Jesus. Master, Not Mastered.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John 18:5 (Holman) “Jesus the Nazarene,” they answered. “I am He,” Jesus told them. Judas, who betrayed Him, was also standing with them.
Jesus took charge of the situation. From the first moment, He was in control, deflecting attention away from the disciples. Always the Master of His own course, He was, alone and unarmed, handling 600 soldiers. John, impressed by this fact, highlighted it.
Something else caught John’s eye. He remembered Judas looking out of place. He had been one of the 12 for 3 years, but was now standing with the arresters. Judas was on the wrong side!
Where did Judas muster enough audacity and brazenness to stand unashamedly against his former comrades? He probably didn’t even blush. Matthew Henry said, “Satan in his heart gave him a whore’s forehead.”
For some reason, John did not record the betrayer’s kiss, which would have happened near this point in the proceedings. The kiss between acquaintances had three methods of expression. Equals kissed each other on both cheeks. Slaves kissed their master on the feet. Teachers were kissed by their pupils on the back of the hand. The latter would have been the usual greeting between Jesus and Judas.
John 18:6 When He told them, “I am He,” they stepped back and fell to the ground.
The soldiers saw a kiss and heard an acknowledgement, but instead of advancing, they fell backward. Roman soldiers were trained to drop to one knee when in danger of attack. This maneuver does not seem to be what John was describing here. He said they fell to the ground.
It would have been more appropriate had they fallen forward, taking the position of humbling oneself. They should have done this voluntarily, but instead had to be forced backward, as if standing obstinately, and being forced to yield.
Some think Jesus’ sudden appearance startled the soldiers and threw them into panic. Others think there was something awesome about His countenance, as in the experience of Gaius Marius.
Marius, sentenced to death, was sent to a house to await execution. He was old and unarmed, but the executioner was so awed by his persona that “as if struck with blindness, he ran away astonished and trembling.” Due to this unusual incident, the city’s citizens demanded and received the prominent Roman’s release.
Not even this explanation seems to fully grasp John’s intent here. There was evidently something more in Gethsemane. A force was seemingly emitted from the Person of Christ.
Did an anger bolt streak from God and hurl them to the ground? Did a little beam of majesty break loose from Jesus, causing 600 men to fall before Him? Whatever it was, they were thunder-struck.
Grace opted to strike them down rather than dead. Heaven could have knocked them to Hell, but let them stop at the ground.
Whatever happened here, this we know; God delights to send miracles in behalf of His own when they are dangerously surrounded! When the sinful men of Sodom pressed toward the house of Lot, they were struck blind. The whole army of Syria, when it surrounded Elisha at Dothan, was also blinded.
When Jeroboam commanded that the man of God be arrested, the king’s arm froze in place and could not be moved. When the Philistines made sport of Samson, God gave him strength to topple a building on their heads.
In Gethsemane, a numerous host was confounded by Jesus. They came in obedience to commands from their superiors, but fulfilled their mission only because their Victim gave them permission to do so.
This exhibition of power demonstrated Jesus was yielding Himself to them voluntarily. Had Jesus not consented to go, their feeble efforts would have been in vain.
They might as well have tried to chain the sun, lasso a lightning bolt, or constrain a tidal wave. It was impossible for humans to seize Jesus until He willed to be taken.
Whatever happened, and we cannot be sure, it left a striking impression. Even in Jesus’ time of humiliation, awesomeness surrounded Him.
In his book, John often used a moment of humiliation to remind us of Jesus’ glory. In what appeared to be times of lowliness, John wanted us never to forget the majesty of Christ. Jesus was a lowly, humble servant, yet at the same time God. Humility and majesty met in His life.
He was born a weak child, yet powerful angels heralded His birth. He was laid in a lowly manger, but a magnificent star shined above it. His parents were poor, yet wealthy wise men came from the East with gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Though He humbled Himself to baptism in the Jordan, a voice from Heaven proudly proclaimed, “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” He sat thirsty and tired at a Samaritan well, but then gave a woman the Water of Life. Exhausted He slept in a boat, yet awoke to still the storm.
He wept at a graveside, and then infused life into the dead. He was delivered into the hands of soldiers, but in the moment of betrayal His captors toppled to the ground. He died, yet rose again.
Jesus life was a strange blend of opposites – majesty and humiliation. He was a man among people, yet also God among people. He truly is Emmanuel, God with us.
If Jesus could cause soldiers to fall backward to the ground when He came to die, can we imagine what it will be like when He comes to reign?
If a simple reply in Gethsemane caused this, imagine how dreadful and alarming His voice will be when He speaks from His glory to the wicked. If His little finger could do this, imagine what will happen when He bares his mighty arm.
No wonder we’re told people in that terrible day will cry out for the rocks and hills to cover them. Who shall be able to stand against Him? No one. We need to seek salvation now, when it can be found.