chief priests and the Pharisees bearing lanterns and torches and weapons to find Jesus just where he had expected to find Him.
As I read this part I thought of the many westerns I had seen over the years where the lynch party arrived at the town jail at night with weapons in hand and torches blazing knowing that their numbers would overwhelm their meager resistance. For some reason (purely dramatic I’m sure) these things seemed to always happen at night. But it sure was a dramatic sight observing the group of vigilantes arriving (sometimes even in hoods) to confront the lone sheriff with his deputies cowering behind the door. And that night it must have been quite a scene as this show of force walked into the garden to arrest one man, possibly anticipating the resistance of His close followers.
Luke adds some detail that John doesn’t concerning that night. We read from him, “While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:47-49, ESV) This kiss was a prearranged signal that Judas had arranged in advance to let the others know which one of the men was Jesus, and as Judas approached Him, Jesus asked Him if he really would betray the Son of Man with a kiss—an act of affection signaling his ultimate act of betrayal. Mark adds that Judas walked right up to Jesus and kissed Him and then His captors laid hands on Him and seized Him (Mark 14:44-45; Matthew 26:48-50).
John tells us that as they approached Him He asked them who they were looking for. They responded saying, “Jesus of Nazareth,” to which Jesus replied, “I am He.” Then something truly amazing happened. John wrote that they drew back and fell to the ground. I can only imagine the authority with which Jesus spoke such that they were forced to withdraw and even fall before Him. In this setting and with the words “I am He” Jesus affirmed that He was indeed “Jesus of Nazareth,” and He clarified that it was only Him that they were seeking and not His disciples. He was truly the one they had been seeking, affirming all that they had heard of His claims with those words, and the men were forced to fall before Him.
Having withdrawn after His first response, Jesus asked them again, and again they affirmed that they were seeking Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus told them once again that He was indeed Him just as He had told them the first time. At that moment I don’t know if they had backed off after they had fallen to the ground and He was refocusing them on their task or if they had regained their posture and Jesus were again pressing forward. But Jesus asked once again to affirm that they were only seeking Him. After they responded Jesus then told them to let His disciples go. They were not the ones being sought. Jesus was the one, and His disciples should be free to go. John added for us that the reason Jesus asked this was to affirm that the promise of Scripture would be fulfilled that not one of His disciples was lost other than the one given to betray Him.
We’re not getting to what happened next yet, but think about this… When Jesus was approached by his enemies to apprehend Him, and after He had affirmed to them who He was they were forced to fall to the ground before Him. Sure they would get up for a season and continue what they were sent to do, but we can’t overlook the impact of this encounter. As I thought of this I thought of another time when men, even His enemies, would go to the ground before Him and they would know without any doubt that He truly is who He said He is.
Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5-11, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11, ESV)
In Romans 14:11 we read a quote from Isaiah (45:23), “for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”” (Romans 14:11, ESV) And in Revelation 20:11-15 we read that this day will surely come where Jesus indeed will sit on the throne where before Him all who have died will stand before Him as Lord as He books are opened and man is judged. “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11–15, ESV)
People today may glory in their choices and in their independence from God, but it is a certain fact that there is power in the name of Jesus Christ. There is power such that those sent to arrest Him would fall to the ground and there is power to cast all whose names are not in the book of life into the lake of fire for all of eternity. But the most amazing power is His power to save and give life to all who believe. I am so thankful that I have been given the privilege to bow today in worship as I look forward with great hope of being with Him for all eternity, and I am sobered to think of all of those who will not meet Him in this way.
What makes the difference is their hearing and believing the simple message we are called to give, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95)